Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Being Hillary

I must add this note before I post this link to my column in The Hindu on Hillary Clinton. I got a huge response from readers, most of it positive but some of it viciously negative. One reader called Hillary a "bitch" and me a "misandrist". Another suggested that I should stop writing altogether because all I did was write from the perspective of women -- he's probably missed the point that my column in The Hindu is precisely that, a comment from a gender perspective. Some of them said I was ill-informed, that my comments were not factual, that they were biased etc. Somehow the fact that I had tried to separate the personalities of Obama and Hillary Clinton from the way the media handled the race was missed and I was seen as being narrowly partisan. While I expect as a columnist to provoke reactions, I am intrigued at the columns that do bring forth such extreme reactions. I find it even more fascinating that a race in a country where none of us can vote can trigger off such passions. On my part, while I do not celebrate that Hillary lost, I do think it is a historic moment for the US that Obama is the candidate. If he wins, and he should, it will be something the world will celebrate.


The Hindu, Sunday Magazine, June 15

The Other Half

Hillary Clinton is now off the front pages. But she is still simmering on the back burner. The woman who would be President of the United States of America, by any measure the most powerful job in the world, is not going to slink away into anonymity. Someone who managed to get 18 million voters to support her attempt to claim the nomination of the Democratic Party is not a person you can brush off lightly. She has proved that she is someone to be reckoned with, to be taken seriously.

Yet, despite her determined and tireless campaign over seven months, there were many in the US who refused to take her seriously. Or rather they tried to ensure that no one would take her seriously by concentrating their criticism of her on things that have no relevance when it comes to holding political office. TV anchors mimicked her laugh or cackle as they called it --, spoofed her dress sense, railed against her for acting tough, chastised her if she showed any emotion, and made the most
unmentionable personal comments and jokes about her. If anything like this had been said about the presumptive Democratic nominee for President, Barack Obama, all hell would have broken loose. In the land of political correctness, you cannot make jokes about colour or about religion. But apparently women are fair game, particularly women who dare to enter an arena that has historically been the exclusive reserve of men.

One can find many faults with Hillary Clinton, as one can with Barack Obama. But these criticisms should be centred on the policies they advocate, the positions they have taken or not taken, their inconsistency, their lack of experience, their ethics, their world view. But surely in a race that is for the highest office, neither should have to face cheap personal attacks of the kind Hillary Clinton faced at the hands of America's "free" press.

Which brings us to the central question that must be asked now that the dust has settled: Is America ready to have a woman as President? Yes, if one counts the popular vote for Hillary Clinton that matched the votes that Obama managed to
get. No, if you read some of the writing and watch some of the television comments made about Hillary. All of them were personal. All of them were in bad taste. And all of them were anti-women.

(To read the rest of the article, click on the link above)

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Diary of the displaced

The Hindu, Sunday Magazine, June 1, 2008

The Other Half

When a natural disaster, like an earthquake or a tsunami, destroys your home and leaves you destitute, you have no one to blame. The trauma and grief are great but most people move on. And there is help available. What happens when your home is flattened by bulldozers because a city decides that you should not live there any more, that the land you and perhaps your parents have lived on is now required for a “public purpose”? Which “public” and what “purpose”? You cannot demand an explanation.

In such an eventuality, the trauma and grief are as great as when hit by a natural disaster, but the sense of hopelessness is greater. For, it comes after years of deception, false hopes and broken promises. There is little help available. The choice has been made for you. Move to a new site, government approved, or perish.

The problem is that even when you do move, often you perish. For, the new locations are distant, deprive you of community, of livelihood, or security. A new, well-researched book, Swept off the Map: Surviving Eviction and Resettlement in Delhi by Kalyani Menon-Sen and Gautam Bhan (published by Yoda Press) brings many of these facts out in a credible and forceful way. The book traces families compelled to move from the banks of the Yamuna from an area called Yamuna Pushta in 2004 to the Bawana Resettlement Colony on the outskirts of Delhi. This was done because the Ministry of Tourism wanted to make the area into a tourist attraction. And the slums there, where an estimated 35,000 families had lived for over three decades, were an eyesore. So they had to be moved. Despite court cases and interventions by activists, the bulldozers moved in and flattened the colony. Only 16,000 families could prove their credentials to the Delhi Development Authority (DDA). They were allotted plots in several areas outside Delhi, including Bawana.

Through feminist lens

The above study follows 2,577 households and records the impact of the move on livelihood, quality of life and environment. The research project was novel because it trained community workers to conduct the study alongside trained researchers. And it developed the research through what the researchers call a “feminist lens”. Explaining this, they write: “Methodologically, feminist research differs from traditional research because it actively seeks to address and account for the power imbalances between women and men, and between researcher and subject. It is also a strategy for challenging the social inequality built into mainstream research methods. Most significantly, it recognises and builds on the standpoints and experiences of women in particular and other marginalised groups in general.” In other words, you don’t study women as subjects but study everything from the perspective of women. The results of applying such a lens to research are very different as is evident from this particular study.

(To read the rest of the article, click on the link above)