Life is cheap, death is cheaper

Alright girlies, enough fun and games. Lets get back to the serious stuff. Was recently talking to a self-righteous Indian prig who was rattling on about the lack of morals in the West – going back to the favourite example of school yard shootouts. I often wonder where such people grew up. Maybe on a parallel planet to mine. The OA was probably on it too because he grew up rather innocent compared to me.

I often think back on my misspent youth and scandalise the OA with the frequent references to violence. For instance, there was this time recall a guy bumped  into me on the school stairwell and went on to brag about it in the boys’ toilet. It might seem like nothing to most of you – but those who grew up in small town UP will know what that means. It means war.

The childhood sweetheart and a friend got to hear of it. They caught him outside school, walked up to his cycle, leaned on the handlebars and casually asked him what he was up to. And this being small town UP, the guy knew they were all part of my life in one way or another, knew exactly what they were referring to and pretty much shat his pants. He swore to stay ten feet away from me and to his credit, he did.

They told me about it later and I was mad at them for getting into a fight over what I thought was a non-issue. Anyhow. The incidents involving me didn’t stop. And the last couple ended in one of them pulling out a katta. A country pistol. It didn’t surprise me. I’d grown up knowing that they were part of our lives and I also knew they could sometimes just explode in the user’s hands, injuring him more than the intended victim.

But that is small town UP for you. Insults fly fast and thick. Sisters and mothers are defended as aggressively as they are used in abuse. Country made pistols and country liquor is available for a song. Even school boys know how to get their revenge by breaking your arm just the night before the board exams so that you can’t even get a writer for the papers. A classmate’s body found floating down the Ganga on the morning of our 12th boards ensured that all of us girls cried through our English paper.

The last incident before I left for college  ensured that my boyfriend didn’t go alone anywhere for the month before the exams. Four of them (including my brother) were surrounded at our favourite coffee shop, by 40 guys pulling up in Maruti vans with chains and hockey sticks and guns. There was negotiation and politics and finally an uneasy truce was reached. One we couldn’t trust. He didn’t appreciate it but my brother was his best friend and picked him up each morning and dropped him home each night – brooking no further argument. It was the best protection he could have had. If you want to woo a girl, you can beat up her boyfriend but not her brother. Those are the rules. The honour among thieves so to speak.

I look back on the years and wonder if I really lived through them as calmly as I did. It was all so cool in those days. My friends have all grown up to be respectable bankers and software engineers now and I wonder if they look back on those days fondly or with embarrassment. Long, hot, dusty afternoons spent sitting in the semi-dark coolth(!) of the desert coolers, talking in low voices as family slept around us, discussing who had stepped out of line and needed to be taken down a peg or two.

Of course it wasn’t all blood and gore.  Sometimes it was quite hilarious. One afternoon an admirer (a classmate) who kept borrowing my notebooks decided to use that pretext to visit me and turned up home to return a register. The entire gang was shooting the crap at my place, drinking Pepsi, playing carom and generally doing the only things you can do in a small dead-end town. I begged the boys to shut up and let me deal with it. Then I walked out, took my register, and exchanged a few polite words with him before I sent him on his way. As the words came to an end I saw him start to shuffle nervously backwards. I turned around to see all the guys had silently lined up behind me, arms calmly crossed  – very filmy. The guy never borrowed my notes again. I didn’t speak to them for the rest of the day. I really did think I could handle my problems. This one is only funny in retrospect!

When I met the OA and he began to hear childhood stories, he laughed. They sounded possible – just not plausible. Then he came home with me, met the guys, realised how casual violence was in small town UP and came back a changed man. His wife, was not what he thought she was. She actually had – a violent past!

When I told him one of the terms of endearment was  – excuse the french – chutiyam sulphate, he died laughing. It means nothing really – it’s just a very local crudity! I made my brother confirm it and I think the icing on the cake was hearing it in the film Ishqiya, recently. I feel vindicated.

Anyhow, its only when you become a parent that you realise how scary it is to know that your child could be neck deep in bicycle chains, home-made bombs (yes, I learned how to make one), molotov cocktails, knuckle dusters, knives, kattas, and nunchakus.

I had earlier written about Irom Sharmila and in the last few months I’ve had the privilege of meeting and chatting with Binalakshmi Nepram. Each time I talk to her I hear of a new atrocity in Manipur that the media has neglected to report and then I figure that whining isn’t going to help and I should use the little platform I have here to do some good. I don’t want my kids growing up and having as easy access to violence as we did.  And if you don’t believe me, well, here’s a list I got from Bina. You can get more information here.

Forty bucks for a landmine. Can you beat that? Two hundred bucks for a hand grenade. That’s all it costs. Why are arms so easily accessible and affordable?

And if this wasn’t bad enough, I recently came across this. Indians for Guns. Err… why? Don’t we have enough violence on the streets of Delhi with drunk men shooting celebrity bartenders because the bar has shut for the day? Or must one remind readers of Soumya Vishwanathan? I don’t see how it is fair to ensure rights for gun holders, when the average citizen on the street seems to have fewer rights to living fearlessly and peacefully.

I am sure there are statistics about crimes being committed with unlicensed arms etc, but what exactly are we keeping licensed guns for in that case? Hunting game? Black buck, anyone? Or to protect ourselves. In which case, why go about this in the aggressive manner? Why the need to have personal arms? Why is no one working for a better police system and judiciary? Why not citizens watch groups? I notice two MPs on the list – why don’t they help the legal system along and make it a safer country for us instead of making it easier to have arms. Why should a citizen need to protect himself when he has a government?

There will be plenty talking about how we NEED this protection. But I am tired of negative thought and negative action. How about some constructive thought and action? How about setting up a group for a safer country for us and our children. So that our honourable MPs don’t have to send their kids to school with bodyguards. Violence is not the answer. It never is. And if even the leaders of our nation don’t see that, it’s a sad day indeed.

Numbers, numbers

Found this interesting site and was horrified as I watched the numbers running and the births being double the deaths. It’s almost like a bad sci-fi movie.

On the other hand the abortion ticker left me open mouthed. There’s one every second. Is contraception no longer fashionable? Or is life unfashionable? Damn – I must have missed that memo.

*Hurries off to hunt through her email for missing memos*

Where mother’s day doesn’t exist

Tomorrow is Mother’s Day. And while we waste time doing silly little things like begging you to vote for our Motherhood posts (dang, but I hope you voted for me!) … there are women suffering indignity of the worst kind. Government funded health workers are refusing to touch pregnant Dalit women. Yes. Really. The tax I pay is being used to pay the scum of the earth who think their precious hands are too good to touch these poor pregnant women just because they are Dalits. It makes my blood boil. What’s more, the anganwadi centres are run out of the homes of the upper caste who don’t allow the Dalit women in, so that the health workers anyway don’t end up meeting them. Click here to read the kind of abuse they face.

Here we are, groaning through pregnancies where we’re pampered, eating healthy food, visiting the best hospitals, getting the best care, swaning around in maternity wear – while there are women at the other end of the spectrum going through the same discomfort and being treated like shit. Would we go through our pregnancies if we had to live their lives? I often wonder how much of my love for motherhood stems from the fact that I’ve got a much better life than that…. It’s a question that shakes me to the core.

Anu mailed me too, about my gender wishlist from the elections. I didn’t have any because right now my concerns are more of terrorism and religious intolerance. And maybe also because no damn doctor dare tell me that I am too lowly to be touched. Not if they don’t want their damn arm ripped off and shoved down their throat. But I see what gives me the confidence to fight that while the poverty-striken Dalit woman shrinks away in fear.

And this sort of discrimination sets in early. Teachers refused meals to some Dalit children, made them sit in separate lines in case they were being fed, made them wash the utensils after the children from the upper castes had eaten, and this one is priceless – children refused to eat  if the cooks were Dalits!!! What is it that makes us teach our children not to eat food cooked by people we deem to be lower than us?! What makes us higher or better? My children often beg a morsel off the driver, the cook, the maid, anyone they see sitting down to eat something interesting.

Speaking of discrimination - a bunch of hooligans burst in upon a church meeting in Mumbai and locking the room insisted that they should all chant Jai Shri Ram. Failing that, they beat them up. Is it just me, or is Mumbai reporting far too many instances of intolerance these days?

Although our neighbours aren’t behaving much better. Sikhs, Hindus and Christians are all fleeing their homes. Sad. Religious wars in this day and age. Makes me want to cry. Almost as bad as not touching pregnant women because they’re Dalits.

Dear Jarnail Singh

….I watched you hurl a shoe at Chidambaram last night and was horrified. Yes, I know you’ve apologised and I know you are aching for your community and that you don’t want this politicised but I just wanted to reach out to you and tell you that I was horrified.

Horrified that a journalist would behave in such a manner. And horrified that after 25 years you are still awaiting justice and sadly are reduced to hurling shoes.  It’s a sign of frustration and rage and impotence and I feel each one of them with you.

You see, a few months ago my community faced the same sort of distress - our churches burnt, nuns raped and community killed. No justice yet. The CMs of those states will probably be back in power – much like the CM who fiddled while Gujarat burned. The women and children raped and killed, the men massacred.

Of course we haven’t had to wait twenty five long years like you for justice but I have a feeling we wouldn’t have got it in twenty five years either.

We’re journalists, Jarnail. It’s our job to record, to expose, to use the might of our pens. Not to throw shoes. Because then there is no difference between us and them. Who them? Why those who we’re protesting against. Those who killed, burned and raped our communities. Those who think violence is a solution.

Can we do anything – yes, let us join hands and protest peacefully. You, me, those who burned in Gujarat – and show them that we will not stand for it. But we will not turn into animals like them either. We will not behave in a manner where people can point a finger at us.

I don’t know you Jarnail and being on totally different beats I doubt you and I will ever attend the same press conferences. But I’ll believe those who said you’re a mild mannered man. I hope you get justice, I hope you find peace… and I hope you’re never again pushed into a corner this way either. Until then, hold the shoe!

:)

Your comrade in pain…

MM

Edited to add: Have you guys seen this movie, The Invasion? There’s a line at the end where Nicole Kidman kind of heaves a sigh of relief when they realise the world is back to it’s usual program of rape, murder and theft. And a rather scary line where she points out that if we didn’t do any of these, well, we’d stop being human…. Your thoughts?

PS: Thanks Happy Karma for supplying me with the exact lines “In the right situation, we are all capable of the most terrible crimes. To imagine a world where this was not so, where every crisis did not result in new atrocities, where every newspaper is not full of war and violence. Well, this is to imagine a world where human beings cease to be human”

Scilla and Charybdis

So the world is up in arms because Hamid Karzai has legalized rape within marriage and made it illegal for a woman to leave the house without her husband’s permission. (Hey! We should send Manyata to Afghanistan, she admits to asking her husband for permissing before going out for coffee. She’d fit right in.) What kind of people are willing to accept such laws? What can they do about it? Do they fight it? I have no idea.

And we can get off our high horses because things here in India aren’t much better. Our laws mght be better but some of our people are so regressive that it seems pointless. This woman who was raped, has urged the court to release the rapist because she is afraid nobody else will marry her. So she asked her rapist to marry her and he very benevolently agreed, saying his family wouldn’t mind so long as she converted to Islam. Right. I wonder if he checked with his family before raping her. As for the woman – I wonder how bad life for her must be if the best option she has is to marry her rapist. I feel really really bad for her….

The mind does not boggle. It is simply exhausted by the state of affairs.

Fortunately the DCW has objected, saying that the woman is under pressure from her family. Imagine having to live with that sort of support or lack thereof, from your family. We do afterall, live in a country where you have honour killings and revenge rapes and victims committing suicide because of the shame of it….

So is there still hope? I mean okay, DCW objects and then where does this poor woman go?

What do you guys think?