Let Us Pray For Our Pyramid Scheme (An Incident in Coffee Day)

This incident happened about two months ago, at Coffee Day Square near UB City in Bangalore. I was there with two of my friends, and on the table next to us was a group which seemed to be having a business meeting. (This is quite common there; in fact every other table seemed to be a meeting-over-laptop affair.) Just a few minutes after we sat down, this happened: the other group linked hands around the table, and bowed their heads – as if in prayer. So I thought, okay, it must be a religious group. But that turned out not to be the case.

A photo of the Coffee Day Square, taken from the outside.

A photo of the Coffee Day Square, taken from the outside. It has a glass facade all around, and on top is a large sign saying “The Square” bracketed by the red Coffee Day logo on either side. (Image via burrp.com; links to source.)

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Have You Brought Your Disability? Here’s Your Double Standard.

I want you to picture this hypothetical scenario. Upon arriving at the destination, a woman is about to get out of the car. One of the lesser known persons waiting outside lends his hand offering to help which she politely refuses. A moment later as she’s almost done, he suddenly grabs her inappropriately under the shoulder and pulls her out, ignoring that she had declined and making her uncomfortable. What would you call this act? Disrespect? Harassment? Some may say groping, depending upon the nature of contact and gender dimensions involved. Most people, however, would surely agree it is unacceptable behaviour to touch another person like that without their consent. They would probably express their disagreement by openly questioning his action.

Now imagine the situation happening for real. Only this time, she was getting out of the car and transferring onto her wheelchair. The same incident took place but nobody in the scene showed any objection. Why would they when they don’t see it as problematic? When all of it was seen as natural or even ‘good’ conduct? No one confronted the man’s behaviour. Neither did I. All I could do later on was wishing the anger and frustration had hit me before the pain and humiliation. Yes, I’m that disabled woman.

And why pain? Because this isn’t the first time I’ve experienced lack of consideration for personal boundaries from others, nor mine an isolated or rare incident for a disabled person. Meeting someone with a visible disability it seems is a free golden ticket for many to break away from those darned social norms they otherwise have to follow as civil beings. Unwarranted pats, strangers inquiring about my impairment before even asking my name, women I meet for the first time wanting to examine my hands or legs.. all that had become so routine that until the age of 19 I didn’t recognize the oppression of it and used to feel guilty when at times I refused participation. Like somehow I owed it to them. Had the above mentioned incident happened to a non-disabled woman, the conversation would have immediately (and rightfully) been on indecency, violation of consent, unsafe environments, and every other argument that points in the direction of disrespecting autonomy and infringement of bodily integrity. But add disability to the equation and the very same reasoning gets replaced with muddled excuses or efforts to frame it as an overreaction to a not-so-serious issue. I can almost hear it.

“But he was just trying to help you.”
“I think it was made clear I didn’t need it. Besides if you really want to help someone, isn’t following their reaction the right way to do it?”

“I’m sure his intentions weren’t bad.”
“Maybe not. But intentions aren’t always necessary for something to be inappropriate. I could attempt to insult a man by calling him a pussy and it would still be sexist even if engaging in sexism wasn’t the plan on my mind.”

“Ok so you’re disabled and now you’re saying you shouldn’t be assisted? Isn’t that being arrogant?”
“I didn’t say I wouldn’t ever want any help. I’m just saying I didn’t require it in this particular case. What he did was the opposite, it was hurt. Please understand the difference.”

“Fine, I get that it must have been bad for you. Now just let it go. Why are we even talking about this?”
I don’t know, maybe because for a brief moment I had the delusion I was equally human…


Let’s have a look at this in the larger social context. Study after study show that women with disabilities are twice as likely to experience domestic violence and other forms of gender-based and sexual violence than non-disabled women, are likely to experience abuse over a longer period of time and to suffer more severe injuries as a result of the violence. Similar but more often than non-disabled women, their abuser is someone close to them. It could be their guardian, spouce, relative or caregiver. [Quoting one of the links] “Frequently they do not report the violence. Institutions of the justice system are often physically inaccessible and do not provide reasonable accommodation, they often lack access to legal protection and representation, law enforcement officials and the legal community are ill-equipped to address the violence, their testimony is often not viewed as credible by the justice system and they are not privy to the same information available to non-disabled women.”

Yet response to this obvious reality remains quite minimal. The mainstream media and larger public while becoming increasingly conscious and giving more visibility to awareness generation regarding gender issues, are yet to turn proper attention towards those affecting disabled women. What are the reasons they face such discrimination? According to the same study, “women and girls with disabilities are at high risk of gender-based and other forms of violence based on social stereotypes and biases that attempt to dehumanize or infantilize them, exclude or isolate them, target them for sexual and other forms of violence, and put them at greater risk of institutionalized violence.”

And how do we know that? From countless experiences like the one above.



Related Links:

1. https://freethoughtblogs.com/brutereason/2013/06/25/touching-people-without-their-consent-still-a-problem-even-if-its-not-sexual/

2. http://kractivist.wordpress.com/2013/03/16/india-not-a-safe-issue-disabled-women-and-sexual-violence-vaw-disability/

3. http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/the-disabilities-bill-is-a-mixed-bag/article3927212.ece



The Peculiar State-sponsored Legend of the Tanot Mata Temple

In late March this year, my friend and I travelled to Rajasthan, a western Indian state. Our destination was the India-Pakistan border near Jaisalmer, a small town at the edges of the Thar Desert. Somewhere less than a hundered kilometers from the border, we stopped at a temple. Although I’m not religious, I’m not averse to visiting temples for I believe there is much to be learned about history, art and human behaviour at religious places. This trip was also unavoidable since our car driver insisted that we visit, for it had an interesting story to be told. But first, a little history.

India and Pakistan have been regional rivals since their birth. Both nations have fought three major wars and have had several smaller standoffs and armed conflicts. The war between the two nations in 1971 was the largest in terms of scale and impact. One battle, a part of this war, took place in Longewala. During this battle, the areas around this temple were bombed by Pakistan, for Indian armed forces had been stationed in this general area.

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Privilege, Helplessness, and Choice

In India, labour is cheap. A middle-class family like mine can afford domestic workers. Laxmi (name changed) has been coming home for over three years now, every day. She scrubs the floor, does the dishes and the laundry. She sometimes cleans the bathrooms, and tends the plants.

Laxmi is old and poor. She sits on the floor with some porridge my mother prepares for her every day, and tells her in broken Tamil, stories of how her drunk husband abuses her – the details of said abuse hidden in her descriptions but not in her scars. Of how her son is a “leech” and never contributes toward the family income or chores. Of how distraught she is because her oldest daughter married for love.

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Terrific Icelandic Film on Sexual Consent (plus interview with filmmakers)

Fáðu Já! (“Get Yes!”) is a fantastic educational film from Iceland on sexual consent.


The film is 20 minutes long. (Update: have updated the image below to point to the landing page instead of directly to the video.) You can find versions in other languages as well. And after you watch, come back to read a short email interview I did with Þórdís Elva Þorvaldsdóttir, one of the filmmakers.

Young man and young woman sitting awkwardly on a bed, partially undressed.

A scene from the film (image used with permission). The image shows a young man and a young woman sitting awkwardly on a bed, partially undressed.

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The Merit Delusion

with inputs from Sunil.

Reservations (affirmative action) are a highly contentious issue in India but mostly for all the wrong reasons. One of those is an argument that reservations dilute merit. Consider this “joke” that was email forward fodder years ago and is now doing the rounds in social networks. It is good example of how badly caste issues are understood even amongst atheists who consider themselves as better informed than the average Indian:

I think we should have job reservations in all the fields. I completely support the PM and all the politicians for promoting this. Let’s start the reservation with our cricket team. We should have 10 percent reservation for Muslims. 30 percent for OBC, SC /ST like that. Cricket rules should be modified accordingly. The boundary circle should be reduced for an SC/ST player. The four hit by an OBC player should be considered as a six and a six hit by an OBC player should be counted as 8 runs. An OBC player scoring 60 runs should be declared as a century. We should influence ICC and make rules so that the pace bowlers like Shoaib Akhtar should not bowl fast balls to our OBC player. Bowlers should bowl maximum speed of 80 kilometer per hour to an OBC player. Any delivery above this speed should be made illegal.

Also we should have reservation in Olympics. In the 100 meters race, an OBC player should be given a gold medal if he runs 80 meters.

There can be reservation in Government jobs also. Let’s recruit SC/ST and OBC pilots for aircrafts which are carrying the ministers and politicians (that can really help the country.. )

Ensure that only SC/ST and OBC doctors do the operations for the ministers and other politicians. (Another way of saving the country..)

Let’s be creative and think of ways and means to guide INDIA forward…

Let’s show the world that INDIA is a GREAT country. Let’s be proud of being an INDIAN..

May the good breed of politicians like ARJUN SINGH long live…

Medal For Merits. Source - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Medal_%C2%ABFor_merits%C2%BB_%28Rosregistratsija%29.jpg

Medal For Merits. Image in public domain; via Wikimedia Commons (links to source).

That is just one amongst the myriad jokes about the lower castes that are popular among the upper castes.

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Memories of Street Harassment as a Boy

In the Nirmukta Facebook group last month, there was a discussion thread on street harassment during which one commenter, a woman, asked the following question:

I was wondering. Do you all think average Indian males understand what street harassment feels like? If not, I would like to explore this through my writing. My understanding is that men relate to bullying and ragging and understand the horror of it. I want to show that walking on an Indian street as a woman is like being surrounded by bullies every day, all of your life. I also don’t think men know how pervasive it is. In my experience, it starts when you are about 10 years old and doesn’t stop until you are about 55. I would write something that portrays a fictional world where men are constantly bullied.

"Young Boy in Profile" (1886) - a painting by Marie Kroyer

“Young Boy in Profile” (1886) – a portrait by Marie Kroyer. Image in public domain; via Wikimedia Commons (links to source).

We really can’t understand what it feels like. The social systems, identities and power relations being what they are, and given the frequency and severity of street harassment of women by men, men just cannot understand what it feels like. Thought experiments of a fictional world of constant bullying could make some impact I guess. Anyway, that question made me remember my own experiences growing up. I have some history of being street harassed by other men, and that’s what this post is about. My objective in writing it is to show what a toxic mess the man box is (more on that at the end).

I have a small build and am light-skinned. When I was a young boy, I had what is derogatorily called a “pretty boy” look. And I used to get street harassed by other boys, and grown men (they were were all male – each and every one). The street harassment consisted of staring/leering, passing comments, making kissing noises, pointing-and-laughing, etc. I think the purpose was to mock and “mess” with me, show dominance, goad me into a fight (which I would lose). Here are some instances and things I remember:

Going to play tennis, I’m in an auto-rickshaw, wearing shorts. At the signal some college-aged men lean out of the bus right next to me, and start saying (stuff).

Playing badminton/tennis, again in shorts, passer by stops to watch and starts saying (stuff), trying to provoke me into a reaction.

Walking back home from my bus stop, or walking to the market, alternating my routes so as to avoid harassers.

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