Cop meant good; Chill people…

In a laid-back southern state of India, a senior IPS officer and Excise Commissioner of Kerala Rishi Raj Singh recently became the butt of many jokes when he asked a gathering of girl students, “Are you aware of the legal protection women have in our country. If a man stares at a woman uncomfortably (meaning indecently or say in sexually suggestive manner) even for 14 seconds, he could be sent to jail. (This is a rough translation of what he spoke in the native language Malayalam.) woman safety

Mr. Singh was addressing a crowd at a women’s college in a state where staring at women and even teasing comments were traditionally considered compliments. Being noticed by young and desirable men meant you were attractive, maybe irresistible. No, I do not subscribe to this notion, nor would young girls of this generation.

But our poor cop became a butt of many online jokes following the statement. While men complained, many mockingly, that women would misuse the law and land them in jail if they had some old score to settle. Women too complained, some saying 14 second was too long a time to allow some lecher to check them out, compelling Mr. Singh to respond with a hilarious, “It is not the period of staring but the manner and intention that mattered”.

A trail of mocking trolls later Mr Singh even gave a full comment to a national daily: “The stare need not really linger for a full 14 seconds to make it an offence. It is an offence if it makes a woman uncomfortable even for a few seconds. Womenfolk should come forward to register complaints against such offenders,’’ he told The Hindu.

It all started of well-meaningly with the cop trying to educate girls about the legal protection guaranteed in Section 354 A, B, C and D of Indian Penal Code in the face of eve teasing or molestation in public spaces. Perverts are aplenty in the state, as in many other states in India; the menace of flashers around women’s colleges and ladies’ hostels is no secret.

Mr Singh was only saying that though there was now a strong law to protect women against voyeurism and stalking, no case has so far been booked for such offences. The reason, he said, was women largely being unaware that staring at a woman becomes an offence under IPC Section 354 D when the stare has an obvious sexual implication.

But with everything else in life, this legal protection for women could drive some harmless admirers or absent-minded habitual ‘starers’, not oglers, into tight spots.

Men, moderate your appreciation; women, make sure you are not branding innocent men, sentencing them to lifetime disgrace.

 

 

Rs 2,000 crores worth women safety? Wow! But how?

 

womanIndia’s Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has announced an additional Rs 1,000 crores to the Nirbhaya fund to create safe public spaces for women. The women safety fund now stands at Rs 2000 crore. Wow!

But how is all this money going to be spent? Who is to decide how the money is spent? The women and child development ministry is in charge of planning schemes to create safe spaces for women. And do we trust the ministry to come up with concrete programmes? Unfortunately, no, due to its poor credibility and failed past records.

The railway minister announced part of the fund will be used to install CCTV in trains so as to make long distance trains safer for women. But what use are they when goons cover their faces and drag women out of crowded vehicle, and gang rape them? Why not have armed police personal in women only compartments, let there be more ladies compartments. Why not distribute free pepper sprays and stun guns to women? Till such time, the men of our country accept women as equal stakeholders and admit equal rights, the country must protect its women, young and old, rich and poor, rural and urban. Period.

Last year, the government allotted Rs 150 crore for making Indian cities safer for women and Rs 50 crore for securing public transport. But still highway gang-rapes happen! We now have 36 Rape Crisis Centres in place. Good moves. But can there be better moves. Surely, unarguably, urgently, yes.

It is a good thing to have separate social security schemes for women worth Rs 79,258 crore. Appreciate it. But no woman can benefit from any welfare scheme when public spaces are playing fields of sexual predators. How safe can women feel when streets, public transport, parks, schools, workplaces, and their own neighbourhoods are increasingly turning unsafe?

It is comforting to know New Delhi is part of the Safe Cities Free of Violence against Women and Girls initiative by the UN Women. Why not copy it in all cities, towns and villages? Let us quickly prevent and respond to sexual harassment and all forms of sexual violence against women across diverse backdrops.indianwomen

We could learn from Egypt and adopt women’s safety audits to guide urban planning and from. Port Moresby and take steps to improve women’s safety in local markets. Why can’t we do all that and more?

In India, sexual harassment in public spaces remains a largely neglected issue, with few policies in place address it, or prevent it. To start with, we need to put young people at the heart of prevention efforts. India needs to develop a non-formal curriculum to end violence against women and girls. We also need to change norms and behaviour of men and boys on gender equality and women’s rights.

Why doesn’t India take international Orange Day seriously? Why don’t our celebrities join in to end violence against women? Why not observe 25th of every month as awareness day against violence against women? World over, Orange Day has garnered support as a high-profile initiative involving celebrities and sports stars to raise the profile of the issue. Why don’t Indian celebrities take up this opportunity real seriously, commit an advocacy initiative, and pledge to end violence against women?

Sometimes I wonder, is the government of India seriously clueless about the plight of women in the country? Or is it unconcerned?

The government must run back to back awareness campaigns to prevent violence against women in order to change attitudes and behaviours which tolerate and perpetuate gender inequality. Maybe, we should extend the clean India campaign to cover the filthy gender bias.

If you love love or hate love

For those who tried but could not buy my novella ‘Meantime Girl’ on Amazon for technical reasons, I have made it available on Smashwords for 99 cents. You can read 20% for free. Do check out.

Enjoy.

Here’s the link: https://www.smashwords.com/books/category/870

or try

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/610682

cover copy full

 

Go going GONE

Another gang-rape in India within a year, this time in Mumbai, unceremoniously interrupting another poor girl’s life, her dreams and hopes crushed.

Eight months after the brutal Delhi gang-rape, in a similar incident, a 22-year-old photojournalist, who was on an evening assignment was gang-raped by five men, and is now in hospital with multiple injuries. The girl was gang raped while her male colleague was tied up and beaten in an isolated, overgrown corner of India’s business hub.Image

Police have released sketches of the four men. Police said the men may have been local drug dealers.Image

It has taken me a few days to react. Firstly, I thought: How could people be so careless? Among them, the editor who assigned the job, the young girl who risked her life, the colleague who accompanied her, all of them living and working in Mumbai! How could they not see danger hidden in every corner of the city, a criminal round the corner, every corner around? Perhaps when you are in the thick of something, you don’t see what’s coming!

During, my recent visit to India, when I spent about a month in Mumbai itself, I saw in person, the dangerous lives ordinary people are left with.

Without exaggeration, during my stay at least four house break-ins took place in our colony itself, with dozens of other burglaries in the area.

There was a general sense of desperation and insecurity in the working class and business class alike. You have poverty and crime on your face. The private sector employees, in particular those in the service sector, who once used to accept tips gracefully, were seen aggressively demanding, some begging. It made me shudder at the prospect of returning to this city, country, a year later. I need to rethink, if things don’t change for the better, I guess.

India might be gearing for another election and politicians busy warming up to vote banks. The life of common man is rapidly degenerating and my country heading for a definite state of anarchy.

Something has to happen urgently, a revolution of sorts, cultural, social, political, economic…

India has been abused beyond repair, but antisocial elements, selfish pockets, like the two young girls whose lives have been sacrificed by our apathy.

Excerpt… ‘The Plunge’

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(Image for illustration purpose ONLY. Courtsey: Aashiqui -2)

“Here we are, thanks to your desperation,” he said, turning towards her for a reaction. It sounded like an accusation.

“You never wanted this to happen?” she asked, her large eyes wide open, chin quivering.

“Come on, you must agree that your desperation made us think up this crazy move.”

“Maybe, but…” she fell silent, and sank into an armchair placed near the window.

“What? Don’t you know how much I am risking?”

He began to pace the room.

“It would be a scandal. I can’t be seen moving around with a mystery woman in a place like Shimla, where neither my family nor work calls me.”

He continued a monologue she did not want to hear.

“Shall we talk about something pleasant?”

He looked at her and stopped pacing. He walked to her. She was still stuck in thoughts, and the chair.

“I am sorry, dear.” He tipped her chin to face him. Her stress melted away when his warm hand caressed her face and neck.

Anjali smiled at him and briefly held his hands together before getting up to move away. She stood gazing through the window. Did he mean what he said? Or did he regret it now?

He turned on the television and sat on the bed switching channels.

After a while, she walked to the bed and stretched out, hoping the pain in her lower back would subside. It had been a long journey. She closed her eyes.

She felt his hand on her shoulder. With her eyes still shut, she turned towards him.

Story behind the story, and some more

Some empathised with her, completely understood her choices, even the emotionally-drivens. Others found her foolish pursuit of love unbelievably appalling. That’s Anjali, whose love story makes my novel, ‘The Plunge’.Image

That baffled me, for I never anticipated such conflicting views from regular book lovers and professional reviewers alike.

Anjali, the protagonist of my story, is close to my heart, a character crafted out of real women, friends I have known closely and grown up with. Anjali is not exactly what one of my critics called, ‘incredibly foolish’ or ‘immature’, not the person. She is naïve in a certain subject, namely love. But lovers behave foolishly in real life too, without them being foolish, don’t they? That’s where my critics went wrong, failed to differentiate between the individual and the behaviour. One need not be stupid to behave stupidly in certain aspects of life, like matters of heart.

Siddharth, was convincing enough for everyone; strange! Did it mean men were indeed on earth for the sole purpose of procreating, when they were not fooling around with women’s emotions, pitifully hormone-driven? I don’t accept that idea. Men and women have equal rights to self-worth. But I did not write this story to promote that thought. I wrote to clear my mind of clutter, the self-talk accumulated over years that threatened to crystallise into toxic imprints; that I would have had to carry along and suffer through rebirths. I feel free now, liberated.

I hope to see a movie-adaptation of my novel someday, preferably in the Hollywood. The screenplay, location, historical mentions and characters could be effortlessly modified to fit the frames. I would want the story to remain unaltered.

Who should play the female lead? Ann Hathaway, of course (in the Les Miserables look), with Al Pacino as her lover (I know it sounds like a crazy pairing, but am convinced they would work up a striking chemistry) would do justice to my story. ImageImage

I am sure with a talented script writer like Eric Roth (Forrest Gump) and a bold woman director like Meera Nair (Kama Sutra), Anjali’s story would touch hearts, immensely.

I initially called my novel ‘The Scandal’, then changed it to ‘Sleepwalk’, then to ‘Stains of the Last Monsoon’, and kept changing many times in two years, finally settling for the simple ‘The Plunge’. Anjali’s involvement with Siddharth was a plunge into unknown depths of the ocean of life, therefore.

When my cover designer, Jennifer, came up with this face-down cover image, I liked it instantly, for it embodied Anjali in many ways. Never mind bookstores complaining that customers turned the book face-up (inadvertently inverting the title) each time they passed by the shelf that stacked ‘The Plunge’.

A journalist even published a story about my novel with the cover image flipped down. When I pointed out the error the next day, he blurted out, “Never thought a woman could be of any use when hung upside down!” I could not help laughing, ignoring the chauvinist undertone.