Category Archives: Politics

The hurt of being a woman and seeing the results of the U.S elections

I spent an entire day yesterday in sadness and quite frankly bewilderment. I was torn between thinking about writing this and wondering if it is my place to do so – considering I am an Indian citizen, an able-bodied, cisgender, Hindu, upper-caste, heterosexual woman in a same-race relationship where both of us are college educated, employed and come from privilege in a country that is going through its own tumultuous growing pains.

I am writing this from the core of my identity as a woman because that is the part of me that feels most beaten and bruised right now. I am at a stage where I am yet to get to thinking about how we will explain this to children in schools or at home because quite frankly I do not think I understand it enough for me to be able to explain this to anyone else with that level of conviction or hope.

I am feeling a deep rooted sense of disgust by how this win has legitimized sexual assault. It makes my skin crawl to read Nigel Farage’s statement which mocks at the idea of Trump being a sexual predator when he says, “don’t touch her for goodness sake” when talking about meeting with Theresa May. It is NOT amusing to hear this when you are a part of a group that experiences microaggressions each day around touch, consent and space. I am not saying that all of this didn’t happen before this election but it has now become the new “normal” and that makes me sick. I am appalled by how “guy talk” is now an openly acceptable defense for conversations that actually could be construed as criminal offense. I am extremely worried for friends who may now need to think of getting an IUD before January 20th

As someone ensconced in their own bubble of beliefs and values, I take full responsibility for not connecting with the other side and being blindsided by the ideological divide that runs so deep. But I definitely do not shoulder responsibility for signing up for this – I was ready to have arguments about pantsuits, being “emotional”, how being a woman doesn’t excuse you for corruption, on why anyone should not be expected to smile more to be “likeable” and more such. I was not ready to go back redraw the basics tenets of decency.

To all those in India who are reading this and wondering why I am taking all of this so seriously considering I don’t live in the U.S or to those who take pride in us electing Indira Gandhi and therefore do not see this as our issue – I am equally disgusted and sickened when Mulayam Singh Yadav makes comments on how boys make mistakes (while referring to rape) or when I hear senior members of the police force talk about how if during rape fighting back is not an option, it is best to lie back and enjoy the experience. It is just as bad when you express a political opinion not aligned with the popular view and the trolls immediately threaten sexual violence or begin the diatribe with body shaming, slut shaming or any form of abuse that belittles who you are as a woman.

I am not one of those who looks blindly to the West in aspiration on issues of gender but it truly sucks to be a woman and see all of this play out across the world in far harsher degrees than what it ought to be in 2016.

Fuck breaking the glass ceiling – it is back to feeling grateful if your body, your voice, your intellect, your being is respected as human and not some second rate “creature” and if you can escape each day feeling unscathed or a little less dirty.

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To Kausra

Dear Kausra

We met the other day at your school and spending those ten minutes with you changed a lot for me. I felt I owe you an apology and hence I write to you.

Before landing in Srinagar – J&K, I like most other people from India came with my baggage about what I thought of “Kashmir”. I was also excited about the Dal lake, shikaras, phirnis and unabashedly voyeuristic about wanting to know more about the conflict. When I exited the airport, I saw a sign reading “Welcome to Paradise on Earth” and right under that was a soldier with a gun. I was uncomfortable to see the army presence, I was even more uncomfortable to acknowledge that the fundamental right of freedom of movement is curtailed and most importantly I was acutely aware of how different my India is and how I had no business discussing how this part of the world should be “India” as well.

I am embarrassed to tell you that reading a couple of books and editorials I thought I understood what your daily life looks like.  Nothing prepared me Kausra, to live sharing the surroundings you grow up with each day. Waking up listening to gunshots of the army doing target practice or being stopped for checking in the middle of the road or even that flurry of panic, thinking of sudden firing that is happening 1 km away from where we stood – Kausra, I do not know how you do it.

Your school teachers tell me how girls in your village are not confident, very quiet and not participative in class. Your school principal congenially told me about how girls are generally reticent. The boys in your class overcompensated for your silence. You looked down with your head bowed when I asked you a question. I accepted your silence for your shyness. But when you stood up and shared what you thought in a shaky yet confident voice, I saw some bit of myself in you.

I do not think you are shy or “under-confident” or reticent. I do not want to make any more assumptions on your behalf. But if my three days can leave me without words to describe what I am feeling, I empathise how speechless you must feel seeing what you see day in and day out. If I were you, I would bow my head down too. It is just easier to find answers within than look outside to spell it out for everyone else.

I am sorry Kausra for being one of those many strangers who trapeze into your life thinking you should open up and start “sharing” your life story.  It is again the same mistake of thinking that you are waiting for this amazing miracle from outside to save you.  It is absolute bullshit and you caught me on that one. You owe me nothing.

I hope you and I can become friends some day. I think we would hit it off quite well – I saw you snigger about my haircut to the girl beside you. I would have done the exact same thing! 🙂

Till then,

Much love

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The search for a messiah needs to end

Before I start, let me say I am not pro- Congress. The thought of Rahul Gandhi becoming Prime Minister makes me laugh but sober up immediately at the thought of it becoming  real. So please do not leave comments drawing comparison to the Congress ruled years or the 1984 riots. I am not here to justify their acts. It is equally shameful if not more considering they have been in the ruling government pretty much majority of the years in majority or coalition.

The reason I write this is because I see a strange fervour in the eyes of urban, middle and upper-middle class India. My family is included in this as well. I see well-educated, largely cynical , politically apathetic people seeing Narendra Modi as a solution to all problems that mire India.

There are articles on Tehelka and the Open Magazine which offer a view into his PR machinery and how the backend to create this mythical persona works. What surprises me is the willingness to consume media which talks about Modi’s “Rambo act” during Uttarakhand tragedy but the unwillingness to acknowledge there could be a possibility of other truths. There are articles on how blatantly the weaknesses of social media is being exploited (being able to buy followers on Twitter) to shape public opinion. Yet I see youth from premier institutions of education, working population from reputed firms and senior citizens who have been prolific in careers of law, medicine and literature looking away because it is inconsistent with what they want to believe.

When I mention 2002, there are two kinds of responses I get. One which says yes, it happened but look at all the development since then and look how even the Muslims are now happy. The other which immediately talks about the 1984 Sikh massacre and asks me  challengingly “why don’t you ask the Congress about this”.

Sadly, neither of the two responses accept the gravity of what went wrong in 2002. For the first time in India, television was so pervasive that during a riot we could see the fire, people running with swords and deserted streets filled with smoke while sitting in our homes. Even then, it slowly seems to be fading from our collective memory. What happened in 1984 was wrong. What happened in 2002 was also wrong.

The belief that Narendra Modi is the champion of development, he can turn around our corruption laden bureaucracy, he is decisive and action oriented are all our projections because that is what we want fixed in our leadership. We are looking for a messiah to take care of all these huge problems. We do not want to think about these problems being endemic and  that it will take a long time to be resolved. We want them done now and more importantly we don’t want to have much to do with it apart from electing one person and then washing our hands off saying “my job in democracy is done”.

For the vision of change that we have, we need to step up and start engaging more with local politics and decision making. I am not saying we should drop what we are doing and stand for elections. But we need to engage with the ward officers, municipal corporations and civic authorities to start bringing change. We need to participate, ask questions and push for things to be done. If we want to have a say on foreign policy then we need to petition, have debates, make our voices heard and push for action.

That is  just too much work isn’t it. It is simpler to share news articles or photos on Facebook, follow jingoistic lines on Twitter and wait for 2014 for a miracle to strike. Makes us feel like we are participating in Indian democracy and at the same time not really pushing us out of our comfort zone either.

If our defense is that this is the best we can do or we are picking out of a finite lot of rotten apples or rhetorically asking “would you rather be governed by an Italian and her son”, I think it is just sad that we have come to this point where these are the reasons to choose who governs 1.2 billion people.

Elections are not where our job ends but where our job begins. If we want to clean up this mess, we need to get involved.

The messiah we want does not exist.

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The issues raised by Miriam Carey’s death

I do not live in the United States so I just got to read a small snippet with a headline saying “Suspect shot at Capitol Hill” and nothing more about Miriam Carey. But reading the NYTimes online did raise a number of flags. I am not going to re-tell what happened but what I am going to do, is just tell you what is it that makes me so uncomfortable about this.

1. There was really no need to shoot and kill this woman. Yes, she had to be stopped. But was shooting the only way to do so? I do not think so. This was just a trigger happy reaction in the name of ‘security’. Chuck Wexler, the executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, said. “The people who protect the White House and the people who protect the Capitol are not thinking about your everyday criminal. They are thinking about a terrorist.” Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, defended the officers in a speech on the Senate floor on Friday. He said the decision to shoot Ms. Carey was “understandable” because the Capitol and the White House were often targets of attacks. How is it “understandable” that 5 to 7 law enforcement officers shoot at a speeding car without knowing if the person was armed or the car rigged with a bomb?  Was there intel of an imminent terror attack by a black woman and her baby in a car? She was driving fast and crashed into a median, there was absolutely no way she would have made it to the White House, then why was there such a level of reaction from the officers? What kind of delusional paranoia affects people working in Capitol Hill and around the White House, to assume that the world is out to get them? Was there no way to engage her and talk to her as it was done in the previous 5 “attacks” which have occurred over 40 years?

2. The vilification of Miriam Carey after her death because of her mental illness just shows how awful the media is when it comes to talking about issues of mental health and post-partum depression. Quotes about how she believe Obama was stalking her or her and headlines screaming  how she was delusional and emotionally disturbed implicitly linking violent behaviour to her does nothing more than perpetuate lies about mental illness and justify the senseless killing. There was even a televised interview where a doctor spoke about how post-depression can lead to women killing their children. 1 in 7 women suffer from post-partum depression. Miriam Carey was one such woman. To air an interview in which post-partum depression is spoken of with a stroke of a brush while discussing a few exceptions does nothing to show what Miriam was going through like millions of other women across the world. Why should we discuss about baby killing when she did not kill her baby? Are we implying that post-partum depression can make anyone a killer? They found pills for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder in her shelf. How does that justify the thinking that she could have done something and as a preemptive action she is better off dead?

3. The media’s portrayal of a “crazy, deranged, black woman who could have bombed the White House” without actually saying it in so many words. The DailyMail of UK captured attention in bold letters about her hallucinations and how she had been taking medicines for schizophrenia. The Washington Post has quotes from her boyfriend saying Miriam thought Obama was bugging her apartment. The NYTimes article ends with a hanging statement from Miriam’s boss saying, “When we confronted her about certain situations within the office, she had a temper” followed by a disclaimer saying Ms. Carey did not appear to have any previous criminal history. The final thought they want to leave us with is that Miriam was mentally ill, she had a temper and while she did not appear to have any criminal history, who knows what she was capable of.

This is another case of painting a character of a woman in a way to imply that she asked for what happened to her. This time, it wasn’t rape – it was a reckless murder committed by law enforcement officers and we are told to believe that it was done to protect the seat of power in the most powerful country in the world.

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This is not about chemical weapons and India should be worried

Before I begin, I do not have a formal education in the area of foreign policy nor am I a seasoned journalist who understands the granularity of the sectarian issues in the Middle East. What I present here is the synthesis of whatever I have consumed over the past few days on this issue and my recollection of significant world events during my adult life.

The conflict in Syria has been on for almost two years and it is only now that the United States has decided to step in to deliver ‘a rap on the knuckle’ to the Assad regime for the alleged use of chemical weapons. In his address to the nation, President Obama highlighted how this was the red line his government had drawn and the breach demands for an action from the world’s oldest constitutional democracy. He went on to elaborate on how this is a fight for the children who had been gassed and human dignity at large, which needs to be protected by them – the Americans.

Thankfully, President Obama concedes that his strike will not end the crisis in Syria. In his address he spoke about how the sectarian differences in the region go a long way and cannot be be resolved by a short term military strike. Which only brings to question what exactly does the United States hope to achieve through their actions? If this is solely to model the consequence that one can expect in the decision to use chemical weapons, then:

  1. Why can’t this strike wait until the tests to be run by the UN (to adjudge the nature of chemical weapons used if at all) are completed and the results released for the Security Council to debate?
  2. What is this classified evidence that is constantly being referred to in order to justify the strike right away? Why cannot that be shared? Haven’t we learnt already from Julian Assange or Chelsea Elizabeth Manning episodes that classifying everything in hand is not really a security solution.

The announcement of the strike, is fairly an apparent warning to both Iran and China. I believe what we are going to soon see will be Iran, China, Russia, Lebanon on one side fighting US, UK, France Israel and Saudi Arabia (strongest proponent of going to war with Syria helping rebels with weapons, funds and maybe some sarin gas as well) which would only lead to heightened conflict and more war.

The alliances these “clinically precise” strikes will forge are going to determine the political and economic future of most countries one way or the other. For example, Iran supports the Assad regime in Syria. With its current account deficit crisis, India needs to buy oil from Iran (since we use Rupees instead of Dollar to buy oil from Iran). Under these circumstances, who is to say that US will not impose sanctions on India alleging that we support a dictatorial regime and hence are anti-democracy.

I read somewhere that the hidden logic (or the lack of) in this whole strike is to keep the jihadist rebels with strong ties to the Al Qaeda occupied in overthrowing the Assad regime that they do not cause damage elsewhere. This is so preposterous that I cannot bring myself to believe it.  Also because, the jihadists rebels fighting the regime are not one single entity – there are many factions some of which carry strong anti-western sentiment and hence may resort to more violence after the strike leading to further chaos.

I believe the answers lie somewhere in this article which talks about a gas pipeline between Qatar and Turkey (http://www.thenational.ae/business/energy/qatar-seeks-gas-pipeline-to-turkey). The article reads and I quote, “The reports said two different routes for such a pipeline were possible. One would lead from Qatar through Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Iraq to Turkey. The other would go through Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria and on to Turkey. It was not clear whether the second option would be connected to the Pan-Arab pipeline, carrying Egyptian gas through Jordan to Syria.”

US has two strong allies in the Middle East – one in Saudi Arabia and one in Qatar. Both these allies back the rebels in Syria but have conflicting views on what happens after the civil war because of different takes on the Muslim Brotherhood. Saudi is not comfortable with the Muslim brotherhood taking the lead in building the government postwar and Qatar feels otherwise. By siding with the Saudi Arabia on this one (to ensure groups like al-Nusra do not come into power)  the US has put itself in an awkward position with Qatar.  I believe US will make it up to Qatar by promising to help its gas pipeline come through the country of Syria.

With global economy’s reliance on oil continuing, I see this strike as US’s intent to consolidate its control over oil reserves in the Middle East by pitting different countries against one another while furthering its economic interests.  This is not about human dignity. This is about oil reserves as is everything else when it comes to the US – be it Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran and now Syria.

What we need to think about is the challenge we will be up against with Pakistan Taliban sending hundreds of men to fight alongside the rebels in Syria. Where does this put us in relation to US – with US providing arms to rebels and in turn arming the Pakistani Taliban? What does this to us with armed Pakistani Taliban coming back with allied rebels from across the globe to “liberate” Kashmir?

Are we going to simply be collateral damage?

 

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