Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Is a woman in India not a citizen with the same rights as others?

It is extraordinary that in a case that has grabbed headlines and been followed breathlessly by the media, the obvious gender angle has been almost completely overlooked.

I refer to the case of Hadiya, earlier Akhila, from Kerala who chose to convert to Islam.  She is not a child.  As a 25-year-old, she ought to know her mind.  Yet everyone, from her parents to the courts has treated her as if she is a person without the ability to think for herself.  Her "crime", as far as her family is concerned, is that she converted to Islam.  An RSS functionary from Kerala was heard ranting on television that they (by which he means, I presume, "the Nation") would not accept anyone converting to Islam.

And then to cap it all, Hadiya also chose to marry a Muslim man of her choice.  The result was a case in the Kerala High Court that pronounced that the marriage had no validity.  Extraordinary as that is, she was then sent back to her parents and confined, separated from her husband, and not permitted to interact with the world outside.  So an adult woman, who makes up her mind about what she wants, is essentially being told that she has no brains, no capacity to think, to make a choice and therefore needs others to decide her future.  If she had been a man, would the courts have reacted in similar fashion?  I very much doubt it.

The story has not yet ended.  Hadiya has been "sent" by the Supreme Court, back to the college in Salem, Tamil Nadu where she was doing a course in homeopathy. When asked by the judges what she wanted, Hadiya was unequivocal: "freedom", she said.  She only got partial freedom -- to complete her studies.  The question of whether her marriage is legal has yet to be decided.  And meantime the bogey of Love Jihad persists, with the National Investigation Agency tasked by the court to investigate cases of inter-religious marriages where women have converted to Islam. This is based on the suspicion that radical Muslims are "luring" Hindu girls into joining their ranks.  This calls for a separate article but it is extraordinary that the media too continues to perpetuate this through headlines that take the concept as a given without any proof.

For the moment, I will stop here even as I seethe at the lack of outrage about the manner in which this brave young woman is being treated.

Let me leave you with two good articles that have appeared on the subject.  An excellent article by Anjali Mody in where she writes:

"That Hadiya was in court at all is because she is a woman. That her marriage was annulled without the court even asking her if she had consented to it is because she is a woman. That the court placed her, an adult, in the custody of her father, is because she is a woman. That she was declared to be indoctrinated, or of unsound mind, is because she is a woman. That a Supreme Court judge, after hearing her speak her mind, felt the need to tell her that a woman is “an individual with her own mind”, is because she is a woman. This is how women were treated for millennia, and in India it seems even modern laws are no protection."

And another by the lawyer Gautam Bhatia in Hindustan Times, who clarifies our rights, that of women and men, guaranteed to us by the Constitution:

The Constitution, thus, is founded on a simple idea: to every adult citizen, it proclaims: “The State is not your keeper. Your family is not your keeper. You are free to make your choices, and yes – free also to make your mistakes.” It was as Ambedkar said: “The Constitution... has adopted the individual as its unit.” And the Supreme Court recognised this some months ago in its famous privacy judgment, upholding the “autonomy of the individual and the right of every person to make essential choices which affect the course of life.”

We are living in strange times if women have to fight to establish that they are citizens with equal rights.  

Stranger still when you see the blonde queen from the US, Ivanka Trump, holding forth about women's rights and men and media fawning over her, while the reality remains that women's rights are very far from being human rights in India. 

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The smog that India and Pakistan share

It is a crisis that requires our politicians to become statesmen, to think of the future generations rather than the next elections, to rise above petty point scoring to sitting down and working out feasible solutions. 

Writing in the Indian Express on 14 November, Nirupama Subramaniam writes about the fog that India and Pakistan share as it spreads its deadly footprint across the border, and envelopes towns, cities and the countryside on both sides.  She concludes: "Had Saadat Hasan Manto been alive, there would have been a short story by now on how India and Pakistan had agreed to exchange smog as a confidence-building measure."

But this is no laughing matter.  Pakistan and India share not just history but also geography. We share mountains and rivers, we grow the same crops, and the air we breathe is also the same.

Today, as dirty polluted air chokes people living in Lahore and in Amritsar and Delhi, we should remember that there are no border check posts that this filth has to cross in either direction. 

It is a crisis that requires our politicians to become statesmen, to think of the future generations rather than the next elections, to rise above petty point scoring to sitting down and working out feasible solutions.  It also means India and Pakistan must talk about polluted air and water even if strategic issues have to be set aside for the moment.  At this rate, there will be no Indians and Pakistanis left to do the talking if we continue to allow our cities and the countryside to become gas chambers.

It is easy to forget, but there was a time when India and Pakistan did talk to each other on these matters.  In 1989, there was an India-Pakistan Conference on the Environment in Lahore which I was lucky to attend.  It was initiated by the Pakistan section of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), headed then by a remarkable woman called Aban Marker Kabraji, a Parsi with family in Mumbai and Karachi.  On the Indian side, one of the main movers was the late Anil Agarwal, who headed the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) in New Delhi.

In their joint Preface to the report that emerged from the conference titled, "Beyond Shifting Sands: The Environment in India and Pakistan" (IUCN and CSE 1994), Kabraji and Agarwal wrote: "The 'environment' that we met to talk about...remains as ever, beseiged.  Under attack by those same forces of greed, ignorance and mismanagement as before. There is a crisis of governance in both our societies, and the ideals and values implied in the sustainable development paradigm appear urgently and relevantly as the only way forward. "

What they wrote then could not be more relevant today.

Both our societies face a crisis of governance when it comes to the environment.  Every crisis, such as the current smog, is dealt with in a piecemeal fashion, as if all one wants is one clear day without smog.  Yet it is the cumulative actions and mismanagement of resources spanning over decades that have led to the current crisis. 

Undoing the wrongs of past policies must necessarily mean acknowledging what and why things went wrong.  No one is willing to sit down and address that, or to heed those who are pointing out the long-term correctives that can still be put in place.  Instead every authority -- whether a state government, or a court -- is busy undercutting and criticising measures suggested by the other without any constructive alternative. 

The problem we face is not SMOG -- it is the fog in our minds, and our inability to rise above the clutter to see the clear light of day.