Tryst With Democracy – Happy Valentine’s Day

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Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially. At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom.

These were the famous first words spoken by Jawaharlal Nehru on Aug 14, 1947… The first ever speech by a Prime Minister of Independent India. A speech that would later find its place among the best speeches of the 20th Century, and rightly so. It was inspiring. Each word was so carefully chosen, relevant and had a hard-hitting purpose to it. Every time I read it, I get small goosebumps.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines ‘tryst’ as an agreement (as between lovers) to meet at an appointed time or meeting place… In essence, a planned date. I truly believe that Nehru made a conscious decision with that word. The romanticization of destiny and freedom could not have been more poetic than on the occasion of India’s freedom after decades of struggle.

He then sat down to write The Constitution of India, which after several amendments, provides us the Freedom of Speech with reasonable restrictions.

And therein lies the rub. Our false sense of freedom gives us a right to speak, do or express our views and feelings as long as we’re sure we don’t offend a broad spectrum of people. A country of a billion with a billion opinions. We think we are left at the mercy of the powerful (and mostly uneducated) people in administrative positions of responsibility to exercise their version of reasonable to make decisions. Or are we?

It’s been an interesting few months for India.

All India Bakchod, possibly the most successful group of comedians in India came together with some of the biggest stars of Bollywood to participate in India’s very first Roast (#AIBRoast). They uploaded a highly edited version of it (believe me when I say that. I was there for the live show) on YouTube. While a majority of the viewers were thoroughly entertained, a fraction of them weren’t. This is India… So as usual, we had people getting offended and making a fuss about it, calling for bans and legal action since it really wasn’t akin to their taste in humor… and also, Would you take your mother and sister to watch this?

So much that Indian Censor Board member, Ashoke Pandit, tweeted this about Karan Johar for an ‘Anal Sex’ joke he cracked on himself during the show. Karan of course, classy as ever in his response.

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Of course it’s alright when women and sex are objectified for humor and entertainment in Music and Cinema. We have movies like Grand Masti and Delhi Belly and songs like Baby Doll, Chikni Chameli (and every Yo Yo Honey Singh song ever) that can pass all censorships and what not, but when consenting comedians and film-stars do it to each other for the sake of comedy and charity, it’s public obscenity and ruining the clean image of the Indian culture & women.

The video was soon taken down under pressure and as of this date, FIRs have been filed against AIB, Karan Johar and some other actors who were a part of it…

Reasonable restriction on Freedom of Expression.

Arvind Kejriwal became possibly the most hated man in India early last year. His party swept aside in the National elections after he lost the faith of the country to his resignation and the Modi wave. Today, he will be (or has been) sworn in again as the Chief Minister of Delhi after a mandate that puts words like ‘landslide’ and ‘unprecedented’ to shame… 67/70 seats.

Why BJP lost is not for us to decide… Was it their lack of a clear manifesto, Kiran Bedi, perceived inaction from Modi at the Center or maybe all of it combined? Fact remains, BJPs complacent efforts in Delhi had been directed towards setting all the big guns out to attack Kejriwal and the Aam Aadmi Party instead of showing Delhi why they should be elected.

New Delhi wanted a government to be run by a man who had a clear plan of action for almost all of their real problems. Of The People. By The People. For The People.

Even in the times of Modi waves and sensationally biased media, Democracy wins.

Valentine’s Day is here! A few years ago, couples in India used to think of excuses and lies to tell their parents about V-day dates (Mine was: no, Mom. I’m in college). Nowadays we have a new problem… Some Hindu groups, primarly The Hindu Mahasabha  have threatened to marry off couples if they see them on the streets doing PDA, holding hands, or even roses and teddy bears. Curiously, most of them seem to have the support of staunch Hindu babas, pundits and thousands of their disciples who have nothing better to do in life.

What’s more worrisome is that the cops will not bother intervening coz it’s an issue with a religious group. The government obviously won’t hurt anyone remotely trying to defend Hindu sentiments and culture and all that sort of thing coz that’s where their vote bank lies. They’ll just be busy defending rapists as little boys who made a mistake or watching porn in the assembly while innocent couples spend their day worrying about getting caught, bullied by religious extremists and married off instead of spending time with their loved ones.

From the President’s son calling Delhi rape victim, Nirbhaya’s protestors Dainted-Painted women to current PM Narendra Modi calling Sunanda Pushkar a 50-crore girlfriend and his former stooge and God Man, Baba Ramdev guaranteeing that he has a cure for homosexuality, here’s a list of things these powerful men of India have said about social issues merely by exercising their right to freedom of speech and expression with reasonable restriction (or lack, thereof): Credits to The Times of India and DNA.

You see, the point here is the subjective interpretation of reason coupled with an imbalance in power. A group of comedians cannot participate in a form of comedy that is meant to consensually insult and tear people’s reputation apart coz a guy in the censor board thought that’s only meant for A rated movies, not for comedy. A man can ogle and lech at women all over the country without any fear but a couple can’t spend a peaceful day in the city without being threatened. But the people with power and political connections can say all sorts of things about other religions, customs, countries and women.

Double standards, anyone?

If only they found the countless rapes, moral policing and corruption as offensive as they find Valentine’s Day, the movie PK and the AIB Roast, India would be a better place.

It all comes down to education and a will to open minds to the true freedom of expression and freedom from imposed opinions due to fear of powerful barbarians… and also to respect that everyone has a right to express themselves and their opinions, even if a majority of the population may disagree. The people of Delhi just proved that democracy is still alive… that even though we have to fight hard for it, these powers are ultimately at our mercy, and not the other way round. We have made our tryst with democracy… The time is now close for us to redeem our pledge.

To close, I leave you with the last few lines of the very speech with which I started this piece.

We are citizens of a great country, on the verge of bold advance, and we have to live up to that high standard. All of us, to whatever religion we may belong, are equally the children of India with equal rights, privileges and obligations. We cannot encourage communalism or narrow-mindedness, for no nation can be great whose people are narrow in thought or in action.

To the nations and people of the world we send greetings and pledge ourselves to cooperate with them in furthering peace, freedom and democracy.

And to India, our much-loved motherland, the ancient, the eternal and the ever-new, we pay our reverent homage and we bind ourselves afresh to her service.

Jai Hind.

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Rape Me – India vs. USA

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Just this morning, I had a conversation with an old college mate [Let’s just call him/her ‘Friend XYZ’] around a couple of social experiment videos. Y’know… The lady all dressed up walking on the streets of her city checking if guys verbally molest her or not… Yeah, that one.

For everyone living under the rocks, here are the 2 videos that we were talking about:

A bit of context: the reference to this discussion was another conversation we had with our friends back in college about how different women were treated in India and the US. Stuff about gender equality, women’s rights and so on… back then, I maintained a stand that developed countries like the US, AustraliaEvent_49_flag1 and those in Europe were far ahead of India in these matters, albeit weren’t free of crimes against women and their rights. Not sure everyone liked what I said, neither did Friend XYZ but, in all fairness, it was a very good and serious discussion among our friends. I was tagged on The Manhattan Video a few weeks ago to see that I may have been wrong… probably not with any malicious intent, but to prove me wrong.

The initial reaction to the Manhattan video was mixed. At least, it was here, in the US, where some people argued that a few of the calls like “Have a good evening” and “How are you this morning?” weren’t as much as catcalls as they were general street courtesies. But, there’s no denying that the rest of the video blew the cover on the unacceptable street harassment showcased by ‘The Greatest City in The World’.

I maintained my stand… To quote my reply:

I still maintain that US treats its women better than India does. Be it the people, government or law enforcers.

Which is not to attack India for the sake of it or to imply that US is perfect or that this video is a lie, but, India is still too far behind the ladder of gender equality to defend itself in this day and age… Plus, this is video is from Manhattan, officially the rudest city in the US. We could do the same social experiment in many other cities and I guarantee you results far different from this.

The reply 2 weeks later was a cheeky taunt along with the Mumbai video which went viral on my Facebook news feed too, with more than 5 people sharing it on the first day captioned with clichés like ‘Respect’ and the ‘Spirit of Mumbai’ and a Mumbaikar‘s general sense of pride in the city.

Yes, it was so nice to see the young lady in a tee and short skirt walking through some of the crowded places of Mumbai and not even being ogled at, let alone cat-called or harassed in public. Everyone is happy, proud and goes back to minding their own businesses with their head held high…

What a laugh! I’m sure most other streets, suburbs, and even train travelers would paint a different picture. And the streets are still not completely safe for girls to travel alone at night.

I’ve paraphrased and expanded my reply in the interest of protecting Friend XYZ’s information. I’m not writing this to show him/her down, but I just want to get my point across:

To understand my perspective, you need to have lived around both cultures. In most cities in the US, it’s perfectly acceptable to walk up to a random girl in broad daylight to start a conversation by paying them a compliment about their clothes or looks. That’s part of how their dating culture works. Don’t get me wrong. There’s still every chance of getting shot down unless you’re Robert Downey Jr. in a Lamborghini… But you can’t do that anywhere in India except for at decent bars and clubs, that too, only in metros or you’ll get slapped or get called a ‘tharki‘ for trying to hit on the next girl you see. You simply cannot look at the girl beside you in the bus and tell her she’s really pretty and that her jacket looks nice on her without looking like a creep.

Plus, a few of the lines in the Manhattan video were general conversation starters which are actually acceptable in the US but would earn the tharki slap anywhere in India. Having said that, nobody will walk up to a girl in the broad daylight and crowd of Dadar/Kurla/Andheri Stations and Bandra Bandstand or even downtown Manhattan to molest or rape her. Even they aren’t that stupid. Exceptions exist in all societies but, this video proves nothing.

My point on gender equality and treatment of the fairer sex goes far beyond a couple of videos taken completely out of context, setting and understanding of different cultures (which, also, essentially highlights the root cause of many problems dealing with progression and backward movements against the so-called ‘westernization’ in India). There’s a gulf of difference in the way the two masses of population look at a girl child, the way their societies treat its rape victims and what they and their leaders consider the solution to rape and molestation (don’t let women wear short clothes vs. mass appeal for ethics and sex educations).

The Mumbai video showed a girl walking around some of the most crowded places in the city where no molester would dare make a move. If someone did try to molest a girl in public (or even appeared to have done), he would probably have been cornered by the crowd, publicly thrashed in another exhibition of the frightfully unlawful citizen justice that we’re so used to seeing, our innumerable stupid leaders would come out with ridiculous statements like “why was the girl wearing jeans?” and “who asked her to travel alone?“, which we’ll protest by having silent marches and candle-light vigils at Gateway of India, Jantar Mantar and College Street, Arnab will find another topic to shout at random people on his primetime News debate, people will get back to work/school next morning while the victim and her family get hounded by the media and shunned by the society and we’ll never get to the crux of the issue anyway: finding the real solution.

Crime against women is still a prevalent society issue that will eventually fade away like racism and women’s rights, but, not unless we do something about it. There is always one solitary solution to all problems in the society: Education!

male_femaleI’ll say this again: no country is perfect. There are rapes the US and Europe as there are in India. There are people who beat up their wives, molest children and treat women like objects. But these countries have been proactive in fighting these crimes. Crimes against women have gone down by over 64% over the last 2 decades in the US, while the same number continues to grow at a rapid rate in India, not to mention a meagre 2% conviction rate and more than 85% still awaiting trial.

Obviously, I still maintain that India has a very long way to go to compare to other countries… ’cause identifying the problem and implementing a solution it is a much more complicated ball game in India than it is in the US and other developed nations. It won’t happen unless there’s a radical change in the thought process of the masses… Not unless people change their perspectives and not while we still have self-proclaimed moral police trying to prove that the problem with rape is the girl in ‘inappropriate attire’ and not the guy who targeted her with his perverted thoughts and unclipped wings… Not while we have a Union Cabinet minister saying that sex education should be banned because it’s vulgar and against ‘Indian Values’. We have educated urban citizens who already see sense, but that’s a very disappointing minority.

The first step in solving any problem is recognizing there is one.

And our heartfelt rejoice in the Mumbai video (and maybe to some extent, the video itself) proved once again, that we are ever ready to accept that we are better than others without any second thoughts. We’ll even attack someone who tries to correct or change us from behind the veil of culture and tradition: Coz Mera Bharat Mahan and who the fuck are you to tell me otherwise, eh?! We’re too bound by blind faith (yes, I blame religion, too) to be able to think rationally and identify these issues even if they stare us straight in the face.

As much as I disagree with some of the things our idolatrous new Prime Minister Narendra Modi says or does, nobody can deny that he has the whole country behind him. He has successfully channelled the thoughts and prayers of an inconceivable majority in his quest to save India. I hope he recognizes that among other things, one of the most crucial elements that define a country’s success is the way the people treat their women. He knows the power of his words on the people of India… I just hope he uses it like he did with the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (Clean India Campaign) to make people question their outlook on this and many other issues in our society… coz at this moment, he’s the only one who can control what the whole country thinks and inspire change.

That, along with setting up stricter laws to deal with rapists, people who speak bullshit about women’s role in rape and a transformation in the education system to blend ethics, morals and sex education along with the academic content to raise the next generation not only as learned, educated people, but also respectful ones.

Then, maybe a generation later, mera bharat will be mahaan. We’re just not there yet… But we will be.

Jai Hind!