June 29, 2007

Independent Indian woman...where?

Posted By:
After almost sixty years of India's independence, how independent are its women really? You could say that women are much more liberated today than they have ever been, but do they really feel so? Naturally, if things have changed for women so have they for men in India as the country progressed. But it's the mindset that I am referring to...that is still stuck in good ol' eighteenth century (or earlier, depending on where you are).

The idea of an 'independent Indian woman' to me is one who can make her own choices and live without fear of being victimised just because she is an easy target, a woman. I am not even talking about the villages where electricity has not yet reached, and there is no point in discussing liberation where there is struggle for daily survival. I am talking about the women living in big cities...who I can closely identify with.

Urban society offers little opportunity for young woman to exercise their independence. They are forever tied to familial obligations and hardly get time to themselves. Every decision they make must be approved by Mummy, Aunty and the next-door neighbour. In fact, every step she takes must be socially acceptable. So, there is no question of lighting a cigarette or talking to a stranger (man, must I add?). I am not saying that these are the things that constitute liberation, but why have different rules for women?

If she wants to stay on her own, relatives assume something must be wrong. Career decisions must be what I call, 'matrimonially safe'. That means, it should sound good to her prospective in-laws. So, there's no question of becoming a hydraulic engineer or zoologist. Many women do go on and achieve their dreams but they are far too few.

Even in the blue-collar workforce, our society does not give women the freedom to become plumbers, gardeners or taxi drivers -- which could have given them the economic independence they need. So, women of the lower strata are forced to work as house help and laundry persons. Others meet a worse fate, and even then, they have no protection from exploitation. Prostitution is illegal in our country and that has not stopped this practice from proliferating...it has only led to more exploitation of women and young girls.

The answer then, is not in merely educating women, but also opening avenues for their economic liberation. Not only will this ensure a good future for their children, but will free them from the clutches of painful marriages and relations.

Speaking of which, domestic violence and dowry deaths have been proven now and again to be unrelated to education and social status. Silently, many professional and well-to-do women continue to suffer at the hands of their spouses.

All this does not count the mental torture. As soon as a woman enters into her twenties that she is made to think that her only purpose in life is to get married and have kids. At the peak of their lives when they should be exploring life, they are handed burdens which tie them down forever. For women who choose to delay marriage, the mental torture continues till they finally do. It seems that society cannot accept a single, happy woman. She must always be attached to her parents or husband or kids.

So, I still think the Indian woman has a long way to go. Until she has to feel guilty about being single and happy or pursuing a successful career, she is anything but independent.

June 17, 2007

Where are the real Gandhis?

Posted By:
Ramchandra Gandhi, a philosophy professor at St Stephens in Delhi University, University of Southampton in England and two other institutions passed away in a guest room at the India International Centre, New Delhi on June 13. If you haven't heard this, I won't blame you. For the record, Ramchandra was a grandson of Mahatma Gandhi.

The Gandhi Serve organisation states that there are 54 direct descendants of MK Gandhi. But, where are they? Why aren't they playing an active role in the political system? Strangely, Mahatma Gandhi has gone down in history as a solitary figure, battling the Evil Empire. His sons and grandchildren seem to have been abandoned to oblivion.

What we have instead is a revival of the 'Gandhi' brand with Pandit Nehru, Indira and Sonia. Gandhi's simple ideal of democracy was replaced by socialist principles as soon as Nehru came to the centre stage. It's unfortunate that none of Gandhi's children were given any position of statehood that would have kept them alive in public memory.

All of Bapu's sons - Harilal, Manilal, Ramdas and Devdas - led their own little lives. Harilal died in obscurity because of his seperation from his father. Manilal spent his life running his father's paper in South Africa. Ramdas was active politically, but not enough to get him to a prominent position. Devdas went into journalism and led a quiet life. Their children are scattered across continents. Some of Bapu's grandchildren run missions abroad. Ironic, considering that MK Gandhi was a staunch swadeshi.

One does wonder, though whether Gandhi himself is responsible for this. He did not care much for political accolades and it is doubtful whether he would have supported his children's political careers. Instead, he sent them off in different directions. When Manilal Gandhi's daughter, Uma Duphelia-Mesthrie released her book Gandhi's Prisoner? The Life Of Gandhi's Son - Manilal in South Africa, she alleged that Manilal's life was completely directed by his father's wishes.

It seems unlikely, though not impossible, that there will be a rebirth of the 'real' Gandhi family in Indian politics. Indians seems to prefer the romanticized version of the Nehru 'Gandhi dynasty' instead.


June 12, 2007

Indian democracy: Anything but equal

Posted By:
In George Orwell's futuristic book 1984, the citizens of Oceania do not even know what their identity is. They do not differentiate among themselves on the basis of religion, appearance or language. That's because all these concepts have been erased by the government. While the government of 1984 is hardly democratic, its de-recognition of these labels is perhaps the only positive aspect of its rule.

Indian democracy, or any democracy, was all about equality of all people before the law, and before its elected rulers. I say 'was' because I don't see this happening. Even USA could not do justice to democracy, evident by the the uprising of Blacks. In India, our forefathers tried to be 'fair' by recognising each and every differentiating factor that an Indian could claim. India is a democracy of unequals. In every sphere of its working, we see differences among men.

I put my mind to what could be done to make India a better democracy. I may not be able to pull off this Plato-ish task but I would like to put forward my thoughts on what could be done with this country. Some ideas:

End quotas: Quotas on the basis of caste have only deepened the differences. From the beginning, we have put it into the mind of Indians that their caste and religion decides what opportunities for growth they will get. I say, abolish all quotas and reservations, except for the physically or mentally challenged who cannot compete equally, and make the sole deciding factor economic status. Education and employment opportunities should be reserved for people who can prove that their poverty regardless of anything else.

Cut MP perks: If all citizens are equal, so should the servants of the people. Ministers and bureaucrats should pay their electricity and phone bills like everybody else. They should pay tolls. They should pay for their air travel except when travelling for official purposes. Every Member of Parliament who asks for extra security should get clearance from the High Court of his constituency, stating why he requires it.

Public accountability:
Every scheme or programme initiated by the government for the welfare of the people should have a system of accounting to the public for every rupee spent. These statements should be made available in newspapers and websites and be archived for recall at any given time. Possibly, the accounts should track the progress of these programmes every three years. If the Ministry undertaking the programme does not meet its target, it should explain why on a TV broadcast and a public statement, otherwise the Supreme Court should have a right to penalise it by cutting its grants. On the other hand, they should be rewarded for meeting targets by increasing grants.

Local nominations: Some members of the IAS, the 'lifeline' of bureaucracy, should be elected at the local level instead of being appointed by the government. This should be for positions which directly affect the welfare of villages or towns. Locals can nominate worthy members of the community and then vote for them, overseen by a vigilance officer posted by the government. The job of the vigilance officer would be to check corruption. He will be motivated to do so under an incentive scheme. The bigger the corruption he reports, the higher would be his incentive.

Of course, there's a lot more that can be done. And I know all of this is utterly ambitious because for change to happen, there should be a large enough advocacy group to push it. But all of the above measures have no single lobby. Maybe the changes should happen one at a time. Realistically, I don't see it happening. In a country as complex as India, there is no clear cut solution, no matter how logical. To expect India to become an equal democracy is like expecting America to change it foreign policy!

Of course, neither will happen but we must keep the think tank open. Ideas must keep flowing in, to at least remember the ideal that we are a free country where citizens have the real power.

June 3, 2007

An age has dawned...

Posted By:
An age has dawned
upon us,
Where darkness flows
in every crevice,
And none but the blind
can lead us to light.

An age has dawned
upon us,
Where the whisper
of truth dies,
Amid of a roaring
cackle of lies.

An age has dawned
upon us,
Where none but the
richest survive,
And hunger begets
the deprived.

An age has dawned
upon us,
Where tomorrow is
an unknown abyss,
And today is
an uncertain instant.

An age has dawned
upon us,
Where treaties of peace
are written in blood,
And lines are drawn
with human lives.

Where buds wither
for want of love,
And love withers
for want of life.

Judicial interruption

Posted By:
It does seem like our country is being ruled by courts nowadays, instead of the government. It's not a bad idea, of course, when the court steps in to correct a blaring mismanagement by the government. Like the sealings in Delhi, and various laws to curb excesses by ministers and members of the Parliament.

But, now, it seems the courts are taking their role too seriously. When I saw a report in The Indian Express that the Delhi High Court was warning overweight air hostesses (yes, you read that right), it was a little difficult to digest. In fact, it's funny. What next? They'll ban fast food because it's not healthy? I mean, if the judges are so pissed about fat and snooty air hostesses, why don't they travel by private airlines? There are so many legal issues pending in the air travel sector. One of them is fixing the compensation for citizen victims of flight disasters, something that is surprisingly not in place in India. There are so many other gross injustices that the courts could take cognizance (their words, not mine) of, but who do they pick on? Overweight air hostesses.

Come to think of it. Everybody with a little power is trying to rule this country in their way. The politicians don't want to pay highway toll or stand in queue at an airport. The judges, meanwhile, plot their next victim (after street food, is it fast food?). The right wing extremists complain that nobody gives a damn about Indian culture, except them. And they will go to any lenght to protect it.

While the rest of us? We are still struggling for our basic rights. We are still bribing the very officials we elect for water, electricity, phone and legal protection.