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Unnoticed in the media hype is a long overdue and very welcome change in Indian politics. Powerful women entering Indian politics on their own steam. Women who have no hesitation standing among the men like any other candidate among equals. Women who are fighters and challengers of the status quo in real life so far entering the corridors of minimal representation of women and token power, except the powerful ladies at the top of the parties who have so far proved useless toward changing the gender bias of the masses.

During the Delhi Elections, if I had a complaint about Aam Aadmi Party, it was the lack of women candidates. AAP had just seven women candidates. In typical fashion, I made no bones about my displeasure over this, only to be assured that AAP was keenly looking to field more women candidates. Taking this with a bucket of salt, I had, at that point been irritated enough to say that perhaps feminists need to start making their own parties. That the only three women to get elected in the Delhi Assembly were from AAP was hardly a balm when the number was THREE! And I was angry there was only one in Arvind Kejriwal's cabinet.

At that time, several AAP handles had engaged with me asking for suggestions on how to get more powerful women into politics. I shared what I could. I became convinced that these people do want more women visible, even if they weren't at that time and did what I could to support that goal. When Alka Lamba shifted from Congress to Aam Aadmi Party and supporters reacted with knee jerk paranoia about her, I engaged and criticized and got them to see reason and went as far as to suggest that women in all political parties should be defecting to AAP if they really are giving them rights.

I didn't really expect much. And I lost track of that measure for a while as other things started coming up and I started supporting Aam Aadmi Party in the run up to this election as well as my ethical stand against the rampant paid media influencing of electoral results, which in my opinion is an assault on democracy by vested interests.

And I came face to face with that evaluation again today. On the surface, not much has changed. AAP does have more women candidates this time around, but they also have more candidates overall this time around. This is the freaking national event. All candidates are more. But beyond the numbers, there is something completely unprecedented in Indian politics. Drop by drop dripping onto a status quo, it is being eroded in ways I can only celebrate.

Aam Aurat Party - inspiring women joining Aam Aadmi Party
Aam Aurat Party - inspiring women joining Aam Aadmi Party

One by one, without much sensation, right along with other candidates, is the steady growth of powerful women rising from the masses and shouldering the responsibility of being leaders of a maverick revolution, the likes of which India hasn't seen before. I remember reading some research paper on women in politics, and a point remains in my mind about the link between corruption and disempowerment of women. I don't recall the paper, but the insight that remained in my mind was that with power largely residing in the control of men, corruption naturally becomes a playing ground for men as it thrives on "networking" - to put it mildly. Not to mention the conditioned reluctance in women to engage in questionable activities with men. And somewhere in my mind a link forms of the spontaneous emergence of women leaders in a party dedicated to fighting corruption.

Perhaps it is a coincidence, but the fact that there are a lot of women suddenly exercising their influence on the nation's future is significant in terms of women's power in India. Most of these without political families. Stepping into a profession that had come to symbolize actions that respectable people don't engage in. Certainly non-political families would not like the idea of their women becoming politicians. It would be seen as a risk that the family has no power to protect against.

Yet here we have not just women leaders emerging, but there is no women's wing. Women are leading just as same as any man. The stress on non-violence has had the unexpected side effect of turning the whole party into an area where men or women are very similar in power. Here are some of the women who have recently made news one way or the other related with the party.

Anjali Damania, state convenor of AAP's Maharashtra unit, contesting from Nagpur against Nitin Gadkari

Anjali Damania
Anjali Damania is an AAP leader and candidate.

Anjali Damania. Social activist who was independently taking on corrupt people by the time she got into Aam Aadmi Party and is now among the key leaders. Anjali played an important role in exposing the corruption in dam constructions in Maharashtra that led to 10 years with no increase in irrigation here.

Meera Sanyal, renowned banking professional, contesting from Mumbai South

Meera Sanyal, one of India's top banking professionals is contesting from Mumbai South. To paraphrase from her Wikipedia page, Meera resigned as CEO and Chairperson of the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) India, to enter public life. She is also on the international Board of Right to Play, a NGO that works with over one million children in more than 20 countries and uses the transformative power of play to educate and empower children facing adversity. In 2011, Meera was invited by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to join the International Council on Women's Business Leadership (ICWBL) and took an active role in the Leadership sub-committee for the empowerment of women. In recognition of her initiatives on Financial Inclusion & Sustainability, she has been appointed as a member of the National Executive Council of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry (FICCI), and chairs FICCI’s Financial Inclusion Committee. She is also a member of the National Councils for Banking & Finance, Public Policy and Women's safety of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) (CII). Does India need competence and vision like this steering its future? Hell yes.

Soni Sori, Teacher, Social activist, contesting from Bastar

Soni Sori, an adivasi teacher framed by a corrupt system and brutalized and raped in jail does not let her voice falter from calls of justice even as vested interests try to paint her as an enemy of the state. Her rapist got a bravery award. She now claims voice for herself and countless others caught between the Maoists and a ruthless and opportunist state as an Aam Aadmi Party candidate.

Medha Patkar, social activist and legendary leader of several people's movements against powerful exploiters, contesting from Mumbai North East

Medhatai was earlier planning to contest independently, and Aam Aadmi Party had declared that they would support her anyway. She has since joined the party.

Medha Patkar
Medha Patkar is a prominent social activist.

Medha Patkar is a legend in her own right. The forgotten tenacious pitbull that forced the Adarsh scam to light. The fearless activist to challenge devastation of people being sugarcoated as progress. Be it the displaced villagers of the Sardar sarovar dam or the mega connected Lavasa city or slums in Mumbai being demolished without fair compensation. On the day when Indian media went into a rhapsody of outrage over Aam Aadmi Party's violence in toppling over a metal detector, which was stood back in its rightful place without damage, the purpose of media seemed to be coverage of election travel, because the rally the travel happened for was blacked out. If it weren't, people sitting tight in homes would see an electrifying Medha Patkar taking the gathering by storm with her straight talk based on years of hands on experience of fighting for the rights of the common man. You'd have seen this.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i-sbzvtBGjs

Gul Panag, actor, activist adventure junkie, contesting from Chandigarh

Gul Panag is an enthusiastic biker
Gul Panag is an enthusiastic biker

Gul Panag. According to her Twitter profile, Gul Panag is "actor, activist, aviator, animal lover, adrenalin junkie, adventurer, avid traveller, automobile & fitness enthusiast, biker, entrepreneur, student, writer". She also happens to be a Miss India, "Army brat" adult daughter of Lt Gen H S Panag who took on corruption in the Army before he retired. She works in many social initiatives for change and is an astonishingly diverse person.

As a model, beauty queen and actress, there is no end to fantastic photographs of her to illustrate any aspect of her life and work, so we must assume that Aaj Tak is merely sticking to standard India Today policy of showing bare female flesh where possible even if it is a candidate announcement for elections. If you have ever worn a bikini, you might as well grow a paunch and color your hair purple. Your file photo is the bikini one.

Gul Panag
Aaj Tak's facebook post about Gul Panag being chosen as AAP's candidate for Chandigarh.

Women of India are cursed with a media and powerful people who are relentlessly SLEAZY. From publications like India Today to MLA's watching porn in Assemblys and your vegetable vendor who weighs twice your weight and sizes you with his eyes. I could have chosen to ignore this photo, but it is important, because it is not how she normally looks and someone has gone out of their way to present her in a manner not fitting for her role. Unless of course they want to show all news of Govinda with a photo of him in yellow underwear or sprawled on a cot. The good news is that Gul is a woman of strength and if her presence allows these questions to be raised, she's bringing change before the polls, as far as I am concerned.

Or perhaps it is a continuation of India Today's hatchet jobs against Aam Aadmi Party, where a candidate for election's photo is deliberately chosen to make her look frivolous and unsuitable, when there are plenty of excellent, professional and RELEVANT photos of Gul Panag in terms of her new role. Since their coverage of Rakhi Sawant joining BJP didn't include any mega cleavages (saffron sari, believe it or not), I'm also going to add this one to the log of paid media bias on the India Today account.

Shazia Ilmi, ex-media professional, contesting from Ghaziabad

Shazia Ilmi is among the oldest of Aam Aadmi Party women leaders. She got my respect when she contested in Delhi Elections breaking unsaid norms on religious politics by contesting from a "non-Muslim" constituency. She was the victim of vicious hatchet job by media where candid footage of her speaking with the reporter who was trying to get her to support illegal activities was edited to create a perception that she was interested in taking money to hold false protests. Earlier, a property dispute in her family was used to present "proofs" that not even her family thought well of her. She ended up losing by a narrow margin. This time I wish her luck.

Shazia Ilmi was among the reasons why I started this habit of special coverage to counter media bias against AAP in the run up to elections. I do not see this as contradictory to my preference to remain on "my side" as opposed to political parties. I believe "my side" is being attacked when it is fed false information that will lead to choices that would not have been made without the deception.

Kanchan Chaudhary Bhattacharya, India's first woman DGP, contesting from Haridwar

Kanchan chaudhary bhattacharya
Kanchan Chaudhary Bhattacharya is India's first woman DGP

Kanchan Chaudhary Bhattacharya was India's second woman IPS officer after Kiran Bedi and the first woman Director General of Police in the country in Uttarakhand. Forging new ground in a male bastion of gender prejudices, Kanchan Chaudhary's fight is the stuff of legends as she took on thugs and lawlessness without even as she asserted her place within a police force not used to seeing women as authority figures.

At the same time she proved to herself that she could do it. She could be herself and she could change the police force and the world for the better. By doing it.

Older readers may remember a television serial called Udaan that had a lot of girls wanting to be cops. Yep. This is *that* Kanchan Chaudhary Bhattacharya.

Balwinder Kaur, agriculture activist, contesting from Kurukshetra

Balwinder Kaur, a farmer activist who mobilized women farmers to fight for their rights is AAP's candidate for the constituency currently represented by Naveen Jindal.

Many in Aam Aadmi Party were disappointed when Irom Sharmila declined to contest from an Aam Aadmi Party seat. Yet, as I write, it becomes clear that the refusal was to contest the election alone, and she walks with the party like many other inspiring women of power who have their independent identities for their struggles for what is right. This image came in just as I was about to end this post.

 

Support for Aam Aam Aadmi Party by Irom Sharmila, the Iron lady of Manipur
Support for Aam Aam Aadmi Party by Irom Sharmila, the Iron lady of Manipur

In my view, while the party continues to inspire and provide support to women to be powerful, it is worth bringing to power to be able to tackle far more serious crimes.

And there are more. Many more nameless ones who get attacked by insecure mobs of fanatical parties. Who get threats and die. Still others who live and work tirelessly shoulder to shoulder with the men to allow the party to sustain its rocket like growth trajectory without splintering.

And they are safe. I was amazed to see a few tweets on women's day by volunteers of AAP thanking the party for making the events so safe for them. These are practical things. They exist if you are like that. No amount of presenting can make them happen. This is also a country where an outraged Sonia promising women of her party who complained of harassment by politicians that action would be taken.... faded into oblivion. This is also a country where a woman of Sushma Swaraj's stature got overruled when it came to her objecting to allowing a person of dubious credibility to represent the party. And this is a place where a new politician like Shazia Ilmi who suffered the brunt of a major hatchet job on her credibility could still frankly refuse to contest from Rae Bareilly and prevail even when the party wished otherwise.

It is a party where objections to Alka Lamba joining did not involve her as a woman and the volunteers could be made to listen and understand a larger point and include her.

I do not doubt anymore. The lives of women will be transformed by Aam Aadmi Party coming to power.

A few days ago, a news report by the BBC caught my eye. It said the Red Cross reported some 800,000 people as disabled by the ongoing war in Afghanistan. It struck me as odd, since I didn’t think Afghanistan was such a large country. So I saved the link to check up and found time today.

The previous post is the result of that. In brief, it states Afghanistan’s population – 34,385,068 as of latest figures. That would mean that about 1 in every 43 people is disabled by the war or 2.3% of the entire Afghan population. Seeing as how the disabilities wouldn’t be uniform, it means that areas with greater conflict have even more disabled people than this.

It seemed unbelievable, so I asked for help from other journalists to confirm the Red Cross number. Got about ten replies. All of them confirmed it. The Red Cross doesn’t fake such information. It is correct.

It is amazing that no one has thought of the implications of this. Either from a humanitarian perspective, or even strategic. How does NATO expect Afghanistan to defend itself after their exit with such large numbers of disabled people – a majority of whom, I assume would be men? And this is without the illnesses, deaths and what nots completing the picture.

A few days back, I read a report in USAToday, which spoke of IED attacks in Afghanistan setting a record. There were 9,304 “IED Events” in 2009, 15,225 in 2010 and 16,554 in 2011. “IED Events” is the number of Improvised Explosive Devices cleared or detonated, not a social event. Kind of like the “Nuclear Park” at Jaitapur. We have ways of making things sound acceptable.

Astonishingly, that very same report quoted:

“If insurgencies are about winning the support — or at least the acquiescence — of the local population, this is a concerning trend for the Taliban,” said Seth Jones, an expert on Afghanistan at the RAND Corp., a think tank.

Yeah, right. Like Nadeem F. Paracha had once famously described Imran Khan stopping missiles with his bare chest.

In other words, no matter what happens, people supposedly professionals in thinking are able to see only advantages in it. No wonder the US is winning this war and is all set to exit Afghanistan after the transfer of power as a few other reports from around the same time claim.

In still other news, the Taliban is forcibly collecting Zakat, or tax from residents of northern Jawzjan province. Yeah, they are really desperate.

In other words, this war is in the exact same limbo and circular propaganda in media that it has been for a decade. Unnoticed, the toll on the population is growing. The people already disabled aren’t going to get better. The more this war continues, the more their numbers will rise.

Frankly, this war was lost the day US partnered with Pakistan [READ] and got to micro-managing Afghanistan. They lack understanding of the culture, or any sense of engagement beyond aggression. Three countries at least are paying a massive price. US, Pakistan and Afghanistan itself. Other NATO countries are suffering losses too.

France recently wanted and Nicolas Sarkozy declared out after French soldiers were attacked and killed by Afghan soldiers over some disrespect of the dead bodies of the Taliban by American soldiers Urinating on the dead bodies, to be specific. No, America simply doesn’t understand alien cultures – or try to – or find it necessary to other than psyops. Hillary Clinton not only didn’t see this as any indication that France would pull out, she knew better that they didn’t mean it, and so it was. China, Iran and India are going to have a big mess on their hands once this farce ends, because the stubborn refusal to look at reality has meant this story has devolved to chaos and the Pakistan borders in particular leak terrorism like a sieve and there is going to be an unemployment problem like after the Soviet jihad, and these are the countries that will win that harvest – India in particular.

And the more reality is ignored, the worse the chaos will be. Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is insanity. Insanity is harmless if it is limited to the insane, but this macabre dance has too many players, too many lives devastated.

Pakistan in particular is at the verge of devastation and if Pakistan collapses, even winning in Afghanistan will not matter, because the Frankenstein’s monster will consume the entire region, if not the world. While Pakistan’s problems are largely of its own creation, and many of Afghanistan’s problems too, simply calling every problem a nail because you have a hammer is not working.

Like I have pointed out earlier too – when Pakistan’s trolls stop hounding you on the internet with bizarre versions of history, that is a disillusionment that is shaking their very foundations of identity among civilians. And, as the US likes to remind us, Pakistan is a nuclear power, so this collapse is an epic disaster waiting to happen.

A friend who knows such things had once likened terrorists to bed bugs. It is very difficult to get rid of an infestation unless you know exactly what you are doing, you have a plan and you stick with it or you just end up making it worse. I can’t think of a better metaphor for this parody of a war where there have been so many strategies and contradictions – including US eroding its own values and laws – that no one at all knows what exactly is happening and everyone except the Taliban have immobilized themselves through paradoxes of their own creation.

A journalist from Afghanistan had once tweeted – why are we spending so much to fight the guy with the sandals and AK-47? Good question, if anyone paused to think of it. And I think he’s been asking that for a long time.

In the meanwhile, in this maze of strategies, paradoxes, claims, realities, propaganda… there are people who are getting devastated, who rarely make news. News from Afghanistan is no longer about Afghans – hasn’t been for a long time.

There is a desperate need to find creative solutions. To listen to the Afghans instead of telling them. To give them what they need to fight rather than training them to alien standards from scratch. To give them the ownership of their war to do what they will, and support them solidly rather than employ and train them to become inferior shadows of the West and at prices the tax payer back home increasingly can’t afford.

If Obama is listening, he should get someone following what Afghan commentators are saying, what they are suggesting and mine ideas. This Emperor hasn’t had worn clothes for a long time.

What remains to be seen is how this history will be written. The 'masses' are getting their dose of scandal and assuming that 'someone' will fix things now that they are blown wide open. But is this true? The country waging wars to impose democracy on assorted regions with assorted psyches about authority is standing boldly as a dictatorship and there is not a single squeak from any other world authority, including the UN, who seem content with asking for some explanations on comparatively trivial matters. Queries that are apparently utterly ignored by the US government.

If there is one thing worse than a veiled dictatorship, it is a veiled dictatorship that no longer needs to keep up a pretense and things in America seem to be getting uglier by the day. Some things off the top of my head, which seem extremely dangerous for world safety and peace:

  • Hillary Clinton conveyed her regrets to the UN. Please notice the use of words. We can regret anything without being accountable for it. There was no apology. In fact, there has  been no apology for anything (ever?). Why is this on top rather than the more horrific things? Because its an alarm about how easily it was swallowed without any questioning.
  • Sweden, which has an extraction arrangement with the US has suddenly developed from a country with sorry figures for the proscecution of rape to one that issues international red alerts and arrest warrants for the questioning of a suspect who can't even be called a suspect, since there are no charges. Suspected of what? Yet Julian Assange spent 9 days in prison for being a flight risk - this in spite of the fact that he hadn't hidden from the police in either country and had left Sweden legally and was open to communication on the matter. He was denied bail at first, and then when he was granted bail, it was delayed by another two days because of some mysterious process where it got contested. Sweden lawyers say they didn't contest it, but the UK guys did. Apparently the UK has an interest in keeping him out of commission, which was quite evident in the nature of his imprisonment. For someone imprisoned only to prevent flight, why deny him company, exercise, communication... his lawyer had to struggle to meet him. Why? Why was he prevented from seeing the TIME magazine (His face was on the cover, but apparently the entire magazine was destroyed, not just the cover)? The Swedish lawyer protested that Julian coming to Sweden will only complicate America's access to him, as they will now require the agreement of two countries. Are we fools? He can't be held in the UK for long, since they have nothing on him, while it is Sweden that does. And who in the world thinks that Julian needs to be brought to the US for US to have access to him? This is the country that has used the UK fields for renditions against the express stated directions of the Queen herself. This is also the country that is already fixing for other countries to hold its prisoners. All it needs is for Julian to be off the streets, which is not possible without a really monstrous farce in the UK (where he also has a lot of support), while a really big farce has been possible to rig up in Sweden. As simple as that.
  • A multitude of companies have cut off services to Wikileaks in an economic stranglehold, while its virtual existence has been threatened in other ways ranging from removing its domain name to censoring the reading of the documents it released. We have already experienced two days on this site where the account was suspended for hosting  a mirror. All these companies Mastercard, Visa, Paypal, EveryDNS, Amazon, Bank of America.... and our very own Mochahost have done this without any legal directive, based solely on their own choice to interpret their Terms of Service to fit their action.
  • Censorship of Wikileaks in the US is rampant ranging from implied threats to career choices with the government to outright blocking of over 25 media sites including newspapers.
  • Politicians and public figures have called for Wikileaks to be declared a terrorist organization, for Assange to be pursued like Osama bin Laden, for his assassination, etc. Utterly illegal. Crass. And no one has managed to get any of this retracted. Not the citizens, not other politicians. To me, it sounds remarkably similar to terrorist videos - this guy has wronged unacceptably - kill him. Yep. Its a so called democracy's leaders delivering such evil speech.
  • Bradley Manning, who is suspected to be the source of the leaks, but not charged of anything has been imprisoned in solitary confinement under conditions described as torture WITHOUT CHARGE.
  • A splinter group of Wikileaks claims to promote its values by not making leaks public, but offering them selectively to (state-controlled) media. Yeah right. Who got sold? Check out the contact page when the site launches.

On the other hand, we have public figures standing up solidly for Wikileaks and Assange. People offering their homes, reputations and money to see him out on bail. Anonymous citizens of the world beginning with rage and illegal DDoS attacks called Payback, but maturing into more and more thoughtful and determined responses. Politicians, journalists, national heroes speaking out in condemnation of America's disproportionate and illegal response. Street protests.

Yet, things are pretty much where they stand. America is suppressing information to its citizens and employees, and projecting Wikileaks as a rogue/terrorist/virtual guerilla type organization. People are objecting. Small battles are happening on many fronts. Bradley is still in prison, but Assange is out for now, at least.

It is time to be a part of history to whatever extent we are able. To have a stake and exercise it in shaping our world and the legacy we leave our children. To participate in whatever way you can. Some suggestions (in increasing order of difficulty):

  • Be informed. If you do nothing else, you owe yourself this - a firm basis for your stand and understanding.
  • Share good articles or information you think the world should pay attention to on your Facebook profiles, Twitter, Buzz, whatever.
  • Speak out. In real life discussions. Online. Write articles, opinions on Facebook... if you don't currently write, but would like to write something, but don't have a place, feel free to submit it here.
  • Join the Anonymous operation Paperstorm. Print out cables and hand them out, stick them on walls...
  • Influence your society and government to insist on transparency, lawful behaviour and human rights.

Seeing as how no country in the world (or the UN) has really confronted the US on anything about the injustice we see unfolding, no matter where you live, current events are going to cascade on your freedoms - by virtue of becoming acceptable - its only a matter of time.