Dear unknown friend,
When my mother would fall at my father’s feet and I thought that was the norm and hence normal, I did not know I was somewhere being party to your murder. When my mother would wait for my father to return home and have dinner only after he had and I believed there was nothing wrong in it, I did not know I was somewhere being party to your murder. When my parents would ask my sister to be back home before sunset and I thought they were right, I did not know somewhere I was being party to your murder. When my parents would tell me that my sister would not come to the temple on some of ‘those’ days, without telling me why, I accepted that in the name of God without knowing I was somewhere becoming party to your murder. When my parents bought a toy car for me and a playing kitchen set for my sister and I did not allow her to touch the car and asked her to play with the kitchen set ONLY, I did not know somewhere I was being party to your murder. When teacher, in class, while teaching basics of language construction taught from textbook the lessons that read “Ram plays cricket, Rama helps her mother in the kitchen,” and I did not find anything wrong in it, I did not know I was somewhere being party to your murder. When a relative made his daughter- my cousin- discontinue her studies after class 10 and I did not question his decision, I did not know I was being party to your murder. When I saw Urmila’s transparent dress in the song “tanha tanha” with jaws dropped and fancying her and beyond her clothes, I did not know I was somewhere being party to your murder. While in teenage when with friends I discussed women’s bodies as though it was an object of desire, I did not know I was somewhere being party to your murder. When I laughed when some friends would refer to some girl as “maal,” “bomb,” “item,” “figure” or “pathaaka”, I did not know my silence was making me a party to your murder. When once I saw two men whack a girl’s ass as they drove next to her and I just smiled while the girl was screaming, I did not know I was somewhere being party to your murder. When market brought to us many products in containers in the shape of women’s body and I accepted it without questioning, I did not know I was actually becoming party to your murder. Once when a friend was upset with me and not speaking to me and I burst out in anger saying, “Why is she acting as though I raped her,” I did not know I was somewhere being a party to your murder. When after tough exams I declared “I am raped,” I did not know that somewhere I was being party to your murder . When I went with my cousin to “see” a girl for him and I did not raise objection to the so called custom of “seeing” the girl, I did not know I was somewhere being party to your murder. When Hindu fundamentalists or Muslim fundamentalists attacked “their girl” and “other boy” I thought it was only communalism and not gender, I did not know somewhere I was being party to your murder. When I used, without second thoughts, abuse words in Kannada equivalent to “mother fu****” or “Sister fu****” I did not know I was being party to your murder.
Years after all this, when my friends have helped me unburden myself, to a great extent, of patriarchy and misogyny, you have been brutally murdered. You were murdered because the world we inherited had murdered our sensibilities and our humanity to some extent and also because we passed on the world without correcting it, to those who arrived after us. While many of my friends, out of fear and disgust say, “It could have been me,” I must say that had I not met those beautiful friends and mentors who unburdened me, to a great extent, may be it could have been me, given the structure I was born into which saw women and girls as lesser humans. Though its not me, I know that I have been party to your murder and the murder of several other sisters who I do not know. I can see the blood in my hand and I know that not even all of the Neptune’s ocean can wash this hand clean.
No, I write this letter not to apologize. I know to say sorry is inadequate. Why do I write then? I dont know. I feel guilty hence I write though its not an act of sin cleansing. I write this also because I need to tell you that I see many of my unknown brothers, awakened after what happened with you, are unburdening themselves of patriarchy and misogyny. But it hurts as this cost your life and the life of other unknown sisters too. I know things will not change soon. It will take time. May be it will take many more lives too. But hope, someday…
An ashamed friend.
A friend shared an article last evening. It was on Honey Singh’s song ‘Balatkaari’. Out of curiosity I searched for the song on youtube and listened to it. What is shocking is the comments, which celebrates the song and the singer, while the song celebrate rape!
The article goes on to say that Honey Singh tops the 2012 Youtube views and has over 16 lakh social networking fans.
Couple of months ago, a renowned artist came to our campus to conduct a workshop. I have always admired this person not just for his ability as an actor and writer but also for his politics. On the last night of his stay on campus he sat with students, drinking, and on popular demand started singing. I was informed, by a friend, that the man had started singing and i went running. After a couple of popular political songs the man started singing some of his unknown songs. The text- or wording- was highly sexist and all images below the belt! It was a shock. To my surprise the people around him- all students- were enjoying it. They demanded more and with more demand came more supply. If not as vulgar as ‘balaatkaari’ the images, metaphors all were extremely objectionable as they were making direct references to female body organs in a demeaning manner. Boys and girls were enjoying it and asking for more of such songs and the man who I admired continued singing songs of the same kind on popular demand. Some of them, who had come to listen to him, like me, did walk off feeling disgusted. But the larger mass asked for more.
This morning a Kannda newspaper carried a so called ‘joke’ which reads like this:
“One Pachcha raped a girl and when found guilty he was made to pay a fine of Rs. 10,800/-.
Pachcha: Why 10,800/-?
Judge: Rs. 10,000/- for raping and Rs. 800/- entertainment tax.”
If you subscribe to ‘jokes’ of any mobile network and 90% of the jokes that you would get on a daily basis would be racist and sexist.
There is demand hence the supply or the other way round, I am not sure. But there is a good number of people who enjoy it. Defines the psyche at large I guess. In that sense I feel Honey Singh and this man who I used to admire are just the expressions. The problem lies, it appears, not just in them.
When the film 3-Idiots hit the theaters dint we all enjoy the scene where Chatur’s speech is changed and “balaatkaar” became a joke? How did we come to accept that it was ok to make ‘rape’- such a serious thing- a matter to laugh at? How could words like ‘behan-c**d’ and ‘madar-ch**’ become normalized in our daily lives?
The article on Honey Singh suspects that some of those who liked the song on Youtube and who listen to it daily, turning the volume high, might be among the crowd who are now protesting against the Delhi gang-rape.
Couple of days ago my classmate was terribly angered by the gang-rape of Delhi. So was I. After hours of discussion with her boyfriend, over the phone, she was still boiling. Once she ended her conversation with her boyfriend she continued the conversation with me, as I was with her. She picked up a bottle of Royal Stag from a wine shop and we sat under the ‘bargad’ tree in our campus to continue our discussion. She spoke how she, as a girl, feels about the whole incident and how it triggers a fear psychosis too and not just anger. While in complete agreement with the fact that the incident is brutal which needs to be protested we both could not agree with the demand for death penalty. At the same time we also felt that the outrage, though healthy, is partially governed by the fact that the culprits in the case in reference are weak. Not that we believe that makes the case against them weak. But they being from a weaker section adds strength to the outrage. Today when I heard Arundathi Roy voice a similar opinion, with greater clarity, there was a smile on my face because somebody, at a larger space, did voice my concern.
A.Roy, in her interview to, Channel 4, said: “Why is this crime creating such a lot of outrage? It is because it plays into the idea of the criminal poor, you know the vegetable vendor, the gym instructor, the bus driver actually assaulting a middle class girl. But when rape is used as a weapon against women by the upper caste or the army men it does not even get punished,” and adds “There are laws, but when police go and burn down villages and gang rape women..” and goes on to mention that there is a legitimization of violence, without failing to mention that in the end the women, from the upper middle and lower class, are finally paying the price.
A rape is a rape and every rape should be condemned, it is said, without bringing elements of caste, class, ethnicity into it. True. True at the level of rape which is violence by men on women. But what troubles me is the fact that only a gang-rape in an urban space, of a middle-class girl triggers a nation wide outrage. I do not intend to dilute the kind of importance is given to the matter in the parliament- at least at the level of discussion- or by the media or by the “mass” of this country. But when Khairlanji rape doesn’t create a nation wide outrage, when Manorama rape case doesn’t scare the day’s light of the entire nation, the issue of Soni Sori doesn’t bring tears in the eyes of people or bring people on the street, it is disturbing.
A day after the Delhi gang-rape issue hit the headlines a news broke from Bihar of a 8 year old Dalit girl being raped and in the next couple of days another report came from Tuticorin. Don’t know how many more incidents of rape took place in this country from then until now, the news of which either did not reach me- for me to mention here- or did not even reach the newspaper. When every rape is a rape no matter what class caste ethnicity the raped belongs to, why is there a selective empathy and outage against only one incident? Delhi being the capital of the nation, the power center or center of power, the girl belonging to middle class and the rapists being from a weaker section, which as A. Roy points, plays to the idea of the criminal poor, and it all disturbing the idea of safety among the middle class, is one of the reasons for the nation wide outrage and protest.
There are plenty of incidents, unspoken and unreported – to the media and the police- where men, standing up in the socio-economic ladder or social power structure, have sexually violated women standing slightly below them in the ladder or the power structure. Many female employees are sexually exploited by their bosses. Many professors sexually exploit their students. Many caste Hindus use rape as a tool against the Dalits. Many army people, as reported, have gang-raped adivasi women and Dalit women. How many times there have been mass mobilization and mass protests against these incidents? But when an incident takes place against a middle class girl in the heart of the power center the nation is outraged and media awakened. This is saddening and also disturbing.
Reviewing the year 2011, the year which saw revolt around the world, the great historian Eric Hobsbawm had noted, “What unites them is a common discontent and common mobilisable forces – a modernizing middle class, particularly a young, student middle class, and of course technology which makes it today very much easier to mobilize protests.” This was quite the same with the Anna Hazare movement in our country. An extension of the same is this, it appears, though the demand in this case of fight for justice in the Delhi gang-rape is justified and is very much valid and is urgent. The protesting “mass” is the middle class as the threat is majorly to the middle class and this protest doesn’t pick up the case of the 8 year old Dalit girl being raped in Bihar or the issue of Soni Sori.
Has mass revolt become the space of middle class and not the space of the wretched of the earth? This is almost what Hobsbawm had pointed out that its the middle class and not the working class which has occupied mass movements and creating the waves. This new awakening among the middle class is good but not enough, it appears, for it excludes the wretched of the earth. If the space of mass revolt and rebel is occupied by the middle class, it is extremely saddening as total liberation is not possible without the liberation of the wretched of the earth. Hence pointing at the unconscious of the selective empathy, as done by A.Roy, seems important to me.
At the same time, as pointed out by the editorial of EPW, what is disturbing in this particular case, is also the fact that the rapists were from marginalized groups. To quote from the editorial: “At times like this it is easy to forget that by far the most common sexual assaults are by people known to the victim – neighbors relatives, even friends. Such rapes are rarely reported. Another common type of assault that needs to be emphasized in this context is the so-called “power rape”, where the perpetrator is in a position of power over the victim, whether as landlord, boss, or police/army officer. The very identity of the perpetrators makes it likely that such crimes will never come to light. In sharp contrast, this rare case is one where the accused come from a marginal location in metropolitan society, whether in terms of their occupation(driver, fruit vendor, petty criminal, gym assistant…) or their place of residence in a slum.” The editorial further on goes to say, “Some experts quoted in the media have described the accused as psychopaths probably provoked by pornography.Such casual explanations are unhelpful to say the least. Psychopaths tend to be loners; they do not band together drunkenly,first to steal from a carpenter (who had boarded the bus earlier and was then let out), then to vent their anger on the male friend of the victim before doing what they did to the woman herself.It may be more useful to focus on the increasing incidence of vehicle-borne assaults, including cases of rape and gang rape reported in Delhi. The capital has the largest number of vehicles for a city, the highest vehicle density and the best roads in the country. But what makes Delhi distinctive is the peculiar combination of power and impunity that it both exudes and offers up as routine public spectacle. The desire to experience this heady mixture is contagious, and the closest that subaltern groups can get to this is the feeling of control and power in a moving vehicle. It is this desire that the men in the bus were perhaps giving vent to, and the city and its obscene inequalities deserve to be treated as accomplices in this brutal crime.”
To indulge in dialogues on craft, art and aesthetics is a matter of luxury, it appears.
What is the aesthetics of rape? Is there any?
What is the aesthetics of humiliation? Is there any?
What is the aesthetics of untouchability? Is there any?
What is the aesthetics of inequality? Is there any?
What is the aesthetics of shamelessness? Is there any?
What is the aesthetics of massacre? Is there any?
What is the aesthetics of displacement? Is there any?
What is the aesthetics of legitimization of violence? Is there any?
What is the aesthetics of inhumanity? Is there any?
What is the aesthetics of misogyny? Is there any?
What is the aesthetics of apathy? Is there any?
What is the aesthetics of selective empathy? Is there any?
What is the aesthetics of moral-spiritual blindness? Is there any?
What is the aesthetics of helplessness? Is there any?
In a mishmash of languages, by dissimilar routes
We all come upon: Silence.
– Pablo Neruda
Following the gang rape at Delhi the civilized society has responded in various ways from getting down to the streets, writing letters to the Chief Minister of Delhi and also by registering their protests on social networking site and demanding for severe punishments for the culprits. The punishments demanded, by many, have been castration and death penalty!
This demand for castration and death penalty, as I see, is an equally disturbing and disgusting demand as the rape. Hence at this point, even while I am in solidarity with protest against the gang rape and demand for server punishment for the culprits, I differ from the protesters for my consciousness doesn’t allow me to demand for punishments like castration and death penalty. This is no way means that I am asking law to forgive the culprits. No. They deserve to be punished and punished severely. But, I believe, we who like to believe that we are civilized wo/men should be able to see death penalty and castration as an equally violent act. The responsibility, at the face of an immense tragedy, is to not just demand for justice and punishment but also imagine a humane society for ourselves where all sort of rape and violence is non-existent.
Bertrand Russell in his book Political Ideals had said that creativity is triggered not by incentives after the work but by the creation of a certain kind of mental atmosphere. In a similar fashion a society where violence is absent can be created not by punishing the culprits and taming them through fear but by creating a humane atmosphere where there would be no trigger for violence.
I fail to understand the difference between the act of rape and the demand for death penalty and castration. The rapist thinks that the girl is “wrong” in her dressing or in her very being a girl and hence comes to believe that “it serves right” to be raped. The protesters think the rapist is “wrong” (which he undoubtedly is) and hence “it serves right” to be hanged. The police thinks its “wrong” to protest and hence “it serves right” to swing their canes in the name of lathi charge. The seeds of violence is the same in every mind, it appears, which takes different form and expressions. Our fight, at the face of a tragic event, is not just to protest against the rapists but also against the seeds of violence that is beneath the soil of all our minds. To fight this, must be the larger agenda, and for which punishing the rapists severely is a way but fighting these seeds of violence within us is also necessary, for the enemy is not violent people but violence itself and taking shelter in violence is no way to achieve the larger goal.
Harsh Mander puts it beautifully: “Violence in the end brutalizes all who resort to it- the oppressor and the oppressed.” While opposing the brutal gang rape, I feel, we shouldn’t let our sensitivity, sensibility and humanity to be raped and murdered Our battle is not just against the rapists but its a battle for a better world too. So if we do not fight the seed of violence within us, its a failure, it appears to me. The real fight, at the face of the brutal gang rape and injustice, is to keep the humane element within us alive against the overpowering forces of death.
The call for castration and death penalty is the celebration of an inhumane law of ‘eye for an eye’ to counter the existing violence. But I subscribe to what one wise man, who walked in flesh and blood on this soil just a few decades ago, said- “eye for an eye and the world will go blind.”
When lakhs of people attend the funeral of Bal(s) ‘saheb’ to pay their respects, I wonder where do I belong to for I am not one among the ‘mass’ nor do I want to become one. When lakhs of people celebrate the hanging of Azmal Kasab, I wonder where do I belong to for I am not that ‘patriot’. When lakhs of people applaud the attack on women at a private party to “save Indian culture”, I wonder where do I belong to for I do not subscribe to that ideology. When lakhs of people, like some “fine minds”, cheer for nuclear energy, I wonder where do I belong to for I am not in solidarity with that idea of development. When lakhs of men are in solidarity with the words of Delhi police saying, “She asked for it,” and even smiling in the parliament over the issue, I wonder where do I belong to for I don’t want to share an umbrella with such a ‘man’kind. When many seek capital punishment for the rapists, I wonder where do I belong to for I feel believe eye for an eye is no justice. When lakhs of people defend the ritual of made-snana in the name of “people’s faith”, I wonder where do I belong to for I am not one among the ‘people’.
I fail to make sense of the times I am living in. I fail to understand the meaningless nature of the world I am living in. Its all absurd. All the world is not a stage but an absurd play. The failure to understand and make sense makes me ask myself- Where do I belong to? And cry, helplessly, saying I do not want to be a part of this world where I feel alienated, un-belonged.
Its an age of isolation and alienation where I ask myself, helplessly, if rejecting the world is the only way to protest against the times we are living in and the system in which we are living. But as much as this alienation, from time and space, kills me, the overpowering murderous forces awakens the rebel in me. The fire of the times in which we are living in is, at once and at the same time, burning humanity, turning it into ashes and also hardening the rebel inside me. Heart, being burnt and hardened at the same time, oscillates between pessimism of the intellect and optimism of the will.
In this eternal loneliness I realize that the only way to feel belonged in this alienating world, alienating time is to engage with the world and times to do my bit to save it from being reduced to ashes, by fighting against the times I am living in. Yes, this is not the world I want to be a part of. Rather than rejecting the world let me reject, as I have, this world giving wings to the rebel with dreams in eyes and hope in the heart. To reject is to rebel. To rebel to is dream. To rebel is to stay alive. To rebel is to make sure death doesn’t remain alive when life is dead.
I rebel therefore I am. I resist therefore I am.
PS: “Writing is a struggle against silence,” said Carlos Fuentes. To write is to rebel against silence.
When asked what she was cooking for dinner my friend, while chatting, said she was cooking “Maggi”. This was just two days ago and just an hour before my friend said what she was cooking I myself had prepared Maggi for myself and had it.
It is so much a matter of fact that many from my generation see Maggi as a meal that we hardly give Maggi a thought! When my friend, via chat, said that she was cooking Maggi, I, very casually and jokingly said that Maggi, for its popularity and its innumerable consumers, should be called as the national food of India. It is this ‘word fetish’ that made some thoughts regarding Maggi- as food, as an idea pass through my mind.
I remember Maggi as a “life savior” during my days in Delhi when I stayed with two lovely gentlemen- literally. On weekdays we would get food from Sharma Ji- roti and some sides- and on Sundays- the day that celebrates laziness we took resort in Maggi.
Laziness and Maggi seem to go hand in hand. But the history of Maggi says that lack of time in the nineteenth century in the industrial Switzerland gave birth to Maggi. The women had no time to prepare food so the Swiss Public Welfare Society requested Julius Maggi to come up with a food product which would be easy to cook. This was in 1887.
In India Maggi made its entry in the year 1983, almost hundred years after it coming into existence. The earlier days of Maggi was not easy in India, because of the Indian food psychology which couldn’t accept a fast food or anything other than its staple food- wheat, rice, ragi, as meal. But with the Indian society becoming open to working women, the society being close to liberalization which would shape the new generation in a new fashion, India slowly opened up to the idea of Maggi and the food product Maggi slowly making space for it on the meals menu.
Studies have said that Maggi, in India, targeted women but could not succeed in its marketing because of wrong target. Their study made them come up with the new strategy of targeting the kids. Then came the ad which many of my generation grew up watching “Mummy Bhook Lagi Hai,” being said by two lovely kids and their mother replying to them, “Bass Do Minute.” I still remember how my sister and I had water in our mouths watching the ad and how my parents reacted to it. My parents compared noodles to earthworms! But that did not have any impact on my sister or me. Maggi became one of the first reflections of the so called ‘generation gap’. But soon parents too gave in to Maggi and it entered our kitchen too. This was early nineties.
Though my parents welcomed Maggi into the kitchen they have never been able to accept it as a meal. But with my sister and me it goes well as meal. I guess it’s the same with many of our generation and the generations that followed us. “It is easy,” as many say. It is not just our laziness but also the busy schedule of the new working conditions in a new city architecture which has made us accept Maggi.
Its also a matter of time, I think. Maggi got introduced, as mentioned earlier, at a time we as a nation were undergoing a kind of change which could accommodate an idea called Maggi. The changing scenario made way for Maggi and the changed scenario along with Maggi made way for a new culture and lifestyle.
I think Maggi was a precursor of many things which became the new idioms of the new century like SMS, twitter, frame-fucking editing.
“Two minute” was the catch word of Maggi. Short span of time required. It holds good for the lazy and the busy, both. That is what made the idea of Maggi click, it appears. The idea of Maggie laid foundation for all other similar stuff which started playing to the decreased attention span, decreased patience mixed with the ‘time is precious for time is money’ attitude of the liberal India. The new condition of lack of time in the liberal India also strengthened the idea of Maggi work.
During one of non-class discussion with a student of mine, while I was teaching, I remember, having been irritated by the impatient attitude of the student in watching a cinema, considered “slow”, and shouting at the student saying, “This is the problem with you Maggi generation people.” The student had shot back at me asking, “Which generation do you belong to?” I belong to the generation which saw a bit of pre-Maggi India too but got absorbed by the Maggi India. My parent’s generation, even today cannot have Maggi for a meal. But my generation does. The generations that followed us grew up in a Maggi India. Now with my parent’s generation being less in number and my own generation and that followed us being large in number the idea of Maggi and Maggi as a food is the new culture of our society.
In its early days, when my sister and I had water in our mouths seeing the ads, Maggi was still a matter which had not attained normalcy in our lives. It was occasional. As years passed Maggi attained a normalcy in all our lives. Like rice, wheat, ragi, jowar etc Maggi has attained a staple food status, to a large extent. So much so that this evening when my friend called me to ask if I have anything at home he asked “Any food at home?” and before me answering him he extended the question, “Maggi?” That reminded me the way in which, once upon a time, the question was being asked, “Ghar mein chaawal hai?” to mean, “Is there rice at home?”
To say that Maggi has replaced rice, wheat and other staple food of ours is completely wrong. We still crave for rice, wheat etc but have made Maggi a part of our normal lives. Maggi has played its trick by marketing ‘Aata noodle’, ‘rice noodles’ etc. That is one interesting thing about this country. It can live in multiple generations at the same time. It can have Maggi and rice stored in the same container. Like it can watch Aastha/God/Peace channel in its newly bought flat screen television set. Like it can still consult an astrologer for an auspicious time to conduct nuclear tests, like it can use internet for arranged marriages. The past continues to exist in a distant future and interestingly the past, present and future all alter themselves to an extent for this co-existence. It is also a curious Indian psyche that replaces the names with brand names. Photocopier becomes Xerox and noodles becomes Maggi.