Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Why women and their safety will not be on agenda of political parties.

"Why don't people first control their daughters? I'd burn my daughter alive if she was having pre-marital sex,roaming around with her boyfriend at night" 
- The defense lawyer, on the Nirbhaya case verdict. 

There are a lot of inherent problems with democracy, notwithstanding that it is the lesser of the devils, hence supported. I agree with Oscar Wilde when he says, "Democracy means simply the bludgeoning of the people by the people for the people". 
However, my problem as of now is related to the fact that the government does not care much about those whose votes do not form a bank. The unrepresented unorganized minorities. There are a lot of them, but I will talk of one complex group. It is complex because they live with the mainstream - the women.

And here's why, even after universal franchise, women, and their safety will not form a vote bank in India:

1. I will not talk about literacy rates or education here. Because its not like those who do make vote banks make any logical or informed decision. I will talk of the fact that voting is a collectivist event for most families in India. Most women do not have a say in these matters at all, and will put out their vote for whoever the head of the family/ their husband decides.

2. And who will be the head of the family? It will most often be a male. This male would have been brought up knowing he is special, because, well, he is a man. It is drilled into his head that protecting and controlling the women of his family is his duty and responsibility. The protecting and controlling may be referring to many other things, but majorly focuses on her sexuality. The only saving grace of having a daughter is that you get to perform "kanyadaan", or "gift the virgin", a ceremony in the weddings when the parents give away their virgin daughter. Now, what if, this virginity was to be "looted", as it is put is the conventional language? What is the point of having this daughter anyway? The woman could have had consensual sex with her lover or she could have been raped- it hardly makes a difference. Oh yes, maybe the rapist is also ostracised and/or killed. Oh wait, that happens with lovers too. 

Coming back to the central point, since it is the man's duty to protect and "control" the women of his family, all events related to it become "family issues". How can the government, (read: police, etc.) and the society interfere? There come the obstacles in the implementation of the Protection of Women against Domestic Violence Act (2006), and the hesitations and disinterest in passing a law against Marital Rape.

Concluding this point, what can the government do, if you cannot control your women? So there goes the vote of the man who will influence the votes of his family members.

3. What if some of the women do have their own minds inside of the polling booths, you ask?

Even if they did vote after putting in their own thought and needs, too many have their thought process so cultured into patriarchy, that they genuinely do believe that in cases of crimes against women, it is usually the woman's fault - of provoking the crime. 

They also, like their men, believe it is the girls' responsibility to save her "honour", and if it does come under threat, it is the responsibility of the brothers and the father to save her (corollary: if she is out alone, or without a male family memeber, its her fault), and if it does get to the stage that her "honour is violated", it is the girl whose life is over, and needs to be put to death.
(Technically, she should just commit suicide out of shame, so as to not put her family through the the pain of killing her), but shameless as these girls are, the family needs to pitch in).

So again, how can the woman expect anything from the government, when she has been grown to believe that it is all, in fact, her fault?

And this is why we need Feminism. For the sake of better functioning of democracy. For our life.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Justice for Rape. In a Patriarchy.

The context out of which I am writing this, is a universal issue in terms of both time and societies. Though what provoked me to put this down in my blog right now was this.

It is so difficult for a man in our society to speak out of he has been victimized. One did, anonymously, and just one look at the comments below will tell you a great deal about the society that we are.

What is rape?

According to Oxford Dictionary, rape is a crime, typically committed by a man, of forcing another person to have sexual intercourse with the offender against their will.

The section 375, of the Indian Penal Code provides that a man having sexual intercourse with a woman amounts to rape, in following circumstances, such as:
•Against her will.
•Without her permission or if the permission has been obtained forcefully or by putting her under fear.
•With her permission, when the man is aware that he is not the legal husband of the woman, but she believes that he is another man to whom she is legally wedded.
•With her consent, when she is not in proper state of mind, to judge the consequences of such an act.
•With or without her permission, when she is below sixteen years.

Inadvertently, even though our language still has a slit, which allows us to not totally write off the fact that it is possible for men to be raped by women. However, when it comes to IPC, only men can rape and only women can be raped.

The main reason for minimal reporting of sexual harassment is the stigma our society associated with its victims. Underlying the stigma is patriarchy.

This system has many characteristics,implicating the norm for men to be ruling over women. 

This system, for instance, takes into account only men as as decision makers, and women only as belongings of men. The life of a woman is most often defined in terms of "beti, behen, patni, bahu, ma" (Daughter, sister, wife, daughter-in-law, and mother).

While she belongs to the man, it is his duty at every stage to keep her in control, to domesticate her. His honour lies in her behaviour, in her sexuality. While onus of protecting the honour of the man's family lies with the men of the family, the womenfolk have the responsibility of not inviting any attacks on her "izzat" honour, or questions over her "character".
 (Here, we can understand why the primary route to revenge in most patriarchies in history has been to rape women belonging to the person against whom revenge is to be taken.)

So, it is obviously evident why female victims of sexual crimes would hardly come out and speak about it (all other reasons, such as perpetrator being somenone close, blackmail, etc. being constant).

But why is it so difficult for male victims to speak about it? (Apart from the fact that laws do not protect him the way they protect the women).

It is because sexual crimes have a lot to do with power play.

In a patriarchal setup like ours, wanting/demanding sex is considered a part of a boy's jawani (youth), and a girl's desires of the same as besharmi (shamelessness).
As a corollary, a boy's wish to not have sex is considered as namardi (un-man-liness), and a girl's wish to not have sex is considered as lajja (modesty).

A girl in this setup is expected to say "no" to sex, shyly. The man is expected to then convince her. He is to dominate and and she is to submit to him.

This expected role play makes it very difficult for women, and men, to fight for justice.

For a man is supposed to always be on a lookout for sex. And the woman is to not "entice" him.
The baseless debate of whether she was "asking for it" emerges from this. What other reason is it, that this is one crime where the defendant brings up the victim's history and character into play?
A viral script illustrates the story of rape cases very articulately.

Now, again as a corollary, a man, who is expected to be jumping at any and every opportunity of having sex, will mocked at a namard if he speaks out that he has been raped. And that too, by a woman.

In essence, no one can speak out and get justice against rape, without getting ridiculed by the society, by us.

All this, for the sake of few gender based fossilized character sketches in our heads.

Is it really worth it?

Friday, February 22, 2013

A Tale of harassment, idiocy and male chauvinism.

Passport Seva Kendra, Herald House, New Delhi.


A Tale of harassment, idiocy and male chauvinism.

I need a passport within the next month. Since the normal scheme of the Passport seva is ambiguous about how much time it takes (no guarantee, basically), I decided to not take a chance and pay that extra fee for their tatkal seva (emergency passport service).

The online procedure was surprisingly citizen friendly! A simple pdf that you have to fill up with all the necessary information, an uploading of the same, and fixing up your appointment for the next day at the passport office of your choice. And the steps were detailed very clearly on their site. Additional helps such as locating your police stations (for selected states), document advisory, fee calculator, etc. were given for your ease. Cakewalk.

So I took an appointment for 12 pm at the Herald House, ITO on the 22nd of Feb, 2013. I was given the reporting time of 11:45. The appointment slot, which say "12-12:15" makes the process seem deceptively short and easy for a novice.

Anyhow, on reaching I saw a huge crowd, and long queues leading to some counters. It was very hard to find out which queue to get in first. Somehow, on asking peers around, I just got into one line. A lady was checking documents there.

Reaching her after more than half an hour, she took my VC (Verification Certificate- a certificate issued by a gazetted officer verifying my character, my address, etc. on a government letterhead-with the emblem "Truth only Triumphs"), and objected to it.

"This will not be considered" She said flatly and hurriedly.
"Why"? I asked, obviously bewildered. Why two government authorities cannot have a coordination as to what is acceptable?
"This stamp" she pointed to the officer's designation stamp at the end of the VC, "should be here on your photo as well", she said pointing to the stamp on my photo. The stamp on the photo was that of his office.

After more than half an hour of standing in the queue with irritable fellow citizens, I did not want to go back. So I pleaded her to consider it, since its obviously issued by a gazetted officer, along with his stamps and signatures. She said flatly that she could not do anything about it, and that I should go talk to "sir" at the last counter.

That sir had another long queue. and by the time I was only half way through the queue, it was lunch time. So we kept standing for another forty-five-minutes plus till sir finished his lunch. Then slowly, the line started moving and after about half an hour more, I got my turn.

I showed him the document, but chose to not tell him exactly what the problem with it is.

As I expected, he did find a problem because he was expected to, but his problem wasnt the same as the lady's.

"This wont work!" he exclaimed. "This VC does not have the officer's email address and fax number! How will we verify?? Go get his email and fax. Come on Monday."

"But sir, he has given his mobile and landline phone numbers, and office address!" I tried to reason. But in vain.
"Get the email and fax from the mobile and landline then" he replied, "Then only something can be done".

I got out of the line. I took out my phone and called the reference. But some signal issues stopped me from making a direct call. I called my mother and her to call the officer and ask for his email address and fax number. She did. I wrote. I got into the line again. Stood again for a long time and finally, he approved my file.

Why is this VC incident so important? Here's why:

The next step was processing at counter A. Here, all your details are filled in the system and you pay your fees. While the girl sitting opposite me was filling my details, one screen was facing me so that I could keep checking.

The shocking and the annoying part then was when she was filling in the details of the VC. All the required fields were marked asterisk. THE EMAIL AND THE FAX WERE NOT. And not only that, the girl filled up only the required fields, so even though I had written the email address and the fax number, she skipped those fields!!

It was not required! Harassment. Waste of time incident #1.

Then I moved upstairs to counter B. The floor was packed with people. We were all given tokens serial wise at counter A. And token numbers were being flashed on the screen. So I waited with everybody for my turn. For two hours.Some of the people standing with me, and I realized within an hour that token numbers are not being flashed sequentially. People with token numbers after mine had already reached the next counter C, and hadnt had a turn even at counter B.

The girl announcing the names had an amazing reason why we were not seeing token numbers sequentially. "Because they are not being flashed sequentially!". Then what the **** is the use of a token system?? Why this farce??

Then the best part, when it was my turn at counter B - The verification zone. The man sitting opposite to me started verifying my photostatted documents with my originals. He stopped at one place. My last one year's address proof- my bank statement, which is a joint account with my mother.

And what followed took the cake:

After frowning on it for a minute, "You have a joint account with your mother?" he asked.
I replied in affirmative, and clarified that was a part of my previous residence proof that I had to submit since I have just got married and shifted to a new address.

"Can I see your husband's address proof?" He counter questioned.
I told him I was carrying his passport, but the address on it was that of his native place, not the present address. But I was confused. So I sought clarity.

"I dont understand sir. I have come here for MY passport. I am giving you the proof of my present address, as well as the proof of my previous address. For MY passport, why do you need an address proof of my husband?"

"You are married right?" He asked. "Yes I am" I said, and drew his attention to the copy of the marriage certificate I'd submitted and showed to him the original as well.

He looked in doubt. I was getting impatient. It was about to be 6 pm.

"What is the matter?" I asked.

"I dont know... if you do not furnish your husband's present address proof, what is the proof that your present address is the same as his present address?"

I stared at him. "And why do you need that proof??"

"Because something is fishy. Why so you have a joint account with your mother and not with your husband?" he wondered aloud. "Why do you not have a joint account with your husband? If you have, I'd like to see that please."

I lost it. "WHY do you want to see where my husband lives, or whether we have a joint account or not." I have a legal document here telling you that I am married, why do you need these documents?? Where is it written that these are required, show me."

I lost it, not because I was tired or he was asking for something extra. I lost it because would he have asked my husband the same question had he come for his passport?

I have huge issues with filling forms as "w/o", till married men have to fill it with "h/o". I am fine with writing my parents' names. Parents', not fathers. But writing w/o, while my husband fills it as "s/o"- No, That's just not done. So you can imagine why I lost it there.

My raised voice drew attention of a senior officer who was on rounds. He checked the documents and told that chauvinist that the docs were correct. He tried to reason something with the officer too, but thankfully, I passed the "verification".

In the last step I was given a quick print out, a receipt, which says my application status was "on hold". I tried to ask what it meant, but I was shoved out my the massive crowd.

It took me more than six hours, for a work worth of half an hour. The only thing that kept me from complaining was to see women handling all of this, plus babies/irritable children. And they had to handle everything by themselves, because only those can enter the premises, whose passports are to be done.

Dear Passport office,

1. Please get some management lessons, a.k.a. common sense.
    -Manage appointments!! If you let more people than you can handle get appointments, what is the use of that fancy service- "Appointments"??
    -If you have a token number system, use it the way it is supposed to be used!!

2.  Get gender sensitivity workshops for the workforce. A lot of organizations do it well., for instance.

3. I appreciate you want to manage crowd when you do not allow people to accompany. But have some sense and make a public decision about allowing both parents, if there is a child/children, or allowing a help in case of senior citizens, etc.

And do not scream on the microphone "Dont stand on my head!!" when you can see there is no other place to stand/sit down.
Politeness and the above suggestions will make you, not only more humane, but more efficient as well.