December 30, 2012

Rape, yes...what should be done now?

We have been bombarded by millions of words written and spoken in the last few days, about the gang rape in New Delhi. The 23-year old girl, being referred to as "Brave heart", "Damini", "Nirbhaya", etc.  died yesterday. It is easy to endlessly discuss problems. I think it is practical to discuss action. Here are some things that  should be done to ensure safety of women in India, according to the two newspapers I read: The Hindu and The Economic Times.  
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From The Hindu Editorial, 30 Dec 2012
There are specific steps — administrative, pedagogic, cultural — that must be taken to prevent sexual assault and rape. But there is a wider question: Would the Indian political system and class have been so indifferent to the problem of sexual violence if half or even one-third of all legislators were women? The Congress and the Opposition should forget about playing to the gallery. If they are serious about the rights of women, they should quickly pass the Women’s Reservation Bill. Let the presence of at least 181 female MPs in the next Lok Sabha — and the political mobilisation of women this will slowly catalyse — be Parliament’s way of honouring the death of the Unknown Citizen.

From the Economic Times, 30 Dec 2012

13 ways to ensure safety of women in 2013 and beyond

A girl who was gang-raped in Delhi is dead. Another killed herself in Patiala. These are alarming reminders about the security of women. ET Magazine lists measures, simple & radical, that can ensure her safety in 2013 and beyond.

1/ Better, safer workplaces
Given that we spend most of our waking hours at work, workplaces can play a great part in preventing the abuse of women. By law, it is compulsory for employers of women who are in night shifts to drop them to their houses. BPOs ensure this. But what about retail? More companies must comply with this practice. Companies can also help by training their employees in the basics of self-defence.
Difficulty Level: 5

2/ Sex Offender Registry 
Create a national database of those who are convicted of sexual offence. Their names, photographs, addresses, crimes and the court's perception of risk levels have to be registered. And, more importantly, the public should be able to access the registry. Difficulty Level: 7

3/ Just frown
The next time you hear somebody make a sexist joke, frown. Frown hard at the person who says it and his friends who are laughing with him. Frown when somebody uses a cuss word that begins with "mother" or "sister". Frown when somebody refers to women disparagingly in public or private. Difficulty Level: 1

4/ Download that app 
Find yourself in a dangerous situation or being stalked down a dark alley? At the tap of a button on your smartphone, you can alert a chosen list of friends and relatives about your predicament. Apps like Circleof6 and On Watch send an SMS SOS and relay your location to kith and kin. Can somebody now design an app that sends an alert to the local police authorities too? Difficulty Level: 1

5/ Women traffic cops 
All states should have a women-only traffic police department. The men from this department should be transferred to handle regular law and order responsibilities. With women cops on the roads, men will eventually come to terms with female authority and women should feel safer. Difficulty Level: 5

6/ More cops, smarter cops
Hire more cops. Hire more women in the police force. Also, ensure they are ever vigilant, that they are tech-equipped to communicate better with each other even about a hint of lawlessness as well as to track and capture criminals. Difficulty Level: 3

7/ 24x7 Cities
Imagine what would happen if shopping malls, cinema halls and restaurants stayed open through the night instead of shuttering down by midnight. The streets would be lit and alive all night and would truly never be empty. Safer streets, right? Difficulty Level: 3

8/ More toilets please
In Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand and Bihar, lack of toilets in homes exposes women to humiliation and sexual violence. Public sanitation and government support for building toilets would go a long way in addressing this problem. Difficulty Level: 2

9/ Educating children
Gender sensitivity should be a part of school curriculum. Children should be taught to question gender stereotyping wherever they find it, whether in families or in the advertising and marketing of products. 

Difficulty Level: 1

10/ Zero tolerance to public drinking
It is a familiar sight outside "wine" shops which serve hard liquor across India. Men consume cheap and industrial-strength alcohol and then start harassing women passing by. Arrest or fine those who consume liquor in public places such as parks. Difficulty Level: 3

11/ Public Transport Safety
For a working woman, the daily commute to office should be a routine affair, not an adventure. A government plan to make photo IDs of bus and autorickshaw drivers displayed prominently in the vehicle is a good first step towards making her feel safe. However, what would really go a long way is creating more public transportation operated by women — women drivers and auxiliary bus staff. Difficulty Level: 3

12/ Tougher laws 
In India, rape has been defined so narrowly that it excludes forced oral sex, or sodomy, or penetration by foreign objects. The government will have to include such crimes under the definition of rape. And there should be harsher punishment for rapists. Difficulty Level: 4

13/ What Men Should Do 
Let's admit it: most men — Indian men, especially — are sexists. And rape, or any sexual assault, is a symptom of this malaise. This attitude has to be purged. And re-learning has to start individually. Change the patriarchal mindset. Start doing what you disparage as "womanly" chores. Small steps, but start NOW.
Difficulty Level: 10

December 25, 2012

A book? a child?...

It has now been a year and a half since the release of my book, "Just look up...to see the magic in the trees around you". I was afraid and reluctant to let it go out into the world, just as I was afraid for my children when I taught them to cross the road or when my older daughter left home to join college in another city! Several copies of the book have now left me and have travelled, within Hyderabad, and to Bangalore, Chennai,  Delhi, Mysore, Pune, Warangal, and a few other places in India and some places in the US. People in Bangalore have been very enthusiastic about this little book, smarting as they are, from the cutting down of several trees in their once-green city.

I too have travelled a little, with the book. I was at Bookaroo, the children's book fest in Delhi in 2011 to do a session with children. It was immensely enjoyable. I also went to Silver Oaks school in Bachupally (on the outskirts of Hyderabad) for a "Meet the author" program, where about 50 children shot questions at me about various aspects of writing a book. It was fun, and I admire these bright children for thinking of so many questions! Silver Oaks School also wants me to help kick-start a gardening and nature awareness class in their school. This is exactly what I was hoping would happen. There have also been requests for tree walks around the city, but none of the walks actually happened.

Initially, since I did the distribution myself, I received emails from people asking for the book, and it felt great to know who was buying my book. I also had a chance to interact with my buyers, which was a very interesting experience. I also made some friends in the process, because the people interested in buying this book are nature lovers, and that immediately binds us together.

Since I not only wrote this book, but also published it myself,  I find myself consistently working for its welfare. The happiness it is giving me is exactly like the happiness I feel when I see my children grow and find their way in the world.

I have understood that a book is alive, a book goes places, a book affects people who read it. I think a book also just happens...one does not plan it. And I know from my experience with my first book, "Autorickshaw blues and other colours", which was published by Katha in 2004, that a book takes a long time to travel and get noticed.

I am hopeful and enthusiastic about "Just look up...". As I said during its release, I would like this book to be like the Olympic torch…and pass on the spirit of friendship with nature from one generation to the other. More realistically, I would like it to make people take more walks in parks, listen to the song of the koel, and simply acknowledge the presence of the several fascinating varieties of trees around us. On an ambitious note is the hope that once people become sensitive to trees and nature, when an axe hits a roadside tree, there will be many voices that will shout, “Stop…don’t cut down this tree”.