Can’t Put My Finger On It. But I Know Something’s Wrong.

Something has gone terribly wrong with the basic fiber.

Most people find it okay to jump traffic signals. There is a perverse delight even in being able to jump a light and jump the cop who tries to catch you shortly afterwards. Driving on the wrong side is fine. Incidentally, I live in this residential area, which, by conservative estimates, is higher middle class with a large proportion of educated (graduates and above) families. And yet, every morning, I find people driving the wrong way on a one way street in this residential area, just to avoid driving an extra 100–150 meters. Expensive fuel. I also see a lot of people whose driving license should be revoked given their parking skills.

Most people find it OK to not worry about their driving license, and let an extra 500 bucks to a grand take care of it. Most government offices and officials find it OK to take a bribe. Easier than having to check whether someone actually knows how to drive. The driving school guys also find it easier to get the license than to teach you how to drive.

Most service professionals find it perfectly alright to not deliver on their commitments. Most plumbers or carpenters mean one hour when they say they are 15 minutes away. Most technology companies find it OK to delay a project by a few months. Most hardware manufacturers find a 10–15% defect rate in their products OK.

In the most affluent city of this country, a metro rail project gets delayed by several years, and the city fails to buy the services of the best planners and builders, with all the money it has. In this process, every day, thousands of professionals who charge their clients and their organizations by the hour, spend several hours on the road just trying to get to their respective destinations. In the political power center of this country, a girl gets brutally raped and beaten and murdered, and it takes citizen rallies and candle light marches for the authorities to remember that this might need some attention.

Most people find it okay to be disrespectful towards a woman’s identity and her physicality. Teasing, groping, fondling, grabbing — they are all just fine. Somehow, a survey conducted on women suggests that more than 90% of them have been teased. Interesting, not more than 10% men commit to having participated or observed it.

In a certain state, men are married off without their consent and at gun-point, and in another, daughters are burnt or killed for expressing their desire to marry someone of their choice.

It has to be disturbing that a man often charged with abetting the murder of hundreds and thousands of people is the supreme political leader of this country, because a majority of constituencies felt that they had no other choice. It has to be unnerving that education minister of this country has had to refer to a certificate course of x days as her best credential for the job, only to be seriously undermined. It is even more disturbing that a politician universally acknowledged as the most corrupt ever has a gold plated Lanka of his own in a small Maharashtrian town that is now known for nothing else but this politician. It is also quite disturbing that the biggest democracy in the world has but one family owned business as the real political alternative.

The accident of having found a great president is almost immediately corrected by finding one that even hard fought despair could not have cared about. And a prime minister who could have done something is put on mute by a remote, ably handled by the buffoons of a family legacy.

The government actively bans harmful stuff — beef, porn. A college/ university even banned certain dresses. Harmful for the Indian culture. But religious, acidic and dividing speeches are not banned. Religious tolerance.

In broad public eye, 540 odd chosen people waste a nation’s precious time and money and do not let the office function, and nothing happens to them. In some companies, people are fired for showing dissent against their bosses.

Most are trained to respect our bosses. And not respect those who are not our bosses. Or peers. It is unacceptable to let your educated children work in a restaurant part time, and acceptable to laugh at the poor English of the unskilled service person. Most people want to have someone who could do their work. All the time. Maids, delivery boys, office boys… are, jara mera ye kaam kar dena… but find it rude if someone asks them to do something extra.

Most people find it an extra and unrequited effort to hold the door for someone coming from behind. But they find it OK to jump a queue and get in front of someone who might be ahead. They do make the extra effort for that.

Speaking of time and effort, our judiciary is piling over with the number of cases it has to handle. And it still keeps a case running for decades. An actor gets a bail after running over many people. Several years after running them over. Being Human? A young drunk lawyer can’t get bail for running over one. Fair and Blind Justice. A certain politician is still in contention, and gets support from the torch bearers of “anti-corruption and fairness”, having siphoned of a little over a 1000 crores in the name of fodder. And people will still vote for him. National Blindness.

They either support, or they are against. People take sides too easily. More importantly, they want people to take sides. Or they choose people’s sides. If one says Aye, one never gets to say Nay. The walls of protest have become too easy to paint — a digital swish, or a 140 character momentary wish. Every debate is black or white, no shades of grey for this nation of mine. “Jo galat nahi hai, wo jaroori nahi ki sahi ho”, I had read somewhere long back.

Something is terribly wrong with the fiber. I just can’t put my finger on it.

p.s. This post deserves a lot of hyperlinks. I am not in the mood though.

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India’s Daughter: Leslee Udwin’s Documentary on BBC

I SAW the video. Not in totality. Skipped and rushed through parts. Watched 59 minutes long video in about 20 minutes. Why did I not watch the whole thing? Two reasons – Usual dearth of time to watch a one hour long video which restates most of what I already know (shallow, but true), and it was a deeply disturbing video (deep, and equally true).

Putting my gripes with the documentary aside, it is disturbing to relive the case, to try and understand how the perpetrators of that crime think about their actions, to understand that they are not alone in thinking so, to realize that the lawyers defending them (people who value an explicitly taken weak argument) have no qualms going on record saying things like Indian culture has no place for a woman, to realize that an entire mass of educated bureaucracy, empowered legislative body, elected political system, and the similarly effected population of this country – failed Nirbhaya.

We fail the women of our country every day. Every time we step out on the street. Over and over again. By not standing up for them. By believing that standing up for them is like extending a favour. Or an act of heroism or bravado. And by “we”, I am including the women around me as well. But then, we don’t just fail the women. We fail the entire bloody community that we are a part of.

The documentary spends an inordinate amount of time projecting Nirbhaya as a good person, and the criminals as rotten to the core. A documentary about the subject need not have spent as much time profiling one woman. It needed to stand up for all women. Irrespective of them being virtuous, noble, humble or otherwise. Not all women who are raped and killed are Nirbhaya. They don’t need to be. They have their own identities. And their own freedom to protect. In this documentary of Nirbhaya vs. the society, somewhere, the brutality of the incident and the shamelessness of these criminals is all that is left. The issue, though, is much bigger. Nirbhaya is not India’s only daughter.

Way more disturbing, and probably a subject that needs a bigger debate, is the set of statements made by the lawyers. Is a “man” whose explicit biases include considering women as flower, precious gemstones, or fruit on the street, fit enough to be a lawyer? Was this a lawyer provided to the criminals by the state? Or, did these lawyers come to the fore on their own, given the popularity the case would’ve got them? Or, could these criminals really afford a lawyer on their own? There is a point in “Better Call Saul” (a TV Series) where a person, who while being guilty doesn’t really consider herself guilty of anything”, tells Saul that “you look like a lawyer that guilty people would have”. If these are state provided lawyers who have such “beliefs”, what chance do women approaching the state machinery for justice and fairness have? There is another one who is willing to put petrol on her daughter and burn her alive if she is found out and about with a boy. Now here is a thought – lets see if we can convince his daughter(s) or wife or mother to take this challenge head on. And then file a case of domestic violence and rape against these lawyers. And lets see if the judiciary will be able to stand up for what is right.

More often than not, and its my belief, a society at large behaves well out of fear. Not because of education or awareness or culture or something like that. Over a period of time, fear is forgotten and conditioning takes over. The conditioned behavior then becomes the benchmark behavior that differentiates right and wrong civil societies. Like eating beef. Or, drinking. India does not fear its law. It can be bought and sold for a 50 rupee note at times. On the other hand, people don’t jump lights in US because they are afraid of the law. Now, assuming that there were no penalties for jumping lights, would the average American still be standing at the traffic light, waiting for it to turn green?  My hypotheses, after witnessing NYC traffic, is that s/he won’t.

What do I want? Decisive, fast action. If established, a rape convict gets death sentence. If established, a dude jumping lights more than twice gets his license revoked. Hit and Run (like the Housing.com story (not sure if it’s true) or the Ambani story) – definitely license revoked, significant financial penalty, and a jail term. Why, after so many years, are we still debating about the punishments for these people? Why after so many years do people still have a doubt about Mr. Lalu Prasad Yadav’s corruption and subsequent punishment/ debarment from Indian politics? The failure of the judiciary, law and order and politics cannot be the reason why the whole Indian society can be called “sick” by someone who’s spent a couple of years in India. That it might actually be sick is another and a very important issue.

And this is where my problems with the documentary begin – If I were to evaluate the video purely on the merits of a documentary, I don’t think it’s the smartest or even that its one of the better documentaries that I have seen. Its research is shallow, the narrative manipulative, and there is a level of continuous unrest at the back of your head because it doesn’t seem real quite often. A lot of the footage seems a little too edited and doctored (and not just in a documentary-ish way). There seems to be a little too much of prepping the people for their dialogues. Like when Jyoti’s tutor narrates events from the past, it does not come naturally. Sometimes, the anguish comes through, but often, it seems scripted. It capitalizes on strong emotions, not the quality of probing and gruesome research I was expecting to come across. It is so high on emotions that you cannot follow the logical train. I am not doubting the intentions, but when you’re putting a documentary on BBC, I believe the research also needs to be more comprehensive.

Of the 6 convicts, there is only who’s interviewed (probably an issue with the permissions, though it does make you wonder what the other 5 inherently believed in) – Mukesh Singh. Mukesh was the driver of that bus. The one expert on India is someone who’s brought from outside – Maria. There is but one psychoanalyst who gets airteime, and two defence lawyers get a lot of airtime because of their controversial statements. Amod Kanth of Prayas (NGO) is roped in to provide some input on juvenile cases.

There isn’t much in the story that is new. There aren’t conflicting viewpoints from a legal or psychoanalytical point of view. What leads to this? How are people so comfortable with themselves after doing something as heinous as this? Even after realizing that there life has come to a premature end because of this extremely inhuman act of theirs?

Did you, like me, at some point feel that the “rapists will kill rape victims from now on” is more an argument that is fed to the convict? Considering that this research would have been done through several conversations and interviews, do you think prompting has a role to play in how people respond to questions? Like – “people outside are saying that a your being sentenced to death will lead to more… “.

A big shout out and hugs to Nirbhaya’s parents for being able to not let rage take them over completely. The fact that they still are able to have a sane conversation about all this tells you what strength they have. If only people could learn some of that.

The documentary starts narrow, stays narrow, but generalizes everything to “India”. There isn’t much that is new. Nirbhaya case was one that brought a large populace to the streets demanding justice. Before and after that, there have been many more rape cases, maybe none so brutal (I don’t agree that an outright murder of a raped woman is any less of an eventuality than what happened with Jyoti). Those cases have not been talked about. And hence, while in spirit, you may want to take a stand that Nirbhaya Case = India, there isn’t enough evidence in this documentary that supports it.

It is a decent containerization of an event that shook the nation and some of the socio-cultural aspects around that particular incident. The fact that it shook the nation at large should tell you that India is not “sick”. That there is no need to give up hope. There will be moments of despair. Bad things happen. They happen everywhere. What is shameful is the way we act and the way some agencies try to sweep it under the carpet.

And that brings me to the ban. I am somewhat speechless. To debate this ban in parliament seems such a pointless waste of state time. I am sure the government concerns are not about the glorification of criminals (apparently). Rather, they must be worried about the poor portrayal of India. Sir! Humble request Sir! There are other bigger problems to worry about. Like bringing this damn bloody case to its conclusion. One of my managers used to tell me – if you have time to complain about something, you have time to go do it. The inaction of years and decades cannot be shoved under the carpet by imposing bans on documentaries, even if you think they are one sided. Something that is not true here. Acknowledge your damn failures and fix them. Put safety measures in place, and not just for women. Do an overhaul of the legal system. Work towards creating opportunities for everyone. Ensure high quality public transport that does not stop working because its 11 in the night. Come down upon police that won’t take a case because “bekaar ke lafde mein kya padoge saab”.

Stop wasting precious parliament time on debating stupid bans for heaven’s sake. You’re not a twitter celebrity looking for attention and retweets. You are the bloody government. Stop acting like a teenager who can’t take criticism. Stop acting like a gully ka goonda shouting “mera bat hai, mere rules honge”. Maybe you don’t realize this. But a big change that has happened in the last few years – there is a new country called Internet and its identity is very similar to that mythical demon Raktabeej. For every voice that you suppress, a hundred new pop up. And you are neither its prime minister, nor its constitution. Stop sulking and suit up.

 

Should you watch it? Your choice. Do you want to? Would you have watched it otherwise? But don’t watch it just because it has been banned. Don’t watch it to find your moral high ground. There is nothing sensational and path-breaking about watching this documentary. Its not a thriller, edge of the seat variety. Neither is it boring. It’s only 60 minutes. It ticks off all the check-boxes. Its a reminder of one of the most often discussed events in the recent Indian history. At the end of it, it is a given that you will come out feeling extremely disturbed, that much is a guarantee. But still, it is like any other and many other documentaries. The subject it touches is a raw nerve. Unlike education, poverty, juvenile crimes, state of infrastructure, mafia control, etc. Banning it was idiotic though.

Just by banning it, government is telling you to go find ways of watching it. So, Leslee Udwin can thank Indian Government for popularizing a documentary which would have been otherwise watched by a few thousand people.

Suggestions and Thoughts for The Justice Verma Committee

Honorable Justice Verma,

The recent events around the widely reported Delhi Gangrape incident have brought to the fore not just the sentiments of an infuriated nations, but also several glaring shortcomings in the way our law and order infrastructure is setup and operating. Amongst the precious few steps taken by the elected government, one was to set up this committee under your guidance and invite recommendations and suggestions from citizens of the civil society towards the amendment of laws. I welcome this meaningful gesture, somewhat late and inadequate as they may be.

While the public notice invited only recommendations around the laws, I have included two sections in this document – the first section includes my recommendations w.r.t. to the laws the way I understand them, and the second section covers certain other recommendations  that I feel would be crucial to avoiding such incidents in the future.

Section 1

  • Need for Special Courts
    • Separate courts for crime against women need to be setup. Again, the classification on whether a particular case needs a fast track action should be driven by the category of the case and not by the gender of the defendant. However, in the case of women, we as a nation need to recognize that the odds are heavily stacked against them – right from their ability to report an incident to their ability to fight for their rights. The number of times they are abused, violated, beaten up, burnt, killed etc and no action is taken is not insignificant.
    • Fast Track Courts for Special Cases-
      • We need to put a definition, and a set of metrics around what we mean by fast track courts. I believe that a fast track court should be defined by cases that should be resolved in less than a month.
      • Independent benchmarking – We need to have real and acceptable benchmarks for measuring the efficiency of these fast track courts. For instance, a one month turnaround on cases of rape and violence is a reasonable fast track performance. The identity of the rapists, the physical and medical examination that allows sufficient evidence to be furnished, the forensic evidence collection, etc. can be easily done in this window. The tracking down of the culprits and booking them could take time. However, an active and intent police machinery will be able to track down the culprits, is my belief. Furthermore, the evaluation metrics for fast track courts should be closely integrated with the evaluation metrics for the entire law and order machinery linked to that case. This would include police and the investigating agencies as well.
    • Escalation Courts: There should be a court where complaints against the government officials handling a particular case can be registered. This could take some cues from the consumer protection forums where cases have been addressed purely on the basis of a letter on a post-card as well. Intent counts. People should be able to write in with the specific date/time/scenario where a government official/ police person, etc. harassed them or did not fulfill his duty in the most professional manner.
  • Stronger and Relevant Punishments – I do not believe that a death penalty always serves the best. However, criminals involved in cases that lead to the death of a defendant or such bodily harm that the defendant is not able to continue with a normal life (like the case being discussed right now), are worthy of no lesser punishment.
    • It is important that the judiciary revisits the several varieties of punishments that are currently codified in the books of law, and ensure that they are harsh and compensatory enough to act as a deterrent. For instance, while a penalty of 1000 rupees for talking on your mobile while driving acts as a deterrent for individuals, the confiscation of the mobile phone may act as a stronger deterrent.
    • In this case, maybe, financial punishments to the tune of 30-40% of a criminal’s existing wealth/possessions/bank balance, etc in addition to 30-40 years of imprisonment with labor (and with no possibility of sentence reduction) might be a form of punishment worth considering.  Chemical castration in case of rape, death in the case of murder, etc. might be punishments that can be evaluated by the judiciary. However, the underlying theme should not be that of revenge (a form that general public opinion might take) but that of a deterrent  for future cases.
    • Enlist experts’ support – I am not so well versed on criminal psychology or criminal law as to be able to suggest the best punishments for corrective action/ future deterrents, but I believe there is a need to enlist a body of experts in such areas. These experts need to come from four different areas – government, judiciary, academia and citizen groups. The debate and the outcome of the same should be available to public.
  • Handling of Traffic Offenses – Impound vehicles, licenses with multiple reports. The frequency and magnitude can be discussed, but the frequency cannot be more than once a month and the overall magnitude cannot be more than 5 mistakes over the lifetime. An impounded license holder or vehicle should not be allowed to operate for an year, at least. A failure to observe so can be immediately considered for imprisonment.
  • Laws about Juvenile Criminals – I think there is a need differentiate between adult franchise and juvenile crimes. A little boy stealing from a store can be called a juvenile crime, but a young lad of 16 years age raping and brutalizing a woman cannot be called a juvenile crime. I believe that when it comes to violence against women (sexual, physical, mental), children (less than 13 years of age), old people (retirees), etc. we should have a strictly low tolerance policy. I believe young ones in the age group of 14-18 need to be treated differently, and for certain case categories, treated with almost the same standards as are used for adults. A 16 year old is sensitive and aware enough to understand men/women differentiation, law and order (through the study of civics as a subject since the age of 10, I think), and societal values. There is no element of accidental mistake in the case under public attention. Moreover, the law should create a provision for special consideration of cases such as these so that the non-adult criminal is not let off without adequate punishment
  • Judiciary should open itself to criticism.
    • On cases that are pending across the nation, can the judiciary, for once, commit to clearing the entire backlog of pending criminal cases over the next 12 months? And hold those accountable who are holding back the process?
    • The judiciary needs to assess its workload. Simple enough cases take years to get decided on. As a civilian I have heard lawyers talk about how extending a case forever ensures more money to them. I have heard stories about underhanded transactions to expedite the course of action. If it is possible, it should be established a process. And these need to be aggressive goals, not passive goals.
    • Work with the bar council and other relevant bodies to act against the lawyers that impede the process of justice.
  • Bring about transparency in judicial processes.
    • The complainant should have complete transparency into the action taken on their complaints, right from the assigned police person, to the different evidences, confessions, interrogations, etc. While certain aspects need to be reviewed critically, I believe that greater transparency will ensure ore action.
    • The mugshots of all apprehended criminals and their details should be available for public with their identities on a central website. Anyone who’s been booked under such offenses should be shamed publicly.
    • Expected Turnaround Time by Case Types
      • Depending on the case type, TATs need to be defined upfront. These expected TATs should be clearly defined. A murder case that takes three years to solve, most likely, has lost most of the core evidence already,
      • The ETAs for the police and the investigation agencies should be clearly mentioned and reported to the public.
      • Under RTI, any reason for delay should be available for further explanation.

Section 2: Other Thoughts and Recommendations.

  • Enable better and easier reporting of crime
    • Every police station should have women officials for responding to complaints from women, registering the FIRs, etc.
    • Setup hotlines for specific complaint categories with dedicated mobile units at the back-end to reach the scene of the crime as quickly as possible.
    • Take the FIR registration system online where an individual can request to register an FIR and provide supporting evidence if any online. Why should the system expect a victim who has been harassed and abused and violated to reach a police station, get harassed again by the policemen and still not be able to report their case.
    • The verification layers should be built in the form of approved identity papers (such as Aadhaar, Passport, etc.) and a mobile number based verification of complaint so that the system is not abused by stray criminals as well.
    • Simplify the process of registering an FIR. We can take cues from the consumer protection forum, which has occasionally taken actions on letters on a post-card even.
  • Financial Support –
    • In such cases of brutal violence against individuals, the state should fund the medical and rehabilitation expenses for the individual. At the highest quality institutes of healthcare. Without requiring media intervention.
    • These numbers should be readily reported to the individuals and a centralized repository where RTI activists, NGOs, etc have access to the information (without requiring a 4 week lag).
  • Policing the police
    • Police stations should be monitored through video surveillance as well. The video records should be made available for any case where the role of the police is suspect.
    • A clearer explanation as to why it took three weeks for the police to file a chargesheet in this case. I believe that this process should be brought down to 24 hours.
    • I believe that amendments to a chargesheet are an allowed process, and hence the murder case could have been brought at a separate point. But the first chargesheet should have been filed much earlier.
  • Independent Reporting and Benchmarking
    • Independent group of bodies for benchmarking the performance of different police stations should be setup.
    • It should include the number of walk-ins to the FIR desk, the number of FIRs registered, the number of cases open vs. closed, the distribution of cases by number of days they’ve been open, or have taken to close, the number of cases that are discarded, the number of cases that were closed due to the lack of evidence, etc. Break them by categories.
    • The Ministry of Home Affairs should step in to evaluate these reports which are published in major dailies across the country for public consumption as well as localdata being published in the city editions of top 10 largest circulating dailies on specific dates in a quarter (to start with).
    • The Ministry of Home Affairs should respond within a week to report on the identified weakness in the system, and the recommended follow-up.
  • Technology enablement
    • Deployment of video surveillance cameras with capability to take high speed photographs of the license plates, process it, and issue challans or raise SOS flags – especially in the more sensitive areas.
    • Centralization of criminal/crime database. While law and order is a state government subject, there are elements that need to be centralized for the better safety of the citizens, and for providing an air of comfort and well being in our country.
    • Put data warehousing, analytics, and reporting systems in place that are capable of aggregating information, analyzing it, and in many cases be able to identify the hotspots of criminal activities, the time of the day when such activities peak, and so on. It is a long process which will become better with time and more information being fed to the system, but we need a starting point.
    • All PCRs, traffic vans, etc. need to be centrally integrated so that the criminal databases are available to all at the scene of investigation itself. One should not be allowed to roam freely in Haryana if they have a murder case pending against them in Gujarat, for instance.
    • Move away from paper-pen challans to electronic challans. This will also ensure better tracking of incidents, culprits over a period of time.
    • We need better integration between telecom providers and police so that an SOS signal/call coming to a hotline number can be immediately tracked to a location for rapid action. We  cannot expect a dying person to always call and report their exact whereabouts and what condition they are in. Strong SOS trackers are a good investment. We need these SOS mechanisms to be advertised heavily through all channels of communication.
  • Police force strength/ staffing –
  • Assessment of staffing levels of police in different coverage areas. Furthermore, compare it to the crime rate (reported) in that area. Build a classification system that identifies the area as safe to high risk. Accordingly, adjust police personnel deployment at the field leave. Increase beat durations, frequency, and number of personnel as required. Let there be no other city to get the dubious distinction of being the rape capital. Let there be no area in the city where the civilians are scared of walking around. It is my country and it is my right to walk around in the city even late in the night without fearing for my life.
  • Geographic areas need to be clearly demarcated for police action. One of the case facts has been the debate between various police stations’ PCR vans about whose jurisdiction area the incident comes under. We lost precious few hours that could have saved the victim.
  • Availability of backup medical and support units if needed. Mobile security units with superceding authority to take action in any area beyond their immediate jurisdiction for swift action.
  • Upgrade the police force – in their ability to use technology, move rapidly, create enablers at short notice to deal with a crime scene. I think that the bus and the criminals in this case could have been tracked and apprehended within the first hour of the incident

The timelines for such initiatives cannot be several years. The technology for several of the above recommendations is already in place globally, and we need to work with international agencies, maybe, to get these deployed in the swiftest possible manner.

विरासत (Inheritance)

उसे अकेले चलने की आदत नहीं थी। मज़ा नहीं आता था ऐसी वाक में। हमेशा ऐसा लगता था मानो बैकग्राउंड में ज़ी हॉरर शो का वो भद्दा सा संगीत बज रहा हो। हॉरर देखने वालों की तादाद दो तरह की होती है। एक जिन्हें वो भूत, वो खून, वो डरावने चेहरे देखने में कुछ मज़ा सा आता है, और दुसरे वो, जिन्हें ये सब एक कॉमेडी की तरह लगता है। वैसे इन दोनों ही पक्षों को ये संगीत कॉमेडी ही लगता है। मगर उसके दिमाग में सुनसान से ज्यादा तन्हाई का संगीत जी हॉरर वाला ही होता था। उसने कभी विश्लेषण नहीं किया था की क्यों ऐसा होता है। ऐसा भी नहीं था की उसे जी हॉरर शो बहुत पसंद था। बस एक संयुक्त एहसास था। और कुछ भी नहीं। कम से कम दूसरों को तो ऐसा ही लगता था।

वो भी एक ऐसी ही रात थी। बैकग्राउंड म्यूजिक के साथ जब वो अकेले बस स्टॉप से अपने घर की तरफ आ रही थे, तो एक खौफ की तरह उसे कुछ पैरों की आहट अपने पीछे महसूस हुई। पलट कर देखने की जगह उसने अपने कदमो की रफ़्तार बढ़ा दी। लेकिन आहटों ने पीछा ना छोड़ा। कुछ देर तक तेज चलते हुए क़दमों से उसने अपना रोज़ का रास्ता बदलने की कोशिश की। आहटें फिर भी साथ थी। उसने सोचा की वो चिल्लाये। मगर किसे? और क्यों? कुछ हुआ तो था नहीं। और मानो की ये सब उसका वहम हो? बचपन से सब ने सिखाया था की अगर डर से आँखें मिलाओ और डर को तुम्हारा डर दिख जाए, तो डर तुम पर हावी होने लागता है। येही सोच कर उसने पीछे पलट कर ये देखना अभी तक जरूरी नहीं समझा था। और साथ में दो सामाजिक डर अलग से – अगर कोई पीछे हुआ ही नहीं, और मैंने शोर मचाया तो लोग क्या कहेंगे? और अगर कोई पीछे है भी और मान लो की वो कोई यहीं का रहने वाला हो और मैंने शोर मचाया  तो बिना मतलब की फजीहत।

अब वो हांफने लगी थी। अभी भी घर कम से कम 100 मीटर दूर था। रौशनी थी। और भी घरों में रौशनी थी। उसे यकीं था की अगर वो चिल्लाएगी तो कोई न कोई निचे उतर ही आएगा। मगर जितने देर में कोई नीचे आएगा, क्या वो काफी होगा? अगर कोई उसे अगवा कर के ले गया? और इससे भी सुनसान जगह एक लोहे के सरिये से जख्मी शरीर की तरह छोड़ गया? सेलफोन कम से कम हाथ में निकाल लेती हूँ। मगर चलते चलते पर्स को टटोलने में रफ़्तार धीमी पड़ने लगी। दर से उसने फिर अपने कदम तेज़ कर दिए।

इन रास्तों पर चलते हुए अब 15 साल हो गए थे। और अब तक वो सोचती आयी थी की शायद ज़िन्दगी इन्ही रास्तों पर कट जायेगी।

उसने अपने मन को सांत्वना देने के लिए कुछ बोलना चाहा। मगर सूखे हुए गले से कोई आवाज़ नहीं निकली।

शहर कभी भी सुरक्षित नहीं महसूस होता था उसे। मगर कभी इतना डरावना भी नहीं की शाम के अँधेरे में उसे साए दिखाए दें। वो कॉमेडी क्लब में थी। लेकिन गए कुछ अरसे से उसे हॉरर शो डरावने लगने लगे थे।

काम्प्लेक्स के दरवाज़े पर पहुँच कर, जब उसे बिल्डिंग के गार्ड्स दिखाई देने लगे तो उसने हिम्मत जोड़ी और पीछे मुड़ के देखा। वहां कोई नहीं था।

वहाँ अँधेरे में उसे छह हैवानों की दी हुई वो विरासत दिखी जिसकी हिफाज़त में मुल्क के सारे सियासतदान लगे हुए थे।

उसने पर्स से फ़ोन निकाल, और अपने विश्वास और हिम्मत के लिए उस लिफ़ाफ़े को फिर से छू कर देखा, जिसमे उसका भविष्य था। किसी और शहर की किसी और गली में।

You, my friend, are a rapist

The rape did not happen that day.

Some of you may remember this. The males especially. Remember that party where this girl from the office was wearing that dress. And was looking really sexy. And you kept leering at her. No, you were not appreciating her. You were undressing her. And violating her. B50 thinks that rape is a very strong word that should not be used frivolously. And I don’t think I am using it frivolously when I say that you almost raped her that night. You took away her right to wear the dress she wanted to, and still be respected for who she was. And that girl who decided to pick a glass of rum or whiskey in the first office or college party. She must be promiscuous, you thought. And remember that girl who had two different boy friends. She can be a party favor, you wondered. Be at the right place at the right time, you planned. And remember the pass you made at that girl once you were too drunk. Maybe in a hope that being drunk allows you to say sorry later in case it she doesn’t like it.

Oh. And I forget.

You are from the elite group. The IITs/NITs/IIMs/etc. Educated, but by your own admission, not quite used to the company of women. Because you are prone to making funny jokes like – IITs don’t have females. They only have males and non-males. Your father, hopefully, did not tell you to be like that. Nor your mother told you that women are objects. You read about Sarojini Naidu and Florence of Nightingale in your school books. And the Ranis of several Jhansis. And that girl in the first bench who always wanted to be ranked first. That bloody maggu, yeah? Your teachers did not tell you this. Most likely. Yet you turned out this way.

So, what stopped you from becoming a rapist? Some kind of moral code? Fear of being caught and put behind bars? Fear of being ostracized  in case people get to know? Fear of being kicked in the nuts by the girl, or being pepper sprayed in your face? The fear of all your “other dreams” coming to an end for the sake of this one wanton fantasy? The fact that all these years, you’ve been fed by the parents, the teachers and the society around you that it’s wrong? But then, illegal downloads are wrong, and so is making lewd comments about someone behind their back.

Take the some total of all those things that stopped you from crossing the line. Somewhere, in there, lies the answer. Because it will take too long for you idiots to learn to respect women.

I wonder who it was who wrote – “jatra naryastu pujyante, tatra vasate devaah” (जत्र नार्यस्तु पूज्यंते , तत्र वसते देवाः). My country is in the pits of hell. And you, my friend, are a rapist. Because you rape when you get a chance. And you tolerate when someone gets raped.

Tomorrow, we will win

My heart skips a beat, as I think about the match tomorrow. In anticipation, trepidation, excitement and fear.

In 1983, when India won the worldcup, I was 3 years old, my brother was 7, and we were a joint-ish family living in a small town of Uttar Pradesh. I think it was around the middle of the world cup that our family bought a TV, a black and white Uptron TV, that used to come with wooden slider doors to keep the TV safe while you weren’t watching it. It was on that TV that my mamaji, my cousin, my dad and everyone else saw India lift the cup, and it was then that my brother became a cricket fanatic. I think my love for cricket has something to do with that world cup, because I do remember watching every match of the World Championship Series in Australia after that, and Ravi Shastri winning that Audi as the man of the series.

In 1996, I was a India fanatic when it came to cricket. A fan, who believed that irrespective of the quality of opposition, India is entitled to win every match. Just to get disappointed every now and then, but holding on to the belief. Tendulkar had come of age. I had belief. And there was a small matter of faith in match winners like Ajay Jadeja and Anil Kumble.

In 1996, we played Pakistan in Bangalore, and in that era, my brother was a gully cricket mate of a certain Mahindra Singh Dhoni, and I was Mahi’s school cricket mate. I had played cricket at the school and district level. I had played alongside this someone who I thought could make it big, but never would. It was too difficult to break the shackles of corruption in Bihar, inside sports as well. Nepotism was a fact, and the opportunities were fewer. My brother had stopped representing any team, and started trying to build a career based on academic education, and I had chosen to get ready for the mass orgy known as IIT Joint Entrance Examination. I had, for what it was worth, hung my boots. But I was a fan nevertheless. The evenings in a small town like Ranchi, and in a township like Mecon are all about celebrating the victory of the match gone by, or the drowning of the loss. We played tennis ball cricket. We felt happy that India had defeated Pakistan. Few days later, we met Sri Lanka, a team we had lost to in the league stage (and we called it a fluke), and a team that we lost to yet again (bad pitch, right), despite that oh so hopeful brilliance of getting Jayasurya and Kaluwitharana out early. The memory of Vinod Kambli in tears still swells me up. Even though I know for sure that we could not have won the match from there.

15 years later, I am still a fan. I am not fanatic anymore. MSD is inside the television, and I am on the armchair. Given the company I keep, and the analysis that everyone does, and the views and opinions that are bombarded at me from all corners, I have, I believe, become pragmatic. When India plays Australia, I weigh options, and think of getting Ponting out cheaply because he is not just a sheet anchor, he is also a destroyer, and an aggressive leader. I evaluate the weaknesses of Indian bowling. Back then, watching a cricket match was about shouting childish abuses, stupid chants of abracadabra – arvinda desilva swaha, and wishing that every delivery get a wicket, or every shot from Tendulkar’s willow be a boundary. Today, it’s about appreciating that brilliant spell from Wahab Riaz or Brett Lee, even as they come close to demolishing the Indian dream of winning this world cup. If I don’t do that, people will think that I am a biased Indian who is not enjoying the game in totality, and missing out on much the game has to offer. Well – intellectualism comes at a price. It often takes your passion away. One upon a time, I too wanted to wear the blue. And those who wear it, and have walked inside a stadium full of people cheering you to win (Mahi wears it. I envy him. And I love him for that), I can only dream of the high they feel. At that one moment, its not rational. And I create that moment. I am no Navjot Singh Sidhu sitting in an air-conditioned studio analyzing the game. I am ‘The Indian Fan’. And to me, the only thing that eventually makes or breaks my days, is whether India won or not.

And so, this world cup, for the quarter final and the semi final, against two brilliantly tough opponents, I let my heart be where it belongs. I watched and predicted like an Indian fan. Before the match started, my heart and mind knew only one thing. That we will win. I chanted. And I cursed. I did not get up from seat with the fear of jinxing things. Things might have looked like going this way or the other as the match progressed, but I knew only one thing. That we will win. As Ponting accumulated a masterclass century, and people started talking about the pressure, I still said only one thing. That we will win. As Wahab Riaz ripped Indian top order, and analysts and pundits said that we are some 30 runs short, I still said only one thing. That we will win. I added, purely from my heart, that the margin will be 30 runs at least. And my heart was right. We did win. By 29 runs.

Now, we are back to an opponent who’s given us one of the worst scars of cricket, with the exception of Miandad’s Six in Sharjah. Incidentally, after India lost the sharjah, I tore off all the Chetan Sharma posters at home, that used to come with Cricket Samrat. When India lost that 1987 match against Australia, I did feel betrayed by Sunil Gavaskar and Ravi Shastri and co. In 1996, I felt sorry for Sachin, and I hated the entire team for what they brought the match to (apparently). Was there any logic in those emotions? I doubt.

I don’t want to be pragmatic and think about the strengths and weaknesses of my team. No. I am back to where my heart belongs. I know that we are going to win. And damn it, I will raise the stakes this time. If India bats first, we will win by at least 35 runs, and if India chases, we are winning by at least 5 wickets. And till these predictions are violated, you can try and use any mathematics, logic, divine analysis to suggest that something otherwise would happen. I would just stick my tongue out at you.. make a :P, and then go “brrrrrrrrrr”. I will be there. Watching every ball of the match. And believing in only one thing. That we will win.

You still want to say something? Brrrrrrr…. We Will Win

Featured Institution: Rang De

I came across a site – Rang De (www.rangde.org) and I find it to be an exceptional concept. 

[Disclaimer: I have not done any background check on them yet. But the idea in itself is a very appealing and novel one to me]

For me, this is the kind of microfinance site I would love to encourage. I am quoting some of the things I read from the site. 

“Through Rang De we hope that many of us will be able to share and spread the colours of joy with other individuals. Rang De is an attempt to bring together the India that is economically progressing rapidly and the India that has been ignored and needs all our attention. Rang De is a platform for individuals to make a sustainable difference and join a mission to alleviate poverty…”

The Core beliefs that shaped Rang De are:

  1. That most social issues if not all, are manifestations of poverty. Unless we address poverty holistically, our attempts will remain futile.
  2. That microcredit is a sustainable means of alleviating poverty if it is affordable and can be accessed by all.
  3. That charity and donations are hardly sustainable means to financial independence. In fact, it hinders an individual’s spirit to fight against poverty.

Rang De’s mission is to make microcredit accessible to all by lowering interest rates by doing things differently. To know how you can become a part of this mission please read further. 

    How Rang De works?  

    Step 1. Register and become a Social Investor. 

    Step 2. Choose borrowers to make a social investment. You can invest as little as Rs.500. 

    Step 3. Rang De ’s field partners receive and disburse loans to their borrowers. 

    Step 4. Borrower repays loan according to a repayment schedule. 

    Step 5. You receive a return of 3.5% on your social investment at the end of the tenure. 

I encourage all the visitors to this site/ readers to the blog to check the site out. The small amounts that you can donate are often less than the amount that people spend on dining outside. 
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