Unreal has to be the new real; let Wonder Woman take over!

shruti kohli CEO The only trick of fantasy, I think, is to make people believe in what can never be. And it’s here where lies all the power. Here in this belief, in this faith.

When I had first watched Catwoman in 2004, I wanted to be one. That’s it. I wanted to be Catwoman. For her shapely body and for her sexy leather garb, of course. But more because I wanted to feel safe. I wanted those powers, superpowers.

 

Rewind. That young girl sat next to her mother in that bus I had taken to work that morning. A man sat on the seat behind her. He held the back of her seat as if to keep balance. But it was not to keep balance. He was touching the girl. It was 11am, in Delhi, and the bus had about 20 people in it. In my mind, I became some form of Catwoman, got up from my seat, packed a few punches on this sick man, dragged him and threw him out of the bus. Violent? Okay.

 

Outside my mind, reality prevailed. Nothing happened. I was 22, only a month old in Delhi, and, I would admit, kind of scared to speak up. Or not scared really. I was intimidated, by the people around. What will people think? ‘A reporter of a leading media organisation locked horns with a sick ruffian’? No no! I didn’t want to get noticed that way! So kept shut like all the other 20 odd people in the bus.

 

The mother and the girl got up after a while and got down of the bus. The man lusted at the girl till she was out of sight. The girl had no expressions. She never even looked back. Not even once. Even when he was feeling the side of her back near the breasts, she seemed lost in some other world. As if nothing was happening. She just kept looking out of the window.

 

I never understood if the girl got it even or not. Probably she was too young to understand touches. She looked like 12. The whole sequence was nauseating. I hated it. It has played and replayed in my mind forever. And I have cursed myself that many times. Why was I so helpless?

 

wonder-woman

 

Later, when I watched Catwoman, I knew that that morning in the bus I had imagined myself as not some form of her but as her. As powerful. But I still couldn’t get the guts to do anything. Now, watching her in action, someone of flesh and blood, gave me an added courage. It was the kind of guts you get when you are injected with some kind of magic potion. I felt powerful forever thereafter. I was not intimidated by the hostility that hung in the air anymore. I knew I could handle it. I just knew. The stress was gone. I felt unburdened. And that’s what made me powerful and inverted my whole body language.

 

In that capacity, my mind fails to register the protests that have erupted against United Nations’ decision to make Wonder Woman, the new DC superhero, an honorary ambassador for the empowerment of women. Protesters say she is unreal.

 

A niche comic series where a superhero fights violence against women is slowly becoming popular in the Indian subcontinent. Priya, the superhero of comic books Priya’s Shakti and Priya’s Mirror, resurrects after her own ordeal. With her new powers, which the Gods bestow on her as reward for her prayers, she sets out to save other women who have gone through similar trauma.     Real life superheroes Jyoti and Laxmi, are Priya’s inspiration. But there are many who would not have it inbuilt in them. They may need to look at a Priya or a Wonder Woman or, yeah, a Catwoman to know the powers that rest within.

 

We must move aside and make way for the superhero. The unreal has to be the new real.

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Maternity leave will deter the purpose of boosting women’s participation in the workforce

shruti kohli CEO The day before Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer gave birth to twins this June, she was in office running meetings and addressing the media. The day after she had delivered the babies, she was back at work delivering the deliverables from her hospital bed. In 2012, when she gave birth to her first child, a son, she was back in the office after two weeks of maternity leave.

 

The Indian Maternity Benefits Act was recently amended in the Rajya Sabha to extend maternity leave from 12 weeks to 26 weeks. It’s being promoted as a step towards ensuring better participation of women in the workforce. Great. But how real can it get?

 

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Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg with his daughter

 

Over 25 per cent of Indian women in the private sector never come back to office after child birth. Most women don’t have their mothers-in-law or mothers staying with them and they don’t want to leave their children with nannies because of well-founded insecurities.

 

You could argue that the recent amendment for crèches within office premises could come in as a solution in such situations. Well, it could, but only if it was an easy reality. Companies may not be willing to bear the cost of establishing crèches for a handful of children.

 

Expenses incurred due to maternity leaves and due to provision of special maternity infrastructures are seen as losses by companies. Why won’t an employer hire a man instead of a woman and save these losses? The persistent fear of the employer, that hiring women is not cost effective because one day anytime soon they will get pregnant and go on leave, is bound to get worse with the recent amendments rather than the other way around as is being expected.

 

What can be done?

 

Well, if we are aiming at equality, the first thing that must be done is to incorporate paternity leave in the Act. Maternity leave minus paternity leave will serve no good as is evident from over the years. Secondly, government should take the bear the cost of maternity leave.

 

Big companies like Hindustan Unilever (HUL), Flipkart, HCL Technologies, PwC, Accenture, Procter & Gamble (P&G), Godrej and Tata Group already offer around 6 months of paid maternity leave to employees. These few companies can afford it. More companies can’t. These companies will be reluctant to hire women unless the government takes the burden.

 

 

Marissa Mayer is an outlier. She is an epitome. The rest of this world reads her story and gets goose bumps and dreams of being like her. Later, this other rest of the world is back to being ordinary, grappling with the unyielding mesh of customs and conventions and surrendering to them eventually. Things need to be figured out to bring this bit of the world to office and ensure they never leave.

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Mark Zuckerberg photo: Vogue

 

 

 

 

 

If they tell you nothing has changed, tell them there used to be a Aruna Shanbaug

shruti kohli CEO petticourtyardHe tied a dog chain around her neck, sodomised her, raped her, left her in a vegetative state, and walked away unharmed. She lived 42 years lying like a vegetable on a hospital bed. He lived those 42 years getting married, raising a family, and being a grandfather.

 

The victim was Aruna Shanbaug. The perpetrator, Sohanlal Bhartha Walmiki. She a nurse. He a housekeeping attendant. Later, she a vegetable, he a human being.

 

The judicial system protected him all these years saying they had no photo of him available with them and that he had changed his identity once he walked out of jail after serving a seven year term for assault and robbery.

 

Judiciary, police, executive, all the systems of this country forgot all about her. All the systems of this country terribly failed her. She died, failed by this world.

 

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Yesterday, about a fortnight after Aruna died, Dhyanesh Chavan, a reporter of Sakaal Times, traced Sohanlal. He works as a labourer at NTPC, Dadri, Ghaziabad, untouched and unnerved.

 

It took 42 years, Aruna’s painful 42 years, and her death to even find out about her perpetrator leave alone punish.

 

If Aruna lived in these times, she would be taken care of much better. You would say even in these times, we couldn’t protect Nirbhaya. You are right. But it would be unjustified to overlook the aftermath of it. When did we last see such a revolution? Lakhs of people out on Indian streets for the same reason. Rallies and stand up protests on American and British streets. It led to the consolidation of sexual harassment and rape laws. Agreed that laws are inconsequential if not put to regular and sufficient use. Even the previous law which punished rape with just seven years’ imprisonment, was not properly used. Women felt treatened to report such issues more for social reasons than the fear of the perpetrator.

 

Though we can’t still be sure of the judicial system and the government being sensitive by default, new media has ensured a more aware world. The ordinary citizen holds the power to stir up a revolution for anything.

 

Aruna lived in dark times completely shut off from light. We live in a dark tunnel with light at the end of it. The light may only be getting closer provided we keep moving towards it. The laws are all there, stronger and more accessible. But unless we make an effort to know more about them and use them, they would turn out to be no better than free for all punching bags?

 

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RIP Aruna Shanbaug, this world is your culprit…and is unlikely to repent

For four decades she lay there like a vegetable. Her perpetrator served a token time in jail and went on to live a normal life, had a family and so on. They didn’t allow mercy killing for Aruna as that’s considered inhuman, a crime.

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Aruna Shanbaug

So she ‘lived’, for 42 years, lying on the bed of the same hospital where she used to nurse ailing people back to life. She used to nurse people to life until the dreadful night when a ward boy tied a dog chain around her neck and chocked her while he raped her in the basement of Mumbai’s King Edward Memorial (KEM) Hospital. This assault left her in a vegetative state. It was 1973. Aruna Shanbaug was 24 and about to marry a medic.

 

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Aruna, as she was for the past 42 years after the sexual assault

 

 

As for her perpetrator, Sohanlal Bhartha Walmiki, he served two concurrent seven-year sentences for assault and robbery but NONE for rape or sexual molestation or for ‘unnatural sexual offence’. The latter alone could have got him a ten-year sentence.

 

Journalist and human rights activist Pinki Virani tried tracking him down but she was informed that he had changed his name after he left the prison. However, Virani was told that he was working at a Delhi hospital, not exactly which hospital. Weirdly enough, neither the KEM Hospital nor the court had a photo of him. Clearly, Virani’s search for him failed.

 

This is how our system failed Aruna Shanbaug. This is how we failed Aruna Shanbaug.

 

This world gave you hell, Aruna. But as you leave it for heaven and forever, some hearts cry for you, and wish you find your peace up there. As for this world, it’s your culprit and is too full of itself to repent.

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I’ve asked Hillary Clinton so many times, ‘why is it so difficult for a woman to be the President of the US?’ – Barkha Dutt

shruti kohli CEO petticourtyardIt’s scary to go out after dark, accompanied or unaccompanied regardless. It’s embarrassing and scary to walk into and eat at a local dhaba all alone at any time of the day just in case you had a craving for some rustic chicken curry and tandoori roti. It’s impossible to walk on Delhi streets without having at least one car stop by and ask your rate for a night. That’s the claustrophobic life of a woman in India.

 

 

But at the same time, I completely agree with what Barkha Dutt said in disagreement with the moderator at the Women in the World Summit held from 22-24 April in New York. That’s the other truth about India. The American moderator said that she has been to India quite a few times but now after watching Leslee Udwin’s documentary on the 16 December 2012 Nirbhaya gang rape, she has realised how unsafe India is for women. Barkha cut the moderator short at this point and said, ‘This is where I have a fierce disagreement with the narrative that is being built around my country. No less than Nobel laureate Amartya Sen has chronicled that statistically the incidents of sexual violence are much higher in the US than it is in India. So I do not like generalisations about my country.

 

I have another point to make. I have interviewed Hillary Clinton quite a few times and I have asked her ‘why is it so difficult for a woman to be the President of the US?’ You know what guys, these are not the conversations we have in India. We had a woman leading us as the prime minister about four decades ago. And I heard someone say in the morning that this (US) is the only country in the world that doesn’t have paid maternity leave. Well, we have paid maternity leave.’

 

 

No doubt the situations I stated right at the beginning of this note are real. But the other realities are more women at workplaces, more women out of their houses, more women behind the wheels, more women speaking out, more women making choices.

We, at The Petticoat Journal, have always tried to look at the gender scenario more positively and believe me, we can’t get enough

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International Women’s Day: Make your resolutions

shruti kohli CEO petticourtyardIndia indulged in some sober celebrations to acknowledge women’s growing participation in economic processes when one September morning last year it woke to front page fliers that corporate giant, Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), had become the top employer of women at 1 lakh.
A little before this, in July last year, a report published by aid group Oxfam made it known that India ranks 19 among Group of 20 (G20) economies when it comes to women’s participation in the workforce. The twentieth in this list was Saudi Arabia, the country which does not allow its women to get behind the wheels.

 

 

The TCS-type recruitment news gives us a reason to believe that women’s participation in the workforce is growing substantially. But there are the Oxfam reports, and the UN and World Economic Forum (WEF) statistics that would have us believe otherwise. According to UN gender statistics, women’s participation in the workforce in India fell from 33.7 per cent in 2002 to 27 per cent in 2012.

 

iwd - story

 

In the WEF Gender Gap Report 2014, India ranks 114 out of 142 countries. This makes India not just a bad performer among all the nations across the world but the worst performer among BRICS nations as well. The other BRICS nations are positioned way above India with South Africa at 18 leading the bunch. Then comes Brazil at 71, then Russia at 75, and China at 87.

 

WEF Gender Report ‘aims to understand whether countries are distributing their resources and opportunities equitably between women and men, irrespective of their overall income levels.’

 

These figures should keep us on our toes, not just to dance to the news of mass female requirements in one company, but to work towards preventing the other decline. The recruitment of women may have risen to over a lakh, but TCS management did express concern about retaining female workforce in the mid-level and top-level circuits. According to reports, 40 per cent of TCS female employees are either new recruits or at junior level whereas just 11 per cent are at senior levels.

 

International Women’s Day has by and large converted into a festival at the mass level. The day is spent wishing ‘Happy Women’s Day’. Not that everyone is expected to participate in technicalities of the UN conferences orgnaised to mark this day, but on a more layman level, IWD must be observed as the beginning of a new year. A list of resolutions for personal contribution towards women empowerment would make the day more meaningful in the official and every sense of it.

 

While women will have to make resolutions like that of coming out of their comfort zones of ‘why should I work when I can get everything without having to do anything?’, men and families would do well to resolve to inculcate a mindset which does not make them and the men look small if women share men’s roles of financial providers.

 

Budget allocations and all the noise about it will just be that, noise, if each one of us, in our own capacities, does not stand up and speak out towards all aspects of gender inclusion.

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India’s Daughter: Glorification of a rapist

shruti kohli CEO petticourtyardWhen you go to talk to a rapist, you can’t expect a religious sermon from him. And when the rapist is a criminal, you may expect worse. So the defenders of India’s Daughter, a documentary which carries an interview of Nirbhaya’s rapist, might want to make their arguments stronger. A rapist could have only spoken like he spoke!

 

When Javed Akhtar says that such a film is inevitable because it gives an insight into the mind of an Indian male who thinks of women as nothing more than sex objects, he must know that we have had an overdose of that information. The need of the hour is to work towards changing this mindset which seems to be set in stone. This documentary most definitely does not help in that direction.

 

India's Daughter copy

 

The only thing that this documentary has done is glorified a rapist. There he sat in front of the camera, clean-shaven, in washed, ironed clothes, smiling now and then as he blamed Nirbhaya for the rape. When the defenders argue that rapists should be named and shamed, they ought to know that all of Nirbhaya’s perpetrators (except the juvenile) were appropriately named and shamed two years back. The worldwide protests following the horrific incident forced the authorities to expose the rapists. Until then, rapists’ faces were covered and their identities were kept secret for some strange reason.

 

And the most striking thing about India’s Daughter is that Nirbhaya’s real name and her identity has been revealed in the film. But even the name of rapist Mukesh Singh has not been revealed!

 

A western journalist or filmmaker will of course make such a film because such stories from the third world earn anyone their fair…unfair share of fame and moolah. It was upon our authorities to have been careful about not allowing the filmmaker access to the rapist. Indira Jaising rightly challenges the filmmaker that she should name the Supreme Court Judges from whom she claims to have obtained opinion on the case.

 

Also, there is a rule that any foreign filmmaker can shoot/make a film in India only after approval from a ministry official. And the filmmaker has to show the government of India ministry concerned the full unedited film two weeks before the release. The officials responsible for negligence in this case, should be brought to book for negligence.

 

Though the Indian media has conceded to the orders by the home ministry and stopped the telecast of the documentary, BBC is airing it. Well, of course, the channel would get enough TRPs at the expense of third world’s miseries. BBC would not telecast the beheading of Jordanian pilot by ISIS. But they are repeatedly showing Nirbhaya’s case. What double standards! And like G Parthasarathy puts it, there’s another aspect about British media. They see some kind of ego pampering in showing their former colonies in bad light.

 

By all means, India’s Daughter is nothing but glorification of a rapist and a sickening attempt by channels and a failed filmmaker to try their hand at fame and money.

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Mulayam woos men as women vote as avatars of men

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It has become a trend now, for politicians to hurl sexist remarks and for the media and the masses to react heatedly. The only change from the past is the latter, the media and the masses taking note of the fact that misogyny is inappropriate and that they need to protest against it.

 

Recently the Samajwadi Party patriarch, Mulayam Singh Yadav approved of rape by saying “Boys will be boys. They will make mistakes.” Even as he was being slammed for his callous speech, his colleague in Maharashtra Abu Azmi went a step ahead and said that the woman being raped should also be punished. He said in an interview to a tabloid that a woman going out with a man and having sex, with or without consent, should be punished too.

 

Well, politicians are prone to making biased remarks during election season. They do it to woo their vote bank. But which vote bank are they wooing by making gender biased remarks? Men, of course! Men are, without doubt, a larger, stronger, and the most assured vote bank for any party than women. Why? Because more men than women go to vote. Secondly, at least 90 per cent of the women who vote are guided by their male relatives on who to vote for.

 

We still live in a society where men go for their routine annual Leh-Laddakh treks with their guy gangs and shudder at the mention of their wives doing the same with their girl gangs. “Who will look after the kids?”, is their shock retort!

 

I reported the 2003 Delhi elections for The Times of India. I was at various polling booths in Delhi taking quotes from voters. Almost all women I spoke to said they were voting for a particular party because their husbands, brothers or fathers felt this party was right. Over the years, as I happened to meet some more families in the course of my assignments, I realized that it was a trend across rural and urban areas. They heard their men discuss politics at home and decided accordingly. Women never discussed politics as such when they met.

 

Quite a few suddenly single women, rendered single due to divorce or due to death of their husbands, have told me, “It was not that he was imposing his thoughts on me. Just that the discussions he had with his friends at gatherings and over meals at home, sounded genuine.” …

 

“Although I was watching TV and could make my own opinion, he expressed himself with such authority that it seemed he knew more.” …
“And at the end of it, it was just so convenient. Why should I rake my brain? How does it matter?” so on and so forth.

 

Then, all of them signed off with a common remark, as if they echoed each other, “But after separation, when I was forced to make decisions, I realized how dependent I was even for something I knew so well.”

 

So even as men, and the society in general, are pitched against women, at times in shoot-at-sight positions, the reluctance on part of women to renounce their comfort zones must also be held equally accountable for promoting a gender biased environment.

 

The number of women voting can never be more than men even if there is 100 per cent voting (sex ratio in India is 917 girls to 1000 boys as per 2011 census and it has not improved much since). But at least the women who vote can do it as women and not as avatars of men in their lives! Even that would make a striking difference to begin with. On second thoughts, the voting sex ratio can improve if more women come out to vote because all men won’t vote as it is.

 

And that will make women a vote bank to reckon with and definitely not mess with.

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Oh! Wasn’t that more about Mr Tharoor than Mrs Tharoor?

shruti-kohliEarlier today, I met a middle-aged, supposedly educated gentleman. He asked, “What do you think about the whole Sunanda Tharoor episode.” I replied, “It’s unfortunate.” He continued, “That Pakistani journalist, Mehr Tarar…is it all that women journalists are all about? Earlier we’ve had Shivani Bhatnagar…” I reverted, “What do you think about Shashi Tharoor…?”

 

Ever since Sunanda Pushkar Tharoor’s sudden death, media is abuzz with debates, analysis and bulletins focused on the incident. Amazingly, all bulletins are talking about Sunanda’s state of mind, her tweets exposing her minister husband, Shashi Tharoor’s extramarital affair, her life, Tarar’s tweets, her professional and personal background, and Pushkar and Tarar’s Twitter spat. It looks more like a Pushkar-Tarar case while Shashi Tharoor is conspicuous by his absence.

 

Nobody is discussing Shashi Tharoor! It was his infidelity that led to all this mess. Why aren’t people asking questions about him? Why are they not discussing his state of mind that should have led him to have an extramarital affair, his background, personal background to stress on, his affairs, his marriages etc etc.?

 

The timing and suddenness of Pushkar’s death has raised eye brows. It comes within 48 hours of her openly accusing her husband of being unfaithful. She found in his Blackberry, romantic messages from Tarar and tweeted the messages verbatim.

 

After the autopsy, AIIMS doctors confirmed unnatural death and injury marks on her body. This suggests foul play. Many are now linking her death to her tweet (deleted later) about the IPL. She had tweeted: “I took upon myself the crimes of this man during IPL (Indian Premier League). I will not allow this to be done to me. I just can’t tolerate this. I have nothing more to say.”

 

However, it is her emotional outburst after discovering her husband’s affair that led to her strongly worded tweets and TV interviews, Twitter catfight with Tarar, the IPL tweet, and delete, and finally her death. Had it not been for her reaction to Shashi Tharoor’s love affair, nothing of this would have happened and Pushkar would, probably, still be alive.

 

In my book, The Petticoat Journal, I write about emotional vulnerability of women. A woman would never walk out on her husband upon knowing about his affair or even when she is getting beaten up. She will refrain from taking the “drastic step” no matter how distraught she is. There’s some honour she is trying to save there by clinging on to the mess.

 

She will not walk out. But she will pray for his “return”. I have even heard women say “men will be men” defending their unfaithful and violent husbands. In some cases, when the extramarital affair does end, the husbands are welcomed back with open arms. It’s as if a soldier has returned after winning a war and the family lives happily ever after. Well, women will also be women.

 

However, some women have ended their marriages. But they are a very small percentage and they are mostly employed. They earn and have a financial support system. But even among working women, there are very few who would walk out on their husbands under such circumstances. Why?

 

It’s because women are so finely cut in the dependent mould that assuming any other shape (read becoming independent or living without a man), will render them shapeless in the society’s scheme of things. They will be complete misfits and we all know the kind of pressures misfits live under in our world. Women in their bid to fit in the dye cast by this world, stay put in bad marriages, waiting for their husbands to “return” or become “human.”

 

Those who come out in the open have to brave taunts and unwelcome questions or would end up as Sunanda did. Senior journalist Nalini Singh, with whom Sunanda spoke a night before she was found dead, says, “She was distraught …because of her husband’s affair.” In fact, whichever friend she spoke to around that time, said so.

Had she decided to keep shut about the whole affair, there would have been no turbulence, no one would have blamed her, no catfight, peace, and she would be alive right now. But she chose to speak out. In her state of mind, she decided to go public about it. She went to Twitter and poured her anger out. Being a public figure, the wife of a public figure, a minister for that matter, and having a scam (IPL) attached with her name, her story became messier and louder. Celebrities are under constant scrutiny. Ordinary people see them as idols and the slightest slip from ‘perfection’ attracts intense resentment and ridicule.

 

So while we expected Pushkar to have avoided the outburst, I’m assuming people also expected Tharoor to be a perfect husband. But actually, it’s only Pushkar, and also Tarar, who have taken all the public attention and, subsequently, scorn, for the murky episode.

 

We will have to wait for investigations (hopefully unbiased) to know the immediate cause of Pushkar’s death but even if there’s foul play, the basic cause of her death is well known already, the emotional anguish due to her husband’s infidelity. Can Mr Tharoor take centre stage now?

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Women’s safety still a far cry in Kejriwal’s Delhi

shruti-kohliMaking Delhi safe for women is not an easy task. On one hand, there is the problem of a huge floating population and porous borders. On the other hand, there is the deeply embedded anti-women approach. And then, there is the monstrous problem of a corrupt and laggard police force.

 

Whenever there will be a rape in Delhi, former chief minister Sheila Dikshit’s remarks, which she made reacting to the protests in the wake of the 16 December 2012 gang rape of a 23-year-old paramedic, will echo in the polluted airs of Delhi, at least over the next half a century if not more. She had expressed her helplessness in controlling sexual crime against women in Delhi because the Delhi Police was not under her jurisdiction. We slammed her for her indifference. The Petticoat Journal was actively involved in the post-rape protests. We had booed Dikshit away when she had come to pay tribute to the victim at Jantar Mantar.

 

Later, when Arvind Kejriwal launched the Aam Aadmi Party, he did the same and while campaigning for the Delhi assembly elections, made big and seemingly workable promises about creating a strong system for women’s safety. The day the party won the trust vote on 3 January, 2014, Kejriwal’s ministers stepped into their new shoes and confidently marched ahead. That very night, his Women and Child Development minister, Rakhi Birla, went on a surprise tour of Delhi and found policemen drunk on duty. She couldn’t take action as the police is not under Delhi government.

 

A couple of weeks after this, Delhi witnessed another gang rape. This time it was a 51-year-old Danish tourist, gang raped by six to seven homeless men. She was staying at a hotel in Paharganj had lost her way and asked a teenager for directions. He instead led her to a park where six men were drinking and playing cards. They (including the minor) robbed her and then took turns to rape her at knifepoint.

 

Kejriwal’s immediate reaction was that he would conduct a study to find out why such cases occurred. After two days, no one knows if the study has even been discussed in the internal meetings or not. However, to top it all, AAP’s other star face, Kumar Vishwas, had reiterated rival Sheila Dikshit and said, “Why are you asking me? Ask the Delhi government. And as it is, what can the Delhi government do when the Delhi Police is under the jurisdiction of the Central government? We have been asking for it to be brought under Delhi government’s control for a very long time.”

 

Kejriwal and Co attacked Sheila Dikshit for being heartless, and while campaigning for the Delhi assembly elections, promised a safe Delhi for women. They never revealed their plan (there was no plan to begin with) to do so. But they made fairytale promises.

 

Today, Kejriwal has a gang rape in his month-old government’s not-so-impressive report card. Nobody, not even a beat constable, has been held accountable after two days of the incident. We can only hope that this would do something to make his team of enthusiasts apply logic and separate activism from governance. For, between the extremism of activism and enthusiasm of power, lies the inevitability and subtle wisdom of planning and logic associated with governance.

 

Surprise raids are a wonderful way of setting the erring officials right. But they must be conducted intelligently else they will boomerang just like the one Somnath Bharti conducted alleging a sex and drug racket in a flat in Malviya Nagar in Delhi. All of us know well that the police are corrupt and negligent. They shun responsibility. They are extortionists. The sex and drug ring that Bharti alleged, may very well be there. But approaching it in a haywire manner will only lead to disrespect. Kejriwal’s men will have to plan their strategy well before sounding the bugle. The ‘aam aadmi’ lifestyle alright but ministers don’t make for a very respectful image when they are found indulging in roadside spats with policemen or anybody else.

 

Kejriwal will have to back his intentions with good planning. Making Delhi safe for women is not an easy task. On one hand, there is the problem of a huge floating population and porous borders. On the other hand, there is the deeply embedded anti-women approach to anything human or not-so-human. And then, there is the monstrous problem of a corrupt and laggard police force.
His minister, Rakhi Birla, must consult experts who have worked in this field for decades to chart out a feasible plan and then use her powers to effectively implement it in Delhi. A dictatorial approach will never work. Kejriwal’s ministers and AAP workers must realize this sooner rather than later.

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From a year of revolution to a year of evolution

shruti-kohliRevolutions have stirred the existence of humankind ever since it has been. And each revolution has led to an evolution, affecting a progressive trend. History pops up numerous legendary revolutions if you go looking.
India has had two of its own as recently as last year. The year 2013 is the year of revolution. Why won’t it be? It’s a year that began with one revolution and ended with another.

 
The country ushered into 2013 not with celebrations but a protest and it ushered out of 2013 with another “people’s revolution” which shook the very foundations of our political system.

 

On 31 December 2012, the protest against violation of women’s basic rights was into its second week and going thick. While the epicenter of the protests, Jantar Mantar in New Delhi, had about 2,000 people, old and young, gather for a human chain and a candle march at the stroke of the midnight hour on 31 December 2012, the rest of India cancelled celebrations to mark their solidarity with the cause. The protest was triggered by the horrific gang rape of a 23-year-old paramedic in a bus in Delhi on 16 December 2012.

 

 

This rebellion changed much. It gave a stronger law on sexual harassment and sexual assault and sensitized the media towards the cause. Finally, it fixed that last bit of muscle into the anxious conscience of women which would lead them to openly speak out against offense.

 

What’s striking about revolutions is that they are hypnotic. They will pull you in whether you believe in their idea or not. And they don’t just mesmerize you, the now, they fascinate generations. So much so, that at times you don’t even need a leader to start a revolution. It just happens! The protest in the wake of the 16 December incident was one such. Nobody knows till date who started it and but everybody participated.

 

Each one of us has a revolutionary streak. Some put it to right use, others go astray, and the rest let it fade away in the routine of life. I never knew about that streak in me until recently when a Delhi university professor compared me to Rosa Luxemburg after hearing me talk on TV some time back. I had felt good, proud rather.

 

When I look back at 2013, I feel important that I have lived in times of revolutions. By the end of 2013 came another revolution which opened the echelons of power to the aam aadmi, or common man. An unassuming social worker, Arvind Kejriwal, established a political outfit, contested the Delhi assembly polls, won and formed government in Delhi! This revolution had roots in a bigger rebellion which took place in the August of 2011 led by the anti-corruption crusader, Anna Hazare.

 

A couple of days after the formation of the new Delhi government by Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party, with outside support from the Indian National Congress, its 26-year-old Women and Child Development minister, Rakhi Birla, was seen moving around on the roads of Delhi post midnight paying surprise visits to police stations and police posts. She travelled in an auto-rickshaw, in keeping with the aam aadmi image. Many police officials were found drunk on duty.

 

It had been a while since India had seen a ruler who would walk the streets to get a firsthand low-down about the law and order situation. It had really been a while since a ruler took a walk down the street to check out the ground reality, literally. Yes, it had been a while since 200-something BC when King Ashoka of the Maurya dynasty disguised and went for a stroll on the streets of his kingdom striking random conversations with people and updating himself firsthand.

 

India may have had her share of revolutions. The revolt is over. It’s time for results. In the new year that begins today, India awaits its share of evolutions.

 

Let me wrap it up like TS Eliot in Four Quartets: “For last year’s words belong to last year’s language. And next year’s words await another voice.”

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A year of change, 16 Dec 2012 to 16 Dec 2013

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The 16 December buzz this year is ‘nothing has changed’. If you are referring to sexual harassment on streets, at workplaces, educational institutions, and other places of interaction like gyms, sports clubs, vocational courses like dance and music etc, I agree. But I can’t agree to absolutely nothing having changed over the past year since the protests.

 

Let’s begin right at the beginning. The protests of this scale having happened without political or organization support or intervention were the biggest indicators of change. When was the last time we saw such protests, and for rape or sexual crimes? The 1972 Mathura gang rape case had triggered large scale protests. These protests culminated into the dowry protests of the last seventies. These protests led to stronger dowry laws and ‘bride burning’ could be effectively controlled. However, these protests were started and administered by activists and social organizations concerned.

 

The protests in the wake of the 16 December 2012 incident were a first in the history of India in the sense that ordinary men and women, who had no history of activism or protests, formed the crowd at protest scenes. If political leaders tried to intervene, they were sent back sorry faced. The activists sat back and watched from the pavilion for the hottest part of the protests. They stepped in only later with their printed placards and tailor-made slogans to have their share of screen space. Some even managed to permanently grab a huge chunk of primetime space. When the number of people started dwindling at the protest site after about three months, everybody was asking, “Have we moved on?” Nobody could answer then.

 

But a year later, we, the protestors, can easily say the protests may be over but the change is here to say. The change is right in front of us in the form of Tarun Tejpal, Ashok Kumar Ganguly, Asaram Bapu and Narayan Sai cases. Not that it was the first time these men unleashed their libidos on comparatively helpless women. Considering their age, this (sexual harassment and assault) could easily be one of their many areas of expertise. And with their on-the-job experience came the assurance that women don’t bark or bite. They have a miraculous heart that can accommodate colossal amount of insults without ever exploding.

 

But after last year’s protests, women have realized that it was not their large hearts. The insults were replacing their self respect. With each such crime committed against one woman going unreported, a whole generation of women is eroded of its self respect, the entire womanhood bears the brunt of an unspoken crime. So women spoke up!

 

Another big change is media reporting of sexual crimes. I remember when I started off as a reporter in 2002, like all cub reporters I was put on regular night shifts. As a night reporter, I was supposed to call up the police every hour and find out what was up. One day, the police informed me about the rape of a teenager in Shastri Park area of Delhi. I told my senior about it. I was told that it was no news. It was meant for the trash bin. If there is space, the report could go as a fifty-word brief in some oblivious corner of an invisible page. Slowly I realised that “rape is small news” while a petty murder could still attract some attention.

 

But in the past one year, even the rape of a minor in some forgotten slum of Delhi has been reported on front page and debated on primetime. This is a positive change. It has helped put courage in the minds of women and parents of girls and some fear in the minds of men. Some men, who are still at it, would pay for it sooner or later. Some women, who are still shy of speaking up, will do so in no time.

 

Change is here. We must acknowledge it. We must make it better… for the sake of ourselves and for the sake of generations to come.

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It’s time to sanitise offices

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Sexual harassment at workplace is not a new problem. Just that it has made it to the public space recently. Quite a few cases of sexual assaults and sexual harassment have been reported the most high-profile among them being the Tarun Tejpal sexual assault case and an intern lawyer’s allegations that she was sexually harassed by Ashok Kumar Ganguly, the retired Supreme Court judge who had sent A Raja to jail in the 2G spectrum scam.

 

This sudden spurt in reportage of such cases has come as a shock to a world where it was a taboo for women to speak out about even a lecherous look leave alone sexual assaults. And the world is so shocked that some men have been heard saying, “We will think a thousand times before hiring women now.” The message is, “We will not change. If you want to work, put up with it.” Some others have arguments like, “Men are also sexually harassed. What about that?”

 

Sexual harassment by definition implies sexual harassment of a woman by a man. The International Labour Organisation, while researching on sexual harassment at workplace, found that while sexual harassment of women by men was a serious problem there were men who were being sexually harassed, by other men. Not by women!

 

Shomona Khanna, lawyer, Supreme Court, says, “’Men being harassed by women’ is not even a statistic. But yes, when it comes to men being sexually harassed by other men, it is a problem and that’s a gap in our law. Men have no law to fall back on in such a situation.”

 

Sexual harassment at workplace is serious and omnipresent. Indian offices are not equipped to tackle the issue. The Supreme Court had issued the Vishakha guidelines as long back as 1997. But organizations have not found it necessary to adopt and implement these guidelines. In April this year, the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, replaced the Vishakha guidelines. The act makes it mandatory for every organisation to have an Internal Complaints Committee. The definition of workplace has been widened to include homes (employers of domestic helps) and every other setup where women are employed.

 

Majority of working women and employers still don’t know about this act. Companies’ induction programmes must include sexual harassment and gender sensitization sessions. Besides, women must speak out if someone is making uncomfortable sexual advances. They must talk to their colleagues, friends and family and complain.

 

About the men who are skeptical about hiring women, when they say they are scared of working with women, they are implying that they don’t know where to draw the line. Who would buy this? When a man is attempting sexual harassment or assault, he knows it exactly. Deep within he is nervous else why would he make covert advances rather than openly going about the business? What strengthens him is his experience which tells him that women are lame ducks. They take any insult lying down. So he goes about his business unperturbed.

 

And why do women keep mum? Obviously because of the stigma attached. Besides, the system is such that if a woman goes to court about it, she should be ready to dedicate the rest of her life to the case and to accept the “fact” that she was actually the culprit by just being a woman and tickling a man’s libido!

 

This seems to be changing now thanks to the protests after the 16 December 2012 Delhi gang rape. Sexual harassment, sexual assaults etc are being discussed in the public domain. This has helped. If this public discourse continues with similar passion, expect an immense improvement in the system and also the mindsets.

 

Meanwhile, the working woman is here to stay! Men, who are scared of hiring her, can either keep getting scared or figure out their moves.

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Change definition, let punishment for juvenile criminals depend on nature of crime

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A juvenile rapist and murderer of a six year old girl was released after being “reformed” and the first thing he did after coming out of confinement was to threaten the victim’s family of similar consequences with their younger daughter. Vishal was sentenced to death by a trial court for the 2007 rape and murder but the Delhi High Court held him to be a juvenile and acquitted him as he had already spent five years in jail.

 

Whether you blame the reform process or the juvenile justice laws, it’s the victims, who are women and young girls and their families, who are at the receiving end because of the loopholes. Some have opposed same conviction for juveniles as awarded to adults in the same crime. But I strongly believe that the punishment should depend on the nature of the crime. Imagine a 17-year-old boy raping a six-year-old girl and then chopping her body into pieces, making separate packets of the pieces and dumping each packet in three different toilets!! I feel my innards churning in a violent whirlpool even as I write this!

 

This “juvenile” walks free after five years in jail. His sister, of course a woman enough, provides evidence to prove him a juvenile in the court. The bone ossification test finds him to be somewhere between the age of 17 and 20. Quite a range!

 

To begin with, a blanket legal definition of “juvenile” will have to be done away with. According to law, a person who has not completed 18 years of age at the time of committing a crime is a juvenile. The age was raised from 16 to 18 in India in 2000 as part of the India’s obligation under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), which it signed in 1992.

 

According to Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000, there is no punishment for a juvenile in conflict with law. However, the juvenile can be sent to a reformatory for a maximum period of three years.

 

Crime syndicates are using these fragile laws as a shield and involving young boys in heinous crimes as they will get away easily (number of rapes by juveniles between the age of 16 and 18 has seen a 180 per cent rise from 2011 to 2011). The government will have to react sooner to rectify the laws to check the mushrooming of young criminals.

 

Some numbers connected with juveniles:

Rapes by juveniles aged between 16 and 18 in 2002: 48.7%

Rapes by juveniles aged between 16 and 18 in 2012: 66.5%

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Break your shells… It’s time! Your attacker keeps getting mightier

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At all the discussions on my book, almost all male participants refuse to accept that oppression of women is still a reality. A comment comes, “I never question my wife about where she’s spending and what she’s up to.” Another says, “When I have to buy a car, I do talk to my wife about it.” Although he never had an argument to support the fact that when women have to buy something they mandatorily need approval from their men whereas men could just choose to dicuss or not the prospective big purchase with their women. My book is about financial independence of women so the discussion is concentrated in the beginning but takes the shape of a general gender debate as it proceeds.

 

In fact, this is the case at every discussion we have on the subject whether it’s a discussion on my book or my talk sessions at colleges or corporate houses. At one discussion in Delhi, a twenty-something said, “When I told my parents about spending a night out, my father objected while my brother was not questioned at all about a night out.” She is working and hence “financially independent” as we would perceive.

 

A male participant reverted aggressively, “So how does that affect independence of women? I am a father and I go to drop my daughter to the bus stop every morning and in the afternoon check with my wife if she has picked her up and she’s safe home. That’s because I care about her safety. But I am a liberal father! Yet I would do things to protect my daughter.”

 

At this point I intervened and asked him, “Who are you protecting your daughter from? Men! There!”

 

I don’t deny that there is change. Of course, more women are objecting to atrocities against them. They are not intimidated by the fear of ostracism or hostility from the society. This is happening because more women are earning and also aware of their rights. This change is not happening because men have crusaded for it and not at all because patriarchy gave in under the pressures of old age. Patriarchy is ageless. It’s still young enough to flex its muscles and keep its might and main intact.

 

We still live in a world where women move around with a constant fear of being attacked by men at home or outside. Khadijah, the head of Delhi government’s 181 helpline for women said during a coffee conversation with me, “Rape survivors tell me that rape was very unfortunate but their sexual encounters with their husbands have been more painful and insulting. They would call that also rape.”

 

I know a woman who had an abusive husband. The other other men of the family, brothers-in-law etc, made direct advances towards her for, what else, sexual favours. She is a well-educated teacher (retired) and holds a doctorate besides double MA degrees. She chose to stay put with her husband despite physical and verbal attacks because “I had two daughters and couldn’t afford to let the tongues go wagging.” Men have made the world unsafe for women and women have supported them in this endeavour by receding into their shells for some insecurity or the other.

 

Some women don’t know that being beaten up or being forcefully driven into sexual activity by husbands is a violation of their rights as human beings. They have always been told, “He’s your husband. If he won’t who else will?” I had visited a village near Delhi last year. After a daylong conversation with the men and women there, I was confused that no one talked about domestic violence. On my way back, I asked my tour guide. She said women don’t know that domestic violence was wrong. It’s norm for them.

 

Khadijah says, “One rape and we go kill! kill! kill! All insults a woman faces everyday in the form of sexually explicit comments and advances on roads, in offices, and even at home are equivalent to rape!” Of course, there is frustration among men that women are fairing better than them in every way. It is so clearly visible in the form of jealousies of men for their successful female colleagues, of brothers for their successful sisters, of husbands for their comparably more successful wives. The frustration comes out in the form of sexual and violent attacks on women, she says. Men’s hegemony is being questioned by women becoming independent. This is tough to digest.

 

Today, I woke up to the news of a December 16-like incident in Mumbai. The city has been my home and I still sit perched to get back there. I declare with pride at every public conversation that I have hung around in the streets of Mumbai at 3am with my female friends without a fear in our minds. The incident of last evening belies and belittles my claims immediately!

 

But assaults after assaults, is there no way out? What do we do? Someone said, “The only solution is that women avoid going out much.” Another said, “Women should arm themselves with some mild weapon like a spray, a catapult etc. when they go out. They should know how to handle the attackers physically. Karate is a must!”

 

Well, confining women to the four walls of the house will only add to the problem. Women must come out in larger numbers to scare the mentalities that are attacking them. Just like you would not stop driving or would not stop your family from driving after an accident, don’t blame your daughters or stop them from carrying on after a sexual assault case. Also, how many people have stopped marrying their daughters after cases of domestic violence? None! So why stop them from carrying on with their lives after hearing cases of assaults? It is never women’s fault. It’s the fault of mentalities and of those who survive and thrive on these mentalities. Of course, our lame laws play a major role in

 

I have met a lot of rape survivors who are doing very well in life. All of them are independent women having left behind the dark patch of their lives as a bad accident. This helps because in our society, for a woman, sexual activity outside marriage is considered disgraceful and a sexual attack on her makes her impure and “used” and renders her ineligible for a respectful life. This mindset made sexual assaults the most potent and fulfilling form of revenge for men. But with women standing up against it, this revenge has largely lost its erstwhile credilbility. However, unfortunately, some culptrits are living free and good lives too. And this is the reason why sexual crimes against women go on unbridled. A fast track court was set up for the December 16 Delhi case but we are still waiting for the verdict. After 20 hours of the Mumbai incident now, only one rapist has been arrested.

 

So even as our laws and mentalities continue to let us down, women have to make a beginning by coming out in larger numbers and aggressively claiming their space. It’s time! In saying so, let your girl be born to begin with else the ‘large number theory’ will be breached at birth!

 

And that thing about sprays, catapults, karate etc, these are mandatory accessories for every woman! Remember, this world is no place for the meak!

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Exposing children to sex education …err did you read vulgarity?

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This year’s CBSE question paper for class X had this ‘complete the paragraph’ question:

 

This is the last period of the day and I am waiting for the bell to ring…

 

One girl at a school in Delhi completed it thus:

 

This is the last period of the day and I am waiting for the bell to ring. Just then, a policeman walks in and approaches my classmate. We gradually discover that this classmate is the friend of an older youngster who has been caught by the police for acid attack on his girlfriend. The story goes that the victim had refused to marry her lover due to his bad habits and was preparing to marry someone else.

 

The general reaction, to such an answer, from parents and teachers (I have met) has been that the recent “openness” in reporting issues on violence against women has had an adverse effect on children. Why else would a girl in her early teens have such wild imaginations? How else would she know anything about such ghastly acts? How else will our children know that sex is immoral?

 

I am not surprised at the reaction. We live in a shocked society. You sneeze and you leave it shocked to the marrow. Our teenagers, who should technically have gender and sex education in their syllabus, shock their elders just by “openly” uttering the word “sex”. Just let a teenager tell their parents or teachers that they vouch for sex education in their curriculum and wait to see the reaction on the faces around. A girl talking about this runs all the chances of having her morality questioned.

 

Last month, one of the movies I watched in a theatre was Zero Dark Thirty. I had a couple sitting in the row behind me. They had three children. The eldest looked like about eight years old. The violence that was shown in the movie, was not supposed to be seen by such young people. But parents don’t mind! Nothing seems to have changed since I watched The Passion of the Christ ages ago. People had brought their children along. I wonder what kind of dreams those children must have had that night after watching so much blood and butchering on a larger than life frame! Then, I saw children at a weekend show of Basic Instinct 2! That was actually unbelievable.

 

Back home, in their drawing rooms and bedrooms, children watch slapstick comedies of Ajay Devgan and Govinda full of vulgar and sexist dialogues. They watch movies like Delhi Belly and Pyaar ka Punchnama which are packed with classiest cuss words. And don’t we know our cuss words so oozing with femininity?

 

They watch serials, music videos, and advertisements which appear to be selling flesh (read female flesh) rather than the product they are supposed to. Someone somewhere may have thought that something must have changed at least in the echelons of authority that are expected to be radiating responsibility and accountability for what happens in the corridors of commoners. But the recent Ford advertisement for its hatchback Figo model has blown off the house of cards built at the top of a windy hill.

 

If we were not in the hangover of the post-rape protests triggered by the Dec 16 incident, no one would have raised an eyebrow about the blatant commercials which show scantily clad women gagged, bound and stuffed in the trunk of the car to show how spacious it is. Then, children would have seen these ads on hoardings, in newspapers, magazines and all of that…without any objection from parents.

 

I was just trying to make our double standards known. Parents don’t object to their children being exposed to vulgarity and violence. In fact, they even promote it. I have come across parents of adolescents and early teenage boys joking about their sons making passes at girls in their circles. No, no, we are still against serious love affairs, at any age. We just joke about our sons flirting with girls. That’s it!

 

Vulgarity is okay. But our children should not know about violence against women. In fact, it should be the other way around. Children must know the reality though a bit more methodically. Rather than just reading about them in newspapers and hearing about them on TV, these should be a part of their curriculum. No matter how toned down media reports are, they tend to get sensational in the course of adding masala to make them saleable.

 

A well-designed, intelligent gender course is an urgent need for schools. While the authorities should work on creating appropriate high quality material, parents and teachers should show enthusiasm to accept it well. Schools should hire teachers with relevant degrees to teach these courses. There should also be a course constructed on the “train-the-trainer” model to train teachers for better acceptance of these courses. Parents should also be included in these courses.

 

Unless this much is done to begin with, we will never be able to get rid of those scorns, or even smirks at times, which automatically come to people’s faces when they are talking about the behaviour of a rape victim. I recently met a woman who could not control her laughter while telling me about “the weird behaviour of a rape victim for months after the incident.” I looked at the teenage victim and could not control my tears.

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“Don’t create a scene if sexually harassed”

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Yesterday, as soon as I boarded the tube in Delhi, I noticed a man walking into the women’s coach. He went straight to a young woman who was sitting on the floor of the train with her head buried in her knees. The man had just approached her when a couple of girls urgently got up and also went up to her. She then lifted her head to speak. She was crying inconsolably. And she trembled spasmodically. Obviously, her speech was staggered. But from what could be deciphered of the broken monologue, she complained of being harassed by a bunch of boys.

 

While she was buying the ticket, a bunch of four boys lined up behind her and one of them pulled her hair. When she objected, they told her, “You don’t know what we can do to you.” When she tried moving away from there, they circled around her and won’t let her go. A little later, the police at the metro station intervened. They asked the girl to register a complaint so that they could officially take action against the boys. But the girl refused as she was scared of the consequences. She said the same thing when I asked her to call 181.

 

The boys were in the same train. A little later, two girls walked up to her and asked her to recognize the boys so that they could “take care” of them. As it turned out, all these girls and those boys belonged to the same college. This girl, who had been harassed, was a first year student and was not aware that the boys were her seniors. She came to know of it much later. The two girls, who asked her to identify the harassers, were second year students of the same college. Although the girl refused an identification parade, she could recall the colour of the boys’ shirts.

 

The other girls who comforted her, kept telling her that she shouldn’t have made such an issue out of it and after she got down at her station, all these girls had a good laugh saying, “What a jerk she was to have reacted like this.”

 

Now, two things. First, that a concerned system made little sense in this situation. There was the police, there was the helpline but the victim was reluctant to use them fearing a worse aftermath. And her fears were not misplaced. Haven’t we heard of numerous cases when harassers were booked and the moment they were released, they came back for revenge with acid or whatever came handy?

 

What’s the solution to this? I’ll come back to it but first I will bring up my second observation, the role of the victim’s friends in the whole episode. Rather than supporting her, they told hernot to overreact. And then, when she left, they had a good laugh at her for doing what she did!

 

Now, back to finding a solution.Actually, the solution and the friends’ reaction are interconnected. It may not be technically possible to provide police security covers to victims in such cases, but if her friends, family and acquaintances double up as her security cover beginning with supporting her stance, they will together be able to scare away the miscreants. Just to know that a person (regardless of the gender) has a strong support of people is a huge deterrent for offenders.

 

The solution to such problems is a change in mentalities and also behaviours. In a way, the victim’s friends in the above case supported patriarchal beliefs by telling their friend to accept the boys’ misbehaviouras a way of life and not react. Besides, the other women in the coach who did not know the girl, sat there with bland faces as if their senses had been rendered useless by a neighbourhood bomb explosion sometime recently. Someone among thesepassengers may have blindly passed the Dec 16 gang rape victim and her friend when they lay nude and bruised on the road that night after the attack…for all you know!Ah! Well, that bomb explosion is to be blamed, you see. I hope we get enough efficient cures for such explosion victims. The Petticoat Movement is preparing to provide this cure. You may join as a volunteer if you wish to.

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Budget 2013-14: What’s in there for women?

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Women are the focus of the budget this year. Good! But women are so used to attention that they tend to get choosy about which attention they would allow to woo them. The finance minister has made two very significant announcements in the current budget. One is to set up an all-women bank where the staff will comprise only of women and they will cater to only female customers. He says that the reason behind such a proposal is that female customers are sidelined in banks and men get priority in transactions like borrowing etc.

 

Well, I wonder how will setting up this bank help women get priority in transactions? The finance minister would do well to spend the R1,000 crore of allocation to train his existing banking staff so as they don’t sideline the women customers.

 

The other announcement is of the Nirbhaya fund for the safety of women. Again, the existing policemen and women can well be trained to shed their apathy when it comes to dealing with issues that concern women like sexual harassment.This fund is also getting R1,000 crore. Huge money! Well, so much to for their reaction to the ongoing protests which started after the gang rape and murder of a young student in Delhi on 16 Dec.

 

Both are very populist gestures in an election year. But if they seriously want to make it a success, they need to do some real groundwork. To begin with, how can the finance minister be so sure that having a female staff deal with female customers make things easy?

 

Consider this. Last year, my mother went to this public sector bank where she has had an account for a very long time. As she extended her passbook to get it updated, the lady behind the glass partition snatched it from her hand and after opening it roughly, told her, “Why don’t you all listen when you are told something? Why haven’t you pasted your photograph here yet?” My mother was taken aback for obvious reasons and also because she couldn’t have pasted the photo already as she had just received her new passbook.

 

The other officials, including the bank manager, heard the woman snapping. One of them came literally running to my mother and apologised for his colleague’s behaviour. He then handed over the passbook to another gentleman and within five minutes my mother had it back in her hands, updated.

 

I have personally had many such experiences at various government offices. Not that all men are polite and helpful. But as compared to the female employees in government establishments, they are more forthcoming to help customers whether men or women.

 

Also, there is a missing enthusiasm to work among government employees. A few weeks back, I had gone to meet a director-level official at a union ministry office in Delhi. As I sat there in his personal secretary’s room, waiting for the buzzer to ring, I saw one woman employee reading children’s general knowledge book! Although it was her job to attend to me, she barely looked up. The man, her colleague, who took my details and forwarded them to the director, did so absolutely unwillingly. I felt guilty like an uninvited guest who was unwanted too!

 

There is no denying that the general attitude of government employees, men or women, is lethargic and reluctant. That leads to rudeness. I hope that the R1,000 crore allocated each for the all-women bank and the Nirbhaya fund, goes towards providing sophisticated staff and infrastructure. Well, that’s assuming that the funds never find their way to the pockets of the netas and babus involved. No, no, I’m not blaming the  the netas and babus. It’s the money! Gets influenced by the keepers and gets lazy! Who wants to work anyway? It’s so cosy in those pockets! Err …but it’s election year. So, maybe they’ll make this money work this time around.

 

Let’s hope these funds don’t find a cosy sack in our netas’ bedrooms. After all, politics makes strange bedfellows and money is no stranger.

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Another planet’s hell…for women

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Even as I write this, I can hear a TV debate on whether rape should attract capital punishment. I wonder do we still have space for debating on this issue. It irks me. A 23-year-old girl brutally beaten up with blunt objects by six men who took turns to rape her in a moving bus on the busiest Delhi roads (FYI, Delhi is the capital of India where all political leaders work and live), shouldn’t have led to such newsroom and Parliamentary debates. The powers that be, should have taken immediate action.

 

While I feel rape should have attracted rarest of rare status long, long ago when the first rape was “conducted”, I suggest castration and life imprisonment rather than capital punishment for rapists. These men must live the horror they inflicted on another human being…well, yes, and in the course of it, they must also know that a woman is a human being. If they are hanged, that will end their misery. That’s salvation! And evil must not get salvation without suffering the trauma it inflicts on another. The onlookers, some of whom, maybe evil spirits in making, must know the consequences of such evil action. But for this, the world and our “concerned” lawmakers must see rape as an evil act. The punishments we have for rape today, come across as a dirty joke. And this has its roots in the “man’s world” theory…the patriarchal system.

 

This is a system that has ensured that women are never considered human beings. Manusmṛti or Laws of Manu, written by Manu, the world’s first king, calls us doormats. No wonder we are treated like that. You step out of your homes, and it’s lewd comments, leching, molestation, and rape. A lot of women are not even safe within the four walls of their homes. I wonder why God made women. God must be a man. Or maybe she is a disgruntled mother-in-law. Or maybe this world is another planet’s hell …reserved for women. Men come around to execute the laws of hell. Patriarchy must be, then, an unwritten law of this hell.

 

I’m absolutely sure that’s the way it is. Why else will parents forget to tell their sons that they are supposed to respect women? Why else will there be no strict law to punish eve-teasing, molestation, or sexual assault? Why else will there be no serious punishment for a heinous crime like rape? Why else will the women be blamed when they are raped, sexually attacked or molested? Why else will women live in fear while the criminals live life king size? Why else will women be physically weak while men have all the physical power? Why else will the world be so unequal?

 

We cry hoarse about stopping female foeticide. But I’m sure after last night’s incident, many parents-to-be must have found themselves helpless and decided to go for a gender test. They would do this out of fear. Today it’s some stranger. Tomorrow it could be their daughter. This world has gone to wolves and hounds.
We are living in a corrupt world…a corroded world. This world is most definitely another planet’s hell…for women!

shruti kohli

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It’s 2013 and people in Delhi are scared to send their daughters to school

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My beautician has a ten-year old daughter. She missed ten days of school just before her winter holidays began last month. Why? Because the gang rape incident of Dec 16 had left her parents scared and they would not let her walk back alone from the bus stop even though she returned from school in broad day light every afternoon. They spent the winter holidays working out ways to make sure that she has good company when she walks back home from the bus stop every afternoon.

 

An elderly woman who has a young divorced daughter and a seven year old grand daughter, says she has heard that the rape victim had an affair with one of the six rapists who assaulted her! A Hindi news channel was running a ticker sometime that the girl was supposed to get married in February this year.

 

A survey conducted by Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (Assocham), an industry body, reveals that since the incident, one in three women working in the IT sector in Delhi either reduced working hours after sunset or quit their jobs. The study estimates that, in the aftermath of the attack, the productivity of women employed in the IT sector in the Delhi area has dropped by as much as 40%. There are about 2,200 IT and outsourcing companies in the Delhi area, employing over 250,000 women.

 

Bangalore, Mumbai and Chennai have also felt the ripple effect.  However, women in these cities say that they felt safer as compared to women in Delhi or areas surrounding the city. Women commuting by public transport feel the most unsafe. The BPO employees are worst affected as they are required to work odd hours.

 

So, even as the men continue with their lives unhindered, women are once again bearing the brunt of men’s aggression and atrocities. They are forced to leave jobs, reduce work hours adversely affecting their efficiency and then there’s a section of society, like always, which is holding the rape victim responsible for the incident.

 

Well, another set of society feels sorry for women because “they have a serious biological hitch.” Got it! But we can’t stop living lives just because of a deficiency! As human beings, we are cut to fight. We must fight and find a way to beat this hurdle.

 

That done, there’s another major hurdle which is in fact a bigger hurdle. It’s the attitude of the people towards women. We live in a biased, unsafe society. Not just men, even women are pitched against other women. Why else would a woman who has a daughter and a granddaughter say that it was the rape victim’s fault when all details of the case are in the open? Why else would women gather during post lunch gossip sessions and say that “the girl was at fault in being out so late in the night (8:30pm is late when it comes to another woman), in taking a bus at that hour, and in being with a man (but didn’t they tell us it was safe to go out if you were escorted by a man?).”

 

Even as I walk terribly disturbed and disheartened by all this, I suddenly and pleasantly bump into people like the five housemaids I met at the post-rape protests at Jantar Mantar, in-laws who are allowing their daughters-in-law to study and work after marriage, women who are equipping themselves physically to take on any physical adversity, women who are vocal about the sexual harassment they had to face at work or at home, men and women who refute baseless allegations like the one made by the elderly lady about rape victim’s affair with one of the rapists by saying, “This is absolutely wrong. But even if it was true, rape and murder is no case is justified.”

 

This gives me some hope for a positive change that I anticipate and that The Petticoat Journal is working hard to achieve. Keeping my hope intact, I look forward to many more well-meaning women and men to join us in our endeavours to build a brighter tomorrow.

shruti kohli

for shruti’s full profile, click here

 

The Petticoat Journal writes on men’s issues

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Whenever I introduce The Petticoat Journal to someone, I say, “It is a women’s magazine covering serious issues like sexual harassment, violence against women, sexual assaults, domestic violence and all atrocities against women.” More than often, I get a response like, “Ah! So, The Petticoat Journal covers serious women’s issues.” That emphasis on “women’s” used to bother me.

 

Calling violence against women a “women’s issue” made it look like we are talking about an issue affected by women and of course, then, had to be sorted by women. As if it’s an issue which does not involve men at any level. Well, but actually, the issue begins because of men. Violence against women is an issue initiated by men and left for women to bear it, sort it or perish with it. So, actually, violence against women in any form whether rape, sexual harassment, domestic violence, is not a women’s issue. It’s a men’s issue. Men inflict violence on women. Women don’t rape themselves, they don’t sexually harass themselves or women don’t say, “Come, rape me!”

 

It’s men who do all this either for pleasure, revenge, or simply sadism. Violence against women is a men’s issue which affects women as they are the object, the target in the whole issue. To begin with, men are not adequately educated in interacting with women. They lack gender etiquette. They don’t seem to know that sexual assaults and violence is bestial behaviour and as human beings they need to be a lot of layers above such brutish conduct. They must know that if they behave like this, they suffer from a fatal sickness.

 

But who will tell them that? Well, as for adults, various sessions of serious dialogues with professional counselors and their involvement in interactive gender sensitisation discussions would go a long way in affecting the much needed cleansing. As for young boy, since boys connect and relate to their fathers better, fathers must teach their sons to respect women. They should set an example for their young boys. Mothers will do well to support their husbands in teaching these gender values to their sons as mothers spend more time with their children than fathers do. Parents must talk to their young boys openly about violence against women so as to shame them into not indulging in such behaviour.

 

On that note, I must share with you all this conversation I had with six-year-old Samvaad when he had just finished lighting a candle at Jantar Mantar on 31 December 2012. I asked him, “Why have you come here?” He said, “A little girl died.” I said, “Okay. So you came here.” He said, “I came here to protect women.” Just then, his mother walked in. I told her that her young boy is saying that he came here to protect women. At this, his mother told him, “No beta. Women can protect themselves. Your mamma can protect herself. Isn’t it?” He nodded, “Yes.” The mother said, “Beta you have come here because you respect women.” Samvaad repeated, “I have come here because I respect women.”

 

Samvaad Anand

Samvaad Anand

 

shruti kohli

for shruti’s full profile, click here

 

 

Welcome, The Petticoat Journal!

 

shruti-kohli

It gives me immense pleasure to roll out the first issue of our company’s madeover women’s e-tabloid. With the makeover, it gets a new name too. From MoneyQuin, it changes to The Petticoat Journal. Over the past over two years, MoneyQuin received much applause.

 

It got standing ovations from the right set of observers and critics alike within the industry and outside. However, as it evolved and reached out to larger audience we at Spink Turtle realised that we needed to pitch on a broader platform. MoneyQuin was exclusively focused on financial issues and how they affect lives of women.Over time, we felt that due to the tight focus of our magazine, a lot of serious subjects which affected women’s lives and were of immense significance to them, were left uncovered. So, here we are with The Petticoat Journal.

 

In very straight and simple terms, it’s a women’s tabloid without gloss. Many would be disappointed not to find legs and lingerie around here as is expected from any standard women’s magazine. We feel sorry for them but can’t help. That’s politely said, by the way.

 

The Petticoat Journal explores the woman and her life beneath the many layers of cosmetics that have been polished on her by the much demanding society. It provides a sturdy platform to those who would have struggled all this while to find enough courage to put their point across. It gives voice to those who had lost their voices in the cacophony of traditions and duties which brought them nothing but oppression. It’s about women who have made a mark and for women who are fighting to break free from the shackles of rusting traditions that have led to their oppression…

 

Before you get us all wrong, I must make it clear that we are not anti-men. We are not pro-women either. We beg to be excused of such tagging. Actually, we are pro-right, as in righteousness. We strongly vouch for the theory of righteousness. Everyone should get what is rightfully their. Women for long have been deprived of their rights. This has happened because of an aggressive male attitude and an equally submissive female disposition.

 

I agree that things are changing now. And it is happening largely because women are strongly pressing for their space. It’s commendable! But this brings along with it another kind of struggle. When the oppressed suddenly rise, the oppressor becomes hostile. Women rising have attracted a defensive revolt from men. Some are afraid their hegemony will be eroded. Others are simply clueless about what’s going on and react in bewilderment mostly violently. Both the reactions have a negative fallout for relationships and families and for the society in general.

 

It’s time that we woke up to this reality. The reality of non-acceptance for change. The reality of stubbornness. The reality of bewilderment. The Petticoat Journal comes as an alarm bell.

 

Yet, waking up may not be enough. While women are ready to charge, they must also have the intelligence to tackle hurdles raised by the agitated men. And women must do this without harming their lives and their relationships.

 

It’s high time women raised their status from doormats to human beings. We hereby trigger the Doormat Revolution! Please welcome The Petticoat Journal!

shruti kohli

for shruti’s full profile, click here