CategorySocial issues

social issue is a problem that influences many citizens within a society. It is a common problem in present-day society and one that many people strive to solve. It is often the consequence of factors extending beyond an individual’s control.

Religious Prejudice: Lies, Damned lies and Statistics

We have all grown reading about the Hindu-Muslim conflicts. But unlike the caste system, I personally never believed that religious discrimination and persecution of minorities had ended. It has been 70 years since Independence, and we haven’t made much progress in abolishing the same. Resentment and prejudice against minorities, particularly Muslims is common in India, but we have simply not acknowledged the sheer existence and scale of prejudice and discrimination. Hence, there has been little public debate or empirical analysis to establish the presence of discrimination and/or identify its sources.

The exclusion and discrimination of Muslims and other religious minorities is not episodic, but in fact, both everyday and institutional. It runs across all sectors and runs so deep that this religious prejudice appears normal to most people who perhaps don’t notice it or are unaware of it. This belief runs so deep that the government and media successfully managed to misreport and link a global health crisis of Covid 19 to  the Muslim community, increasing the social tension between the Hindu and Muslim communities and leading to increased discrimination, harassment and attacks. 

Over the past few months of lockdown, it is hard to tell which is galloping faster: the coronavirus or Islamophobia? From saffron flags on vegetable carts to the widespread use of expressions such as ‘corona jihad’, it has been a free fall and people have forgotten that – ‘A virus has no religion.’ These indirect anti-Muslim feelings have given way to direct hate-mongering. Social boycott has been compounded with economic boycott fostered with fake videos of Muslim vendors deliberately smearing fruits and vegetables with their saliva. The fake stories grab the front-page headlines and occupy centre-stage in raucous filled television shows; the rebuttals and clarifications are always too little, too late and unreported by the mainstream media. The damage has been done and the WhatsApp media industry is in full swing regurgitating misinformation and malice. As a country, we are split wide open.

Today, it has become more important than ever to recognize that religious identity remains an important axis of discrimination in India, and act to change this. The most dangerous and unfortunate part of any system of apartheid is the fatigue of those who are optimistic despite the discrimination. As each optimist begins to lose hope, the discrimination wins and gets rooted a little more firmly.

As Pablo Neruda said in his poem, ‘If you forget me‘:

Well, now,

If little by little you stop loving me
I shall stop loving you, little by little

If suddenly,

you forget me,do not look for me
for I shall already have forgotten you.

Today’s guest writer, Shoeb Khan, is a dear friend who I know for more than 10 years now. He runs his own architectural practice called Amakin. He, like any good friend, is a helpful person who would leave everything to go help a friend in need. I have attended his wedding and have been hosted in his family home with the utmost warmth and love and treated as one of their own. And yes, he is a Muslim.

Everytime someone talks about a particular community with hatred, I wonder, if they have ever tried to personally know anyone from these communities before following this set notion in their minds. There are bad people in this world who do bad shit, and they come from different communities, castes, genders and economic backgrounds. Generalising and pin-pointing certain communities is anything but fair. 

I met him when I was 18 and, believe it or not, he is my first friend from the Muslim community.  Now when I look back, I feel quite shocked that in the first 18 years of my life I rarely ever came in contact with or knew any Muslims, in my school or my neighbourhood or even anyone amongst my parents friends and acquaintances. Yes, that’s how isolated we are – completely unaware of how this community is marginalised and mistreated on religious grounds. When someone you know is wronged, you feel enraged but when you don’t know the person or community being wronged, you just ignore it and move on with your life. Doesn’t it seem really unjust and prejudiced?

So today, we are going to hear from someone who has been a part of the biggest religious minority community in India and faces the harsh realities of the same every single day. 

Shoeb Khan, Architect - Founder of Amakin Studio, India

I am Mohammed Shoeb Khan and I am a Muslim. My great grandfather, a member of the Muslim League, consciously took the decision of staying back in his HOMELAND and called India OUR country. My grandfather and father followed his footsteps. Even though my father went to Saudi Arabia in his youth, he came back and got settled here. I also decided to stay here even when most of my privileged Muslim as well as Hindu friends opted to leave for better opportunities in the West. There has always been a hatred in the minds of people against our community but if I have learnt one thing, especially during the past six years, is that I am really hated for my identity as a Muslim in MY country – India.

March 2020- The Muslim community was accused of spreading the corona virus on purpose, on the basis of misinterpreted data and biased testing sample set.

December 2019- The notorious Citizenship amendment bill was passed with a majority in both houses and made an act. 

November 2019- The controversial judiciary decision pending for almost 3 decades was pronounced by the Supreme court awarding the disputed 2.77 acres of land to one party and ‘GIFTING’ 5 acres of land to the other party anywhere in the country. 

July 2019- The conflicting Triple Talaq bill was passed with a majority in the parliament.

June 2019– Tabrez Ansari was stopped by a mob while riding his motorcycle in Kharsawan, Jharkhand, accused of being a bike thief, forced to chant ‘JAI SHREE RAM’ and beaten up resulting in his death.

April 2017- Pehlu Khan, a resident of Haryana, was stopped by a mob of around 200 people in Alwar, Rajasthan while on his way from a cattle fair in Jaipur Rajasthan and beaten up resulting in is death.

September 2015– Mohammed Akhlaq’s house in Bisara, Dadri, UP, was ambushed by a mob, accused him of having beef in his house, beat him up in front of his family resulting in his instant death.

February 2002- Ehsan Jafri, a former MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT, residing in Ahmedabad, Gujrat, was dragged out of his house along with several others and attacked and killed with swords and bats by a mob.

In all the above listed incidents, there are 3 major similarities, a certain community, a certain leader and a certain political party. A strongly optimistic person would fly them by as mere coincidences. I consider myself in the category of the long list of sarcastic ‘anti-national’ pessimists like Anurag Kashyap, Farhan Akhtar, Javed Akhtar, Javed Jaffery, Rana Ayyub, Ravish Kumar, Swara Bhaskar…

Incidents like these cast a disturbing shadow on my identity. I have seen some of my closest friends and colleagues changing their attitude post 2014. It’s as if there was this huge national shackle on this country’s majority, which our dear ‘KING DAENERYS’ arrived to break. I have seen posts and statuses online from many people and have been disgusted to the point of resignation and loss of all hope of redemption of ‘MY’ countrymen. 

The question then arises, why the hypocrisy for the past 73 years? If I was always unwelcome here, why was I allowed to be a member of this society, a natural citizen of this country in the first place.
Oh! I know, who would ‘THEY’ play ‘HUNGER GAMES’ with, if not for me.

‘DESH KE GADDARO KO, GOLI MAARO SAALO KO’.

Here are a few personal instances of my life that left me dumbfounded at the bigotry and blind biases of both citizens,government servants and authorities of India.

My architecture college is near the famous Siddhivinayak temple in Mumbai which is a high security area. Anyways, one day out of several bikes, my bike was stopped at a random police check post called ‘Nakabandi’. One of my hostel seniors (not a Muslim) was with me. FYI- both of us had beards. After the routine checking of all official documents, the policeman started asking me strange questions regarding my permanent address, my family background, my father’s business ventures etc. I felt strange and got agitated and asked him why were these questions relevant and addressed to only me from a bunch of people stopped. And he calmly replied because of our appearances and since we had untrimmed beards. (That’s right-the 21st century it is!) I did not know what he meant by that statement but his attitude towards me was highly condescending and unacceptable especially since he was very calm and respectable to my fellow passenger with an untrimmed beard.

Another incident that really boggled my mind was at the airport back when I was barely 18 years old. My parents were returning to Saudi Arabia and their flight was from Mumbai. This was at a time before the new T2 was constructed when the family members of the passengers were allowed into the airport upto a certain point to see off their loved ones. I wanted to give my father a hand with the luggage and family members of other passengers were being allowed inside. But out of the blue, I was stopped without any explanation. It was only later, I realized that this was because of my name and the fact that I was a Muslim.

All of these could be bitter coincidences but after the past 5 years of chaotic and shocking experiences nationally, I have begun to see a pattern in all of this. There are several such events in my personal life as well as lives of my family and close friends, but the idea is not to point fingers at all the government servants in all the government institutes or to gain sympathy but to highlight tyranny at the smallest of levels like my person to the highest of levels like in the case of Advocate Shahid Azmi. Wherever I go, even today, on learning my name, people’s behaviour alters, and suspicious glances are exchanged. Suddenly, it feels like all they can see in me is the fact that I am a Muslim, nothing else. 

In the words of the great MARK TWAIN, ‘I have seen Chinamen abused and
maltreated in all the mean, cowardly ways possible to the invention of a degraded
nature, but I never saw a policeman interfere in the matter and I never saw a
Chinaman righted in a court of justice for wrongs thus done to him.’

After a brief period of heartbreak, depression and anger over the situation, I came to the conclusion that our country has a rich and eternal history of resistance and resilience towards such atrocities and if we do not learn from it and apply it into practice in our lives in such hard times, we might as well resign being its citizens.

The power of organized educated democracy at the social level, the power of education and institutes at the system level, the power of the pen at the intellectual level and the power of words and speeches at the political level can and will bring the change. Maybe, we might not live to see those changes, but we certainly can be the trigger that starts the wheel rolling in the right direction.

I end with a few lines from a beautiful poem by Sahir Ludhianvi that moved me severely. 

P.S. – Pardon the tough Urdu words, I am sure the essence of the overall poem shall sink in everyone’s heart. 

Dharti ki sulagti chhati se bechain sharare puchhte hain
Tum log jinhen apna na sake vo ḳhoon ke dhare puchhte hain
                         Sadkon ki zaban chillati hai sagar ke kinare puchhte hain                           Ye kis ka lahu hai kaun mara ai rahbar-e-mulk-o-qaum bata

Ye jalte hue ghar kis ke hain ye katte hue tan kis ke hain
Taqsim ke andhe tufan me lutte hue gulshan kis ke hain
Bad-baḳht fizaen kis ki hain barbad nasheman kis ke hain
kuchh ham bhi sunen ham ko bhi suna.

Kis kaam ke hain ye din-dharm jo sharm ka daman chaak karen
Kis tarah ke haiñ ye desh-bhagat jo baste gharon ko ḳhaak karen
ye ruhen kaisi ruhen hain jo dharti ko napak karen
ankhen to utha nazren to mila.

Jis raam ke naam pe ḳhuun bahe us raam kī izzat kya hogi
jis dharm ke hathon laaj lute is dharm ki qimat kya hogi
insan ki is zillat se pare shaitan ki zillat kya hogi
ye kis ka lahoo hai kaun mara
ai rahbar-e-mulk-o-qaum bata

Now you might all ask- But what about all the terrorist attacks we have faced in the past? That is real. It is not something made up by the media. Well, to that I, VD, would just like to conclude by saying that – Yes, that is real. But so are the thousand of violence stories against these communities which are happening everyday and going undocumented, without any justice served. A person just doesn’t wake up one day and become a criminal or a terrorist. It is almost always, his past that leads him to chose that path. And we are all responsible for that past. 

We must always remember, the more we traumatise, isolate and persecute the minority communities, the hate crimes against them will keep increasing in turn leading to rise of ‘rebels’ who then try to take justice in their own hands. Also, you just can not hold an entire community accountable for something done by a handful of people. There are many Hindu criminals as well, but that doesn’t make you and me bad people as well, or does it? 

The only way to end terrorism as we know it, is to accept and include these communities in our society. Treat them as equals and fellow citizens. 

Social equality for all is the only way to live peacefully in the future.
VD

P.S. – There have been many shows like ‘The Family man’ and ‘Paatalok’ on Amazon prime recently showing this issue quite well. If you want to do some more serious reading you can check out the book ‘Begunah Qaidi’ by Abdul Wahid Shaikh (available in Hindi and Urdu, will be soon made available in English as well) or his youtube channel. Go watch these, think, reflect and change your thoughts and actions. 

Caste discrimination in India – An ugly truth

I first learnt about the Indian caste system while studying history in school. The caste system was formalized in a legal treatise called Manusmriti, dating from about 1,000 B.C. Manusmriti is a code of conduct put together by Brahmins, mainly for themselves, and some other “upper” caste communities. The text defined karma (actions) and dharma (duty) for Hindus, who today represent the majority of India’s population. In it, society was divided into four strictly hierarchical groups known as ‘varnas’ as shown below.

Pyramid showing social hierarchy

Over time, as social segregation and caste prejudice deepened, another layer of Shudras emerged at the base of the pyramid: Dalits, meaning “divided, split, broken, scattered” in classical Sanskrit. They got their other name — “untouchables” — because their mere touch could supposedly defile. I will refer to them as Bahujans (literally means “people in majority”), referring to Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, and Other Backward Castes (OBC), along with religious minorities.

But in school, I also learnt about the fight against caste discrimination by great leaders like Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar, Jyotirao Phule and Savitribai Phule. And how after a long and difficult journey finally on 26th January 1950, India came under liberal forces as a sovereign, democratic and republic. And for the longest time, I was under the misconception, that this was the end of the age old caste system in India.

Recently, I read a couple of graphic novels depicting the stories of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar (Bhimayana – Experience of untouchability) and The Phules (A gardener in the wasteland). Reading the story of Ambedkar, gave me goosebumps. Even as a child, the kind of discrimination he had to face for basic needs like water was heart wrenching. And he was, what I would call, privileged among the Bahujans as his father worked for the then King of Baroda, resulting in him always having proper clothes to wear and access to education. He got the opportunity to go and study at the Columbia University in America and the London school of Economics which was otherwise extremely rare among their caste.

“In Columbia University, I experienced social equality for the first time.” – Ambedkar in Columbia Alumni News, Dec 1930

In spite of being so highly educated, when he returned back to the city of Baroda in 1917 to serve the state and repay his debt to the Maharaja by working as a probationer in the Accountant Generals office, he could not find any motel that would let him stay. The government offices were also prolonging allocating him official quarters without any rhyme or reason. Even his friends did not welcome him to their house. He had to give up on his obligation to the Maha

raja and run back to Mumbai, just because he was an untouchable.

These books opened my eyes to today’s harsh reality and I started probing around and reading more on prevalence of caste discrimination in the 21st century.

The Ugly truth

Caste is an unfortunate and ugly truth in Indian society. For generations of Indians, the ancient code of social stratification known as the caste system has defined how people earn a living and whom they marry.

Most of us feel that caste is no longer an issue. But that’s not true. Even today in 2020, caste is very much real. 70 years after the caste system was abolished by the constitution, India still practices untouchability. Despite reform efforts, deep-rooted bias and entitlement hold firm among higher castes, while those on the lowest rungs still face marginalization, discrimination and violence. 

Here are some of the very few selected recent examples to look at :

This article was published in ‘The New York Times’ in 2017.
You can check out the full article here

And all this violence was just a result of a Dalit like Mr. Sardar speaking out and demanding what is rightfully his. He was beaten up and scalped for insisting on being paid the wages (about 5200Rs ) the higher caste landlord owed his son for working at his rice paddy.

In September 2006, an upper caste mob, according to eyewitnesses, paraded a mother and her 17 year old daughter naked,raped and killed them. Their brothers aged 19 and 21 too were murdered. Their bodies were dumped in a canal. This gruesome incident occurred in Khairlanji, Bhandardara, only 780kms away from Mumbai but too far it appears to muster national outrage.

In June 2017, a groom was threatened for riding a horse to his wedding – because doing so is considered an upper caste privilege. And this is not the first time a Dalit riding a horse to his wedding has been threatened. A similar incident occurred in 2015 when  villagers hurled stones at a Dalit groom in the central state of Madhya Pradesh.

In June 2018, three Dalit boys were stripped, beaten and paraded naked by villagers in the western state of Maharashtra last week for swimming in a well that belonged to an upper-caste family, police said.

In October 2011, six Dalit women were gang-raped in a village of the Bhojpur district which has a long history of violence against Bahujans. But the worst part is things are not getting better with time. Even today on 6 April 2020, amid the national lock down, five people belonging to the Dalit community have been injured in Bhojpur district of Bihar after they were fired upon by members of dominant caste groups on Sunday night.

And if you think that untouchability exists only in the villages , that is not true. Not only does caste resist changes by time, it also manages to transcend the rural-urban divide.

Recently in Delhi, three students training for their civil service exams were beaten up and evicted after they were discovered to be Dalit.

This article was published in The Telegraph in 2008.
You can read the full article here.

A similar incident happened with the sister of my friend from architecture college in Mumbai itself. It took her a long time to be able to rent a room. And after a long search when she finally found a place, it was on the condition that she would never go near the temple in their house.

“Dalits are not allowed to drink from the same wells, attend the same temples, wear shoes in the presence of an upper caste, or drink from the same cups in tea stalls,” said Smita Narula, a senior researcher with Human Rights Watch, and author of Broken People: Caste Violence Against India’s “Untouchables.”

The data collected by the India Human Development Survey conducted by the National Council of Applied Economic Research says-

  • More than 160 million people in India are considered ‘Untouchable’
  • About 27 percent of the Indian households still practice untouchability
  • Since, Brahmins come on the top of the caste chart, 52 percent of them still practice untouchability
  • Only 5.34 percent of Indian marriages are inter-caste
  • It is most widespread in Madhya Pradesh with 53 percent practicing untouchability. Madhya Pradesh is followed by Himachal Pradesh with 50 per cent. Chhattisgarh comes on the 3rd position with 48 percent, Rajasthan and Bihar with 47 percent, Uttar Pradesh with 43 percent, and Uttarakhand with 40 percent
  • The survey also shows that almost every third Hindu practises untouchability (33-35%)
  • Every hour two Bahujans are assaulted; every day two Bahujans are murdered, and two Dalit homes are torched.
  • Nearly 90 percent of all the poor Indians and 95 percent of all the illiterate Indians are Bahujans, according to figures presented at the International Dalit Conference that took place May 2003 in Vancouver, Canada.

Caste and reservations

For thousands of years, education was denied to the majority of the population of our country on the basis of one’s birth. Seven decades ago, the founders of postcolonial India outlawed caste discrimination in the constitution. Yet caste remains a significant factor in deciding everything from family ties and cultural traditions to educational and economic opportunities, especially in small towns and villages, where more than 70% of Indians live. Nearly a third of Bahujans make less than Rs. 100 a day, and many don’t have access to education or running water. Untouchables perform jobs that are traditionally considered “unclean” or exceedingly menial, and for very little pay. One million Bahujans of a specific sub caste work as manual scavengers, cleaning latrines and sewers by hand and clearing away dead animals. It is estimated that over 600 sewer workers die every year. That is more than 10 times the Indian soldiers killed by terrorists. Millions more are agricultural workers trapped in an inescapable cycle of extreme poverty, illiteracy, and oppression. Very few of them hold office jobs. 

“Reservation” is a tool to give education and jobs to the oppressed on the basis of their caste – that very caste on the basis of which they were earlier denied education and jobs.

For many Bahujans education is the only way out of poverty, but that isn’t easy. Many upper caste and privileged people think that these reservations are not fair. They feel that it robs people with merit of opportunities. Even I used to be one of them till few months back when I realized we are so self absorbed that we cannot see the big picture beyond our own selfish needs.

Reservations are not meant to fix caste inequality , but to prevent caste supremacists from outright denying the less privileged their right to learn altogether.

Some people feel that reservations discredit quality and talent. That is a myth. Even the reserved seats ate allotted based on merit. For example:

2012 Cut-Off Marks in Medical Colleges of Chennai

This table clearly shows there is hardly any difference between the cut off marks between the open category and the reserved seats. It is true that this difference might vary from course to course and college to college but the underlying fact that reservations are like charity and not merit based is false. Also the idea that low caste people are inactive and not interested in education is an upper caste myth where the lower castes are so objectified as unworthy, that the idea that they too study to create careers simply does not occur to the thoughtless flock of upper caste privileged people taught to resent their very presence. If anything these people have to work ten times harder to even try and reach the same stage, overcoming obstacles at every level. Many of them leave their education mid way at an early age itself as they are unable to bear the teasing in the classroom not only by their fellow classmates but many a times also by teachers.

Some people believe reservations should address economic vulnerability and not caste. – Vidyut, who has a keen interest in mass psychology and uses it as a lens to understand contemporary politics, social inequality and other dynamics of power within the country gives a very logical reply to that –

“It is like saying, we will fight one kind of inequality but not another. Removing protections to one kind of vulnerable group in order to assist another is not a better method, it is fundamental inhumanity that refuses to take responsibility for the whole range of assistance needed. Replacing caste based reservations with those that are economic capacity based will have an extremely predictable result of filling seats with high caste poor people and disenfranchising the lower castes while pretending that this is a more just system. Poverty, on the other hand, does not necessarily need reservations, but assistance. Lack of economic resources can be fixed with free tuition and funds to enable study.”

It is true that a few rich lower caste people are benefited by these reservations. But isn’t that true with everyone and everything in this society? All educational institutes have management seats for privileged people who get in just by giving huge donations. Also don’t Bahujans deserve some concession for the generations of their ancestors being ill treated. “Also, in order to try and control this phenomenon, a logical move would be to put a rule that goes “people richer than XYZ must seek admissions through the general quota” and not occupy seats meant to protect the deprived. But that will not happen, because the last thing they want is for more competition in their “merit”. They’d rather point out to the privileged few and use it as an excuse to deny all. – she adds.

To conclude, whether we like it or not, it is a fact that our society is divided into groups based on castes. Reservations were introduced to end the dominance of certain groups and give the neglected and oppressed groups a push so that they could become equal to the other groups and hold a respectable place in the society. In an Utopian India, where caste discrimination has been truly abolished in all its forms, there will be no need of reservations. But not before that.

Caste and political representation

Enforcement of laws related to caste discrimination would be stringent if more people of this background are a part of our governance system. To allow for proportional representation in certain state and federal institutions, the constitution reserves 22.5 percent of federal government jobs, seats in state legislatures, the lower house of parliament, and educational institutions for scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. The reservation policy, however, has not been fully implemented. The National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes’ (1996-1997 and 1997-1998) report indicates that of the total scheduled caste reservation quota in the Central Government, 54 percent remains unfilled. More than 88 percent of posts reserved in the public sector remain unfilled as do 45 percent in state banks. A closer examination of the caste composition of government services, institutions of education and other services, however, reveals that even though Brahmin’s represented only 5 percent of the population in 1989, they comprised 70 percent of the Class I officers in governmental services. At universities, upper-castes occupy 90 percent of the teaching posts in the social sciences and 94 percent in the sciences, while Dalit representation is only 1.2 and 0.5 percent, respectively.

During elections, already under the thumb of local landlords and police officials,

Dalit villagers who do not comply to voting for certain candidates have been harassed, beaten, and murdered. Bahujans who have contested political office in village councils and municipalities through seats that have been constitutionally “reserved” for them have been threatened with physical abuse and even death in order to get them to withdraw from the campaign. In the village of Melavalavu, in Tamil Nadu’s Madurai district, following the election of a Dalit to the village council presidency, members of a higher-caste group murdered six Bhaujans in June 1997, including the elected council president, whom they beheaded.

Caste and marriage

Marriages within the caste is the norm of the Indian society. To think of marriages between castes is a difficult and socially unacceptable proposition. Even today, the custom of marrying only within the caste, known as endogamy, has not changed and inter caste marriages are frowned upon. In 2011, the rate of inter-caste marriages in India was as low as 5.8%. 

The condemnation can be quite severe, ranging from social ostracism to punitive violence. On August 6, 2001, in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, an upper-caste Brahmin boy and a lower-caste Jat girl were dragged to the roof of a house and publicly hanged by members of their own families as hundreds of spectators looked on as a punishment for refusing to end an inter-caste relationship.

Shockingly, urban households do not have a higher probability of inter-caste marriage than rural households. Ironically, metropolitan cities have the lowest rate among urban areas. Based on NFHS 2006-07, caste endogamy is also unaffected by how developed or industrialized a particular state is, even though Indian states differ widely in this aspect. Tamil Nadu, while relatively industrialized, has a caste endogamy rate of 97% while underdeveloped Odisha’s is 88%.

Resistance and progress

India needs to break the shackles of prejudice, discrimination and violence that keep more than one-quarter of India’s population at the bottom of socio-economic hierarchy and targets of hate crimes if it one day aims at becoming a global superpower. Today, grassroots efforts to change are emerging, despite retaliation and intimidation by local officials and upper-caste people. There is a growing movement of activists, trade unions, and other NGOs that are organizing to democratically and peacefully demand their rights, higher wages, and more equitable land distribution. In the wake of the COVID 19 pandemic, its the first time there is an active recognition of the people who are doing the work that society’s hygiene rests on. A group of concerned citizens – academics, rights activists and others – have written an open letter to all minister in the Central and state governments, as well as society at large, to highlight the plight of sanitation workers and list measures that can be taken for their welfare which includes ensuring they are classified as health workers and paid a minimum wage of at least Rs 20,000 per month along with a proper health insurance and allowance covered under the description of ‘hazardous works’.

Caste discrimination is like a disease in our society. And like any other disease we need to eradicate it from the country. We need to monitor the cases of caste violence and treat them with justice and social reform. When we reach a point where humanity has won and caste discrimination has ended we can remove the reservations which are like “vaccines”. You wouldn’t stop vaccinating the population before a dangerous disease is eradicated, right?

Vidyut added

Remember, each one of us play an important role in keeping this discrimination alive in our country. If all of us start changing our own thoughts and behavior, educate others and bring this grave issue to a limelight, we could slowly bring this inhumane discrimination to an end.

References:

https://www.bloomberg.com/quicktake/india-s-caste-system

https://aamjanata.com/democracy/10-things-to-remember-when-discussing-caste-reservations/

https://www.hrw.org/reports/2001/globalcaste/caste0801-03.htm

https://www.forwardpress.in/2019/08/why-caste-based-reservation-is-a-logical-social-justice-measure/

https://homegrown.co.in/article/18426/untouchability-is-still-widely-practised-in-india-says-recent-caste-survey-findings

A thousand thoughts on marriage

Just a few years back, I was one of those people who always made fun of married people. I didn’t have a lot of faith in the institution of marriage. I was not at all excited about changing my whole life  for one person. Especially in India, where the concept of an arranged marriage is so big! I have never and I never will understand how people muster the courage to spend their entire life with someone they have met just a few times. 

Fast forward to today and as a partner in a happy marriage, I’m honestly surprised by how easy it was for me to transition. In fact, it feels damn good! 

My journey to being married and happy though was very rocky. Like every other woman in her twenties, there was a lot of pressure from my parents and family to get married. They would constantly ask me if I have someone in mind or if they should start looking for someone. Every birthday I would feel extremely sad as if with every passing year my life, as I knew it, was nearing the end. 

And then something magical happened.

The right person changed everything for me!All the fears that dwelled within me regarding the idea of marriage just disappeared within a matter of months. He was, and still is, my best friend – we have similar worldviews, values and visions for the future. For the first time, marriage seemed like an exciting new beginning instead of ‘the end’. In fact, for us, marriage was only a license we had to procure to live together. When I say the idea of marriage seemed exciting, what I actually mean is the idea of living with someone I love seemed exciting.

But, I still don’t believe that it is essential to marry (or get society’s approval) someone you love or that marriage is the ultimate path to a lifetime of happiness and/or success.

For everyone out there living through similar situations, do not panic. Make sure you –

  1. Do it when you feel it’s right. There is no perfect age to get married.

Despite the fact that everyone on your Social media circle seems to be either engaged or already married with a ton of kids, there really isn’t a right age to get married. Maybe you’re just not ready yet, or maybe marriage just isn’t a priority for you at the moment or something you don’t ever want to do. Whatever your reasons for not tying the knot just yet, you’ve got to stop worrying that you’re behind. Finding the right person is a tough road. Be patient. Life is not a race. We’re all different, and everyone’s life has a different way and pace of working things out.

2. Do not do it under pressure from anyone! Not even  your own parents or your current partner.

Pressure from parents – Family pressure to get married is backed up by the heavy weight of culture prevalent in the societies we live in. It is this societal pressure that in turn leads us to pressuring ourselves, which leads to making mistakes. And this one mistake often ends up messing up many lives. At such times the only thing to do is to be calm. Stay focused on what you want in life and your priorities. Work towards achieving those. Don’t organize your life in such a way that making other people happy is the most important aspect of it.

Pressure from Partner – The tenure of your relationship not only makes you aware of what you want, but also about what you don’t want, in your significant other. It’s okay if you think that all the time you spent with a person cannot result in marriage. Committing to someone by getting married amplifies all facets of your relationship. Be it either love and respect or be it your problems with each other. If you’re bad at communicating in your relationship, miscommunications will only get worse in your marriage. If you don’t have respect for one another, you won’t gain it by getting married. You’ll probably lose it even more. Basically, when you get married, things can get even better if they’re already good, but they only get worse if they’re already bad. It’s alright to not know why you don’t want to marry him or her either. Don’t be in the pity dating game, where you’re just there to not break a person’s heart. 

3. Do not do it because you are scared to be alone.

Yes, being alone can really suck. But what sucks even more is marrying someone you are not sure about without thinking it through simply because you’re tired of being alone and then they turn out to be terrible for you. Develop yourself into who you want to be first. Become financially independent. Get serious about your career. Eventually you will find someone who you love, are excited to be with and who loves you back.

4. Do a trial run, move in together.

If possible, try living with the person you love for sometime before tying the knot. Marriage is all about dealing with the most irritating habits of your partner, all day, everyday. You will also get a better idea of how home responsibilities will be shared. Because let’s just face it, finding out that you’re expected to do all the cooking, cleaning and laundry wouldn’t be cool. And its good to have a trial run. It will give both of you a lot of confidence and make the entire process of marriage much easier. This might sound horrifying for most Indian parents but it is very common in rest of the world, and India is slowly catching up.  

Marriage is a gamble

What is a marriage? Marriage is just a socially sanctioned relation where man and woman live together, have sexual relations and produce children.But this definition completely overlooks the fact that you can not generalize relationships and emotions. Just like every person is different, every relationship is different and so are the good’s and bad’s in a relationship. Marriage should be an equal and willing union between two people in love, not something to fulfill one’s sense of identity or self-worth, or for validation.

Whether it is an arranged marriage or a love marriage – marriage is a gamble. It might turn out to be really good for some, horrible for others and average for the majority of the people. It is an institution that makes you make an, often, impulsive decision at a very young moment in your life, about a person you have to spend the rest of your life with. But moments pass.  Continuing to feel the same the next moment isn’t promised. Few things in life are. Sometimes, you just grow out of love. It does not mean what you had wasn’t real. Sometimes you just realize you have entered into a relationship with a toxic/abusive person. Isn’t it better to realize and understand things, rather than let the other person be with someone you know does not love them? And at such times, don’t be afraid to come out of a relationship. The institution of marriage today entitles men with a lot of power. For example: In our country, men are legally allowed to rape their wives without fear of any consequences and taking undue advantage of the fact that their spouses are dependent on them financially. People should have a right to walk away from bad relationships whenever they want without any societal pressure or stigma. Why does the system and society make it so difficult for people, especially women, to divorce their spouses?

Divorce

Shasvathi Siva, 28, who runs Cowvathi, a vegan business that provides alternatives to dairy products, went through a divorce that was finalized last year. It was a tiresome 15 month long process for her.

“Divorce isn’t easy. I’d say it isn’t easy regardless of gender, but it is infinitely harder on the women – as most things are. Many reasons for this, finances/ support/ children/ stigma/ dependency/ fear of the unknown future etc all stops women from seeking out a new life beyond the marriage they’re in. Divorce rate in India is at 1%, which is heavily disappointing. It reflects on how unhealthy we are as a society. We put undue pressure on women to ‘keep the household’ together. Despite all this, even if the woman is out of the marriage, she is looked down upon and judged for her choices. Getting remarried is a whole other task in itself. This is why setting up safe spaces where people can interact and find support is very crucial – because nobody deserves to be in a relationship that they don’t want to be in.”

Shasvathi Siva

She threw a party once her divorce got finalized and now celebrates her Divorce-sary (just like anniversary) every year. She also runs a support group for people struggling with divorce. She said her own experiences during and after the divorce gave her the idea of trying to create a non judgmental safe space for such people. Kudos to people like her who are trying their best to develop a community and be there for each other.

India is known for its low divorce rates. But that doesn’t indicate that we have very few unhappy marriages. It just shows that most people (mainly women) in India are living a compromised life as they are afraid of the social stigma and/or they are financially dependent on their spouses. It isn’t a metric, we as a country should be proud of. A true metric would be something like a ‘Happiness index’ for married couples which might give us a clearer picture of how successful the marriages we see around us are. 

Besides stigma, financial dependence is an important  reason because of which women compromise themselves their whole lives. They don’t want to be a burden on their parents and they don’t know how else to take care of themselves and their kids. But all that is changing now. Most women today are financially independent and capable of taking care of themselves and their children if needed. 

Also, most cultures see marriage as the foundation to family life and raising children, and they are bound to place more pressure on those around them to get married and more importantly stay married. This is one of the main arguments in favor of marriage. It refrains most women from taking a divorce. But as Andrew Cherlin argues in The Marriage-Go-Round, what matters for children is “not simply the kind of family they live in but how stable that family is.” That stability may take the form of a two-parent family, or, as Cherlin points out, it might be the extended-family structures that are common in many communities. If stability is what matters for kids, then stability, not marriage, should be the primary goal. And  the work of this care falls disproportionately to women. Without marriage, this care and support could be redistributed across networks of extended family, neighbors, and friends.

To conclude this rant, I would just like to say marriage is complex and a choice. People should have the freedom to opt for it or not, if they do opt for it then they should be able to do it whenever they want, however they want and if the need to break out from it arises they should have the freedom to do that as well, without having to worry about the society judging them.

References : Articles – What You Lose When You Gain a Spouse – The Atlantic,

Websites – markmanson.net , theeverygirl.com, globalnews.ca/marriage-pressure

We preach, they practise.

I woke up today morning, planning to spend a lazy peaceful Sunday. Joining my family on the breakfast table, little did I know that the Sunday was not going to be that peaceful. My parents had the daily newspaper opened and were discussing the headlines which were about women harassment. They were discussing how walking on streets, using public transport, going to school or work, women and girls are subject to the threat of sexual harassment and violence. This reality of daily life limits their freedom to get an education, to work, or to simply enjoy their own neighbourhood’s. Not a very welcoming Sunday morning breakfast conversation, I thought. I decided to keep quite because I knew if I offered my disparate views it would directly affect my coming back home from anywhere time.

Hence, quietly sipping my coffee I wondered how putting restrictions on one’s girl child the solution? Definitely not when there are reports of women harassment in broad daylight. With surveys and understandings of what is happening around us, isn’t it time that the citizens join hands together to do something about the situation and not just sit at home discussing or waiting for the government to do something. Isn’t it high time people realize that government is just a governing body which cannot function efficiently without active citizen participation. So what can ‘we’ as the citizens do? Wait for the awareness to spread amongst men? Or wait for the day when every men starts respecting women? Or be a part of bringing about the change? But ‘HOW’ is the question?

Whilst I and many like me talk about the issue over social media, a group of students from Rachna Sansad’s Academy of Architecture took a step ahead and decided to get into action. Having taken part in an inter-national level competition in which the brief talked about designing gender sensitive public spaces these students took the competition to another level by creating an organization known as SUPERNARI, to not only create social awareness but also social participation towards understanding and thereby designing gender sensitive spaces. They at the macro-level put up a wish tree at a city level event called EQUAL STREETS in Bandra, in collaboration with an existing NGO called AKSHARA. This event helped them to understand the need of women and general public. Having known the needs of the women the next was to create awareness. For this, a group of college student’s along with volunteers from AKSHARA boarded an open bus in South Mumbai screaming out women safety slogans and holding up hoardings so as to stop gender inequality. Next, since they believed that awareness should be spread at the root level, they organized a poster making competition in the school ‘Our Lady Of Good Counsel’ in Sion on the theme of Women Safety.

Not stopping here, this bunch of students in reality painted the dead and dull Sion skywalk after taking the necessary permissions in an attempt to make it lively. It was a surprise to me when I heard about the enthusiasm of the onlookers and daily passer-by’s who happily participated in this event. This in turn helped in making the space energetic and vivacious. Also they exhibited the posters made by the students along the skywalk in an attempt to beautify it and spread awareness.

They adopted a three faceted approach which basically deals with solving problems at three levels namely: safety, comfort, and mindset. Their main aim was to encourage the use of public-public spaces by making them not only safe but also comfortable, via concept of place making and playscapes. Also, they aimed at introducing participatory planning to develop continuous and direct relationship between people and space and people and people and inculcate a self-development attitude so as to create a symbiotic relationship between the site and the people. Further, they believed that each city and in fact each neighbourhood is unique and requires a local response. Hence, they created a set of guidelines for designing public spaces in the future by establishing a gender norm for the same and proposing different types of value systems depending on the need of the area to aid building up of a healthy community and structuring up a hierarchy.

They demonstrated their objectives by redesigning on paper the area around Sion station which is a major transit hub and has a complex layer of all major typologies and a mix of various communities and proved as one of the suburbs where maximum crimes take place according to their survey.

I don’t know how big a change these small interventions by a bunch of college students has brought or how many minds have they changed but they without doubt have inspired me to be a part of the change in whatever small way I can. They have taught me that it’s important to start, to try without worrying much about the outcome. They have taught me to act and not just wait for someone else to try. Most important they have set an example which, if all citizens of our country start following, I am sure it won’t be long before we can tackle and find solutions for not only the issue of women safety but anything and everything else.

And so here I am feeling proud that it is my juniors who have taken this step. They have once again proved that ‘ACADEMITES ARE DYNAMITES.’ I have started with doing my bit by letting you all know that it is possible to BE THE CHANGE.

P.S. – For detailed information on their works check out their Facebook page SUPERNARI. Also if you want to take a step ahead and contribute to the change you can contact SUPERNARI to work in collaboration with AKSHARA- the NGO these students worked with and are still continuing to work with.