Monday, December 21, 2015

Maneka Gandhi is right

The Hindu, Sunday Magazine, December 20, 2015

R.K. Pachauri continues to head TERI while his successor is yet to take over. Photo: Prashant Nakwe
The Hindu
R.K. Pachauri continues to head TERI while his successor is yet to take over. Photo: Prashant Nakwe

So while she is already on record asking that marital rape be criminalised even though her government thinks otherwise, in May this year she objected to the cutback in central funds allocated to programmes under her ministry. She was particularly upset that the allocation for the Integrated Child Development Services, a programme that has been crucial to improving nutritional levels of the most vulnerable children and women, has been cut by almost half. Furthermore, even the National Nutrition Mission launched in December 2014 by her government has been given short shrift. Far from the Rs.28,000 crores over five years that it was expecting, it has been allocated only Rs.100 crores so far.

In the recently released Human Development Report of the United Nations Development Programme, India’s maternal mortality figure of 190 (number of women who die for every 100,000 live births) is substantially higher than even war-torn Syria (49) and Iraq (67). Its child mortality figures are equally depressing as compared to many other countries.

Her latest missive to her own government is equally significant. In a letter to Union Finance and Corporate Affairs minister Arun Jaitley, Gandhi has asked him to make it mandatory for companies to reveal whether they have set up an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) as required under the Sexual Harassment at the Workplace Act 2013. This is a reasonable request. Yet, Jaitley has dismissed it saying that such an additional demand on companies is “undesirable”.

How does the question of whether it is “desirable” or not enter the picture? The law has mandated that all companies and organisations must have an ICC. It also requires companies to inform employees about provisions of the law and train members of the ICC on the law and what constitutes an offence.

The non-compliance levels of Indian companies underline why Ms. Gandhi’s request is not unreasonable. According to a report titled “Fostering Safe Workplaces” by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry and Ernst and Young, one in every three Indian companies, or 31 per cent, has not set up ICCs. Of those who have, 40 per cent have not begun training the members in the provisions of the law, 35 per cent are unaware of the penal consequences of not complying with the law and 44 per cent have not circulated information about the law to their employees. FICCI has just signed a Memorandum of Understanding with UN Women to advance “gender equality and women’s empowerment”. A good start would be to get its members to comply with provisions of the sexual harassment law.

According to the National Commission on Women, the complaints of sexual harassment at the workplace have doubled from 249 in 2013 to 526 in 2014. These represent a sliver of the reality. For every one case reported, there are likely to be dozens that remain hidden, with the women too afraid to raise their voices for fear of losing their jobs or being further victimised.

We know from the recent sexual harassment case at The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) how difficult it is for a woman to pursue a case against a powerful individual. When the TERI employee first complained against the head of the institute, Dr. R.K. Pachauri, TERI did not even have an ICC. Once constituted, the ICC upheld the woman’s complaint. Dr. Pachauri was asked to go on leave and the board (after some pressure from the media, one might add) appointed his successor. Yet, Dr. Pachauri continues to head TERI while his successor is yet to take over. Meanwhile, the affected woman has resigned. In her resignation letter, she states: “TERI failed to uphold my interests as an employee, let alone protecting them. The organisation has instead protected R.K. Pachauri and provided him full immunity, despite being held guilty of sexual harassment by your own inquiry committee.” This case is as clear an illustration as any of the skewed power equations in sexual harassment cases.

Compliance with the law is obviously only the first step. The minimum requirement is an ICC. Yet, as is clear from the TERI case, it is not enough. Organisations must support those women who find the courage to speak up. Instead, in their desire to avoid any slur on their reputations, many organisations end up protecting the harasser and literally hounding the complainant to leave. So, Maneka Gandhi is right. Insisting that registered companies (and other organisations) comply with this minimum requirement is not asking for too much.

Sunday, December 06, 2015

Is violence the new normal?

The Hindu, Sunday Magazine, December 6, 2015

The report by Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression that recently sent a team to investigate the impact of the conflict on women, speaks of the violence, rape and sexual assault that the local women live with every day. Photo: Lingaraj Panda
The Hindu
Has violence against women become so commonplace in India that we have stopped noting it? Do we need anniversaries — December 16 is coming up — to remind us of something that happens every day? Every year, the United Nations designates 16 days for activism against gender-based violence. So from November 25 to December 10, Human Rights Day, a slew of statements and events focuses on this. Useful as that is, we have to ask why we need specific days to express our concern for something that ought to be part of our daily discourse.

Gender violence does not occur occasionally. It happens everyday, everywhere. Yet, we only take note when something out of the ordinary happens, something horrific like the December 16, 2012, gang rape in Delhi. The sheer brutality of that rape and murder is seared into our collective memories. It galvanised people, who had never before been out on the streets, to shout that enough is enough and this culture of violence must end. 

That was three years ago. Today, that culture of violence remains embedded, throwing up new shoots every day. What is frightening is the ordinariness and the pervasiveness of sexual violence: the acceptance that it is there and will always be there; that women will get beaten up; that girls will be sexually assaulted. It is this ordinariness that makes us immune, almost indifferent to the daily litany of sexual assaults against women. 
Look at any newspaper. The stories leap out at youevery day, any day: “Nine-year-old sexually assaulted by her teachers”; “21-year-old jobless youth held for sexual assault of two-year-old.” What we read about is but a sliver of the whole. Because the whole of it takes place behind closed doors, in hidden places where there are no eyes to note, no cameras to record. It includes crimes that we don’t read about, because no one goes there to witness them, to listen to the victims, to understand that violence against women is the new normal in some parts of our country.

One such place is Chhattisgarh. With deadly regularity, there are reports of encounter deaths. What is not reported is what precedes or follows these encounters. Some of these stories have been reported in local newspapers but barely a word has appeared in the national media. As usual, a curtain of invisibility falls on incidents that occur in places that the media cannot access or does not try to access.

A few brave local journalists have tried to report on some of these stories that would otherwise be forgotten. And they have paid a heavy price for this. Two of them, Santosh Yadav and Somaru Nag, are still in jail in Chhattisgarh after being picked up in September and July respectively on suspicion of being sympathetic to the ‘Naxals’.

Apart from “encounter” killings, women in these troubled districts of Chhattisgarh have been targeted. Their stories remain largely unreported and uninvestigated. The report by Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression that recently sent a team to investigate the impact of the conflict on women, speaks of the violence, rape and sexual assault that the local women live with every day. Their report, about incidents during October 2015, is based on testimonies by dozens of women.

One such story was that of a 14-year-old girl from Peddagulur village in Bijapur district. According to the report, the girl “was grazing cattle with other women when she was chased by security forces. Overpowered and blind-folded, she was raped by at least three people before she became unconscious.” Another tragic story is that of a four-month pregnant woman who was stripped by the security forces, “repeatedly dunked in the stream, and then gang-raped.” Other women spoke of being chased, beaten, their houses looted and their property destroyed.

Despite this report, the higher ups in the police dismiss the complaints as propaganda. When you divide a population into ‘us’ and ‘them’, and the latter are seen as ‘terrorists’, then anything can be denied. Crimes against humanity become propaganda. And by refusing to even acknowledge that these crimes have occurred, the state seeks to erase them from history.

In this case, there are two small factors that give some hope. One, that the women’s group and the local media were able to reach these villages and record the testimonies of the women. And two, that some of these women could travel to the district headquarters and depose before a district collector who was willing to listen and a police officer who was open to filing an FIR.

It is still a long haul from this stage to one where the men involved will be caught and punished. But given that practically no case of this kind has made it even to the FIR stage, it is worth noting. To come back to special days, and activism against gender violence, this is needed, every day, and against all forms of violence. Not just the sexual assaults in our cities, or those that the media choose to highlight.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

The open discussion on menstruation is #Happy To Bleed's biggest achievement

Started by a college student, the campaign has chipped away at the structures of patriarchy that remain in place in India.
Photo Credit: Facebook
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We usually do not speak about it in polite company. Yet, not only was the hashtag #HappyToBleed trending a few days ago, but the issue was a discussed during prime time on a mainstream news channel and endorsed by anchor Rajdeep Sardesai.

It is the M word – menstruation.

Menstruation has become a subject of open debate largely thanks to 20-year-old Nikita Azad. Earlier this month. Prayar Gopalakrishnan, president of the Travancore Devaswom Board that manages the Sabrimala Ayyappa Temple in Kerala, had justified keeping menstruating women out of the shrine. Azad reacted by starting a counter campaign, urging young women to hold placards or sanitary napkins reading "Happy To Bleed". She started a Facebook event for this purpose and a related hashtag on Twitter.

The campaign is novel because we never discuss menstruation so openly. It’s often spoken about in private – between women, between mothers and daughters, between sisters – but never in public.

We grow up not saying “to menstruate” or “I’m menstruating”. Instead, girls will say they have their “chum” (a strange term). At most, they might say “period”. The old-fashioned will say “menses”. In Marathi, you will indirectly say it is that time of the month.

But that time of the month is not a time for celebration. You don’t jump with joy when you start to bleed. Far from it.

Difficult experience

What I’m about to narrate is probably a familiar story. When I began menstruating, I was horrified. I didn’t know what was happening to my body. I was irritated, angry and depressed on being told that this was not a one-off, a medical condition that would be “cured”. It was a permanent condition that would affect me every month, or rather every 28 days.

“Not fair”, I told my father, who had more patience to discuss these matters than my mother, who thought I was an argumentative brat. “I wish I was a boy,” I wailed. “At least then I wouldn’t have to suffer this nonsense for the rest of my life”.

My understanding father countered: “But boys also have problems. They have to shave every single day.”

“Yes, but they can grow a beard to avoid shaving. I have no such option,” I said with a sense of defeat. My father had no comeback and decided to leave the matter there.

So menstruation is not a happy occurrence for girls. It is frustrating, inconvenient and happens far too often. Sometimes there are cramps before it comes. Often there is pain when it comes. And it’s messy.  It hampers your movement, changes your walk, and makes you self-conscious. Don’t tell us that the latest sanitary napkins or tampons have altered this reality. It has only allowed us to manage the situation better

But Nikita Azad and her supporters are absolutely right in asserting that what happens to their bodies is not dirty and impure. It is a fact of life. And they are not apologetic.

There is little comfort in knowing that it is not just Hindu temples, but other religions also place restrictions on menstruating women. Why? And what logic justifies this sustaining tradition? This is what is being asked today.

It’s truly bizarre that the Sabrimala priest should suggest that a machine be invented to check whether a woman is bleeding before she can enter a temple. A man of religious dogma is turning to science to enforce illogical tradition: it must be a first.

Positive movement

#HappyToBleed may disappear after a few weeks, but it’s what the hashtag represents that we need to understand.

Feminists have campaigned through the ages for the rights of women over their bodies. This meant fighting for the right to abortion, the right to use contraceptives, the right to healthcare that extended beyond the reproductive organs, and the right to feel comfortable in our skins. Feminist campaigns have been anchored in the belief that just because men and women are biologically different, women cannot be treated as lesser beings where the difference is used to whip them into submission and into accepting secondary status.

What is notable about many of the recent campaigns by young women is their ability to turn this basic belief into one that projects their own confidence and comfort with who and what they are. In many ways, launching a campaign like #HappyToBleed and posting pictures of themselves holding up sanitary napkins containing the hashtag demonstrates that today’s feminists are as confident and creative as women in the past. They have the added advantage of new technologies and new platforms that allow for different forms of campaigning, which they use to their benefit.

What is also noteworthy is that they see these campaigns not as a gimmick but as a way to challenge what lies beneath – the P word, or Patriarchy. Nikita Azad was at pains to explain that her campaign was not about temple entry for women but "a protest against patriarchy and gender discriminatory practices prevalent in our society".

Every such campaign chips away at the structures of patriarchy that remain in place in India. The structure is in no danger of crumbling just yet. But if enough young women learn to question and challenge regressive attitudes, perhaps there is hope.
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Sunday, November 22, 2015

What do elections mean for women?

The Hindu, Sunday Magazine, November 22, 2015

In a post-poll survey, The Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) said there was no clear correlation between the women’s vote and the Grand Alliance’s dramatic victory.
They were everywhere. Women in colourful saris, smiling broadly, proudly displaying their voter IDs, standing in line to cast their vote. Once the dust settles on Bihar 2015, these images of Bihari women will linger.

But there are many questions. What was behind those smiles? Were they proud to be voters? Were they pleased that the act of voting made them visible? Had they really decided independently on their choice of candidate? Why do elections appear to mean so much to some women who appear otherwise to be virtually invisible to politicians, media, and society?

Many in the media concluded that the high turnout of women voters contributed to the victory of the Grand Alliance in Bihar. The Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) was more cautious after its post-poll survey, saying there was no clear correlation between the women’s vote and the Grand Alliance’s dramatic victory. In any case, how can we know for certain how many women voted for which party?

What the CSDS survey did conclude was that it was younger women and poor women who were most enthusiastic about voting. And they voted mostly for the Grand Alliance. More than that, by turning out as they did in large numbers on polling day, they reminded us yet again that despite all its problems, democracy is alive and breathing in this country.

How did this happen, this engagement by women in a process from which they had largely been excluded? Politics in most parts of India had been a male game. Of course, there were women but they found their space by virtue of their association with a powerful man and rarely on their own terms.

The change began with the 73rd and 74th amendments to the Constitution in 1992 that devolved power to local governments. It allowed for an increasing number of women to contest for seats in local bodies because one-third was reserved for them. In Bihar, it was Nitish Kumar, now once again the Chief Minister, who set off a trend by increasing reservation for women from one-third to half in 2006.

Even if we presume that half the women who stood for elections and won seats in panchayats and nagar palikas did so as proxies of their husbands, that still leaves a substantial number of women who knew what they were doing. What is also interesting is to see how those who initially accepted being proxies gradually began asserting their own agency. In fact, it was in Bihar that I saw this when I spent time with a woman mukhiya of a panchayat in Nawada district. Unlettered, a widow, and completely new to politics, within one term this woman had grasped the essence of what was expected of her. After her first term, she won again from a general seat.

The sad part of this story is that while women are voting and participating in panchayats and urban local bodies, their numbers are still miserably low in State Assemblies and in Parliament. That is evident in the results of the 2015 Bihar elections. According to data on the Election Commission’s website, only 25 women were elected out of 243 elected representatives. Of these, just under half, or 12 women, are from Lalu Prasad Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal. Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United) had only five.

Perhaps one should not read too much into this. It is interesting, however, that while interviews with women during the election campaign suggested that the majority of them rated Nitish Kumar’s rule much higher because he was perceived to have enhanced safety for women, the RJD appears to have done better in choosing women candidates who could win.

Win or lose, the essential point of reservation, or encouraging more women to enter the political fray, is to accept that women have an equal right to participate in governance. If the scales are weighed against women’s participation because society lays down that they remain at home, there has to be active intervention to encourage them. That is why we need reservation. But just greater numbers of women in elected office will have little meaning unless the process of participation accommodates men and women as equal partners.

This is what a photograph of the new Cabinet of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, which went viral on social media, demonstrates. It underlines that it is feasible and completely normal to have a Cabinet with an equal number of men and women. When asked by a reporter to explain, Trudeau replied, “Because it is 2015!” Exactly. That is something we need to hear here. Working with women as equals is not a favour that men bestow on women. It is how the world should work. It is how the world can work.

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Girls just want some space

The Hindu, Sunday Magazine,November 8, 2015

With her shock of flaming red hair, you cannot miss Mona Eltahawy. This gutsy young Egyptian journalist, author and feminist, was by far the most striking presence at the recent Tata Literature Live in Mumbai. But more than her appearance, it’s what she said that struck a chord.

As a journalist and an activist demanding democracy and freedom, Mona was one of the thousands who flocked to Cairo’s Tahrir Square in 2011 in what came to be known as the Arab Spring. But the promise of freedom was never realised. Worse, as Mona said, “During the revolution in Egypt, men and women came and fought together. But once it was over, women went back to being oppressed.”

Mona was one of several women at the receiving end of physical and sexual assault at the hands of the police. But what disappointed her more was the attitude of some of the men who were also part of the uprising. “We had the Mubarak in the Presidential Palace and the Mubarak on the street. But at the end of the day, we were left with the Mubarak in the bedroom.” She called this “the trifecta of misogyny”.

Mona Eltawahy’s realisation that public spaces, including those considered “sacred”, were not safe for women began when at 15 she was groped in Mecca while on the Haj with her family. What began then has now become her passion as she speaks and writes about women’s rights. She has been pilloried, threatened and trolled on Twitter and social media for her views, especially after her book Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution was published.

Mona’s take on women’s right to the public space is shared by women everywhere, especially in our part of the world. Women access public spaces in groups, or as part of families. But the right to just be; to enjoy a public space without being asked questions or harassed; to walk, to read, to lie on a bench or a beach; to just stare into nothingness; to hang about without any ostensible purpose — something that men do all the time — is denied to the majority of women. Why?

That is the question that some young women in India are beginning to ask. Their numbers are small, a drop in the ocean. But just as it took only three writers — Nayantara Sahgal, Uday Prakash and Ashok Vajpeyi — to trigger a virtual deluge of protests against the climate of intolerance, perhaps even these small initiatives will find a wider resonance.

It began in 2011 when Shilpa Phadke, Sameera Khan and Shilpa Ranade published their book Why Loiter? In it they reported on studies on how women use public spaces. They noted, for instance, that most women would feel the need to access a public space only if they had a specific purpose — to go from home to school, or office, or to a shop. Seldom, if ever, did women think they had the right to just be there, to do nothing, to just hang around.

If women through the ages have felt angered at such restrictions, the majority have accepted them and perhaps even bought into the argument that ultimately it is “for their own good”. Young women are lectured about this all the time. Be back at such and such time, “for your own good”. Don’t go out after dark, “for your own good”. Don’t go out alone, “for your own good”.

Why Loiter? seems to have triggered off a form of rebellion among a small number of young, urban women. In Mumbai, some of them do organised “loitering”. They step out in groups after dark, go to places where women are rarely seen, drink chai or eat street food and just enjoy doing what young men do without any hesitation. Their experiences have been fascinating. They are sometimes stopped by the police and asked to go home. They are the objects of hostile stares from men. But these women will not give up.

Interestingly, the Indian campaign has found an echo across the border. So in Karachi and Lahore, #GirlsAtDhabas campaign has groups of young women eating and drinking at roadside dhabas where you see only men. Even more fun is the birth of women’s gully cricket in Karachi, where they play cricket on the street.

The latest is the ‘Pinjra Tod’ campaign in Delhi. Women students have protested against unreasonable hostel rules, where they are expected to return by 7 p.m. and be locked up after that. If in all other respects they are considered adults, why do colleges feel the need to keep their women students literally in a prison, they ask?

These questions are not irrelevant. They have to be addressed by parents, by teachers, by those who plan and run our cities. Many parents might see these campaigns as unreasonable, even dangerous. But in the long run, a society that literally incarcerates women because public spaces are not safe will become one where no one will feel safe.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Lock up the girls?

The Hindu, Sunday Magazine, October 25, 2015

A rally in Hyderabad to protest the rise in violence against women and children. Photo: G. Ramakrishna

Two weeks ago, a woman who lives in the slum near my house came to see me. She looked deeply disturbed. She has a nine-year-old granddaughter who goes to school early morning and returns in the afternoon. Most days, she eats lunch and falls into a deep sleep. That day, while her mother was washing clothes, this little girl fell asleep as usual. By chance, her mother heard something and went up to the loft to check. There she found her neighbour’s 14-year-old son pulling down his pants and hovering over the child, whose undergarments had already been removed. The mother screamed. The boy ran. And the little girl woke up not knowing what had happened.

What should she do, wondered her grandmother. Report this to the police? Others in the slum who had done that got no relief, she said. When she confronted the boy’s mother, she was met with denial. Should the girl’s father beat up the boy and teach him a lesson? But these were her neighbours. They had lived side by side for decades.

How would she be able to “protect” her granddaughter from this young man, or other sexual predators? As both she and the girl’s mother work as domestic help in other people’s houses, the little girl is often on her own. How will they now make sure that she is never left alone? And for how long can they do this?

There are no easy or glib answers to these questions, and few words of reassurance to offer. This woman lives in the midst of a grim reality; they have no private or safe spaces, and all women, young and old, are vulnerable to molestation and assault. And it is not just strangers but the known faces in their midst who are the predators.

The news from Delhi about the brutal rape of two girls aged two and five by men known to them and their families reminded me of this conversation. Such rapes are not new. In Delhi alone, 199 children under 12 were raped last year. Of these, 71 were under six. Nationwide, there were 2,000 rapes of children under 12 in 2014, of which 547 were younger than six.

These horrific statistics do not tell the full story. Yet, it is evident that more child rapes are being reported now than before, as people become aware of the special law for sexual assault on minors: Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (2012) or POCSO. The law is an important first step. But it is just that.

Somehow our politicians fail to understand this. So after news of the rapes came out, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal predictably began slamming the Centre for not handing over the police to the State. And the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) took potshots at Mr. Kejriwal for not keeping women safe in his State. In this political ping-pong, neither side even acknowledged that what we are seeing is a much deeper problem, one that requires contemplation and action, and not empty rhetoric.

Do Mr. Kejriwal or the BJP really believe that better policing can stop this? How many policemen will we need to stop the rapes of children? And if you treat 14 year olds who rape minors as adults, and punish them accordingly, as Mr. Kejriwal has suggested, will it make a difference? Or will families continue to cover up the crime?

Women’s safety, or the lack of it, is only one part of a larger problem. We must ask why we are becoming a society that is not just intolerant but also one where impunity reigns supreme. Everyone believes they can get away with a crime, major or minor. From the policeman who pockets money when someone violates a traffic rule to drunken drivers to child molesters, people think they can get away with it. And often they do. Only the very poor, or those belonging to a minority, get caught. For instance, the woman I spoke to admitted that every time there was a “lafda” (trouble) in her slum, the police would routinely round up all the young Muslim men.

Given this ugly reality, what is the solution? Should we keep our girls locked up for their own good? Should we police their every action? Will that make them feel confident and safe or will it merely make them feel hounded and caged?

Mr. Kejriwal and his counterparts in other political parties need to be reminded that children , like those little girls in Delhi, are raped not by strangers, but by people they know. The problem lies inside our houses andneighbourhoods, within our families. No amount of policing or laws can penetrate these hidden spaces where crimes are committed.

The change must begin with the way boys are brought up. Their sense of entitlement, an integral part of the patriarchal system, needs to end. And they have to be brainwashed, if necessary, to accept that women and men have equal rights.

There are no short cuts to ending this violence.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

First Babri, now Dadri

The Hindu, Sunday Magazine, October 11, 2015

A protest in New Delhi against the Dadri incident.
  • PTI

On his recent visit to Silicon Valley, the Prime Minister tried to sell the world the promise of a Digital India and declared that the 21st Century would be India’s. That is a distant dream; the hate politics that exemplifies the murder of Akhlaq is the current reality. And for this, the responsibility lies not only with fringe groups but equally with a government and a ruling party that has legitimised interference in all aspects of our lives by promoting a culture of bans and prohibition. It has claimed the right to decide what we eat, what we wear, what we read, what we view, who we meet, who we marry, who we worship and ultimately what we think.

If senior Bharatiya Janata Party functionaries can pass off Mohammed Akhlaq’s cold-blooded murder as an “accident” and an “unfortunate incident”, the same justification will be used when women are sexually assaulted for crossing the moral line determined by people with the same mind set as those who killed Akhlaq. Once you breed this type of suspicion and hatred, and justify the violence of your actions, no woman or man who thinks or acts differently is safe. Is this the India we want?

We might think that such things happen more frequently in the communal cauldron of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. But look south. Look closely at what is happening in a State like Karnataka. For decades there was peace. Yet, the pace of communalisation has picked up and accelerated in the last decade to the point that the district of Dakshina Kannada, in which the cosmopolitan city of Mangaluru is located, has become the epicentre of communal tension.

The fallout of this is felt most by women who have become the targets of a twisted form of moral policing. In a district where 67 per cent are Hindus, 24 per cent Muslims and 8 per cent Christians, where the sex ratio is skewed in favour of women (1,020) unlike in the rest of the country, where female literacy is as high as 91 per cent, where a human development indicator like the infant mortality rate is substantially above the national average, young men and women are virtually forbidden from hanging out together. If they take the risk, they might have hell to pay.

Recent reports speak of random attacks on young people hanging out at malls, going to restaurants or going on a college trip in a so-called “mixed group”. If Hindu girls are found with Muslim boys, the latter are threatened and even beaten up while the former are warned. If girls, regardless of religion are found drinking alcohol, they are dragged out and shamed, as was done in the attack on a pub in 2009. If young men and women organise a private party, that too is targeted by moral vigilantes as happened in 2012 when one such birthday bash was broken up and the entire incident televised.

So are we going forwards, or steadily backwards? And how will this generation of young women, educated, looking forward to careers, having access to information and communication through the Internet, survive in a world where every step they take is watched? In Mangaluru, a city with a huge population of young people thronging the scores of high quality educational institutions, such an atmosphere must be stifling, hardly conducive to learning or creativity.

Today these are stories from Mangaluru; tomorrow they will happen elsewhere in India. In fact, they are happening but are not always reported.

Why should one worry about the response, or rather the lack of it, by the Central government to this growing culture of intolerance and violence? After all, law and order is a state subject and in the case of the Dadri murder, the State government of U.P. has intervened. But the combination of a silent Prime Minister and an unrestrained, insensitive and unapologetic Culture Minister (who readily expressed his regressive views on what women can and cannot do), adds up to a virtual endorsement of such actions.

Dadri is not a random incident; it is part of a larger picture that is emerging of the kind of India some people want to make. This is not the India envisioned by those who fought for its independence from the British. In 1947, we looked forward to a democratic, secular, plural India, where all religions are equal, where women have rights, where freedom of expression is guaranteed. Join the dots and you can see clearly that the idea of India that is now being pushed envisions a monoculture where you are given no choice but to conform.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

From instruments of abuse

The Hindu, Sunday Magazine, Sept 27, 2015

  • Different editions of Khabar Lahariya newspapers that is published in six different local language editions in the state of Uttar Pradesh.
    Special Arrangement
    Different editions of Khabar Lahariya newspapers that is published in six different local language editions in the state of Uttar Pradesh.

They waited nine months.  Filed two FIRs and one complaint.  But the police were deaf to their appeals.  No response; no action. Suddenly, everything changed. Within two days, the problem was solved.

The lack of response is a familiar story yet there is a difference.  The protagonists in this story are a remarkable group of Dalit and Adivasi women journalists in U.P. They publish a weekly paper, Khabar Lahariya, in five local languages — Bundeli, Bhojpuri, Awadhi, Hindustani and Bajjika.  In a part of India where the sex ratio is hopelessly skewed, where women confront a daily dose of violence and abuse, where female literacy clings stubbornly to levels well below the national average, where poverty and absence of opportunities breeds its special brand of despair, these women are breaking every norm.  And also setting high journalistic standards by doing what reporters are supposed to do — doggedly follow even difficult stories.

Their organisation provides no transport; instead they walk, cycle, hitch rides to places where they personally want to investigate a story.  It would be much easier to call, an established norm these days. But these women journalists of Khabar Lahariya stubbornly stick to the old-fashioned way of reporting — burning shoe leather. And the difference is evident in the accuracy and quality of their reports from the rural hinterland.

For their labours, they have received recognition.  From a paper that was viewed only as a “woman’s” paper, Khabar Lahariya is now seen as a genuine rural paper.  It covers all kinds of news including political developments. In fact, as I wrote in an earlier column (The Hindu, March 23, 2008:, mainstream journalists are now turning to these women for details, and even using their material without crediting them.

But the unsavoury side of recognition is abuse. For nine months, one man has been stalking and abusing some of these women on the phone.  He used dozens of different sim cards to call and harass different women. He would tell them things like, “Talk dirty to me else I’ll have you kidnapped and raped, many times over. Wherever you hide, I’ll find you. You and everyone in your team.” Despite complaints, the calls did not stop.  He called at all hours of the day and night to the point that some of them were terrified every time their phones rang.

The women registered their complaints and gave the cell numbers from which the calls emanated to the police and to the phone provider.  Yet nothing happened.

The nightmare ended only when another form of technology kicked in, that of social media. The Ladies Finger, a web-based portal, ran their story. (  It went “viral”.  It was posted on Facebook and Twitter.  It reached the ears of the U.P. Chief Minister.  And all of a sudden the local police woke up and arrested the man.  Without this kind of pressure, nothing would have happened.

But as Shalini, one of the coordinators told the press, “Ironically, for journalists who report on gender issues, the very process of filing complaints and visiting several police stations for repeated recording of statements turned out to be a form of harassment in itself.”

We now have to wait and watch under what provisions of the law this despicable and unrepentant man, who calls himself Nishu, is charged.  But the entire sequence of events has thrown light on many aspects of the challenges before women who are doing something different.

At least, the women journalists of Khabar Lahariya are known and have connections beyond the villages from where they report.  But think of thousands of young women who want to break out, who make tentative attempts to do something different with their lives.  When local police ignore even women like the Khabar Lahariya journalists, what hope is there for any other woman who faces similar harassment?

Then also consider the double-edged sword that is technology.  On the one hand, the mobile phone has been an instrument of tremendous empowerment, including for women.  It has given millions of people a means of communication that just did not exist for them.  But on the other, it is also the source of harassment.  

That also goes for social media.  In this and other instances, it has been successfully used to put pressure on the authorities to act.  But we also know of the increasing harassment that women writers, social activists and others face through this very channel.  Any criticism of those in power is met with an avalanche of abuse and threats. The abusers use fake identities to evade detection.  Few of them are caught or punished.

So even as we inch forward — and certainly the very existence of something like Khabar Lahariya represents progress — we are pushed back because a woman’s right to her space, her right to choose, her right to be explore the unknown, is simply not accepted.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Why do women work so hard?

The Hindu, Sunday Magazine, Sept 13, 2015
Ahead of the International Woman's Day , Proctor and Gamble launched iconic couple Manchu Lakshmi and husband Anand Srinivasan do the laundry with Ariel -His and Her pack detergent powder in Hyderabad. Photo: P.V. Sivakumar
The Hindu
Ahead of the International Woman's Day , Proctor and Gamble launched iconic couple Manchu Lakshmi and husband Anand Srinivasan do the laundry with Ariel -His and Her pack detergent powder in Hyderabad. Photo: P.V. Sivakumar

Both ads are interesting and are attempting to be different. But are they really touching on the basic problem? Men or women should be able to operate appliances like washing machines that are designed to make domestic work less of a drudgery. Yet, does that happen? Do a random check in your neighbourhood and find out how many men, in households with washing machines, wash the clothes. I can guarantee that in the majority it will be the woman of the house, or the woman domestic help, and not the man who does this. Despite technology, certain tasks remain a woman’s work and washing clothes is one of them.
Kalpana Sharma

By setting boundaries for what women can and cannot do and what they must do, our society is increasing the burden that the majority of women already carry. What they must do are the so-called “women’s tasks” that include cleaning, caring, cooking as well as fetching — water and firewood, for instance. In rural areas, some of the most back-breaking tasks in the field are assigned to women. Yet, even as women do all this, their contribution is not counted as “work” at all.

You read headlines, like this one that I spotted in The New York Times recently asking, “Why aren’t India’s women working?” The article was only looking at paid work, and here India’s record is abysmal. In fact, according to the International Labour Organisation, in the ranking of nations, India stands 11th from the bottom in terms of female labour participation. Although the Indian economy grew steadily between 2004-11, the percentage of women in paid employment fell from 31 per cent to 24 per cent.

So, we have to worry not just about why India’s women are working so hard, but also why they cannot find work for which they are paid.

These are two sides of the same coin. Women are pushed into a relentless cycle of work because certain jobs are designated as theirs to do, irrespective of age, ill health, pregnancy or other problems.

One of these is collecting fuel to light the stove in the home. Despite all the progress our country is touted to have made, it is distressing to know that 67 per cent of India’s rural households still depend on firewood and wood chips as cooking fuel. The burden of this unfortunate statistic falls squarely on the shoulders of women. Not only do they have to fetch the firewood, they suffer the health consequences of cooking on stoves using this inefficient and polluting fuel.

In cities, poor women might not fetch firewood but collecting water is their job, apart from cleaning, caring and cooking. In addition, given the cost of living, poor women do all this in other people’s homes, as domestic help, while their middle-class sisters commute long distances to do a variety of paid jobs. But at the end of the day, the poor and not-so-poor women return to their homes and continue working.

What needs to change is this assumption that only women can do certain jobs. Why? Men cook but mostly if it is a paid job. When they come home, it is the woman who will cook. Men also work as domestics. But in their homes, the women will do all those chores. And in educated households, where both husband and wife have paid jobs and can afford domestic help and appliances that reduce the burden of housework, it is still the woman who ends up doing certain tasks.

As for the limits placed on what women can and cannot do outside their homes, some of these are crumbling. But not fast enough. For instance, while India can boast of a higher percentage of women pilots (11.7 per cent of the total of 5,100 compared to just 3 per cent in the rest of the world), the gender gap is vast in the majority of professions.

So, even if a washing machine is made simple enough for a man to use — and that indeed is funny given that men are always projected as better at handling anything mechanical — the day has yet to dawn when a man tells his wife, “Let me wash the clothes”.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Where are the teachers?

The Hindu, Sunday Magazine, August 30, 2015

  • General figures of literacy rates do not tell us the full story about education of women in India.
    The Hindu

These questions came to mind as I read a fascinating article in Economic and Political Weekly on how a shortage of teachers in Rajasthan is affecting not just female literacy but also limiting the choices for girls who want to study science and math ( The article, by Kameshwari Jandhyala and Vimala Ramachandran, is based on research in three districts in Rajasthan -- Barmer, Baran and Ajmer. Each of these districts has a substantial percentage of scheduled tribe, scheduled caste or Muslim population.

The article brought out the inextricable link between literacy and the availability of teachers. If there is low literacy, especially among girls, there will be fewer women available to become teachers. If there are not enough women teachers, in conservative and low literacy areas, parents will not send girls out to study. As a result, low literacy amongst girls will continue.

What is even more significant is that although conservative parents are willing to send girls to primary school, this is where their education usually ends. Secondary schools are often too far, and parents prefer girls’ schools with women teachers. But there are not many of them.In Rajasthan the percentage of women teachers is already below the national average. It is only 19 per cent at the secondary level and in some of the poorer districts it goes down to 9. If you look at the enrolment rate of girls and boys, you see a steady decline in the presence of girls in the higher classes. The decline is even steeper if you look at the figures for SCs and STs.

Furthermore, in the few all-girls’ schools offering secondary education, the science stream often does not exist because there are no women teachers available to teach these subjects. Unless we increase the enrolment of girls in secondary schools and colleges, and give them the chance to study science, we will never have enough women qualified to be science teachers.

So, on the one hand, governments give incentives to encourage girls to go to school. Some States offer bicycles, others give free uniforms and books so that even poor families can send their girls to school. Such incentives have increased enrolment even if the quality of teaching is poor. On the other hand, the girls who make it to secondary school are confined to non-science subjects. Without science education, there is not even a whiff of a chance of these girls ever entering the world opened up by science and technology.

The saddest aspect that comes out in the study is the plight of the girls who somehow manage to convince their families that they want to pursue science. They can do this only if they go to study in co-ed schools where there are science teachers. According to the article, the girls who overcame objections from parents and attended co-ed schools had a rough time. They spoke of harassment, sexual innuendos, inadequate physical safety, fear of moving around, even to go to bathrooms within the institutions, derisive talk, and so on. Women who attended college or teachers training institutes also faced this. How can you learn and grow in such an atmosphere?

Reading this, I was reminded of the recent tragic case from Sangrur town in Punjab where a 16-year-old Dalit girl set herself ablaze and died because she was harassed by four young men on her way to the government school. The school was 10 km from her home and these men would follow her everyday and taunt her. In her dying declaration, she said: “I dreamt of becoming a doctor. It wasn’t my dream alone but also that of my brother. I’ve had to kill my dream and take my life. I couldn’t bear the humiliation. They crossed all limits.”

Multiply this, and what the article narrates, and you get a picture of what is happening with education in India. General figures of literacy rates do not tell us the full story. It is this kind of detail — the lack of women teachers, the need for more women teachers to teach science, the importance of a safe environment for girls in secondary schools and colleges — that will make a real difference. It is this that will give substance to the apparent “right to education” that every girl is guaranteed in India.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

In media coverage of Sheena Bora case, sensationalism trumps proportionality yet again

Saturday, August 29th 2015

There's no doubt that this high-society crime merits the attention of journalists ‒ but not by disregarding other stories.
Photo Credit: Facebook
“The nation” has come to a standstill.  It only wants to know one thing: Who killed Sheena Bora?

The developments since August 25, when the Mumbai police claimed they had solved a sensational murder case, would make any media watcher feel dizzy.  Like a crime thriller that unfolds in deliberately calibrated detail, the Sheena Bora murder case has unraveled, holding the media and through it “the nation” in thrall.  Apparently.

Who cares if the Patidars of Gujarat are screaming murder, drawing comparisons to Jallianwala Bagh in the way the police attacked participants at their massive demonstrations across Gujarat to demand reservations.  Or that representatives of the Indian army continue to protest and demand One Rank One Pension, one of many promises that the prime minister has failed to keep. Or that apparently another Pakistani has been caught sneaking across the border. Or that the Chinese have successfully shaken up the Indian stock market. All this separately or together counts for little when we have a story of a gory murder committed three years ago that neither we nor the Mumbai police knew anything about until now.

And what exactly have the police found?  There is no body, only remnants of a burnt corpse found three years ago. Some samples, we are told, were sent to the forensic laboratory in Mumbai.  Then we heard that these samples had been misplaced.  Now we hear they have been found and some more discovered at the same spot.  And these have now been sent for DNA testing, a process that takes some time. Until this is done, no one, not even the Mumbai police, knows for sure whether these body parts belong to the missing woman Sheena Bora.

Apart from this the police case has been built on the confession of a man who says he was the driver of the main accused, Indrani Mukherjea.  The confession, on the police’s own admission, was extracted through extreme pressure.  We can only imagine what that could be.  And we also know that such confessions can be retracted.

 A good story

Of course, such minor details are immaterial when there is such a good story to report.  Or to distract the media from generous amounts of speculation and conjecture.  Or the all-too-familiar character assassination considered appropriate, one presumes, as we are discussing murder.

So we are informed, thanks to the endless debates on television, that the main accused is a heartless mother, a “social climber” from a “small town” (people in Guwahati ought to be really offended at this). Arnab Goswami informed us that Indrani is  “a crazy and evil genius” and “maverick murderer” but not a “psychopath”.  An employee from NewsX, the channel that was set up by Indrani and her husband Peter Mukherjea, was quoted in the Times of India saying that there was something diabolical about Indrani Mukherjea's eyes.  And actor Rishi Kapoor tweeted that Indrani Mukherjea is “a real weirdo”.

NDTV has boasted that it is against tabloidisation of the news.  But in this instance, it has done precisely that. In a programme titled “The Indrani Files”, Barkha Dutt asked: “Do we have to reserve judgment? How deep are we going into the lurid details of this saga?”  But then, she proceeded to do precisely that.  The others on her panel liberally dissected Indrani Mukherjea’s character and refused to even consider that she has not yet been proven guilty.  Barkha Dutt asks one of her panelists, Anil Dharkar: “Is this a murder that the media must investigate?”  He replied: “This is a murder that the police must investigate.”

Yet as in the past, the media is all set to investigate this case, and thereby help the Mumbai police crack a case that it claims it has already solved.  So India Today TV went into Indrani Mukherjea’s former husband Sanjeev Khanna’s Facebook page and tried to read all kinds of meaning into his posts on the days before and after the alleged murder.  Khanna has reportedly confessed to abetting in the alleged murder.

 Ridiculous questions

The media are interviewing everyone from the grandfather to Sheena Bora’s friends to Peter Mukherjea to Bora’s brother Mikhail. Arnab Goswami asked Peter Mukherjea, “You believe your wife is the murderer?”  “Certainly not," replies Peter.  What did he expect the man to answer?

Even Karan Thapar, otherwise considered one of the more balanced anchors, cannot resist the running strip under his programme “To The Point” on India Today TV that says it all: “Femme Fatale Indrani’s many truths.”

This, of course, is only a small part of a story where there is romance, deceit, cover-ups and a hundred unanswered questions.

Should the media pay so much attention to this one case?  One cannot argue that it should not because it has everything that people like to read.  Crime is popular reading; note the growing number of pages devoted to crime in most newspapers. A high-society murder case like this is automatically page one material.  The murder of a dalit girl in the backwaters of Maharashtra is not.

But what about proportionality?  Is that something worth discussing?  How much space and attention should you give to one story at the cost of others?  Indian TV has never been the best example of either balance or proportion. And here you have another example.

Given this, it is amusing to watch media persons on TV channels trying hard to justify the over-the-top coverage of this story as a “duty” of the media to keep pressure that the case is solved.  Really?  By repeating what is already being revealed by family members or leaked by the police, by sweating over conjectures, is the media really helping to solve this case?  Some commentators have even drawn comparisons between this case and the Jessica Lal case to justify media hyper activism.

 Playing softball

Instead, is it not our job as journalists to ask the police some difficult questions? Why is Mumbai Police Commissioner Rakesh Maria not asked to explain why he has gone public with a case when even the DNA analysis on the suspected remnants of Sheena Bora’s body has not yet been done?  What was the hurry?  In any other country, would a police team rush to the media before it had a watertight case, particularly when the people involved are well-heeled and can employ smart defence lawyers?  Instead of asking questions, the media is devouring every morsel that is thrown out by the police or anyone willing to speak about the case.

There have been innumerable discussions about trial by media.  Each time something like this happens – Arushi, Sunanda Tharoor, others – there is a little bit of contemplation, and then business as usual.  Norms or the ethics of reporting on crime have never been seriously addressed.

The media’s obsession with sensation, with news that sells, with whatever feeds the bottom line, has ultimately won over any notion of proportion or balance.

Monday, August 17, 2015

The road to nowhere

My rant in Mumbai Mirror against the crazy idea of building a coastal road in Mumbai.


If you are one of the lucky seven per cent of Mumbai's citizens, you are in for good times. As a car owner, you are being promised a smooth, scenic ride along the city's gorgeous coastline. But if you are one of the unfortunate 93 per cent of the Mumbai's population, you must continue to live with the existing public transport system with a few incremental crumbs thrown your way.

Put simply, this is what the grand Western Coastal Road plan that the Maharashtra government is pushing ahead with means - Rs 12,000 crore and more to be spent for less than seven per cent of the population. The enormous cost to benefit a few is not the only reason we, as Mumbai's 93 per cent, need to wake up and understand the consequences of this foolhardy plan. It is a plan that runs counter to received wisdom from around the world about what makes cities liveable for all citizens.

The supreme irony of the government's grand project is that the Dutch government has offered to help. In Holland, cars are discouraged; people walk, cycle, use buses and trains. For a country that has learned to live with the sea, a road along its coastline for cars would be inconceivable. Yet, with investment opportunities drying up in Europe, the Dutch have found a reason to encourage this foolishness on other shores.

Forget the Dutch, for a moment. What about us Mumbaikars? Our litany of complaints about the way this city is managed never ends. Yet, we seem to wake up to disasters only when it is too late.

The spirited opposition to the municipal corporation's Mumbai Development Plan 2034 earlier this year ultimately resulted in it being abandoned (although one is not confident that a new version will really be better). The process of information, consultation, and participation by the people of Mumbai proved that it is possible to reverse and even stop the government's plans if enough people decide to intervene. No such process has taken place so far on the coastal road.

Initially, the government gave hardly a month for objections. Many questions remain about the process by which the plan was finalised. For instance, how was the Environmental Impact Assessment done? And how did the Ministry of Environment and Forests give environmental clearance with such alacrity despite the adverse impact the road will have on mangroves and the tidal patterns?

The deadline for objections has been extended to August 27. But even today people living along the coast where the road will be built are not aware that this project is imminent.

If the plan goes through, what will certainly happen is that Mumbai's uniqueness, its undulating coastline, will be destroyed by an eight-lane highway running alongside it, or under it in some instances. The ramps for entry and exit from the tunnels will destroy the rocks that emerge on many parts of this coastline during low tide.

Furthermore, the planners of the project seem to be unaware that Mumbai has changed drastically in the last decade. Hence, inexplicably, the road begins in Nariman Point, an area that is getting depopulated as business has moved north for more than a decade now. It ends in Kandivali even though areas beyond that are crying for better connectivity.

If the government has Rs 12,000 crore to spare, why, we should ask, does it not invest it in public transport - enhancing and improving what exists, and adding to it? Why not put every effort to speed up the metro rail, improve existing bus systems and the commuter trains that are stressed to almost breaking point?

You don't need to be a planning wizard to realise that cities improve if you invest in whatever benefits the majority of people. Choosing public transport over private cars is a no brainer. But somehow, this kind of common sense has escaped our government. Our only option then, as citizens, is to assert our right to question and object to a road that is going to lead nowhere. 

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Targeting women

The Hindu, Sunday Magazine, August16, 2015

The Congress Party, headed as it is by a woman, should have castigated Gurudas Kamat for his sexist comments. Congress President Sonia Gandhi with Kamat in 2013. Photo: Rohit Jain Paras
  • The Hindu
    Congress President Sonia Gandhi with Kamat in 2013. Photo: Rohit Jain Paras
Smriti Irani is not the most popular Minister in the Narendra Modi Cabinet by a long shot. She has had more than her fair share of detractors. But irrespective of my opinion about whether she is fit for the job of Union Human Resource Development Minister, I believe she does not deserve to be the target of misogyny and sexist comments from male politicians.

The latest to join the club of several anti-women politicians from different political parties is Congress leader Gurudas Kamat. At a recent party meeting in Pali, Rajasthan, Kamat was filmed by television cameras saying (in Hindi): “If a chaiwala (tea seller) can become prime minister, then why not a ponchawali (cleaning woman) as education minister?” He was referring to Irani having worked in a fast food joint in Mumbai at one stage in her life. Although it is this remark that triggered some outrage, it is in fact some of the other remarks that Kamat made, mocking Irani about her journey into politics and using innuendo to suggest that there were other considerations that came into play, that were far worse. It is obvious that Kamat could say this and draw sniggers from his largely male audience because his target was a woman. Has such innuendo ever been used against a male politician in public?

Predictably, instead of ticking him off, his party chose to defend him. And as for Kamat, he resorted to that old trick that all politicians use when caught making inappropriate statements: “I have been misquoted”.

Thanks to the media, which records all such statements and recognises instantly the potential for a story, the clip of Kamat’s speech has been widely circulated. The “misquoted” excuse falls flat on its face under these circumstances. Kamat and his ilk should know that.

The Congress Party, headed as it is by a woman, should have castigated Kamat. Any political party that claims it stands for women’s human rights cannot allow its members to get away with such public statements. And that goes for all political parties including the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Samajwadi Party and the Janata Dal (U) (remember Sharad Yadav)? And, of course, the newest kid on the block, the Aam Aadmi Party, which has its fair share of misogynists.

Remarks such as those made by Kamat produce a reaction for a while and are then forgotten. We have come to accept that male politicians of all hues make such comments because this is how they think. If that is a reality, should we just accept it? Is this preferable to a sham political correctness where the right things are said while in fact the attitude is very different?

Indian politicians are, of course, not an exception in this field. In the run-up to the U.S. presidential elections, even as the Republicans and Democrats are knocking each other out in the race for the nomination, we are getting to hear a fair share of intolerant talk from presidential hopefuls. In the recent much-watched debate of Republican candidates for the presidential nomination on Fox News, billionaire Donald Trump was asked how he could expect to run for president of the U.S. when he had been quoted calling women “dogs”, “disgusting animals”, “fat pigs” and “slobs”. Although Trump did not rise to the bait and launch into another bout of anti-woman talk during the debate, he tweeted immediately after the show calling the woman journalist who asked the question a “bimbo”.
Trump knows how to draw attention to himself. But more than his remarks, what was disturbing during the debate was to listen to the cheers from the audience when he declared that it was better to be forthright about his views than to be politically correct. America, he claimed, was losing out because of such political correctness. Given that there is a fairly good chance that one of the candidates for the U.S. presidency is going to be a woman, Hillary Clinton, this time, misogynistic talk is likely to be the flavour of the year.

And what about us in India? Is it worth our while to expose and oppose people like Kamat and others who think they can get away with such comments? I believe it is. For even if shaming these politicians through the media may not necessarily alter their views, opposition to any kind of sexist, racist, communal or casteist talk ensures that the word gets out that such attitudes are unacceptable.

On the other hand, if we laugh off the Kamats and others today (remember that women are constantly advised to have a sense of humour), we will open the floodgates for more such talk in the future. What hope then of changing the dominant attitude that prevails in our society which women confront everywhere — at home, in the office, on the street?