Bad Evenings and Worse Mornings!

Two days ago I was in Bangalore giving an interview. One of the many questions I was asked was about relocation , I was also asked if I liked my ‘hometown’ Chennai. I remember answering in the affirmative; sure Chennai has terribly hot climate and it could be a little boring at times, but on the whole its safe and has the sea and well I generally like it. After today I think I like Chennai much less.

This evening my mom and I went in search of the i-pill, of course had I been a little less ignorant I wouldn’t have tried despite the circumstances. So this is what we did; we called our regular medical store and were told the i-pill was unavailable, so we then enquired about Norlevo, Pill 72, Ovral G and several other varieties of the ‘morning-after’ pill and found they were unavailable too. About an hour later we had set out on a walk, enquired at six different medical stores and came to naught, so we unhappily drew the conclusion that the ‘morning after’ was simply unavailable.

This struck me as absurd, Chennai – touted as the ‘medical capital’ of India had no medicines of a particular variety?, that was not all nor the the scariest part. In attempt to fill the gap, qualified chemists kept trying to convince me that ‘Mifepristone‘ a MTP Pill available usually only on prescription was the same thing. The fact is, Mifepristone is used in conjunction with other abortive pills (an abortificant) to induce an abortion below five weeks of pregnancy and is positively dangerous if taken in the place of an emergency contraceptive pill, ‘Levonorgestrel’, on the other hand, is used as part of combination oral contraceptive pill and in high doses can be used to prevent pregnancy after unprotected intercourse. Unintended consequences in a situation of information asymmetry and really nasty plausible outcomes playing out.

Apparently sometime in 2006, Tamil Nadu’s state Directorate of Drug Control (DDC) decided to take all ‘pills’ of the ‘morning after’ variety of the shelves. The provocation? Apparently the Chennai-based ‘Responsible Parents Forum’ and ‘Satvika Samuga Sevakar Sangam’ felt that the drug induces abortion (and is not a contraceptive); therefore its sale without prescription is illegal, additionally the two protesting groups claimed that there was no public debate before it was included in the Schedule M of the Drugs and Cosmetics Act (DCA), 1940 which makes the drug available over the counter.

I’m not sure whether I should be shocked about how regressive people can be or stand in awe of the stupidity involved. To begin with ’emergency contraceptive pills’ are not the same thing as abortive pills, the text of any ‘morning after pill’ explains that they are ineffective once ‘implantation’ has taken place in the womb or in other words once fertilization has happened, which is why they are termed levonorgestrel-based ECs! Abortive pills on the other hand are designed to work after this fertilization has taken place, the methods then are very different.

Chemical analysis and indeed any minimum degree of bio-chemistry knowledge easily proves that any ‘morning after’ pill contains Levonorgestrel and not Mifepristone (which is what is being sold as replacement, GASP!) as suggested by the hair-brained protesters. What is interesting is that the TN DDC has the right to seize ‘drugs; of a particular kind only if they do not adhere to prescribed standards, or are mis-branded, adulterated or spurious, I really wonder which one of these conditions apply to the ‘mornign after’? As far as is known, in the case of emergency contraceptives such as the ‘morning after’ the dosage is 0.75 mg (recommended by the Drug Controller of India) and sold as a Schedule M drug under a ready licence!

Even more absurd is this quotation from one of the women by name of Ajeetha (sigh!) who was at the forefront of the protests, she says: “the text is objectionable and promotes ‘free sex’. Words such as ‘..when one becomes careless, or things get out of control‘, It takes away responsibility from the act of sexual intercourse. And the branding (Mis-take) is also not so subtle insinuation that pre-marital sex is alright…”.

One of the biggest things to learn about patriarchy is that women themselves are the biggest perpetrators of it! Its been a long time since I have seen or heard of a more vivid example than this. Its fascinating how regressive laws can become in a country that is supposed to be swaggering down the road to development.

Consider capital punishment for rape, in India capital punishment is given in the ‘rarest of rare instances’ for the ‘most heinous of crimes’ which are often such crimes that render their victims in some sense ‘irreparable’. For a moment lets forget the argument that most people who have studied ‘law and economics’ draw – which suggests that at the margin the cost of committing rape+murder for a rapist becomes zero if capital punishment is announced for rapists thereby creating an incentive to additionally rape and kill their victims in fear of evidence coming out for a harsher punishment and so…

But consider this, is this the message we want to give out in society about our women? Ought rape to be a crime that makes no women live a normal life again? Ought we to attach such stigma to a woman who has been ‘raped’ to make her feel that the most ‘heinous and irrepairable’ damage has been done to her? Is chastity all there is to woman? Don’t get me wrong I’m not saying rape is OK, I’m asking if we really want to make women believe that their chastity being lost is something that should make them feel guilty life-long? But I digress.

One thing that is obvious is this, the SS Co. (which sounds dangerously RSS like) and the ‘Responsible Parents Forum’ probably consists of the most irresponsible bunch of people ever known- people who oppose freedom of choice, liberty in action and the access to technology all together. A formidable coalition of fools who believe that Chennai streets are better overrun with teenage mothers and scared teenage fathers, with dustbins littered with unwanted infants and people with closeted minds who will silently engage in marital rape while the law turns a blind eye and proclaims all is fine.

Never mind that Chennai has one of the highest incidence of AIDS in the country, never mind that domestic violence is spiralling in Tamil Nadu and never mind that the un-natural separation between growing girls and boys in this academic ‘temple’ of the south causes more and more roadblocks to conjugal bliss. After all who will ever find out?, we will keep sweeping it under the carpet as long the vermilion stays bright and the sacred threads sparkle along our broad backs!

The tragedy is that its been nearly two years since emergency contraception has been available freely in Chennai, and I am yet to hear of a protest! Tragically Chennai is the same place where the global campaign for microbicides (a form of contraception) began and is still head-quartered. What happened to science and reason or is it only prejudice that matters now?

Button up!

Radical Feminist, Jo Freeman‘s writing is always like a breath of fresh air, this piece though is fantastic in a different way. She writes about buttons, that’s right, buttons. Political buttons. Like she says,

One of the great appeals of button collecting — aesthetics and historical significance aside — is the opportunity it gives to pursue impulses one normally has to repress. It can do this for one simple reason: buttons are, after all, intrinsically worthless. They are made to be given away in order to be worn by the greatest number of people. Thus, if you talk someone into a good (for you) trade, or lift a few buttons from the opposition campaign headquarters under false pretenses, you’re not depriving anyone of something essential for their existence. Just as contact sports permit you to physically batter people you barely know, button collecting permits you to psychologically outwit your colleagues-with the assurance that it’s all in good fun.”

Happy Reading! And oh! After you’ve read don’t forget to look at the button collection here. I particularly like the button that says : “This is what a radical feminist looks like!” 😀

On the edge of the gender praxis

"We ask to be regarded, respected and treated as human beings, of full age and natural abilities, as equal fellow sinners, not as infants or beautiful angels, to whom the laws of civil and social justice do not apply."

Lucy Stone

Particularly during times when much of the world and my role in it is fluid, uncertain or even downright absent, I have had to ask what and why and more importantly who. What forms my personal identity? Questions about my qua personhood, as it were. The most important reflection of social or personal or simply identity theory is of course asking – What matters?

I do not want to lapse into a humanistic exposition, so I'm going to talk about the only identity that I have known. That of having been a woman. So when someone tells me that a promiscuous woman is not a 'woman', I'm revolted. Not only because sexual freedom is something that is private or not to be judged and not to be curtailed. The painful part is the 'gendered' attitude. The idea that a good woman or a woman is essentially asexual. Or at any rate if not so, must conform to that standard at some point in time.

Gender roles too are particularly alienating. I'm not sure what a gender role is at any rate. If I am to understand that people's societal roles are expressions for their gender identities at one level that is acceptable. Merely acceptable because, by its very definition the idea of a gender identity forms a certain kind of exclusivity. The exclusivity is artificial. My being an activist is not independent of my identity as a woman activist. The only other explanation is that society allocates social burdens on the basis of external genitalia. Neither explanation is comforting.

The trouble is that unlike closed systems, social systems are open and dynamic. Just as the left-right political spectrum is insufficient in terms of mapping political belief, the 'male' – 'female' categorisation insufficiently addresses gender and sexual identity. There are no single answers, and newer and consequently more restrictive gender categories are not really the solution. Anti-feminism points out the disturbing anti-feminist ideology in the academia — yet another gendered 'identity'.

Literature in the form of Oscar Wilde in the meantime brings me to some further questions. Oscar Wilde's characters do not fit normal gender roles, the men like flowers and worry about their hair for instance. Does that mean that they weren't men? Is there something typically female about flowers?

The question is still fluid. If I were to accept the premise that women and men are to be paid equally, in terms of a fair and equal distribution, what forms a fair and equal distribution? Unequal people measured by an equal standard strikes me as a strange conception.

The fight is so much more than just about liberty and choice. Its about placing women at the centre of cultural discourse. An intersection of social movements.

It is about lives and modes. The politics of culture discusses the historical hegemony and embodiment of the sexual/gender, the ethnic factions, the division of labor, the class relationships as much as it tells tales of pleasure and performance. It asks for a radical democracy, demands an articulation and escape from disciplinarity, communicative action and the public sphere.

I'm not sure if the sexual subaltern in India yet has a voice, especially where 'feminist' politics is considered tragically derogatory. If I were to acknowledge that womanhood is constructed, that such conceptions are propagated by dominant ideologies (patriarchy, mass media, imperialism) and that there is nothing that can translate desire into a guilt free existence, then I would rather make the personal the political. The coercion as they say begins when you violate my six feet, regardless of whether its at the policy table or my bed.


Delhi Bombs and Love

This happened. People have died. There aren’t too many ways to understand this, and either way you look at it its despicable. I went to Lajpat Nagar and Sarojini a day after the blasts. Both had excellent security (something that surprised me and pleased me as well), there wasn’t quite as much colour as one expects before Diwali, but the city is remarkably resilient. There are several reasons I dislike Delhi, one of then was a recent incident.While Delhi is a hard place both to live in and to be a stranger too, Delhi has its magical parts. Like being able to buy Salman Rushdie for eighty rupees, getting the most gorgeous Mehendi of your life that you wish would never fade, tastes and smells and sounds that speak of a great deal of colour and zest for life. Delhi’s with all its history and almost everything that one looks for. Music, theatre, museums, bargains and sometimes a rare coming together of people.Only a couple of days post a horrible accident, I am proud of Delhi again. I saw empathy. Its almost wonderful to see how auto drivers and car owners alike rushed to help the bomb victims. A friend of mine who volunteered along with me to donate blood were all smiles back from the donation camp– no it wasn’t the light headed feeling, just the happiness at seeing collective effort and action at so public and collective a tragedy.

Every city has its parts some good, some bad. Some ugly and some memorably beautiful. Its hard to believe that this is the same city where rapes are as commonplace as Saturday night parties. It is. It is Delhi. It is alive and capable of love.

Imrana, Rape, Feminity et al

Top story for several days now the Imrana Case has now been analysed enough and more. Of all the interesting fallouts of the case one that particularly piqued my interest and irked me more was the picture of BJP leader LK Advani talking about the reform of Shariyat Laws for Indian Muslims. He is right of course when he insists that Muslim law has been modified in prominently progressive and prominently Muslim nations like Malaysia for example.

The sad part is the appendage of the self-righteous Hindu who says that such a crime would never take place in Hinduism. Every version of the Vedas for example categorically suggest ‘hot lead’ or ‘boiling oil’ be poured into the ears of a man of the Shudra caste (untouchables) who happens to overhear the sacred Hindu scriptures. Sati for example, still exists and it was only last year that a middle-class family burnt alive their daughter in-law for failing to pay dowry in the uptown Lajpat Nagar marketplace in one of the most posh parts of south Delhi.

The truth is that any religious scripture is ambiguous enough to be interpreted as anything. If you looked hard enough in either religion and their texts you could find murder, genocide and perhaps even nuclear weapons! The Imrana case leaves a lot of uncomfortable questions. Questions about the validity and worse still the acceptance of law. The blurring boundaries of religion, morality and human rights. More fundamentally it asks: Does and ought society to enforce, interfere and impose conducts and confer rights or even bring about dignity to those who don’t (or cannot) want it in the first place?

What does being female imply? And what are women’s rights all about? Is feminity only about asserting yourself as woman when you find yourself left behind in a swirl of progressive women? Is it not about taking a first step away from the cloistered comforts of a social community, a comfort zone that will slowly choke any ideas of freedom you might as woman- No! A human being posses. Where can that courage come from?

DU’s Shocking Legacy

Delhi University every year sees thousands of would-be students throng to their offices through the month of June and July to obtain admission into what it likes to call ‘India’s premiere University’. Education at India’s premiere university consists of this:

1) 12% of DU colleges (172 in total) have women’s hostels

2) Those that do have the following distribution except women’s colleges: a 1:27 ratio of hostel blocks, that is one women’s hostel per seven hostels for men.

3) 11% colleges have a marginally active women’s development cell.

4) Of these 3% have housing information for outstation students.

Now consider this: Last year a student of Gargi College, a north-easterner was stoned by men a hundred yards from the college premises on her way home after completing lab duty at five p.m. The police requested the then principal of Gargi for a statement and co-signature on the girl’s FIR since 100 yards was within Gargi’s colleges’ property and thus within the college jurisdiction. The Principal refused on grounds of negative publicity. Students of the college protested for a week- missing classes and becoming the butt of teacher fury. At the end of the week, the Student’s union decided to publish. Not one single press service or campus paper would carry the story. The girl has now been expelled.

News of a another north-eastern girl raped at Dhaula Kuan in Delhi recently did the rounds. The University of Delhi is bound by the Policy on Sexual Harassment (Ordinance XV-D) to institute support mechanisms to any member of the Delhi University who is raped by any a third party i.e., person(s) not belonging to the Delhi University. The survivor of sexual assault must be provided legal and psychological assistance immediately. Far from that happening the proctorial office of DU now denies that the girl is a bonafide student of DU.

Throughout these last weeks the University authorities have done precious little to reach out to the victim. This I am told …Constitutes criminal negligence on the part of the University of Delhi which is now bound by Ordinance XV-D to provide immediate psychological and legal assistance to any student who undergoes the trauma of rape by a third party….”

“….We want to know why was the student not provided psychological and legal assistance during the police investigation? We demand an explanation as to why the Delhi University has failed to co-ordinate with the Delhi police on this issue soon after the incident was reported. Why have the DU administration and Delhi police not worked out mechanisms of redressal and support to survivors of crimes that fall under each jurisdiction – state law as well as violations of the policy on sexual harassment?..Says the text of an online petition.Unfortunately the petition too has been rejected by authorities as it does not constitute any appropriate ground of objection!

DU in the case of rape or sexual assault is obliged by law atleast on paper to do several things: To provide such student with safe accommodation, migration to another college, hostel seat, special assistance with academic work and tuition waiver or a fellowship to support her education. Needless to say, the university has thus far denied that this clause even exists when questions by student activists.

Elsewhere, Principals of Mata Sundari College, Janaki Devi College, Stephen’s and other have vociferously suggested that college students ought behave and dress appropriately. What else can one expect of a city- where the rapists offers the raped marriage to atone for his sins, and where the judge believes that the offer ought to be seriously considered!

To be A gal in Delhi

The Delhi police in its new campaign to protect women have said thus on the basis of the testimony of a group of rapists and date rapists in prison interviewed on what they look for in a potential victim :

1) The first thing men look for in a potential victim is hairstyle. They are most likely to go after a woman with a ponytail or otherhairstyle that can easily be grabbed. They are also likely to go after a woman with long hair. Women with short hair are not common targets.

2) The second thing men look for is clothing. They will look for women whose clothing is easy to remove quickly. Many of them carry scissors around to cut clothing.

3) They also look for women on their mobile phone, searching throughtheir purse or doing other activities while walking, because they are off guard and can be easily overpowered

4) The time of day men are most likely to attack and rape a woman is in the early morning, between 5 and 8:30 a.m.

5) These men said they would not pick on women who have umbrellas, orother similar objects that can be used from a distance, in their hands.

SO… In order to survive the Capital city a woman must have short hair, wear complicated and well fitting clothes, must not use phones or carry purses (Or look through them), never go for an early morning stroll and carry an umbrella!

Is there something wrong with me or is the Delhi Women’s Cell missing the point?!