14-20 Jan, 2013
small world
Suspended for Not Covering Her Body Properly

The nationwide outrage against harassment and policing of women has done little for K Jameela, a teacher at Malappuram, Kerala, who was suspended in October for not adequately ‘covering’ herself. Last May, the government-aided Sullamussalam Oriental High School ordered its teachers to either wear purdah or a green coloured coat to protect themselves from the ogling eyes of male students. Jameela initially refused to obey and even took the matter to the State Human Rights Commission. When nothing came of her protest, she decided to wear a white coat instead. The management responded by suspending her.

“Most of the teachers were unwilling to wear a coat over saris. It is very embarrassing to [obey] such an order which gives you a sense of shame about your own body. I was forced to wear the coat. I took a white one from my son, who is an MBBS student. Being a teacher of mathematics, I have to use chalk quite often. It would have made a green-colour coat dirty,” says Jameela.

The school has refused to reinstate Jameela despite a written order by the District Education Officer. They have filed an appeal to the education secretary and the matter is still undecided. Jameela has filed a petition to the High Court on the matter.

Two colleagues of Jameela also say that the diktat is shameful. “We are in our late 40s or 50s. We come to school decently dressed. Why do they want us to cover our body at this age?” says one of them. School authorities deny that Jameela was suspended for not wearing a green coat. “We took action for violating discipline. She had raised baseless allegations against the management,” says Najma NV, the headmistress. She adds the colour insisted on was not green but asparagus (light green).

Covering up teachers has been an ongoing phenomenon in Kerala. “It only helps in killing their self-respect. Training boys to be gender sensitive is the only remedy,” says Bilu C Narayanan, a teacher at Government Model Boys High School at Thrissur.

Take Two
Hey Asaram
On the unsolicited dispensation of opinion by Godmen

This is a statement by Sri Sri Ravishankar after the Delhi rape when his organisation, Art of Living, decided to open a helpline: “Inside every culprit there is a victim crying for help. If you heal the victim, you will eliminate crime. For crimes not to arise at all, you need to check mental and emotional health. Let us sanitise and sensitise the minds of people.” A couple of weeks before that, following the school shooting in Connecticut, US, Ravishankar said this: “While the cause of aggression in young minds could be broken families, a hostile environment or the lack of much needed emotional support, an education in non-violence is a necessity today. We need to teach our kids how to handle their own negative emotions.”

A couple of things become obvious if you take both these statements together. Ravishankar does not discriminate on nationality before throwing his hat into the ring. All tragedies anywhere are grist to the mill. Secondly, his analysis of the problem and the solution are the same no matter what happens. For school shootings, it is emotional education of children so that they don’t grow up to go on random killing sprees. For rapes, it is to sanitise minds, which is probably the same thing as emotional education. Thirdly, since no one really has a clue what sanitising minds or emotional education means, you can infer that to do both, at the end of this dark tunnel of psychopaths, there is the light of Sri Sri Ravishankar himself with a set of breathing exercises.

He was also there with his bag of spiritual cliches when the Anna movement took off, hopping from television studio to studio, mediating between activists and the State. When the Anna movement faded away, Sri Sri faded away too. To be a successful godman, you need to be quick on your shifty feet.

His craving of publicity notwithstanding, it would still be a disservice to club Ravishankar with Asaram Bapu. Because the latter is a man from whose ashrams children go missing and die. And in whose wake, like in the case of Sathya Sai Baba, there follows a dark cloud of hushed whispers of child abuse. But Bapu’s solution that the rape victim should have appealed to the brotherly nature of the rapists is not very different from Sri Sri’s. While Ravishankar advocates a long-term bit-by-bit evoking of compassion in the rapist, Asaram is saying you don’t need to waste so much time. The name of god is enough for immediate sanitising. Both are making a case to redeem the spirit of human nature. Ravishankar’s lifeline is the literate upper-class and he talks their sophisticated tongue. Asaram’s is the vernacular middle-class and he speaks what he thinks will lead to the shedding of a solitary teardrop from the left eye of the mother-in-law of such a household.

What is more interesting is not what Asaram or Ravishankar said but why they choose to say anything at all. If you are unlucky enough to see Asaram on television, the only time it gets interesting is when he jumps up and starts whirling like a dervish who didn’t take enough classes. The rest of the time he is mumbling inanities about faith. The rape was hardly his business. Just as the school shooting has nothing to do with Ravishankar. But they are both victims of the godman’s dilemma of maintaining growth. It doesn’t take a lot for a Ravishankar follower to become an Asaram follower after a few months. The reason people crave godmen is entirely selfish. They can’t handle what life throws at them. And since life keeps throwing stuff no godman can contain, people continue to explore. Like you change doctors when an ailment refuses to go away. The godman has to work hard to get new members and to retain old ones. That is why Sathya Sai Baba was always conjuring up ash. And why Ravishankar pokes his nose into everything without invitation.

It is pointless to be outraged by the antics or words of godmen (barring, of course, outright crime). Their followers deserve them because they eventually end up being more extreme versions of their guru. If your faith was not tested even after seeing Baba Ramdev in a salwar-kameez, then it will take more than God to save you. Ramdev, incidentally, is also an honorary member of the anti-rape movement. His suggestion is to change chemicals in the brain through yoga so that men don’t rape. In the greater interest of humanity, he will also accept a small donation to teach you that yoga.


Obama and the Might of Penn Masala

Penn Masala, the ‘a cappella’ group formed by four Indian students of University of Pennsylvania in 1996, is currently performing in India. A cappella music is played without instruments, and Penn Masala is hoping that its five-city tour can turn the genre more popular in India. While speaking about the tour, the group also shared its experience of performing at the White House for Diwali in 2009. Sam Levenson, the band’s only non-Asian member, says, “It was so crazy for us to hear from our business manager that we had this opportunity. We had to convince our professors into letting us miss exams, which I don’t think they were too unhappy about. It really was a special day at the White House as it not only was the first time Diwali had been celebrated there, but it was also the day that the signing of an important legislative bill concerning Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders took place. What was even better was hearing the president talk about inspiring Asian-American talent in America and then mentioning our group.” Let the drums roll for Penn Masala. Oh, forgot. They don’t need instruments.