In Defence of Rose Chasm (Michaela Cross)

A white woman from the University of Chicago recently published an account of her unfortunate encounters in India. She was sexually harassed and assaulted on several occasions. The story received widespread attention, and Rose Chasm had many sympathizers, but as all cases of sexual assault stories go, she also had to face severe negative backlash.

One might say that is to be expected, seeing as how sexual assault victims haven’t exactly had the kindest audience. However, what was surprising about the Rose Chasm case was that she faced severe backlash from women, who know perfectly well what it’s like to be at the receiving end of such abuse.

Let me start with this article written by Polly Hwang which says “People who generalize are evil”, thereby making… a generalization. In her article, she says:

Not to chastise Rose Chasm in anyway but she should not have been dancing in the Ganesha street festival known for its hordes of extremely drunk young men. She should not have stayed in cheap shady hostels in Goa which I’m sure had no positive online reviews. She should not be flipping fingers at locals and most importantly, she should have left after her first incident of sexual harassment, instead of staying for over 90 days and developing PTSD. I’m not victim shaming in any way, the pigs who tormented Rose Chasm take 100% of the blame. However as foreigners, it’s our responsibility to be aware of how to behave and live in the local culture.

That’s a whole bunch of “She should not have…” statements followed by a cautionary “I’m not victim shaming.” Did the definition of victim shaming change while I slept in a cryogenic chamber for about one thousand years? I don’t understand how telling someone what they shouldn’t have done, and including a clause about leaving a place after experiencing one instance of sexual assault so as to not “develop PTSD” is not textbook victim blaming. I live in India, I’m a victim of sexual assault and I’m quite sure I wouldn’t appreciate this “advice”. It is patronising, misleading, and misogynistic. There is nothing victims can do to “prevent” sexual assault. If Rose had stayed in a not-shady hotel instead of a “shady” one, there would be no telling if she would be safe. Out of the 244,270 reported sexual assault cases in 2012 in India, 98% pointed to trusted friends, family or acquaintances as the perpetrators of the crime. That’s a staggering statistic. So, what should Rose have done? Should she have never visited India? On one hand, Polly’s article makes the case against generalizing Indian men, and says:

By implying that every man she met in India is a pervert and by not giving any examples of good decent Indian men, she is indirectly stereotyping Indian men in a very harmful way.

And then she implies that Rose should not have stuck around. Great, then we could all gang up on her again and say she generalised from one bad experience and decided to not stay. It’s damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Should she have been clairvoyant and known she’d get PTSD? Also, why should anyone suffering from that wretched trauma-inducing medical nightmare have to go out of her way to make commendable statements about Indian men? It makes no sense. If I were suffering from PTSD, while writing about my experiences and battling my trigger-prone brain and depression, the last thing on my mind would be appending a statutory line about the goodness of the hearts of the scores of Indian men who really are nice people. It is not Rose’s responsibility to include a clause so as to not save all the men in my country from coming under bad light.

Polly wasn’t the only one. Here’s another such seemingly empathetic post from another woman called Dilshad Master. Dilshad says:

Getting out alone, on foot, would be equivalent to…well let’s say, you and your friends dancing at the Ganesh Chathurthi festival on the streets of Pune. What in the world were you thinking? Oh, hang on, you weren’t thinking.

Life pro-tip:  To express your sympathy/empathy for someone who was tortured in your home country, do not adopt a sarcastic tone that is condescending towards the victim.

She then goes on to say:

I’m not quite sure which “lovely hotel in Goa” you stayed in. Did anyone recommend it to you on Trip Advisor or perhaps your friends on Facebook? Did you actually go through the comments on either or did you click on reservation, letting price and availability be your only guide? You see, we wouldn’t do that In India, not anywhere in the world. And if we did (like I did in Chicago), then we’d do it fully aware of the consequences.

More condescension and perfect 20/20 hindsight introspection for a sexual assault victim. This poster really is asking if Rose took enough precautions, implying that if she didn’t, she should have and that it would have made her life easier.

Then there was another article published on the same iReport section of CNN as a response to Rose Chasm, written by “twoseat”. In it, she says:

I want to address the consequences that arise from writing that lends itself to careless generalizations. The problem that this article has is that it ends up blaming an entire population for the actions of some.

The problem that ^that article has is that the article it references, does not, in fact, blame an entire population for the actions of some. Rose Chasm never insinuated or stressed that Indian men are all horrible, raging beasts. She only recounted her painful experiences and yet, twoseat thinks it is Rose’s responsibility to “articulate both sides”.

And then there have been those countless posts that are quick to point out that sexual assault also happens in the USA. Just read the comments section on any of the aforementioned articles. How is it okay for people to think Rose Chasm was playing the blame game here? She did not intend to demonise India, so why are people asking her to reflect upon the problems within her own country? Does the fact that there’s sexual assault in the USA negate Indian problems? Does it make people feel any better to say, “Hey, we’re not the only ones who rape and plunder!”? I can’t think of any other reason than derailment.

Although all these articles were written in good faith, they are perfect examples of how good faith can pave the road to hell. A sexual assault victim should not have to listen to multivarious accounts of what she should or should not have done. She shouldn’t have to listen to “advice” masked as apologia. She shouldn’t have to be told that she wasn’t prepared “enough”. She shouldn’t have to be coerced into acknowledging all the kindness and beauty in the world when she is trying to recuperate from acute trauma.

In a lot of ways, articles from these women are reminiscent of some statements made by Indian “leaders” that essentially place the onus of safety onto victims. Statements that dissect every action of the victim in hindsight and provide no comfort except obligatory platitudes.

Candle-light marches, prayers, and aggression don’t mean anything if we aren’t willing to admit that India has a problem (which is also prevalent in the rest of the world, no doubt, but that’s hardly the point) which can only be solved by a conscious, collective effort not make the women more liable in “preventing” something that really isn’t in their control. This is a nation where one rape is reported every 20 minutes, and that’s not counting the unreported cases, and other forms of sexual assault.

Considering the fact that science has actually associated demure behaviour to be what most sexual assault perpetrators look for in a victim, we should question whether we’re putting women at significant risk by advocating modest clothing and submissive behaviour. We should acknowledge that by contributing to an already enormous narrative of teaching women to not “get raped” rather than teaching men (and in some cases, women) to not rape, we’re tip-toeing on a dangerously thin rope. We’re promoting rape culture that makes rapists feel at home, while making the victims feel guilty. We’re completely neglecting a victim’s state of mind while we chide her choices without understanding the “neurobiology of sexual assault” (here’s a transcript of that video) and how “secondary victimization” can further a person’s trauma.

We owe it to our sisters to educate ourselves about a persistent, ugly social evil and really empathize with their struggles.

TL;DR: Do not blame the victim. Be brilliant like these men in Bangalore who wore skirts in solidarity for women, thereby making a bold statement about clothing (or anything else) never being an “invitation” for sexual assault.

Dr.Narendra Dabholkar – A Tribute

Cross posted from nirmukta.com

Image Courtesy: antisuperstition.org

Image Courtesy: antisuperstition.org

Dr.Narendra Dabholkar, a well known rationalist and anti-superstition activist from Maharashtra was shot dead in Pune on 20th August 2013. He was the Founder of the Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti (Committee for Eradication of Superstition in Maharashtra). The Humanist community is shocked at this mindless violence. Narendra Dabholkar, a doctor by profession had dedicated his life to the cause of rationalism and humanism. He spearheaded several campaigns against superstitions and was involved in caste annihilation programmes. Narendra Dabholkar was campaigning to get an anti-superstition bill passed by the Maharashtra Government. A day after his death the Maharashtra state government cleared an Anti-Superstition and Black Magic Ordinance. The law seeks to make it punishable for self-styled godmen to prey on people by offering rituals, charms, magical cures and propagating black magic. He had made powerful enemies and had faced protests against his work.

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A Documentary on Durga Vahini

Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and its youth wing Bajrang Dal are Hindu extremist organizations which are usually at the forefront of spreading Hindutva by using violence and threats of it. They have been accused of forceful conversions, attacks against Christians, Muslims, intimidating people who celebrate Valentines Day and have been found guilty in a few instances like the 2008 attacks in Karnataka, and the conviction of Babu Bajrangi in the Naroda Patiya massacre case.

There’s a new documentary The World Before Her that takes a look at Durga Vahini, the women’s wing of VHP. Not many people outside of the Hindutva circles have had access to inner workings, so the documentary should prove to be an interesting watch. Nisha Pahuja, the maker, was interviewed here and at one point she says “You know, more than the physical training the girls at the Durga Vahini camp are given, it’s the brainwashing and the blood curdling chants they are taught that shocked and depressed me. On the bus ride they take en route to their parade, they learned a few phrases that I simply refused to include in the film. Those were the sorts of moments that were hugely trying for me and my crew as well”.

The documentary is available for order and will also premier on PBS on Sep 16. Apart from Durga Vahini, the documentary also looks at the fashion industry in India and draws a parallel as to how women are restricted into certain roles in the name of empowerment. Here are a few clips from the documentary:

The (Non-existent) Right to Die in India

What I’d like to do with this post is explore the current legal position on the right to die in India and a little bit about why the issue is so controversial (biased, of course, to reflect personal opinion). To start out, the right to die as an absolute is not provided for under the Indian legal system. The right to life under our constitution does not expressly include the right to die, nor has it been interpreted to include the right to die, although an attempt was made to do so at one point of time by the Supreme Court in this case – the judgement was thereafter overruled in Gian Kaur v. State of Punjab. The judgement in the former argued that “a person cannot be forced to enjoy right to life to his detriment, disadvantage or disliking”. In Gian Kaur, on the other hand, the Supreme Court ruled that suicide, as an unnatural termination of life was incompatible with the basic idea of the “right to life”. While the decision does contemplate the possibility of accelerating the death of a terminally ill patient, no substantial exception was carved out in the judgement to permit euthanasia under the Indian legal regime. Moreover, an attempt to commit suicide and abetment of such an attempt are both criminal acts under our penal code.

That being said, a little bit about euthanasia: euthanasia can be either active or

A euthanasia machine administers a lethal dose of drugs when a person answers "yes" to a series of questions on the lap-top screen. (Image links to source).

A euthanasia machine that administers a lethal dose of drugs when a person answers “yes” to a series of questions on a lap-top screen. (Image links to source).

passive, it can also be voluntary, involuntary or mandatory. Active euthanasia is when someone uses a lethal substance or active use of force to end the life of another or oneself. Passive euthanasia is where treatment is withheld from a terminally ill patient, thereby leading inevitably to the patient’s death. Voluntary euthanasia, as the name would suggest, involves euthanasia of a consenting person. Involuntary involves terminating the life of a person who is incapable of giving consent. Mandatory euthanasia involves termination of the life of a person who does not consent or whose consent has not been sought. Passive euthanasia is completely legal. I have the absolute right to refuse treatment for any medical condition and refuse to prolong my life if I so desire. Which takes us to the living wills question, but I’ll get to that in a bit.

While a substantial portion of the objections against euthanasia are based on religion, there are more secular arguments that find their way into the debate. One major argument is that of the slippery slope: Permitting voluntary and active euthanasia could easily lead us down the slippery slope of legalising involuntary and mandatory euthanasia as well. There are An oft cited example in support of this argument is Action T4- the euthanasia programme that was run in Nazi Germany under which those judged to be critically sick (this included mental and physical disabilities) were put to death in the eugenic hope of cleansing the citizenry (and future generations) of what were considered to be undesirable genetic flaws. Unfortunately for advocates of euthanasia today, this programme was based on ideas that slowly gathered momentum through the first half of the 20th century and eventually led down the slippery slope of mass killings under the head of euthanasia. There’s a paper dealing with this issue here for those who would like to read it. Indeed, these ideas of killing ‘useless eaters’ are not restricted to the last century but seem to have been retained in this century as well, with people being comfortable voicing (publicly in newspapers, no less) opinions that disabled children ought to be euthanised. The reality is that the slippery slope is a very real possibility. That not only holds true for places where euthanasia is legal, but with other countries as well – reports of deaths caused due to negligence of medical practitioners state that the negligence can be seen to be directly proportional to the extent of disability in the patient.

Another argument against euthanasia based on similar lines is the fact that most countries that permit voluntary active require a patient to be suffering from either a ‘terminal illness’ or an ‘incurable disability’ in addition to suffering unbearably and unrelievably for permitting active euthanasia. It has been argued that the inclusion of ‘incurable disability’ as a marker devalues the lives of people living with incurable disabilities by adjudging such lives as being “worthy of termination” and therefore, not worthy of being lived. This leads to the idea that disabilities and the lives of persons with disabilities are intrinsically undesirable, and less valuable than the lives of able bodied persons.The idea of promoting self-determination in cases of voluntary euthanasia due to severe disability has also been subject to substantial criticism, primarily from disability rights groups (further reading here). The social construct model of disability provides the explanation for this: that ableism (and the detrimental consequences of living in an overtly ableist world) is the primary reason for any disabled person to believe that life with disability is not worth living and therefore, determine that euthanasia is the solution. Further, since the legality of euthanasia (as seen in countries that permit it) is regulated to circumstances beyond the mere will of the persons seeking to terminate their lives, self determination is hardly an argument worth making: the regulations clearly indicate that other people ought not consider such a step, thereby imputing hat their lives are more “valuable”.

Moving on to the question of living wills: as mentioned earlier, every person has the right to refuse treatment of any kind. However, in the event of a person’s incapacity to communicate this to the medical care provider, there is no legal provision for a living will in India. Most states in the US, for instance, have a provision for living wills to be lodged with an online registry that keeps a database of these wills. Many people also appoint others to make their decisions for them in case of emergency. Medical practitioners are provided access to the living wills of their patients lodged in registries and are then legally bound to act in accordance with the patient’s express will. While a person is free to provide instructions for such an eventuality, the person will have to depend on the next of kin to uphold the patient’s wishes. Since there has been no authoritative legal source in India stating that living wills are binding, a living will may not actually work on its own. Ideally, the best way to ensure that your wishes are honoured is to let your next of kin and / or family know what you’d like done in such a situation, as long as you trust them enough to carry it out. When that isn’t possible, however, it may be possible to contract out the decision to a person you trust, an agency of sorts, and keep them as your emergency contact – though it’s still not certain to be enforceable, given the lack of legal clarity on the issue. While that’s far from being a comfortable solution, until lobbying pays off and a legislation is enacted on the subject, it’s the best we’ve got.

Controversy Over Prevention of Caste Atrocities and Equality Act in the UK (Part 3)

(Previous parts: Part 1, Part 2.)

Now to protect their own fair skin (which they are really proud of), the AHO are suggesting that the government and the members of House of Lords themselves are being racist. They are claiming,

In April of this year there was no AHO but after Lord Harries and his racist colleagues publically(sic) denigrated our Community, discriminating against us in the most despicable manner, the British Hindu Community turned its attention to this task and the AHO was born…

It wouldn’t be surprising to observe how they want to distract the UK media’s attention from the real issue at hand. By suggesting that the members of House of Lords who included Caste in the Equality act, as committing racism and continuing a colonial legacy, they wish to hide centuries old barbaric traditions. Such is their brazenness.

The current population of those of exterior caste descent is said to be somewhere between 50,000[i] to 400,000[ii]. While the population of Hindus in England and Wales is more than 800,000 according to the 2011 census. Most of the migrants coming from India who now have settled down in western countries are obviously from upper castes as their socio-economic privilege accumulated in India over generations could afford them such a living. They have accumulated wealth and created social capital of their own to be able to keep the exterior castes socially excluded. Harassment in school, employment, provision of goods and services, and even religious places still continues. They are a minority among minority. The atrocities are being conducted for last few decades and such law cannot be delayed any further considering that even children of exterior caste descent are bullied in UK schools.

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Controversy Over Prevention of Caste Atrocities and Equality Act in the UK (Part 2)

(Continued from Part 1. Link to Part 3.)

Now let us take a look at the newly formed ‘Alliance of Hindu Organisations’ (AHO). It was formed in April 2013, only when it seemed like the upper caste or savarnas will be facing the wrath of the law for continuing discrimination. The domain name of their website is, ironically, ‘my caste is hindu.org’. Can there be anything such as society made of only one caste? Caste as a division of labourers organized individuals in different groups and closed them through endogamy. Every caste was assigned different functions and occupations in village socio-economy. Every caste had to depend on the other. The AHO wants to hide this exact hideous reality that the UK Hindus are divided in many castes. Even the names of the groups which are part of AHO give away the fact that they are exclusive for certain castes. One simply can’t be a casteless Hindu. In urban India, when people introduce themselves to each other, they are curious to know the surname of a person. Just knowing the given name does not satisfy them. They want to figure out religion and caste through family name. Many times even by observing physical features, they assume caste  of a person. Fair skin is usually attached to being born in ‘pure’ upper caste, while having darker skin doesn’t hold any social status and is usually connected to being born in ‘unclean’ castes. It wouldn’t be surprising to find the migrants in UK following this tradition.

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Is Being a Hindu Nationalist Important for Women Too?

A national political party puts up “I am a Hindu nationalist” posters across the city of Mumbai. I see complacency in the privileged Hindu men and women.  The men are not ruffled as they benefit from patriarchy and the women conditioned to exist within the construct.

I ponder over what this emphasis on religion as the primary identity marker by political parties, yes parties as almost all of them make cynical use of religious issues, means for Indian women. Will it hinder the movement towards women being regarded as individual citizens by the state? Secular women and men want civil laws for marriage, inheritance, guardianship.

While the culturally Hindu women accept obscure rituals like “kanyadaan” in traditional marriage ceremonies as part of their religion, they should take a moment to reflect that despite opposition from orthodoxy, religious personal laws like women not having the right to choose who to marry had been abolished. In fact, until Section 6 regarding guardianship was repealed in 1978 by the Child Marriage Restraint (Amendment) Act, the Hindu Marriage Act 1955, persons entitled to consent included amongst others even the girl/woman’s ‘brother by full blood; the brother by half blood; etc.’. Laws are amended by progressive thought, but the insidious nature of culture is such that notions of family honour are linked to masculine identities and women still bear the burden of maintaining this. It’s not just the family and extended family that tries to control women, but the caste group to which they belong to from the Hindu community as well.  In northern parts of India, there are the barbaric diktats of the Khap panchayats and ‘honour killings’ and in southern Tamil Nadu, there are educated Hindu men lobbying against inter-caste marriages and this in the only Indian State that legally recognizes “self-respect” marriages.

Hindu nationalism is just patriarchy in disguise duping women to take pride in a culture that harms their interests.  We see it in its extreme form in militant hindutva organizations like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) that launched the Ayodhya temple agitation, and trains young persons in and for protecting Hindu culture. Its youth wing for women, the Durga Vahini (DV) (Durga – legend of a warrior goddess) founded by Sadhvi Rithambara, enrolls young girls from ages 15 to 35. The DV says it instills Hindu sanskaars in young women:

A peek into one of DV’s training sessions gives a glimpse of how teenagers are being taught that women are the weaker sex, education and a career are not important and they should be married by age 18. They’re being coached to fit into the Hindu patriarchal construct of a heterosexual family. The DV inculcates and promotes a regressive society wherein a young woman’s growth is stymied, she will be denied the opportunity and the right to think or choose her lifestyle, and be dependant on the men in her life.

As if that was not bad enough, it goes on to give them a false sense of empowerment of being battle-ready to take on irrelevant issues:

I watch with shock and anguish as a young trainee from the DV camp says she is willing to kill anyone for her religion.  She’s being brainwashed to hate, enrolled by her father, too young to realize that she’s being used as a foot soldier for religious fundamentalism.  She is a victim.

The dichotomy between Hindu women being expected to be docile and obedient within their families and the aggression of the right-wing women leaders and activists is exemplified in the political party Shiv Sena (SS). The Shiv Sena Mahila Aghadi, the women’s front was the cultural wing of the SS.  During the 1992-93 riots these women had actively encouraged men from their families to take part in the violence by castigating them for not being ‘man enough’, implying and reinforcing the stereotype that women are weak and cowardly. The personal gains that might accrue made the SS women insensitive to the ‘other’ women brutalized in riots. (References: Shiv Sena Women: Violence and Communalism in a Bombay Slum by Atreyee Sen, and Empowering Women? Feminist Responses to Hindutva by Elen Turner.)

Not only do the SS women not acknowledge the rights and choices of other women who want to be liberated, they go on to actively oppose and harass whom they see as ‘westernized women’. Women corporators of the Shiv Sena (SS) have been known to physically assault women political rivals in the civic house, BMC.

Why did these women become collaborators and perpetrators of misogyny? They had to learn to behave just like the SS men do, to fit in. They can go ‘thus far, and no further’.  These women have been co-opted into the very masculine Hindu nationalist fold that seeks to preserve the gender hierarchies and caste hierarchies inherent in Hindu patriarchy.  Violence against women from other religious communities and castes is brushed off as collateral damage.  When women of less dominant communities become targets just by belonging to the “other” and the state does very little to protect them, what choice do they have except to retreat within their own communities and bear the gender inequalities very much existent there too.