Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Wake Up America, the Baltimores need somebody to lean on.

(Image courtesy CNN)

I was in Baltimore a few years ago, right after I moved to the US. As I gushed over the awesome waterfront, the diverse city life, and said I would like to live here, my husband and his friend looked at each other and decided to drive through the "ghettos" on the way back home. What I saw was my first "ghetto" ever. Conditions and environments that would put some parts of Palestine to shame (and yes, that's a valid comparison). Areas of Baltimore which exist just across the street from Johns Hopkins look like veritable refugee camps. I had never seen that much barbed wire outside of Palestine before. 

And, I left Baltimore with the same exact feeling as I did when I left Palestine - it's just a matter of time before the oppressed rise up and fight against the systemic oppression, inequality, and injustice. It's just a matter of time when the have nots will fight back to gain what is rightfully theirs. 

I'm not American, and I have no desire to be. But as I sat at home and watched the people of Baltimore sing "lean on me" on the street while they defied the curfew order brought tears to my eyes. How can any chest thumping American feel any less? 

Yet, we still hear about trickle down economics and tax breaks. We still drag our feet on smart evidence based reforms in education and health. My biggest frustration with American policy making as a student of public policy is exactly this - America spends the most money on research. The smartest, most brilliant minds almost all exist here. And yet, policy making in the US is possibly the most inefficient and intellectually bankrupt in the developed world. What will it take to switch to evidence based policy making? 

There is little evidence that "broken windows" or "zero tolerance" policing works. And yet city after city in the US, today, are still instituting such broken policing policies which don't work. They cost more money, incarcerate more people, and are highly inefficient. Report after report commissioned by the federal govt goes into detail about Community Policing and the benefits of it. Successful police departments all across North America exist that show the efficiency and positive outcomes of community policing where the police exist to actually "Serve and Protect". How many more studies will it take? How many more reports, statistics will we need? How many more people need to die? How many more black bodies will bear the burden of inefficient policy making?

It's time to stop with the feet dragging and studying and it's time to do. It's time to use the ballot box, and your political agency to instill change. It's time to demand better for your fellow Americans and it's time to be that somebody to lean on. 

America Wake Up. 

Monday, January 19, 2015

NFL fans read this, or, bash your heads against the wall.

I confess, I don’t understand American football. For me a game called “football” where the “ball” doesn’t ever really touch the “foot” can’t be called that. That’s a name reserved only for that other sport with a massive worldwide following, and the ball actually touches the foot as a rule, not as an exception. 

This year, my Boston sports team supporting husband who watches all the sports on TV if Boston is playing, decided to boycott the sport entirely. I do not follow sports, especially the sports that are popular in the US, and hence didn’t really notice, until he was asked by someone if he was excited for the game, and he told him about his decision. That got me interested in the problem. The husband isn’t one to passionately denounce something just because he doesn’t like the way things are. He’s  a lot more reasonable and analytical of a personality than I am. Naturally, I was interested to find out what it is that elicited such a strong response from him.

So, I did some reading and watched the PBS documentary called “the League of Denial” as recommended by a friend at the dog park. Husband and I watched the documentary on the same day American football fans were gearing up for the two Championship games of the season – the two respective winners would end up facing each other on Superbowl Sunday, that day when people gather in their living rooms to eat awesome food, drink some beer and watch giant men throw a ball around and pound the shit out of each other. 

No documentary has ever left me this angry. 

It’s not like the information presented was new. This is all well known. It’s just the league, ie the NFL has shown so much willful ignorance about the scientific evidence, and scientists on the NFL payroll have been deceiving the public and the media for so long, that it all seems bizarre to me. 

Pittsburgh worships their star player Mike Webster, who is hailed as an important part of the “Steel Wall”, and is often credited with winning his team four super bowl titles in his 17 year career. “Iron Mike” retires from the game and his life is taken over by depression, memory loss resulting in unemployment and lack of medical insurance, drug abuse, divorce and his periodically living in his car. His drug abuse spirals out of control and he has to resort to forging prescriptions for Ritalin to take control of his dementia. Mike dies at the age of 50 looking more like a 70 something year old man, than a former pro athlete. Watching his taped interviews where he struggles to put together simple sentences that you and I take for granted everyday left me with visible tears. And, then they introduce you to his family, their pain was raw and too much to handle.

“Iron Mike” dead from a heart attack, is diagnosed with CTE (Chronic Traumatic Endelopathy) post mortem. CTE Is caused by multiple concussions and is thought to also be caused by sub-concussive head hits, ie those hits to the head which do not cause concussions. Symptoms of CTE according to Wikipedia include "changes in mood (i.e. depression, suicidality, apathy, anxiety), cognition (i.e. memory loss, executive dysfunction), behavior (short fuse, aggression), and in some cases motor disturbance (i.e. difficulty with balance and gait).” 

The neuropathologist who looks diagnoses Mike with CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encelopathy) is the first to find the condition in an American football player. He is also black, trained in a foreign country and speaks with an accent. Therefore, the NFL accuses him of practicing voodoo in spite of him being better qualified than all the other doctors on the NFL medical staff. Dr. Omalu a forensic Neuropathologist later diagnoses CTE in another Pittburgh player, Terry Long. Dr. Omalu continues to face racism, and ostracization in the NFL community in spite of academically verified and published work that proves CTE is caused by multiple injuries to the head, the likes of injuries sustained while playing football. 

The NFL has been financing and conducting “studies” on the problem since 1994 and claims that there is insufficient “evidence” to suggest that there is a link. An NFL commissioned study in 2009 showed that NFL players are diagnosed with memory related diseases or Alzheimer’s about 19% more often than the general population. This study was buried by the league, and later leaked to the press. But, the NFL is still studying. 

While the NFL continues to “study”, the greater scientific community continues to publish research and show concrete evidence that there is no doubt that injuries sustained during playing American football can result in CTE. To date, according to the documentary and research done by Dr. Anne McKee’s CTE study center at Boston University CTE has been found in 45 out of the 46 brains of NFL players that have been looked at. (Oh, but then she’s a woman, women can’t do science!). I think these numbers have now been updated to be in 70s. About a year ago, Californian researchers were able to show signs of CTE in brain scans of living NFL players. So, there is hope that soon doctors may be able to diagnose CTE in living NFL players conclusively, without having to wait till they are dead. 

In the past few years an 18 year old playing high school football, and a 21 year old playing college football have shown significant signs of CTE in their brains, post mortem obviously. I’m sure people will make the argument that pro athletes make the big bucks and therefore they have to put their bodies on the line (that will be an unethical argument, but it can be made) but are we really going to allow the rules of the game to subject our kids’ bodies to this kind of trauma? College athletes don’t make the big bucks, in fact I’m sure some people will remember stories about players being disciplined when they eat more than their fair share, and the immoral and unethical practices that occur in college football. The abuse that results in CTE in mature adults is being condoned on kid’s bodies - can you imagine what it’s doing to the tender brains of pre-pubescent kids whose brains are still developing?!

Football fans, I ask you how is this okay? The people you clap for and cheer on when they abuse and misuse their bodies on the field for your entertainment should not have to live out the last days of their lives like “Iron Mike”. Their bodies are being used to make a multi-billion dollar corporation billions more. What kind of a society sits on their hands and condones this kind of abuse? What does this say about us as a people and as a culture? 

Support your players not only by cheering when they score. But also support their bodies which they are putting on the line for your entertainment every day. Listen to what they have to say about the way they are living out the rest of their lives, dramatically cut short by the abuse you are inadvertently sponsoring. Support their wives and children, listen to their collective voices, and be open to the scientific evidence in front of you. The least you can do is keep an open mind and watch the PBS documentary. It’s free and it’s been made for you, the fans of American football. Available here - League of Denial  If you won’t do this much for your beloved players, maybe you should bash your head against the wall.

Make sure you wear a helmet. 

Thursday, August 7, 2014

A post NOT about the rights and wrongs of Israel and Palestine

This is not a blog post about which side is wrong and which side is right. It’s a blog post about humanity and only that. It’s a blog post about conflict, war, violence, and what that means to people caught in the crossfire and how it can transform lives. 

I went to Israel in 2004 as a part of the Israel Young Leaders Program. Targeted towards undergraduate students who proved themselves to be a leader in some way or the other the program “endeavours to elevate the academic discourse on Canadian campuses regarding Israel and the Arab-Israel conflict.” If my memory serves me well there were 13 of us from universities across Canada. I met really great people, some of whom I am still facebook friends with – whatever that means. But, at the end of the day we all know that the trip affected all of us greatly and turned out to be an incredibly valuable experience for all of us. 

For 7 days we traveled Israel with heavy protection in the form of armoured vehicles and former IDF soldier bodyguards. We had a really great tour guide by the name of Tsvi who actually gave us a pretty unbiased overview of Arab-Israeli political discourse and history. We were exposed to numerous speakers – efforts were made to bring in some pro-Palestinian speakers. We met Israeli politicians, law makers, and academics. 

But, at the end of the day I think what stayed with me the most were the people. It’s going to be exactly 10 years this December since my trip – and I will never forget the people. I don’t remember their names; I am feeling a lot of guilt right now for having lost them over the years. Writing this is going to be painful, especially in light of what is going on over there right now. 

1. I remember walking through a market in Jerusalem. We were awed by the sights and the smells of glorious food. And then a little boy ran up to me and handed me a little packet. Somebody yelled don’t take it! But, I did. I don’t remember what was in the packet. Might have been a sweet of some sort – but the smile that the little boy flashed me will stay with me forever. I don’t know where he is. Maybe he is an IDF soldier now? I don’t know. 

2. As part of our trip we visited an Israeli Arab community in Israel (not Palestine) and met a lot of young children. When we asked what they would do after they graduated high school, the girls answered with a lot of hope in their eyes that they would like to be teachers or doctors. The boys were not so hopeful. We were later told by someone else that the possibility that all these children end up in university was slim to none. It is hard for Arab kids to end up in universities in Israel because of a number of barriers – psychometric testing, preferences given to those who serve in the IDF (Arabs are barred from participating in the army) etc etc. Children of rich Palestinians can sometimes end up in other foreign universities (mostly Russia) but that is rare. I don’t know where these children are anymore – no matter how hard I try I can’t seem to paint a pretty picture set in the present for them. I just can’t. 

3. We visited Sderot. As part of the tour we were taken to a small hill which looked out onto Gaza. It was a beautiful evening – the sun was setting as it basked in its hues of orange, red and yellow. As we stood there silently and watched the sun set over that part of Palestine that was deemed too dangerous for us to ventured into, a mother and her son showed up on the hill. Her son, who could not have been more than 8 years old brought with him a soccer ball which he started kicking around with us. We didn’t speak the same language, but all this kid wanted to do was play. We indulged. At one point the mother started sobbing. When we asked her (through our IDF bodyguard) why she was crying she replied that, she was just happy to see her son playing outside. The fear of rockets compels them and her son’s friends to stay indoors most of the time, so he barely got to play. That kid is probably 16 now. He is either in the IDF right now or getting ready to join. I can’t place a gun in his hands and an IDF uniform on his body. I close my eyes and shudder. 

4. We had an amazing trip to the tomb of the patriarchs in Hebron where we witnessed the strange confluence of the three Abrahamic religions – Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. As a non-believer I remember not being very interested (I think I would have paid a lot more attention now just because I find these things interesting) and so I sort of wandered off and started to check out other things. The temple is sectioned off into sections controlled by either the Israelis or the Arabs as their individual holy sites. However, the IDF controls access to the temple and have set up check points outside the building. One such soldier was standing on guard in uniform. Fascinated (and troubled) as I was by the pimply faced teenagers in full army uniform, holding loaded weapons everywhere I approached one such soldier. He was a kid who couldn’t have been more than 17/18 years old. We began talking. I noticed he had some kind of red Hebrew lettering embroidered on his gun strap and I asked him what it said. In broken English he told me it was his girl-friend’s name. Apparently, putting a girl’s name on your gun strap amounts to going steady in Israel – a very serious commitment. I wonder where he is today and what he is doing. My imagination doesn’t take me to a very pleasant place. 

5. The same day in Hebron, we went to a home that was turned into a museum by this Israeli woman who lost her husband “was killed by Palestinians”. She had a number of children surrounding her. Clearly the woman had been through a lot of pain, but she was resolute in her hate for the Palestinian people, and their innocent children. We sat and listened to her talk about violent revenge while her children crawled around on the floor, or sat and listened to her quietly. I am left to wonder today, what happened to those children? What kind of an effect does a lifetime of listening to hateful diatribe have on an innocent mind? 

6. We visited with a Druze community in the Golan Heights where we were invited in with open arms into an incredibly warm and welcome family tea. We ate desserts and drank tea with a large Druze family while we talked to them about the meaning of family, friends, and relatives. They told us that they have a lot of family left in Syria, but they can’t visit with them because they do not want to accept Israeli citizenship, and still consider themselves Syrian citizens. They have no phone lines – and so on religious or cultural days of celebration they meet their families on their own respective rooftops. You see, the border runs right through the village/community and so you can actually see across to the rooftops of houses that flank the border. I wonder what things are like for them now. How do they know when and if a family member has been killed in Syria? Or maybe they have phone lines now? 
7.  We walked around the city of Tel Aviv and found a man selling waffles on the street. We struck up a conversation with him, and found out that he was an army deserter and now lives on the street in an effort to hide from them and his identity. He told us that he left the army because he disagreed with their policies and that he was happier this way – with nearly nothing and barely making ends meet by making waffles and meeting new people from other countries. I wonder if he is still there selling waffles in Tel Aviv and what he thinks about what is going on now. 

8. Our IDF bodyguard, a man named Hesse (?) spent a full week with us, listening to us talk and talking with us. By the end of the trip he said to us that he learnt more by hanging out with us for a week than he has by being in the army and actually participating actively in the process. Hesse was looking forward to his post army stint vacation in India (apparently that’s what IDF soldiers do – Goa is a big destination!) and then deciding what he was going to do with the rest of his life. I remember him, the smile on his face and his eyes optimistic and hopeful for a great and exciting future.

9. At the end of the guided trip 3 of us decided to stay back since we didn’t have to be home for Christmas. We lived in a youth hostel in Old Jerusalem and experienced Israel and Palestine like the locals. Everyday we did something different. On Christmas Eve we crossed the checkpoint into the Palestinian Authority (West Bank) with our Canadian passports and ventured into Bethlehem. It was a miserable day – it rained all day and was quite chilly. My black wool coat was soaking wet and still we wanted to see if we could somehow make it into the Bethlehem Nativity Church for mass. We managed to get one ticket which one of us used. The two of us left that didn't get to go inside stood outside the church in the rain, had tea and talked to random people in Bethlehem. Bethlehem known as Jesus Christ’s birthplace is now 80% Arab. We met a journalist who introduced us to a Palestinian teacher. Since the latter didn’t speak a lot of English, the journalist translated most of the conversation back and forth. At one point we were asked if we would visit his home for lunch the next day, and we humbly accepted. The next day we took a taxi across another checkpoint and somehow ended up at his house. I can’t exactly remember, but I think he met us at the checkpoint and took us to his home. I remember walking over and past rubble – which served as homes to many families. Most had chicken coops in their houses as a way to provide for their families. We ended up at his house in time for lunch and met his wife and his 4 daughters. The man told us in broken English how he wanted his girls to be educated and to make something of their lives. He told us that he was one of the fortunate ones (!) and how it is so difficult to make ends meet in Palestine on the measly salary of a teacher. I believe his salary in Shekels translated to about a hundred dollars a month.  When lunch was served we had a simple meal of chicken and rice served on one giant plate. We all sat down together and ate with our hands. I will never forget how the best meal we had during out entire trip was given us to a man who had nearly nothing but simply wanted to be a good host. I remember that we all left with a sad, heavy feeling in our hearts. So when we got into the cab, we pooled together whatever little money we had and gave it to the man as a parting gift for his girls. Today, I wonder where they are, where he is and what they are all doing.

War, conflict, revenge, occupation, embargoes, settlements, bombs, rockets – these things don’t happen in a vacuum. People, innocent people are caught in the crossfire and their children sacrificed. When we left Israel and Palestine we left with the understanding that the people who make the decision to fire are never they ones who are directly affected by the crisis. It’s the people who bear the burden of war - the people who have nothing to do with the decision making processes of war. I will never again see these people who made my trip so memorable and touched me so profoundly in many ways, but all I can do is hope that their scars don’t run too deep.

Friday, February 14, 2014

February 14th, 2014.

It's that day of the year, which comes 4 days before my birthday and 5 days before the husband's. It's that day of the year when roses are overpriced, violets can't be found, and restaurants are overbooked and way too crowded. It's that day of the year when people are wishing their hunnies happy "loveday" (is this a new thing this year?!) on facebook even though they are seeing them everyday, going to sleep with them, and waking up beside them (assuming you haven't fallen out of bed in the morning).
Like most people relational wisdom has come to me late. I didn't know what was good for me in my 20s, and it took a long, drawn out, horrible relationship where I was cheated on and mistreated to bring me to my senses. Oh yeah, I received roses (or maybe it was lilies) on one (maybe a few?) Valentine's Days and a run of the mill proposal on another. But I would definitely fit the bill for any other emotionally abused woman on most of the other days of the year.
Thankfully, things didn't work out and I met a guy soon after, who said to me (upon hearing my miserable story) "you can't tell someone you love them, without saying, 'I' first". And, I might block out many other things my husband says to me, but that little morsel of wisdom is not something I will easily forget.
Today is Valentine's Day, and I have no roses (we think flowers are a waste of money - especially today), no restaurant reservations (we are waaaaay too lazy to book in advance). I had a long day at school, gave my students a test (on Valentine's Day I later realized), picked up some takeout from an awesome Malaysian restaurant (Penang in Chinatown) and came home to mark said test papers. The husband isn't home yet but will probably be soon. The takeout will be a nice little treat because all we have been eating for the last week or so is hot chicken soup (I've been battling a horrible viral infection and sore throat). My sore throat is back today, but if I have to eat another cup of hot soup I'll most definitely bawl. When the husband comes  home, we will heat up the takeout, snuggle up on our couch/bed and finish watching the third episode of Sherlock (we both dozed off last night), maybe catch a few episodes of Breaking Bad (we are mid season 2 now), and go to sleep.
Boring? No, comfortable. Lacking Love? Absolutely not!  I get to do what I want to do when I want to do it, and my husband supports me. If it wasn't for him, I would never be in a PhD program now. I know that, if I'm too tired to cook, he will either cook something hot and steamy, or he will have a cup of coffee with some cookies and go to bed with no complaints. I know, that if I don't feel like doing the laundry (it's my most hated chore forever in spite of all the gadgets we in the west have) he'll scrounge around in his closet to find that last clean shirt and pair of socks. I know, that on my birthday he will come home from a long day at the lab and make me hot steaming luchis in the kitchen because it's my favourite birthday food. I know that if I wanted to go away for a month to Toornto, I can do that without worrying about my husband and his meals, the dishes, the laundry, and grocery shopping.  I know that when diaper duty grosses me out (because it absolutely will) he's going to be able to take that on (blech. gross)

It's not that I love him because of all these things. I love him because he loves me enough to understand what makes me happy.

Some men who are doing extra special things for their wives/girl friends today do take on all the things I talked about above. But, I know that many don't. Valentines day perpetrates the idea that roses can wipe away the wounds from a few thorns - but really, they don't. Roses and shiny jewelry is not what happiness is made of. My friends who are the happiest are those who have similar relationships - ones that are based on trust, honesty, mutual respect and of course, love.
Now, back to grading papers!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

A protest in spite of being shut out.

Much has been said about the power of words. An English playwright wrote the now immortal line "The Pen is Mightier than the Sword". One can, in times of need choose to use words instead of  force and avert great crises. Perhaps the most blazing example of this is what is going on in Syria. On the other hand, words can do as much damage as the sword. Words can be hurtful, painful, and trauma inducing. Words can never be taken back. Words can kill.

As language evolves we human beings tend to use words in lots of different contexts without fully understanding what they mean. "I got gypped", "That's so ghetto", "You're being gay" are phrases which people frequently use without knowing what they mean exactly. They don't understand where they are coming from, how they got coined, and how by using that phrase one can in just a moment rob a whole group of people of their voice, their power, and their identity. I probably do it too. But I try not to. I try to be as sensitive as I can. I can't think of an example right this minute, but I hope that when I am being insensitive, someone will tell me, and give me a chance to apologize and acknowledge that I really should know better. It is after all the right thing to do.

I have (now had) a friend on facebook who I had expected would do the same. Today, I noticed his status which read exactly, "ManU getting raped by Man City :( " I protested. Thankfully, I had the good sense to take screenshots of the conversation to show my friends. A very good friend of mine helped me put it into a composite. All possible identifiers have been blurred out, because, I really do hope that he was just being stubborn and not willfully ignorant. I didn't remember to take a screenshot of the original status message, but hopefully, the comment preceding mine in the screenshot stands in for it.

The conversation quickly deteriorated. While I couldn't take screenshots of that part (it happened really quickly) I managed to copy and paste the conversation to show another friend. It went like this, verbatim:

Dudebro - The only reason I want to block you, is not to silence you but I don't have time to get into a stupid long ass argument because someone does not understand the difference between a literal meaning and metaphor. Why people always have to be morally correct? 

 Me -· Well, I disagree. What people fail to do when using the words like this is to have empathy for people who have actually been raped. I have worked with rape victims, and the trauma never leaves them. When they see their pain being trivialized it brings up a lot of ptsd. Think about a boy who was raped when he was a child, or a woman who was attacked - any other usage of the word "rape" needlessly brings up issues for them, right? Its the same reason we should not be using the word "gay" to put someone down either. We are human beings because we have the ability to be "human" - empathetic, sympathetic beings. Why not just do that, and listen and raise your awareness when someone steps forward and tells you that you are failing? That's what I believe. IF someone tells me that I was being hurtful, I believe that the human thing to do is to say, I'm sorry, not justify what I said. How do you know I wasn't raped? How do you know what that word means to me?

And dudebro, I'm a pretty intelligent person. The problem isn't with me not understanding what you said. I am simply telling you that its a problematic usage of the word. And I am not one to have "discovered" this suddenly either. Now, you can choose to do whatever, but your choice doesn't make me wrong. 

 Dudebro -  Does not make you right either.... 

 Me -  whatever makes you happy. But I hope this makes you think before you say it again. Cos that will be the right thing to do.  

 Dudebro - Same goes for you..  

 Me - I'm not the one being insensitive here. Your behaviour didn't teach me anything good. It just showed me how insensitive some people can be.  

 Dudebro - blah blah blah 

 Me - yup. that's nice and very mature.  

(At this point he deleted all my comments and his replies that appeared on his status message.)

Me - I called it right? youre such a self important prick I knew you'd do that. I called it right? Only serves to show me that I was right.

Dudebro - Fuck off Rini.

And, then he deleted me off his friend's list.

Please note that I have not made any changes to the copied and pasted parts of the conversation above. I have not even fixed typos I made to preserve the integrity of my post. Oh and obviously, the guy's name isn't dudebro (Although I wouldn't be surprised if some "famous" couple happens upon this name in an effort to be unique). My friend very eloquently used this word to describe my now former friend.

The point of me posting this here is probably to some extent shame publicly. Although, if he was being willfully ignorant I don't expect this post to change anything. But more importantly, I think that when the whole world is at our fingertips, and one word can make or break a person's moment/day/life, people really should learn to be a lot more sensitive and respectful. Acknowledging when one has hurt someone else is probably more important than being aware. I was never raped, but I have been molested, like many girls/boys who have grown up in India. I can't even begin to understand the kind of trauma that a person has leftover from physical assault of any kind. Let's all just be a little more sensitive when we use words. Let's all just be a little more empathetic. Perhaps then, people will feel safer and will come forward when they have been victimized. If my comments on his status made sense to one person on his entire friends list I consider my Sunday morning not wasted.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

How Women in India can Stop the Hand that Touches Them

India has been in the news with the way women are being harassed, molested, and raped in the streets of urban cities. This isn’t a new thing. This kind of female objectification and subjugation has been going on for ages. I think the internet has made it a lot easier for these stories to reach us. And, lately I feel as if the scumbags perpetrating these kinds of barbarisms in India have gotten emboldened and have decided to stop at nothing. They are shameless, disgusting men and should be treated the same way they treat women.

I am writing this post today because I am done with all the Western media shaming India relentlessly about the way Indian women are treated in India. I feel that part of it is the “look Indians are brown skinned savages who brutalize women constantly” orientalism at play. The other part may be the sensationalization of sexual abuse in India - after the brutal rape and murder of "Nirbhaya" in Delhi, this story is selling. Let’s be honest here, for every story that comes out of India about one man or many men raping or brutalizing a woman in India, there are thousands of other stories where men are kind, helpful and gentle. Obviously the crimes are happening, but what good is the publishing of these stories on CNN and Huffpost doing to the bigger picture?

I am also writing this post because I am disappointed. I realize that what I am about to ask for may be perceived as victim blaming, but this isn’t victim blaming. Because, I am not blaming women for what is happening to them in India. I am saying that they can be part of the solution and change what happens, after they get molested, raped or touched. I know that I am asking for an incredible amount of strength; the strength to fight back, not just against the men who are subjugating them, but also against centuries of Indian “tradition”. 

We can’t hope that once something bad happens, things will change. Now it’s time to take matters into your own hands. I know it’s difficult to twist the arm of the man who is touching you on the bus. But just find it in yourself and do it once. Look into the eyes of the man who is fingering you, clench your teeth, twist his arm and say, “I’ll break your arm so you won’t be able to touch another woman again”. I know, women are taught to be “soft” because if you aren’t soft and tender, you aren’t feminine. Bullshit. Remember all those Goddesses that we are taught to worship when we are children? They fight back. They are the reason good wins over evil. Tap into that part of your identity. Not the one that patriarchy and chauvinism decides to shape for us. 

Let’s not allow those with power to further victimize. Fight back. Use your vocal chords, your arms, your legs and your hands to fight back. Every woman in India has access to chilli powder. Carry a plastic bag of that good stuff in your purse and don’t be afraid to use it when necessary. It’s time to stop being a victim. It’s time to rise up and fight back. Spread the word, talk to other women and men about how you want their support, and that you want them to help. Talk to your friends, your family, your maids, and your neighbours and ask them what they would do if they saw a woman being victimized. Talk to your brothers and your boyfriends and ask if they respect your right to your own body, a woman’s right to her own body. And if they say that they do, ask them what they would do if they saw a woman being victimized. I just want a few of these stories to make it into the news: of women reclaiming their bodies, of women standing up to the scum of earth, of people beating the crap out of scoundrels who dare to claim ownership over another woman’s body. Barbaric scum should be forced to think a million times of what could happen to them if the women they were about to touch decided to stand up and fight back.

And one last thing, if you are a person who has children, teach your daughters to be proud of their bodies, to have ownership over their bodies, and to NEVER allow anyone to have access to it without their explicit permission. Teach your sons to have respect for all women, to understand the beauty of feminine strength, that they are NOT superior to women and that a woman’s vagina is not their right. 

It’s time that women reject the male chauvinism (perpetrated by both men and women) that teaches us that women are weak. Challenge it, stand up, fight back and woman, use that chilli powder.

P.S. I know that many people will not agree with me. I know that it is wrong to expect a victim to carry the burden of justice. I wouldn't if I could help it. But, at this point I see no other hope. I feel that if women don’t take matters into their own hands, if we don’t all band together and claim what is rightfully ours then things will never change.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Response to "A Dust Over India" by Mark Manson.

Before I begin my inconsequential rant, I want to address the very last thing that was written in the incoherent blog that is the subject of my rant today. The update at the end reads – “I want to thank all of the Indian readers who commented (yes, even the criticisms). I have promised to return to India one day and give it another chance, this time doing more research about the country and spending more time in the non-urban areas.”  My response: “Please don’t. India doesn’t need you to give it a second chance. It’s perfectly fine without personified orientalisms (such as you) pervading and polluting its existence. So, thanks but no thanks.” One last thing before I begin. I am not an India apologist like many of the responders on your blog. India is my mother land. I have spent a considerable part of my formative years in India and my still incomplete education began there. Like many people I know, India elicits in me extraordinarily complicated emotions. So, I am not even going to go there right now. This post is devoted solely to the travesty that is your blogpost:

Dear Mr. Mark Manson,

Your blog starts with the claim you have been to 40 different countries. I find it hard to believe that such a prolific traveler is surprised when he finds contradictions within a country which is teeming with millions. You ask yourself what the “immense history, the monuments, the spectacular sites of human ingenuity” are doing in India. I realize that if it could be helped the British (the former colonizers) would have uprooted all those silent witnesses to the incredible history of India (like they did with smaller artifacts), but since the technology didn’t exist back then, we will have to live with them being there. I know, it’s a bloody shame.

The first thing that you noticed was the trash. I am frequently told that the first thing people notice when they get off the plane is overwhelming smell (both good and bad). But I guess the trash and the smell (the bad kind) go well together. Yes, there is trash. And yes, there is the unforgiving inability to dispose of trash in a clean manner. It is a public health hazard and we all know it. It is embarrassing. It is dirty. But do you realize that the Dharavi slum (which you most likely walked past in Mumbai) is the recycling heart of India? The Dharavi slum recycling enterprise has hidden within itself 15,000 single room factories which employ around a 250,000 people and turns over a billion dollars every year. You can read more here: Did you notice that on those mounds of trash (everywhere) people were making their living by picking up plastic bags, bottles and other recyclables? You failed to recognize that in the process of giving off an unbelievable stench that organic waste is actually being degraded instead of being processed? Surely, Mr. Manson, you could have worked a little harder before starting your shortsighted rant?

You know the opening scene of Slumdog Millionaire when they show the young protagonist and his friends jumping into a pond of shit? (I think that’s what happened, but all I remember really is that there was a pond of shit, and there were boys in it). This blogpost of yours elicited that memory of mine a multiple times. Apparently there are people rolling around in shit, covered in shit, eating shit everywhere. I wonder what happened to make you so petrified of shit. But then who am I to judge, I can’t even throw out the garbage without throwing up a lung. I am also petrified of shit. The idea of having a baby (even though I love babies) and having to re-grow a lung every time I clean a diaper itself makes me want to throw up a lung. And yet, the “shit is everywhere” concept is eluding my memory. Perhaps it’s the fact that I am 33, and my memory isn’t what it used to be. While Slumdog Millionaire was rife with orientalisms I can not think of a better example of modern orientalism than the one you have provided me with on this beautiful day. I say “modern” because there still exists James Mill’s work on India.

You say, “the city is so crowded and disgusting that people decide they’d rather sleep on the airport runway.” Yeah. That is true. The city is crowded. This is the nature of the Indian metropolis – and it’s even more true for Mumbai. Cities are crowded, because as rural farmers struggle with producing what they need to be in order to just feed their families, they seek out a better life in the cities. When they come to the cities, they can’t find work and so they need to find a place to rest at the end of a long day. And, one of those places is the airport tarmac. It may be ridiculous to you, Mr. Manson but this is the nature of the rational man. When given no options he will pick the one that is the least objectionable. I can assure you that no Indian who is sleeping on the tarmac finds the city disgusting. If he did, he would go back to the place that he left in search of a brighter life. And one other thing, no one “decides” to sleep in anything but a bed.

“How could a place like this be allowed to exist?” – The same way a place where a teenager goes to the store to buy a drink gets shot and killed because he was a wearing hoodie is allowed to exist Mr. Manson. The same way Guanatanamo Bay, a prison where men are robbed of their human rights by one of the most “developed” nations on earth is allowed to exist. For such a well travelled man you have an unbearable poor sense of how things come to be. How can you be so na├»ve? India is one of the most corrupt nations on the planet. That’s how this is allowed to exist. That is why you saw no government. When people have no greater sense of need than to fill their own stomach, they don’t have time to worry about anything else. That is why there is no social accountability. When the rich make their living off of the poor and decrepit, they don’t care about fixing the social ills (just like in America). That is why there is no social change. If you are truly interested, I could send you a list of books that can explain to you why this country exists. But I’ll move on for now.

Your rant about saving India is possibly the worst example of white guilt that I have ever come across. The fact that you group Mother Teresa, and Bill Gates into that same saviour category is telling. It shows that you are absolutely clueless. You see, Mother Teresa dealt with the problem after it came to be. She picked up the poor and destitute and cared for them. She took their orphaned children and found them caring, loving homes. She however, NEVER sought to find the root and nip it in the bud. She didn’t teach people how to not have children which they couldn’t afford, in fact she went around the country undoing what government sex education campaigns were trying to do- educate people about the problem of population. Bill Gates on the other hand doesn’t simply hand out money to people who have malaria or polio. His foundation works on eradicating the problem of Malaria/Polio itself, by curbing mosquito populations and by increasing awareness of vaccinations. Bill Gates understands that the solution to all social ills in countries like Africa and India is in one word: education. You, on the other hand went to the most obvious solution: handing out money. And you didn’t really do that simply because you wanted to help, you also wanted to feel like you are helping. You know how I came to this conclusion? Because when you bought that couple food at what I would assume was a roadside dhaba, you felt the need to go put the plate down in front of them yourself. If you really are as well traveled as you say you are, then you should have known to buy them the plate and ask the storekeeper/waiter to take the food out to them and not give it to them yourself. But, if you did that you wouldn’t be able to look down at them while they ate what might have been their first full meal in months.

And, I just have to say this. NO ONE GOES TO AGRA TO EXPERIENCE THE COUNTRYSIDE. It’s one of the most famous tourist spots in the world. Why would you think it would be peaceful?! *shakes fist in air*. And, one other thing, - yeah, when many Indians see non-brown skin they find it fascinating. There is also the unhealthy obsession with fairness but again that’s another issue. And yeah, they might want to take pictures with you. It’s just like a white person wanting to take a picture with an African tribe. I’m sure you’ve taken pictures of what was unfamiliar to you in India – the shit everywhere, the trash, the poor people, the dirt. It’s the same thing.

You don’t see the difference between a Pizza Hut in India and one that’s in the west? Really? Western chains aren’t fast food to Indians. They are a luxury. Fast food for Indians exists at every corner on the street. For a few rupees (pennies to you) Indians can buy cheap, awesome, fast food everywhere in the country. That’s why the manager came to ask you what you thought of the food. And, maybe because he wanted a white person to say that the Pizza Hut in India was as good (or even better, which I think it is) compared to the one that you are used to. Could you be a more self-entitled prick?

“Indian culture itself is quite disorienting. The people can be incredibly warm and hospitable, or cold and rude depending on the context and how they know you.” – Wait, do you not understand what the word “culture” means? Indian culture (in the true sense of the word ie language, dress, song, dance, food) is disorienting. And, that’s because India is a sub-continent. It has geographic, linguistic, cultural diversity like no other. It has close to 30 states (and often comes up with new ones, which is why it’s hard to keep track) and several territories. And, that is exactly why no two groups of people (just like any other country) are the same. So, yeah some people will be heart achingly nice to you and others will be complete assholes. It’s true in any other country. Which is why even “academic” rudeness/politeness indices don’t measure countries, they measure cities – because the social realities of a community have a much bigger bearing on its citizens. That is why if you go to a village in India, where people are generally happier with what little they have, and have learnt to find happiness in the simple pleasures of life – you will find that people will open their homes to you and will expect nothing in return. The same goes for places like Palestine, Bangladesh and rural America. I have the same kind of answer to your “eye-opening” conversation with “westernized” Sanjay. Indians aren’t capable of violence? Ummmm okay if he says so. I guess all the communal riots, targeted violence, and the rape stories are made up then. But, I digress.

As a side note – I like how you snuck the ending to your rug story in. Even though you tried (a little) it doesn’t redeem your judgmental, prickly orientalism. I do appreciate your standing up to the cab driver though. That was a good one. It is a matter of principle. However you should know that most large cities have made it illegal for a cab driver to not run his meter. So, you should have asked him to turn on the meter as soon as you noticed that he didn’t. It seems to me that you were looking for a fight. For all you know it might have been an honest mistake. And you should have signed his receipt. There are very strict rules that cab drivers have to follow, and there are dire consequences (such as losing his cab license or his job as a taxi driver) which can take away his only means of making a living.

On your Buddhism story, I only have to say this: commercialization of religion exists everywhere, in every religion. Truly spiritual people learn how to pick out the good from what taints religion. I think you need to practice more of your meditation skills.

I’m also surprised at your angst about the illegal wares being sold on the street. For such a well traveled person I am sure you must have come across illegal DVDs, fake brand name purses on the street in Singapore, New York and other such “civilized” places. Why is India any different?

I get it. India drives us (former Indians, ex pats) crazy as well. I am also one of those people who just can’t deal with the poverty. I’ve written about it before in myblog – that I feel like I’m sheathed by my sticky affluence. A rickshaw-wallah missed a train just so that he could take me home safely at 12 am when I was in India the last time. I gave him a 100 rupee note instead of the 20 that he had asked for. His smile was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. Even now after countless tellings of this story, and while I write this, that smile makes me cry. It haunts me. You see, that smile doesn’t exist anywhere else. Nothing elicits more emotion in me than that smile. And, yet, if I had the choice I would choose not to experience it, because behind that smile lies a painful truth. That is the paradox. And no matter how cruel his story, there is still beauty in that smile. There is still beauty in India. It’s that beauty that makes us scrape and save for a few years just so we can go to India for 2 weeks and live again. That beauty lies in the trash, the smells, the awesome street food, the laughter of beggar children playing street football (you see that’s why that kid was asking for a soccer ball and not money). Happiness is fleeting and still beautiful in India. I am truly sorry you didn't get to experience it.