Of Pink Pants and Eve-Teasing

July 2003: I was 16 and for the most part, ungainly and awkward. I had volunteered to assist the school librarian during the summer vacation to re-organize stacks of books in the library. My trade-off was getting books to read. One day, I took a shortcut on my walk home which meant passing through a sports club. That day a huge group of young boys, kicking their footballs around, was in the area. As I soldiered through, a few of them deliberately walked in my path, heckled, laughed and started blurting out obscenities aimed at me. I kept my eyes down and continued to walk steadily, completely flushed. What did I do when I got home? Tell my mother how I felt? Talk to her about what I should have done instead? Wrong. I did absolutely nothing and told no one. Instead I felt dirty and ashamed. Currently however, what can women do if this – or worse forms of eve-teasing – happens to them? Apart from legal action of any kind, they can just go online. Confused? Keep reading.

Hand-in-hand with the reality of the Internet exists the concept of globalization. According to Sparks (2007: 126), there is no single theory of globalization that commands common assent. As Held and his collaborators put it … : “no single coherent theory of globalization exsits’ (Held et al., 1999:436). Apart from a consensus that globalization implies being more connected with people and areas at a distance, various theories differ in ‘fundamental ways’. The Internet has played a huge role in increasing that sense of inter-connectedness, lending further credence to the concept of ‘global village‘ as put forward by Marshall McLuhan.

When the internet was invented, could the founders have envisaged that it would become, not just a way to share information, but a tool for social change? Sparks mentions (2007: 198) that the Internet provides ‘an important tool which is usable by radical movements as part of their drive towards self-organization.’ But even as a way of bringing about change, how effective is it? When I try to think of movements in India that were propelled further because of the power of the internet, only two come to mind: Blank Noise and the Pink Chaddi Campaign (to those readers who have no idea what ‘chaddi’ means, it means ‘pants’ if you’re in the UK and ‘underwear’ if elsewhere!).

Pink Chaddi Campaign

Members of a right-wing Hindu group called Sri Ram Sena stormed into a pub in Mangalore on 24 January 2009 and attacked a group of people, mostly women, justifying it with their warped belief that the women were destroying all traditional Hindu values by sitting in a pub and therefore deserved to be humiliated. They dragged the women out into the street, hit them, kicked them and revelled in it.

The attack, which was widely publicized on news channels andclippings of which could be found on YouTube, was denounced by many. A group of women, led by Nisha Susan, decided to use the internet to call for shaming the leader of the Sri Ram Sena, Pramod Muthalik. Using a blog and Facebook (they formed a Facebook group called “Consortium of Pubgoing, Loose and Forward Women”) they rallied to send pink chaddis (pants/underwear/whatever you call them) to Pramod Muthalik and send messages of love and peace to him on February 14, Valentine’s Day (Note: right-wing Hindu groups in India, like the SRS believe that celebrating Valentine’s Day is a defacement of Hindu values and often resort of hooliganism to stop any sign of celebrations of the same).

The movement was a success in that people (men included) sent thousands of pink chaddis to Muthalik on Valentine’s Day and in so doing, garnered a lot of attention in the media, further highlighting their cause.

However, after Valentine’s Day, their Facebook group was hacked into and insulting messages posted all over it. Facebook had to take the group down and the founders have decided to not use that social networking site again.

In addition, after the furore the pink chaddi campaign caused, as with most well-meaning campaigns, it slowly ebbed out of the news and hasn’t been repeated again.

  • View the current blog of Pink Chaddi founder, Nisha Susan
  • Read the article ‘Why we said pants to India’s bigots‘ in The Observer
  • View the official blog of the Pink Chaddi Campaign
  • View the TV news coverage of the Pink Chaddi Campaign

Blank Noise

Being eve-teased is a form of sexual harrassment. Tired of women being told ‘they asked for it’ because of the clothes they were wearing, Blank Noise was launched in 2003 by Jasmeen Patheja to strike back. In 2009, they joined with other organizations and individuals to form the Fearless Karnataka/Nirbhaya Karnataka coalition in order to respond to instances of street violence against women. The movement holds public events and interventions in different parts of the country to raise awareness on the issue.

This campaign, unlike the previous example, is still operational and regularly posts updates on its blog.

  • View the official blog for the movement Blank Noise
  • View the official Facebook profile for Blank Noise and official fan page.
  • Read an article in the Telegraph about the beginnings of Blank Noise
  • Read an article in The Christian Science Monitor about Blank Noise

How effective are these two campaigns, both of which used the internet and social media resources to get their messages across? The Pink Chaddi campaign was, in my opinion, a flash-in-the-pan – it came, it dominated for a week or two, it went. If the campaign had held steady and kept updating its blog, interacting with its followers (of which it had amassed many), perhaps the Consortium of Pub-Going, Loose and Forward Women would have still been around today. As for Blank Noise, its growth may have been less flashy but more effective.

However it might be said that even with increased accessiblity to the Internet and the World Wide Web in recent times, there is a ‘digital divide’, or the ‘haves and have-nots’ when it comes to technology. Would these movements garner support in areas that have limited connectivity to the WWW? Probably not. The internet is a tool to push ideas further, but until the digital divide is breached, social change has a chance only in the case of the ‘haves’.

Nevertheless, this is a start – if there are more avenues where women can get help, a lesser number will remain quiet the way I did.

Female Foeticide in India

If my family had been uneducated, entrenched in the patriarchal ways of thinking and steeped in the mire of traditionalist thoughts, the possibility of me not seeing the light of day would have been very high. Why? Because I am female.

The sex ratio in India stands at 933:1000 (i.e. for every 1000 male births, there are 933 female births), with the Union Territory of Daman and Diu dropping to a pathetic 710:1000. This has more to do with misplaced human pride and intervention as opposed to a hapless X-chromosome bonding with another X-chromosome. According to Dr. Indu Grewal and Dr. J Kishore, female foeticide is the reason that “between 35 and 40 million girls and women are missing from the Indian population.”

In his book, The Spectatorship of Suffering (2006), Chouliaraki says: “The overexposure to human suffering has unaestheticizing, numbing effects. Rather than cultivating a sensibility, the spectacle of suffering becomes domesticated by the experience of watching it on television.” (pg 18) Whether shown on television or reported in newspapers or featured in magazines, the topic of female foeticide and infanticide has probably succumbed to being a victim of compassion fatigue.

States like Gujarat and Haryana are perpetual offenders, with this latest story which reports that 14 foetuses were found in a garbage bin in Ahmedabad. Yet the headline news de jour is the IPL (Indian Premier League) scandal involving Shashi Tharoor, former UN Under-Secretary General, and Lalit Modi, Chairman of the IPL. A similar example of important issues being ignored can be seen in this video where journalist P. Sainath talks about how 512 journalists were covering the fashion week but the pressing issue of farmers’ suicides was ignored.

The modernization paradigm of development journalism (dominant from 1958-1980s) sought to move societies from their traditional state to a modern one – where ‘modern’ implies a westernized outlook. In this approach, information is distributed via a one-way top-down method, which leaves the people with no chance to interact with or respond to those giving out information. Thomas McPhail said that there needed to be a paradigm shift wherein the culture of the country in question was not diminished. In addition, he stressed the need for a bottom-up approach. It’s obvious the modernization paradigm will not work here; society is bogged down by this backward way of thinking. Simply telling people that female foeticide is wrong will not make them stop.

After the modernization paradigm, the participant and empowerment frameworks were developed so as to include the local population in development efforts. But this means engaging with people who believe that female foeticide is justified.

So why does it happen? High priority is given to the male child with the belief that he will be the one to care for his parents in their old age whereas a daughter would not. It is also believed that the male will be the breadwinner of the family. Another reason is the notion that without a male child, there would be no future generations bearing the family name. The dowry system in India also is a contributing factor to female foeticide and infanticide; the thought of having to scrounge up an exorbitant amount for the daughter’s wedding in the future is a deterrent, especially to poor families. How then can the media change the mind of these people?

Using forms of media like radio, television shows, theatre plays – accessible even to those who cannot read – is a more participatory way of imparting values. Talking to the people who indulge, or wish to indulge, in such practices is a better way of dealing with them as opposed to talking at them. There is no way to know if this method would work unless it’s forcefully put into practice.

Inspite of various efforts, the problem continues to exist and nothing concrete has happened towards alleviating the situation. Till then, we can keep reading about the latest in the IPL action.

  • View an audio slideshow on the subject on The Guardian’s website.
  • Read about the city of Pune unsuccessfully trying to combat the trend of female foeticide.
  • Read an article on the UNICEF website on the issue of declining sex ratios in India.

“Modernization of the economy and industry must go hand in hand with modernization of outlook and attitude, which, in a civilized society, give equal importance to children irrespective of their gender.” – Dr. Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister of India

How to Write about India

In the JNL6027 class, we were shown this interesting piece titled How to Write about Africa which highlighted the clichés writers and journalists use when expanding on the ‘dark continent’ (see, I did it too!).

It struck me that even India (the country I’ll be focusing on in my blog for this module) has its fair share of stereotypical phrases and ingredients needed to concoct a clichéd story and/or article.

The piece How to write an Indian story at the Sepia Mutiny blog lists a few points like sacred cows, holy trees, British colonialism and more without which any story about India would be incomplete! I mean, what’s an article on India without bovine animals ambling about roads filled with rickshaw-wallahs (men pulling rickshaws)?

Another tongue-in-cheek and spot-on blog post, How to write about India? on the blog interim thoughts gives a more detailed look at the tried-and-tested one-dimensional formula writers can use to describe India.

Next task: plan my next trip to the land of the Taj Mahal replete with slums, child brides and cows. Or something.

Crossing Borders

Stereotypes exist everywhere. Be it in your mind, in the media or in how you’re served over a counter.

Linked to the concept of stereotypes is the ‘single story’ – Chimamanda Adichie, in her TED talk, speaks about the danger of a single story, whereby hearing only one story about a particular place or person can lead to many misunderstandings. When you are constantly beset by only one viewpoint or perspective about a place, person or event, that viewpoint becomes the “truth” of the matter at hand as opposed to just one way to look at it.

Currently, the story making headlines in India is the news that one of its tennis stars, Sania Mirza, is engaged to be married to Pakistani cricketeer Shoaib Malik. Where’s the single story in that? The constant hype of how the two sub-continent countries are at war with each other is what made this story hit headlines across the newswires.

The single story about India and Pakistan? That they hate each other, are constantly at war and can never get along.

Not true.

There is no denying that problems do exist between both countries, but a distinction must be made between tension between governments and tension between the people. Tempers run at cricket matches, true, but on the whole, the people of the two countries don’t have bones to pick with each other. The single story of how Indians hate Pakistanis and vice versa does nothing to help the peace process and largely serves to irritate the people, who are the ones assumed to be filled with hatred, when they’re not.

Perhaps picking up on this cue, the international media has covered this story as well, also blending in the story of how India and Pakistan are constantly at loggerheads with each other. Read the coverage of the story at The Times, The Telegraph and The Guardian.

The media needs to be responsible and while they should go ahead and report a story, they also need to exercise caution with regard to the extent of coverage given to a story and also ensure communal undertones don’t creep into it.

World Autism Awareness Day

Today is World Autism Awareness day. I always knew April was Autism Awareness month, but found out about April 2nd being the designated day for the same only last week. If you’re interested to know more, go to their website.

At a dinner party I was at a few days ago, the hosts and a couple of guests had absolutely no idea or concept of what autism was. It seems they asked my mother whether my brother just had to take a few pills to ‘become alright’.

I have no problem with people asking questions about autism; in fact, I encourage it. The way I see it, if you don’t know what autism is, ask and we’ll help you understand. As someone who deals with autism, I know that I’d rather you asked me if you had any questions rather than assume nonsense on your own steam.

However, it sometimes amazes me that in this day and age, people still think that something like autism can be ‘cured’ by popping a few pills (don’t even get me started on the usage of the word ‘cure’ in this context – I’d rant for hours at end).

Just a small glimpse of some of my realities of autism, both good and not-so-good:

  • Cleaning my 14-year-old brother after he’s finished using the toilet because he can’t do it himself.
  • Having him hug me in such a way that I’m left gasping for breath and with a silly grin on my face.
  • Making him wear incontinence diapers every night because he still doesn’t realize he can get up and just use the toilet if he needs to at night.
  • Watching him try to wear his trousers incorrectly, as he tries to stuff both legs into one leg of the trouser.
  • Having a little celebration when he finally understood, a year ago, how to drink water from a glass.
  • Staring at uncovered lightbulbs on the ceiling of my living room because he shattered the glass cover for the third time by bouncing a ball with extreme force smack into the middle of it.
  • Crying like a person possessed when a truck hit my car from the rear and shattered the glass. My brother was in the back seat (he was miraculously unhurt).
  • Webcamming with him when I’m in Sheffield only to watch his amazed face as he sees his sister appear on a flat screen.
  • Letting him apply sloppy kisses all over my face when I come back to Dubai on a vacation.
  • Shooting dirty looks and/or stopping mid-track to ask people what their problem is if they stare, point and/or whisper when my brother is upset or crying.

I’ve read somewhere that if you’ve met one autistic person…you’ve met ONE autistic person. Each person who is autistic is different; this is not a ‘one size fits all’ special needs. My brother is unique. I love him … and he loves me too. And I don’t need him to talk to tell me that.

I like this quote which I saw on this forum by the user ShaggyDaddy:

Since I don’t really know anyone who is “normal” I am pretty frightened by the prospect of trying to teach my son to be normal.