Monday, December 31, 2012

When President Pranab Mukherjee’s son Abhijit Mukherjee, recently elected as MP from Jangipur in West Bengal, made certain snide remarks about women protesters in New Delhi clamouring for stricter action against rapists and molesters he drew  such sharp comments that his sister first and later he himself apologised for hurting the sentiments of women in general. Along with Mukherjee’s nasty remarks was also seen reported CPM leader and former WB Minister Anisur Rehman mocking the Trinamool government's compensation for rape victims, saying, "I would like to ask Mamata Banerjee what would be her fee if someone gets Rs. 20,000 after being raped." In the generally smouldering anger by the educated and media savvy women, this embarrassed the CP(I)M and it upbraided the erring male leader.

I was, however, reminded of a former Chief Minister of Kerala, and CP(I)M leader (late)EK Nayanar’s unbelievably ugly remark in the context of a rape case. A couple of US women tourists were robbed and raped on the famous Kovalam beach in Kerala and Nayanar said in front of the media: “Look here, my dear chap, rape is nothing for these American women. In their country it is such a routine matter as drinking tea is for us!” Since the so-called intelligentsia roots for Marxists in Kerala, protests by people on the other side of the political spectrum carried no weight and neither Nayanar nor his party bothered to apologise. Nayanar had this reputation for being an affable yokel, and after all, what he said was about American women, so why cry hoarse about it and also get blamed for being pro-imperialist to boot?

What Abhijit Mukherjee said in some colourful phrases was that he doubted the sincerity of many of those socialite protestors stalking the streets of Delhi waiting for politically correct causes. I have myself noticed the phenomena he described, and wondered how rooted were these people to the realities and how genuine were their concerns.

A newspaper this morning had a headline WE WANT TO BE NIRBHAYA. Well then, ‘Nirbhaya’ was the name given to the New Delhi  rape victim by the Time of India since the journalistic code did not allow the original name of the victim made known to the public as long as she was alive. The report said that actor Shabana Azmi led a march “with hundreds in attendance” from Juhu Beach to Kaifi Azmi Park to express angry sentiments against the administration and judiciary, and urging the “political class” to take action. There were photographs of Shabana Azmi, Jaya Bachchan and Deepika Pudukone tears smudging their faces or rolling down from eyes. I thought Shabana Azmi and Jaya Bachchan belonged to the political class and quite active that way, unless they were playing their roles on movies. Well, personally I have always doubted the sincerity of these people delivering their socio-political dialogues and expressing their sorrow because their histrionic skills are considerable; and I have always wondered, had I harried an actress, how would I ever have believed her emotions to be true! I am not saying that these people are insincere, but I suppose they have this professional jeopardy of being not taken seriously for their emotions outside the silver screen.

In the late Eighties when I used to work in Mumbai, somewhere on the side of the road leading to Colaba from near Brabourne Stadium Music was being blared out from a shamiana, and since I was walking that road, I went to see what was happening. Shabana Azmi, clad in jeans and a T-shirt, was lying there on a cot, protesting the removal of sugarcane juice vendors off the streets by the City Administration after publishing a series of public service advertisements warning the dangers of coliform bacteria, and harmful amoeba spread by the Ghana (sugarcane) juice made and sold on the roadside. Shabanaji’s worry was about the plight of the poor sugarcane juice vendors plying their innocent trade. To shore up the argument for their cause, she cited the possibility of the fruit juices served in ‘Five Star hotels’ having larger number of coliforms.  As someone who roamed the streets of Mumbai on my marketing calls, I had seen the “innocent” sugarcane juice vendors ‘cleaning’ the sugarcane piled on the dirty footpaths next to their hand-driven or motorised juice extractor by simply passing the blades of their long knives over their lengths in the most casual manner possible. Then the canes are fed to be crushed in between the toothed rollers of the machine, and the juice collected after removing solids using a cloth/plastic sieve. This juice is then served plain with a few drops of fresh lime juice or with ‘masala’. Mumbaikars used to superstitiously believe this as an anti-dote to jaundice and queue up (just as pregnant Mumbai women before the tender-coconut vendors) to have this elixir. As someone who studied biology, I used to take pains to explain to so many people that this sugarcane juice was a recipe for disastrous amoebiasis and jaundice, not too convincingly. Upset by a celebrity endorsing the sugarcane juice vendor’s cause and such pressure forcing the Mumbai Municipal Corporation to withdraw the ban on their trade, I wrote an angry ’Letter to the Editor’ and got it published in the Indian Express as well as the ToI. My comment was that I was more interested in the “aam aadmi” ingesting the dangerous bacteria and courting disaster drinking cheap sugarcane juice and I believed that those who got coliform bacteria served in their juices from the Taj or Oberoi (the two huge hotels in Mumbai then) could very well take care of themselves.

That incident made me harbour a deep prejudice against Ms.Azmi, and that spread to her tribe in Bollywood as well as to the ‘political class’ she represented.
While Abhijit Mukherjee’s description of the “dented and painted” women protesting against the gang-rape in New Delhi appearing to be staging something like a ‘nautanki’ (drama) was in bad taste, and politically incorrect as coming from a politician belonging to the party that ruled the State as well as the entire country, I too felt that the women protesters were too good looking for a spontaneous crowd, and did not exactly look like students. This is a free country, and I have my constitutional right to freedom of expression too!

Now, I have more controversial things to write. I hail from a State known for sexist behaviour by males of all ages, and it is generally explained away (!) because Keralites were sex-starved! When some Malayalam newspapers editorially worried about the Mumbai Underworld’s activities, writer, late MP Narayana Pillai wrote an angry article in one of them saying that Mumbai was the safest city and compared very well with any place in Kerala. He asked the editorial writers and readers of the newspapers whether a person belonging to the female gender between the age of six and sixty was safe in the streets of Kerala even in broad daylight.

So, when I moved to Thiruvananthapuram from Chennai, I gave detailed ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ to my 13-year-old daughter like “don’t laugh to jokes made by males unknown to us”, “do not give your name to the same category” and so on. There were innumerable occasions when I had indeed to go to her help using my clout as a top media person. But in Mar Ivanios College, a co-ed institution she was absolutely safe. However, it was when she went out of Kerala for higher studies, and immediately afterwards on employment that I started breathing easy!

Not just in Kerala, everywhere, if I had to travel by auto-rikshaw, I would insist on getting in first, as a precaution against the driver speeding away with my wife or daughter! When a first cousin told me once how her father was against her engineering education, and when he pleaded and prevailed over him, he literally wrote out a long list of ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ before she headed for the hostel life. I told her that with just one daughter I was tormented by thoughts of her insecurity, and I could imagine his plight with three daughters. The point I am labouring here, is that I cannot understand how so many of these ill-fated girls casually moved about in late evenings and even unearthly hours sometimes, in crime prone areas made notorious by graphic media reports? While I accept this is a free country, enjoyment of this freedom is highly risky for those who have no power: money power, political power, or physical power. Remember, an affluent doctor’s family was totally helpless against a lecherous police officer lusting after their dear daughter when even the politicians sided with him.

The other day police men arrested a man and woman in Kerala for being seen together “under suspicious circumstances” though they tried to prove they were man and wife! Thanks to the story of the hapless Delhi girl, and the atmosphere of vigilance, the erring Sub-Inspector was suspended from service. But I am worried for the family because their address is known to the police officer. This is the law enforcement organization whose one senior officer had another one’s wife raped by letting a convict off from jail temporarily, in order to settle a score! (This was in a Malayalamanorama serial piece on the Police force in Kerala)

Let us, all those “dented and painted women” and the others and their men folk including me, not be fooled by this talk of women’s dignity, safety etc. A Prime Minister of India had thrown out her widowed daughter-in-law from the Prime Minister’s official residence, also asking the chowkidar to check her bags before she left the gates! That the remaining daughter-in-law who watched this atrocity in silence if not in collusion happens to be wielding ultimate power in the country now when the media is full of crimes against women is perhaps happenstance. But that is enough for Abhijit Mukherjee M.P. and me to be sceptical about this hoopla over Nirbhaya as it comes from some of those innumerable mothers-in-law and sisters-in-law who physically and mentally torture women in India that is Bharath. Rapists and molesters are infinitely fewer in numbers.


AND TO THE YOUNG GIRLS CARRYING PLACARDS carrying: “Don’t you dare tell me what to wear: Teach him not to stare.” The slogan rhymes well, but you know, exhibiting your bodies is as rude as staring. Wo/men do not stare at the naked bodies of their parents, sisters, and brothers. You have a right to oppose unsolicited physical intimacy from others; but expecting them to look the other way is a tad unrealistic.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Sir,
    Nice one!! It is truly worrisome to see the weaker sex beginning to lose sight of the line between 'bravery and courage' and 'stupidity and shamelessness'.
    I'm sure there are many sensible ways of winning the battle against rape (read aggression), without losing or even taking off one's shirt! Fighting crap with some more crap is downright stupid.
    Thanks and regards,
    Anup G. S.