I was contemplating what to write to usher in the new year, besides reflecting on the total number of views and the comments for this site in 2015, as a means to self gratification! There were both good and bad things that took mind space in the year gone by. Who can forget the #Chennairains and the subsequent mayhem it unleashed on the city, which was reduced to being a giant lake, unlike a bustling city where million dreams are realised and lived. Although i stay in Virugmabakkam, that part of the city suburbs which was heavily ravaged, was lucky that we scraped through barely, with water all round the locality, but not inside the house.
The human side of the story was the most heart warming of all, where the unlikely heros like the IT professionals who are routinely criticised for being aloof and living in castles, came out in large numbers both as volunteers as well as coordinators of rescue and relief operations, the area pasanga (neighborhood youngsters) who are shunned on other days as rowdy elements, helping the same neighborhood families! Irony cannot be missed in this tragic twist of destiny. Not to forget the reel stars who did their bit as well as film fraternities from Kerala, AP/Telangana and Karnataka and from Mumbai film industry too. It was not all rosy by the way, as there were reports where the volunteers were attacked for supplies, their confidence rattled with demands for biriyani when served with fried rice or curd rice in relief camps, elderly menopausal old women feeling cheated for not being given sanitary napkins, excess focus of Chennai that too south Chennai and negligence of Cuddalore and North Chennai to name a few. Of course the national news channels whose reach does not go beyond Delhi and Mumbai, were hilarious in their reporting and displayed condescension in their talk shows.
Besides this, 2015 would be special, where i would like to believe that I took to blogging seriously, well not so, considering many unwritten stories which are still shackled in the deep alleys and crevices of my brain, and have not yet found its life in digital media due to yours truly’s laziness. #Malare was one defining song where i understood the complex lyrical meters adopted in Malayalam and understood why it is so difficult to write lyrics in Malayalam due to its complicated syntax, unlike say Tamil or Urdu which seem to be designed for verses. But it was a rewarding experience to explore other songs in Malayalam which i translated with fits and starts with many revisions post publishing after feedback from the readers. Big thanks to all.
So like everybody, i too have resolved to take up many things and already on the second day of the new year, only to realize that the same resolutions of 2016 have to be committed for 2017 as well. Working in Delhi and understanding that city was one thing 2015 will be remembered in my life. Did not personally encounter, rude or abrasive behavior from people whom i interacted with, although have to admit that the auto wallahs, taxi drivers were generally genial and open up when you talk to them as a friend than a grumpy passenger ordering like a thankless boss. The snobbish behavior is reserved to the rich and upper middle class the noveau riche who are quite convinced about their foolhardiness, that they often display mistaken notion of being a white in their accents and attire, but only reduce themselved as poor caricatures of saheb, a brown saheb. The bigotry and caste discrimination needs to be barely scratched to be exposed in all its ugliness.
Regarding the safety of women in Delhi, well I should admit that the civil society there is more vocal and due to their shrill shrieks and condemnation in the “national media“, which sort of gives the impression that it is far worse than other cities. The statistics seem to suggest that to be the case, but like any statistic, it is only as revealing as the person’s perspective. South fares slightly better, even if the statistic seem to suggest that it is overwhelmingly so, not because women are more respected, but the still prevalent feudal structures do not allow much of the “minor transgressions” of men as “harassment” and that needs to filed in the police station. Not that police station take these complaints seriously anyways, than VIP security, I would need more convincing that things are indeed good here in south, that Delhi can be labelled the “rape capital of India” emphatically.
And these numbers expose only a small percentages of such harassment in open, as almost all the offenders in these reports are strangers or in Indian context outside your clan (yeah caste of course) and class circle; with harassment within the family, being hardly reported. To look at it this way, a woman is more likely to be harassed or even “raped” within the safe precincts of family, as marital rape is not considered rape under Indian legal system, despite Justice Verma’s recommendations to add it in the amended rape law (the other being not to reduce juvenile’s age) , as the powers that be, Congress/BJP consider it as an act of “destroying family institution”. Never understood the paradox of stating such a statement when the Indian constitution guarantees individual freedom over oppressive societal norms. An interesting article by my dear friend Namit Arora puts it very forcefully.
A major obstacle to a more progressive discourse on rape is the caste patriarchy of Delhi’s mainstream media and politicians, including the liberals. Rather than focusing more on the home front where most of the problem lies, the dominant narrative inflates the fear of ‘stranger rape’ and focuses on ‘protecting’ women from unwashed strangers, especially when the victims come from privileged classes. Such rapes tend to be presented as an assault on the social collective—‘Delhi shamed again’, proclaim the headlines. This feeds on caste patriarchy’s persona of some women—especially middle- and upper-class women—as passive, dependent, demure, chaste, flower-like beings, whose sexual violation is seen as more tragic than that of other women (such as of Suzette Jordan, prostitutes, Dalits, and other working-class women).
As activist Kavita Krishnan has written, ‘Protection also implies that not all women are worthy of it. Women who fail the test of patriarchal morality; women whose caste and class identity does not spell sexual “respectability,” fall outside the embrace of protection.’ According to Krishnan, ‘The only useful movement against sexual violence can be one that brings the problem home, right into the comfort zone, that challenges rather than reassures patriarchy, that exposes the violence found in the “normal” rather than locating violence in the far-away and exotic’—or in the fraction committed by strangers, especially the most morbid and ‘sensational’.
So finally to end, what do i miss most about Delhi-the drinking sessions with Namit, Usha and Shrimoyee and the banter about politics,arts, literature, philosophy giving the heady mix the ambiance demands. Very poetic indeed!