Same Old Spilled Blood

This morning, I woke up at 5:30 to be greeted by the news of brutal police assault on Jadavpur University students just three hours prior. One person is in coma, female students had their clothes torn off, and about 30 students are in hospital. Here is a video of part of the violence, and here is a post about it.

In many ways, universities are sites of violence. Mostly, this violence is bloodless, and at an abstract or structural level, teaching young people to think in certain ways that either serve or superficially disrupt systems of power (the government, the market, social mores). In India, however, the violence on campus often takes a more literal form. Inexpensive state-aided universities are where many meet experience diversity for the first time. They meet and socialise with people from different backgrounds, conflicting, discomfiting, debating, resisting, and melding with one another. In a country that offers as much diversity as India to this scenario, this makes the university an institution of great political potency. It is little wonder, then, that most university admins in this country choose to remain authoritarian and ‘traditional'; it provides them with a sense of stability and control, in the face of a community whose very essence, at least superficially, is change.

Generally, this works more or less successfully, because Indian authoritarianism prefers the ‘blind eye’ approach to the ‘ferret and punish’. Students can party, but not too loudly; students can drink, but not too much; students can smoke, if they are willing to pretend secrecy; and students can screw, if they pretend they’re not even holding hands. When students break this unspoken covenant, the administration responds either by ignoring them till they fade, exhausted, or by assaulting them till they drop, destroyed. And then things spring back to their usual form, for life, for all its violence, has great elasticity.

Occasionally, however, this elasticity should be resisted for as long as possible. Life must return to normal, but that must not mean aiding the obscuring of uncomfortable facts.

This is the third (or is it fourth?) time I have witnessed police brutality on campus. The last time things were this bloody, cops had been sneaked into campus at night to disperse a 24-hour non-violent student sit-in. Same story this time. Here’s a brief summary: today at 2AM, the police put about 30 students in the hospital, tore clothes off female protesters, arrested about 40 students, and threatened further violence if the sit-in wasn’t dispersed.

The following is a compilation of the timeline that I’ve managed to construct from online sources.

28th August: during the ongoing festival Sanskriti (note irony), a second year student from the Department of History was allegedly dragged inside a hostel and molested by a group of people within campus premises. Her male friend – not a JU student – was beaten up.

29th August: she gets in touch with the VC. He says that (a) he will need 15 days to act on the matter, (b) she should stay home for that period for ‘security issues’, and (c) he would’ve installed security cameras but students would protest. (NOTE: students did indeed protest, during my MA years, to security cams. Details on that in a forthcoming post.)

1st September: she lodges an FIR at the JU Police Station, identifying one of the alleged molesters. Police remains inactive.

5th September: in support, the university students organise a protest rally to Jadavpur Police Station. Same day, two alleged representatives of the University admin. pay the alleged victim a visit at home. They refuse to show identification and question her clothing and sobriety on the night of the alleged assault. This is a violation of the Vishakha guidelines that assert that there should be no external pressure either on the victim or the accused during the investigating procedure.

8th September: students organised a protest rally to the VC’s office, demanding to know the Uni’s victim-blaming stance. The ICC (Internal Complaint Cell), charged with the investigation, refuse to make a public statement. The students’ rep to the ICC, also the GS of AFSU, (Arts Faculty Students’ Union), resigns from her post in protest, citing a biased investigation. In response, the students decide they will not let the ICC leave campus till they’ve opened dialogue on the matter. Finally, three student reps are allowed an audience with the ICC. The ICC denies bias, and urges the students to not sensationalise the matter by speaking to the media.

9th September: speaking to a daily, an ICC rep. claims she was assaulted (kicked, strangled) by students while leaving the building. Students, however, claim that they had only formed a human barricade, and that un-uniformed men arrived to provide protection to the ICC, and they assaulted all students, irrespective of gender.

10th September: students decide on an indefinite sit-down at Aurobindo Bhavan, the uni admin. building. Later they decide to petition the Chancellor to set up an independent investigative committe, since the ICC has violated the Vishakha, attempted to pressure the alleged victim, and is accused of bias. The VC states he will ask for police intervention on campus. Police does arrive and attempts to intimidate students sitting in.

Jump to 17th September: news breaks that after a week of protest, police were brought into the uni tonight at around 2AM, with men identified as TMC goons (not sure about the authenticity of this identification). They assaulted the sit-in brutally, landing some 35 students in hospital, including one who is reportedly now in coma. 40 more were arrested. The RAF (Rapid Action Force) was also visible, and the police has threatened further violence if students will not disperse.

Indian Elections 2014: Close-up 3

From Maheshwar Peri’s blog on Outlook India:

I was an undecided voter. I was exploring my options. UPA II did not deserve another chance. Modi personally never gave me good vibes. Blame the publicity, but I never saw any compassion in him, even in BJP posters. But BJP was still an alternative because AAP was not fit and ready to govern, at least for five more years. I had a lot of issues with AAP. So I was veering towards BJP despite my discomfiture. We still have to make a choice and NOTA is not an option for me. I wanted to vote for stability. For me, Gujarat is one of the better governed states. I also did not want a Baba, Amma, Behenji, Netaji, Didi or Bhayyaji to be the next Prime Minister or even interfere in governance.

As I kept expressing myself without bias on Facebook and elsewhere, the Modi fans went after me. They were organized, belligerent and at times scary. Many questioned my intelligence and a few even my integrity. Last night, I analyzed few people who took it on themselves in leading this charge—the hardcore Modi fans (I personally don’t think there is any BJP left). And what I found was revealing. Throughout the posts, I saw hatred, criticism or trivialization. No serious discourse based on facts and reasoning. Liberal use of epithets like “Sickular”, “Paid Media”, “Khan-gressi”, “Pakistani Agent”, “Traitor”, “ISI Agent”, “CIA Agent”, “Saint Topiwal”, “Fakeriwal”, “Aaptard” was common. The name calling was personal and perverse.

I encourage each of you to do a similar exercise. I can’t even wish them off as over-enthusiastic supporters. They are so committed to Modi that it is well nigh impossible to be objective in future. Unknown to us, we have created a lynch mob. But then, they have only learnt it from their leader who had used the “Mian” in Musharraf, and the “James Michael” in Lyngdoh to create insecurities and mass votes. Even as a PM aspirant, he peddles epithets such as “Shahzada” (Rahul) and “Pakistani friend” (Arvind Kejriwal) and vitiates the discourse. A leader who has only created a legion of followers but no second line of leadership needs a stronger opposition in Parliament. The checks and balances have to be stronger.

The agenda for positive change, good governance and development are mere statements that have got lost in the election carried forward by his followers. What started off as a positive campaign soon descended into bullying. Development is no longer the narrative. The bias was such that the same people who quoted Time (“The Under Achiever” cover on Dr.Manmohan Singh) started criticising and questioning The Economist and The Guardian for ‘interfering’ in India’s internal affairs. Hypocrisy has become synonymous with politics.

And then yesterday, a beast amongst us slapped Arvind Kejriwal. It was ferocious. It was brutal. It was inhumane. It was meant to physically hurt. As AK held his face, it was heart-breaking. He had a black eye and a swollen cheek. And the BJP bandwagon took to the streets and launched their attack in a highly synchronized manner. It was celebration time. The slap was a butt of jokes. AK was despised, derided, laughed at, attacked, and violated. It was appalling. Each time as I watched the slap, my heart wept. Is this the society we have come to be?

Last night, My decision was made. There was greater clarity. I don’t want a society where hatred wins over love, violence over peace, anger over amity, frown over smile, sternness over calmness, negativity over positive feelings. I don’t want a society where the mobs decide the agenda cleverly planted by a handful of people (we have seen it in 1984 and 2002).

I decided. I will vote with my conscience. I will vote for peace. I will reject divisiveness. I will vote for change. I vote to bring in a good opposition in the parliament. I vote for AAP.

This, By the Way, is My Country

This is an extract from the online news portal Gaylaxy:

The two policemen, in their mid-20s, were posted on duty during the Ahmedabad gay pride march held on December 1st, in which the victim had participated. Today as the man was returning to his car, the policemen recognized and accosted him, asking if he had taken part in the march (images of the victim were seen on the print and electronic media which had covered the pride march). On his confirmation, the cops demanded to see his license and papers and started hurling abuses at him. The victim protested and tried to get away, but the cops started beating him up with sticks and forced themselves on him, abusing him all the time and remarking ‘jab poori duniya se marwai hai, toh humse bhi marwa le’ (when you have got fucked by the whole world, then get fucked by us too) . The man returned home battered and bruised with multiple wounds on his body. The cops were not drunk and were in full control of their senses.

Genius Limericks for “Young Ladies”

My friend Monidipa has written five brilliant limericks illustrating and protesting the state of women in general and queer women in particular after the Supreme Court of India decided last week to keep Section 377 on the books for now. Section 377, for the uninitiated, was penned by young master Macaulay, and criminalised all intercourse that was against the nature of man, woman or beasts. In other words, he criminalised not-heterosexual intercourse amongst humans, and all cross-species congress, gender notwithstanding.

In an interesting aside – and a commentary on mass ignorance – people lauding the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold a colonial law think they’re “protecting Indian culture”, when ancient Hindu texts, of course, records ample instances of queerness, including the carefully-worded description of the relationship between Lord Krishna and his friend Sudama, the cross-dressing warrior Shikhandi, the king who was pregnant, and the life of the great masculine hero Arjun of the Mahabharata, who spent ten years in drag, earning his living as a dance and music instructor.

But here are the lyrics, the lovely little gems you’re here for. I’m quoting them in the order I prefer reading, saving the best for the last.

There was a young lady called Son
Whose parents had but only one
Offspring – not male;
Inconsequential detail;
They thought she was lesser to none.

God bless those parents – my parents, in fact. The “culture” of son-preference is a poison that goes far beyond the insidious idea of choice, and results in thousand of foeticide and infanticide the world over. It doesn’t help when we read reports of first-world parents preferring daughters over sons, because little girls are more docile and obedient and easier to “handle”. 

There was a young lady called Mister
Who might have been somebody’s sister,
Girlfriend or wife,
But she chose her own life,
So all of the people dismissed her.

Where have we faced that before? Right. ‘most everywhere.

There was a young lady called Dude
Whom boys at the school found so lewd
They ripped up her skirt,
Smashed her face in the dirt
And advised her not to be rude.

This has become so normalised that for a fraction of a second, the irony didn’t sink in. That’s right, even for someone who has faced violence for looking at a man straight in the eyes. That’s hegemony for you… thankfully just for a second.

“There was a young lady called Sir.
We heard from her angry neighbour
That she had been cravin’
Some three seventy-seven.
We closed in before she could stir…”

Think of this as a report from the local police, dedicated to keeping you safe. Unless, that is, you want to live outside the books of anachronistic sexual propriety.

And finally, my favourite, and a damned statement of existence for so many people, pushed to the margins and living through it all, because hope is brave like that.

There is a young lady called Man
Who will hold out longer than your ban.
She has stared at the face
Of your curse and your grace –
You have done to her all that you can.

Stench of the Uniform, #2

This is a remembrance special for Human Rights Day 2013, to show how safe and happy we are in the world’s largest democracy.

*****

Right, so I promised victims of similar violence I’d write about my run-in with the cops while working on this. It wasn’t anything major, and apart from brief moments of panic and a dull throb of helpless rage for about half an hour after, my colleague and I played it pretty cool, I think. So it was about two thirty in the morning, and ‘our’ car (the smaller car, usually an Ambassador or a Maruti, for the only two performers who lived in north Calcutta) had just dropped me off at my apartment gate and was starting up to turn 180 degrees and go out of the lane my house is on when this patrol car pulls up in front of it, a bunch of uniforms get out and block the way. I was still climbing the stairs when A, my colleague, called me. “Hey, the cops are not letting us go, could you get your dad down here to clear the matter up?”

“Sure”, I said, and ran up to our apartment, to see both my parents in the balcony, looking down. “I’m going down to sort it out”, I told them, dumping my bag but grabbing my purse which had my ids.

“No, don’t! Cops…” began my mother instinctively, but stopped herself mid-sentence. “No, I mean, wait for Daddy to put on a shirt and go with him…”. I was already on the second staircase down.

Now, the one thing I should mention here that because we had the entire floor to ourselves and didn’t have anyone watching us, none of us bothered to ‘dress for work’, as it were. We mostly went without even basic jewellery, wearing chappals and jootis, an old skirt that hadn’t been worn in three years, bermudas, faded tees, track pants and a top with frayed hems and in one desperately yechhy case, the same bleeding outfit for three months (I remember Sue describing this person to her friend as ‘a white zombie warmed up in the microwave’). So that particular evening, I was wearing a long skirt that can be comfortably gathered around if the AC was too cold with a blue peasant top of thin cotton, and A was wearing a halter top with pink track pants. These details are important, so keep them in mind.

Right, so she was already out of the car by the time I was down again, arguing with the cops. The driver sidled up to me. “Please medam, West Bengal Police hai, aap please kuchh mat boliye, who medam to baat nahin sun rahi hai… West Bengal Police bohot denger hai medam…aap thanda kijiye unhe…” (“Please madam, this is the West Bengal Police, don’t get into an argument with them, the other lady isn’t listening to me…West Bengal Police is big trouble, they’re dangerous, please calm them down…” and here I might as well add that the general local consensus in my neighbourhood is that if you’re in trouble, stay away from the WBP. They’ll make it ten times worse and convince you that you deserve it.

The last phrase of calming the police down did make me think fleetingly of what the driver was hinting I should do, but only fleetingly, because one policeman planted himself in front of me suddenly, and demanded to see my ID. I had my university id card, but A didn’t have a photo id. Anyway, they barely glanced at mine. What they did do was confiscate it. The sub-inspector who took my ID casually bent his head, leaned inside the patrol jeep, and put my ID card o the dashboard, out of my reach. A definite threat.

“So, your id?” he asked me idly, like this little episode of card-snatching hadn’t happened.

“The one you kept there, you mean?” I asked, calmly pointing.

He didn’t even look in the direction. “Let’s see the id, then”, he drawled in Bengali, holding a hand out. “So that’s your game”, I thought. And all thought of making nice left my head. Between the two of us, A is a bit of self-styled desperado, and while it hardly ever shows, I’m trouble too. And I detest bullies.

“Come on!” snapped the man, impatient.

Just then, my dad made his appearance, stage left. “Ki hochhe?” he asked. What’s going on?

“He’s playing cat and mouse with us, he thinks.” I drawled, deliberately in English. I do excellent arrogant drawls. Wrong move, you say? Well, yeah, in a manner of speaking, but you cannot be prudent all the time. It was a quarter to three, we were bone tired, hungry and sleepy and five sordidly unattractive men who wanted our money were checking us out, lingering on my breasts and A’s belly button. Apart from everything else, there’s a wrongness of principle in leering at women you intend to extort.

“Who’re you?” asked the sub-inspector rudely, clearly not happy to have an adult male in the happy company. Young unescorted women dressed ‘inappropriately’ at three in the morning – I imagine he thought his walkover game was about to be interrupted.

“My father.” I said, not removing my eyes from his face. “My id card.” I held out my hand. He chose ignored that.

“Daughter?” he asked, with as much disbelief and scorn as he could put in a word. “Really?”

“Yes”, said my amiable dad. “What’s your problem exactly?”

“Let’s see your id.”

“It’s upstairs”, said my dad, indecisively, looking up at my mother in our balcony looking anxiously down.

“Fine, let’s go upstairs.” Said the bastard, making a gesture of movement.

“Absolutely not.” I cut in. “I’m not letting a sub-inspector without official documents to come anywhere near my house. The question doesn’t arise. And I’d like my ID.” I grinned nastily. “Please.”

The guy looked like he’d refuse, but then he reached in and brought out my ID card. I jerked it out of his fingers and stuffed it in my purse.

“Right, so, sir, how long are you planning on keeping me here?” yawned A. “We actually have work to do, so I need to go home and sleep.”

“Yeah, sure,” said the cop. “I suppose your kind of work is rather tiring, coming home this late at night…”. Applause, ladies and gentlemen, for the wit in the house.

Meanwhile, our project coordinator was in Goa on holiday, phones of other important numbers were all switched off, so finally, I got another colleague – male—on the phone, instructing him to act like he was the project coordinator. It didn’t work, of course. Because nothing was meant to. We were accused of being prostitues, basically (there was this extremely tiresome verbal speed-volley where the cop just shot off questions at Daddy, Aditi and me – “who’s she?” “who’s he?” “how do you know he’s her father” “how do know she’s your daughter?” “what if she isn’t your OWN daughter?” – yeah, the last two were asked, and the former was asked thrice), either coming home or arriving at a client’s place, and of course our quaking driver was our pimp, and therefore the it’s the righteous cops’ RIGHT to bleed us dry and fuck us in the bargain, if they can. Or gang rape, if he and his ‘patrol’ were into that sort of thing. A nice little warm up on a winter’s night.

Finally, my mum couldn’t take it any more. She called me on my mobile. “Tell them I work for SR”, she said. “Let’s see how they deal with that.”

I did. Not outright, of course. The cops were anyway getting edgy, since apart from yawning in their faces, we showed no signs of cowering, or more importantly, parting with our cash. So, suddenly galvanized, the sub-inspector called the three constables – all stinking of strong country liquor – and asked them to “get these ‘madams’ in the jeep”.

“I’d like to see you try”. Said A, bristling. “Touch us, and you won’t…”

“One minute”, I said. Turning to my dad, I said, “So, since there seems to be no way out…let me call SR, then…” Daddy picked up the hint. “Yeah, wait, even better…I have AN’s direct number…”

Now, as smart readers have figured out, AN, who is SR’s relative, is the local rep of the ruling party in the state. The cops are his lapdogs and part of his election machinery. And local elections of some sort were either coming up or just over. The iron was still hot.

The rest, they say, is the tale of a tail securely inside the crack of a cop’s arse. The guy went from suspicious to full of futile rage to leering threats of “these girls come to us sooner or later…we’ll pick you up some other night” and slamming their jeep door shut.

“A,” I said loudly, “get in the car and get out of this jurisdiction. We’ll keep them here for a while. And don’t hesitate to call if…”

“Sure” Said A. “See you tomorrow. Oh, sir, we’ll be coming home at around this time, perhaps later, tomorrow. You’ll be on duty, perhaps? See you then.”

I leaned on the jeep’s bonnet, setting the alarm in my phone for the next afternoon, when I’d get up and bathe and eat hastily and leave for work.

“Is this the decent time for women to come home at night?” said the now-petulant cop. “If you didn’t mention AN, I swear (here he looked at me with malicious yearning) I’d have picked them up for the night. For the police station, you know.” And he smiled a lecherous, yucky smile and deliberately, it seemed to me, licked his lips.

By then A’s car had a five or seven minute head start, so we – my father and I – walked in to our building and climbed up to our apartment. The jeep revved a couple of times, then the cops were gone.

Should I tell you the truth, though? Beneath all that cold contempt and all that cockiness, I was terrified. Had we not had AN’s name to toss about, what would have happened to us, do you think?

Police-assisted Customer Extortion and Harassment by Restaurant in New Delhi

This news is breaking all over the Indian social media today. It has to be read to be believed. Take a look. If you needed further proof that the Indian police force are a lecherous, power-drunk, foot-licking posse of the rich and the connected, you can mine them by the cartload here.

How Lunch at Lemp Brewpub Gurgaon Turned Out to be the Most Horrid Experience Ever.

[UPDATE: The restaurant has now sued the bloggers and promised them jailtime, so they’ve taken down the post. Here’s the cached copy]

On a side note, a plethora of incidents like this is why I have been compelled to treat the home-bred North Indian Male as a maleovolent entity slightly removed from the standard-issue human man. Especially when they’re in uniform.

Of course, people are going to pile on each other to yelp, “Oh my gawd, that is like soooo racist”, and it most certainly is ethnocentric, but what it is above and beyond that is a much-demonstrated ethnically and geo-culturally specific fact. The social environment of the Indian north and north-west breeds such entitlement, violence, and misogyny in most locals that despite knowing exceptions, the rest of us are forced to set them apart from ourselves, and treat them as volatile units with constant criminal intent.

Of course, at the face of such assertion one might produce oodles of well-behaved and charming north-Indian men and say, “What now, huh?”. If you are ever faced with such socially corrosive political correctness, point out to its vanguards that no other place, cumulatively, throws up as many cases of entrenched aggression, fatal encounters, and vitriolic violence against women as this area does. If it looks like a culture of (gendered) violence, feels like a culture of (gendered) violence, then do you know what it usually is?

That’s right.

Sleepless in Hegemony

Last night, I slept for twelve straight hours. This morning, I feel like a new person. And amazingly, the world feels like a better place.

Probably the best tool of dominance the current labour (and market) system has devised for its choiceless participants is systematic sleep deprivation. We have to work too hard — hard work is a virtue, after all, unless it was done by the Soviets (in which case it was near-slavery) — and have too many errands to run (we must be independent to the point of being socially disconnected stand-alone humans, musn’t we?) to ever sleep to our bodies’ content. To sleep so sufficiently that we wake up on our own accord in the mornings is a dream so distant that waking up sleepy has become the default human resting pattern.

And such wondrous zombies this makes of us, that we seldom have time to stand a while and take stock of why our lives have changed so drastically over the last few decades. And thus do the masters of our destiny thrive, lording over a populace too desperate for mere surival to ask the big questions.

We have our gods right here on earth, we just don’t recognise them*.

[This is a privileged middle-class rant, although working conditions have worsened across the social strata]

*Probably in part because they make sure the religious right in every culture is whipped up into a frenzy to keep us distracted.

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