22-28 Jan, 2013
small world
Thou Wilt Arouse Brotherly-Sisterly Feelings

The outrage over the rape in Delhi seems to have triggered the creative instincts of Karnataka’s ministers in finding solutions for the harassment of women.

They mean well, but still, consider this advisory to students by the state higher education department. At a high-level meeting of university vice-chancellors, the department issued a 12-point advisory which included ‘character-building’ among students and organising ‘awareness workshops’ in colleges. Teachers were to impart lessons on morality at least twice a week. So far nothing to complain about, but then it went a step further and sought the development of ‘brotherly-sisterly’ feelings between students. After a row broke out on this bizarre ‘advice’, higher education minister CT Ravi said, “Promoting brotherly-sisterly feelings is not something new. Don’t we see girls tying rakhis to boys’ wrists on Raksha Bandhan?’’

Not to be upstaged by her male cabinet colleague, power minister Shobha Karandlaje announced that the 24/7 electricity consumers’ helpline in the state would also double as a women’s helpline. She reasoned that this complaints cell received fewer calls than anticipated and so it can be better utilised. This would be in addition to the dedicated women’s helpline, she added. She is yet to clarify how employees trained to answer questions about faulty bills will deal with issues like stalking.

With ministers getting so creative, everyone in government seemed to come up with interesting solutions for everything. This one had nothing to do with rape, but if you can count reduction of road accidents as part of women’s safety, then a motor vehicles inspector in Mangalore, GS Hegde, had a radical suggestion. He told autorickshaw drivers that they should have a small family photograph on the dashboard, reasoning that this would be a constant reminder of their responsibility. They would then drive more safely. And this would bring down accident rates. And maybe also evoke some brotherly feelings for female passengers sitting in the back.


Take Two
Villain, Depending on Convenience

If you were a human being with human sensibilities, what would offend you more—the death of a man or a nightclub being forcibly closed? A few months ago when Assistant Commissioner of Police Vasant Dhoble started raiding clubs in Mumbai, celebrities, has-been-would-be page three riff-raff, music directors, reality show stars, token youth with a token halo around their token heads and all the upper middle-class characters you find crawling around the corners of public discourse, were distributing sound bytes on how freedom was under threat. Recently, displaying the same stubborn fervour, Dhoble went about removing hawkers. One of them died of a heart attack. Dhoble has since been transferred. All those who had earlier made the nightclub raids an ideological battle didn’t have much to say.

You can almost see them opening the morning newspaper, reading about the hawker’s death, remarking to themselves— “There he goes again”—and then moving on to the next headline. But something quite the opposite is also happening. There is an outpouring of middle-class support for Dhoble. Some residents’ associations are out on the streets. This is that constituency whose teenage children Dhoble had hauled up during the earlier raids. They root for him now because they like clean streets, pavements to walk on, a decent life. It is a reasonable demand if not for the fact that hawkers are also human beings. They have for years been part of the system, been corrupted by it and are corrupting it like everyone else in this country.

The mirror that Dhoble holds to the middle-class shows up their own extreme self-interest. They want a good society only for themselves and so Dhoble can be monster or friend depending on which side they think he is on.

Recently, there has also been a drive to clear unauthorised slums in Mumbai. The reasons we don’t know yet, but there is always an agenda when a lazy and corrupt system begins to act. It could be the builders’ lobby or it could be about undercutting the opposition’s vote banks or any of a thousand other conspiracy theories. There are so many forces at work that the truth, like quantum mechanics, is always just one more possibility. About a kilometre from where I live, 1,500 huts were demolished overnight. I had seen them grow and proliferate for almost a decade. One person died then too. Those who stay in apartments, the ‘legal citizens’ of Mumbai, have welcomed the demolition.

Their reasoning is that encroaching on public spaces is against the law. But this was exactly the argument Dhoble made when he shut down the clubs. The letter of the law specified the time clubs should close doors. But then you saw counter-arguments and concepts like good laws and bad laws bandied about by the liberal media. It was argued that outdated rules should be discarded, implying of course that Dhoble had no business enforcing them. None of this hair-splitting is evident today when it comes to slums or hawkers.

What is amusing is that those who live in the apartments have no idea how much better off they are because of the slums. All the cheap labour, from drivers to maids to vegetable vendors to electricians to plumbers, comes from these slums. Get rid of slums and the cost of living will soar almost immediately, starting with your maid going on leave to somehow build a home again. Get rid of hawkers and you quadruple the spend in a restaurant. Whether anyone likes it or not, all lives are intertwined in a city, not just those of the rich with the rich. A well-off man can walk around with a blindspot for everything that does not fit his picture of a decent life, but he is still dependent on the squalor around him. There is also the general idea of empathy. A home is a home, whether it is a flat or a slum. And its absence is felt just as intensely by everyone.

Dhoble is effective because he has tunnel vision. He has really never been the problem. He is not even a symptom. He is just a maverick who fell through the cracks in a black hole, a man who (it is said) cannot be bought but does not rebel against the men who get bought and give him orders. Once he has served his purpose, his senior IPS officers send him into hiding. He is both a weapon and a shock absorber. Which is why he will be back.


Faulty Defence
A Little Bit of Khap-Wriggling

The Sarv Khap Panchayat, an agglomeration of 67 khaps, recently gave the Supreme Court its perspective on honour killings. The bench of Justices Aftab Alam and Ranjana P Desai was hearing a PIL on protecting young couples from the wrath of khaps. Arguing that their functioning not be regulated, the grouping blamed honour killings on the immediate family that ‘cannot resist the social pressure… and the taunts of relatives’, when their siblings, especially girls, marry into another caste or within the same gotra—which is considered incestuous. Such reasoning conveniently ignores the role of these khaps in creating this social pressure, which was evident in the statement: ‘Such incidents happen only [with] peace-loving and law-abiding people of the village and not mischievous families.’ The court, however, said that no one can run parallel family courts to issue diktats against the law and harass couples. The next hearing is on 5 March. khaps will need better arguments to convince the court to leave them to their primitive ways.