Monday, April 30, 2018

A Divided Nation and its Devastating Consequences

It is no secret that the Divide and Rule policy was favoured by every invader and imperialist to have held sway over the Indian subcontinent. But they did not have to create rivalries or even exert themselves to exacerbate the teeming tensions between factious groups at each other’s throats on account of a host of petty reasons, because the differences were always there. Since its birth, India has been bitterly divided and progressively weakened without ever feeling like a single country. Not surprisingly, nothing changed after independence. It was hoped that with the dawn of a new age, Indians would set aside their traditional differences and live together peaceably. But that was not to be, then or now.
 The landowning classes and ambitious capitalists simply picked up the reins handed over by the British and went right back to exploiting the masses to safeguard the bastions of privilege. We were back to square one and seem to have made absolutely no progress to this day. If recent events are any indication, things have taken a considerable turn for the worse. Ordinarily, a tragedy of epic proportions or the threat of powerful outsiders may be counted on to unite Indians for mutual protection. But this is the age of social media where everyone has been provided with a loudspeaker to vent venom and spew hatred in a torrential outpouring that has resulted in battle lines being drawn, endless skirmishes turning nasty and absolutely no quarter given. Even cataclysmic events and unmitigated disasters are more likely to see us rend and tear at opponents real and imaginary as opposed to bringing us closer together.
This harsh reality was apparent in the ugly aftermath of the tragic demise of an angelic eight – year old, Asifa Bano. Even the most cynical and world weary of us, wept when the details of her passing came to light. Surely we would all join hands and make sure that her death wasn’t in vain by bringing her killers to task and implementing procedures to ensure that nobody else would share her fate in this land? But it wasn’t to be. If the rage and hate fuelled frenzy that has gripped this accursed nation is anything to go by, we are all dirty politicians at heart who will use a child’s murder to further our own mostly pointless ends. Every side, and there are many, seems to be populated with extremists who have become canny operators, skilled in the use of rhetoric to bolster their arguments.
Whatever happened to civility and the need to find a common ground? In these troubled times it would behove us to remember that even if we are passionately devoted to the side we have cast our lot with and are inclined to view everyone who doesn’t agree with every miserable point we swear by, as the enemy, there is always potential for fruitful collaboration provided we are willing to reach out across the void as opposed to being hell-bent on shoving dissenters into it. Simply making the effort could be the difference between slowly rebuilding a fractured country or a doomed one.

This article originally appeared in The New Indian Express.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

On Writer's Rights in India

To commemorate World Book and Copyright Day, I was queried by Divya Kala Bhavani of The Hindu on contemporary copyright issues. Have reproduced our Q and A session below.

1. When you first started authoring/writing, did you have a good understanding of the contemporary copyright issues
This is not going to enhance my non - existent reputation for being a smart cookie, but the truth is as a writer and aspiring author I was so keen nay desperate to get published to ensure that all the effort, sweat, and blood expended didn't get flushed down the toilet, I tended not to look at the big picture. Which of course means that all the legalese went straight over my head. I chose to get lost in the euphoria of realizing the great dream of being a published author and merely skimmed over the particulars of the contract with the publisher, deeming it sufficient that the copyright of the work will remain with the proprietor (me!) and the publishers undertake that the name of said proprietor (aka doofus) shall appear on the title page and on the cover of every copy of the work published. Rather belatedly, I became aware that there are plenty of complicated legal issues to be taken into account when it comes to protecting your own work and making a semi - decent income that is less likely to make you want to kill yourself, while avoiding getting sued to within an inch of your life. 
2. What are some of your observances when it comes to copyright issues for writers in India? The challenges, the successes and turning points?
The objective of the copyright, universally, is to protect the rights of the creator and acknowledge their labor and intellectual contribution. In reality, however, unless you are an A - list author, and thanks to the fact that you have signed a contract giving the publisher the exclusive right to produce, print, publish, translate, market, distribute, and reproduce or license others to do the same, you realize to your horror, that you have in essence pimped out your baby. And for peanuts at that!
The good news is that publishing houses will vet the material for legally objectionable material and the author can derive a measure of solace from the fact that if there are any legal battles to be fought, on paper at least, team work can be counted upon. Moreover, publishers have decent distribution networks and the hope is you get to piggyback off the success of their big shot authors. They will even take a half - hearted stab at marketing your book if you harangue them enough with a daily email blast or go on a hunger strike outside their office. Self - published authors on the other hand have to take on the onus by themselves. The takeaway from all this heartrending drama is that painful experience has forced creative types consumed by the magic of words and caffeine to smarten up, if they don't fancy becoming the stereotype of the struggling, suicidal artiste and take care of themselves as well as their works, because nobody else is going to do it for them. 
3. What has being an author taught you about authors' rights?
Being an author, has taught me that my teachers were right. Making mistakes is part of the learning process, even if in the adult world, the price which you pay is a costly one that comes dangerously close to killing your spirit . The important thing though is to never give up, always stand up for your rights and believe in yourself, even if nobody else does. 
Creative people have a gift and it is tragic that despite being the backbone of glamorous, high paying institutions like film and television, writers don't get their due. Yet, the world needs dreamers, wordsmiths and those who can use the power of words to make the world a better place. Nobody can take this away from us, and if we persevere even as we perfect our craft, there is no limit to what can be achieved by those of us who have sworn allegiance to the mighty pen or MS Word. 

Be sure to check out her awesome article which includes quotes by yours truly right here.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

A Question of Marriage and Sexual Misconduct

In a bizarre turn of events, the Gujarat High Court ruled that marital rape is not a criminal offense under Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code. Apparently, a man is well within his rights to engage in this sort of criminal behaviour within the sanctified and societally approved confines of marriage. However, no doubt feeling the persistent pricking of a pernickety conscience, the High Court stressed that marital rape ought to be criminalized and suggested the victim initiate proceedings against her husband under Section 377 which frowns on sexual practises that are deemed unnatural including but not limited to demands for oral sex and consensual homosexuality.
            Rational citizens of this great nation may feel an uncontrollable urge to bang their heads against whatever hard object presents itself at this point, but unfortunately there is more draconian claptrap of the legal variety. Exception 2 of Section 375 states that a man may have sexual intercourse with his minor wife, provided she is not under 15 years of age and not be adjudged a cradle snatching rapist. Never mind that the IPC also states that a man is guilty of statutory rape if he engages in sexual acts with a girl, consent notwithstanding, if she is under the age of 18. Which of course means that the law in all its wisdom, extends its protection to minors only as long as they have not been hustled to the altar or chained with a mangalsutra. Now, the aforementioned citizens may feel free to tear out their hair and give up on democracy.
            The problem of course is the conundrum that is consent, complicated further by traditional beliefs, routinely enforced by society and pop culture, that it is a woman’s duty to sacrifice her own needs or calibrate it to suit her ‘better’ half’s will and his sexual desires. It is expected and deemed expedient that an ill used woman better suck it up, since there are usually kids, extended families and finances at stake.
 Much has changed in the last 50 years pertaining to what may socially and legally be considered as appropriate, acceptable sexual behaviour  but if the MeToo movement and the Aziz Ansari imbroglio are anything to go by, we are a long way from anything close to a consensus or a reasonable resolution to the gender wars. The only bright spot is that we are at least talking about things that were formerly taboo and brushed under the carpet where all ‘icky’ things supposedly belong. However, sexual misbehaviour and assault within marriage are still not part of public discourse.
            Nobody wants to bother with the boudoir brouhahas of friends and family though the reverse is true in the case of Bollywood stars and cricketers. As always, we’d rather be titillated or tickled pink but heaven forbid we take the trouble to get to the root of the terrors lurking within wedded bliss. Tackling unsavoury issues like safe sex, teenage pregnancy, and marital rape is not a pleasant proposition but it needs to be done to preserve Indian society and the values we all claim to give a crap about. 

This article originally appeared in The New Indian Express.

An Ugly Crime and its Uglier Aftermath

For the most part, we are a hedonistic, ridiculously materialistic lot who like our fancy cars, swanky apartments, Burberry bags (or is it a Fendi baguette?), Jimmy Choo shoes, overly embellished Sabyasachi saris, Victoria’s Secret underwear and getting massaged to within an inch of our lives at sumptuous spas (if that is the sacrifice one makes to be selfie – worthy then so be it) to bother about the less fortunate and their petty problems which let’s face it, is usually a buzz kill. Or we deride those with beaucoup bucks to burn and pity the shallow, empty lives they lead bloated to bursting with the fat of the land while secretly envying them, hoping and praying for the affliction that is affluence to give a hoot for those who are nowhere as fortunate or privileged and are getting themselves raped, killed, cheated, starved, misfortune – ridden or just dying in droves. How very thoughtless and annoying of the poverty – stricken, downtrodden, unfortunates!
Yet, even in the midst of the endless ennui and selfish self – indulgence there comes along with a little more frequency than we would like, the occasional case that is so heinous that even a slumbering conscience cannot find it in itself to hit snooze and return to its preferred somnambulant state. So we rise up in arms and agitate against the fat cats in power, those debauched douchebags, ever dithering over their dirty politics, who refuse to do the needful and serve up justice even when children are slaughtered, women are violated and the blood of the innocent flows in copious streams. But when the frenzy of outrage burns itself out over the course of a torrential outpouring of passionate feelings via strongly worded tweets, facebook posts and candlelit vigils, as it inevitably must, we return to the cosy cocoon of creature comforts, change and making the world a better place be damned!
Image courtesy of The Polis Project 

This moral torpor is the defining characteristic of the modern Indian and it is truly a shameful state of affairs. But even by our standards, we have reached a new low and plummeted to the very depths of all things vile, if the tragedy at Kathua which saw eight – year old Asifa lose her life in the most horrifying way imaginable, is anything to go by. It was bad enough that the child was abducted, drugged, violated, tortured and murdered by monsters who lacked even a shred of kindness or humanity, but what followed is every bit as depraved. In a land which believes in celebrating the differences of its diverse peoples if only to perpetuate them in order to divide and rule, we have witnessed yet again, the appalling hatred and prejudice on the basis of religion, race, caste, creed and the rest of the reasons we use as an excuse for detesting and despising our fellow Indians and treating them abominably. We have allowed our prejudices to fester to the point where compassion for a child and a rightful need to redress the wrong done to her has been eclipsed by an incessant preoccupation with squabbling over idiotic ideological notions. It is the disgrace to end all disgraces and when coupled with our crimes of omission and commission it is one that by rights ought to haunt us to our dying days.
These are dark days for India and Indians and if we are to emerge from this with our innate decency intact, it behoves us to make amends for all the countless victims over the years who need not have suffered so much or died in pain and so often in vain. For starters, irrespective of what defines our identity or which side of the belief brigade we belong to, we need to acknowledge that though hopelessly caught in the toils of divisive politics for ages, we must do our utmost to abolish and burn down the barriers that separate us whether it is caste, religion, language, class, colour beliefs or gender that have torn us apart or die trying.  This country belongs to all of us and loving it means loving each other or at the very least embracing the differences that make us so unique and India, a secular country as well as the world’s largest democracy.
Let us not blame the victims of rape or murder for their fate but do our utmost to ensure that the perpetrators are taken to task immediately if not sooner. In the same spirit, let us acknowledge once and for all, that it is not acceptable to name and shame the accused over the dreaded firing platforms that social media has become, for the simple reason that in a democracy, mob justice is not acceptable and everyone is innocent until proven guilty over the course of what is hopefully a fair trial. Doing otherwise, makes us no better than those purveyors of revenge porn who merit all the disdain there is in the world. If we have lost faith in our judiciary system we need to restore its integrity, by putting down bribery and corruption once and for all, instead of shaking our heads hopelessly and saying we have joined them only because our half – assed attempts to beat them has not paid off.
Accusing the ruling government of their colossal failure to make this country a safer place for women while stating the obvious is far from productive. We keep talking about raising awareness about the shortcomings of the head honcho and his bhakts but when it comes to taking honest to goodness action we are not even as effective as kids playing on handheld entertainment. Let us not lose sight of the fact that our disappointing leaders are where they are because we put them there on account of being too busy chasing the great Indian dream of working in MNCs and making money hand over fist hawking products that sell self – loathing and discontent to take a stab at serving our country and making it great. Of course, our parents forced this dream upon us, following the example of their parents and we, will shove it down the throats of our kids too instead of encouraging them to join the Indian armed or civil services that include administration, foreign service as well as law and order. Correct me, if I am wrong but being more service minded and asking how we can make a real difference is bound to be far more constructive than the constant bellyaching and calls for castration of rapists. The latter makes for an awesome revenge saga but the truth is, it is entirely barbaric and somewhat impractical because the majority of policy makers have man parts which they are inordinately attached to.
In addition to this, we need to vigorously review the changing dynamics of sex and sexuality in a brave new world that has witnessed the #MeToo movement. This means not pretending that intercourse occurs only within the sacred confines of marriage for the express purpose of procreation. It also requires making peace with the shocking truth that women and even minors have sexual desires and are not quite the ‘pure’ creatures everyone needs to believe they are. Besides it is an inconvenient truth but sex always has and always will defy the laws of logic, politics, cultural values and morals. And to navigate the minefield, bumping uglies has become, youngsters need to be taught how to express themselves in an empowered way as well as how to practise safe sex. And of course, sex education is not an endorsement of promiscuity and a Western plot to vanquish our culture and its values.
Since we are all aware that this is no country for children, it is high time we worked on implementing decent child care services to ensure that our youngsters are being raised in a safe and healthy environment. It wouldn’t hurt to make sure that every child, irrespective of his or her financial status must be provided access to quality education and equal opportunities to shine and realize their full potential.
Most importantly, let us not forget Asifa or use her death to drive home twisted agendas. Instead, let us hold her close to our hearts forever more and vow to never ever let our children become victims of our gross selfishness and negligence. Let us strive to make our country a place where everyone is treated fairly and with respect, where women our revered as Goddesses and whose children are taught the power of service and sacrifice. Let us be worthy of this great nation and of the memory of a beautiful soul snatched away too early, a bitter price exacted for our gravest sins.