When Not to Defend

I’ve recently found myself defending a set of ideologies that don’t need defense; for instance, Feminism or Socialism. The critiques leveled against these ideologies are a classic case of incomplete understanding of labels. Of course, no individual who claims to care about the world will oppose the core values that drive these solidly powerful movements- equality, freedom and dignity for all. But all hell breaks loose when you give it a label. The moment you do so; the “failures” of these movements come to define them. You might give me many reasons as to why this is so, but I say it’s just this- privilege and ignorance.

I’ve found myself in situations of late where me being feminist is assumed to mean more than it does. Somehow, when I proudly proclaim myself to be feminist; I am not just a believer in social justice but I am also automatically attributed a set of personality traits. I am intolerant, I am not humorous, I am head strong and I always want to be right. Scores of feminists have screamed their throats dry by telling the world that defaming feminism is a direct consequence of Patriarchy and that Feminism is actually about tolerance and love and yes, the right amount of directional anger; but never about hate or intolerance.

The challenge for feminism is always to defend itself. To constantly reiterate “Hey look, you’ve got this wrong; we actually are NOT intolerant. We actually just want people to live with dignity”. But some conversations, take us a step back. I have found myself in situations where I have said, “yes your criticism is warranted but ….” just so that I have a common language to express myself. This automatically puts my glorious movement to shame. This automatically puts all that scores of women across history have achieved to shame.

Here’s the truth I am learning: it’s fine to search for a common ground to talk about ideologies that preach equality but are misunderstood. It’s also important to acknowledge criticism. However, to truly capture what movements stand for; I have to begin my defense by not defending at all. I have to begin my defense by celebrating it.

Tell them that the women’s right to vote is because of the feminist movement. Tell them that the reason I can step out of my house at night is because of the feminist movement. Tell them the reason we have laws against sexual assault is because of the feminist movement. Tell them that workers’ rights exist because of the socialist movement. Tell them that the reason I put myself first in a relationship is because of feminism. Tell them that it’s what saved you when nothing else could. Then ask them if they still think the movement is irrelevant. Their critique will then be one that is actually worthy of paying attention to and introspecting on.

We begin these conversations by searching for a common language. Let’s just admit once and for all that social justice movements have a different vocabulary altogether. One that isn’t hard to understand; but just different. That’s what ensured their successes in the first place. We’ve been on the back foot for far too long. Let’s reclaim these conversations on the offensive.

Advertisements

Five Things You Need to Know About the Police if You Are a Woman in India

Contrary to popular belief, the police in India is not meant to supress but to serve citizens. It may often seem that Police powers and processes are arbitrary. However, this is not true. Police Personnel are meant to follow strict guidelines and processes to not just prevent excesses but also to ensure better policing. Every step of the criminal justice system in India is governed by strict procedural guidelines meant to safeguard the human rights of citizens. One rationale behind setting these guidelines is to ensure equitable and safe access to free and fair policing to citizens who are historically discriminated against. In this regard, policing in India follows special protocols when it comes to women. Be it a victim of a crime who is a woman or a woman accused of a crime; there are special protocols that police personnel must adhere to.

Knowledge of these protocols is key to demanding better policing, entitlements and rights for women as well as for people of all other genders. This knowledge is critical because women continue to face hurdles in reporting of sexual violence and fair custodial treatment. In context of this, here are the five things that you need to know about your entitlements viz. a viz. the police if you are a woman in India.

  1. I have to report a crime. Where should I go?

You need to file a First Information Report (FIR). A FIR is a detailed record of the crime committed and can be filed by the victim, a witness or any other person with knowledge of the crime (with the consent of the victim). A FIR will initiate investigation of the crime. It can be filed in any police station after which, it will be forwarded to the police station of the area where the crime was committed. The police cannot deny filing an FIR citing jurisdictional issues. The police can also not deny filing an FIR for cognizable offences. If they do, you can get your complaint registered by a higher authority (SP, DCP or magistrate). A woman need not be physically present to file an FIR. She can call or e-mail to register an FIR. If a woman is disabled (either temporarily or permanently) the police need to go to her place of residence to file an FIR. If a woman wishes to report a rape, the police again need to go to her place of residence. For sexual violence cases, the FIR needs to be registered by a woman police officer. The police is mandated to read your FIR back to you after which you can suggest further edits and give you a copy within 24 hours. This copy will contain an FIR number which can be used for all future follow-ups. In addition to this, different states have different guidelines for reporting of sexual crimes intended to make reporting easier which we should be aware of. For example, the Delhi Standard Operating Procedure mandates that investigation of sexual violence cases can only be conducted by Women officers.

  1. In case of a sexual violence crime, what medical aid am I entitled to?

Hospitals are mandated to provide free medical aid to victims of rape. The police are mandated to provide medical referrals upon receiving rape cases. At the station, all visible injury marks on the survivor are noted and recorded by a female police officer. Following this, a female doctor (or male doctor in the presence of a female attendant) conducts a medical examination in the hospital. No third person is allowed in the room during this examination. The patient must get a detailed explanation of what the examination comprises of and how various procedures will be carried out. A medical examination can only be conducted after seeking the informed consent of the victim (if above 12 years of age) in writing and must be non-invasive. The medical examination must be comprehensive and should check for STIs, injuries as well as provide counselling.

  1. What if I am summoned to a police station for interrogation? Do I have to go?

No, unless you are being arrested for a crime you need not go to the police station. However, for women and children, if the police wish to interrogate you regarding a crime, they can only do so in their homes. In cases were a woman witness is being interrogated or a woman accused is being arrested and interrogated, it is mandated upon the police that a woman police personnel be present during the arrest and/or interrogation.

  1. Can a police officer enter my home unasked?

No, in cases where the police are conducting investigations, they can only enter your house with your permission. If they believe they need to search the house because of criminal suspicion, they can do so after obtaining a search warrant from the magistrate. However, in cases of urgency they can enter without a warrant. Even so, searches in private homes need to be conducted in the presence of the owner and at least two local independent witnesses. If there are purdah women in the house, a woman officer must be part of the search party.

  1. Are there special rules for women in custody?

Yes. No woman can be arrested between sunset and sunrise unless for very special reasons. For this, special permission needs to be taken from the magistrate. A woman police personnel should be present during the arrest and interrogation. The woman accused has to be kept in a separate lock-up for woman at the police station. Any examination, body search etc. has to be done by a woman police officer or doctor. If a woman in custody complains of rape, it will be accepted unless the police officer can show that it didn’t happen.

Why Do We Seek Labels?

While it may not be a literary gem, I absolutely love this. So many times, I feel restricted by ‘what I am’ that I forget ‘who I am’.

10 Cities/10 Years

It’s almost a daily occurrence now. On Facebook or Twitter, in an article or mind-numbing listicle, someone is discussing the traits, burdens and/or pleasures of being an introvert. Based on the unscientific sampling of my personal feed, 90% of the narcissistic self-promoters in the world are actually meek and shy introverts.

When us loners aren’t breathlessly talking about how weird it is that we prefer books to people (haha, I’m soooo crazy!), we’re posting the results of a Briggs Myers personality test (or some generic knockoff).

“I’m totally an INFP.”

“Well, I’m an ENFJ.”

“Oh, I could definitely see that. I guess that’s because I’m an ENTP.”

“I kind of figured all of you were CUNTs.”

And when we get bored with scientific classifications that mostly mean nothing, we fall back on the original sugar pill of personality labels: The Zodiac.

What’s Your Sign?

How is it that a…

View original post 876 more words

Whatever Happened to ‘Sisterhood’?

2014 has been a great year for feminism in advancing discourses about the movement. One the major rallying cries was that of the #HeForShe campaign inviting men to join the movement and make gender inequality an issue for all genders. This has been a cause for marked advancement for inclusivity and solidarity in the movement and everyone should welcome it.

However, while we are advancing thinking for the movement, I don’t know why we are blind to all the in-fighting between all the stakeholders of the movement.  Women in power often do not shed their internal sexism and cling to it, not encouraging intergenerational feminism. Competitiveness among women continues to whither self-confidence.

I think it’s genuinely important that we hold each other up. As people who believe in each other and in the power for women to affect social change. In between advancing discourses, shouldn’t we go back and reaffirm one of the core practices of Feminism- Sisterhood. It can still be powerful. It is.

I think we take a million steps back every time we compete with other women to be the more powerful one or to be the more desirable one. I think we all need to stop and just hold each other up. Feminism is probably the only movement for social justice that is essentially about love. Let’s not forget that this year.

Busy Doing a Whole Lot of Nothing

Apolitical.

I hate everything about that word. From its shape as it sits there on the white paper, to how it rolls off my tongue in casual disdain and how nauseously ignorant it sounds as I say it. If there is anything that irks me more than conscious bigotry, it is complete willful ignorance of everything that is wrong with the world. It makes me want to shake people. Rattle them into really seeing and more importantly – acting. Dismissal and inaction make for comfortable bedfellows which sooner or later will conceive discrimination.

Privilege.

Another word I mostly hate but sometimes guiltily love. Privilege makes my life easier. But I always knew it gave me a sense of purpose. In my head, I knew I would always have it but I needed to earn it. I lived by Alice Walker, telling myself that ‘Activism is the rent I pay for living on this planet’. In my head, I had two rules to live my life. I needed to stay as far away from being apolitical and ignorant as possible and I needed to always be in perpetual action against injustice because I could. I pretty much threw myself into three years of activism and tireless work of some sort or another. In my head, I was making movements move; I was part of the whole system of taking baby steps towards achieving social justice and creating ripples of rebellion. I was always on the move. I was always working. Inaction is bad right? I didn’t want to be apathetic. (Do you like me yet, dear reader?)

Excellent rules to live by, right? Immensely self-righteous and selfless, right? Um, no.

Here it is- Feminism 101: Self love, everyday rebellion and recognizing tyranny will make movements move. Not a misplaced sense of guilt or reciprocity.

Whoops. Why didn’t anyone tell me this before? Well, now I know. Goodbye job, goodbye institutional education (for now!) and goodbye to the most unrecognizable form of tyranny- the tyranny of productivity.

The tyranny of productivity. What a wonderful phrase. So wonderful that it deserves its own honored acronym. ‘TOP’. I invented it. You can quote me on that.

You know what I’m finding out now that I’m free from the TOP? That being busy doing nothing is a political act. I don’t mean that in a turn-your-face-away-when-you-see-unfair-things-happening sort of way. I mean that taking time off to travel, write, explore and laze is an inherently feminist act. Not only am I more aware of my own head and heart, I’m learning and unlearning. I’m experiencing people, places and ideas not with a tired mind but with a fresh heart. It’s like going to your favorite library and suddenly the librarian says, “You will find the Harry Potter books upstairs” and you exclaim, “ There is an ‘upstairs’ ?! I never knew!”

Injecting politics into recreation is a wonderful happy thing to do. So take that year off, or the weekend off, or leave early from work sometimes. You will change the world only by making yourself happy.

A Pro-Choice Society: What does agency really mean?

“If feminism is a movement to end sexist oppression, and depriving females of reproductive rights is a form of sexist oppression, then one cannot be anti-choice and be feminist. A woman can insist she would never choose to have an abortion while affirming her support of the right of women to choose and still be an advocate of feminist politics. She cannot be anti-abortion and an advocate of feminism.” – Bell Hooks, Feminism Is For Everybody

My introduction to Feminist literature happened with reading Bell Hooks and Gloria Steinem. I was hooked and in for a life-time of passionate politics. I have lived and worked with these politics and understood that there is no feminism which does not affirm reproductive rights. I have worked with women and young girls who have had these rights violated, and yet they have struggled against all odds, against all evidence that history does not seem to provide, to rise. But I have also met people, who have been broken as a result of botched abortions, blame, poverty and intimate partner violence.

Feminists world over are fighting for stronger legislations, removal of legal and financial barriers to safe abortions. This is a fight that has a long road ahead. Part of which, I have come to realize is to truly build pro-choice societies. This goes beyond what only legislation can ever possibly offer. If an eighteen year old girl still cannot access safe abortion despite seemingly progressive laws, quakes with fear to tell her partner and has no choice but to go through this alone, there is no meaning left in her personally being pro-choice.

Having spent a good part of my time thinking and musing about this in the past months, I have this to say- being pro-choice is not just about placing the agency of choice on women. It is about ENABLING choice. A choice is truly a choice when it stops being a major life stressor.

I firmly and truly believe that a choice can be enabled through building a pro-choice society, where agency is encouraged at every level. It begins with relationships that ALLOW authentic communication, exploring and talking through the decision, building trust, support and empathy. Your marital status or age does not make your choice obvious. A partner who recognizes this is pro-choice. Enabling agency means having access to all information, choices and knowledge systems to do with making the choice and living with it. It includes having access to a support system which is not just designed to look at financing (if the woman wishes) but looking at very real concerns of mental health and coping practices. It begins with trained and sensitive service providers who are non-judgmental and believe in privacy and quality care regardless of who you are. It begins with families, friends and relationships understanding that the personal is always political. It begins with comprehensive sexuality education.

It is only then that we can truly say that we are building agency in women. Laws take us only so far. But if we look closely at the dynamics of a botched relationship or in the series of unfolding events on a doctor’s table, it is safe to say that even if abortion manages to be a physically safe experience for you, mentally it will still be a rollercoaster. To build an enabling society that is truly pro-choice, you need to be feminist. Feminist in how you treat your partner, how you communicate, feminist in how you provide care, feminist in support systems you build. Passionate politics is the key.

 

 

The Evils of the Pet Breeding Industry

Image

Breeding, marketing and sale of dogs has become a high-level commercial venture in India, involving thousands of breeders and pet shops in a multi-crore industry that is essentially creates demand and follows it up with supply. If you are an unquestioning believer in neo-liberal economics and the unyielding power of the market, I would urge you to navigate away from this page and not to read on. However, if you believe that demand is created and sustained by institutions of power which can essentially be questioned, let’s talk about why exactly it should be questioned.

The pet breeding industry is huge. The pet breeding industry is evil. It works on creating demand through mass media about animals that look and behave a certain way, and a certain way only. These animals are portrayed as the only desirable and as commodities. People believe them. People buy them. Breeders are happy. Breeders are becoming rich.

Okay, so what’s the problem?

Think of the feminist fight against the impossible standards set by the mass media which create perfect market conditions for the sale of fairness creams, vaginal tightening creams and vaginal fairness creams. What’s the problem here? Hell, how it makes us feel is the problem.  How it perpetuates a culture of impossible standards. How consumerism leads the way for more structural violence and discrimination. Only fair brides are wanted. You must not be fat to bed considered sexy. You must diet. You must kill yourself. You must face violence of all these sorts.

I genuinely believe the absolutely ridiculous standards of appearance prevalent today extend to everything we consume as well.  Perfect packaging. Perfect clothes. Perfect phones. It makes me mad! But I can live with that. Pretty boxes, clothes and gadgets are not living-thinking- feeling beings. But your pets are. You are buying them as commodities. You’re killing them. Just as you’re inflicting violence on women when you use a vaginal tightening cream, you’re inflicting violence on them. But the difference is, they can’t speak up for themselves.

Ever wondered why all Labradors look similar? The same uniform color of off-white or black? No spots, no accidents of differently colored ears or paws? Variation is a rule of nature. Variation happens all the time. Variation however, is not desirable. Variations don’t sell. Hence, variations are killed. It is absolutely impossible that all Lhasa Apsos, all boxers, all pugs have similar characteristics.

The cute little flat face of a bull-dog which you love? It isn’t natural. It is carefully constructed through selective breeding. But, flat-nosed dogs have respiratory problems and die out because their respiratory tracts are shorter than they should be. They suffer on long winter nights because you wanted the perfect little accessory. Tails are cut off. Faces altered. Undesirable animals killed or abandoned. Because they don’t look the way you want them to.

As if this wasn’t enough, the new tea-cup phenomenon is raging. Want dogs the size of tea cups? Well here they are. They look cute. They don’t live long. But it’s alright, accessories are meant to be changed as trends come and go.

 Image

 Think about what you’re buying. If you have a genuine love for your pet and animals, REFUSE to buy from a breeder. Kill the demand. Kill the supply. An Indian dog off the streets is just as smart as your perfect looking pug. But they’re lying out in the cold or dying out in shelters. Don’t shop. Adopt

.Image