31 December 2014

Love languages, not fear them

My toddler's language skills are pretty advanced in both her mother tongues - Kannada and Bengali. I don't teach her English per se, but she has learned quite a bit of that, too, as there's always some English in the environment. That was the precisely the reason why I am not emphasizing on English at this point, because she cannot escape English and ultimately, she'll learn it.

I am concerned that she'll lose one of her mother tongues or both to English once she starts going to school, because I see quite a few young Indians today converse completely in English. If you talk to them in their mother tongue, they do understand, but the reply is in English.

I was recently told that I do need to teach her English or else it may hurt her admission opportunities to schools. Learning language for opportunistic reasons doesn't sound that great to me, though I am aware that quite a bit of language learning is opportunistic and language teaching in itself is a huge business.

Still, there is a difference between learning languages because you're curious about it, the culture, or the people who speak it, and learning something just because you want to advance your business or fear that you may be left behind if you don't learn it.

Language is a lot about curiosity. That's the only way children learn about new words, when they keep asking 'what', 'why', and 'how. And of course, by listening to all the language around them.

There could be nothing better than learning about another culture and I don't think this can be intimately done without speaking the language of that culture. And, power languages like English can easily ruin this process of discovery. Well, only if you let them.

I studied in an English-medium school and use English for work and personal expression, as in this blog. But I was also among the few students in my class who were comfortable in their mother tongue, too. I have never written professionally in Kannada and that could be the reason I perhaps don't feel as confident in it, but that's just a matter of practice.

I have always loved reading Shivaram Karanth, Jayanth Kaykini, to name a few Kannada authors. In my mind, there is no power equation between English and Kannada, but I am aware that it exists. That's why I am saddened when I see a lot of young Kannadigas grow up completely detached from a beautiful and diverse culture, inspite of being physically located in it. And, this is true for a lot of other young Indians. Often, they do not know how to count beyond 10 or 50 in their language.

Parents are a child's first connection with their culture and their language. So, they do have a responsibility to introduce children to their roots and keep the connection going. This can be done in a fun way by introducing them to rhymes, stories, or children's movies in their languages. With a lot of Indian language content now moving online than before, this isn't particularly tough to do. Publishers like Pratham Books are also a good source.

Learn languages because you love them, because you're curious about the world like a child is. Or maybe, come home to your own language. 

24 December 2014

The Kashmir vote

The thing with fractured mandates is this. Ultimately, everything becomes a numbers game and to hell with people's aspirations. Omar Abdullah's flippancy on TV yesterday wasn't particularly enjoyable. It's a polarized vote, but even such polarization comes to naught when the BJP has to go to bed with frenemies. So much for the Hindu vote and Muslim vote. But I hope the Kashmiris don't have to prove their allegiances any more, given the numbers in which they voted.

05 December 2014

An okay for a medical test in rape case seems like a huge leap for justice

Update on 12 December 2014: Swami's DNA has matched with that found on the clothes submitted by the rape victim.   Will try to post a link to this news in English soon. 

Raghaveshwara Swami was accused of rape in the last week of August. The Karnataka HC today okayed his medical test, which is one of the first steps to be carried out in a rape case. For those not in the know, please see my post here that recaps the events in this case till about mid-October.

From the start of the case, the rape victim and her family have undergone an unbelievable ordeal. Why unbelievable? Because, no rape victim since Nirbhaya has perhaps had to face such a witchhunt as she and her family has. Most recently, the newspaper Kannada Prabha hit under the belt by publishing a 'leaked' forensic report of the clothes the victim had submitted. The paper said it found the semen of two men on her clothes, and not one, as she had submitted. You see where this is going. 

But at the same time, they also said they couldnt find the woman's DNA on the clothes. Now you cant see where this is going. That's okay, you dont know how to write up fake reports.

The Swami had questioned the provisions of the Indian Penal Code that state that medical tests need to be carried out on rape accused. His grounds were that such tests violated his rights of privacy. Yes, you read it right. This happened in modern day Karnataka.
Yet, despite everything, today there is fresh hope. Yes, despite the silence of big media, politicians, the chief minister, women's rights groups(?). Despite the apathy of the apoliticals, the taunts and insults of the rabidly faithful.

31 October 2014

Will the Havyaka community please stand up?


I have decided to not publish any more comments that go on about why Raghaveshwara Bharati Swami is above the law, or respond to them. I have published enough dissenting comments and replied to them, so it's not as if this a one-sided conversation.

To me, this is simple enough and for the life of me, I cannot fathom what's so unfathomable to the  bhakta-trolls, who're busy spewing venom across the internet and coming up with one conspiracy theory after another.

They go on and on about why they think Premalatha Diwakar's statement is not the gospel of truth and, hence, this case is false. The latest I heard about why we should disbelieve Premalatha is that there is no witness to her 'alleged' rape, hence she's lying.

Are rapes done with witnesses hanging about?

I am astounded. Amazed. Disgusted. Sick to the stomach. And, sometimes, even amused at the lack of ingenuity of these zombies. These people are no less criminals than rapists and no punishment is enough for them, as they poison the society with illogic, unreason, and misogyny.

The person who made this comment is not worthy of my answer, my time, and my intellect.  

When did we, as a society, lose what we call in Kannada - vivechana shakti - the power to think and reason?

Who are you and I to say who's guilty or not? Is this the new way we're going to decide cases? How are we different from a khap panchayat then? God forbid, is there a fatwa coming? What, pray, shall we do with these institutions that we have created called the executive, the judiciary, and the government?

What concerns me now is not so much the Premalatha Diwakar case. My faith is unshaken that she will get justice. But the concern is the disappearance(?) of a community known for its gentle ways, its accommodative nature, and agrarian spirit of living together. The quality of bhakta-trolls is as worse as any other trolls. I thought I came from a community of educated and courteous people, but the language of the bhakta-trolls is as bad as any over the internet. What have we turned into?

There are many among the Havyaka community who do not side with the bhakta-trolls, but their silence, and fear of being bhaka-trolled feeds these low-life creatures. It is to them that I appeal to break their silence and demand that the law be given precedence over all else. You do not need to take a stand for or against anybody, but demand that everyone be treated equally before the law.

For, if you don't do this, you will be supporting adharma by your silence and passivity. So, c'mon people. Speak up. Speak to your family, your neighbours, the journalist friend you know, the cop you have contacts with, your MLA, your chief minister... Do not stop until we have established again that the Havyaka community is a law-abiding one.

17 October 2014

Something is rotten in the state of Karnataka

Update: A few days ago, the order prohibiting the Shastri couple from talking to the media was removed. They have now spoken to some Kannada TV channels. 

Something sinister has been happening in Karnataka since the last couple of months. For those of you not in the know, and there are many of you thanks to curbs on media reporting, I present below a timeline of the events and my thoughts below. 

August 26: Two cases are filed. In the first one, Seer Raghaveshvara Bharathi Swami accuses a couple - Diwakar Shastri and Premalatha Diwakar – of blackmail in Honnavar, Karnataka. The couple was promptly arrested and their bail plea set for September 10. This couple was associated very closely with the Ramachandrapura Math – of which the seer is the head – for long years. Premalatha, an acclaimed singer, used to perform at various Math events and her husband held some positions at the Math.

In the second case, the couple’s daughter filed a complaint in Girinagar police station, Bangalore, alleging that the seer sexually harassed her mother. Subsequently, Premalatha herself lodges a similar complaint, accusing the Swami of rape. In her complaint, she said that the Swami raped her many times over the last three years or so.

The seer makes appearances on some Kannada TV channels claiming his innocence.

Swami is not arrested.

August 27 - 31: Media pretty much blacks out all reportage on the case. We hear later that there is a order from the Honnavar magistrate prohibiting media organizations from maligning the Swami(!). But surely, it didn’t ban reportage of the case? In any case, the big media establishments suspiciously fall silent. Smaller, non-mainstream newspapers though carry on reporting.  

Swami is not arrested.

August 31: Diwakar Shastri’s brother commits suicide in his village near Mangalore, Karnataka. In his letter, he states that he killed himself as some people close to the Math were pressurizing him to ask his brother and his wife to withdraw their case.

September 7: Bangalore police issue a notice to Raghaveshwara Bharathi. He says he’s observing Chatrumaas, can’t appear before the police before September 9.

Around this time, Swami makes another appearance on TV proclaiming his innocence and throws an open challenge to people who want to fight the Math. Please note that the Honnavar magistrate's ban on media reportage doesn’t obviously apply to the Swami. He can go on air any time and say what he will.

Swami is not arrested.

September 8: Swami petitions the High Court to quash Premalatha Diwakar’s case against him as it as ‘false’. Court reserves order.

Swami is not arrested.

September 10: High Court stays arrest of Swami, but says police can investigate.

In Honnavar, meanwhile, at the bail hearing in the blackmail case, the Swami’s lawyer tells the court that the Diwakar couple should not be released because the couple face a threat to their life, hence jail is the safest place for them. This has to go down in history as the most ludicrous plea to not grant bail.

Swami is not arrested.

This is till where I followed the case day-to-day. By mid-September, the Diwakar couple did get bail despite all machinations to the contrary. Of course, there are conditions, one of them being that they cannot say things injurious to the Swami’s reputation.

Another major development was for the Advocate General of Karnataka to take up Premalatha’s case. He challenged the validity of the High Court’s order which was preventing the police from arresting the Swami and the media from writing about the case.

On October 9, the High Court finally lifts these orders and dismisses the Swami’s appeal to dismiss Premalatha’s case. The police are free to arrest the Swami, but of course, they don’t. by the end of the same day, the Swami manages to get an interim bail of a month. He also secured bail in the other case of the suicide of Diwakar Shastri’s brother. The family has accused the Swami and his followers of being responsible for his death, because of their threats to him.

A couple of days ago, the CID began interrogating the Swami, while he is still out of jail. This is where the case currently stands.

Here are some questions that the government, the judiciary, and the police of Karnataka state have to answer:
  • The most obvious question, being of course: why have you not arrested the Swami yet? Before the High Court issued the order preventing the state police from arresting the Swami, there was a clear window when they could have followed the due course of law. Why didn't they? Why did the police issue a notice to Swami, when the law requires to just go and arrest a rape accused? How is he different from the Nirbhaya accused, Tarun Tejpal, Asaram Bapu, Nityananda or any other man who has been accused of rape and then arrested? Would you have allowed these others to walk away free if they had similarly said they were observing Chaturmaas? Or, some other religious practice? Were these others issued notices? Last I checked we are still a secular country, where we treat everyone equally before the law, irrespective of considerations like religion. Has this changed now?
  • Why did the Honnavar magistrate ban media reportage of the case? What interest does the magistrate have in protecting the ‘reputation’ of a rape accused? Also, what is the jurisdiction of the Honnavar First Class court to issue such an order? This one beats me.
  • Why were the Diwakar couple arrested promptly on August 26 and refused bail till mid-September? The speed with which police moved to arrest them casts real doubts on what fuelled their speed.
  • Even after the Diwakar couple was released, why were they prohibited from speaking to the press? Is is too late in the day to be naive and ask about freedom of speech?
  • On October 9, when the police/CID had a clear window to arrest the Swami, why didn’t they still do it? Were they waiting for him to get the interim bail? Nice teamwork there.
Meanwhile, our middle-class, herd moralities have kicked right in and they are making the same cliched, dripping-of-patriarchy comments, like:

How come Premalatha never complained before, but is only protesting now? People who ask such a question obviously have no idea what it means to be exploited by a man of power and good for them that that is so. I, for one, am amazed that Premalatha has emerged sane and brave enough, after her incredible ordeal, to actually fight this case.

Also, the Math’s followers seem to think their Swami is infallible. Reailty check: the Swami is still only a human being, capable of the same follies and vices as all of us. And, if he is innocent, he can prove that in a court of law. But for that, of course, he needs to be arrested.

Another crucial differentiation they need to make: the Swami doesn’t embody the Math. And, there is no attack on the Math, as the Swami would have you believe. It’s a rape complaint against a person, so let’s treat it as that.

Next, as happens with so many rape complainants in India, the investigation often starts with them and not the accused. And, by investigation, I not only mean one that is instituted by agencies of the state, but also the whisper campaigns against the victim and her family. Premalatha has been interrogated by the police multiple times for long hours by now. Meanwhile, people from her own community and close social circle are busy questioning her character because of the sole fact that her complaint was so graphic.

Such attitudes make me burn up with rage so much that I don’t even know where to begin.

Is it okay if a heinous crime is committed, but not okay to report it?

How does the character of a woman who complains of rape come under scrutiny? What does character have to do with this, anyway? Are we implying that only women of low or uncertain character are raped? That is, promiscuous women can be raped? And, what is the definition of this character, I’d really like to know. In any case, what’s the character of these men like? 

There can be no doubt that it is such attitudes of otherwise educated and well-placed people in society that must have made Premalatha put up with the brutality. And it all begins with disrespect of women right from the womb. Now that it’s become difficult to kill female foetuses, we cant wait to kill little girls as soon as they’re born.

If they escape that too, we then begin conditioning them about how to be ashamed of their bodies. If a man on the street leers at you, there must be something wrong with your dress. Maybe you dressed too well, maybe you wore the wrong clothes, maybe you look too good, maybe you’re so irresistible that you have no business to be on the streets. But never, ever, is it the fault of the man. No wonder, that we hear that rapes happen in India, not Bharat. I wonder what clothes were the Badaun girls wearing when they went to pee in the fields. Surely, not T-shirt and jeans.

I am not so much worried about whether or not Premalatha will get justice. Something tells me she will. But what makes me frigging mad is our unabashed eagerness to vilify women who come out against powerful men in our society. It’s 2014, people, don’t you think it’s time we actually started using our brain power to think logically and act fairly? It’s now coming to close to two months since the Swami has been accused of rape. That he’s still not arrested should strike everyone as odd and reeking of something rotten in our systems, whether or not they they think of him as innocent or guilty. And that something rotten is people’s brains and hearts: zombie-like, we refuse to think and don’t flinch a bit when attacking women whom we should actually be grateul for, for taking the courage to step out in the open and standing their ground.

Still, for all that has happened in this case, I believe Premalatha will get justice. Kudos to her and her entire family for their courage and tenacity. And, I post this video to inspire them further (English translation of the lyrics here). Plough ahead, sister!

08 July 2014

Oggarane misses an opportunity

Oggarane is a step above the usual Kannada movie fare, but I would stop short of calling it unusual. It did have the potential to be better than it is, though.

It starts to be a movie on mature love, but mid-way it can’t resist the temptation of mixing it up with the song-and-dance routine that must accompany young love on screen. The use of the food motif, too, could have been carried throughout.

What irritated me were the different ways in which the significance of marriage is portrayed for the leading man (Prakash Raj) and woman (Sneha Prasanna). For the man, it is a simple need for companionship but for the woman it is loaded with vulnerability. For God’s sake, man, when will we get rid of this clich├ęd crying of the lone, unmarried woman? Do people who write up these storylines even know that the majority of women in India are actually breadwinners in their family? And, I am not even talking of white-collared professionals, but the women that you see at construction sites, in the fields, and on the roadside. The husbands of most of these women have either abandoned them or spend their days in a drunken, wife-beating haze.

As a cub journalist, I once came across a village in rural Bangalore district, where I met so many abandoned women that I was tempted to give a hackneyed title to the story such as ‘The village of abandoned women’.
And, that’s for the utterly poor.

Then, there are the self-supporting professional women of the middle class who are in a discreet way made to feel inferior to their married peers, in spite of being achievers in their work lives and leading fulfilling personal lives. Is marriage the way to nirvana for women, while just being an emotional option to the man? Sheer nonsense. Most of us do feel the need for companionship at some point in life, but everyone need not and does not seek it out in the same way.

The other WTF moment was when the caricatured gay character in the movie tells the leading lady that she must act decisively and not miss an opportunity to land Rai. He hints that he’s still single because God erred in deciding his fate (that is, his being gay is a mistake). At this point, I began to doubt if the people who made this movie live in this real world. If the director frowns upon homosexuality, why even have a gay character in the movie? Just for a few laughs? How is that even fair?

What has stayed with me from the movie is the below song by my favourite singer, Kailash Kher, and the fact that product placement has firmly made its way to Kannada movies. Otherwise, it’s an easily forgettable flick.

24 June 2014

Why should we have to choose

My generation of mothers is not the first one to have a full-time job and raise a family. I can’t speak with any authority of what their work-life balance looked like. This post is only about Indian mothers like me in this day and age, who live in cities, are looking up in their careers, and want to be always there for their children. In short, those who do not want to be forced to make a choice between work and womb.

I have seen our types tackle work and motherhood in about three typical ways:
  1. Give up job as soon as they become mothers or even get pregnant.
  2. Hold on to a part-time job and become full-time mothers.
  3. Neither give up job nor motherhood and come to resemble a full-time circus.

I belong to the third group. My child is now two years and three months old and the worst seems to be over, in terms of sleep-deprived nights at least. And, though I willingly continued working full-time after my maternity leave, I’d be lying if I said I never thought of giving up the job or at least consider a part-time option. It took all the grit I could muster to get to work day-after-day, irrespective of how the night had been and how my own health was. And I didn’t feel that gritty or that inspired every day.

The silver lining was my child herself. She is a remarkably manageable kid and made it as smooth as possible for me, but it only went so far. Yet, I am grateful as she could have easily been more difficult.

I work from home for an American company, which had its pros and cons for me, the new mother. I was technically always around the baby, if she needed me. Initially, within the first year, this worked quite well, but as soon as she started to talk and crawl around, she’d ask for me and this would tug at my heart. Working for an American company also meant that I had to devote evenings for calls with my colleagues. So, in the morning, I would be busy with the baby. I’d start work at noon or so, go on up till dinner time, then take over the baby from the family, and immediately post-dinner start the lullaby routine. As my daughter reached the 1-year milestone, she seemed to keep awake for longer and putting her to sleep in the night could take anywhere from 30 minutes to 1.5 hours! On tougher days and there were quite a few of them, I had to put in an hour or two of work, after she went to sleep.

Yes, I had my family to support me but as anyone who has relied on family will know that it’s not like professional help. That is, you can’t ask them to follow the schedule you want and have to accommodate their need for rest and non-baby time, too. For the working mother, of course, there is no down-time, except for 5-6 hours at night at best.

I can hear all those mothers out there who did get professional help in India and learned that it was hardly professional, after all. And, this is where Indian working mothers are severely handicapped from their Western counterparts. Of course, not all help in the US or UK is great and when they are, they come at very high prices.

But in India, at least as far as my own experience goes, it’d be highly risky to leave your baby under two years under the full-time care of a stranger with no family member around. Unsurprisingly, mothers choose the well-being of their kids and give up the job. Work-from-home options are few and far between and even when they are, they rarely match up to the pay and perks of a cubicle job.

My situation has made me think of why there are so few, quality childcare options in India and what employers are doing about it. It’s not that we don’t have playschools or cribs, but there are not enough good ones, in terms of security, cleanliness, nutritious food, trained teachers, and a teacher-child ratio of not more than 10 children per teacher. At least, not that everyone is aware of. And, if you want childcare at home, you hardly have a choice with the ayah the agency is going to send you. In an earlier generation, the domestic help would double up as daycare provider, but that’s not to be counted on today.

Why don’t we see some start-up energy in this service? I feel there's immense scope for a company that provides professional childcare, full information of their staff and lets you choose and then rate them in a transparent way? Or an app that lets you compare childcare facilities available in your city? I know that a few employers in India provide crib facilities at the workplace and offer flexible work options, but why aren’t there many more? (NASSCOM seems to have a dedicated report on the topic, but it’s behind a firewall.) Why doesn’t it become a norm than stay something fancy that only a few women can avail of?

Many women in all classes of society have to leave their homes and work for a livelihood. They have often no one but their in-laws or parents to care for their children. Those who don’t have this support often disappear from the workforce. This report that I found rightly says this is not a problem with ramifications only for the productivity of India’s workforce, but that of the world’s, as many of the white-collar jobs that Indian women do are actually for global companies. Perhaps we can never dream of anything like the family-friendly policies of Nordic countries, when our country is supposed to have a surplus of workforce, but let’s not forget that by losing women, we lose highly skilled communicators, multi-taskers, problem solvers, and the possibilities of varied viewpoints.

All the education, rigorous training and competing with men comes to naught, if childcare is not provided. Do we have a discussion of these problems in feminist studies? If anyone knows, please enlighten me. Because, this really is the problem of the educated, middle-class, modern Indian woman. 

06 June 2014

Speedy environmental clearances aren't necessarily a good thing

Prakash Javadekar, Minister of State for Environment and Climate Change, announced yesterday that the government would strive for environmental clearances within 60 days and would take the process completely online. The media is taken up with the first part of the story, that is, speedy clearance, but I haven't seen a report that brings out the irony of this announcement coming on World Environment day. 

The Center for Science and Environment lists the steps involved in environmental clearance. It says, "Once all the requisite documents and data from the project authorities are received and public hearings (where required) have been held, assessment and evaluation of the project from the environment angle is completed within 90 days and the decision of the ministry shall be conveyed within 30 days thereafter." 

It also notes that "In India, the role of the public in the entire environment clearance process is quite limited. Public consultation happens at a very late stage when the EIA report is already prepared and the proponent is about to present it to the review committee for clearance."

In such a scenario, what does it mean to speed up this process? Don't 'deemed approvals' sound ominous to anyone? Is public consultation, coming as it does towards the end, going to be the casualty of such speed? Are environmental clearances really the stumbling block to development as they are made out to be? Is it okay for us to race ahead when climate change is already here and when the Supreme Court specifically asked for a regulator to be set up to monitor the whole process of environmental clearance? 

If there's red tape in the process, yes, please get rid of it. But don't sacrifice or shortchange necessary steps such as public consultation. 

This government wants to 'set the pace' or at least wants to be seen as doing so, to contrast itself from the Congress style of governance. But what's actually happening behind these 'new-age' measures? Anyone care to slow down and explain?

I am back (hopefully)

My last post on my blog was long, long ago. Blogging was one of the casualties of me graduating into more responsible positions, personally and professionally. To some extent, Facebook is responsible, too. Before motherhood, managerial positions, and social media, I was a creator of content. I would react to news, trends in society that concerned issues close to my heart.

Afterward, I only became a passive watcher on the bylines of social content creation, as I became busy getting my dal-roti and tending to a baby, while juggling late-evening conference calls, and managing a team virtually. I'll blog soon about what I have learned as a full-time employee and mom. I know that women out there in similar situations such as mine are always looking for some affirmation and encouragement - at least, I did.

I am now hoping to make a blogging comeback. The posts may be shorter, but they'll appear with some regularity.