Monday, December 31, 2012

Of Rape and Honey Singh

The word "culture" is thrown around a lot these days. Culture shapes individuals, builds communities, defines a people and, if people are to be believed, breeds misogyny, molestation and male-privilege.

Unfortunately, just like the words "Strategic Decision" and "Bro", the word culture receives its fair share of abuse by the masses. Its used far too often for comfort, and often in the wrong context of things.

Given the events of the last few weeks, I've had a lot of fodder to think about, particularly about my culture. I say "my" and not "our" because I don't think I can impose my understanding of what my culture is on anyone else.

What is culture, then? How does one go about finding this culture? Is my culture as good as anyone else's?

I hear culture is inherited. Its the hundreds of values and principles that passed down to us from our learned elders, the infallible, sacrosanct beliefs that are the perfect solution to any moral dilemma.

The thing with inheritance, however, is that it can't be altered in any way. In the same way one inherits undesirable physical characteristics from one's parents, values, too, are far too difficult to be interfered with. The problem begins when the culture we inherit loses its relevance in a dynamic world.

We have a long, global history of sexual double-standards, fierce patriarchy and male-privilege. From medieval witch-burnings to tests-by-fire for chastity in Indian Mythology, the world has not been fair to the fairer sex. The times, they are a changin', however, and we must change with them.

The world may have a long way to go, but one cannot deny how far we've come. We have, in a lot of places, moved on from obsolete, ridiculous concepts of Sati, Homophobia, Caste-discrimination. I know these problems are existent still, but there's no denying the fact the decline in the widespread belief in them.

It can safely be said, then, that culture isn't an inherited characteristic. It can be altered, changed and created.Hence, blaming our problems on "The Indian Cultural Mindset" is simply taking the easy way out.

The other side of culture has received its own share of criticism for promoting sexual biases and misogyny  This is the culture that changes with every successive generations, sometimes in time spans even shorter than that.

This is pop culture.

As with the culture we claim to inherit, the culture that manifests itself in the mainstream of any generation has its own pros and cons.

Honey Singh drew a lot of flak for his misogynist lyrics and demeaning views on women in the music he makes. I suppose when you make a song titled "Balaatkari" you kinda have that one coming.

But is Honey Singh the problem? Is Kareena Kapoor the problem in "Fevicol Se"? Is Mahesh Bhatt the problem? Is Emraan Hashmi?

From Snoop Dogg to Lil Wayne, Hip-hop, more than any other genre of music, has had a "glorious" history of sexism, male-superiority and "bitches n'hoes". Even when a Missy Elliot (or Hard Kaur) find their way into the limelight, they cannot compare to the acclaim received by their male counterparts, even at their best.

In an industry ruled by men, women are expected to "be in their place", which mostly ends up being "on the pole" or "on her knees".

But have we not perpetuated this culture? In its very essence, pop culture is CREATED by the people. It may borrow elements from all sorts of places, but its born from nothing.

Honey Singh wouldn't talk about raping women if we didn't all download it and giggle as we played it on phones in the bus. Objectification wasn't invented by 50 cent, nor will Honey Singh be the one to end it.

Companies wouldn't create virtual rape games if there wasn't a market for it.

In a very good example of irony, we're all crying foul over a culture we've all created for ourselves.

So here's the deal. Banning Honey Singh isn't the answer. Banning Fevicol Se isn't the answer. Shutting clubs down early isn't the answer.

The answer is realizing the demand we've created over the years for this stuff, realising that this content exists because we want it to, that instead of asking for this content to be thrown away, we may need to think about why we're being fed with it in the first place.

So here are a few things we can do:

Stop downloading/buying/sharing music that is repressive, regressive and misogynistic.

Start questioning the validity of our inheritance in a world that may not need it anymore.

Stop using the world "culture" for anything that we're too tired fight against.

Yes, all this is largely abstract, its not all specific, its also extremely slow and painful to execute. I don't have the answers, I don't know how exactly we'll get there.

I do know this though:

You are not your parents. You are not the images on your TV. You are not the song on the radio. You are not creepy video-games.

You are not a product of the culture around you, your culture is a product of you and everyone you know.

Get out and make your own culture. A culture where Hip-Hop doesn't HAVE to be all about "Bitches and Hoes", where item numbers with regressive lyrics don't HAVE to be a part of a masala movies, where deodorant doesn't HAVE to get you a lot of girls to sell.

Don't ban what you've made. Learn and recreate.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Images from India Gate - When protest meets mobs

As I type this, my hands are still shaky. I'm backing up nearly every second word I write here because I can't get the letters right. My nose still stings from the tear gas and the pain on my leg from the lathis of the RAF feels a million times worse in the biting cold of the Delhi winter. I've not felt happier in ages.

I was at India Gate today. I went because I wanted to be part of something bigger than myself. I wanted to be a part of the living, breathing change that had collected itself around the humongous symbol of sacrifice and courage squat in the middle of the capital.

I hear now that since I left, the situation took a violent turn and what was once a peaceful demand for beneficial reform and swift action has now turned into a full scale riot. I suppose this is what happens when social benefit suffers the wrath of political agenda. To those creating or encouraging these activities, I plead, don't let this brilliant, and potentially revolutionary, movement go down the same road as everything else in this country. Let's not lose our collective shit.

While there, I managed to catch a few glimpses of the situation on camera. I'd like to share those images with you to give you a better idea of what was REALLY going on there today.

A man walks defiantly into the middle of the tear gas explosions. He has no weapons, just a flag.

When the tear gas explosions and Lathi Charges start, everyone runs. Tear gas burns like the fires of hell and a lathi to the leg in this weather shakes you up completely. But the courage isn't in enduring these pains, the courage lies in experiencing them and coming back to face them once again.

Pro(test) tip: If you're going to protest at any of the locations, wear a muffler and heavy jeans. Tear gas and Lathis shouldn't stop you, but you're not much good to the movement lying on the ground in pain.

A lot of people were calling this a leaderless protest, but I saw hundreds of young leaders, organising people in groups, creating human barricades, ensuring no one got trampled or hit, stopping any kind of violence that started to emerge.

Students stood no more than two feet from the Police, their voices hoarse with screams of "Aap kya kar rahe hain? Aap public ke liye kaam karte hain ya minister ke liye?" Both parties deserve respect, the students for their courage and the police for not losing their heads at this agitation.

While I was there, I was tear-gassed thrice and hit with a Lathi once. All four of these incidents were without any violent provocation from the protesters.The RAF would appear in hundreds every hour or so and Lathi charge the public, provoked or otherwise.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Of Rape, Protest and Family

I sit here on my comfortable chair, in my warm room, typing on my nice little laptop, scrolling through an endless stream of tweets about the events that happened earlier today and it angers me. More than that, it makes me feel guilty for not being there right next to the protesters as they were hosed down, lathi-charged and tear-gassed. I didn't have a job to go to today, I wasn't physically unable to get myself from my room to my car, there was no one in my way. I didn't go because, under the blanket of horror, disgust and anger, there is little I, or most people I know, do to change things. We're a lazy, static, apathetic lot, and we deserve the shit-storm we're in as citizens of this country.

But this one isn't about us, its about the fighters that showed up at 9 in the morning at India Gate to work for a cause they believe in, beside fellow believers they don't know, to take that tiny step towards showing an administration that operates on the concept of "Sab Chalta Hai" that the shit has hit the fan. And while its extremely easy to sit in front of your TV and talk about how the protesters are doing the right thing, it doesn't mean lauding their efforts is any less important than being there with them.

March forth, brave soldiers, and fight the good fight. You're waking up a country and a people that have been asleep and comfortable in their resignation to their condition for far too long, and I salute you for your efforts.

In the ongoing war against the oppression and violation of women in the country, however, its extremely important that we pick the right battlefields. Its vital that protests like the ones today don't fizzle out and, possibly, multiply across the country, bringing to the notice of the government the frustration and resilience that has been building up inside the minds of its citizens for all these years.

At the same time, revolution, quite like charity, begins at home.

Chauvinism, victim-bashing and misogyny aren't class-based evils, nor are they the result of economic circumstances. These ideas and values are the result of a long-standing tradition of the mindless celebration of the half of the country that does't have a vagina. As with any long standing tradition, the results aren't confined to a particular group of people.

These ideas are all around us. Some of us have heard them from our parents, others from uncles, some from a close family friend and some from the old lady across the hall. 
The belief that women are responsible for crimes against them if they act (or don't act) in a certain way is often treated by most of us as a belief that exists in the minds of people "outside our immediate environment". We, understandably, want to believe that these concepts aren't coming from within our family, friends and community. We want to believe these are ideas that sprout from the sick, chauvinist society that starts from right outside our home.

But they don't, they start with us.

Every time your uncle, in a family gathering, talks about how his daughter will "obviously" get married once she finishes college, you shift uncomfortably in your seat and nod along. You don't agree with him, but you won't talk back to your uncle in from of your entire family, would you? Fuck no. That would mean fighting off your entire family that feels there's a "time or place for everything" and demands you apologize immediately.

When hanging out with your friends, you stand and listen to one of them talk about how many women he's had in any amount of time, you don't turn around and say "How about you acknowledge the fact that these women CONSENTED to have intercourse with you and accept that you, being the vile, evil little pig you are, owe it to them to treat the decision with as much respect as you think you deserve for being the man in that agreement?" No, you stand there and high-five their cockiness (pun intended), or you stand and pretend to chuckle, or stand and do nothing at all. You don't want to be that one guy that brings the newspaper to the party.

We live in a society where everyone agrees that rape is wrong, but everyone does their bit to ensure its sustenance. 

We live in a society where we'll laugh and rejoice when 8-year-olds dance on stage to misogynistic Punjabi hip-hop that demeans women and practically implies that an entire gender is just manipulative, superficial whores, but we'll change the news channel when someone says the word "Rape". 

We're part of a system that will take its kids to see a movie with Kareena Kapoor dancing to the lyrics "Tandoori Murgi Hoon Main, Gatak Ja Saiyyan Alcohol se", but will be outraged should someone suggest we include sex education as a part of the school curriculum.

We're part of the system that will openly admit that we wouldn't give our daughters the same freedom and privileges their male counterparts enjoy, stop them from going out to parties, frown at a woman holding a cigarette and put the fear of god in the hearts of our sisters should they DREAM of (*gasp*) dating someone, but will continuously insist that "Women can do everything men can".

We're part of the system that believes in the beauty of the female form across centuries of art and literature, but can't say the word "vagina" without giggling.

In conclusion, I feel I need to reiterate how important the protest today was. It was essential that the people that count on the public for their powers and continued roles in administration are made aware that the people do, in fact, care. It was vital that we, as a people, stopped expecting the government to do the right thing out of the goodness of their hearts and shove the issues we care about in their faces till they realise that the problems can't be ignored without losing out on the largest vote bank in the country, THE INDIAN CITIZEN.

At the same time, its important that, at an individual level, we instil the change where we have the most influence. We can't always change society by our individual selves, but we can change the ones we love and the ones that love us back. We can change the people that put their faith in our opinion on a daily basis. If, by the end of the day, you can get one person you know to change the way they feel about women, rape and/or male-privilege, then you've become part of something much bigger than yourselves.

You are the change.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Of rape and the internet

There's been a lot of talk of Rape in the capital recently. There are numbers flying through the internet like nobody's business. All this talk of "Such and such number of rapes in just two years" and "So many rapes in moving vehicles" has been said, relayed and splashed through social networking sites so many times they've become as meaningless as the constantly diminishing hope that we and the people we love can make it out of  our youth without the scars of a misogynistic, violent, cruel society decorating our minds and bodies.

With every incident, there is anger. Where there is anger, there is hate. Where there is hate, there is stupidity.

As it is with everything on the internet, the rape of a young medical student on a luxury bus in the city has sparked an outburst of tweets, facebook statuses and blog posts (like this one, I suppose) full of opinions that are clearly formed in anger, fear or insecurity. I picked out a few of my favourites and responded as I saw fit.

1. "I'm from Delhi, I'm not a rapist. Stop saying Delhi is full of rapists"

Stereotypes are bad, even when they're good. There is little that can be said to justify pulling a large group of people under the blanket of a single characteristic just because its easier for someone to comprehend. Not all Punjabis are drunken brawlers, not all Bengalis are haughty, not all Americans are stupid and every man from Delhi isn't a savage animal with a raging libido.

But there are two things worth noting here.

One, no one said everyone in Delhi is a rapist, but to deny that Delhi is FULL of them isn't stretching the truth too much, given the statistics of sexual crimes in the city over the last decade. Saying Delhi isn't full of rapists would be like suggesting Hitler's Germany wasn't full of Nazis simply because there were a large number of attempts to overthrow the Nazi regime from within the country.

Two, its awfully easy to sit in your comfortable bed and type the words "I'm not a rapist" out on your nice little laptop, but no one ever thinks the words "I'm a rapist" to themselves, do they?

Its not like the men on that bus spent years telling themselves that it was a fantastic idea to get on a bus together and wait around for a young woman to stumble on to it, then assault, rape and, possibly fatally, injure her.

Rape isn't a crime of logic. Its the result of a sick, patriarchal, oppressive society that spends years telling men that they have the upper hand. Its in that moment when that lifelong inculcation of Male Privilege goes out of hand that a rapist is born, not through a logical, calculative reasoning, but through the uncontrollable, neanderthalanian urge for sexual relief backed by years of back-patting for being born with a penis.

The "potential to rape" is in all of us, to deny that is stupid. Its the unfortunate justification that society allows male sex offenders to give themselves that helps them realise it.

2. "Its unfair that everyone is so angry about Delhi, but so many rapes happen across the country no one cares about"

This blew me away. It took me a while to understand what the whole thing meant because it was inconceivable that anyone could be as daft.

You're pissed because the rape that happened in Delhi got so much media attention when rapes in smaller cities go unnoticed? Then I've got an exercise for you.

Think about the last sexual crime you can think of that happened in the city before the "bus incident". Then try to think of the one before that. Keep going and see how far you can get.

In all likelihood, you got a far as four, maybe, five cases. You still think these cases get ENOUGH attention?

It takes a great deal of cynicism to see the wrong in a case of sexual assault coming to the forefront in this manner. True, rapes in smaller cities DON'T get enough attention. True, the mainstream media tends to confine the top stories on the subject to the major metros. But, to see the kind of upheaval that has taken the city by storm, a city that had, pretty much, resigned itself to being the "rape capital", is heartening.

It may be a passing phase, it may be an internet fad, but its in the right direction. Don't turn the other way just because you think its getting more attention than another, albeit equally important issue. You're not helping ANYONE.

3. "That celebrity dumped his wife and married another woman, now he's talking about rape like a hypocrite"

I remember when Satyamev Jayate did a segment on crimes against women and a lot of people I know (and love) were all up in arms about how Aamir Khan was a hypocrite for doing that segment after walking out on his first wife.

Are we really equating the falling apart of a marriage to the violent sexual violation of an innocent woman? Have we, as a people, really set the bar so low that leaving a spouse and violating basic human rights are judged on the same scales?

And why should ANYTHING anyone has done be a deterrent to his right to speak out against an undeniable injustice? If a former sex-offender chooses to speak out against sex-crimes, would you turn him away? If the answer is yes, then, perhaps, you need to sort your priorities out just a little bit.


All said and done, rape is a heinous crime. It is not a crime of passion, nor it is a crime of lust. Its as violent as homicide, except with more sustained consequences.

But in all our anger and insecurity, our accusations and defenses, let's not lose our heads. Let's not say things that set us back fifty years on the already disappointingly static perception of rape in Indian Society.

Remember, if you don't help, you enable.