Sunday, November 27, 2011 15 comments

EXPERIENCES WITH LAW ENFORCERS

 
Those of us who have grown up reading Enid Blyton would certainly remember Mr. Goon, the policeman- probably  my first introduction to the police –albeit in another country. A fat man with eyes like a frog he was always outsmarted by  five children. He had a bee in his bonnet about a “fat boy”, Fatty aka Frederick Algernon Trotville.

Over the years as I grew up my experiences with the police also  began to grow and today as you can see I obviously have enough to write an entire post on them…

The year was 1995. I was new to Chennai as were my two friends with whom I shared a flat. One of them – I will call  her H had a scooter on which all three of us merrily rode around town. Our usual “beat” was from the flat where we lived to our office and back. One evening, we decided to be adventurous and move out into the Central Business District. As always we were riding “triples” with H driving the bike.  We encountered a “NO ENTRY” board at a point.

Generally law abiding citizens, I don’t know  what happened to us on that day but  we decided to ignore the sign and take that turn. It did not look like there was anyone about to check us. The lane itself had a deserted look . Just as we had turned into the lane and driven for about 2 mts who should loom up in front of us but our own Tamil version of Mr. Goon..! A medium sized person with a huge moustache he stopped us in that lane…  This was embarrassing and scary – to be stopped by a traffic policeman- the first time in our lives. Both my friends were not Tamilians and therefore the job of dealing with Mr. Goon was naturally thrust up on me. Well here is the conversation that we had

“ What is this ..? Did you not see the NO ENTRY board? “

“yes sir we did” I replied meekly

“Then why did you turn in this side?” He hollered

“ Didn’t know what it meant sir”  I murmured.

“Didn’t know? ..And what is this three to a scooter? Don’t you know it is not allowed?” He persisted

“Didn’t know sir. Theriyadu” I said again.

“What are you girls doing in the town anyway? Studying or working” he asked.

I decided at this point to play the sympathy card.

“ Neither sir. We are hunting for a job. Been at it for a month now. Unable to get any jobs” I said pathetically.

“  Well who will give you a job? For every question that is asked you answer Theriyadu ( don’t know” he said looking at me seriously

He then went on to disperse some Gyan- “ Look here ma.. even if you don’t know the answer never say I don’t know in an interview. Just say something. Otherwise people will think that you are fool” !!!!

I nodded seriously and then he let us go after calling out behind us about where we could buy some General knowledge books….! Unfortunately both my friends missed the joke. This experience is mine and mine only …

The second experience happened when I was pregnant. My husband was driving me to the doctor for a check up. An ancient lady ( I think she must have been about a 100 years old) she was a stickler for punctuality. Even if we were  late by 5 minutes she would stare at us as though she had caught us doing something really awful. So, I am sure you will understand the reason why my husband ignored a traffic light and sped past. But not for long… we suddenly found ourselves being stopped by a whistle blowing cop.

The scene goes something like this…

Husband pulls up on the side of the road and the cop starts questioning him… He says that he is going to fine us. Husband tells him –sure and asks him to hop into the car so that we can all drive to the police station where the fine can be paid. The cop hops in. I get distinctly uncomfortable. I am sure that the guy wants to be bribed. So I ask husband loudly whether we can buy some mangoes from the road side seller thinking that this would be a good way to “gift” some to the guy in the passenger seat.  Husband glares at me and continues driving. The cop is very vague about which station he wants us to drive into. He is obviously not keen on us going to the station nearby.. Finally he  asks us to stop and gets out. Husband shouts out asking why he was leaving us like this in the middle of the road. What about the station visit? I ask him if he wants mangoes. Husband tells me to shut up.. “You and your mangoes. He will fling it at your face”.. Well I was only trying to be helpful and any day a few mangoes would have been cheaper in the event of us having to pay a bribe…

The next experience goes beyond the Chennai territory into Pondicherry. I was with  some colleagues in our office jeep. One of them N was on the front seat with the driver while I was with another colleague at the back. We were to pick up a third colleague at a traffic junction. N and I were deep in conversation about something interesting. She was laughing and talking to me turning  behind while also looking in front trying  to guide our driver to the point where we were to pick up the other colleague. Just as we spotted him and were slowing down for him to get in we suddenly found a person tapping the window. It was none other than a traffic constable – a fat guy bursting out of his white uniform with his red saucepan hat barely fitting his head.

N rolled down the window and looked at him. He in turn looked at the senior lady ie me sitting in the back seat and said “ This girl in front ( N) is very badly behaved.  Am I looking so funny that she has to point at me and laugh” For a moment I was not sure what he meant. I realized none of the others had understood it either. We just nodded dumbly and after colleague no 3 was in the car we started laughing- this time really at the guy!!! “Probably has a complex about his weight” said N. I think it might have been about his uniform too. It may look okay in France but as a colonial legacy looks ridiculous…!

It is sad.. the way the police in our country are reduced to this While the crème-de- la crème is the IPS what we deal with are the ones of the Mr. Goon variety – most of them are pathetic cases..!  As citizens I do realize that we are a difficult lot to deal with but bribes are not exactly a way out . As long as there is supply there will be demand. Policewomen are equally bad if not worse. .. There was recently a case of a man in Madurai who murdered his estranged wife in a police station in full view of all the police women present there. He had been called for counselling by the police as he had a history of domestic violence. The chap had come prepared with a knife to plunge into his wife- a plan which he executed flawlessly.  The point is that the guy escaped after doing  this in the presence of law enforcers in their own space.

Save for the movies which are about the police in almost all of them we see the police arrive in the end when the issues have been resolved. I don’t know if it is art imitating life or is life taking some cues from art …? 

Law enforcement is not an easy task. It requires a person to be strict and faultless.. Unfortunately the strictness is only a mask that is put on to derive other benefits like “maamool”…  I remember a dialogue from the film “Gangajal”where Ajay Devan who plays an honest police officer says “ Policemen are also part of this society. How can we expect them to be different?What  you see in the police is a reflection of what is happening in society” 

The slogan that appears on the police uniform is "Satyamev Jayate" - "Truth alone triumps"- unfortunately, nothing could be farther from the truth
Thursday, November 24, 2011 10 comments

ISSUES AROUND SCIENCE EDUCATION IN INDIA

Last week I was at my daughter’s school, meeting the teachers. Mr. R ,her physics teacher told me that he was disappointed  with her test scores because that he had expected her to top the class. Now, this came to me as a surprise because  I know her abilities in Maths and Physics.

When I came home and shared what her Physics teacher had told me about her she was most amused!  I wasn’t so sure because I felt that the gentleman genuinely felt that she had potential in Physics. “Oh mummy it is just that he is fond of me” she told me. “So what makes him fond of you? I am sure it is because he feels you are good at his subject” I challenged her. To this, my wise thirteen year old pointed at her two long plaits saying “Mum he is fond of these…! In his scheme of things a girl with long plaits like me is a good child and is serious about her studies. So he automatically assumes that I would be good in Physics.”

Now, that is probably the best “gyan” that I have received in years..!

In a class of thirteen year olds she is  one among the three girls who have long hair and probably look like they dropped out of my generation! Though she is known to be outspoken and argumentative, in terms of appearance she  fits the archetypal image of what is called a “nerd”!

The question that bothers me is whether NERD =  NOT BEING OVERTLY CONSCIOUS ABOUT THE WAY ONE LOOKS = BEING GOOD IN SCIENCE SUBJECTS= BEING A GOOD STUDENT?

 My sister a humanities student says “YES”! According to her, most science students do not have time for anything other than studies and grades resulting in a lopsided development of their personalities. When I think back to my student days, I cannot but agree with her. I was a science student right up to my post graduation when I suddenly revolted, dropped out of a M.Sc program, kicked my scholarship aside and went in for an Arts program- probably the most controversial thing that I have done in my forty odd years (besides, the revolutionary act of marrying a man from another religion- but then that is another story)

Right through my school years, I was what can probably be best described as a “NERD”. I was very much into my lessons and my grades using my extra time for reading. I did not participate much in any extracurricular activities and was definitely not into sports! Ofcourse, my passion was writing but outside of being on the school magazine editorial committee I was not really much into anything else..! 

Getting good grades automatically made both teachers and parents  assume that I was destined for higher education in science. Though secretly I had dreams of being a writer, I never dared voice it because I was afraid of letting these people down.

As I went into college, I found that the course was so demanding that I did not even have time to watch movies. I studied at an agricultural university which involved over an hour’s commute twice a day. I used to leave at 7AM and when college got over at 2.45PM my only aim in life was to catch that university bus and get back home to complete my records and study for the various tests that were scheduled.  I  did not have what can be termed a “LIFE” !  Four years of science education also introduced me to the image of the “good student” which influenced Professors to a large extent in doling out marks in the internal assessment. A girl with long hair in a sari or a salwar kameeze was a “serious student” as was a boy  in a long sleeved shirt and oiled hair. Ofcourse if you wore glasses it was a definite plus. There were Professors who hated me at the university because of my skirts and trousers. I realized that soon enough and kept to Salwar Kameeze for the last two years.

But when I joined my post graduate program in science, I suddenly began to realize that I had a generation gap with my own generation and so I decided to call it quits! I dropped out and then joined a premier social science institute- the best decision that I made because it brought me in touch with another world – a world where anything could be questioned and argued about! I found the Professors very different – they discussed testing methods with us ( whether they would grade us based on a end term exam or a term paper or a presentation on a topic). They did not care what we wore to class as long as they were sure that we were interested in their course and were applying ourselves to learning. The two years  of my post graduation  in  arts were probably the ones which really constituted my education. I participated in as many extra curricular activities as I could, I argued fiercely with everyone for what I believed in and was respected for it.  I did a field research project that was about real people and their lives.!

I wonder what is it about science education that stunts a student’s development as an individual? While agreeing that rigor of science education is higher in terms of having to study and remember more I cannot understand why it leaves so little time for a student to explore other facets of their personalities? An average science student generally is poorly read about anything other than their own subjects ( even that is doubtful given the way science is taught and tested in our country). In any college the students from the Humanities department are, as my sister calls “the life of the college” – they are the ones who participate in events and give the college visibility outside of academics. They are also the ones who are the leaders participating in student bodies and contesting in elections.

It is unfortunate they way people perceive science education to be the only form of education that is worthy of being considered as “education”. Students are therefore forced into science  whether they have an aptitude for it or not simply because it is the done thing! Children go through with science education till their 12th standard and are then forced into engineering or medicine – those who do not make it get into a Bachelor’s degree- more out of compulsion rather than out of choice. They are probably the mediocre performers who neither have the brilliance required to excel in science nor do they have the general smartness, creativity or confidence of the Humanities student .

We see droves of engineering students who join IT firms and are sent for “soft skills” training – very sad!

Somewhere along the way, our education system needs a revamp shedding itself of imaginary hierarchies of knowledge. It needs to also take into account the fact that mere academic performance alone does not define a good student. It also calls for being non judgemental about many things – dress code and appearance being the most important one.

As adults we owe this to the younger generation. Otherwise what we will be producing will be a bunch of mediocre people who do the “right” thing in a very average sort of way.
Thursday, November 17, 2011 13 comments

OLD WINE- WITHOUT THAT NEW BOTTLE PLEASE!!

-
Bollywood films take us to a world of make believe where “anything” is presented as being possible. Remember those Big B films of the 1980s and 70s when Vijay would single-handedly bash up dozens of the bad guys.? He would romance the heroines ( never mind if the heroines were daughters of millionaires while he may have been a car mechanic), sing songs and care for his mother- the hero in other words was a super human being  also know as “superman”! These films were said to be very cathartic for our masses who felt that they were living their dreams through the three hours that they spent inside the theater

But the same period also showcased some films which were about “ordinary mortals”- or the middle classes. It dealt with issues around their lives. Though it had “de glamorized” heroines and heroes it still managed to have an audience among a group of people. Hrishikesh Mukherjee , Basu Chaterjee and later Gulzar made a number of such films. There was another group of film makers who also made  the same genre of films– The Rajshri productions.!

While Hrishida and Basuda’s films died a slow death in the post nineties era of liberalization and open markets, the Rajshri films did not. Actually, like the phoenix this production house rose again- making and remaking films to fit the need of the new times.

Thus, was made “Hum Aapke Hain Kaun” -  a saccharine sweet love story with a middle aged heroine masquerading as a teenager. Compare this to the original – “Nadiya ke Paar” which was made in the 1980s .Set in the rural districts of northern India, it had a young Sadhana Singh and Sachin playing very believable characters of Goonja and Chandan. It had no great wedding songs and neither did it have any garish sets. The movie probably did not do very well in regions outside of UP and Bihar.

But come, the 1990s the production house dished out the same story with a so called “star cast” going on to become one of the biggest hits of the decade! This film (or shall we say the longest wedding video?) had characters who lived “ extremely over the top” lives. They followed it up with “Hum Saath Saath Hain”.  “Main Prem ki Diwani hoon”- similar drivel with story lines based on an “ancient value system” irrelevant in today’s context but again made saccharine sweet in very over the top sets!


I have grown up watching many Rajshri production films – “Geet Gaata Chal”, “Dulhan Wahi Jo Piya Man Bhaye”, “Paheli” etc.  I  loved the simplicity that they were able to bring out in their characters. Sachin was one of their permanent fixtures – very symbolic representation of the uncomplicated youth of his times. Among their heroines, there were a lot of fresh faces –usually very ordinary looking girls that one could identify with- completely fitting the characters they played.

So why the shift to Salman and Madhuri? Can a person seriously believe Madhuri’s portrayal of Nisha in “Hum Aapke….”.  or Kareena’s in “Main Prem Ki Diwni hoon”?  I think the closest that any character in  one of their recent films came true to their usual type was Bhagyashree in “Maine Pyar Kiya”. Trouble was that while “Prem” became a permanent fixture in their present day films “Suman” got left behind-this was a pity because  “Suman” was the real Rajshri person in “Maine….!”

But that has not bothered them because as they seem to have understood what the public wants. The public obviously wants  what they consider “Indian Values” sugar coated in yards of silk and chiffon with jhatkas and thumkas! I guess their “Paheli” heroine today might be mistaken for a extra in their own movie!

The biggest victim of this kind of “going overboard” with gilt and glitz has been the music. While their earlier films had some sweet and melodious music, today we have in their films some very inane tunes with words that somehow do not gel with the times. To put it very simply I can only say that it sounds very false!

I wish the Rajshri Group would go back to making the kind of movies that they used to . .Making  it relevant to today’s times, does not require fancy sets and highly paid heroines. The story just needs to be made contemporary but the simplicity which I always thought was their USP need not be compromised upon!

To conclude, I can only say that their films today  remind me of a favorite aunt from a small town who has gone to a beauty parlour  for a “make over” and emerged looking like she has entered a fancy dress competition. Barjatya babus- bahut ho gaya. Give us back some of your old characters. Salman , Hrithik Kareena or  Madhuri are poor substitutes for Sachin, Sarika and Rameshwari. Even  Arun Govil in "Saawan ko Aaane Do" was preferable...!!!
Friday, November 11, 2011 23 comments

SOME HILARIOUS HINDI “HICCUPS”

 
Now, the National Language is not my  mother tongue! But having lived in the northern and eastern part of the country during the formative years of my life, I speak it more fluently than my own mother tongue.  For my father however, this language has always been a challenge!

Appa’s introduction to Hindi was during his late twenties when he joined the Indian Railways. Armed with his engineering degree and charged with the passion of participating in the process of nation building he readily agreed to being posted in Bilaspur ( then in Madhaya Pradesh).  But when he got on to the Grand Trunk Express, at Chennai central in 1960, he realized that working north of the Vindhyas was not going to be easy! Appa told us many years later about this journey- when his co passenger on the train told him that he was going till “Hazrat Nizamuddin”, Appa’s  first impression of the word  was of a “soda bottle opening”!

Life at Bilaspur for my parents was an idyllic one but for the fact that Appa realized that he had to learn Hindi- not just the speaking bit but also to read and write as that was part of his job requirement. In fact, I think he had to pass number of internal exams. A brilliant engineer who always topped his class, Appa now found that he was among the “not so brilliant” set of students! My mother who was familiar with Sanskrit tried to coach him in the initial days! But Appa had problems in transferring the language rules from Sanskrit to Hindi because he was not familiar with Sanskrit either! Though as a Tam Brahm he had learnt his shlokas but unfortunately, having learnt them orally, he had never associated them with the written form!  When I was about eight  years old, Amma transferred her responsibility of teaching her husband , Hindi to me. I remember the way we both wrestled with a lesson called “Abu Khan ki Bakri” for one of Appa’s  Hindi exams! Appa, used to say during our lessons together that it might be better if we were to sit on a bullock cart and do them, considering that there were so many “Hai”s that were there- “at least the cart would move” he used to joke!

Moving to West Bengal in the 1970s brought in additional problems in Appa’s Hindi comprehension abilities. In the small town in north 24 Parganas, where he was posted the only language that was spoken was Bangla and some  Hindi of the Bihari variety ( “ek tho, do tho” types). Added to this were his new Bengali pals whose Hindi was equally bad – between all of them they killed this beautiful language. Every case ending would end with the masculine and Hindi would be liberally sprinkled with Bengali words! While the Bengali gentlemen managed to kill one language- Appa killed two- Hindi and Bangla! But the second murder is another story…

 Appa’s posting in the Railway Board, made it necessary for him to be familiar with Hindi versions of the Government Orders. In an effort to help him with the translation, I found my Hindi skills improving dramatically! Between the two of us we used to consult a thick – Hindi- English dictionary. Appa also suggested that we both listen to AIR’s Hindi news between 8.00-8.10 AM! I still remember the “beep beep” sounds and Devki Nandan Pandey saying in his deep baritone voice “Yeh Akashvani hai…”!  I tried to introduce my father to Hindi film music thinking it would help. But it had some hilarious consequences.

Banda parwar, tham lo jigar…”  was turned by Appa into “ Vanda varuval”( “May be she will come”-  as impromptu adaptation in his mother tongue -Tamil).A fan of Nazia Hasan, Appa used to sing her hit song from Qurbani “Aap jaisa koi meri zindagi mein aaye to baat ban jaye” as “Aap Jaisa koi meri zindagi mein aaye to BAAP ban jaye” giving it an entirely new meaning!!!! 

Appa used to constantly threaten to come to school and discuss my Hindi marks with my Hindi teacher in Hindi. He felt that I deserved more than the 60% marks that she doled out to me ( but Mrs Goela, my Hindi teacher was a Sanskrit scholar from the Benaras Hindu University, her standards were therefore entirely different!!!). I used to plead with him not to! Finally he made a compromise saying that he would discuss it but in English- thank god for small mercies! My Hindi teacher incidentally, was very impressed with Appa’s interest in my marks. She made a mention of  it in class saying that if the daughter  were as interested as the father in her marks she would top in Hindi. If only she knew….!!!

When Appa got transferred to Hyderabad, he was given an additional charge-  “Rajbhasha Adhikari” ( National language officer). Apparently it was a policy decision of the Indian Railways to appoint all officers whose mother tongue was not Hindi as “Rajbhasha Adhikaris” in a bid to promote role models. With the additional charge came an additional headache- he had to propagate the language within his office! He used to ask me every day for a new word which he used to copy down and ask someone in his office to write on a public blackboard. By this time in his life, his Hindi resource  person was his younger daughter – my sister!

I remember a hilarious incident when he was Additional Divisional Railway Manager in Hubli Division of the South Central Railway.  He was presiding over the Hindi week celebrations and as the “Rajbhasha Adhikari” had to give a Keynote address in Hindi . Between myself and my sister, we had prepared what we considered a “superb speech” for him! We made him read it out aloud and were reasonably confident that he could pull it off!

We accompanied him to the function and were sitting with him. Someone announced from the stage requesting his presence on the dais. Appa went up on to the stage graciously. There were some speeches and then about a minute before the speaker before him finished up, we realized that Appa had left his speech behind with us. We tried to signal to him but he was busy pretending to listen to the speaker.. who concluded his speech by requesting the  “Rajbhasha Adhikari” to deliver his key note speech. The Adhikari just then realized that he did not have that paper with the speech on him. But Appa, being the confident man that he is did not bat an eyelid. He went up to the podium and started speaking extempore!!! To say that we were amused would be an understatement. My sister and I laughed till our sides ached and till people in the audience started noticing these silent paroxysms of laughter ( they probably thought that both Mr. Sundararajan’s daughters were simultaneously having epileptic fits) . Appa got down from the stage looking very pleased with himself – “not bad was it?” he asked beaming at us after soaking up the applause” ! Poor man, we did not have the heart to tell him otherwise!

As he grew older his loss of hearing added to his problems with his Hindi comprehension. There used to be a song from a film called “Zamane ko dikhana hai” which went like this “Bolo bolo kuchh to bolo”. This song was playing on Chitrahaar one day. Appa suddenly looked up from his files and sat through the entire song watching it with great interest. Once it was over he commented “ But where are the dogs?” Dogs? “Well isn’t she singing – bolo bolo kutton bolo”? he asked innocently. Poor Majrooh Sultanpuri Saheb.. would have committed suicide had he heard my father that day!

Despite all his trials at mastering the language, I have never heard my father say anything negative about it. In fact, he used to love some words in Hindi ( “Kadi Mehnat”-hard work  being one) . His curious mind used to often ask information oriented questions about the language and its roots. He used to be very fond of a poem by Bhartendu Harishchandra which was in my Hindi  text book “ Nij bhasha to Ahai sab unnati ki mool, bin nij bhasha gyan ke mitat na hiye kosool ‘( the knowledge of one’s own language is the basis for all development). Not just Hindi, he always encouraged us to learn all the languages that were spoken in the different places we have lived in. His quest for knowledge made him rise above the language based politics of his times.

After fifty years of service in the Indian Railways, when Appa retired, a person who had worked under him gifted him with a lovely plaque which has in Hindi, some beautiful words describing him –each of those words begin with an alphabet in my father’s name. It also has a realistic pencil sketch of my father. My father was so touched by it that his eyes filled up with tears. This plaque hangs in his living room today- a reminder about a South Indian gentleman’s efforts at mastering a language alien to him!


Monday, November 7, 2011 7 comments

THE " BACKWARDNESS" MYTH

Last month, my daughter studying in class 9, in what I would call an "elite" school brought home a form to be filled in. This form had been sent by the school requesting the parents to verify information relating to the child's name, date of birth,citizenship etc for forwarding to the Council for Indian school certificate examinations which conducts the ICSE exams  for which this batch is slated to appear in 2013. Among the list of questions was one relating to caste with the usual  options of  SC/ST/OBC etc. The Principal had put in a small note at the bottom of the page which said " parents please be judicious in filling up the information on caste. This benefit is for underprivileged children. We believe that none of our students in this batch  are underprivileged in anyway". We were completely in agreement with the Principal's message because almost all the children in her class come from families where both parents are employed - usually in high profile corporate jobs. In fact we also noted that about 25% of the children were not of Indian citizenship ( though of Indian origin) because it was most likely that they were born while the parents were professionally placed in a foreign country.

But we were very surprised to hear from our daughter that many of the children had brought in forms that had the caste option filled in with SC/OBC etc!!! Now, this is a school with a very small class size and with only one section per class. So we know practically everyone in her class -children and parents. When she  told us the names of the children whose parents had filled in those options we were shocked because we know these parents and they are no way "socially or economically backward" considering that they do international holidays, live in  very upmarket localities, drive around in fancy cars etc!

So what is this reservation for backward castes all about? This example about my daughter's school is only an illustration of what is actually happening around us.

I work for a non profit organization which takes me to villages around the state of Tamil nadu. I find that when we do surveys, people are most reluctant to give out information relating to their income and assets ( in fact they sometimes even deny that the house they live in is theirs) but the information that they make sure we have taken down is about their caste! Therefore, caste as a basis for  entitlement is something that is here to stay- irrespective of whether people deserve those entitlements or not!  I have found through my interactions with the poor that the caste-class linkage can only be seen where it comes to the scheduled castes and tribes. When it comes to the "backward castes" it just does not work!!! I am yet to come across a person who is of the BC category ( MBC/ OBC and what have you!!!!) who is actually poor! So why this reservation?

I have also found that the castes that call themselves backward vary from district to district even within the same state. For e.g caste A would call itself MBC ( by the way folks MBC stands for Most backward !!!) in Cuddalore but when we move to Madurai they would not figure in that category. So how is this thing called backwardness judged?

The state of Tamil Nadu has probably been the worst offender in this regard particularly when it comes to educational institutions where nearly 60% of any number of available seats are "reserved". I would say that a better way to deal with it would be to declare that only  40% of the seats would go by open competition or merit ! 

There are two points that worry me about this caste based reservations-first being that the really deserving among these so called back ward groups would lose out because they would be competing with those who go to elite schools like that of my daughter's and benefit from the high quality education there and the second being that with nearly 60% of the capacity having to comply to lower standards, there would be an increase in overall mediocrity. The later is something that is fast becoming a reality.

Actually if we take the state of Tamil Nadu into consideration, we find that the government in general is promoting mediocreity . For e.g the quality of school education in the state is rather low. But the state keeps the standards low and also practices the system of liberal marking so that a student who is below average in terms of capacities also gets 80% or above. And when this is coupled with reservation around " backwardness"  what do you get ? Your guess is as good as mine!

While I am a strong advocate of affirmative action and the benefits it can result in for the underpreviledged ,we need to take a balanced view on this. A person is not backward if s/he comes from a family that is economically well to do - whether the income is farm based or a professional salary is not the question! There has to be an economic criteria put into the fixing of the reservation. There are people who believe that with the coming in of the system of Unique ID for every citizen we would be able to track and correlate the caste with the income tax returns being filed. I think that would be good way to weed out those who do not deserve such entitlements!

It is about time our government realized the harm it is doing to the country by viewing the short term benefits of caste based electoral politics. If backwardness has to be addressed then there has to be good and sound targeting - so that those who deserve it get the benefits and much more! I am sure that Babasaheb Ambedkar who gave us this wonderful constitution, would not have ever imagined what the system of reservation proposed by him has been turned into by a group of shrewd vote mongering politicians and an electorate of avaricious individuals using "backwardness" as a trump card to corner all benefits and entitlements!

Friday, November 4, 2011 15 comments

MYTHS AND MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT MINORITY COMMUNITIES


The year was 1990. My sister and myself had gone to watch an eminently forgettable film starring Sonu Walia and Akbar Khan ( remember them?). While the name of the film and most of its plot has been erased from my memory, what stays intact is a very curious sequence in the story- the hero had met with an accident and the heroine was seeking divine intervention. So we have a sequence like this… She goes to a temple and prays “Bhagwan,, etc etc”, then to a dargah and finally  to a church . Now here is the interesting bit- while the temple and the dargah prayers were in bollywood Hindi her prayer in the church was in English – “Oh god.. please blah blah!”.  We found that very funny. We wondered if  prayers inside a church would be heard only if they were said in English!!!!!

But tell me folks, isn’t this a popular  stereotype?   For example, most Indian films show a Christian bride wearing a gown!!  However, in reality very few of them actually do! I have attended Malayali, Tamil, Telugu and Manglorean  Christian weddings and I am yet to see a bride in that white gown!  And about the use of the English language inside a church – I can only say that it is ridiculous! Christianity  as a religion has worship sessions in almost all Indian languages.

Coming to portrayal of Muslims in Hindi movies- there are actually two typical types that used to be popular until the 1990s. One was your “Abdul chacha” sort of person ( portrayed almost always by A. K. Hangal!)  and there was the “Nawab Sahab” !!! So hilarious! Why these extremes? But now I think there is a new Muslim stereotype that is emerging –the “Bhai” or the underworld don ( poor guy he was originally a Christian with names like “ Robert “ or “Michael” in the 1970s and 80s but post 1990 he has converted to Islam).

Muslim women shown in films unfortunately were again of the “Sahib jaan “ or “Umrao Jaan” type or the Burqa clad girl who ties a Rakhi to the hero! But these are again pre 1990. I am yet to come across a story with a different portrayal of a Muslim woman.

There are also some personal experiences around stereotyping that I would like to share. I am a Hindu married to a Christian. Both myself  and my husband maintain a secular household where both religions are given equal importance and festivals of both religions as also cultural ones like Onam and Pongal celebrated. Our daughter does not have a religious identity. But people see her forehead without a “Pottu”/ “Bindi” and automatically assume that she is a Christian! She gets very furious when that happens because not wearing a “Pottu”/ “Bindi” for her is a personal choice. She does not wear it because she does not like herself with one.  Now I have seen this happen in the reverse too. There used to be a college friend of mine by name Maria. Maria was a catholic from Mangalore and used to wear colourful bindis . She had very long hair tied in a plait reaching till her waist and was very fair. Both of us used to almost always be together. Our roll numbers were also consecutive ( Meera and Maria). But most professors used to think I was the Maria- guess why? I was the darker one, with shorter hair and often without a pottu/bindi!!! While the “pottu/bindi” thing might be the reverse of what my daughter experiences I think the dark skin and the short hair again were stereotypes associated with a Christian girl!

Sometimes I wonder if it is unfair to blame the media completely for creating these stereotypes. After all what we see on screen is a reflection of what our general understanding about something is all about.  This lack of understanding is due to our own closed  mindedness and lack of exposure to any culture outside our own. We fail to realize that while Islam and Christianity may be religions that are not of Indian origin, those who practice them are very much part of this country and its culture. Therefore how can we expect anything different ? Christians in India are not British or Portuguese- they are as Indian as the so called majority and their culture is therefore not western though their religion might be! Yes, there were once upon a time a community called the  “Anglo Indian” who tried to maintain a distinct western identity during the British and the early independence period. But to club all Christians into that group is an injustice not only to them but tthe Anglo Indians too!
India is a country with differing cultures. So putting people of the same religion into one box and labeling them is very unfair. You cannot compare a Moplah Muslim from the Malabar with a Muslim from Lucknow!  We do realize that Malaylis and people from UP are distinct from each other but how is that we are unable to extend this understanding to include within it people of different religious groups. We would like to limit this differentiation to people from the majority religious group. We probably think that Muslims as a group are all the same irrespective of  their local roots.  The local context influences the religious identity to a large extent. Otherwise how can we explain a name  like “Allah Picchai” –a variation of “Allah Baksh”? ( it is true, I have met a person by that name in Nagore in Tamilnadu)

While there are so many misconceptions about the minority religious groups like Christians and Muslims, I am surprised why no one mentions the  positive realities vis-à-vis these groups. If we look at the sex ratio in the 2011 census we find that in the Christian communities there are 1009 women for 1000 men and among Muslims it is 936 women for 1000 men. Compare this to the sex ratio among Hindus which is only 931- lower than the two important minority groups! ( Demography tells us that  in any society nature made it such that women would be equal or more than men in number. Anything otherwise tending towards lower numbers of women are due to man made interventions. ) And interestingly both these communities maintain  high sex ratio  among children in the 0-6 years category which in simple terms means that they do not practice female infanticide or foeticide! In terms of  literacy Christian women are  second highest at 76.2% ( the highest female literacy is among Jains at 90%) Muslim women are the lowest at 50.1% but it is only marginally different from their Hindu counterparts which is at 53.2%. And interestingly the male literacy among Muslims is also low –only 67.6%  unlike in Hindus which is 76.2% leaving nearly a 23% gap between male and female literacy rates. Therefore if we are talking about discrimination against women, Hindus are probably equal to Muslims in that if not worse !

So why do we continue to believe in myths and misconceptions about certain communities instead of looking at facts?  Why don’t we mingle with our fellow citizens from other religious groups and learn for ourselves what or who they are?  It is not a sin to read the Bible or Koran or books about them? We don’t have to practice the religion but why not learn what they are all about? Do we think it is an act of betrayal towards our own religion?

An finally and most importantly, we need to realize that it is unfair to club every individual under a  label! Every person, even within the same culture and religion is a distinct human being with his/her own likes and dislikes as also habits.  

I would like to end this post with a beautiful line from an old Hindi film song “Tu Hindu banega ya Musalman banega, Insaan ki aulad hai Insaan banega” ( roughly translated it means – Will you be a Hindu or a Muslim? You are the child of a human being and so you will grow up to be a Human being)

(  Muslims constitute  13.4% of the Indian population and Christians 2.3% . The word minority has been used in that context. I sincerely apologize to any reader whose sentiments I may have hurt inadvertently  by using this word )
 
;