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2011 April 30 [Saturday]

Internet free speech meme-"Casteism can get you jailed but Sexism and Ageism are acceptable in Indian politics"

I avoid meme's but had to rethink my stance after the Information Technology Rules, 2011, (aka the Electronic Service Delivery) Act was quietly implemented last month. This Act states that any content that is "threatening to the unity, integrity, defense, security or sovereignty of India, friendly relations with foreign states or public order, including any content on the web that is blasphemous, scandalous, defames, or can be considered obscene", eligible for immediate removal by the hosting provider upon order from the Department of Information and Technology. Now, that was the long-winded legalese which is so darn vague but here is the short version: "you cannot criticize politicians publicly, ever."

Such draconian censorship rules have no place in a democracy that values free-speech and this calls for a  free speech meme -- I'm reproducing content (with author credits) from other websites which criticizes politicians on my blog, making it harder for DIT/gov.in to implement censorship successfully. For starters, Antara Sen criticizing the Communists for encouraging Sexism and Ageism in Indian politics.

By Antara Dev Sen , Created 30 Apr 2011 - 00:00

Which is worse — calling one of our finest politicians and a respected elder statesman a mummified corpse, a dead man who has no business opening his mouth? Or saying that the spirited woman leader and challenger to the Communist throne of Bengal ignores funds from Bengaluru to get money from the United States, much like bazaar women forget smaller clients when they get bigger patrons? Going by the collective shock and horror, the latter comment wins hands down.

What? He called her a prostitute? Do they stop at nothing? Veteran Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) leader and member of Parliament Anil Basu was promptly pilloried by all concerned, including his own party members. West Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee apologised publicly, censured Mr Basu and pulled him out of campaigning. What he had said was uncivilised and unbecoming of a Communist, lamented the mortified chief minister. It was unpardonable.

True. Mr Basu had used shocking language and imagery, suggesting (thanks to the blinding hatred for the US that Communists have) that the US was Mamata Banerjee’s “bhaataar” (slang for a woman’s keeper) now, so she didn’t have to look at smaller homegrown patrons in Bengaluru, Chennai or Andhra Pradesh. Like the women of Sonagachhi (Kolkata’s red light district), she had dumped smaller babus for bigger ones.

Now, I hate to break this to our slanderous comrade and gentlefolk horrified by the insult, but moving from smaller to bigger clients is not the business strategy of prostitutes alone. It’s common sense. It happens in all professional and business dealings, in all societies and in all times. So Mr Basu’s sex-worker imagery was not about the logic of fund-raising — it was about using degrading stereotypes to insult a woman.

This jibe shows how regressively patriarchal even our Communist bastion is. Sex workers can be invoked as an insult in a state that came to power professing to fight for workers’ rights and dignity of labour and clung to power for more than three decades with the muscle provided by lowly workers of all kinds. Could the comrade have made similar derogatory allusions to low-caste tanners or to Doms who burn corpses? Perhaps not. But chastity is such a deep need of Indian patriarchy that even a seasoned Communist can snigger at sex workers. They aren’t really workers, just fallen women. More than Ms Banerjee, it is prostitutes who have been insulted here.

But the intent was to hit out at the deviant woman who dared to challenge the status quo. And this is not the first time that Ms Banerjee — herself adept at insult — has been attacked with sexist tools. During the Singur agitation, when she was busy taking our breath away with her astounding dramatics, this same Mr Basu had declared that if he had his way he would have dragged her by her hair and plonked her back home instead of allowing her to sit in dharnas. Clearly, for this little caveman in a dhoti, home is where the woman belongs. Not on the streets or in sit-ins. Not in politics.

In fact, the cunning Trinamul Congress chief has been called “brain dead” by the Communists — an accusation so far from the truth that it makes you wonder whether the Communists have completely lost their minds. And when Ms Banerjee first came up with her slogan “Ma, maati, maanush!” (mother, earth, people) some Left leaders had sniggered, “But she isn’t a mother — what does she know of motherhood?” In a patriarchal society, the good woman is domesticated and acceptable as a wife, a mother, a daughter-in-law. But if you are an unmarried politician woman — gosh, you have a problem, sister! You don’t fit in, you are hugely inadequate.

And it is not always men who point out this inadequacy. Some time ago, the feisty Renuka Chowdhury, then minister for women and child development, had hit out at Mayawati on the Aarushi Talwar murder case. She herself was thinking as a mother, she announced righteously, but Ms Mayawati was not a mother, she could only think as a chief minister. And was therefore wrong, of course. Shortly thereafter, Maneka Gandhi was not allowed to flout rules to meet her son Varun in a Uttar Pradesh jail. Ms Mayawati is not a mother, Ms Gandhi hit back, how could she understand a mother’s concerns?

Ages ago, a young Indira Gandhi was called a “goongi gudiya” (a dumb doll) by her respectable opponents. When she grew to become the most powerful Prime Minister India ever had, she was lauded as “the only man in her Cabinet”. Patriarchal symbolism plays a vital role in our perception of political leaders.

The wife, widow or daughter-in-law is very readily acceptable, and most of our women leaders play that role beautifully. And those who don’t — like the unmarried Ms Mayawati or Ms Banerjee — have many extra battles to fight. One way of sidestepping this is to become the universal mother, like “Amma” Jayalalithaa. But the “Behenji” or the “Didi” can only be stereotyped as a dry, heartless, careerist old maid.

But plugging into derogatory stereotypes has been part of the game of politics. What I find alarming is our refusal to see such insults when they are not included in the high-profile, politicised identity groups. Casteism in poll campaigns can get you jailed. Sexism is appalling and can get you in trouble. But ageism, however mean and hurtful, is acceptable.

Which is why I am shocked at the jibe of Bratya Basu, theatreperson and Trinamul Congress candidate in West Bengal, at Somnath Chatterjee. The former Lok Sabha Speaker, though expelled from the CPI(M) for putting the Indian Constitution before the party during the confidence vote, had generously agreed to canvass for CPI(M) minister Gautam Deb. Quick as a flash, Mr Bratya Basu — the challenger in the minister’s constituency, the “intellectual” and first-time politician — attacked the elder statesman, calling him a mummified corpse out of a coffin. Why should anyone listen to him?

An Egyptian mummy, he grimaced for effect, why is he talking in Bengali? He should talk in hieroglyphics!

Maybe civil campaigning is indeed the language of the dead. Maybe lumpenised politics does not need informed debate — either on the campaign trail or in Parliament, the highest seat of rowdy ruckus. Our democracy can just ride on vulgar name-calling and derogatory stereotypes. The vulgarisation of politics has bred a new language for a new age of ungracious, uncivil, illiberal politicians. And unless they are checked, this crude lot will breathe their own mean spirit into our wounded democracy.

Antara Dev Sen is editor of The Little Magazine. She can be contacted at: sen@littlemag.com

2011 March 7 [Monday]

Aruna Ramchandra Shanbhag

Tomorrow the the world will celebrate the 100th International Women's Day, but today the Supreme Court verdict rejected the mercy-killing petition of Aruna Ramchandra Shanbhag, filed by Pinky Virani the author of "Aruna's Story". In a country like India, "mercy killing" (whether passive or not) will definitely be misused by parties with vested interests and while I welcome the court's judgement on passive euthanasia, I can't help but wonder if India has done enough since then. As Usha writes, "In the 60s , Jayakantan wrote a story called “Agnipravesam” where a college girl is raped in a car on a dark rainy evening . On seeing her state when she reaches home, her poor widowed mother immediately senses what has happened. She takes her in and simply pours water on the girls head; then she tells her to treat the water as fire and feel pure again and forget the incident."

Thinking about Aruna, I am in two minds --one part of me wants her suffering to stop and it was really hard to not cry for her, for "what may have been" when I saw her hospital video being aired on every news channel, or while writing this entry, or while reading for the first time all those years ago -- Aruna's tragedy still evokes the same emotional reaction today as when I first heard heard her story all those years ago -- A pretty nurse, brutally raped by her subordinate, Sohanlal Bharatha Valmiki, as an act of revenge ; who has since 1980 been a free man -- free to marry and have a family of his own ; whose first act upon being released from jail in 1980 was to visit Aruna's room at KEM hospital and remove the bed guards, leading to her falling from the hospital bed. He probably thought Aruna would fall and die. She didnt. Presumably security was raised after this second incident and her co-nurses and doctors are her only visitors. Later the rapist moved out of the city and was last heard working in a NewDelhi hospital under an assumed name.

I met a big learned pujari who said I had a sau mein ek patrika [a rare horoscope], that I’d be a success, will live long and would go abroad..... but even if he was talking rubbish it does not matter because I know that I will become known in my field -- That was the ambitious and dynamic 25-year-old Aruna, talking to her cousin about her career plans to pursue her dreams of studying abroad. Eerily, the soothsayer's predictions to her father did come true but I doubt if this was the kind of fame they would have wished for, nor expected.  Aruna, born on 1948June01, was the youngest daughter of the Shanbhag family -- consisting of her parents and siblings, six brothers and two sisters, all of who were more interested in extracting an apartment in Mumbai and financial compensation out of her tragedy. When that didnt materialize, they abandoned her to her fate.

For a woman who went against her family and rejected the life of abject poverty in the village, she did well as a nurse in Mumbai, met and fell in love with Dr.Sundeep Sardesai, who upon realising that Aruna would never be normal again, deserted her to marry another woman on 1974May01 and settled down abroad. If you knew and loved someone so deeply would you not feel any guilt for deserting them? I cannot help but wonder if Dr.Sardesai, even once, over these 37 years, ever wondered how Aruna is doing. His rejection makes me wonder if he had ever cared or loved her at all!

Apparently everyone in Aruna's life has moved on and is living a normal human life. There is no doubt that Aruna's hellish experience has made her suffer for 37 long years but mercy-killing? Killing someone who cannot make that decision for themselves isnt mercy. However which way I argue, it seems terribly unfair that others get to decide when Aruna should die. How do we have the right to make decisions on behalf of a person who, unfortunately, cannot decide for herself!

Strange as it may sound, she seems like a fighter to me -- Didnt she overcome her comatose state after the rape, albeit declared "brain-dead"/'persistent vegetative state' thence. Her tremendous will to survive reflects in the fact that despite being brain-dead she has definitely shown a will to live, and most importantly, she can breathe on her own and isnt dependent on life-aids. The nurses at Mumbai's King Edward Memorial (KEM) Hospital claim, Aruna responds to them when they attend to her, albeit as 'screams' or 'smiles' and they cheered at the Supreme Court's verdict that Aruna should live. For once, I am glad that the tax-payers money is being put to good use by a handful of KEM nurses and doctors.

All the people in favor of killing (err..mercy-killing) Aruna, should take a moment to wonder at her indomitable spirit her body still holds on to -- She responds to stimuli, is on a liquid diet and loves listening to music and the staff nurses and doctors of KEM care more for Aruna than her family or ex-fiance ever did. She continues to live among strangers who care enough to care for her life. Why should we deny her the right to live?

On 2011June01, Aruna Shanbhag will not know she turned 63, as she has remained oblivious to all her birthdays since 1973November27, but that is not reason enough to permit euthanasia. Let us not kill someone who, despite two murder attempts on her life, has shown such tremendous will to live. She has survived despite the odds stacked against her and she should be allowed to die when her body chooses it, naturally. That, for me, is mercy!

If reading about Aruna was heart-wrenching, writing this blog entry was equally difficult, especially because I wanted an appropriate title in Marathi, one that could reflect Aruna Shanbhag's strong never-say-die spirit, choosing to outlive her tragedy by 37 long years (and probably many more to come), only to remind Indians (and the world?) that as a society, and as a nation, we conveniently choose to forget the silent, the inconvenient, the speechless and actively deny justice to women who are rape victims. Its ironic to be forgotten by the next generation you supposedly bring forth!

In Sanskrit, "Mukta"has various meanings: "finally set free", "liberated, delivered, emancipated (esp. from sin or worldly existence)" ; as also meaning "abandoned, relinquished, given up , laid aside" ; "the quarter or cardinal point just quitted by the sun" [ironically, her first name 'Aruna'; means "the red colour of the morning sun"] ; unchaste woman; "the spirit released from corporeal existence" (a noun form). How ironic!

For me, Aruna is already mukta -- she, whose ruddy spirit wills her to live, despite the cruel betrayals by those she loved, the society and the Indian legal system! I cant even begin to imagine the pain Aruna may have gone through but instead of killing her in the name of mercy, we should be fighting to update the ancient rape laws in India -- bring them on par to those followed in developed nations like USA, Europe, et al. Lets petition to change Indian laws and make it impossible for an Aruna Ramchandra Shanbhag redux, ever! That, for me, would be true mercy towards all Indian women and each day would be Indian Women's Day!

UPDATE: Tasting crystals of sugar fed by sister Sugandha Rokade in her mouth, nurse Aruna Shanbaug, 62, cried out, “Aaah!” when she was told about the Supreme Court judgment.

2010 July 1 [Thursday]


UPDATE :: It was pointed out to me that the person impersonating "lut4rp" to leave the "die bitch" comment on my blog does not deserve his privacy as he tried to get an innocent person (lut4rp) into trouble. This is to clarify that Ajay Kumar (ajuonline), left the "die bitch" comment on my blog. [End UPDATE]

Its incredibly funny when some Indians suffering with illusions of "internet == anonymity" think that they can get away with online harassment. Trolling is an art so if a troll does a bad job of using the technology properly, its difficult to write this post with a straight face.

IP Information -
IP address:
Reverse DNS: [No reverse DNS entry per ns11.bsnl.in.]
Reverse DNS authenticity: [Unknown]
ASN: 9829
ASN Name: BSNL-NIB (National Internet Backbone)
IP range connectivity: 1
Registrar (per ASN): APNIC
Country (per IP registrar): IN [India]
Country Currency: INR [India Rupees]
Country IP Range: to
Country fraud profile: Normal
City (per outside source): Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh
Country (per outside source): IN [India]
Private (internal) IP? No
IP address registrar: whois.apnic.net
Known Proxy? No

Ajuonline, impersonating another person while revealing your identity is hardly 'chatur' online.

from Troll101 import CommonSense

2009 March 5 [Thursday]

Sexual assaults in public spaces

I've changed the title of this post thrice because I refuse to dilute sexual harassment and assaults by calling it eve-teasing -- sounds frivolous and trivialises crimes against women.

India in the 21'st century is definitely unsafe for women, even if she is accompanied by a man and nobody seems to care enough about public sexual harassment to act on it. I've had to warn many female (and male) friends visiting India to NOT travel alone or even in groups of 4-5 women as they dont know the local language and without men in their group its inviting trouble. Saying that about your country sucks big time.

On Monday after a protest was held outside the police commissioner's office, Shankar Bidari, the police commissioner of Bangalore said :

"Bangalore people are so cultured people they will never tolerate any indignity, harassment or assault on women. Even without police and without government, the dignity of women in Bangalore city is perfectly safe and protected,"

I wish !!  One of the women who was attacked describes her ordeal and after reading this article, its deeply disturbing that the PC who is responsible for the safety of the city's citizens has trivialized the issue with insensitive press statements but didnt the Home Minister Dr V S Acharya and District In-Charge Minister J Krishna Palemar called the pub attack and MLA’s daughter’s abduction as ‘small and common’ incidents and scream at the media reporter to "not waste his time with silly incidents" ?! There was a photograph of the Police Commissioner (check out "After hrs" last page of Bangalore edition of DNA newspaper dated 2009mar05) calmly enjoying the Mysore Maharaja's birthday bash on Tuesday at Palace Grounds Palace because : None of the women noted the assailants bike numbers, hence NOTHING can be done.

WRONG, Mr. Bidari, Bengaluru is not safe...... INDIA is not safe for women. I can narrate my experiences too BUT do you even want to listen to women like Archana and others who were attacked ?!

Join us :

Women in Bangalore are facing serious violence and attacks - for wearing jeans, going out in the streets, fighting back the moral police etc and we need to stop these attacks. This is a letter to the police commissioner/home minister/press release regarding the recent attacks on women in bangalore,

Endorse the petition at : http://www.petitiononline.com/petition.html

FRI, Mar06 :
Please come to ALF [Phone : 080-2286 5757] on Friday anytime between 2-6pm to make posters for the protest at the DGP'S office on saturday.. Charts and colours will be provided but feel free to bring your own and you can bring money you would like to contribute. Alternative Law Forum, 122/4 Infantry Road, (opposite Infantry Wedding House), Bangalore 560001, (nearest bus stop- Shivajinagar Depot)

SAT, March07:
1. Gather at Nrupathunga Road at 15:30.  (Parking available at YMCA, DG's office compound, etc.)  Stand on either side of the road, outside DG-IG's office, holding placards, silently.
2. Either the DG-IG comes out at 16:30 collects the memorandum and addresses the audience, or a small representative group goes in to his office when called and present the memorandum.
3. If the latter, then the representatives will address the gathering, when they come out.
4. Gathering shall disperse at 17:30.

SUN, March08:
0. On Sunday 2009March08, International Women's Day,members of the group and other citizens will walk down various prominent roads of the city. Its called "Take Back the Night Walk" and is being held by women to reclaim our lawful right to be safe at night across India. It starts at Indiranagar, Ulsoor and the other two places where the women were attacked
1. At 18:00, people will gather at the five locations as designated by the area coordinators.  They will interact with the audience (in as many languages as possible), and spread awareness about the various goals of the Fearless Karnataka campaign.   This will involve spreading of information flyers and testimonials, conducting bystander polls, and other such forms of interaction with the people on the streets.  This can go on till 20:00.  (Volunteers for poster-sticking will do so around this time.)
2. At 21:00, people gather at the designated spot in Majestic, bringing along with them necessities such as food, water, and community spirit.  There will be further performances, video projections (if possible), songs, and other such activities there.
3. This will go on till 23:00, when people will disperse in their vehicles (pooling as much as possible), in public transport, tempos (which are currently being investigated), etc.

[updated, from FKNK]

2009 February 20 [Friday]

moral policing and hooliganism in Bangalore

There is more to Bengaluru than the "Indian silicon valley" tag and there is no dearth of self-styled criminals and goons masquerading as culture-vultures.

From, http://vishshanker.sulekha.com/blog/post/2009/02/this-happened-in-bangalore-bengaluru-shocking.htm

A few of my friends and I were just paying our bills and coming out of our regular Friday night watering hole and dinner place in Rest House Road, just off Brigade Road, and most of the women in the company were already standing outside. Some of us outside were smoking, people were happy, there was laughter and jokes, as there were many other people in the street, all coming out, satiated, in the closing hour of the various pubs and restaurants around.

Suddenly from up the street a massive SUV comes revving and speeding, hurtling down, and stops in a scream of brakes and swirling dust, millimeters away from this group of 4 women, barely missing one of their legs. A white Audi, imported, still under transfer, with the registration plate of KA-51 TR-2767. Some millionaire's toy thing, that in the wrong hands can kill.

Naturally the women are in shock. And quickly following the shock comes indignation. These are self made women running their own businesses, managing state responsibilities for global NGO firms, successful doctors. They are not used to being bullied. So they turn around, instead of shrinking back in fear. They protest.

And as soon as they turn around in protest, the car doors are flung open, and a stream of 4-5 rabid men run out towards these women, screaming obscenities in Hindi and Kannada against women in general, fists flailing. Some of us who came in running at the sound of the screaming brakes now stand in the middle in defense of our women, and then blows start raining down. One of the goons make a couple of calls over the cellphone, and in seconds a stream of other equally rabid goondas land up. They gun straight for the women, and everyone – a few well-meaning bystanders, acquaintances who know us from the
restaurant, basically everyone who tries to help the women – starts getting thoroughly beaten up.

Women are kicked in the groin, punched in the stomach, slapped across the face, grabbed everywhere, abused constantly. Men are smashed up professionally, blows aimed at livers, groins, kidneys and nose. A friend is hit repeatedly on the head by a stone until he passes out in a flood of blood.

A plain-clothes policeman (Vittal Kumar) who saunters in late stands by watching and urging people to stop, but doing absolutely nothing else. A 'cheetah' biker cop comes in, with our women pleading him to stop this madness, but he refuses action, saying a police van will come in soon and he cannot do anything. Everyone keeps getting hammered. Relentlessly.

The carnage continues for over 20 minutes.

Finally when the police van does come in it is this vandals who are raging and ranting, claiming to be true "sons of the Kannadiga soil", and we are positioned to be the villainous outsiders, bleeding, outraged. How do the cops believe them, especially seeing the bloody faces of our men and the violated rage of our women, while they carry nary a scratch on their bodies? Don't ask me! Yet, it is us who these goondas urge the newly arrived law-keepers to arrest, and the police promptly comply, and we are bundled into the van, some still being beaten as we are pushed in. Some blessed relief from pain inside the police van at least, even if we are inside and the real goons outside, driving alongside in their spanking white Audi. The guy who was hit by the stone is taken  separately by the women to Mallya hospital.

Inside the police station at Cubbon Park it becomes clear that these goons and the police know each other by their first names. The policeman in charge (Thimmappa) initially refuses to even register any complaint from me, on the purported grounds that I am not fluent in Kannada and I have taken a few drinks (3 Kingfisher pints, to be precise) over the evening. No, it doesn't matter that I didn't have my car and was not driving, and no, it doesn't mater that the complaint will be written in English. We watch them and the goons exchange smiles and nods with our our bloodied and swelling eyes and realize in our pain-clouded still-in-shock brains the extent of truth in the claim of one of the main goons when he claimed earlier in the evening in virulent aggression: we own this town, this car belongs to an MLA, we will see how you return to this street!!

This was the turning point of the saga, I guess. For we refused to lie down quietly and be victims.

One of our girls, a vintage and proud Bangalorean who is running one of the town's most successful organic farming initiatives, took upon herself to write the complaint, when I was not allowed to write the same. Another Bangalore girl, a state director of a global NGO firm, wrote the other molestation complaint separately on behalf of all the girls. Some of us called our friends in the media and corporate world. Everyone stepped up. And even when the odds were down and we were out, we did not give up, and as a singular body of violated citizens we spoke in one voice of courage and indomitable spirit. That voice had
no limitation of language, not Kannada, nor English, or Hindi. It was the voice of human spirit that cannot be broken.

And in the face of that spirit, for the first time, we saw the ugly visage of vandalism, hiding behind the thin and inadequate veil of political corrupt power, narrow-vision regionalism and self-serving morality, start to wilt.

We spent 6 hours next day in the police station. The sub-inspector of police who filed our FIR, Ajay R M, seemed a breath of fresh air inasmuch that he did not appear a-priori biased like others, even though the hand of corruption and politico-criminal power backing these goons was still manifest in many ways: a starched, white-linen power-broker walked in handing over his card to the sub-inspector in support of the goons; the goons got an audience with the Inspector because of this intervention, while we had to interact one level lower down in the hierarchy; the plains cloth policeman of last night, even though he had arrived far too late in the crime scene, gave a warped statement, passing it off as a "neutral" point of view, repeatedly stressing that we came out of a pub and hence were drinking, positioning this as a 'drunken brawl', while completely forgetting to mention the unprovoked attack against the women and the one-sided vandalism and violence that ensued. I guess one cannot blame the low ranked police officer – the criminal connections of these goons must be pervasive enough for him to be careful.

Thanks however to the impartial handling of the situation by Ajay, soon the goons were all identified. The lead actor was one Ravi Mallaya (38), a real estate honcho and owner of a small property off Brigade Road which he has converted into a "gaming" (you know what that means, don't you?) adda. The others identified are Mohan Basava (22) of Chamarajapet 12th Cross, R. Vijay Kumar Ramalingaraju (25) and Shivu Rajashekar (20). All are residents of 12th & 13th Cross in Vyalikaval. Their bravado and machismo were by that time evaporated. It was good to see their faces then.

Of course nothing much happened to them, nor did we expect it. They were supposed to be in lock up for at least the weekend till they were produced in court, but we understand that they were quickly released on (anticipatory?) bail. The car, purportedly belonging to an MLA, also does not figure in the FIR, apparently for reasons of "irrelevance to the case".The media also have given us fantastic coverage and support so far, strengthening the cause.

The goons meanwhile, as an after thought, also filed the customary reverse complaint on the morning after we filed our own complaint: the women have apparently scratched the car! (Why did they not file the complaint the same night, considering they came to the Police Station in the same car? Why was the car allowed to be taken off police custody? Why is the car still irrelevant to the case and not in the FIR? Questions.. questions..).

Is this the end of this saga? Probably not. Are these women, more precious to us as friends and wives than most things in our lives, safe to walk or drive down Brigade Road from now on or are the goonda elements, slighted by this arrest and disgrace, are lying in ambush, waiting, biding their time to cause some of us more grievous harm? We don't know. Is there reason for us to remain apprehensive of future attacks and victimization? Perhaps.

But here is the point.

We stood up.

We believed in the power of individual citizens even in the face of hooliganism, intolerance, corruption and power mongering. Even though many of us have the option of leveraging political or government connections, we deliberately chose to fight this battle as individuals. Sure, these connections have been activated and they have been kept informed, should the worst case scenario unfold tomorrow. But we have chosen to not leverage them. And in every small win we
register as a group of individual outraged citizens of Bangalore and India, however insignificant these milestones may be in the larger scheme of things, there is one small notch adding up in favor of what is right, one small notch against what is wrong. And we believe that every such small notch counts, each such mark is absolutely invaluable.

It is the people who make this city, this country, this world. It is you and I, as much as the terrorists inside and outside. And in our small insignificant little ways, it is my responsibility and yours to not shirk from investing effort – not just lip service or any token attempt, but real effort – in backing up what we ourselves believe in. It is so easy to logically argue that everything is corrupt, nothing is worth it, there are so many risks involved. We must not fall trap to this escapist trend. We must not fail to try.

Next time you feel outraged, violated, abused, don't let it go by and add up to your list of litanies and complaints. Stand up and take it to the limit - at least your own limit. Not in the same way as they wrong you, but in the way that every citizen, at least in theory, is entitled to complain and protest. Do not let the hooligans power rant scare you or prompt you into submission. Do not allow the corrupt cop make you give up trying. Carry the flame forward. Try harder.

If are up to it, start right now.

Forward this note to everyone you want to be made aware of this. Post it in your own blogs. Talk about it amongst your circles. And if anyone of you should like to step forward with a word of empathy or advise, talk to me. Comment.

It is not Bangalore that is going to the dogs. It is us. We have far too long become accustomed to let everything go. And the more we let things go without any protest or fight, the dormant criminal and dark elements of the society get that much more encouraged. Every time we turn the other way, the hooligan next street gets incentivized to push the boundary a little further, provoke a little more, try something a little more atrocious. It is time for us to refuse to let this go on. We are responsible for making ourselves proud. Lets believe in ourselves. We can do this.

My name is Saugata Chatterjee. And I am standing up.I refuse to let Bangalore go to the hooligan slumdogs, even if some of them are pets of corrupt power millionaires.

2009 February 9 [Monday]


I've always had an intense dislike for pink, "red" being a favourite but this post is not about my colour preferences. My last blog post on women being assaulted and the Sita Sene, elicted a response on irc from HBD that a women's gang already exists. Calling themselves the Gulabi Gang, these women form a co-operative of sorts to help suppressed women like themselves in UttarPradesh. Back home, our local chakkiwala is from UP so I must ask his wife about the GulabiGang. Gosh, the video with lathi-wielding lessons are cool but someone should teach these women better self-defence techniques, especially sans weapons. Women can but its inconvenient to walk around with a lathi always.... but I digress. If the lathi delivers results for them, it stays :)

Moving south, as if the assault on the MLA's daughter was not enough, now the RamaSene plans to send hooligans to spy on Bangaloreans on 14feb. These thugs will be armed with turmeric (yeah in their excitement the culture-vultures forgot the difference between kumkum and turmeric) and anyone found celebrating Valentine's day, would be forced to marry each other. Huh?....right there on the road? So what will the sene-thug do if they find : two men are holding hands, a brother and sister are holding hands, two women are holding hands or an already married couple are holding hands? ...Erm... Will they be forced to apply kumkum turmeric and marry each other? On a pedantic note, between two men holding hands, which man gets to be the man(?), since its usual practice for a man to apply the kumkum on the woman's forehead. Now the Taliban-Sene has to use this body part (instead of brawn) to realise that the religion they (mis)use does not discriminate .... Nature is cruel, but ..wait, isnt nature feminine...?... so its all the loose woman's fault. Yeah, right !!

Renuka Chowdhary's threat to send roses to Muthalik on a day which very few celebrate was too simple so Nisha thinks he needs pink chaddis and if you are reading this, spread this message, by blogging, tweeting, etc.. and do your bit.

<Update> Since the Alternate Law Forum office in Bangalore was flooded they have requested that contributions be sent directly to the Taliban-Sene addressed to : Pramod Muthalik, Sri Rama Sene Chief, #11, Behind New Bus Stand, Gokhul Road, Near Lakshmi Park, HUBLI - Karnataka. </Update>

I'd rather see the police and judiciary react with more spine and keep these criminals behind bars but heck that seems like a remote possibility in India. These goons have never been to temples or noticed the idols of Durga and Kali, each of who carries multiple weapons and are especially known for their war-like ferocious nature. Someone should enroll these jokers for literature and history lessons and parcel them a copy of the Kamasutra with tickets to Khajuraho in MadhyaPradesh so they can get better acquainted with the real Indian culture. On the other hand, the truth about Vatsyayana being an A(ryan)merican Westerner out to corrupt the pure bharatiya nari (indian woman) might be revealed now.

2009 February 8 [Sunday]

Sita in an ice cube

Indian women are indeed blessed !! We now have a convict of the 1993 Bombay blasts contesting elections for a parliament membership, who opines that every Indian woman should give up her identity and take her husbands name after marriage. Pearl's of wisdom indeed ... from a man who has had multiple adulterous relationships whilst being married (thrice if you must know), an ex-drug addict who never bothered to care for his young daughter Trishala or wife Richa Sharma, both of whom were conveniently abandoned although he knew for years that Richa suffered from cancer. Morally inspiring for all those women in his life who hanker for dutt (pun intended) lastname, provided they manage to stick around dutt long.

Dutt may have munnabhai'ed the media and even ruffled Renuka Chowdhary's feather's, but it was definitely not enough masala for the media spotlight to dwell on him for long. The confused-plastic-faced-ac(h)tor-wannabe-politician was quickly upstarted by the street-thugs "Shri Rama Sene" in Karnataka.  India now has its very own homegrown wannabe "Taliban-Sene" who orchestrated and videotaped the molestation and attack of women in Mangalore in the name of god. Apparently physical violence and a public molestation of women is the easiest way to be in the news. Tsk-Tsk ...dutt's what happens if you wash Pri(vate)ya Dutt(y) linen in public, Sanju baba. Politics is gonna be a steep learning curve for you. If the Muthalik-meets-Dutt scenario had occurred some years ago, how many times would Dutt have been married off on Valentine's day ?? :-D

All in a Go(o)d days work, given that Indian politicians have certainly run out of issues to solve in the run up to elections, where the mastermind of the Mangalore attacks is known but yet is allowed to abscond. Targeting 49% of your population is good enough to get eye-balls, never mind that politicians dont have the balls to address important issues like eradicating corruption, ensuring proper supply of electricity, proper public infrastructure, good primary education, water and so many other social issues which jostle for attention...but none of these silly issues are as important as women visiting a pub.

Any woman who visits a pub instead of making rotis at home, feeding her husband and pressing his tired legs at night, is fit to be called a prostitute according to the Rama Sene while enlightened souls (in the NCW too) went a bit further to justify the attacks in the name of stemming immoral activity in the Mangalore pub. Since the police and judiciary have outsourced their work to local thugs and hooligans its high time the government stopped wasting the tax-payee's money on maintaining a police force and judiciary, both of who cannot ensure law and order nor keep justice. Well if India can be the outsourcing manna for the world why cant we outsource the police's work to these self-appointed custodians of Indian culture ?!? Think of the Tax benefits!!

Fundamentalist Hindu bigots == fanatical Islamic radicals ?! If there is a logic to the methodical madness being unleashed across each state one has to give credit to their inspirational idol, the Taliban. Nothing less will do. If the ShivSena and MNS in Maharashtra can rail and rant against the South Indians and then drive away the North Indians, then why should the wannabe-power-grabbing-southern-politician be left behind. He can jump onto the "lets control the corrupt Indian woman" bandwagon which is a problem that has taken on global hues today, with gullible Indian woman being lured by the foreign hand... what sacrilege!!

  • Mytholog(icall)y

Not to be left behind, some women feel they should form a Sita Sene to counter the increasing attacks on women and the debate on "Indian culture" is ferociously raging on the idiot box and in the print media. Every person I have met thus far, has an opinion (or two or three) by which time my grey cells stop parsing the string "indian culture" correctly. The word "culture" tickles my phunny bone (and I've been told I have f3w of those) enough to delve into some mythology since religion is the thread that binds retrograde chauvinists across the world masking their selfish desire for control and power.

Kalpana Sharma summarized it more eloquently :

The Sri Rama Sene is a fringe element. But lurking under the skin of many men, irrespective of caste or community, is a similar view of what women should and should not do. Men fear women’s autonomy, for, it challenges their power. And they fear women’s sexuality even more. Hence, the desire of fundamentalists of all types to control women’s sexuality.

Is that why every river has a feminine name and Earth is called MotherEarth and the country is called motherland and not FatherEarth and Fatherland respectively !? Culture-vultures never miss an opportunity to letch on mytholog(ical)y to explain that women should be frozen into this ice cube of patriarchy, certainly fit to be seen and admired, but she can never stir or voice herself.

Were the women of yore beautiful icy figurines trapped in an ice cube?

Not Sita, Rama's wife, who left her husband when he asked her for an "agnipariksha" (trial by fire) to prove her chastity. She epitomises the courage (that many Indian women lack) of leaving her twin sons with her husband Rama and returning to her mother's (Earth) after around 20+ years of marriage. 

Draupadi practised polyandry, perhaps the only woman with 5 husbands at a time when it was more common for men to practise polygamy. She is the only woman in mythology over whom a war, the Mahabharata, was fought to avenge an insult to her. In that epic, she refused to tie her hair until her insult was avenged.

Mirabai had no compunctions about leaving her husband for Krishna and would the brainless religious fundamentalist idiot dare to brek the idols in the Radha-Krishna temples(?), since Radha was never married to Krishna and left her husband for Krishna. Its called  adultery in English, but for millions of Indians the name Radha-Krishna is synonymous with love, bhakti and devotion.

Wendy surmises the position of women in Vedic literature, especially the Chandayoga Upanishad where Jabala asks her son to take her name so he calls himself "Satyakama Jabala (the son of Jabala)". Interestingly, dutt (pun intended) may have been completely missed instances in Indian mythology where the children take on the mothers name and not that of the father (who was sometimes unknown, or got just a passing reference....).

Gowriputra (son of Gowri, an epithet for Parvati, Ganesha's mother who is supposed to have sprang from the scurf of her body) ;

Krishna was called "Devakiputra" (son of Devaki) ;

Skanda, one born of 6 mothers ;

Pandavas were called Kuntiputra's ; ... so on...

The Sene has surely not seen this aspect of Hinduism.  Moving on to the men who are commonly addressed with the prefix Sri/Shri which is the feminine subjunctive in Sanskrit. It is also an epithet for Lakshmi whose husband (Vishnu) is commonly referred to as "Lakshmipati/Shripati" (the husband of Lakshmi) as is Sitapati (Husband of Sita).

Shiva's epithet is "Umapati", the husband of Parvati or Shakti (the female energy) without whom he is considered to be a shava (corpse). Are there instances of Parvati/Shakti being addressed as "Shivapatni"? Not that I know of.

There may be more but I am not inclined to dig out lores of yore when I can blithely snore away the night, sans the pita-pati (pun wholly intended).

2008 August 26 [Tuesday]

Save half-a-Million with just 500 Rupees

I was trawling the web when I accidentally came across this article on the girl child in India by Neena Malik which appeared in the Tribune some years ago, http://www.tribuneindia.com/2002/20020310/herworld.htm -- which is unavailable now. So I pulled a cached version which I reproduce here :

Haryanavi way to deal with girls
Neena Malik

Don’t you think it is entirely foolish and hare-brained to spend on kerosene oil and match boxes for bride burning or using up muscle power of the poor dear husbands and mas’-in-law to strangulate their daughters-in-law when all we need to meet our "immediate national requirement" to get rid of all the females in the country in one stroke is to resort to our good old Father of the nation-Gandhiji’s-respect for the common salt and start storing a little extra in every household! ..

Yes, it is so simple and easy that you might be fascinated enough to try your hand at it again and again. .. Just take a small lump of common kitchen salt and put it in the throat of the new born baby girl. Lo and behold! Before you can say "Halleluja", the infant will have choked to death without a whimper. And yes, what is more important, without even leaving a scar on her body or on your conscience. After all you did not use pistols or knives or pesticides to kill her. She just fades away as easily as the salt. After that, imagine the innumerable advantages you gain. There will be no hassle for women’s reservation in schools, colleges and Parliament, no hassle of dowries, no further need for kerosene oil and match boxes. Already 26 per cent youth in Haryana cannot find brides for themselves as the female ratio is the lowest in the country. They are now resorting to buying brides from Bangladesh. Curiously, the Haryanavis are averse to baby girls but look forward to brides and bride burning! ! Though they are feeling the dearth of brides for their sons, the average Haryanavi families want to do away with the girl child at all stages. "Panch sau Lagao, Panch Lakh Bacchao" -such tempting ads displayed on big hoardings outside medical clinics all over Haryana certainly seem more within reach of the common man than the popular television lure of " Kaun Banega Crorepathi"!

All that the pregnant women has to do is to step in for an ultra sound test costing Rs. 500 to determine the sex of her unborn baby. And if it is a baby girl threatening to add to her woes she can quickly get the unwanted baby aborted. The arithmetic of it all is not only simple but realistic in the eyes of the parents. After all they will be saving at least Rs. Five lakh straight-in the far flung future— a minimum amount spent on the dowry of a girl in these hard times. As in many other areas-good and bad-Haryana has achieved the dubious distinction of topping the list of the fast declining female ratio of 861 per 1000 males. It is the worst in the country as compared to 933 females for 1000 males for the country. The sex ratio in Haryana was 865 in 1991. It is surprising that the sex ratio in all the districts is below the national average of 933. Another alarming fact is that the sex ratio in Haryana has declined continuously since 1981 and is at its lowest since independence. According to Sunil Gulati, Director Census Operations, the preference for a male child is always there and when it is coupled with technology assisted choice such as ultra-sound, the decision to get rid of the baby girl in the first stage becomes easier .Ironically, this happens in the urban area. where one expects the awareness levels to be high and less prejudice.

Not shocking, nor stats for just one state. I remember reading another news report that the salem district in TamilNadu matches these stats for the girl child but cant find it online. Most news reports which talk of the imbalance in sex ratios across India fail to touch the root cause and for the most part, these cases have been discovered by reporters who spoke about it publicly. What of those which dont get this public a platform??

It also takes on a whole new meaning when you look at the abortion laws in our country. While the case of a couple who approached the courts is a rare one indeed, it brought to the forefront issues we usually ignore. Abortion is a highly personal issue which we rarely comment upon since it might infringe individual liberty. Sadly she had a miscarriage.

Have we as a society have evolved ethically, socially and personally (will touch on this later). While an abortion _is_ a personal decision and way better than bringing an unwanted child into the world and making it suffer knowing it was not wanted by its parent(s) (a big burden and negative karma to carry for a lifetime), it would be unfair to use the "women can only decide to abort" since unlike the west, here it is not uncommon for the family to pressure women to undergo abortions, whether married or unmarried. That family/society pressure can be a very crushing for a lot of women.

Now, let us assume the judged had changed the abortion laws in India. Then, what stops people from misusing it to kill the girl child using the "defective" approach? Most times the girl child is killed long before the 20th week especially if the family (in India its not the woman who decided this alone) wants a male heir then mere laws are not going to stop them. Most times its another woman (read mother-in-law or aunt or female relative) who increases the pressure with comments like "oh, their family has just female kids, no male heirs". Challenging them that as a woman they should be the last person to make such disparaging comments usually shuts them up but how many daughters-in-law would dare to do that?

Nupur Basu has made an interesting documentary “No Country for Young Girls? ” for the BBC. Besides the foetal killing, the girl child could be killed after she was born (with salt like the above reproduced article). Women's rights is not that simple in India. Ironically, the country that venerates the Supreme Godess, who among her various forms and names is ironically called Shakti (power), has a high imbalance in sex-ratios spanning across the great Indian middle class.

Somewhere in all this the MOOT question remains : Are we trying to create a society that wants "designer" babies? Are we as a society misusing technology to create that "perfect, smart, healthy" baby and anything less than perfection does not deserve to exist !?? To me those questions have ethical, social and personal meaning. Having seen how the disabled are treated in India (forget the laws, as a society we dont even treat anyone who is not perfect, beautiful/handsome, rich-famous-successful, as worthy of a second glance). Now it seems that technology is slowly being used as a crutch to aid and abet the politically incorrect societal and personal reflections that get buried due to legal pressure. Any society that clamors for perfection in humans is going to be very difficult to live in and when materialism is added, expect hell.

Instead why cant we ask the government to enact laws which will give more power to the disabled instead of stopping them from being born? Many developed nations have strict laws (which are implemented) but its only here that we tolerate corruption and ignore our citizens rights. Shashi Tharoor has a nice comparison over differences in American political life and the Indian one. Sigh. no easy answers here :(

2008 January 3 [Thursday]

India is not safe for women

The truth is that this country has a majority of male perverts and it is not a safe place for women. According to the Mumbai police commissioner the media should be rational and women should stay at home to be safe. He got a dressing down from his political boss for saying what a majority of men think and discuss in private but to be politically correct will not say it openly, atleast not with as much candour as the comissioner did. The media loves to spice up a story - rather than help the victims it will spend 15 minutes gathering news or clicking pictures of the crime.

Every Indian woman experiences this boorishness let alone foreigners or tourists who visit our country. So if you are a foreigner/NRI please think twice before bringing your daughters to India for a visit. The women in your life dont deserve the trauma that most Indian women experience daily.
Lets admit it, many people (dont blame just the media) derive pleasure from others misery and women are the easiest prey, atleast physically. So while men will worship the mother goddess, they will not hesitate to molest the same female form in public. That is the most common tactic used to subjugate women and it works everytime. How dare women ask men to be more humane and stop being a chauvinistic pig..... dont women realise that men are the torch-bearers of the lineage. Its another matter that the woman takes the burden of making the next lineage a reality. For most men its their birthright to leer at women, stalk them, sing raunchy Hindi movie songs, stare/ogle at fully clothed women of any age, threaten her for refusing a man's advances. Ofcourse the educated Indian male is cultured enough to never threaten or abuse openly. He uses veiled and subtle terror tactics like showing a newspaper clipping of a woman on whom acid was thrown (by a suitor whom she had refused to marry). In the higher elcheons of power this will take a completely different turn, akin to the glass ceiling syndrome. But let's not go there.

For many the ultimate ego breaker is a woman not listening to a man and making her own decisions, which is equivalent to a western woman, generally deriled and regarded as too liberal, lacks morals, and unfeminine (dont get me started on the hypocrisy). By popular count, the Indian definition for feminity is : Men come first, second, third and women dont figure in the scheme of things. So dont protest and learn to live with zero respect. Ofcourse some educated women will protest that its not true and that they get a lot of respect in their family/personal life. Ahem, who makes the financial decisions with the money you earn? Its a rare "I do" that you will hear. I digress.

Lets stick to women and public spaces... the short of it is : Indian women have learnt to live with boorish male behaviour like the recent Mumbai, Pune or Bihar incidents. Although crimes against women happen all across the world, can you imagine such a public crime in any developed nation?. The difference lies in the fact that its easier to get justice in say NAmerica or EU or AUS unlike in India. Here the onus lies on the woman to prove her innocence. Even with all this evidence, this crime will go unpunished, and there are enough people to protect criminals. Thanks to police apathy, lax laws, zero support from other women, lack of support groups or sometimes lack of support even from their own family (most women will be asked to get on with life than waste time fighting crimes like these). Since women cant expect the state to protect them, martial-arts training should be compulsary in every school for every girl child and women should legally be allowed to carry the kirpan (a knife) like Sikh men do. That is the only way women can stop depending on the state or others to protect them from a mob of 50 -men- criminals.

2007 December 2 [Sunday]

Run Lola Run

Have you ever been in a situation where you and another person are physically present at the same place at the same time, but he is fine while you feel hunted and stalked ... ?!?!

The other day, I found a man following and trying to stand very close, under the pretext of examining items on display at a store. There was tons of space so knowing what was coming next, i wandered away each time he came too close for comfort. After 10-15 min of "dodge-the-creep", I got fedup and hoping he would go away on seeing me with another man, I returned to stand next to AP who was busy enjoying the antics of a kid playing with a weighing machine.  Even so the creep was audacious enough to saunter next to us (near me actually) and listen in to our conversation. Irritated, i strode up to the weighing machine, banged my fist on it and looking at AP said, "Yeh dhai kilo ka haath jabde se connect hoga toh bahut darrd hoga kya? - Will it hurt a lot if this 2.5 kg fist connected to a jaw?"

Prone to exaggerate quite well, AP went on about how i broke his shoulder the other day, hand-two months ago, blah, blah.... I didnt choose to correct him that the last time he had fractured his hand was as a kid, rather, i enjoyed his exaggerated claims as the creep standing next to him was putting as much distance between us as possible. I don't find anything wrong in re-claiming my private space. On our way home I told him the whole story. So even if two people are physically present, each one is poles apart in terms of what we experience.

Back in Bombay, M and me were climbing down the stairs to the platform one day, when a train pulled in at the station. A wave of men rushed up the stairs from the arriving train. Now overcrowded places are perfect spots for men to misbehave and blame it on the crowds. Usually i use a blocking technique we had learnt in karate but yet this creep got an opportunity. In a flash i turned after him and wove my way up the stairs (i was going down) through the milling crowds, with one mojri on my feet (the other one having slipped off in the bustling crowd). After a few hundred yards when few people were around us, i (barefoot, silent) reached him and was amused to see the shock on his face on facing me. As he crawled away I turned and the crowd around me had frozen in time for a moment, then it was life as usual....all this in less than two minutes.

If ever a victim musters up the courage to question her attacker, the first question (accompanied with an insolent leer) will be "batao, maine kya kiya? (describe what i did?)". Now which woman would want to describe the horrible creepiness she has been through, just so that the perpetrator can embarass the victim even more in public... most women i know prefer to curse a few bad words and walk away, with the assailants laughter or snigger or taunts echoing in her ears.

It would be impossible to pen each incident as i know its not the last and moreso I didnt experience anything different from what every woman in India whether she is from a city, town or village has at one time or the other in the course of her life experienced..... molestation, harassment in public or verbal taunting. Defined by Indian laws as "eve-teasing", each Indian woman is expected to tolerate and not retaliate. If a creep thinks he can physically assault me in public he should be prepared to take a fist to his face peppered with some very colourful language. In public, most men will not help because many guys think it happens to other women and never one's own....which is farthest from the truth.

Try this, ask each woman in your life about her experience and she will have a story to tell. Most women are embarassed to talk about it and have come to accept it as a part and parcel of daily life and frankly when one is groped, pinched, brushed by, verbally abused or commented upon almost on a daily basis, women tend to get stoic and desensitised to the reality of violation of the individual's private space in public spaces.

As for taking legal recourse, its an absolute waste of time, money and energy to approach the police or courts for eve-teasing and harassment complaints. Absolutely nothing positive will result from that. When I heard of the blanknoise project (IMHO, they propagate and advocate passive tactics which very few Indian men will understand) in Bangalore, I thought why does Bangalore need it ... its more spacious than Bombay (and less crowded) so with space available men will forget to accidentally bump, grope, brush against women. Err.. i was/am wrong.

2007 April 18 [Wednesday]

Women in the FLOSS community

While typing the title I was thinking "there we go again..." but ignoring does not make a problem disappear. Jono is meeting with UW members for a discussion about the issues women face whilst volunteering online, discuss, address and probably find a path to minimise the problems and reduce misunderstandings (perceived or otherwise). Not everyone has the same experience but many women around the world have experienced it in different forms. Sadly women restrict it to discussions on lists or irc, rarely do we decide to be proactive and do something about it. Worse, sometimes women who do speak-up are told not to over-react, even ignore such things - Is that in the hope that the abusive and harassing person will go away or stop indulging in such nastiness? However, I found that ignoring does not work as most Indian men equate silence with fear, hence a validation that they are correct. Victory!

Discussing it with other chix on a non-archived LC list last year, I was surprised to see many women respond with a "yeah, I experienced it too", "We want some document we can link to in the case of inappropriate behaviour", and so on...
Taking it a step further I proposed a "online behaviour guidelines" , something along the lines of a "How-to encourage women in Linux" which does not address such issues in depth but the LC site was (is) still being reworked so its in a limbo state as of now. For lack of a home currently Chris hosts the draft on her wiki.

The first step toward a solution is always "recognising and accepting a problem exists" but before meeting Jono I hope we can come up with some "workable" ideas on how to address the problems, find solutions, mitigate (if not eliminate) the issues to a larger extent. I hope UW members will discuss the draft, improve, add comments and critically analyze it, both on the list and in the forums so that maximum number of women (and men) can give their feedback.

Some weeks ago I became the KDE-women list admin. Its a very quiet list so I hope to juggle it with other volunteer stuff.

2006 July 17 [Monday]

Militant Feminism and FOSS

My earlier entry on women in floss has earned me the dubious title of "militant feminist" [#].

Mr. Soumyadip Modak, for the record, some truths need to be stated.

0} The Indian Floss arena is not (was never/will not be) isolated and has many volunteers from Debian, Fedora, KDE, Gnome/Novell, and more who have synergized their working with the upstream and local community. I rarely see them flaming people every five minutes on mailing lists.

1} The Flosspols report, a well-respected statistical analysis funded by the EU, covers all aspects of points quoted vis-a-vis IRC, ESR, and hacker culture et al. Maybe its easier to shoot off a rude, mis-informed email than make an effort to read and understand what empirical studies and their statistical findings state, notwithstanding personal bias.

2} I did leave Ubuntu-IN because of the constant flaming indulged in from my first post announcing its creation. Flaming repeatedly (especially in disagreement), spoofing my email ID, are a violation of the Ubuntu Code of Conduct, which an Ubuntu Member after signing the COC has broken repeatedly. On that basis alone I could have escalated the matter with the Council and chose not to when given the choice by one of the CC members. The list archives are available as are my other posts so if asking for openness and transparency is wrong you should have taken it up with the Community Council, which I understand is the final authority in Ubuntu.

Also I could have easily blogged this a long time ago (circa March 2006) but the Loco team was just starting out and decided not to do that out of consideration for other Ubuntu members.

3] I never took credit for anything more than I did....

1:28 G0SUB Hello, we are here to apply for `official status' for the Indian LoCo

but its easier to use my name when required to form the loco team (CC meeting log dated 2006-03-07 ) but deny everything else thereafter. I wonder why that is not very surprising.

4} Regarding the mailing list :

you were never the appropriate person to handle its mailing lists in the first place.

If anyone felt that I was not fit to hold the position they could have easily contacted Jeff Waugh and voiced their objections. I am not used to 10 mails per day (private and public) demanding the same thing over and over again so fed-up of the harassment I handed admin rights in less than 24 hours to the 3 people who asked for it on the list. That was not a community decision and I took the precaution of checking with Jeff Waugh and I still rate his opinion above yours.

5} The Community Structure : I had suggested many comments on the mailing list [March2006 archives] itself which is transparent and open but you were busy accusing me of sabotaging work (or some such equally ridiculous crap because the list wasnt under your control?). Less time would have been wasted if you and the 2 others had cared to try and understand what was being said in the first place.

6} Oh... feel free to "point fingers at me directly or otherwise", and here are some more points to ponder for my readers :

  • Does contributing to the community mean you can use community resources to host your private blog on Ubuntu servers : http://people.ubuntu-in.org/~soumyadip/blog
  • Do you care to extend the same largesse to others involved in the Ubuntu-IN loco team?
  • How many Indian chapters or volunteers are encouraged or allowed to host pages for Ubuntu-local communities?

Why a seperate yardstick for other members in the community vis-a-vis the loco Council members whose rules were so carefully framed that it becomes impossible for newcomers to actually start somewhere. Remember, there is a first time for everyone and you just need to trust newcomers a bit more.

Does the Loco community really make the rules or a few in their name? If that is your definition of freedom... well... I rest my case.

Feel free to start flaming again....

[#] If someone knows what that means please leave a comment (moderated, but I assure that all comments, except spam will be approved).

2006 July 16 [Sunday]

Women in FLOSS

Murray, instead of the mailing list, I am belatedly blogging a longer response. It is true that very few Indian women volunteer in Floss projects, even though many women use free software at work or in their daily lives. There will always be nay-sayers when this fact is highlighted, with some claiming that equal opportunity exists in the world of technology. Does it really ? Look closely at the lives of the women around to see the difference, rather it will be a stark contrasting experience in terms of time, prejudice, perceptions and lost opportunities.

1. Women volunteers vs. women in IT

When speaking of women in the IT industry, it is not uncommon for many folks to (un)knowingly confuse unpaid women volunteers in FLOSS with women working in the IT industry for a monetary consideration. There is a huge distinction as the former are in it simply because they may love the philosophy of GPL, quality software, the freedom bug, passion, interest or whatever, which does not mean they don't care about earning a living, rather they are giving their precious spare time for free just like any other male Floss volunteer(s). However, the latter in the IT industry constitute a workforce who earn a living (or contribute via the workplace), which can be said about men too. This is the most distinctive attribute which easily accounts for the disparity between FLOSS and the rest if the Indian IT business.

This is not to portray women (or men) who work in IT for a paycheck in a negative light. Far from it ... as to a large extent, other economies allow greater freedom, choice and luxury of better standards when it comes to professions and this results in higher geek/non-geek programmer ratio. In India, people don't have that luxury nor the exposure and access to hi-tech advanced systems. Besides this corruption at grass-root levels ensures a harsher and tougher life with less avenues/choices. Even if people follow the money (so to speak) as far as career choices go, for good reason(s), they still have to work hard to get those skills in the first place. Too many factors to explain in a single post....

2. Online atmosphere in Indian LUG's

The atmosphere in the Indian LUG's is such that sarcasm flows like water and the key to survival is "be aggressive and arrogant" about one's technical expertise. I have seen men being mercilessly flamed and/or trolled over trivial things. Check the archives of any major Indian LUG and you will know what I am talking about.

Being rude is a prerequisite to survival. Is it any surprise that women avoid participating and prefer to lurk or ocassionally dare to ask questions. Strangely the same flamers would not behave rudely on an international list, so yes a kind of reverse hierarchy is at play.

Regarding women concealing their gender online, I have mixed feelings about this as I have used a nick earlier and never faced any flaming/trolling on international lists.... The experience with Indian men and Loco lists are a different matter alltogether, where once your gender is known, expect to be fair game for anything including private messages/emails, personal questions, stalking, and the like... In short if they can get away with that behaviour they will.

Of the few Indian women who do volunteer, most are directly contributing to the upstream communities. To the best of my knowledge, no woman moderates (if they do they are not visible) in any of the local LUG's and the Indian chapter of LinuxChix is the only community started by women. So maybe negative behaviour online is an important factor contributing to the decline and disinterest for women (and sometimes men) to volunteer in Floss.

3. Responsibility without Authority.

The Flosspols report" states :

4.1 Women are actively (if unconsciously) excluded rather than passively disinterested. The effect lies within F/LOSS cultural and social arrangements. The exclusion happens among people who often do not mean to appear, and who do not interpret their own actions, as hostile to women. The effect is an outcome of the importance given to the individual as the sole carrier of agency.

This is largely true since women posting or simply lurking online are fine but anything more, for instance even something simple like moderating a mailing list requires years of experience and probably an engineering degree to boot. I was repeatedly flamed in the Ubuntu-IN loco community for suggesting that women newcomers should be encouraged to moderate the list. Later the flaming continued repeatedly when I asked for an open and transparent decision-making process in the mailing list instead of decisions being made on unarchived IRC meetings. How does hanging on IRC all day, signify a larger contribution to the Floss community or is that priviledge reserved to the most vocal, self-proclaimed Floss fanatic.
Within a few days, I decided to leave the Ubuntu-IN loco team as being flamed for every suggestion was not worth my time and effort but the best outcome before leaving was adding a women moderater to volunteer on the Ubuntu-IN mailing list.
Most people think *-women groups are general chit-chat lists or sexist groups but yet want to mentor women in the sexist group . I find this attitude strange and wonder what the true motivation behind volunteering to mentor for the *-women group is? What is so attractive about the "I am a mentor at *-woman group" tag while not really understanding the crux of the problem. If I did not believe in the goals of any -group I would choose not to join it in the first place.

In Ubuntu-Women we have men and women sharing responsibility, who have never met each other, and yet work together and get along fantastically. The real problem, I guess, lies in "Responsibility without Authority", where women are expected to take the responsibility of working to get the job done but are denied a voice in making decisions (which signifies power and authority) on the basis that they dont possess enough technical expertise (whatever that is supposed to mean :-/). The invisible glass ceiling is the root of the problem.