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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

THE MUSLIM ANGLE

Its been a while since I had a go at activism and the last time I took a stand on an issue was when the auto driver refused to take me to Powai. What brings me back to the writing board then must be an issue that though I was aware of, that which I had dealt with on a superficial level in a documentary but which I had never personally faced before yet needed to be addressed. In the last week, it has finally happened to me and the magnitude of the gravity has seeped in. What I refer to is the fact that this secular country is home to some of the most communal people who deny a house on the basis of not any other logical reason but simply the fact that I am a Muslim.

Yes, there may be multiple excuses for this- me being a non-vegetarian being the most convenient and simple, but let us not allude ourselves that this is what it is about. It is something much more inherently rotten within the mindsets of the people that leads them to behave in this particular fashion.

I have looked at 20 houses, dealt with 6 brokers and been insulted around 40 times. One second tier broker takes the liberty to even say in Marathi"why did you not mention that it is a Muslim person who is looking? Wasted our time." It gets worse. Today when I mentioned that another person may be looking for a house too, the broker asks, "Is he Mohammedan too? If not, i have something upfront to show them." Its almost as if my Muslim status relegates me to the queue of non deserving people who cannot be trusted to live in decent societies. And it gets worse. When I finally manage to get a house and the owner is decent enough to not rouse the Muslim issue, he does mention the possibility that I may still not get the house because the so called "society" may not want a Muslim among them.

The question then begs to be asked- how is it a society if it is not even civil? While many may say it comes a package, i am not sure that simplistic appraisal works anymore. I have never been the idealistic or the religious Muslim but I am definitely a proud Muslim who has never been guilty of being born one. I am not starting now.

I don't see it as a failure for the Muslims, I see it as a failure of a country that refuses to grow up and accept its own people. The country demands an acceptance on the world stage when we, as its people are shallow enough to not even give it a shred of attempt internally. I lambast because I am angry, because I should not have to hide behind a false name to get myself a decent place to live.

The shocker is that while the documentary I made 2 years ago as my master thesis was based in Bangalore, the cases there were not as appalling as they are in the so called cosmopolitan city, Mumbai. It seems to lag by a 1000 years in its outlook and leaves behind even the generally considered 2nd tier cities in its conservative outlook and this is what bothers me. I don't expect it to happen to me in my birth city, I don't expect it to happen in a city i love so dearly, and I don't want it to happen to the city that is being hijacked by mind numbingly conservative elements like MNS who brew trouble for all the rest.

It's a case of one rotten apple spoils the barrel and I am afraid I love this city a little less every single day. Angst out.

Monday, March 16, 2009

IT'S NOT A PROFESSIONAL HAZARD

Sexual harassment at workplace is not reported as women feel that they may be in a way responsible for them being its victims.


Mrs. Madhuri Sute was an ambitious Marathi PhD student who believed in her mentor and guide. She believed he would be there at every step to lead the way to the right direction. Mr. Lokhande thought otherwise and considered her to be an easy prey.

This is not the first of its kind cases where women who are pursuing their dreams have faced constraints from society and sometimes just plain harassment from their superiors. The much touted glass ceiling does exist in the form of harassment- be it mental or sexual.

“When he sent me to fetch water, I went inside and he grasped me from behind and attempted to rape me but I ran away. Since then he constantly tried to threaten me with claims of him being a man who would get away with it but me as a woman would constantly have to bear the brunt of talking about it and thus the best way out would be to stay mum about the incident,” said Mrs. Sute, one of the courageous few who decided to take the battle to court and got her deliverance with the judgement of him being removed from his post. “Women in India constantly face the battle of wills where the family may not support the woman and instead ask her to withdraw or quit her job as the primary solution to dealing with sexual harassment,” she added.

Something very similar happened to Niharika Kalra, a student who was working as a part time associate with an advertising firm. The new boss kept flirting, which she kept ignoring, but after the initial days when it became impossible to work around him she told him to put an end to the indecent behaviour. His retaliation- an attempt to molest her right inside the workplace. Her reaction- She never returned to the job.

While it is believed that sexual harassment is more obvious in certain industries than others it is equally true that it is all pervasive and everywhere fathomable. Fashion, films media and advertising top the list of maximum offenders but then comes the call centres and blue chip companies that also demand a share in the pie. The aviation industry is the new entrant that begs for attention.
When Ashwini Jagdale, an upcoming executive in a blue chip company, was called to the boss’s office, she presumed a promotion was on the cards as she had been awarded the employees award sometime back. She was instead asked to empty her table and leave on grounds of incompetence. Shocked as she was, she demanded a valid reason but the only response she managed to evoke was the demand of a sexual favour in exchange for the job. Counselling family led to one solution- call in the police but police instead of taking action started a counter counselling session putting forth the troubles for her if she goes ahead with the complaint. With the family support slowly ebbing out, the only answer left to Ashwini, like Niharika, was to walk away quietly from the situation without further ado.

The law against sexual harassment at workplace in India came into formation after the Supreme Court upheld the guidelines of Convention of the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in the Vishakha v/s State of Rajasthan case. The case was historical in nature as for the first time it identified the perils faced by women even during the task of fulfilling duty as projected in the rape of Bhanwari Devi by the villagers of Bhateri, Jaipur, while she was on duty as a saathin opposing child marriage. CEDAW defines sexual harassment as “any unwelcome sexually determined behaviour such as physical contact or touch, a demand or request for sexual favours, sexually coloured remarks, showing pornography or any other unwelcome physical, verbal or non –-verbal conduct of a sexual nature.”

“The CEDAW guidelines also expect the companies to create a permanent Complains Committee where a woman can immediately report a case of misconduct. It not only expects this committee to be headed by a woman but also that at least 50% of the members on its board are women,” says Saharsh David of Akshara Women’s Center. While there are several organizations such as Akshara Womens Centre and Indian Centre for Human Rights and Law (ICHRL), that are working towards helping these women who are victims, the fundamental problem lies in the support system, mainly the family and society that pressurize her to keep sexual harassment under wraps.

Kamyani Bali Mahabal a women’s rights activists feels that “the myths that float around about sexual harassment amount to near absurdity with some of them being that women like being sexually harassed because it makes them feel special to be able to grab the attention of the man to this that only women who are provocatively dressed are victims of sexual harassment and decently dressed would never come under the radar of the roving eye.”

Sanjana Agarwal, an aspiring journalist became a victim of sexual harassment by her superior, known for notoriety of his nature. She was warned the same by all- to not let it affect her work and that it was a matter of time before somebody else would become the object of his distraction and she would be spared. She couldn’t handle the constant innuendos and the culmination of it is she has stepped away from journalism altogether. Says Sanjana, “The way it has become these days, its wrong for a woman to be made to go though this kind of harassment. It becomes difficult to concentrate on work and the ultimate sufferer in everything is still the woman. Why should a woman be stemmed from reaching out to her dreams?”

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

NIGHT AND FOG..MUST WATCH!

The misery of human life. The worthlessness of human life. The debasing of human life. Alain Resnais’s Night and Fog revisits the ghoulish experience of the Jews in the concentration camps of Auschwitz, the largest of those created for the very purpose of extermination.

The contrasting parallels drawn- from present to past, from colour to black, from simplicity to complexity, from beauty of the landscape to the horrors that it witnessed, they charm, they enthral and they horrify.

Right from the beginning, the to and fro from the present in colour to the past of black is significant of details more than one. It not only signifies the blackness of the time as it brought darkness to the lives of so many- 3 million to be close but the darkness of the deed in itself. The brutality of it in the way it was contracted like they are merchants of death, the people just but a need to make money. To quote Himmler, “we must exterminate productively.”

The concentration began with rounding up of people who knew not what they had done, who knew not that they may not see the light of the future, who just knew that things were about to get grim for them. The camps constructed with all the necessities that a new development site desires- beds, toilets (even if just holes in the floor), kitchens, hospitals and later a CREMATORIUM (read: Scientific gassing rooms for mass killing with nail scratchings on the ceiling as the only sign that people were in there once), just waited for one thing more- the inmates to fill the place, to never leave it again. The horror of being loaded 100 to a bogie in the train that left its source in darkness to reach its destination in darkness to commit the sin that will haunt for generations to come. The people locked inside like animals being offloaded to an unwarranted destination because they don’t serve their purpose anymore.

The movement back to the future at this point brings us back to the reality that this was an event of the past but whose memories will live on making the place so barren in nature and empty because all life there was exterminated to never come back again.
The impact of showing the empty bunks of today while talking of them overflowing with people in the past to glorify the fact of what it must have felt like to be there, to be a part of those tormented souls is more than it could be, if shown directly. The imagination draws incomprehensible parallels instead of the clear picture drawn with bluntness.

The irony of the SS slogans of “Cleanliness is health”, A louse means death”, “work liberates” and “to each his due” compared to the life of the people evokes a disgust within oneself for the hypocrisy of mankind. But the human nature was portrayed from the other side as well (as a ray of hope)- the tendency of man to be resilient even if the grimmest of hours, the ability to think, to pray, to help another weak, the basic humanity forgotten by the Nazis, still untouched by the physical torture as was the case of the prisoners.

The war turned all to stone but the heights reached in the mania of war is brought out in the plight of the patients at the hospital- first empty and shown in colour to draw the viewer in the fa├žade of the structure and then throw them again in the past of black to show the actuality of it and the medical disaster that it was- experimentation, needless operations, fun and games with the lives of the patients because the rulers of the place felt in the mood to do so.

The subject of the brutality of the murders in the gassing chambers is dealt with by the visuals of disturbing nature that jar the mind. The ovens used in the crematorium indicate the cold-blooded nature of the monstrosity of the Holocaust that strips a person of dignity as even the dead body is not left alone, even that is put to “productive” use like the women’s hair could be made into excellent carpet and the bones could be used as fertilizer, a futile attempt.

The gruesomeness reaches the peak level as the dead bodies are shoved into pits with bulldozers pushing them, they were but humans, nothing much. The presence of the shots in the film indicate the determination of the director to make you realise that if watching it is painful, imagine the pain of going through it.

The back and forth thus became necessary as it was important to see the today’s implications of yesterdays deeds. What looks like sunny landscape is the home of terror needs to be reiterated to remind that it is not past, it is just dormant to erupt again when the time comes, that no deed goes unpunished, no act goes unforgotten.

To document the same in another way, it may be a possibility to locate the survivors of the Holocaust and take a first hand account of the brutality, to bring it back to life in thoughts of those who lived it. To each his own, for now let Resnais take the centre stage.

SPELLBOUND!

Spellbound just left me spellbound! It's fascinating how 8 children with different backgrounds- Indian and Mexican migrants, single parents, black in white society Americans- all competing for the same ultimate goal. Not all may win the National Spelling Bee, the time honoured tradition of America, but will definitely win your hearts.

The film is a documentation of one of the most geeky events existent but makes you race with it, holding your attention like a suspense drama where anything can happen anytime. You are first introduced to individual contestants, all regional champs, given a peek into their lives just a bit so you develop your affections and root for them. You are presented with their backgrounds- faced with expectations, burdened by hopeful parents whose stature in society depends on the child’s resilience during the most grilling competition. You are then thrown in the National Bee where cutthroat competition is the only mantra for survival and you have to support your pick.

The intertwining of the lives of these children, with the aspirations of the families- migrant parents to demanding parents, along with the competition was an example of editing with brilliance where the boundaries are experimented. Bring in the background and context via the previous winners and America’s aspirations; the film digs deeper than the surface competition to the social implications. Be it the Indian or Mexican parents who find acceptance due to their child’s achievement or the parents who think they have a point to prove to the world.

The most exemplary example of techniques used would be the juxtaposition of certain events like the mere introduction sequences of every contestant, ranging from different economic, social and cultural backgrounds like the quiet April of Pennsylvania against the hyperactive Harry in New Jersey; poor black Ashley of Washington streets against the rich Indian Neil of San Clememte, Orange County. The tension of Neil against his father’s pressure and hopes during the competition as he prepares to spell. The emotions were reflected in the extreme close-ups of the contestants with their expressions of tension moving to those of concentration, confusion, sometimes shock sometimes despair and sometimes pure frustration. The audio matched perfectly with the visual on screen-be it the ever-indicative bell or be it the common track used to various effects throughout. The movie stands out- not just visually but emotionally as well. One that would stand out in my memory would be April’s father- walking around, swinging on his feet, playing with nails- all in a bid to handle tension- excellent sequences used. Kudos to Jeffrey Blitz!

Display of Religion in Public Domain

Should there be secularization of the cultural environment and a decline in public display of religious activities? Should religious beliefs of any kind be treated as a private eccentricity rather than a central and driving force?

The previous few years have seen a multifold increase in the incidents of religious intolerance. It may in some ways be attributed to the growing public display of religion and the impact of the developing trends of increasing declaration of faith.

The number of people who have turned to religion as a shield for their identity is alarming. The current format of religion following is a result of the increasing insecurity amongst the puritans that the developing world is attempting to wipe out the “culture” preserved over the years. This is then juxtaposed with the new developers who wish to break free of the bondages of the older religion. The expressions of both against the other have brought religion to the streets like never before.

The current scenario in the world points to the increase in religious fundamentalism and radicalism. The need to become cultural and moral protectors stem from the insecurities in the geopolitical sense and the fight for power. Be it the latest Mangalore Pub attacks or the Salman Rushie blasphemy in Satanic Verses or the Danish cartoonist who was murdered for blasphemy points to the increasing intolerance and religion leaving private practice domain into the pubic sphere.

Is there a need to regularize and clamp the freedom of expression under which the hooliganism of religion is spreading or is it a violation of the right? India was declared as a secular country even before the word secular appeared in the constitution during the emergency period but the application of the same still has not perpetrated through the years. Religion has become the driving fore of this country with the majority of the population being Hindu and vote bank politics the trump card of the politicians who have divided people on the name of religion. Parties such as BJP under the shadows of VHP function as the mouthpiece of the religious fundamentalists.

The practice of a religion is a matter of personal choice and comfort but spread on the streets of a country it defines the direction of the populace and creates havoc.

Stereotypes

Stereotypes can be defined as a conventional, formulaic, and oversimplified conception, opinion, or image of anything, be it a geographical trait, a religious trait, a regional trait or an individual one. There are many stereotypes floating out there that are now slowly embedded in the minds of people as the reality of the people.

Be it the oriental stereotypes where the orient has been considered different on a lower level than the west or the depiction that India is a land of ropes and camel and snake charmers. In the past few years with the increasing terror attacks and the number of fatwas issued by fundamentalist mullahs or the so called guardians of religion have led to a commonly accepted stereotype that the mullahs all over are fundamentalists. They issue fatwas as a means to garner publicity and create havoc amongst people for absolutely no reason and raise petty issues that otherwise need absolutely need no attention. They also stir up controversies that have no logical base and reek of fundamentalism where free speech is overpowered with the idea of blasphemy and clamped upon. For these reasons Salman Rushdie lives in exile with a fatwa issued by Ayatollah Khomenei to kill him at sight for blasphemy against the Prophet in his book “Satanic Verses”.

The last few years have seen a sudden outbursts of fatwas issued in the name of Islam- the ones highlighted by the media are- against Sania Mirza for wearing a “short” skirt while playing her sport, against Salman Khan for being “un-Islamic” by attending a Ganesh Chaturthi meet, against Pakistani President Asif Ali Zaradari for indecent gestures towards Sarah Palin and the fatwa against Rani, the wife of the retuned soldier earlier considered dead to leave her new husband and return to the previous one without the child of the new marriage.

Talk to Mullah Azeezi and some of the conceptions may be cleared. Although a follower of Islam in its true sense, he has not lost touch with the realities and the changing times or for that matter- rationale.

A liberal and freethinking man, he in some ways projects the mullahs of the liberal and rational kinds who also exist in Islam. He says, “fatwas are no way to project an ideology, it is a forced tool created as a means to control power. People cannot be forced into conformity by fatwas, it needs a more deeper understanding an explanation than a simple issuance of fatwa.”

The fundamentalism does exist but is not the complete picture of Islam and the painting with a black brush of all mullahs is one of the stereotypes that currently grips us and needs remoulding and rethinking.