High and Dry in a Waterless World

The girl next door hollered ‘Auntyji, please turn off the tap! The tank is full. The water is overflowing.’
These dratted environmental do-gooders were pesky. Their perpetual rants grated on my nerves. Save Water! Save Electricity! Save this! Save that! Didn’t the water gush out of my taps 24 hours a day? I was still squinting to see where the shortage was. One blighted chap even badgered me to monitor how much water I use to brush my teeth. They threw me dirty looks for leaving the garden tap open the whole night. Raising unnecessary brouhaha I say. My darling Bunty loved to play on the little puddles that formed by the morning. I couldn’t let him frolic in the dirty water on the roadside, could I? In fact, being the conscientious mom I was, I even got my garden pipe hooked to the Cauvery supply.

No one could fault me on my housekeeping. I insisted that the maid hose down the entire pavement and all the balconies every day. Even the driver knew, he had to hose the car daily till a nice pool glistened underneath lest madam assumed he had played truant.
That annoying girl was still shrieking something incomprehensible. I was sipping a refreshing glass of sherbet and nothing was going to shake me out of my torpor. I took a good 15 minutes before sauntering to turn off the tap. That irksome girl was still there looking daggers at me.

I didn’t usually let the water overflow for more than half an hour as a rule. Barring that one time when I had left the taps running and gone on a vacation. In my frantic search to locate my favorite shade of lip gloss, I had plain forgotten to turn them off. No big deal actually. But some people actually had the nerve to lecture me on the water wastage and for the flooding it had caused nearby – in spite of me explaining the lip gloss catastrophe. I had asked them to take a walk. It was after all my tap, my water, my money !!

And imagine their impertinence; for Holi they had actually warned ‘my’ Bunty not to spray the entire street with color. Last Holi, we had thrown this grand bash for all of Bunty’s friends, complete with a big tank of water. Well boys will be boys. The little chipmunks had jumped into the common swimming pool as well and the water had turned different shades of color. Those poor darlings couldn’t get to the loo in time, so had been forced to pee in it as well.

Then those nosey parkers had turned up again yapping away about some depleting water tables. I knew my multiplication tables too, I informed them petulantly. People will consume water their whole lives, wont they. We can’t change the way we live, just because the future looks waterless. And looking at the way people are exploding – literally crawling out of the woodwork in my opinion, it’s a no brainer we would be needing more and more water. We could drill all we want and still be left high and dry. The lucky ones could even strike oil!

Yeah, the writing’s on the wall and soon we might not have enough water for all of us. It would be upon us so fast; we would go cross eyed trying to figure out what hit us. And if push came to shove, we have it all figured out. We could do away with baths and other useless cleaning stuff and instead invent gadgets which would spray us with perfumed disinfectant powder. Food, of course, could pose a tiny problem. But again we could always rely on eating all other living things which might still be surviving which should last us, at least for a couple of years. Life would no longer be about a spiritual search for meaning, but just mean the quest for that all elusive drop of water. With the constant race for water, whoever would have the time to work or study? We could collect human fluids as well and work out ways to recycle. And don’t you pucker your nose at me! So I have just thought of these brilliant ideas for the new waterless world of tomorrow. So let’s see how long the water is going to last? 1 year.. 5 maybe ? 10 years?

Short sell the industries and schools, don’t waste money getting plumbing done on your new home, make drugs for water retention in your body, nasal clips to block out the stink of unwashed bodies, make…

Wait a minute… Was that Bunty shouting? ‘Mooommyy… there’s no water in the bathroom..’
Jeez! That was quick! I had better get to work fast before time runs out.

Bangalore for Women : A step in the right direction

On a hot Saturday afternoon, some 70 to 80 bloggers including me, sat closeted in a room in the Times of India building on M.G. Road.We chatted animatedly as the stage was thrown open to a topic dominating everyone’s mind. How safe did a woman feel in Bangalore ?

I moved to Bangalore in 2000 after working in Mumbai for almost a year and a half. While eve teasing and sexual innuendos had been an everyday occurrence during my growing up years in Madhya Pradhesh in central India, Mumbai back in ’99 was like a breath of fresh air. For the first time in my life, I had felt liberated,without feeling the need to look over my shoulder every minute. Bangalore, in comparison, didn’t feel as safe. After the office traffic hour, many roads wore a desolate look with dim pools of light alternating with dark stretches.

Over a period of the last 13 years, even though I myself, was not subjected to any direct form of sexual assault, I found myself adapting my lifestyle in line with the rising crimes against women. Every gruesome incident reported in Bangalore was yet another shackle on my perceived freedom to ‘be’.

As I listened to the various incidents faced by the women in the room, it just re-affirmed what I already knew. Anybody could be a victim, it was just a matter of chance. Interestingly, Franklin , a self defense instructor, told us otherwise. People’s personalities and their attitudes could go a long way in reducing the chances of being a victim. Your presence of mind, he asserted, is a far more superior tool as compared to any pepper spray.

As people discussed the various dimensions of women harassment, from what they faced on the roads to the boardrooms, one thing that stood out amongst them was the treatment meted out to physically / mentally handicapped women. Their struggles against their handicap is vastly compounded by their gender, making them a very convenient target of sexual attacks.

The discussion would have been completely depressive, if it were not for the one bright silver lining. We were there not to brood on it, but for action. The discussion was part of TOI’s campaign on ‘Bangalore for Women’ which was hosted together with Indiblogger. As we brainstormed on ideas and content which could be relevant for women, it became increasingly apparent that while media can throw the spotlight on a lot of subjects and disseminate information, the real onus of change is on each and every person.

So how can each one of us start contributing towards a safer society ? First and foremost is an awareness of safety for oneself. As is commonly said, ‘Prevention is better than cure’ is true for safety as well. As part of prevention, assess situations for possibilities of threats and evaluate escape routes.Avoid risky situations and use presence of mind to diffuse tensions. Always try to get out and avoid confrontations if possible. If a confrontation becomes inevitable, have rehearsed defense mechanisms. Letting your family know where you are or having useful numbers at hand in an emergency is something every person should do.
Invest time in ensuring safety of children by educating them on self preservation and avoiding situations which expose them to risk.

Then comes awareness and empathy to the safety of people around you. Surprisingly, many people mistakenly assume that a male escort is a sufficient cover for any form of sexual harassment encountered on the road. As has been seen time and again, a man is as helpless against a gang of men as a lone woman. Being cognizant of this and assessing risk accordingly will go a long way in ensuring safety of a female companion. Similarly, extending help when required or enabling help to reach a victim is a responsibility that can not be shrugged off anymore. Society has long witnessed the apathy , which is threatening to devour all that was good in a human being.
Reach out to people around you – to those who might be less aware than you or who might be economically backward.Help them understand their rights and what they should stand up for. In case of need, put them in touch with self help organizations and other NGOs who are capable of handling the required situation.

While the required levers have to be pulled to move the juggernaut of government machinery, we can no longer afford to sit back and wait till crime comes knocking at our doors.

As I looked at the people gathered in that small room, my thoughts turned to the case which set the wheels turning. A silent revolution has begun and its time to walk the talk. While the awareness and assessment of danger, is a long way from what constitutes freedom for me, I hope its the right step in the direction , where one day I hope to walk alone without looking over my shoulder.

JVC Report : 631 Pages of Intention or Action ?

The very exhaustive Justice Verma recommendations spanning 631 pages is commendable given the short time span in which this report was constituted and the lackadaisical government support. Even though the mandate given was to provide quicker trial and enhanced punishment for sexual offenders of extreme nature, it is heartening to note the comprehensive view taken by the committee to encompass all facets of harassment faced by women, children and other marginalized groups keeping in mind, the gender equality guaranteed through India’s constitution and its obligations under the international conventions. While the rape which acted as the trigger was an isolated incident, the fact that occurrences like these can only be viewed in totality keeping in mind the various interconnected social, political and environmental factors has been amply put forth in the various sections of the report.

What is very clear is that we suffer not due to the lack of laws but due to the faulty or often absent mechanism of implementation. The report cites the vast disconnect between equality and respect and the obligations of those who administer the law. And therefore, it is even more imperative that the State follows through on the steps right till the execution level and does not rest on its laurels for having just commissioned such a report.

The amendments to the Criminal Amendment Bill 2012 to widen the ambit of sexual assaults against women to include many more non-consensual acts against women including acid attacks, mutilation, stalking, voyeurism is a long awaited move. Marital rape inclusion which has long been considered an offence in other parts of the world is finally being brought into the purview. A special clause for rape followed by death or persistent vegetative state has also been introduced. Gang rapes have been brought under a separate category with much more severe punishments. The separate section accorded to ‘eve-teasing’ brings all the so called ‘minor’ offences also within the purview. However, considering the huge gap currently existing in reporting and delivering justice to much more severe assaults, these could still be relegated to the back burner. It might also prove onerous for the victim to prove offences such as eve-teasing, stalking and voyeurism.

Though death penalty as the punishment for rape, has not been accorded based on several international laws and human rights conventions, it has bridged the huge gap between a life term of 14 years and the death penalty by introducing a punishment of life term till death. A separate punishment structure for crimes and brutalities committed against children less than 12 years of age is missing and should have probably been brought within the scope of such a report.
Several of the committee’s recommendations like increasing the number and security in public transport vehicles, introduction of a public emergency response system, implementation of safe spaces and formation of Sexual assault crisis centers are very commendable and are implementable by a government serious about reducing crimes against women.

There are also very exhaustive recommendations for standard guidelines for medical and psychological examination of victims. It has also conclusively separated the issue of an occurrence of rape into a legal issue instead of a medical issue and also recommends doing away with the controversial “two-finger” test.

Crimes committed in Juvenile homes and incidents of child sexual abuse which have been unearthed by the committee during the making of this report are shocking and indicative of the extent to which this malaise currently exists. The report points to various lacunas currently existing in the implementation of the Juvenile homes and other destitute homes and it holds the State directly responsible for open flagration of rules as these incidents are clearly happening with the collusion of the respective administrative authorities. While reducing the age for convicting juvenile criminals has been rejected by the committee based on international child rights laws and neurological findings, exceptionally brutal / rarest of rare cases could have probably been accorded a separate status assuming that a juvenile criminal of extremely brutal tendencies has little hope of reform in any of the existing juvenile centers. Data to support whether juvenile criminals committing heinous crimes actually reform in their later years or are more likely to relapse into repeat offenders could have acted as an input to support such a decision.

A strong stand is also taken against Khap Panchayats and its kangaroo style functioning and the committee recommends a unequivocal approach by the government to curtail the Khap’s unlawful activities.
The committee further recommends increasing accountability of public servants by holding them punishable for not registering cases. This could aid in improving the reporting statistics, but the efficacy of this in situations wherein the victims belong to low socio-economic strata might prove daunting. The committee has also taken cognizance of the offences against women in border areas and conflict zones committed by armed forces or uniformed personnel. This has for the first time, criminalized the unlawful actions perpetrated by these security forces under the garb of maintaining law and order. Police reforms which are long pending based on a ruling by the Supreme Court 6 years back, were either completely ignored or not done as per the spirit of the ruling. The committee recommends augmentation of police force and inclusion of community policing.

It was heartening to note that the committee also brought in electoral reforms wherein it recommends the Election commission to bar candidates with charges punishable with imprisonment more than 5 years. The statistics collected by the committee across 7877 constituencies indicated that 31% of candidates of Electoral College are charged or convicted of a criminal offence. How can the electorate trust in proper implementation and enactment of laws for the safety of its citizens when those responsible for implementing such laws are themselves guilty of such heinous crimes ?

The report talks in detail about attitudinal changes required in society by quoting various texts, articles, past court sentences and advocates dissociating the stigma attached to rape. In this regard, it talks about education and perception reform through sex education and gender sensitization programs in schools. While this brings the educated classes into the purview of such an education, targeted campaigns need to be run for people of the lower socio-economic strata.

As citizens of a free and democratic country, we have the right to laws and an administration which protect us and which, as the report quotes, must override patriarchal, customary, traditional and religious provisions which have unequal outcomes. So, while the attitudinal changes might take time, the government of India is fully responsible for quicker enactment of such laws. The report’s fruition can only result from its quick implementation lest it be relegated to one more committee report that gathers dust till another Nirbhaya happens.

Image Courtsey: viewspaper.net

The Beast Within

Newspapers these days are crammed with innumerable cases of murders, rapes, extortion and child abuse. Hardly a day goes by, when one doesn’t read about the murky details of one crime or the other. But why do certain cases stand imprinted in our memory. These cases either stand out due to acts of extreme depravity or due to the nature of the crime itself. But the crimes that really shake us to our core are the ones that are depraved and ones, which could happen to any one of us. These are crimes committed against ordinary people in ordinary circumstances. These could happen to you or me while doing any of the normal routine chores that we go about doing, during our day.

Delhi’s rape incident was one such case, extremely brutal and depraved, it happened to a woman who could be any one of us, in an extremely ordinary turn of events. What could be more ordinary than boarding a public bus after a movie at a not-so-late hour, with a companion?

If we take the case of the rape or of the recent shootings in Connecticut, they clearly point to the handiwork of some depraved individuals. One school of thought propagates that terming the perpetrator of a crime as ‘depraved’ creates a divide by which the larger populace alienates itself from the perpetrator, thereby providing not much leeway for the community to rectify itself as a whole.

The person doesn’t become depraved after committing an act of crime. There is no metamorphosis that suddenly happens and transforms an apparently normal individual to a deviant personality. The individual had these traits in him even before anything happens. It is just that a crime brings it to the spotlight. These are passive tendencies, which come to the fore when the opportunity presents itself. Tomorrow, it could be the friendly neighborhood grocer, the milkman, colleague at office or any of the people we meet in our day-to-day lives. They are ‘normal’ people and in one sudden shocking instance, they become ‘abnormal’ and are ostracized from the society and categorized as being ‘depraved’. The point here is that the ‘depravity mindset’ exists in us and amidst us.

Painting by William Blake
Curtsey: Wikipedia

While there is no denying the need to impose much harsher and stricter punishments coupled with a swifter judicial system, I would liken it to a leash restraining a rabid dog. The leash will restrain the dog but the dog will attack at the slightest chance if the opportunity presents itself. The leash doesn’t cure the dog.
Even assuming that the perpetrator was actually ‘depraved’ and mentally unstable, the question which begs an answer is why the society is producing more and more of these kinds of ‘depraved’ individuals. As a society are we an accomplice to producing individuals with personalities more tuned to committing violence on women?

In a country, where women routinely face physical and mental torture in the hands of their own family, cases of rapes might just be extensions of the mindset that has already conditioned itself to adhere to subjugation of women.
Even an apparently innocent statement saying ‘This is not a girl’s job’ , will provide the foundation in the mind of a child who will later grow up with preconditioned notions of what women should or should not do. When conditioning like these are provided to a growing child on a routine basis through different channels, the message gets re-affirmed over and over again. The problem of objectifying /sexualizing women or treating them as a commodity then just becomes a continuation of their already established beliefs.
Every instance of a dowry being given/taken, a girl being denied education, stereotyping a woman’s roles, establishing male dominated control structures, lends to the overall psyche of a society which is geared to produce the so called ‘deviant’ individuals.

The crimes should not be viewed as isolated incidents committed by people who are not part of the society but viewed as offshoots or grotesque manifestations of a wound that is festering within us. It is this malaise that needs to be cured.

Awaiting the Doomsday

Doomsday theorists claim that the humans are going to destruct on Dec 21, 2012 in a series of cataclysmic and transformational events. For once, I hope they are proved right.

When I was a student, I would eagerly look forward to a new class as we moved up in our grade.It would be a new start, a new chapter and I had a chance to write my destiny afresh somehow absolved of all dismal performances in the past. I still recall the joy of writing in the first page of a new notebook.

We, as humans haven’t fared very well either. Lets look at our scorecard.

We have,in fact,successfully become a human scourge on the face of the earth. Destroying environment, causing global warming, causing the extinction of countless other species.We have reproduced rabidly causing our population to cross 7 Billion 1 with the closest rivals being only brown rats and chickens according to FAO (Food and Agricultural Organization) 2 but they are nowhere near our body mass and hence, do not cause the consumption avalanche we do.

Existing fresh water resources are being depleted at a rapid rate which will soon bring its companions of drought, hunger and social unrest to go with it. We have polluted the air and water which will not only give us a slow death but unfortunately also kill several other innocent species.

And while we are on the subject, we are have not exhibited anything remotely neighborly with the other species inhabiting our planet. Rapid deforestation, wide spread hunting practices and making their habitats practically unlivable has resulted in bringing about the sixth wave of mass extinctions since the past half a billion years. Past mass extinctions were brought about as a result of climatic shifts, asteroid strikes and such but this one is due to us – humans.3
Due to the greenhouse gas effect, temperatures will continue to rise and huge parts of earth will become practically unlivable for humans in the near future.4 Imagine a 10 Billion population living in just 1/3 of the existing land ! We are mining heavily, to support our increasing consumerism, for oil and other natural resources and causing large scale loss to the top soil and other important life sustaining habitats.

Image Curtsey : http://www.publicdomainpictures.net
Image Curtsey : http://www.publicdomainpictures.net

Well,I think we all get the picture.
And have we, in the bargain, become better human beings ? We have made rapid technological advances which have enabled us to be physically lethargic abusing the capability of the human body through disuse. Smart devices abound around us, resulting in us using our mind lesser and lesser . As devices become smarter, we become lazier and stupider.The mind is on its way to become a vestigial organ.
The lesser we talk about our emotional quotient the better. The flagrant human rights violations are mute testimony.Newspapers are filled with countless accounts of rapes, child abuses, murders, extortion. We are high on social networks but isolated and psychologically damaged.

So, all in all, we have a dismal future and our overall scorecard is abysmally low. Out of the options that we humans have, I can see dying due to hunger,thirst,social unrest when the demand heavily exceeds the supply, impending natural disasters, exposure to extreme temperatures, choking due to pollution and other humanity induced causes.So compared to such options, isn’t it actually wonderful for it all to end on one fine day, without us being around to witness the harm we have given birth to.

Its time in the human chapter, to turn a new page,make a fresh start and re-appear a billion of years later by which time , hopefully the earth will get time to recuperate. Let’s just hope the future man doesn’t commit the same mistakes which we did in our times.

1 Wikipedia
2 http://www.npr.org
3 http://www.biologicaldiversity.org – The extinction crisis
4 Global Research
5 National Geographic
6 Scientific American