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Disclosure of bias: I am biased against mainstream schools as currently exist in India and think they do more harm than good. We need better schools and for reasons more than security.

This is the second murder in a Ryan International School. Last year, in February, a child was found drowned in the Ryan International School in Vasant Kunj. Now there is a child found stabbed to death in the Ryan International School in Gurgaon.

Very conveniently there is the confession of a murder on TV by a bus conductor. Soon, the predictable will happen. The bus conductor will be the villain. Lawyers are already refusing to represent him, which will always leave the question of whether he is taking the fall for someone else.

The questions not being asked are how after having one murder in the school, the safety of students was still lax enough for a murder to happen in the toilet of a school. It does not explain what a bus conductor was doing in the children's toilet to begin with to have the opportunity - if at all he is the murderer as he is confessing.

But more than that, it does not explain what children were doing in that school at all. Or, for that matter, any school. The Delhi Gang Rape used a school bus to commit a horrendous rape. The driver of the bus was ferrying children on a daily basis till caught. Much outrage had ensued. Much vanishing of who the owner of the bus was happened. Sheila Dixit made it mandatory for schools to run background checks.

What happened? When the child was found dead in the Ryan International School in Vasant Kunj, many excuses were made to shrug off responsibility like he had a habit of wandering. Seriously? A child had a habit of not being in class and wandering the school and no one found it odd enough to investigate or be alert for?

I wonder at the gullibility of parents who send children to school. In an age when we don't see a two hour film without reading a review or hearing word of mouth praise first, how is it that parents commit 10 years of a child's time without so much as asking whether it is necessary at all to spend 10 years to learn to read and write.

But that is the real thing. Schools are not a service to children, they are a service to parents - a service that gets the kid out of your hair for most of the day, and installs all the knowledge a "standard human being" should have as per a template. It has nothing to do with a child's needs. Nor does it have any ability to predict what knowledge a child will need to function in the world as an adult. Most of you who learned how to calculate square roots in school have never done it after leaving school. Most of you who mugged up names of random places in the world have never found use for that information as an adult. What a child does in school has nothing to do with a child's needs.

We recognize the vulnerability of children and think they are stupid, but have no hesitation sending them off to an environment which may not be safe on their own without us. I could easily get a high paying job instead of making do with working from home. The reason I don't is that my son can't speak. Till he isn't able to tell me about his day and complain if he had a problem, not a chance I'm leaving him to strangers in day-care. I have no intentions of allowing someone who could potentially be harming my child to speak for him. And when I say harm, I include so much as intimidating or insulting a child or subjecting them to the indignity of sarcasm and taunts. Let alone murder.

I must wonder at parents who can comfortably trust a school and not think further. When there is a rape or a murder, parents suddenly get all traumatized. Parents reading about it imagine their innocent child in that place, all broken and dead, they can't bear it. Many cry, can't get images out of their heads. But it isn't like they won't send their child to school or will go and land up in the school of their own child and demand to see the files with background checks on all the people working there to make sure that robust investigation of potential risks has indeed happened.

It isn't like if their child talks about a sarcastic or unpopular teacher in school, they land up demanding that teacher account for their actions or be taken out. How many of you, after the Delhi Gang rape insisted that all personnel on the campus of your own child's school be investigated? But offending people by thinking they are suspicious is so bad, no? Yet they provide an Aadhaar that tracks people as potential criminals by default.

How many did this after any instance of a child being found raped or murdered in school? This is just the capital of the country - a place where "people like us" send their kids. There are even more horror stories from schools in smaller towns, hostels for tribals. Government schools are a free for all - may the biggest bully call the shots. What will it take for parents to see that schools are NOT SAFE FOR CHILDREN? Or at the very least to demand a security audit? What will it take to see that schools are a business that targets parent satisfaction and not kids? What will it take for people to stand up for their own damn child instead of imagining them in every crime against children and getting all emotional, but doing nothing to protect?

I am a staunch proponent of homeschooling, but I accept that it may not be an option for many people who have jobs - for example or where there are ill people in the home needing considerable attention, leaving the adults too weary to participate in a child's learning. Or where the home enviornment may have abusive people around. Sure, schools can be a necessity for many. But I think it is high time their overinflated importance be evaluated too. If a school can't get your children fluent in basic knowledge and blames children for low scores, it is basically time and money invested with zero guarantee. And today, there is no guarantee that all the education in the world will result in a job anyway. Technology is developing so fast that assistive devices may take communication to the illiterate without ever requiring them to read or write in a few decades. What exactly is it that the school is being glorified for? Why is it that the need of sending a child to school at all can't be questioned? Why is it so hard that schools face robust scrutiny? You'd have a problem if your office peon or collegaue or even the CEO squeezed your boobs as he passed by, right? What will it take to ensure that extensive efforts are made to ensure that your child isn't going to be subjected to it? How the hell is it that parents simply meekly take a school's word for it - if at all they ask.

It won't be easy. Schools are already on tight budgets. Popular culture blurs age and sexuality encouraging perverts and normalizing behavior that should create alarm. Investigations and stepping up security is time consuming, expensive. Being screened would probably be taken as an insult by many teachers who feel entitled to lack of scrutiny. But it isn't impossible either. Without security, the most logical place for a pedophile to be in is a school. Where the ratio of vulnerable targets to potentially alert protective adults is exceptionally high - say unlike a park, stressed teachers getting through their duties on autopilot are not likely to notice things unless trained for it. How many schools train their staff in basic security concepts so that they may notice and investigate potential risks?

This is my question to you, parents. When are you going to shed this blind obedience to authority figures and demand that they are worthy of the trust you entrust them with? Does your child matter or not?

Because right now, the old Ryan International School murder is all but forgotten, and the new one is on its way out of our awareness. We forget, over and over the news that shows the threat to children. Untill next time.

What will it take for you to ensure to the best of YOUR capacity that your child is not on national news for the wrong reasons?

2

Suicide is a taboo subject for conversation. Particularly what makes a person want to commit suicide or what to say in the face of their pain.

“A man devoid of hope and conscious of being so has ceased to belong to the future.”
― Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays

Suicide is a subject almost everyone has thought of at some point or the other. Almost everyone has wondered what it would be like to end our own life or how it could be done without confronting the great fear - pain, suffocation or other discomforts. Yet suicide remains a taboo subject. The feelings behind suicide. What makes someone commit suicide. We can talk statistics or prevention or helplines, but in the face of actual pain that drives a person to suicide, we have no skills. There is a difference between contemplating suicide and planning to commit suicide. An important one. The first is a fairly common and natural response to unbearable negative emotions. The other is an irreversible action.

I admit I have often considered suicide. I have written about suicide before too. From a perspective of statistics, from a perspective of understanding widespread distress needing political answers, from a perspective of empathy when I read about suicide, from a perspective of failing to support and grieving when someone I know commits suicide and I have also considered suicide as an option to end my own life when I was very sad. Yet, whenever I have tweeted about the subject, I have immediately got responses that amount to stopstopstopstopstopstopstopstopSTOP! It is so immediate that it would be hilarious if the subject were not grave. I have got helpline numbers as replies, I have got advice to not let dark thoughts enter my mind.

Hello! I write and tweet and comment and contemplate issues of human rights abuse. How in the world can one do that without having any dark thoughts? If I were planning to commit suicide, why would I be tweeting instead of finding myself a rope? I understand that it can sometimes be a cry for help by a distraught person, but if the rest of the words are perfectly normal, where is the harm in reading to find out what is being said?

Because here is the thing. Even if a person were tweeting about suicide publicly as a last ditch call for attention and help, the last thing they'd need is to be told to shut up or a sea of platitudes. What they would be needing is an empathetic listener who cares.

What exactly is this fear of talking about suicides?

“The thought of suicide is a great consolation: by means of it one gets through many a dark night.”
― Friedrich Nietzsche

I admit I have spent a great deal of time contemplating committing suicide over the years. As in killing myself. I have been in unhappy relationships involving heartbreak, I've been in an abusive marriage with an alcoholic, I've been a broke single mother of a disabled child. Despair and depression are no strangers. And yet I am here, typing this post.

I have actually found thinking about suicide in great detail helpful. Instead of fearing the pain of death (and thus possibly taking a rash step "while I have the courage" maybe after a glass or two of vodka), I've gone and researched methods of suicide. What would cause the least pain? What are the consequences of failure? What is the best method so that it causes least pain and least risk of failing and living with permanent damage? And anyone who knows me knows that when I say research, I mean obsessive information finding till I am convinced I know the subject in and out without actual experience. Enough to make a very well considered decision. On and off, when I'm in utter despair, I've gone and rechecked all the information. And yet here I am, typing all this.

Is this a guarantee I will never commit suicide? No. But it pretty much guarantees that I have given it thorough thought and not found it a better tradeoff for now. It guarantees that if I do it, it will not be a thoughtless impulse, but a decision I take about my life after considering all options I have.

So how has contemplating suicide helped me?

By giving me an option. By giving me an exit from the pain. By giving me the concrete information that if all this gets unbearable, I still have the option to exit. In the process, a miracle happens. I am no longer cornered by my despair. I always have the cheat route out. And because I know that, I am never out of options. I lose the fear of making attempts to change my circumstances that could fail.  Just allowing myself to spend time thinking about ending myself is a catharsis. If no one else, at least I am acknowledging how bad things are. I am listening to myself. It helps me feel heard. It gives me a vocabulary for describing my situation when asking for help. No, I don't mean "I am suicidal, help me or else." I mean "This, this and this is the reason for my despair. I am not able to see functional ways out. I need help." - because hello, I've gone through all the reasons in my contemplation and have them now sorted out in my head.

And sometimes, in a very cynical way, the contemplations have saved me. If I don't care whether I live or die, why not try this one last thing or the other? If I hit a dead end, I can always die.

“Killing myself was a matter of such indifference to me that I felt like waiting for a moment when it would make some difference.”
― Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Dream of a Ridiculous Man

Here is an example how. When I was younger, my emotions were more volatile. Taking what I felt seriously and giving it serious thought helped me see things more clearly and invariably, I ended up thinking that if there was any hope, I could use it and if there wasn't, well, I could always die. But the well thought out option being there and not at any threat of being taken off the table gave me the confidence to know I could opt for it any time and there was no need to do it right now. I could afford to wait and see. I am truly grateful no one immediately tried to stop me at such times, or I'd have been tempted to use the opportunity before someone blocked it from me.

Now I am older. I have a young disabled child. Whoever knows me knows that I'd chew my arm off before I allowed anything to harm him. Well, losing a mom would definitely harm him. So suicide is totally not an option any more. At least while he is alive. He needs me. Period. Again, if I hadn't thought this through, I could have been at risk of giving up without considering the impact.

In some of my more selfish and melodramatic ways, I've even thought "What will be, will be" If I am not there, someone or the other will care for my son, though I can't imagine who, right now. But then, in such a melodramatic moment, the desire is also to leave a lasting mark on the world when I die. And oops, it is not "orphaned kid in moment of despair". I'd like to be remembered for something better, thank you very much.

Whatever it is. Others may have their own reasoning. Still others may come to a well considered decision that suicide is actually a good choice for them, When my father was dying of Parkinson's, he had the option of looking forward to an indeterminate bed ridden existence with little control over his body, being bored out of his wits and too exhausted to do anything about it but to wait to die. He begged me to kill him almost every week. It is illegal and I have two more dependents, or I would definitely have arranged for him to be freed as per his will if it were legal. Others do it out of poverty. Starvation. When the alternative is to live in debt and watch your family suffer with no hope of ever providing for them in sight, it can be a brutal life to look forward to, and death may simply be a matter of running out of the ability to fight.

“Let them think what they liked, but I didn't mean to drown myself. I meant to swim till I sank -- but that's not the same thing.”
― Joseph Conrad, The Secret Sharer and other stories

Whatever it is, however it plays out, a suicide is not about dying or exiting the world, it is about escaping unbearable torment. A person who feels unheard and uncared for, is unlikely to respond to a panicked flood of platitudes that s/he has heard a hundred times that drowns their voice all over again, even in the contemplation of death.

How agonized we are by how people die. How untroubled we are by how they live. ~ P. Sainath

My suggestion is that we all examine what this fear is that stops us from listening on hearing that word. Because the lives of many around us could depend on how we respond to their pain. If someone has made a well considered decision to die, there isn't much we can do about it, but if someone is screaming into a void of despair, perhaps us offering a listening ear will give them the space to be heard, and in the process get a clearer view of their situation.

What do you think?

Considering today's Supreme Court verdict on Section 377 that criminalizes "carnal acts against the order of nature", there is a lot of confusion on what exactly is allowed and what is not. Here is a quick primer:

  • You can still marry kids, as long as they are not of the same sex.
  • Marital rape continues to be legal. It is a natural kind of sex for the kind of men our lawmakers make laws for, apparently.
  • You can continue to rape your child bride as long as she is not under 15 years of age (or you aren't a woman).
  • You have to ignore personal freedoms guaranteed by the constitution whenever you feel the urge to have sex with someone who has a penis (if you have one) or who has a vagina (if you have one) and control your urge, or give in and report to the nearest police station for your crime.
  • Law must discriminate on the basis of gender when it comes to sex. The constitution does not matter.
  • Sex between a man and woman for procreation is natural.
  • If you are a woman and infertile, post-menopausal or on contraceptives, the sex will be illegal.
  • If you are a man, sex using condoms is not natural, or you'd have been born with one. Also avoid sex except for procreation anyway, which means you will likely get two months of sex in your whole life.
  • Oral sex is illegal. So is anal sex and a lot of other acts. As a golden rule, if it isn't a part A into slot B kind of sex that will make little people like you, forget it.
  • The jury is out on kissing.
  • If you happen to be LGBT, please close the curtains while having sex. Ideally, close your eyes too, so there are no witnesses.
  • Renting a home to LGBT people or leaving them alone in your drawing room while you make tea could be aiding and abetting a crime, please consult a lawyer.
  • You may root for bringing down the age of marriage, putting restrictions on women's clothing, jobs, use of mobiles, marriages or whatever, your organization may have been implicated in terrorism, or you may have threatened to arm people against the government, but you should be rightfully proud for saving the country from a calamities like consensual gay sex.
  • Finally, the British are the true culture of India. Kamasutra and Khajuraho are secular scams. The British themselves slipped off the moral path and gave in to gay sex some 46 years ago, but do not lose your moral compass. Keep it pointed firmly to an era where the sex of everyone else was the business of people with the largest mob.

And if you are foolishly angry, watch out, because while nothing happens to Parliamentarians who do unconstitutional things (think UID, ICMS, IT Rules, RTE, restrictions on drinking age for adults under 25....) and while the courts supposedly empowered to strike down unconstitutional laws don't actually strike them down and kick the can into someone else's backyard, the fact is that this mockery of the constitution is legal.

However, saying something like "Fuck you Supreme Court" over this would be a contempt of court. If you put your belief that the judge trampled on the constitution onto paper as an op-ed, you'd be an intellectual. On a blog, you'd be a rebel blogger, just don't draw it as an image, because you'll go to jail for insulting a National symbol. Get it? Just like it is illegal to burn an Indian flag, but ok to faunt it on your desk next to your paper weight and silver pen while running a scam.

Additional note to MLAs: Kindly do not watch gay porn in the Assembly, and if you must, please make sure there are no media cameras around to catch it.

This post will most certainly be updated. I ain't done ranting yet by a long shot.

If you can't make out that this is sarcastic satire, you got bigger problems than the Supreme Court ruling.

3

The Guwahati gang molestation shocked the Nation with the usual monthly fury. How can men behave like animals? Women are not safe anymore and such talk abounded. Lot of moral outrage. In other news, there was a group of people criticizing the NCW team for posing for a picture where they are smiling and look carefree. In still other news, there was a bunch of people passing around an image compiled from Sagarika's tweets on the subject pointing out to how her views changed. I had my usual trolls lampooning me over whatever views of mine offended them. Life went on.

In my view, our online life is a good example and predictor of our offline life. Our minds are the same, our personalities are the same, and our default responses to situations are the same. It is only the medium that has changed, and the actions. One may not be able to molest a woman online, but they sure can jeer, make sexual innuendos, or otherwise bully her. Last week someone wanted me raped for something I said. A couple of months back, someone had said that to Meena Kandasamy and triggered a women's rights signature campaign. Generally, I find that if anyone threatens rape, then people kind of throw disapproval at that person till he changes his words or they get bored. The objection is to the threat of rape, not to the use of threats to try and silence someone.

I am small fry. Some of the most hated/ridiculed men on Twitter are Narendra Modi, Rahul Gandhi, Subramanian Swamy, Arnab Goswami and Kapil Sibal for men.  Some of the most hated/ridiculed women on Twitter are Sonia Gandhi, Barkha Dutt, Arundhati Roy, Teesta Setalvad and Sagarika Ghose. It is worth keeping an eye on tweets about these people to see the kind of abuse they get. Abuse for men is related with judgments of their competence or crimes as per whatever the abuser imagines. On the other hand, abuse women get routinely slips into the sexual. "Spreads her legs for XYZ" "Should be raped" "prostitute" etc. The other thing I notice is that the abuse is rarely over anything these people did to individuals speaking, but by being themselves. They are also highly popular figures with large followings appreciating what they do.

In my view, the idea that someone did something offensive giving the right to anyone to attack them is very IT Rulesish. I am not speaking of criticism, but of deliberate character assassinations that go beyond objections to the actions or stands of a person to vilify the person him/herself. So, calling Modi a mass murderer makes perfect sense to people, because they think he is guilty of sanctioning the massacre of Muslims in Gujarat. Whether he actually killed anyone or not. Incidentally, the same people will not call Rajiv Gandhi a mass murder, if sanction is the reason. This is not to excuse crimes by anyone including Modi, but pointing out the permission we give ourselves to attack another at will.

Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never kill me.

This above line is a lie. Physical violence happens with blows and weapons, but mental violence happens with words, attitudes and destroying reputations. Destroyed reputations are the reasons for a lot of real damage ranging from depression and destroyed self-esteem to honor killings and suicides. The hatred I see online would likely not see this as a minus at all, but call it a confirmation of guilt. Because the intent is to cause damage to that person to whatever extent they can.

I have taken a strong stand against domestic violence and alcoholism and often tweet real life incidents from my own life as well as others I come across, because I think these things need spoken about. I have often got replies like "her husband doesn't beat her enough" or "publicizing domestic problems to gain sympathy" etc. While the first seems openly offensive, the second is criticism aimed at devaluing my right to speak about my life however I want. It also makes the suggestion that a domestic violence victim getting sympathy is somehow inappropriate. I am extraordinarily resilient when it comes to trouble, but attitudes like this in society are a very common part of suicides from harassment, where the victim gets victimized for being a victim or drawing attention to herself.

The same society then looks at a body dangling from a ceiling and says sorrowfully, "Why didn't he say anything?"

What do we do when he did say something? Call it inappropriate and his personal problem. We are a society intolerant of mistakes, weaknesses and imperfections. These usually invite attacks, because we fear our own vulnerability. We don't accept ourselves, so it makes react with intolerance to others. We band together with those with "faults" like ours and be a mob denying that the trait is a fault at all. We mob together to attack our traits that we deny. We wipe out anything that will force us to look good and hard at ourselves unless denied.

Now let us look at a third thing. The popcorn gallery. Countless incidents have demonstrated that the crowd that gathers watching a wrong happen either support the abuser, or stay quiet. What happens online? If you see someone call Sonia Gandhi a whore on Twitter? The chances are high that the tweet will get a lot of RTs and those who disagree will simply ignore the people. If one person attacks another unfairly on Twitter, the chances are high that most people following both will pretend not to see anything. At most, they will tell them not to fight. The chances that an abuser online will be stopped by a crowd are the same as those in real life. Slim to none.

I have a simple policy of refusing to participate in discussions attacking people. I also never block people. I don't need to. refusals work well. Most people no longer tag me while insulting someone. It is not impossible to refuse to allow attacks to happen in the space you influence. It is about intent. I do it in real life too. It is not enough.

This, in my view mental violence destroying the space to live at all in the country, because disagreement becomes a question of who can overpower the other. This is happening in real life too. People with power can invade the rights of others and the popcorn gallery is used to it. The surprise is if the less powerful resist. If instead of getting molested, the girl had fought back and escaped, the video would be a characterless girl on the streets of Guwahati who brazenly attacked people and ran away. For a wrong against her to be objected to, she first has to suffer "enough". The wrong being done in itself wouldn't matter. Because we are a mindset of throwing crumbs of support if a plight seems horrible enough. We are not about values and ethics and individual rights regardless of caste, creed and gender.

The mass molestation in Guwahati got a lot of attention, but not the fact that the girl was an Adivasi girl. My hunch is because she got more publicity than Adivasi girls get normally. Media probably didn't want to jinx that. The reason may not be true, but it is true that the girl is an adivasi and most news haven't bothered to report that. Also, good in another view, I think, because a girl outside a pub gets more defenders than the adivasi girl stripped in some village. Like there are people who think only prostitutes go to pubs, there are others who find the rights of innocent pub going girls more touching than those of adivasis. The good old PLU preference is very strong when it comes to doling out approval for rights of people.

All in all, it is high time we accept that we are living in a world we create. We are the victim, we are the molesters, we are the popcorn gallery.

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Bera Murder Appeal Partly Allowed

By Vijay Panjwani, Advocate.

Thursday May 3, 2012.

The murder appeal raised important issues:

(i)           of excessive incarceration than maximum permissible under  which accused appellants finally convicted by Supreme Court .

(ii)          indiscriminate use of Section 302 IPC prescribing capital sentence rather than 304-B IPC in a case of dowry death.

(iii)        no bail to mother in law continuously for 14 years and one month.

Lawyer appointed by supreme court to defend  neglected to file bail application on behalf of mother in law for many years.

Briefly the facts are that a young woman named Mayarani was married to Gokul in West Bengal. A part of the agreed dowry was satisfied at the time of marriage. Both families were residents of neighbouring villages and belonged  to weaker section of society.They worked as daily wagers. A few months after marriage  Mayarani’s  in-laws started taunting her about lack of dowry, at her inability to do household chores, and on her physical attributes. Mayarani was a large boned well fed fat woman. She was addressed to as ‘Bhondi’ a term used in Bengal for fat women.

In the third year in-laws patience ran out and the and demand for ‘arrears dowry’ became a daily routine but no physical violence was reported to any one. However, in-laws encouraged her to commit suicide. They said a fat woman must bring a fat dowry. Finally, unable to bear the mental torture Bhondi escaped to her parental home from where she was returned to her in-laws with promise to pay ‘arrears dowry’. Bhondi and her mother were abused and insulted. And four days later at 2 PM news reached Bhondi’s parents that she died of burn injuries at 6 AM in the morning.

The medical evidence showed the body was charred. No external injuries were found. All internal organs- liver, kidneys, viscera was intact. In such a situation the doctor failed to find injuries and wrote ‘no cause of death could be found’. The police stuck to its strange version that Bhondi was killed by strangulation  in the matrimonial home by in-laws and then taken out and her body burnt partially and brought back to matrimonial home. The forensic report and  burnt  items seized from the crime scene said some other story which was hidden but not so cleverly as to escape scrutiny in supreme court. The doubts once raised about the veracity of evidence do not go easily.

The prosecutor in supreme court  was unable to show from record evidence of ingredients to prove murder. The appellants/accused [thru vijay panjwani] were shown not to have committed   murder . In a plea bargaining appellants counsel suggested conversion of   murder  to a lesser conviction of dowry death. For reasons recorded  the supreme court set aside the high court  judgment  on muder with life imprisonment and convicted the accused/appellants under section 304-B for dowry death to sentence already undergone. Husband and father in law were on bail since 2006 after 8 years incarceration and mother in law 14 years imprisonment in Midnapore Jail. The fine was set aside and bail bonds of the male accused persons discharged.It is for readers to form an opinion how this category of family cases should be tried.

VIJAY PANJWANI

ADVOCATE

NEW-DELHI

Dt: 3-5-2012.