Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Laws against Marital Rape in India: A question of cultural relevance

Recently, the Union Minister of State for Home Affairs Haribhai Parathibhai Chaudhary claimed in the Rajya Sabha that marital rape cannot be criminalised in India as marriages are sacred in the country. Thus making laws against marital rape in India a culturally irrelevant concept. Of course, several jurists, activists and feminists were angered; not just by the statement but also by the fact that it would mean regression as far as the passing of laws is concerned. The Justice Varma Committee, which was set up after the Nirbhaya case, had clearly suggested that marital rape be recognised as a malaise facing Indian society and relevant laws be made to make the act punishable. Then, what makes the honourable minister claim that ours is an exceptional society and laws regarding marital rape are not culturally relevant?

Firstly, a lot of violence against women in India continues because it is written off as being one of the private domain. You may go to the police to register an FIR and you will be told, "yeh ghar ka maamla hai" thus making it "okay" for them not to register the FIR. If one is not aware of her rights, one is most likely to return disappointed assuming that in fact the law does not cover matters related to our personal lives. A fallacious assumption. In any case, there are laws that govern marriage, property, inheritance, child adoption, dowry and violence and several such "personal" matters, then what makes marital rape an exception? It is good to remind ourselves in such situations that the personal is indeed, political.

Personally, I'm not sure why cultural relevance was a question at all. India is one of the most patriarchal countries there can be and I say this from personal experience. I understand my views may be biased in this respect, but again, I do have enough facts behind me to support my claim. There is no woman who can claim that she has not faced any form of sexual harassment in her life. Not even a young child of 2 years of age, who barely understands what it is to be human is safe. Nor is a 70 year old woman who is way past her prime years. What makes marital rape culturally relevant is precisely this fact that women in India, even today are forced into marriages and often to men who they do not wish to marry. The scope to negotiate the terms of marriage are limited, vis a vis her own family as well as the groom's family. If her consent for the marriage itself is not of much significance, then why do we assume that her consent would be considered important in matters of sexual relations?

Marriage in India is considered to be the legitimate access to having sex. It's easiest to check into a hotel if you can say and "look" married. Ask a non wedded couple their experience while getting a room even on a vacation, and you will know that I mean. With a cultural assumption that marriage is a free pass to having sex, marital rape only seems like a possible consequence of such an assumption. When consent to marriage is a consent to all that comes with it, especially sex, it seems only fair that such statements are made which reek of the same patriarchal assumption; that marital rape is a misnomer, something odd that doesn't fit with Indian society and it's concept of marriage because you consented when you signed up for the marriage in the first place. The concept of consent for sex isn't relevant in our deeply patriarchal, cultural imagination. But the laws against marital rape then, certainly are.   

Friday, December 20, 2013

It's just an exam...Is it now?

It’s just an exam. I’ve been told that before by very many well –wishers, friends, family and the rest. And I want to believe them; I do, for my own good. It’s just an exam, and I handle those well. But just when I want to believe myself, my brains sends off a contradictory message to my body and I shiver. My pulse racing and my heart beats like it were playing on a radio by my side. I break into a sweat. Of course, if am not anxious about the exam, then I am anxious that I may be anxious and what am I going to do then? How am I going to perform? How am I going to unlock the key to my happiness that lies in this very exam? It’s a vicious cycle and it can eat you up. And not just gobble you up in a jiffy, it tears you apart, bit by bit. 

After a year or more of having been through this cycle, I have learnt to gauge it. I can dodge it and protect myself at least. I will not let my fear consume me. This in itself has been a great achievement. Of learning who I am; knowing that there are things I am good at and there are things that scare me. Knowing, that we are still as prone to fear as we were perhaps as children.

Why I initially sat down to write this post however was to share an experience. I am unwell and I actually managed to take the day off. Yes, so? What’s the catch here? Precisely what I thought at the end of the day. Why does this surprise me? It’s because this exam has taught me how to run and frankly, I have forgotten how to stop running. Not to suggest that I am constantly working. No. but I am constantly preoccupied with work, so much so that I can’t stop from myself from either doing it or thinking about it or just worrying about it. I woke up and decided that I was ill and I would allow myself the rest. No books for the day. But what do I do with myself? Watch a movie? Read a novel? Sleep? What would you like to do, I asked myself. And nothing came to mind. 

So I aimlessly spent hours on facebook, obsessively played a game on my phone and then just read a little from a book I am reading for the exam, academic book but not a text book. What has the exam done to me? It has erased me off me. When I was in school and I had to study for the exams, there were a whole list of things that would come to my mind just when the exams were around the corner. And I would think, If only! In fact, I would make a list of things I want to do just after the exams end. I no longer have any lists to make. I just want the exam to happen, and I just want them to end. And perhaps then, life can begin. 

But life isn't on a standstill. That's my perception. There will be a time when I shall look back at these times and will most probably renew my perception. And given my track record, I'm mostly likely to look back fondly. Nostalgia as we say, or just time, changes the way we look at things. Mostly because the emotional upheavels subside, or are replaced with more pressing issues. The people, events, situations are all different and we can see things more clearly, minus the shading of events by our emotions. The problem that remains with such an approach is that in the present, I don't exist in a happy state. Surely, there are happy moments, hours, days, but on the whole, life feels blase, routine and almost monotonous. But I survive, because there is the promise of "life" that is yet to come. The life when I will have the perfect hair, the perfect body, the perfect spouse, the perfect children, the perfect home and the perfect life. 

Is the only thing flawed here is my perception? Or is this perhaps the only way to live? A little reminiscing of the past, a little fantasy of the future and an occasional guest appearance in the present?  I don't know, I can only think about it after my exam.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Open Your Eyes

I have spent over an hour thinking about what’s lost. And of course, this is not the only hour I have doing that. It’s not even the first hour of me having done that. I have done this far too often. I don’t beat myself up about it because I understand people feel regret. And I let myself feel it too. Is there an upper limit as to “how much” or for how long you are allowed to mope over the past? I guess not. You may go on for as long as you like.
The only unfortunate part about going on is that when you choose to regret about the past, you are actually choosing to not move on. In the split second when you choose to wallow is self-pity, in that very same moment you have chosen to overlook everything else that is actually “okay” in your life and focus all your energies on the past, which mind you, you cannot change. The other aspect being that it is an entirely unproductive exercise. But still we indulge. I guess it’s time to toughen up and learn to take life’s experiences in your stride. 

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Being Rational: REBT Workshop Session 1-2

A shrink asked me to sign up for a workshop in REBT, that is, Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy, a therapy proposed by Dr. Albert Ellis. I’ve heard a lot about the guy from a counsellor friend who practiced it on his clients as well as me. Over time, I’ve learnt a lot about what it entails to just be rational as well as get someone else, that is, a client to be rational. The theory is actually pretty simple, but as time goes by, I realise, it’s much harder to practice and apply in daily life. Nevertheless, I try. I’m putting a bit down about the workshop for people to learn about the theory, the workshop and my experience.

First a little bit about, the Dr. Albert Ellis! Apparently a great personality with a not so great personality, ironic? At 21, he had never managed to get a date with a girl so he decided he would spend a day in the park and ask out every girl he met. By the evening, he asked 100 girls to go on a date and nobody said yes. Sigh. If you were in the same situation, what would you feel? I’d say, most of us are likely to think “Man, 100 girls say no? Am I really that pathetic? What is it that they don’t like about me? Is it my hair? Or am I too fat? Too short? Do I have bad features? It must be the way I speak…I don’t think I make good first impressions” The negative self-talk just goes on. The minute we experience ridicule, we forget what’s actually good about us and question everything about ourselves.

This is precisely the kind of thought process the theory seeks to check. In this situation, what did Dr. Ellis do? Nothing much…He just went back and didn’t read into the situation at all, at least negatively. He thought, “If 100 girls said no today, is it that no girl will ever want to date me? Probably not” (Statistically, it seems unlikely. 100 is not such a large number after all) “Does it mean that if no one wants to date me, I’m not worthy of dating? No, that’s not possible” (If you start to break down the thought processes we have, we realise that we seek to achieve an ideal that probably doesn’t exist. It’s more often than not a fictitious construct, only in the mind.

What this means is that in an event, you judge not the person, but the performance. Most importantly, in your own case- judge your performance, and not yourself. When practiced, you will see how the former can lead you to more rational, practical solutions to the situation. It’s nice to wallow in self-pity and be angry at the world and everything else around you, but what good is that? Life doesn’t change for your emotions and the sooner we learn this, the better it shall be.

Written at: Mahathma Nature Cure Centre, Kannur, Kerala

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Price Tags

Written at: Mahathma Nature Cure Centre, Kannur, Kerala

I only just realised how warped the concept of self-worth has been for most of us. We’re constantly under the influence of the media, social and cultural pressures, striving to attain an ideal we are rarely able to achieve. Surely, some of us do. But I’m talking about those of us who constantly feel a sense of lacuna, in spite and despite of having done everything in our reach.

I realize we attach way too much importance to worldly achievements: it matters what school you went to, what grades you managed, how many extra-curriculars you participated in, career choices you made, how “successful” you have been in getting to the top, how accepted you are in the social circles and how many people you call “friends”. Of course, the list goes on. I have been as much victim to this sort of thinking and I’m sure I continue to be even as I write this, but the realization that I’m more than just these is reassuring.

Having grown up in a city like Bombay, I have always been too busy running after dreams that are far too ambitious. I may achieve what I want some day, or maybe I shall not. But the problem isn’t in being ambitious, or wanting to pursue worldly riches. The problem arises when these achievements become conditions to evaluate the self. Am I worthy of anything if I’m not XYZ? I’m good at ABC but I’m not that (whatever that achievement might be in our head) so maybe I’m not that good.

One always works with the assumption that once you have XYZ, you will feel worthy, you will feel happy. But do we really ever get there? Perhaps not, I’m pretty sure if we covered everything from A to Z in terms of achievements, there would still be something, something we don’t quite have. Clearly, the problem is not one of achievements, but one of perception. A perception of the self that is far too conditional, one that undermines that everything that has been achieved or learnt as being just another achievement and not really significant. Not quite enough!

Well, it’s for the first time I realize that I’m more than my achievements. It’s for the first time I find significance in doing things I always thought as being far too trivial and “unproductive” (A capitalist trap, perhaps?). At this point of time, I don’t have a job, I don’t have a bank balance to see me through unemployment, I’m not in the best of health and I have pretty much nothing a “modern”, urban-bred 27-year old educated woman should have. I will not deny this fact haunts me often, but I’m not going to let such ideas take me down. Our perceptions of self are far too conditional and it’s time we decided the amount of value we place on our “self” ourselves. I’m glad I finally experienced a sense of self-worth which is beyond worldly achievements. In spite of what I have or don’t have, I feel worthy of life!

PS: The monsoons and the green hills work wonders for my creative juicesJ thank you Mother Nature! 

Monday, July 1, 2013


As a student in school as well as in college, I took pride in being the in-house teacher for my class mates. Several children experience difficulty in asking questions in class for they are worried their questions are silly and people may think they’re dumb. But with me, they were happy to ask whatever they wanted and I was happy to help. It’s not just my messiah complex, but I genuinely enjoy teaching. In fact, the prospect of teaching somebody else makes me push myself. I question my intellect “Do I really know this?” and work extra hard to obtain absolute clarity. It’s pleasurable. Too bad I didn’t want to become a teacher by profession. I guess I felt it came to me so naturally that there would be no real challenge in doing something you are already good at?

In any case, I’m terrified of public speaking. I even repress memories of the few times I’ve actually had to address an audience, be it a classroom or just office colleagues. It only involved me being unable to prepare for I’m too inconfident about everything I plan to say. “Is this what I really want to say? Does this really mean this? Am I too fast? Is this unclear? Is this unstructured?” Classic case of performance anxiety.

It is only recently that I decided that it was time I stopped being so scared. May be I do have something to offer to a student. I believed my gut and applied to a coaching institute offering to teach sociology to their students. They readily agreed. In fact, they want me to teach some other general stuff as well. Woohoo! I went home happy. In any case, this is to start only a month later, thus leaving me with enough time to prepare myself for the exercise.

The next day, the lady from the institute calls and says, “Hey are you free to take a class tomorrow?”

Me on the other side of the phone “Umm tomorrow? (Always pays to sound like an eager beaver when it concerns a prospective job…dam) Yeah, sure!”

Lady: “Okay see you at 7:30 AM tomorrow”
In such a situation, what should someone be doing? Start preparing immediately, perhaps! But what do I do? Just prance around the house restlessly, tire myself out and sleep off. I’m so hyper that I’m dysfunctional to even prepare for class.

It is only by 11 PM that I decide that it’s high time I get my act together. Somehow, in an hour’s time I conclude that I know everything I need to know and all I need is a sheet of paper with pointers about what I’d like to say. I thought, if I don’t know what the students don’t know, how can I even prepare?”

I reach class to see my “students” who are only a year or two younger than me. Gulp!
The class began; at first I was a little confused. I had to stop a couple of times to ask if they were on the same page as me. Luckily, the class was interactive and had more gyaan to offer than I did. Fortunately, none of it was refined enough. Once I figured what it is I knew more than them, it was easier to proceed. No one beats me at political correctness and that’s all I had to teach them. They’re going to need it to take the exam anyway. Soon, I got a grip and next thing I notice is that people are taking notes in my class!

When the class was over, I was elated. I was the same person who always feared making presentations in class, struggled to articulate what I wanted to say and was usually the student no teacher ever noticed, only because I made myself invisible even as I sat on the first bench, always.

And here I was, taking a class on Indian Society. A remarkable leap I say, iFear to iCan!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Hide and Seek

Our mind is a funny thing, an entire universe resides in that little space. I find it fascinating, that so much goes on in there. Depending on our circumstances, events take priority. When you are hungry, you can think of nothing but food. But if you are loaded with work, you might even be able to forget that you are starved. It is only when you get time off and bite into a sandwich do you realize how hungry you have actually been. Almost like you can hide, even from yourself. 

I am told my biggest fear in the world is to be lonely. Once this "fact" was known to me, all I have done is to work around it; worked towards telling myself that irrespective of "life", I will be "OK". At most times, I convince myself alright. Time and again, I have proven to myself my own capabilities that I may have underestimated or of which I have been mostly unaware. At other times in the day, there is no time to think except during the commute to work. The minute I step into office, work, like a whirlpool, takes over and makes me switch off, from "me" the personal to me, the "professional".

Yet, when the door at work shuts close, the mind opens up to itself the concerns that it managed to suppress through the day. But, there is the option to succumb to fatigue and just sleep. Let the symbolic world scare you with gory images; you can always wake up. 

It is only times like these, when my artificial busy world crumbles down, when sleep evades you and your emotions loom large. It is only at times like these that I realise how much I hate to be lonely...how much I detest to "feel" lonely. 

I guess it's good to know that irrespective, we all survive.