An eye for an eye

NIMISHA JAISWAL

Image from washingtonpost.com

The verdict is out - Hosni Mubarak is to serve a life sentence behind bars. While this, on the heels of ‘blood diamond’ Taylor’s 50-year sentence, is seen as proof that no one is above human rights and the law, the people of Egypt are not happy.

And why would they be? The run up to the verdict has ranged from mock gallows on the public squares to protesters holding nooses outside the court. Mobilisation for an appeal of the sentence has already begun, and from what I gather from an NYT article on the subject, the Egyptians are expecting this to be a long drawn fight - they wish to draw blood.

However, I wouldn’t be going into the details of this particular verdict. What I think of is a class discussion of Simon Wiesenthal’s The Sunflower, a book about perceptions on forgiveness. Several peace-building perspectives, like that of Desmond Tutu, focus on the power, and necessity, and need for forgiveness. They state that to forgive is not simply to forget, but to come to terms with loss, and to initiate the healing process.

What, then, of the protester in Egypt whose 15-year-old brother was shot in the heart by the police? What of the people of Sierra Leone, babies with stumps for hands, or little children with their severed and useless hands sewn on simply for cosmetic purposes? What of the thousands who have died across Syria over the last year, and what of every other tyrant or dictator who, with an amused order, cost the lives of populations?

I do agree that to hold on to hatred and to hold on to pain may not be what is needed to recuperate. I also agree that when wrongs done by one

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That’s right

NIMISHA JAISWAL

'Living history': Gay rights pioneer Lilli Vincenz (R), and her life partner Nancy Ruth Davis (Image from AP).

Mr. Obama sure does know how to evoke a reaction.

The US President’s statement on a televised interview, where he explicitly stated his support for gay marriage, succeeded in causing both an outcry and a celebration. Gay rights activists hailed the statement as a milestone, many celebrating their chance to witness ‘history’. The usual suspects denounced Obama’s words, and political disapproval was quick to the fore. Australian PM Julia Gillard remained politely ‘opposed’, and a Peruvian congresswoman reached the conclusion that the US President is a ‘philosophically confused man’. 

Whatever the kind of reaction, a reaction certainly was due. The US has been seen as a torch-bearer in most streams and issues, and the first time a US President publicly takes a stance on gay marriage is quite a reason to stop and take notice.

The proximity of the statement to the presidential elections, the grinding and sweating over planning the timing to the dot, the rush caused due to Biden’s words, and the prompt ‘Mitt Romney: Backwards on Equality’ video emitting from the Obama campaign centre is another story. So the man had an agenda. What matters is if the agenda was supported by a sincere admission, or a political ploy.

While gay rights activists have praised Obama ardently, they have also wished for a more pro-active stand, to promote the cause further. The significance of Obama’s words, and the potential significance of his actions, would bear great influence on the mobilisation of laws granting greater rights to the LGBT community. His statement has already obligated many to react with a stand, and those who ‘remain opposed’ have been brought back into the limelight for their anti-rights position.

The main trouble, however, lies with the thought processes. Several African countries still punish homosexuality with jail sentences, or even death. China turns a blind eye, and India is struggling. The ‘mental disorder’ or ‘disease’ theory is, unluckily, still not old. As an Egyptian engineer puts it, "God created Adam and Eve. He didn’t create two Adams or two Eves." Religion, of course, the answer to it all and the safest curtain to hide behind, also stands firm in making things difficult, and impeding the path to change.

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What’s the old today?

NIMISHA JAISWAL

Image from asianews.it

The news can be a tad puzzling. For example, let us consider international news, from the lands beyond the horizon, so to say. Currently, we have Syria, and the ‘cease-fire’ mess going on there. There is North Korea with its big (fake?) falling-into-the-sea missiles, Myanmar getting into the good books of the West with Suu Kyi, the US-Pak talks falling through, Gilani’s 30-seconds-to-infamy, Romney coming to the Republican forefront of the US presedentials, Hollande being looked at suspiciously for the French, Talks (?) with the Taliban, the Sudans, of course, the South China Sea disagreement, Nigeria’s Boko Haram going after the very unfair media, Chen Guangcheng’s escape, internet debates and the Xilai scandal for China, yada yada yada, yap yap yap, and much else. 

We know we’ve seen it in the little section on our national news channels, we know we’ve skimmed through the one or two pages we have in our daily papers, and if we’d like to know more, we have BBC, CNN, and the World Wide Web. There is scope, there is information, there is the latest on Google News.

So consider this for me, to get focused on the point. Consider Syria, and the length of time you’ve been hearing about it. I wouldn’t bore you by walking you through it, but consider the variance in the attention it has received, over the past year. Consider how you heard about 10 deaths 6 months ago, and how you hear about them right now. Consider YOUR change in interest in the topic.

There is a before, and there is an after. For most of us, Syria did not exist, about two years ago (I do not scoff - I had only known it was a country). Right now, there is an ebb and flow, but soon enough there will be an end. I do not predict how or when, but there could be a Tunisia, there could be a Libya (unlikely as it is), and there could be an Egypt - the possibilities are numerous, but one or the other is likely to bring an end to this.

And fade from memory it will. Much as we don’t really pay attention anymore to 3 deaths in Libya, and to who-the-hell-is-in-charge-there now, Syria is heading towards a similar fate. As is all international news. As is, in fact, ALL news. 

I would ask you this, then - how significant is the follow-up? Do you WANT the follow-up? How many would want the follow-up? I’m not even saying 10 years down the line, I’m talking about ten DAYS down the line. All the fears and apprehensions about Libya being taken over by the ‘wrong’ kind, what about them? What IS going on in Tunisia now? Are we only talking about Osama on the anniversary of his death? What IS happening in Malaysia? Do we care?

It all seems to be a collection of news bits and a bunch of questions, but what I am trying to get to here is the fact that we don’t owe any responsibility to the news, not that we are aware of.

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Much ado

NIMISHA JAISWAL

Image from Reuters

The Elections 2012 have resulted not only in the Congress demolition, but also in a longer workday for me. In my (very) long day, I have watched results and margins, I have seen seven special pages full of post-result stories and reactions, I’ve read editorials and opinion pieces and I’ve watched what’s trending on Twitter and Rahul Gandhi’s overwhelmed face. 

I’m afraid I’m not in a position to make a decisive post-poll analysis with respect to the parties and what they bring, and I’ll leave it to the experts to carry out that task. All I knew for sure before the results was that the Congress-anticipation was based only on watching for the Rahul-magic to work and not on any real, evident gains - there was never any hope for the Congress, and as my very-perceptive mother said last night, no one was fooled by the hulabaloo on the streets.

But then again, was no one fooled? There is such jubilation on the streets amidst the winning parties, as Holi breaks out early (not like it hadn’t already courtesy the ANNOYING water-balloon-throwing kids-on-balconies) and the new leaders make tear-jerking speeches to the masses who stood by them. There is intense grief in the losing quarters, or rapid passing-on-the-buck - the BSP offices lie abandoned in Lucknow and 10, Janpath is silent, apart from Junior Gandhi’s efforts to put on a brave face. Such emotion; tumultuous, overwhelming, intense, ground-breaking.

As I watch all this with a detached eye (unluckily, no party has me vociferously convinced and by their side, leaving me unable to make soulful speeches for or against the verdict)

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What’s in a name?

NIMISHA JAISWAL

There was a piece in the New York Times, written by an NRI, which I believe evoked a considerable worldwide reaction. I myself reacted strongly to it, and I did want to write on it. I may yet, some day - there was a tone, almost a mocking one, which I did not appreciate in that individual’s depiction of this country and its norms. I’m not (just) being the patriot here - I just believe it’s a mix of the wrongs of generalisation, and the easier-said-than-done in the piece which I do not appreciate.

That is, however, for later. What I talk of here is something tiny, yet something very large - our surnames.

I did not know, till college, that there was actually a thought process which still exists, which puts you in a box the moment you say your full name. I did not know how to respond to questions about my caste, from educated colleagues, that too. They were not aspersions, mind you - they were discussions, a passing matter, but they were yet a topic. I did not know how to respond to a rather interesting discussion we had in class about if our parents would let us marry into a ‘lower caste’ (I remember I went back to my hostel and called my mother to ask her.)

That said, I have never faced any difficulty, or gained any advantage, because of my name. I have never felt any belonging to any class or caste. I have never consciously felt that a friend was a lower, or a higher caste - I have never even known it, unless expressly mentioned. That had made me decide that the system is a thing of the past.

Yet, I’m here, writing on the topic. What brought me here was a discussion which I very recently overheard. A replacement cook was the topic of concern - I was not aware of the woman’s ‘roots’, but she came from a ‘lower caste’ background. Now while this did not prevent the progressive family from utilising her services, it was frowned upon by other workers, who did not agree that the woman was ‘fit for the job’.

What irked me was when the permanent cook’s origins from a ‘good family’ were discussed. She, as a ‘high caste’ individual who had fallen on hard times, was ‘cleaner’ by disposition. The replacement woman, on the other hand, was not pre-disposed to cleanliness, due to her roots.

I’m trying to come to grips with this. I’m not simply dismissing it as the banter of the unevolved, because this was a discussion amongst the most educated people I know. I am not condemning them as narrow-minded, for like I said, they did not stop the replacement cook from cooking, nor are they the sort who give these matters heed.

What bothers me is that despite all this, the clean-unclean paradigm seemed to be taken as a fact of nature. We may be accepting people from all castes and classes, but their ‘inherent’ characteristics hold fast in the minds of the masses.

What then, of the collapse of the caste system? Are we really ready to live without reservations? Can ‘society’, that all-seeing, all-knowing omnipotent demigod, be trusted?

I am one of those people who do NOT believe that India lives in a hole. I would fight out any stereotypes about my country, and I would praise it to whosoever may try to put it down. I would put faith into a lot to do with the country, but I would do none of the above blindly. Whenever I do any of it, I really believe in what I say. I do not believe that India is forever condemned to be regressive, that Indians are inherently flawed in certain ways, that something about the air takes away from who we are and turns us into people we cannot feel proud of being.

Why then, do the best of people continue to think in a way which emulates a system which is one of the most shameful in our history? Is it something built into us, as members of certain castes? Are you scrolling down to my surname, to see why I’m harping on about this? 

For once, I cannot propose a solution. I wonder if there is a base to this seemingly mindless categorisation, and if there is a way to rip it out. For we may not be

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Love, and other national issues

NIMISHA JAISWAL

Much as I would like to ignore the prevalent topic of the day, it would be an opportunity lost if I do - much has been said on the day of ‘love’, and taking the easy way out by jumping onto that bandwagon seems quite plum to me. Also, despite a severe lack of interest in this celebration, it would not be right to froth and fume (as I usually do) on Dove-day. Symbolism, it’s important.

About my day, then. I woke up, had my cup of coffee, ‘worked’ on my laptop, was visited briefly by friends, wore my fluorescent green cartoon shirt for work, stopped by at DePaul’s for more coffee, came to work, worked. Apart from an unusually large crowd at the Rajiv Chowk metro station, not much seemed amiss. 17 minutes to the close of the day, and apart from the usual office bustle, this day is ending much like any other.

I am given to understand that many

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Not just Xena

NIMISHA JAISWAL

Every generation has a few words it likes to throw around in abundance, and it is safe to say that ours is no exception to that norm. However, there are instances when some of the most-used words are utilized without the user understanding their meaning. While I would not attempt to disentangle favourites like ‘awesome’ and ‘apparently’, the f-word is one which could do with some explanation - not just for the youth, but for the adults too.

Feminism is a concept everyone has been ‘confronted’ with. While there is so much background which can be given on the topic - the phases, the cultural context, the trends, the movements, the philosophy - I would not be taking this up, important as it is. What I would rather talk about here is my own understanding of this thought process, in an effort to clarify the misconceptions which I have most often come across. You may have happened upon several, or all, of these ideas before - this is simply a list of what I have taken away from those. To the point, then:

  • A feminist does not hate/want to kill/annihilate all men.
  • A feminist is not necessarily a woman (at least I hope so, fiercely).

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For shame

NIMISHA JAISWAL

Slutwalk, London - Image by RenderDonkeyat flickr.com

"I had said that provocative fashionable dresses, were perhaps one of the factors. But I did not say that it was ‘the factor’."

"I don’t regret it. Institutions are more important than individuals. You cannot have freedom at the cost of values nurtured by an institution. Do it outside; nobody is bothered.


The first statement comes from the Andhra DGP V. Dinesh Reddy, in defense (mind you, this is actually a ‘clarification’) of his earlier statement regarding ‘fashion’ being a significant factor behind the increase in rape cases.

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On a fresh note

NIMISHA JAISWAL

Who would’ve thought customizing a theme could be so tiresome.

Anyhow, GAB brings to you a new look - we give you more accessibility to older posts, easier reach to different sections and an overall scheme which draws away from the monotonous scrolling-endlessly-blog format. Now what you see here is a nascent effort - we hope to keep making it neater, better, and funner.

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