Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Who Else Betrayed You, Ruchika?

I'm supposed to write the next post in my series , Part Three of  "Who Else Am I Not"?

However, I cannot.  I'm distracted, angry, alarmed, and nauseated all the same time.

The reason is not some blogger's block, but a fourteen year old girl called Ruchika Girhotra.

Ruchika Girhotra was molested one fateful day in Chandigarh, in 1990, by DGP S P S Rathore, betrayed by someone she trusted.

That wasn't the last day she was betrayed, however.

Ever since the news of the trial made headlines, she has been and is being betrayed every single day.

Right after an experience that would send into shock even a grown and mature woman, Ruchika dried her tears and agreed, with her friend's help, to file a complaint.

She loved herself enough to demand that she needed justice and the wrong doer punished.

Little did she know that this was just the beginning of a long series of betrayals.

The most serious betrayal was by the media, which instead of calling it the "Molester DGP S P S Rathore" case, perversely, called it the "Ruchika Molestation Case", and continues to do so till date.

The traumatised girl was compelled to give up her life so her family could live in peace, but it seems her sacrifice was in vain.

The focus has been and still is on her father, her brother and her brother's family. While the media coverage will help their case, why isn't there negative publicity yet, for the Rathore family?

Does anyone know who the family members of the Molester DGP S P S Rathore are ?

How many children he has?

Whether they are afraid now or have ever felt afraid?

What do they think of their father's act?

The second betrayal was by Ruchika's school, the Sacred Heart Convent School in Sector 26, Chandigarh.

Does a school have any right to call itself a school, leave alone"Sacred", after betraying the trust of its own pupil?

Time was when schools and its staff were responsible for shaping the character of its students by setting personal examples. Today, one moral science period included in the daily time table, and they feel their job is done.

Can it ever hope to instill courage into its students, after itself failing to stand up to the pressure of molesters and goons?

This is the time to set right the wrong decision of the past, by admitting to it and openly supporting Anand Prakash and his family.

Does Sacred Heart Convent have the courage and the "Heart"?

The third group of betrayers are the entire administration involved in passing the buck now that the shit has hit the fan.

Was this a case where technicalities mattered? Did the administration have to tie itself in knots of  red tape in not being able to file an FIR due to some flimsy reason?

"Show me the face and I'll show you the rule." is a very apt saying, specially applicable for just these kind of 'government servants'.

One more thing is bothering me.

The silence from one quarter is almost deafening. Molestation is not only physical contact, but a betrayal of trust by a grown up, with a gesture or even a look, that gives the molested a sudden and terrifying glimpse of the animal within a seemingly ordinary human being.

How many women, or for that matter men, encountered the same , when they were children?

Many more I'm sure, than are admitting and joining in this fight.

Is this case destined to be yet another qualifier for a candle light vigil, and nothing more than that?

Don't you think the Girhotra family needs more true friends like of the family of her freind, the Anands, who doggedly pursued the matter, for who knows, it could have been their daughter instead of Ruchika that day.

Think readers, it could have been, or could be, our daughters, sons, grandchildren, we ourselves....

So, join in in any way that you think you can, but do not be indifferent...

Let us not betray Ruchika, yet again......

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Who Else Am I Not? Part Two- “Are you from India?”

A week later, I stood in front of a dilapidated building. My father said it was to be my new school.

In the 1970's, Nagaland had a lot of Christians, but surprisingly, not the kind of schools that the missionaries built in hill stations and other parts of India. The Indian government was hated, and therefore, not allowed to do much.

We had just arrived a few days ago to Mukokchung, and had settled into a nice big wooden house on stilts, in a little valley surrounded by hillocks.

We were to share it with another family from my father's organisation.

The road trip from Mariani to Mukokchung that usually took three hours, had taken us five, as just out of the town had occurred a mud slide. I have never again seen such a huge pile of soft silky light brown mud.

I distinctly remember how peaceful the long line of vehicles on both sides appeared. No honking, no gathering of irritable people desperate to get to the other side. Loved ones would simply assume the best, not the worst as is the case now.

Laden with memories of the vast expanse of my previous school, with its sunlit classrooms, manicured lawns, and pretty little flower beds, I looked with distaste at the structure my father now ushered us into.

My brother and I wrinkled our noses at the smell in the ‘office’ of the dishevelled ‘principal’, and giggled, silenced by the stern look on our father’s face.

Soon, both of us were escorted  to our respective classrooms.

I looked around for polished desks with small attached seats that I thought every classroom would have,  only to find rough long wooden tables, with one long bench shared by ten or twelve children. The ground was littered with pencil shavings and paper.

I noticed, many of the children were wrapped in red and black shawls, some of which were faded (I don’t think the school had a uniform).

They looked at me in my yellow frock curiously,and when the teacher read out my name haltingly from a slip my escort was carrying, there was much laughter and giggles. It was deja vu time.

The girl I sat down next to (I don't recall her name. In fact I don't remember a single person's name from that school) asked me, "Are you from India?"

I took my time to reply, as I wasn't sure. My concept of India was vague at the time.

"No, I'm from Kalimpong."

That broke the ice, and though I was very different in many respects ( I wore frilly, sometimes starched frocks to school, while many children wore either the tribal dress or jeans, which the missionaries got them),I was accepted very soon, as my English, Math and Science was the best in class, thanks to my three years with the scottish nuns.

Although I gained the respect of my classmates easily, there were many things about my new friends that invoked envy in me.

I noticed that the world (comprising, for me, of Kalimpong and here) was full of girls and boys with black straight silky hair, skin that was hairless and smooth, and eyes that were small and sparkling.

I spent many hours in front of the mirror pulling the corners of my eyes upwards in a slant, to see how I looked.

I felt like the ugliest creature in class, with my strange large eyes, hairy arms and legs, and curly long hair that my mother dutifully made into two long tight plaits every morning.

My prowess in class did assuage some of my feelings, but deep down I wanted to look like the rest so much!

The one thing that I was glad was different from ours was their food.

Once, on a holiday, I asked my father to drop me off at one of my school friend’s house to play. It was raining, and the evening air was full of little bugs flying all over, and crowding the streetlights.

My friend’s mother called out to her and gave her a little mug, with some instructions. She ran about with the mug in hand, trying to catch as many little bugs as possible.

"This was a great game", I thought, and joined in, collecting as many as I could till the mug was full.

We handed the mug over to her mother, who then, to my horror, proceeded to fry them in hot oil! All for my benefit!

My vegetarian mother, equally horrified at the ‘honour’ accorded to me, forbade me from visiting other friends’ houses, and didn’t wish to entertain them either.

The hillocks around our house had little huts on them belonging to the labourers who worked on the roads that my father’s organisation was building.

Every evening, they burnt their wood fires, and cooked rice and (I learnt later, after the loss of our Alsatian, Peter) sometimes, dog meat.  While waiting for it to cook, they strummed their guitars, and sang quaint songs I had never heard.

I noticed that every family for miles around, rich or poor, owned a guitar.

The sight of the beautifully burning fires lighting up the night sky is still fresh in my memory.

The knowledge of how different we were perceived to be was brought home in a rather unwelcome fashion one summer night.

That night, three or four men quietly broke into our house via the back bathroom door, with the intention of causing bloodshed.

The Naga insurgency was at its peak at the time, and my father's organisation was part of the Army, which was hated by the insurgents.

As children we were blissfully unaware of this fact. I just remember waking up that night by the screams and shouts coming from my parent’s bedroom.

On hearing the commotion, my father's colleague and another friend who was staying the night, rushed in to my parent’s bedroom, to find my mother, shaken and alone.

My father, not one to be scared easily, had momentarily overpowered one of  his assailants. When they all ran back, out from the bathroom door, he followed them in hot pursuit!

He managed to catch that one guy. After interrogation, in a week's time, the rest were caught too.

Post this incident, it was considered too dangerous for us all to stay in town, so as quickly as possible, some makeshift accommodation was constructed for us near the project office, and we were shifted there.

Childhood is a time of flexibility, and I had settled in beautifully in my strange new surroundings, but, my parents, it seems, couldn't quite adjust. So, in just a matter of ten months, we were all packed and on the move again.....

To be continued...

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Who Else Am I Not? Part One-"What's not in a name?"

There is a saying that if we wish to understand life, the answer to just three questions can reveal all:

1. Who am I?
2. Where have I come from?
3. Where am I going to?

In today’s time, when the nation with its demands for separate statehoods simultaneously splits itself along hitherto non-existent seams, while appearing to be united and secular, I often find myself plagued by the first question.

If you know me by name, I appear to be a female Hindu Kayasth. Yet, my mind cringes at the thought of all the stereo types that most people imagine when they hear my name or meet me for the first time.

Being born to a UP man and a Haryanvi woman, raised in different states in the North East of India, living for the past 25 years in the west and south of India, loving Hindustani Classical music as well as Western Classical and Carnatic, I find that I’m at the same time part of all groups, and also a part of none.

Similarities and differences are two sides of the same coin. So, I thought, in order to find out who I am, let me first discover who I am not.....

Here is the first post in a series towards that end.....
 "What's not in a name?"

There was something funny about my name.

The teacher ran through a list of names like ‘Karma Choden’, Deki Wangmo’, ‘Sonam Tsering’, ‘Charmaine Jones’, and similar other names. Then , a pause, and very carefully, as though trying out a new tongue twister, ‘Smita ************.’

This was my first day at school at *****************, Kalimpong, a boarding school that also allowed day scholars, in the year 1969 or was it 1970?

I forget which, but that trivia is insignificant.

What’s significant is that I felt different that day, and I didn’t want to be different.

Being too young to know that one can take all one’s grouses to God, without fear of reprimand or a shouting at, I went home and cornered my mother. Why on Earth did I have such a funny name? I wanted it changed at once!

How should I do it? Should I tell all our neighbours, friends, my younger brother, my father’s friends, or would she and my father do it. Why was I named by them? Shouldn’t I have some say in what I would like to be called for the rest of my life?

I wanted it to be Sonam Caroline Wangmo.

That way it would be better than all the others.

I raved and ranted, to no avail. She just gave me an exasperated look that turned into a dismissive one, and carried on shelling peas. Even at that age, I could sense that I shouldn’t try my luck too far, as she would take just one second to decide whether she could pause long enough in the rapid disembowelment of the peas to give me a whack on my behind.

I returned to school the next day, determined to tell my new classmates my chosen name.

Once there, however, I soon forgot all about it, as we all found a surprise waiting for us in our desks. Each one of us had been gifted an old, empty little metal tin by our teacher, to keep any odds and ends that we liked.

Each tin was different, mine had been an old tea container (in those days, tea mostly came in metal tins), red, with a black pagoda on the top and also on all the sides. Some of the others got old tea tins as well, while some got biscuit tins, and a few got toffee tins.

Mine was one of the prettiest, and soon everyone knew my name in the class, as they tried hard to get me to part with my tin. I realised that it didn’t matter if I was Miss Unpronounceable for them as long as I held on to that tin, so I guarded it zealously.

Three beautiful years in one of the prettiest school properties later, it was time for my father to move. The orders were for him to move to an unheard of tongue twister of a place, Mukokchung, in Nagaland.

With packed boxes painted black, that displayed the neatly stencilled name of my father, where we were boarding the train (New Jalpaiguri) and where we were going to (Mariani-in Assam, the last point the train would take us to), we all headed for Nagaland. Little did I know that the comfort I had arrived at after three years of being ‘Smita *****************’ would be short lived.

To be continued.....

Friday, 18 September 2009

Fall out of the royal flutter!

Shashi Tharoor’s unwitting twit may have caused a royal flutter amongst the Congress flock, but there could be other consequences of his act:

Social consequences:

1.Mass migration of social butterflies and birds from other netwotking sites such as FB to twitter.(What, you DON’T have a twitter account? Oh, you poor darling!)

2.Books written on Tharoor’s life, with titles like:
a.Humour(less) in a Lungi (or is it Mundu?)
b.Cat(tle) Call
c.‘My Life’, as (T)witnessed by a ‘Holy Cow’

Consequences on the English language:

1.‘Bird- brained’:
a.Earlier: adj., meaning dim witted, small brained
b.Now: adj., meaning a very sharp and active mind able to deliver the meaning in as few words as possible, in short, a twit.

a.Earlier: adj., crouching in fear
b.Now: adj., giving it back in befitting terms, invoking the blessings of the ‘holy cow’

a.Earlier: noun, meaning animals of pasture
b.Now: verb, meaning to rattle all ‘holy cows’, with apt remarks, show the ‘holy cows’ their place

4.Holy cows:
a.Earlier: phrase, meaning “sacrosanct issues or principles that no one dares challenge”(acc to Mr. Tharoor)
b.Now: phrase, meaning a group of individuals deficient in a special gene called ‘humour’, fairly common in the masses, but rarely found in politicians.

5.Cattle class:
a.Earlier: phrase, meaning economy class, where everyone is herded like cattle
b.Now: phrase, meaning a class of individuals who are easily rattled by ‘holy cow’ remarks, who huddle together to think of new strategies to overcome and overpower the ‘twit’ who made them

Consequences on trade:

1.The biggest beneficiary of this issue will be the satta trade. It will make more money on trying to figure out whether Tharoor will be in or out, than on cricket, and will go crazy trying to decipher whether Jayanthi Natarajan’s remarks should be given more weightage than Manmohan Singh’s

There wii be new bets too:

a.Whether Jayanthi Natarajan is in or out

b.Whether Manmohan Singh is in or out

c.Whether the masses will get the joke, and start reading P G Wodehouse

d.Whether the masses will take the term ‘holy cow’ at face value, and take on Jayanthi Natarajan for disallowing Shashi Tharoor to call our most sacred animal ‘holy’

e.Whether Shashi Tharoor will become minitser for Animal Husbandry

f.Whether Shashi Tharoor will use this controversy to make a firmer place in the minds of the masses (after all, from now on, no news paper reading Indian will ever be able to separate the images of a cud chewing cow and the Mundu clad Tharoor), or not

For other similar serious consequences that may have been overlooked here, please contact writer of this piece. Let me warn you, one consequence of your act could be the displacement of Katrina Kaif as the most searched name on!

Thursday, 1 January 2009

Egg on our faces?

Recently, amid all the indignation at the government’s insensitivity and unfairness to the Indian soldier, who, incidentally, has been chosen by the public as the icon of the year, one TV channel lamented the comments of a politician. Apparently, the politician had questioned the entitled rations of service personnel, specifically the number of eggs they get per week!

As the media is uncovering more such 'alarming' acts of 'treason', there is growing public anger at the treatment meted out to the Armed Forces by the government, the civilian administration, its own senior officers, etc. The constant updates about the Sixth Pay Commission have been moved from Page Somewhere Inside to Page One.

This attention is all very welcome, and the people's efforts to understand the actual role of the soldier on the ground is very heartening. The trouble is, do we thank Pakistan or the terrorists for their assistance in highlighting the just cause of the disparity in pay and other matters? For, once again, only when the nation is in collective dread do the Armed Forces seem to evince support and understanding.

It has been my observation that the nation and the media tends to focus on the Indian soldier when they are scared, ignorant and uncertain. It may sound a bit harsh considering the efforts of the media in bringing back the spotlight on matters that the government seemed to be dragging its feet over.

However, my mind fears the fact that once they are done campaigning for the appropriate financial compensation of the men in uniform, they will carry on with their daily lives, much like an individual does after he has employed a security guard, holding him and him alone responsible for any breach of security.

What after once all the due compensations have been given? In case the Army fails to perform 'well' as perceived by the media and the public, then will the media campaign again to take back those privileges?

Accountability to the taxpaying public is important, especially in a true democracy. But does the onus of vigilance, protection, and security lie only on the head of the soldier?

Isn't an individual too a part of the whole process of security, of which the armed forces are an important and large one, and he or she a small one? Doesn’t he or she need to have ownership of this process, and not only monitor or pass the buck, but to partake in the activity itself?

On sharing these thoughts with my friends, I have had many questions asked, like how do they go about it, without a clue on to how to begin. My answer to them is that I don't mean one should get enrolled for combat training to contribute!

All of us can be a soldier in our own ways. But like Rome wasn't built in day, a responsible citizen too is not made in a day. This quality has to be deeply ingrained and a way of life, starting with very small and obvious things.

A step by step method would, in my opinion, unfold something like this.

Number One: All citizens can begin by inculcating in ourselves a sense of dicipline and efficiency , something that is deeply admired and respected by all citizens, but never enough to be emulated. This is the basic building block of the armed forces.

Number Two: Start THINKING secular. The only truly secular person in this country is the Indian soldier. If we could imbibe this aspect to begin with, it would naturally lead to a feeling of identification with this land, and its diverse people.

Number Three: Travel within the country extensively, and see how people in all parts live. Patriotism in the soldier is not some theatrical emotion, but a deep feeling that comes with not sightseeing but actually living in all corners of the country. This is the real reson for the soldier to feel one with India. We Indians prefer going 'abroad' than exploring our own country. Even a lifetime is not enough to see it all!

Number Four: Get out of our comfort zones, experience a bit of roughing it. Adversity and tough living conditions are what makes the soldier mentally and physically tough. I must narrate a small example that was given to me by an Infantry Officer. He said that once the Indian and the American Army had a joint exercise.While the American backpacks, apart from the ammunition, contained video games, assorted packaged food, mineral water, tablets to purify other drinking water, etc. the Indian backpack carried ‘skakkar para’(home made sweetened balls of wheat flour), and ordinary bottles of water and of course ammunition. They sing and dance to entertain themselves. No fancy video games!

Number Five: Spend more time with the family. Especially in tough times like these, family support and love count far more than money. So, forgo a well paying job that offers more money for one that may give less, but promotes mental well being and nurturing of relationships. These are what can bail out a person of difficulties, even financial ones, and not some impersonal bank.

Number Six: Play games. Real games, as in sports. How many people play games other than boardroom,political or computer games? Too much time is spent in front of the computer screens and TV. In the services, there is strong emphasis on being in shape, as it toughens the mind too, which brings me to the last, most significant point of my discussion.

Number seven: How do you think a handful of terrorists held a siege over Mumbai?After seeing the way ten , undoubtedly, armed people held an entire city to ransom for sixty hours, do we still doubt the power of the human mind? The soldier and his entire family is MENTALLY perpared to deal with DEATH. In fact the soldier’s biggest weapon is his mind! So, stop prophesizing and circulating Doomsday theories, and concentrate your energies on positive thinking.

While the Indian Armed Forces are quite capable of handling the defence of our country, I feel true victory can be ours only if each and every individual embarks on this self improvement program that will help us bond as people of one country. Maybe, then our nation will be secure from outside threats, and the Indian soldier will not land up with egg on his face!