So the world has lined up outside Starbucks CP. And it’s annoying the hell out of you. Why again?
By Kinshuk Kumar
There seem to be these two people within me who have never seen eye to eye on any issue. They have always been at each other’s throats. I’ve known them all my life and I know exactly how either would respond to a question posed to it. Which isn’t all that difficult since one of them is a perpetual cynic while the other is hopelessly hopeful.
Now as would be expected if a guy was blessed with such a pair of friends, I’ve had considerable fun at their expense. All I had to do was ask them what they thought will happen when India plays its next one-dayer. Or if the test I was about to take would be a cakewalk or a disaster. And then I let them have a go at each other.
I never kept count but when I was younger, both seemed to be even and neither looked like a runaway winner. As the years have gone by, however, the cynic within me seems to have started defeating the optimist quite regularly. And now it has stopped being fun.
But it’s not merely because the cynic is like the all-conquering Aussie side under Steve Waugh while the optimist in me seems like the current Indian test side that can’t remember the last time it won anything worthwhile. It’s also because of the kind of questions I started asking the two of them- uncomfortable questions that I probably should not have asked at all.
A lost test match really isn’t all that bad. But it’s quite frustrating when you find the latest round of public rage against the state’s criminal neglect of the public good mellow down. And then I can almost hear the cynic within me go, “I told you so.”
When an Anna Hazare or an Arvind Kejriwal rises in protest against the shamelessly blatant abuse of power by those who hold it or when thousands gather at India Gate to voice their anger against the pain inflicted on the women in this country the optimist, all battered and bruised, hopes that things will change for the better. The cynic, though, gains in confidence as he sees these movements fall flat on their faces, with the State using all its might to squash all protests.
The optimist within me sees hope in every single candle march, every single voice of dissent out there (on platforms both virtual and real) while the pessimist can’t help wondering if any of it would lead to any real change.
At the moment, the cynic does seem to be winning every time and the odds do seem stacked in his favour. But no matter how outrageously hopeful the optimist within me might seem I’ll still do the crazy thing and back him till the end.
(The writer is my brother. He’s also an engineer-turned-banker, a feminist, a cricket fan, a movie buff and among the most intelligent, fearless and down-to-earth people I have ever known.)
Justice Katju’s latest article ridiculing protesters who raise their voices against rapist-murderers was fresh proof of his prejudiced and recalcitrant mind. It’s tragic such people often slip truisms of the ‘media is celebrity-obsessed’ variety in their otherwise vile rants and end up striking a cord with way more people than they ideally should.
Justice Katju’s latest verbal fit is also symptomatic of a deeper malaise: the desire to outsource our protest and obsessively look for mass support for our cause. In other words, it articulates the desire to see our protest shouted out to the world and its TV cameras by those who have the time, energy and ability to.
This desire, if it remains just that, isn’t dangerous. It becomes so when it appears unfulfilled and causes mistrust and loathing towards that one and only group of people that can be counted on for support for any worthy cause- the protesters. Yes, that same bunch of often young, mostly ill-paid, permanently sunburned and far more dented and far less painted as a certain President’s progeny will have you believe.
So Justice Katju’s tirade was an expression of his annoyance at seeing what he thought was a bunch of women protesters obsessed with something he believes is a non-issue, or perhaps not as worthy a cause as those he (thinks he) is personally passionate about.
We should know this because we often come across less obnoxious versions of Justice Katju. We have all seen many who like their protests outsourced. There are many who hate it if the cries out there don’t exactly repeat their own.
When Bombay mourned Keenan and Reuben, what nagged at our mind was what Arundhati Roy taught us about urban protests and protesters. ‘Why no candle marches for soldiers blown up by Naxalites?’ some asked when Bombay socialites teared up over 26/11. Kashmiri Pandits are often dismissed as obsessive nuts and are judged about their silence over Gujarat. And speaking about the Gujarat riots automatically gets you branded as a fake, Congress-loving ‘pseudo-intellectual’ whose ‘pseudo-secularism’ makes her intrinsically indifferent towards Sikh or Hindu targets of violence.
Protesters tend to be specific. And that’s alright.
The truth is, it’s quite alright for an individual to feel more strongly about one issue than another. It is okay- practical even- for us to pick our battles. Barring the ideal but sanitized calls of the ‘give peace a chance’ variety, protests are almost always episodic, localized and centered around specific instances of human rights violation. A placard will either say Khairlanji or Malala or Kundankulam or Occupy or Palestine, depending on the where the placard writer is placed physically and emotionally. The underlying message is ‘down with injustice’. Invariably.
But if the average protest still appears too narrow in its focus to you, then here’s an advice- don’t do a Katju on it. It’s unproductive and sounds stupid. Be proactive and start your own protest. If your average TV anchor looks biased to you, don’t start sending her offensive tweets. Just draft and circulate your own petitions.
If your heart bleeds for Kashmiri Pandits, tell the world the injustice they have been facing. If Bhopal bothers you, then write about it every day. If Aruna Shanbaug gave you nightmares, share her story repeatedly. And if Nirbhaya woke your conscience, then blog about her for the rest of your life even if nobody cares about her anymore.
Voice your concern continuously, with or without overt support from others. Try also to lend strength to any cause which sounds worthy of support. But if you can’t, then the least you can do is not mock it.
Don’t envy or belittle the support brutalized victims manage to get. That support is really all they have. That support is really all we have.
Your open derision might successfully trigger apathy or even hostility toward ‘the other cause’ and weaken it. But it will never get support for yours.
Nirbhaya’s friend recently told the world that nobody stopped to help them, and some stopped only to stand and gawk at the wounded woman. The statement is a telling indictment of our society; it reveals, yet again, just how apathetic, perverse or both a part of India has become.
However, as difficult as it might be to distance ourselves from safe, comfortable generalizations that essentially hold us all guilty of every single act of injustice ever perpetrated at any time, place or dimension, we must not make the mistake of adding this latest shameful revelation as yet another in that long list of reasons to lash out at ourselves, hurl accusations at everyone in general and no one in particular, and force the best, most conscientious among us to assume a far, far greater share of responsibility for shocking acts of brutality than what is in fact true or constructive.
Of course, turning the gaze inward is an absolute must. It is one of the important steps in the right direction which we all agree should be towards a safer, freer and egalitarian society. But there arises a problem when we allow this inward gaze to dig its claws so fiercely, so deeply and so firmly into our collective psyche that we end up placing us all, despite our capability to often be compassionate in the face of systemic odds stacked heavily against us, almost exactly at par with those who cannot but be termed as depraved, sadistic maniacs.
It often results in a far harsher indictment of those who fail to help the victim than of those who are fond of literally chewing people up and spitting them out.
प्रिय टीवी एंकर,
आपने व आपके साथियों ने समाज को, उसमें पनप रहे हिंसा को और उसके खिलाफ बुलंद होती आवाज़ को जिस जोश और जज़्बे के साथ पूरी दुनिया को दिखाया है उसके लिए आप सब को मेरा शतशत नमन!
सीटियाँ प्रदर्शन की वजह से नहीं बजी। सीटियाँ बजी क्योंकि कुछ लोग लड़कियों को देखकर हमेशा सीटी बजाते हैं। समाज ने उन्हें सिखाया है कि लड़कियों को देखो तो सीटी ज़रूर बजाओ। छेड़-छाड़, गाली-गलौज तुम्हारा फ़र्ज़ है। चुलबुल जी को देखिए, वो भी आजकल यही सिखा रहे हैं।
अगर इंडिया गेट पर जमा हुई लड़कियों को अभद्र बातें सुनने को मिली, तो इसका दोष प्रदर्शन और प्रदर्शनकारियों पर मत थोपिये। इंडिया गेट पर लड़कियां प्रदर्शन नहीं, पिकनिक ही करने जाती तो भी अभद्र बातें सुनती। पूजा के पंडाल में, शादियों में और बाज़ार में भी घुस आते हैं बदमाश। फिर क्या पूजा के पंडाल नहीं सजने चाहिए? क्या शादियों को अराजकता फैलने का कारण बताया जाना चाहिए? फिर तो आप लोगों से ये भी कह दीजिये कि जनाब, बाज़ार से सब्जियां लेने जाएँ तो अपनी श्रीमती जी को न ले जाएँ ,उपद्रवी तत्त्वों को बढ़ावा मिलता है!
हम सब हमेशा उस अनपढ़, जाहिल समाज पर ये आरोप लगाते आये हैं कि वो बे झिझक हिंसा झेलने वालों को हिंसा का कारण ठहरा देता है। अब आप भी उसी समाज की तरह शिकारी को छोड़, शिकार पर निशाना मत साधिये।
वहाँ एकत्रित लड़कियों को और घर पर उनके माता-पिता को बेकार ही डराइये नहीं। बल्कि उन्हें और उनके पुरुष साथियों को हौसला दीजिये। कहिये कि मित्रों, माफ़ करना कि हर रोज़ की तरह आज भी तुम पर कुछ जाहिल कटाक्ष करेंगे। कुछ लोग तुम्हारा मज़ाक उड़ायेंगे। तुम बच्चे हो, निहत्थे हो और ज़्यादातर किसी बड़े राजनैतिक पार्टी के युवा परिषद् का हिस्सा भी नहीं हो। इसलिए तुम्हें तो कुछ लोग ज़रूर परेशान करेंगे। लेकिन तुम घबराना मत। अब हमारा कैमरा और हमारी रिपोर्टर तुम्हारे साथ है-दस-बीस मूर्खों के चेहरे को टीवी पर शर्मसार करने का ज़िम्मा तो हम ले ही लेंगे!
एक और बात, एंकर बाबू। महिलाएं हर रोज़ बस, ट्रेन व मेट्रो में चढ़ती हैं। हर रोज़ उन्हें कोई परेशान करता है। कोई घूरता रहता है, कोई दुपट्टा खींचता है तो कोई छूने का प्रयास करता है। अक्सर कामयाब हो जाता है। वो गुस्सा होती हैं, कभी चीखती है तो कभी चुप रह जाती हैं। पर वो ऐसी मोम की गुडिया भी नहीं हैं कि कोई छीटा कशी करे और वो अपने ही आसुओं के सैलाब में पिघल जाएँ। हर रोज़ हो रहे इस पागलपन के बावजूद हर बार अपने आपको समेटती हैं और फिर जीवन के संघर्ष में जुट जाती हैं।
प्रदर्शन करते वक़्त लड़कियों को जो परेशानी झेलनी पड़ रही है उससे वो घबरा भले ही गयी हो, लेकिन वो हर रोज़ की तरह हौसला जुटा कर फिर आगे बढेंगी। फर्क सिर्फ दो होंगे। एक तो ये कि हर रोज़ की तरह उन की झुंझलाहट सिर्फ उन तक ही सीमित नहीं रहेगी बल्कि पूरे देश में गूंजेगी। और दूसरा ये कि हर रोज़ की तरह विरोध का हिस्सा बनने की वजह से जो गुंडागर्दी उन्हें झेलनी पड़ी, वो समाज में एक बड़े बदलाव को लाने के प्रयास में होगी।
विरोध प्रदर्शन कलंकित नहीं हुआ, एंकरसाहब।
एक बार फिर, धन्यवाद।
-एक आम भारतीय महिला
(This blog post was first published as a Facebook note on December 26- 3 days after Delhi police constable Subhash Tomar passed away due to injuries allegedly sustained by him during the anti-rape protests in Delhi. On Jan 2, a plea was filed in Delih HC for a CBI probe into Tomar’s death. Read more about it here)
जय हो, हमारे नेताओं की! जय हो उन लोगों की जिन्हें एक दिन पहले जनता से बात करने में न जाने कैसी शर्मिंदगी महसूस हो रही थी।
अब वो सारे इकठ्ठा है तोमर के लिए। ये वही कांस्टेबल है जो लोगों के गुस्से से आपको बचा रहा था। ये वही है जिसे आपने अपने महलनुमा घर में सुरक्षित बैठे- बैठे एक लाठी देकर ये कह दिया कि जाओ, जब कोई कमज़ोर दिखे तो पीट दो और जब गुंडे दिखें तो देख लेना भई कि कैसे बचना है।
एक लाठी के साथ तोमर इस कोशिश में लगा था कि कहीं आपको चोट न लग जाए। अरे चोट तो दूर की बात है, वो और उनके सहकर्मी ज़्यादातर ये सुनिश्चित करने में लगे थे कि कहीं आपकी नींद न खराब हो जाए या कहीं आपके बागीचों के फूल न नष्ट हो जायें!
अब पूरे स्टेट ऑनर के साथ उस कांस्टेबल को विदा कर रहे हैं। ये दर्शा रहे हैं कि देखो, तुम सब कितने मूर्ख, जाहिल और खून के प्यासे हो और हम कितने सभ्य और सुसंस्कृत! वो हमारे लिए मर गया और हमने उसे शहीदों की विदाई दी। हो गया न हिसाब बराबर?
नेताजी, इतना आदर करते हैं न कांस्टेबल का? एक काम कीजिये। ये जो एक दिन की तनख्वाह तोमर के परिवार को दे रहे हैं न, ये अपने पास ही रखिये। लेकिन तोमर की बिटिया या नतनी या पोती की पढाई का खर्च आप उठा लीजिये। और हाँ, तोमर के सहयोगियों की तनख्वाह बढ़ा दीजिये। अपनी तनख्वाह में से हर महीने ज़रा सा कम घर ले जायेंगे तो मर नहीं जायेंगे आप।
एक और बात। अपने नाटक पर पर्दा गिरा लीजिये। जनता के पैसों से तोमर के लिए महँगी विदाई का नाटक कर कांस्टेबलों पर अपना हक़ जताने बंद कीजिये।
तोमर एक अधेढ़, लाठीधारी, बिना कवच, बिना ट्रेनिंग, बुरी पगार पाने वाला ऐसा सिपाही था जो आपकी चालाकी, खुदगर्जी और निर्दयीनता का उतना ही बड़ा शिकार था जितना की हम।
तोमर हमारा आदमी था। #ठीकहै?
(A shorter version of this blog post was first published on December 23 as a Facebook note- 6 days before Delhi’s braveheart breathed her last.)
The news of the brutal gang-rape of a 23-year-old Delhi medical student left us all shocked, angry and horrified. As details of the woman’s torturous ride on the bus full of marauding beasts started trickling in, a stultifying sense of helplessness gripped even the grittiest among us. One of the bravest friends I have ever known broke down, while some others could barely control their tears. Many voiced anguished demands for death penalty for the monstrous crime; there were also those who argued for other severe forms of punishment such as castration.
(Some, of course, were still busy sharing pictures of their dinner, iPhones, and that variety of high-heeled footwear that makes flying from possible danger impossible. Incredible as their resolute determination to look the other way while a fellow human being just got devoured by a bunch of deviant maniacs is, I wish them health, safety and a lifetime supply of rose-tinted glasses.)
Then there were those who came up with the argument that sounded firmly opposed to the idea of protesting against what happened on the bus that night. The argument mostly stemmed from a perceived sense of injustice perpetrated by mainstream media that is invariably Delhi-centered, and focused on the struggles and celebrations of the dominant classes and castes. One could imagine them quickly scan Google news, dig out last night’s dirt from the ‘darker parts of India’ such as Bihar, Orissa or Jharkhand, and slip in an update about it saying, “See, this happens everywhere. Now can we please stop bringing up that intestine-less woman and return to more appropriate discussions on Dabangg, Fevicol and football?”
Even more misplaced is the assumption that those who were appalled at what happened on the night of December 16 are short-sighted, ignorant little urban men and women who cannot understand the sordid, complex realities of life that come together to create monsters out of perfectly normal human beings, and who also naively assume life will be a walk in the park once the brutes are sent to the gallows. Tenaciously sticking to the ‘down with death sentence’ line, many also continue to describe those asking for maximum punishment for rape as unevolved, medieval minds whose demand brings them exactly at par with the ones who cannot decide what they enjoy doing the most- rape, mutilation or murder.
There is a third group, of course, that finds Facebook unfit for any discussion outside the realm of food, fun and fiesta. While passionate discussions over Tendulkar’s retirement or Bebo’s wedding attire are welcome, invitation to protests via social network, feminist groups, poems, cartoons and quotes are quickly labelled dramatic, superficial, over-the-top and plain embarrassing.
Now, the answer to why crime in Delhi gets better TV coverage than those happening elsewhere lies partly in the high-profile tag attached to the city- proximity to the seat of government and better overall infrastructure make it important for most TV channels to set up and run huge offices, a network of reporters, video journalists and OB vans in the city. A similar unevenness in coverage of criminal incidents in state capitals and the rest of the state exists in other parts of the country, too. And smaller towns and villages get ignored almost entirely.
Extensive coverage of Amar Jyoti Kalita notwithstanding, the general inability or even lack of inclination of mainstream media to cover the hinterland does not justify the demand to ask those who want justice for the 23-year-old medical student to shut up. The logic is simple- if your support for a victim of sexual assault depends on where in India it happened, then it becomes important for you to immediately stop claiming to be a genuine supporter of women’s rights. Such a cavalier decision to lend conditional support to rape victims, and to insinuate that a Delhi-based rape victim is somehow luckier than a Bengal-based one, because the former has TV channels and Yuvraj Singh talking about her even as she battles for life, pits one hapless woman against another and sends dangerously confusing signals about what being a feminist is.
As far as the ‘don’t kill, change the society first’ argument goes, it is important for those protesting against the protests to know most of those who are at India Gate, facing water-canons, signing petitions or writing blogs are aware of exactly how patriarchy functions, how the society nurtures hatred towards women, and how a rapist isn’t born so, but grows up to become one. The explanation that everything from Hindi soaps to Bollywood to our own friendly neighborhood is complicit in the crime that happened that night is not lost on anyone. The demand for better education, gender sensitization, street-lights, robust, sensitive police, self-defense classes in schools and colleges and fast-track courts remain unchanged. Those demands, if anything, have grown stronger over the past few days.
So, it is patently wrong to assume that the demand for death sentence has replaced the demand for a more gender-sensitive society. Right now, the two demands co-exist. Even for many of those who have so far been unwavering in their opposition to capital sentence, the need to give cold-blooded beasts a second chance has very, very slowly metamorphosed into a powerful, all- encompassing, desperate need to see them dead and gone. And this has happened because while brutality against women everywhere has flourished unchecked, no attempt to protect and empower women has materialized.
Allowing these savages to continue to live, among other things, heightens the sense of insecurity among women living anywhere in India. It strengthens the belief that Indian leadership’s pretense at civilized behavior, which takes the form of grandiloquent defense of the criminal’s rights and snobbish comparisons with Saudi Arabia on television and international forums while in reality ruling a pre-historic jungle means cruelty against women must, almost as a rule, go unpunished. This in turn means women must always live with the debilitating fear that rape is inevitable unless they are lucky enough to escape it for their whole life.
And criminals can smell fear. Criminals relish fear.
While many of us continue to cutely trust lawmakers, administrators and judiciary, the other side- the side infested with those who consider women deserve varying degrees of punishment every now and then- has not been playing fair. The other side has not been reading books. It has not been following television debates. It does not respect the belief of the relatively civilized half of the society in the sanctity of life, even that of vermin; indeed, it scoffs at it. It knows we will forgive the most heinous crimes, and rescue the most remorseless of criminals.
It thrives on our faith in the ability of the depraved to correct themselves.
Let us, for once, shock the degenerate out of their faith in our ability to forgive.
And then, we could all return to our demands for brighter streets and a better society.