Sunday, 30 March 2014

Female Defenders of the Faith

Why do so many women defending the Right wing ideology, seem almost pleased with theories of violence against heretics ? Could such obsession with controlling all dissenters fiercely during polarized debates on prime time television , be the sign of a sentimental reaction to their own much hated soft core, almost like those 70s young of well heeled families going all dewy eyed over the Naxalbari rebels?
The nation comes first, then the Party and then individuals, NaMo has been thundering . ' True idealism is nothing but the subordination of interests and life of the individual to the community ...the sacrifice of personal existence is necessary ..' wrote Hitler in Mein Kampf . There are disquieting parallels here. The Parivar projecting NaMo, favors small Hindu familes and opposes homosexuality as unnatural . And so Madhu Kishwar's conversion from a bright and forthright feminist to a meek acolyte of a macho leader boasting of his 56 inch chest, is saddening if not downright distasteful .
However high sounding and ambiguous, authoritarianism such as the man with the fabled pectorals exudes today, starts with a core belief in some group's greater right to power on grounds of gender, religion, class or all of them .
Can we overlook the fact that after the old guards' ignoble ouster, the Party's vision of progress being supported by Ms Kishwar, remains firmly rooted in a sustained invisibility of women within the supreme decision making body of the Parivar , where men (increasingly one man) shall hold all the cards .
The emotional speechmaking that Ms Kishwar seems to be indulging in more and more to support and defend an indefensible, can only unlock dreams of revenge against all those who challenge the basic gender inequality within Indian families.
Once we get used to inequality within our homes where we were raised, and all protesters are swatted down and dismissed summarily, its so easy to accept other inequalities .
Watching the interview one could see Ms Kishwar's connect with The Leader . Two people with great drive and a suspicion that others have reached the top too easily and might pull ahead of them on the basis of their 'connections'. Like gatecrashers at a wedding party , they must support each other in a highly critical crowd. Sad.  

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Who is driving the National Debate ?

Within minutes after the release of the Congress manifesto the media was busy analyzing and trend spotting . As though proof were needed that our media reflects rather than guide, public discourse on elections and electoral prospects of various parties. In 2014 it still prefers to take its cues from poll pundits and manifestos of important political parties in the fray, rather than indulging in depth sounding down below, where the real voters looking for a new and more bankable order swim.
In 1947 we built a huge democracy around Gandhian ideology using structures created in the next decade by a Nehruvian State. Our news rooms treat these ideologies with a reverence we reserve for religious orders, and go on ignoring the obvious signs of decay in the pillars that make most manifestos worth less than the expensive paper they are printed on. For the media it seems, the narratives about the state of the nation and the voters' minds are still being shaped largely in the 'war rooms' set up by parties and funded by friends with deep pockets . We forget that one reason Delhi warmed up to the AAP and put paid to all pre poll surveys, was that in its story the invisible Aam Admi , struggling somewhere at the bottom made a personal appearance, and its message was driven by intelligent and fresh faces who were unafraid to say that things can not go on like this.
Rethinking for a nation our size is, ofcourse, a massive undertaking and guarantees both emotional and political fall outs . It is tempting to dismiss AAP's success as a byproduct of recession and Kejriwal as yet another go getter. But if one would listen to the young closely, from both urban and rural areas, one would uncover very different and often disturbing expectations and attitudes to electoral politics . This is not adequately reflected in either the party manifestos or our mainstream media who continue to tow the usual line , and so far it is only partially visible in the social media.   

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Where do they go?

After India was partitioned , in one his most memorable short stories, the Urdu writer Saadat Hasan Manto's famous character Toba Tek Singh, an old Sikh patient with no known family on either side of the border, collapses awaiting a transfer as an unwanted asset . His last words are yelled out with raised fists and announce victory to all sides, making the patrolling troups laugh. Irrational and fantastic as such divisions become on the ground, never mind the original intentions, the dark comedy of the life and death of Sirdar Toba Tek Singh unmasks the real tragedy of our times, where do the ill and the unwanted go when 'assets' are being divided ?
When I watch the mentally ill, I am struck by the different pace of life they seem to lead and the need for a gentle, careful handling of their needs, mental and material. A recent report in The TOI quotes the WHO's prediction that by 2020, almost 20% of Indians may be suffering from mental illness, of whom 5 to 6% may be moderately ill but almost 5-6% may need regular medication . Multiply these percentages by our actual population figures and the numbers revealed are staggering . Given the lack of money available in most families with many mouths to feed and a general reluctance to incur the expenses for a mentally ill member, most of them end up in government run hospitals .
Since there remains a lack of professional precision at the core of our policy making machinery where the welfare of these lost souls is concerned, there are very few inexpensive government hospitals for the mentally ill . What complicates this further is that for the last decade or so several physically large and populous states such as Uttar Pradesh(UP), Bihar, Madhya Pradesh(MP) and mostly recently Andhra Pradesh(AP) have been split into two . Great squabbles follow over the crucial question of dividing the prized assets arises between two such states . After the secretariat buildings, each state wants as many Hospitals, including mental institutions and educational institutions in its fold. When the hill state of Uttarakhand was carved out of UP and the famous mental asylums at Bareilly and Agra, remained in UP , bitter questions arose . Would the UP government continue to extend subsidized services to old patients from Uttarakhand as it had done for several decades ? The answer was no! even though many such institutionalized patients had no family or homes to go back to . Sorry, said the government, we have limited budgets and our people need all the subsidized care we can provide . Likewise when Jharkhand was carved out of Bihar, the well known mental institution in Kanke was allocated to the new state of Jharkhand declared its inability to go on providing subsidized services to patients from Bihar , even those with no known addresses or families .
And now political expediency has split the erstwhile state of AP into Seemandhra and Telengana . Of the 6 government run mental asylums three ( located at Nalgonda, Medak and Mehboob Nagar districts) stand transferred to the new state of Telangana and the other three ( located in Vajaya Nagaram, Kaddappa, and Prakasam districts) remain with Seemandhra . Since the mentally ill are low in the priority lists of all from the state governments, as are the families, no one has yet raised the ticklish question of states exchanging their mentally ill . But the question has not died . It has just been put on the backburner .

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Baithak is a peculiarly Indian noun from the verb Baithana or sitting down . Within homes or in the public sphere a Baithak is a comfortable sitting space for enjoying friendly freewheeling discussions . This is what I hope the blog will lead to . As a child I noticed that Baithak Khana,  the formal sitting room in tradional homes, was a male space . Women could, if permitted and sufficiently free(which was rare) listen in from the room beyond, to the male talk, but participating formally or informally remained impossible. Only when a particularly important issue( such as a marriage alliance for a member of the family, or property matters) was being discussed, elder women took sitting behind the curtains made their dissent or displeasure obvious by first clearing their throats, or, if that went unnoticed, sending out a young child and asking for the husband to come in for a moment . That was all .
Time, I said to myself, this was undone . Thus started a popular TV programme in Hindi around the late 1990s titled Mrinal Ki Baithak. Two years later I left the private channel airing it, and the programme closed down .  
This blog I hope, will continue the free and frank exchange of views between the blogger and readers and go beyond national politics into all matters that make up the politics of our daily lives .