Sunday, March 15, 2009

I felt strongly

I felt strongly about an issue and wrote a reply to an article published in the Statesman, calctta of the 15th of February 2009

The original article first and my reply later:-

POLITICS OF THE PUBPropagation Of Two Cultures Despite Equality Of SexesBy Sushila Ramaswamy IT is a strange and paradoxical feature of our social life that even the elementary rights of ordinary women are violated openly and unabashedly by a group of hoodlums, masquerading as the moral police. Our political establishment, irrespective of their ideologies, moralise rather than punish the culprits. The question of two cultures, one for men and the other for women, is propagated conveniently, forgetting that the Indian Constitution guarantees equality of sexes in all walks of life. The Karnataka chief minister, BS Yeddyurappa, in response to the recent attacks on women in a pub in Mangalore, stated that he would not allow the growth of pub culture, but he will not ban them as he expected the pub owners to voluntarily close them. In a similar response, the chief minister of Rajasthan, Ashok Gehlot, argued against the growth of pub culture and objected to boys and girls holding hands in public. The union health minster, Anbumani Ramadoss, said that pubs were against the Indian ethos and hoped that his proposed national alcohol policy would help curb their growth. Women political leaders like Renuka Chaudhury and Brinda Karat were vocal in their criticism of the Mangalore incident but did not uphold the right of women to drink in public, as is done by men. Interestingly, pubs and bars have been around for decades. But as long as these were male bastions, there were no objections or protests about they being anti-Indian in terms of culture. It is only when women began visiting them that the gender bias among most men became apparent. The present reactions are predictable and follow a trend of similar moral policing of the past. In 1996, the Miss World contest, which was held in Bangalore, was targeted as an expression of anti-Hindu culture. In 2002 in Mumbai, the Valentine Day celebrations were objected to by ransacking shops that sold Valentine Day cards. Since then, the anti-Valentine Day protests of moral outrage have been a regular feature. In Chennai, the police even issued a code of conduct for lovers in public places on the eve of Valentine’s Day. The Marina beach in Chennai wears a deserted look after lathi-wielding police chased away couples and lovers from the beach forgetting that the police are responsible for law and order and not morality and lifestyles. In Maharashtra, the former home minister, RR Patil, amended the Mumbai Police Act 2005 to shut down 2,500 dance bars in the state allegedly on public demand. The Mumbai civic administration banned hookah bars by a circular on 19 June 2005, on the ground that it affects the health of the younger generation and even corrupts them.Periodically, there have been attempts to impose a dress code and a guideline on the “perceived acceptable” behaviour for women. Even celebrities have not been spared. The popular Tamil actor, Khushboo, was hounded and had to go into hiding following an orchestrated campaign against her outspoken views on pre-marital sex and chastity in 2008. It seems that neither the government nor a political leader is strong enough to oppose the moral brigades who specialise in targeting women with the intention of scaring them from enjoying something which is strictly one’s personal choice and one that is perfectly legitimate. In fact, in many instances, the political outfits have covertly and overtly supported intrusions in personal freedoms and individual choice. Liberal values need a liberal society, a point most cogently argued by JS Mill in the context of mid-19th century Victorian England, which he considered as a nation of dull conformists as a result of the pressure of public opinion. Writing in his famous treatise On Liberty (1859), the most powerful defence of individuality and freedom ever advanced till date, he underlined the need for “protection against the tyranny of the prevailing opinion and feeling; against the tendency of society to impose, by other means than civil penalties, its own ideas and practices as rules of conduct on those who dissent from them; to fetter the development, if possible, prevent the formation of, any individuality not in harmony with its ways and compels all characters to fashion themselves upon the model of its own”. What Mill feared in democracy was less the type of government it might produce, than the dominance within society of what he saw as a monolithic body of mediocre public opinion, which would be intolerant of dissent. The threat to individuality came from moral and social conformism and the desire for egalitarianism which democracy unleashed. It was for this reason that Mills wanted freedom of judgment, the right to be convinced rather than coerced to be the institutional basis of a liberal order. The quintessence of Mill's tract was for a public opinion that would be genuinely tolerant, that valued divergent points of view, that restricted the amount of agreement it demanded and that welcomed new ideas as sources of discovery. Mill supported women’s rights, reform of representation and public education as a way of mitigating the fear common in the mid-19th century that democratising society would thwart individual distinctions. These reforms, which his father James Mill and mentor Bentham supported, did not materialise by 1859, which is why John Stuart Mill “recognised, and what older liberalism had never seen”, according to Sabine, “was that behind a liberal government there must be a liberal society.” Following this broad liberal perspective, the Constitution of India granted men and women equal rights, and Indian women, since the middle of the 20th century have made impressive strides in all walks of life, which is in sharp contrast to their condition in the 19th century. This was made possible due to the initiatives for women’s equality, self-respect, dignity and rights taken by Rammohun, Bankim, Vidyasagar, Dayananda, Vivekananda and Gandhi. The role and contributions of the Indian educated middle class women, surpassing their counterparts in the well-established democracies of the West, has been taken note of by Gunnar Mydral in the Asian Drama (1969). Incidents like the outrage in Mangalore suggest that certain forces will try to put the clock back knowing fully well that the support of some male politicians from both the national parties and even some regional ones will come. This in turn will blur the real issues of a right of personal choice and democratic freedoms in our country, irrespective of caste, religion or gender. This does not augur well for our democracy, even after 60 years of its existence, reminding us that securing even the elementary rights of every single Indian is still a distant dream.The writer is Reader in Political Science, Jesus and Mary College, New Delhi


Kudos to Sushila Ramaswamy for her bold and lucid write-up ‘POLITICS OF THE PUB’ in today’s Statesman. To be born on the wrong side of the chromosomal divide is still a curse in our country as some recent events so clearly demonstrate. It has been rightly said that a civilization can best be judged by the status of its women. Apart from foetal deaths and ‘honour killings’ that plague our more affluent states on the western half, the near regular brutalisation of girls and women is fast becoming a routine feature of our daily life. The propensity to take the law in our hands is inherent in us, and when it comes to subjugation of women on moral grounds, both the Hindu fanatics and Muslim fundamentalists are solidly united.

Post independence, and even before, we have had two cultures or two sets of identities: one for men and one for women. In many a household, both urban and rural, the male child was given preferential treatment and the girl child remained under-fed, under-clothed, under-educated and over-worked. Unhappily this practice still continues. Whenever the talk of women’s freedom or liberalisation has occurred, the forces of reaction have been up in arms. The passage of the ‘Medical Termination of Pregnancy’ bill was vehemently opposed on the grounds that it would lead to a laissez-faire behaviour of women with societal decay. Further back in time, during the Raj, education for women was frowned upon as evil and unnecessary. Widow remarriage was another controversial issue on which many hairs were split. The present issue of women going to pubs is a storm that will rage for some time and our posterity, hopefully more enlightened than us, will wonder what the fuss was all about.

We admire and cherish the most lurid sculptures and paintings known to mankind: Khajuraho, Konarak, Ajanta and Ellora, and rightly so. We are proud of our robust ancestors who sculpted them and painted them. They were certainly no prudes. They created, nay glorified, the female bodies in all its nakedness for everyone to see, and appreciate the work of our divine Lord to which they were paying their respectful homage.

The strange spectacle of misguided men thrashing women in public does not correspond our cultural ethos and their actions aught to be condemned in no uncertain terms.

Thanking you


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