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My rift with what passes off for the voice of Indian feminists in public space grows. This time, over reckless grandstanding with LGBT rights.

It has come to my attention that India's feminists have made LGBT rights an election issue. It is unclear how many of these feminists belong to the LGBT community (I don't either) and what gives them the right to decide such things for others when they insist in women having their own voice.

Indian feminists increasingly appear to be bloated on their own sense of self importance bestowed by a media happy to trigger thoughts of violence against women for TRPs under the guise of condemning it. Not unlike the mandatory rape scene of a certain class of films from when I used to watch films (long ago).

The idea of LGBT rights as an election issue is not just reckless, it is engineered to harm LGBT rights.

India is the country where you have all major religions of the country - normally squabbling till your teeth ache - standing shoulder to shoulder to prevent LGBT rights, a right wing that is potentially on the verge of taking control of the country and the idea seems to be to point out to the homophobic majority who the people are who will make their every homophobic paranoia come true if elected. And then they vote for the country they want. Try getting a vote for your right to wear what you want in Saudi Arabia. Or heck India will do. If others should't have the right to decide your dress, who died and made you God that you grant others the right to decide whether LGBT should have rights or not? Why not let Khaps decide your rights then?

Some religious zealot doing this, I can understand. The right to decide by mob whether an individual has rights. Feminists engineering this with pride? Have all the brains gone on collective vacation?

How many rights are going to be sacrificed by air heads greedy for the next grand stand in media? Media is patriarchy, because it is driven by TRP and male controlled corporates and politicians. Instead of some slim young professional "people like us" handpicked individual case with a story that sells, bring up marital rape, domestic violence, tribal women instead of only Soni Sori, a 42 year old mother of five from some slum raped and watch your halo wilt and TRPs drop and you find the earth under your feet. That is where the women of India are.

The LGBT community is somewhere below that in public perception. They are not even understood as persons deserving of rights, let alone persons whose rights should be legalized. Unlike half of society being women, they are tiny numbers scattered all over the country. Not even concentrated in one constituency. What bright idea was it to make their rights open to debate and the subject of a standoff. What gives any idiot the right to make someone's fundamental right the subject of debate?

What is the consequence if Modi wins and LGBT rights are thrown in the dustbin and the clear verdict is people would have voted if they wanted such things in society? More talk shows? What should the community do? Who is to prevent enforcement of section 377 claiming mandate of the people?

Votes should be for people's needs, not their right to impose their prejudices on others or grant rights, as though an LGBT person's right to have sex with who they like is a concession given to them by the heterosexual majority. A democratic government must govern to make the people thrive, but must also govern for reform - whether voters like it or not. You get your jobs and decreased inflation and whatever shit, and you shut up and obey a law that says people who are not you have rights too. Just like you. Not up for vote. Country belongs to all and all have freedom to be and thrive in it. You can't protect minorities by throwing them at the mercy of a majority that actively persecutes them.

Which is what you do, when you make LGBT rights a matter people can vote for or against.

Idiot bubblegum feminists.

Ansh Aggarwal got beaten to death by a mob of college students. This much we know for certain. Other details emerge. Some news stories speaking of it as a love triangle, others saying that it was over abusive messages sent to a girl on Facebook (without making clear who sent them), Ansh's family saying that the accused sent the abusive messages and the girl had filed a police complaint.... as though a murder can have explanations that make it palatable.

I am not going to talk about this murder, because it has already happened. I am going to talk about the murders that are going to happen and if we have any intentions of avoiding them, or if we are content getting our daily dose of horror and then pointing superior fingers. A few things in this situation speak of a very concerning state of our society itself. Questions that have been building and building and no one seems to want to take them seriously.

Failure of law and order

I am not only speaking about a person being murdered. I am speaking of  a society that has few alternatives than to fight battles themselves that the law will not. Let us begin with asking how many girls can expect police to act when they get abused on the internet? What alternative does a friend who wants to see her safe have other than confronting the culprit himself? Note that the abuser being a real life contact takes this beyond the realm of "ignore". This is at the root of a lot of security and human rights problems in the country.

The law barely works with very serious matters, that too if you are not discredited. If you are discredited, or your suffering is not sensational enough, our law has increasingly started looking like a multiple choice opt-in question. It is fairly evident that the first thought that comes to a police mind is if they need to take on the hassle, or if they can get away with dismissing it. Rampant victim blaming is also a result of this.

Failure of politics and radicalization

Our method of politics being that of forming lynch mobs - physical or verbal, this is the society we are creating. Supporting or opposing anything is less about what that thing is, and more about who is bringing it up and if you are on their side. The power of a mob to hold society and security at hostage has not been fought, but nurtured into a weapon of choice.

As I remarked in my post on riots, a person who would file a police complaint if their mother got killed will easily riot on the streets attacking the "enemy" for religious or political reasons in the name of hurt feelings.Apparently, feelings are only hurt if specific enemies do wrong things. Well, good morning. Once an action gets legitimacy, it no longer remains limited to the context of its origin.

In a society where political or religious rioting bought vote bonanzas and got citizens rallying to fight for the dignity of their religion, we have children forming mobs when they get outraged too. This is the world they grew up in, where certain wrongs, specially wrongs where "us" are insulted by "them" are best dealt with through physical violence.

While the mob that attacked Ansh was definitely wrong and criminal, we need to look at our own culpability in creating an environment where this is an acceptable action - unless something goes "really wrong". It is increasingly common to find people reacting to riots with an examination of the provocation, instead of seeing them as acts of violence perpetrated on citizens. Why would hormone laden teenagers not riot if their mother got abused over some conflict about a girl? They were provoked, and national role models do not take such things quietly. Police do not harm you if you have rioted for a "just cause". This is the world we have created.

Media Courts

There is a specific pattern to how media responds to an incident that is very unhealthy. Instead of limiting itself to providing factual information, media increasingly pronounces guilt or worse, tries to fix it on someone, which complicates the case a lot. So now, in the Ansh case, here are the different versions of "what happened":

  • Girl gets text message on Facebook. Ansh Aggarwal and the accused fight over it. (note, no mention here of who sent it)
  • Both victim and accused interested in same girl, but girl favored the accused.
  • Victim tried to get accused to not harass a girl
  • Victim's brother got taken to scene of crime
  • Altercation that led to victim's death was spontaneous.
  • Girl had got harassed by the accused on Facebook, post which she filed a complaint as well as Ansh (this was ridiculously easy to verify, but no one seems to have done it)
  • An argument escalated into the murder (doesn't explain the handy rent-a-thugs)

And so on. This is routine after every crime, every parliamentary sneeze. The media reports everything it finds with little analysis or verification. In the process it ignores questions that really need to be asked of the country by providing a clutter rich environment that allows everyone to pick what they think is most important to be addressed, which usually involves something with least responsibility on them.

From being a mirror and a change agent, media is fast becoming a parrot for the convenience of those in power. So you have fight over a girl, and such things being spoken of freely, but little along the lines of why this is happening at all or what needs to be done to fix this. The parotted answer is to fix the police force. Yet, what do we do to fix ourselves?

Meena Kandasamy got abused on Twitter over her tweets on the beef issue. Threatened with being butchered, gang raped and such violence. "decent" people ignored it. If the threats get acted upon, the same "decent people" will then vent their anguish - led by the media. But while they read the tweets threatening her, they don't object. They don't "tangle with such people". After all, what she supported hurt sentiments of people, so they will retaliate. This is the world we have created. A world with laws that have nothing to do with the Constitution or penal code and everything to do with the war between power lobbies to conquer the country.

A Manipuri student got beaten to death by his seniors in the college hostel in Bangalore. Why? Because he changed the channel while they were watching the IPL. Yet, there are hundreds of people who have known college bullying to happen without interfering. Only if the person died, then it is wrong. It is high time we faced the fact that we tolerate it till the point it becomes visibly ugly. Hence such energy in distancing ourselves and condemning. It is a disowning of own complacency.

We want to pretend that till a certain point it was ok, which is why we didn't speak up, and now it is not ok, because if we don't speak up, we'll be outed for the bigots we are. These kids - these murderer kids are also among us. They have vented hate, and we have said "oh, let it be - they are like that only" till one fine day we can't let it be, and it is so out of control that we declare ourselves innocent and wash our hands off our problem.

Either way, we do nothing. Society gets fragmented to pander to these individual power grabs. We are more comfortable like that, because we don't have to do anything. We can condemn bad happenings after they happen and turn them into showcases of our great values and integrity.

In my view, yes, Anush Aggarwal's murder was wrong. But more than the murder, my worry is that a bunch of ticked off teenagers can easily turn into a murderous mob that fast. It is the India we are creating with our increasing list of things it is okay to protest with violence. We need to change our whole environment, if we are to expect children to not grow up with this kind of "normal".

We are as responsible for the wrongs we allow to happen unopposed, as we are for those we do.

14

The Mumbai Slutwalk had died when the police required us to provide an undertaking on the letterhead of an NGO with details of the walk. We could have falsified it, but the fact is that it was purely a citizen's initiative, and there was no NGO involved enough for us to feel justified in representing ourselves on its letter head.

Other problems cropped up, and we decided to let things be.

Today, the Bangalore Slutwalk was cancelled. The update from the organizers says that their permission for peaceful assembly was withdrawn under objection and pressure from BJP and related organizations.

As the permission was withdrawn at the last minute, the organizers decided to land up at the venue to inform people arriving for the SlutWalk that it had been called off.

What followed is better than a hundred SlutWalks in making the point, but.... our media is oblivious.

This group of ex-protesters, now only updaters, dressed in jeans and T-Shirts, were arrested by the cops and taken on a long drive to some remote police station. Their phones were taken away and they were detained without explanation.

These people detained were directing people that the SlutWalk was cancelled. They were cooperating with the police. Some of those detained were walking away from the venue exactly as directed by the police when they were hauled back and arrested.

This, dear friends, was Bangalore's SlutWalk. A live demo by the cops of the need for a SlutWalk.

  • Moral Police had a problem with what they perceived as characterless behavior
  • They pressurized the government with threats of illegal action
  • As usual, the victim was suppressed to avoid a problem and permissions cancelled
  • Organizers were arrested in spite of co-operating
  • Protesters leaving the site were arrested because "they shouldn't have been there in the first place"

THIS is why slutwalks happen. Moral policing in society. Character judgments about women/men based on what goes on in the minds of those thinking about them. Morality being rigidly defined by whoever is able to bully the others. Bullying leading to comprehensive silencing of women asserting their constitutional rights that have been deprived. Government and police making absolutely no effort to safeguard those rights. Police actively persecuting those who attempted to assert themselves, even if they are fully cooperating.

Shows a dead society that will not let others live because they are not able to face the dirt in their own minds and would rather blame someone for it.

In my eyes, the Bangalore Slutwalk is a success.

I think, we have gone beyond the time for protest walks. The time is for us to live our realities, and insist that the police maintain law and order.

4

Some points to learn from while organizing Mumbai's Maal Chaal. This post is more of a to-do list for me, not really an article. Feel free to read, follow or contribute or use the list to help you act. Stuff will keep getting added, removed.

  1. Remain open and available. Coordinate with main people so that all of us aren't inaccessible at the same time on declared points of contact.
  2. Prepare better. There was little preparation in terms of working with the society before the walk and in communicating the need. More reach needs to be organized.
  3. Specifically target and ensure communication with a range of "groups" of people ensuring diversity of age, gender, caste, class, locality, religion, etc. The attempt is to create such a diversity of people, that the message becomes totally generic - moral judgments and victimization are not okay regardless of who does it to whom.
  4. Make sure that the scope of the slutshaming being protested as not limited to streets and public transport - it is in every aspect of lives - in how we treat each other at home, at work, in school, on the street, in public transport...
  5. Engage with disagreeing voices in genuine debate. Understand concerns, make real attempts to address them as far as possible.
  6. Create effective communication on why words like "slut" and "maal" are needed and what is their significance in this protest against the ills in society - help people reach beyond automatic denials to common interest.
  7. Communicate better with journalists to ensure that the message of the slutwalk reaches viewers unmangled.
  8. Create a few standard letters, photos, graphics, etc that supporters can use to spread the word.
  9. Keep the voice loud and clear all through right up to the walk.
  10. Keep an eye on the kinds of clothes people have in mind, so that there is an idea of the diversity or the lack of it and action may be taken if needed.

Update: Better coverage of Delhi's Slutwalk in San Francisco Chronicle. The messages are far more effectively conveyed true to the idea, so that the disparity in dress is not garish. Responsible, real. Good job! If this were being showed to India instead of the crap, we could have called this a really awesome event. However, I am becoming incr

As pictures come in from Delhi's slutwalk today, I can't but help worry that the walk gives a totally different message from that intended and reinforces the stereotypes it aims to challenge.

My main concerns:

  • The clothes: Two distinct patterns - Indian women covered up, foreigners bare. I am very concerned by this on several fronts. The most important being what does it project about foreigners. The first picture in the coverage by HT shows a girl writing slutwalk messages on a skimpily dressed foreigner's bare stomach. When I burst out in outrage on Twitter, some thought it was bare stomachs scandalizing me. Not true. It is the bare stomach of a foreigner being touched/written on, while Indian women are dressed conservatively as the defining picture of the event. Now, if Delhi has any problem after rapes in general, it is rapes of foreigners. What message does this picture convey about a foreigner's personal space? Is either writing slogans or foreigners the main thing about the slutwalk? This kind of masala journalism sells papers and prejudice at the same time. SHAME Hindustan Times!!!
  • There is a stark contrast among the foreigners and Indians when it comes to clothes. The Indian women are dressed MORE conservatively than on the streets. It is almost like they are trying to prove that they are not sluts and thus should not be raped. This, I think is a message that will add to judgments about clothing. WORSE than not having a slutwalk.
  • In the pictures, it is the men shown as vocal and the women quietly holding placards. Another message I'd like to have missed.
  • The foreigners look like the "item numbers" of the event. Attention getters, but not part of the real story. And that not being integrated with the local people is what is the real damage. The skimpily dressed people are not us. We are not dressed like that. We hold up placards saying don't rape us. An entire segment of Indian women who dress skimpily is totally unrepresented - worse, covered up.
  • The biggest mistake - the organizer of the slutwalk is totally covered up, devoid of makeup or any effort whatsoever to look appealing.
This coming after the threats to disrupt the walk comes off as totally wrong. Threaten us, and we will cover up.

Why am I making such a big deal of clothes if they don't really matter? I am not making it. The big deal has already been made, which is why we see such a conservative choice of clothes. I am only calling it out as harmful to the message of the walk. I think it is important that this be noted that the slutwalk is not only about covered up women. You wouldn't like being raped while returning from the disco because you weren't in the slutwalk uniform, would you?

That said, I understand that this is the first slutwalk and that it happened is a big thing. Unfortunately, I think that now it becomes even more important to make sure that the right message reaches people. There are other things I saw that could be avoided in future walks, but this is not the time for them, will post separately.

I congratulate that it happened at all. It sets precedent for future walks to happen. Good. Now the trick is to make them happen at full power.

Now, the invitation is to see the slutwalk as a social intervention and not a masala event, or something that is okay if done halfway. Restraining conditions on the slutwalk and expecting the message to reach is like reigning in a thoroughbred and expecting it to win a race. The essence of a slutwalk is the right of a woman to wear what she likes, like the essence of a thoroughbred is in its speed.

If you believe in what you are doing, then there is no need to be apologetic about it. I am not saying parade skimpily dressed women, but the absence of skimpily dressed women totally is a big matter of concern, because then it is the message of clothes defining right to be safe that is getting promoted - quite the opposite of what is intended.

Also, the slutwalk is an intervention means that the message is crucial to change in society. It needs to ring loud and clear. If you are saying clothes don't matter, then there MUST NOT be recommendations of dressing conservatively.

Coming to the journalists. You guys are the eyes of the country. Few will see the walk live. Most will see what you choose to show. As memories fade, the only ones publicly preserved will be those in your archives. As such, you have an ethical responsibility to convey the spirit of an attempt at social change as transparently as possible. From the beginning, there has been this obsession with bare stomachs. Now, in an event of hundreds of people FROM Delhi, dressed in a certain manner, your opening picture is of a foreigner dressed not representatively of the crowd. Sure, include it. But as the FIRST picture that also gets used as a thumbnail to represent the coverage? What is it that is being conveyed here?

I suggest that there is a serious effort to contribute to social transformation and promoting social initiatives rather than pimping midriffs for a moment of attention and undermining their entire validity.

Beyond angry with the reporting. Bloody pimps.