Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Tring tring

970: Estimated number of Iraqis killed during 24 years of Saddam's rule
5000: Estimated number of Iraqis killed in the first 20 months of US -led invasion in Iraq

On New Orleans: “We finally cleaned up public housing in new Orleans,” chuckled Congressional Representative Richard Baker of Baton Rouge. “We couldn’t do it, but God did” (quoted in Dowd 2005).

George Bush
I'm honored to shake the hand of a brave Iraqi citizen who had his hand cut off by Saddam Hussein. —Washington, D.C., May 25, 2004

A California state senator in 1979
If you can’t rape your wife, who can you rape?

Charles Murray, a pro-family proponent: "A man who gets a woman pregnant has approximately the same causal responsibility for her condition as a slice of chocolate cake has in detremining whether a woman gains weight. It is her responsibility, not the cake's, to resist temptation."

Inspirational men huh?

Friday, February 17, 2006

Politics of Babies

Just read this "by the way" news on CNN

Friday, February 17, 2006

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) -- The corpses of at least 20 newborn babies and fetuses are found each week in the sewers of Zimbabwe's capital, some having been flushed down toilets.

The report talks about how inflation is causing a lot of disturbances to the population, killing babies being one of them. The report was one of the worst written with random statements like; a govt spokesperson said "Apart from upsetting the normal flow of waste, it is not right from a moral standpoint." But that aside it just made me feel really depressed and pissed off. Yah, I know nowadays I just need an excuse to launch into that emotional state but...

ok lots more to follow on this since my next paper is centered around this very topic. SO BEWARE

It'e evening and windy. Some church roof just blew off cos of this storm and so I am back to blogging! One of my friends back home suggested I stop wasting my time writing irrelevant stuff and instead share my "work" ideas thru this blog, I laughed her off, saying this is my creative space, my chance to not think sociology or women's studies. But then, as you can see I lied! I never thought I would actually get interested in writing about activism around women's reproductive health but then I also never thought I would be sitting in New England, shovelling snow and drinking martinis (Don't know why but that sentence makes me sound really awful)

Anyhow, to cut the background attempts at wittiness short, I am planning to write something on transnational activism and how activists in India "frame" issues using western discourses, when it works, when it doesn't, how they adapt it and blah.
One of the most intersting instances is around the issue of amniocentesis & how the "pro-life vs. pro-choice" debate, so much in vogue in the west, was not appropriate. Let me quote from my paper...

"In November 1985, activists from some women's groups and health activists in the city of Mumbai formed the FASDAP to pass a law banning sex determination tests. The public debate the campaign generated was partly because the demand for the ban was seen as “exposing” the ambivalence of women activists’ stand on abortion. If feminists were not fundamentally opposed to abortion, it was inconsistent to oppose sex determination on the grounds that it could lead to abortion of female fetuses.

Others expressed the opinion that legal prohibition of sex determination was unethical, as it was tantamount to infringing on the reproductive rights of women.
Interestingly not only were the arguments opposing the ban couched in the language of rights - the right of a woman to decide whether she wants a female child or not; the frame women organizations used to mobilize people for their campaign was also uncomfortably close to those used by anti-abortionists in the North esp the right wing pro-life campaigners. For example a petition filed in the High Court in Bombay by Mahila Dakshata Samiti (a women’s organization proposing the ban on the sex determination test) contented that the tests violated Article 2 of the constitution, i.e., the right to life. The argument was that a foetus has a right to life, hence by extension, no foetus should be aborted. However, in the case of this particular campaign, using the rights frame also exposed the movement’s overall ambivalence about the issue of abortion.

Umm, you are going to kill me for this but doesn't this sound like a good place to ask one of my "makes u want to go ain" questions??
Is female foeticide 'better' (for lack of a better word) than female infanticide, or severe ill treatment of girl children?

Protesting "religion"

Extending the theme of the argument from freedom of press to how "salient" are religious sentiments...

Religion is often a very sensitive topic, you never know what will give rise to protests of hysterical magnitude, a simple painting by a senile barefoot artist down south, or an attempt to be funny by some Danes up north. It gets trickier when states have claims to democracy and multiculturalism - how much do you bend to accomodate the idiosyncracies of a religious group? A recent example are the changes made to the California history textbooks in the name of "true Hindusim".

In December last year, the Curriculum Commission, an advisory body to the California State Board of Education accepted most revisions proposed by Hindu Education Foundation (HEF) and Vedic Foundation (VF), two groups affiliated with militant Hindu nationalism in India. These moves are pretty consistent with the attempts of Hindutva groups toward rewriting history in India but what makes it scarier is the rate and ease with which the Hindutva ideology is being imbibed by the diaspora.

In 1998 when the BJP won at the centre in India, Hindu nationalist were inducted into the National Council for Education and Research Training (NCERT), the national curriculum development and review body, to make changes to school curricula. With the defeat of the BJP at the centre in 2004, processes to reverse these changes have been instated. But it seems to be picking up fervor here in the west.

How does Hindutva and India’s right wing politics fit into the diaspora framework? Here in the US, it has to reorient itself to the new context - find space amidst the multiculturalism instead of the ‘majority’ status it enjoyed back home. Also what works in India need not necessarily work with a group which is situated within an “imagined and real nation” & which usually takes refuge in the “apolitical conservatism of US bourgeois life” and is uninterested in most ideological matters. God this is sounding too pedantic - but I just read some stuff by Romila Thapar so am all intel at the moment!

The diaspora is a really interesting group to study, if you think about it, because they are constantly trying to negotiate their (often) conflicting identity at home and abroad. For the Indian Hindu I can well see how it becomes a search for a recognizable identity within the broad grouping of “Asian” (I am not so sure actually whether we even classify as that - that seems to be reserved for east asians??) and more importantly an identity separate from Islam. This search became frantic post 9/11 when there was a ‘racial scape-goating’ of the entire South Asian subgroup. It must have been so painful for the Indian Hindu with a ‘majority’ religious identity at home, to be clubbed together with Muslims - the intended targets of the US crusade against terrorism! (Didn't you hear of Sardars getting beaten up cos their joorhi was mistaken as a turban!)

As a sidenote, actually one of the good things about the "not so fanatically Hindu diaspora" is that there is at least some Indo Pak bonding. The bond seems to become more "language" than religion once we are so away form our countries. Ok, but i am digressing.

Where was I? Alright so in this version of history, Ram and Krishna are actual historical figures (rather than mythological ones), Aryans are the original inhabitants of India, the Golden Age of the Hindus is disrupted by the ‘barbaric Muslim invaders’. Amidst all this blind glorification even practices like casteism, superstitions and sati are rationalized as part of the culture. A glimpse into what was put in place in the curriculum of the BJP ruled states indicates the orientation of the proposed curriculum.

• Scientists consider plants as inanimate, while the Hindus consider them as animate and to have life (pg. 45, Sanskar Saurabh, pt. 4).
• Our original ancestors Manu and Shatrun gave life to this earth. (pg. 1, Akhil Bhartiya Sanskriti-Gyan Pariksha Prashnotri, ed. Vidya Bharti, for Class 8)
• Rama and Krishna took birth here to destroy evil and defend justice, religion and Sarasvati, and god took birth here many times to make this land pure (Class 4, Sarasvati Shishu Mandir)
• Man took birth in Tibet, originally a part of India. All beings were Arya beings. It is from there that they spread out into the field .(Pg. 67, Dharma Siksha, for class 6)
• Sati is a Rajput tradition that we should be proud of (ch. 28, Sanskar Saurabh, pt. 3, class 5).

Nah, i am not making all this up. Go ahead and check the cites if u want!

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Freedom of Press continued

Since this chain of blogs was inspired by the Danish cartoons let me add a bit more to the confusion by updating wassup-on-the-media front. Feb 14th, an Australian television network decided to release more images of detainee abuse at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison. And this set off another debate over the willingness of many media organizations to carry the gruesome pictures when they chose not to publish controversial cartoons depicting Mohammed. In explaining their decision not to reproduce the cartoons some media representatives argued that doing so would unnecessarily inflame an already tense situation. That connects so well with my last blog where I was talking about the Gujarat reporting, that I have to rant some more...

Here's my two bits on this: the difference between "not publishing cartoons" & not exposing things like Abu graib torture is that one is fiction and the second is not. Would life been any different if the cartoons had not been printed - NO, but a lot of ppl may have not been sensitized to what goes on behind the battle lines unless they had actually seen the pictures. Does it make sense to publish MORE pictures of the abuse, I have to accept I am not so sure about that.

But again, if I connect this back to the Gujarat riots, was there any sense then in making it clear that it was a MUSLIM who was being tortured? maybe yes? UGH I am so confused now. I think I'll give up this new hobby of "thinking" for a while....

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

trying to be intel part II

Continuing with my list of questions that make you want to go UMM...

I was thinking more on the "freedom of expression" esp in the press part of the story. Reminded me of the time when the Gujarat riots were in the news, that photo of that man with his hands folded pleading for help... Do you remeber that? Let me see if I can find it it is

And the caption said "A Muslim man stranded on the first floor of his house and surrounded by Hindu rioters begs to nearby policemen to rescue him in Ahmedabad on Friday"

My question is: What does one gain by emphasizing that he is a "MUSLIM" man surrounded by HINDU rioters? Why couldn't the newspaper just write "man surrounded by rioters begs to be rescued from own house..'??
Maybe, it was to make people more sympathetic to (aware of) how difficult the life of a minority religion person is. But was it worth taking the risk of igniting a counter riot from the Muslim side? When you know you have the power to affect people's emotions doesn't it make sense to withhold some information that you think will lead to unnecessary bllodshed? Or are journalists supposed to behave like rational robots programmed to "tell the truth whatever be the consequence"??

A few years ago while working in a daily newspaper I got a taste of what goes on before the pages hit the printing press. It's no news that most papers want sensational news - whenever there is a disaster it almost seems like the newspapers compete over who has the biggest "dead" figures as headlines. But what I found most disconcerting was the arguments over what the headline should be. The act of making a "juicy story" ended up trivializing really tragic events. I remember once there was a short report on a woman who was raped and killed in Daryaganj. And all teh editors kept debating about was what would have a "better" effect saying "80 year old raped" or "grandson rapes woman". I've never felt so much dislike for "news" as I did that day...

The 24 hour news channel trend makes the situation worse. I mean, it's not really their fault, planes don't crash into towers everyday and nor do earths quake killing thousands. So what do they do to keep themselves occupied - peep and pry into people's lives. Some underworld don is getting married so cover his maariage celebrations, who wears what carat diamonds and what color panties at the wedding, some woman kills herslef over "whatever-she -felt-like", don't let her parents moan in peace, talk about who she was dating, who she was fighting with... JEEEZZZZ
A friend I was speaking to right now informs me that they even showed snapshots of her house "the place the girl none of u know & don't care about killed herslef".
"WHy show her house? She didn't kill herself over bad architecture or leaky walls".. well said. But who is listening?

Monday, February 13, 2006

what would you do if...?

Been reading a few blogs on the recent hysteria over the cartoons that "insult" Muslims

Was the Danish newspaper justified in publishing the cartoon in the name of "freedom of press", are the radicals justified in burning embassies down in the name of "freedom to protest"?? Is there an answer to these questions??

(For the side of the story that's less heard read )

Made me want to cook up a book, you know like the ones that (I am sure) some Mrs Jones writes sitting on her rocking chair, those that apparently make you question your inner feelings and blahs...

You know the ones I mean na... "Would you kill a butterfly by pulling off its wings if it would get you an all-expense paid vacation to Europe", and ofcourse the witty follow up being "would you step on a cockroach if.... ". And if you answer no to one and yes to the second then you are supposed to feel all guilty for being a superficial person who judges an object by its beauty. Well, I am thinking more aantel than that...

Ok how about:
If you could would you
Legalise prostitution as a profession since some women do it by choice?
Allow mercy killing of a severely handicapped child right at birth?
Ban arranged marriage since it means forced sex with a stranger for a lot of women?
Set bush on fire if it would make New England warmer in the winters...

You can see I am bored

Saturday, February 11, 2006

reality check

Life is unfortunately not a caravan so I'll take a short pause from all the traveling. Yesterday a friend's friend went and hung herself from the ceiling of her house. I don't know why that disturbed me more than just a piece of gossip. I didn't know the girl at all. But it just made me wonder what would drive a 25 year old girl to do that? Is it just maniacally depressive, self centred selfish people who can do that or could it be just you and me in a real shit situation? Yuck, made me feel very sad ...

on a less depressive note, there is supposed to be some big storm that will hit our coast and bring 5 inches of snow tonight. It's causing a mini-panic in our crazy little village. there was a mile long line outside TJs with people hoarding as much of humus, chocolate dipper buscuits, dog chews and indian "curry" sauce as they can pile in a cart and fit in a SUV- "what if they are stuck in their heated houses for a WHOLE day, how will they survive!!" Some of these Americans really crack me up with their self generated panic about every thing - a rain drop becomes a storm, rain becomes tornadoes and snow leads people to start digging underground!

Well it is still snowing and already the accumulation is around 15 inches - so I guess my sarcasm was a bit unfounded this time! And yipes, we are really out of chocolate biscuits - why didnt I LINE UP AT TJ"s like the rest! It looks reallt preety outside tho' - the bird feeder looks like a bird igloo, the branches of all the trees are bowing down with the snow and now the wind is making a whoo whoo noise and making the snow flakes twirl around outside my window! But as Bing would ask "what will happen to all the squirrel and bird babies? They got fooled into believing that it's spring time already and now the weather is changing back to winters. And ofcourse where will the ducks in the pond go?!

made some molasses and oatmeal - an inferior version of the gurer payesh I've been craving for long now! I guess i'd get to taste the real thing only in december. Anne read my blog - was surprised that I don't mind sharing such private thoughts with random strangers on cyberspace. But then, to be honest, I don't really put my private thoughts here. That's reserved for my handwritten diary (a really ancient thing Baba got for free in his old office - I think the dates are for 1991 and I play around with teh days to make it seem like it's 2006!). Somehow while writing a blog I feel compelled to try and be semi-witty every second line. Altho' I feel that way with the diary as well sometimes - and then laugh at myself cos I know not everyone becomes an Anne Frank whose diary gets published for millions to read. And in any case I am not a Jew living thru a war so no hopes of becoming famous via that route!
This nakli payesh is getting a bit overbearing BARF

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Meadows, Ibex and Coke!

Our next stop was the highest motorable village in the world - Kibbar - snuggled high up at 3800 mts. Kibbar turned out to be an oasis in the rocky barren Spiti desert with its green pea meadows and totally "made-for-rolling-down" hills (ofcourse once u really start rolling down you are covered with sheep poop!). It's a strange place - isolated from the rest of the country for 8 months a year when snowfall cuts off all supplies. The people here seem to be doing quite well though- maybe from the pea farming or maybe they are just happy living in such a beautiful place. Or maybe I am being the typical tourist and exoticizing their misery - I am sure they wd trade places with me any day...

PS: I am cheating on the pic - it's actually of this place near Alchi (near Leh) but it reminded me of Kibbar & yes these are pea farms! What can I do, I didnt have a digital in 2001!

All the wime oops iwne oops wine I had with Anne is making me woozt woosy woozy! So I will do some unacademic stuff like blogingg..

In Kibbar we were staying in the first floor of a Kibbarian's house - most amazing place with roots coming out of his roof to keep the place warm and a hole in the ground as a loo! One morning A & I decided to venture out to the highest village the world - after a lot of trekking thru nowhere land reached this patch of land with 5 huts - which was apparently our destination. We lay down next to sheep poop and rested for a while only to head back on nowhere road - it was actually a river bed which was slippery and nasty and steep as hell. But being a pseudo feminist (!) I had to pretend to be all brave & competent! After this gruelling walk we turned up without any fanfare at the only restuarant in Kibbar to find our fellow travellers looking nice and rested over a bottle of coke. I was livid and demanded one for myself only to be told that the coke supply for the month had been exhausted and the next case would be arriving next year! So all i could do to keep my brave front was to burst into tears! HEHEHEHHEH

And since we had actually achived nothing except a rest next to poop we told them tall tales of ibex and rare species that we saw in our imaginary sanctuary. I was somehow sure ibex was a pretty deer - ofcourse they turned out to be these ugly bulls with horns that we encountered for real in Leh 4 years later!

Few memories of Kibbar - aprt from these real memorable ones..

The first one is of this woman yelling out about some "women's meeting" and her voice echoing thru the entire valley " something something saari mahilae ... varna zurmaana 100 rupayya". I was impressed not just by this brilliant way of getting the msg across to the entire town without a phone, but also the messenger's volume - Wooppeee for Spitian feminists!

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Memory II: Monks and more

The morning after our long drive into Manali we were informed by our mad friends that they had booked bus tickets to Spiti - which was another 14 hour drive through river beds and missing roads on a tattered HP tourism bus! The ride itself was quite something, there were times when the bus bumped around so much that we (who were too urban to fight for our seats and thus got the last one) had our head literally hitting the roof of the bus. Then ofcourse, A had the brilliant idea of sitting on top of the bus with all the sleeping bags and luggage of the passengers to enjoy the winding roads to the fullest. Ya, it was dangerous but totally worth it. Our noses were red in the sub zero temp, hands were frozen but just looking down at the roads, the rocky mountains and the river flashing (or bump) by - ummmmmmmmm nothing in the world can be prettier.

First stop - Tabo. Tabo dates back to 996 A.D. and stands at a dizzying height of 3050 m.

Though I've taken 3 trips to Spiti already, the terrain of that place never ceases to leave me breathless. I've always assumed that green mountain = beautiful mountains till I stepped into the cold and rocky Spiti dessert. The rocky mountains take on such bizarre shapes that sometiems it's difficult to accept that they are natural - some of them really look like forts built by some snow queen long long time ago with their imposing structures and amazing architecture!

Our first stop - Tabo - was a quiet little place in the middle of nowhere and our guest house (the NEW Monastery Guest House) was the best place we could have chosen - right adjacent to the 950AD monastery. All I remeber of the place was the cold mud floor at night with the moon shining down on the gompa and 3 of us lying down counting the zillion stars. For its height Tabo is surprisingly warm and for its back of nowhere-ness it has a very contemporary population! take our "Yo MANN" man at Angel's Italian Cafe, for instance. I mean would you really expect a small place tucked away in teh himalayas to be playing "Buffalo Soldier" and the Keralite waiter-cum-manager to be a Bob Marley look alike slurring yankee "Yo"s at you! And would you expect the peace loving monks to start haggling with you for a couple of Rupees especially since payment is voluntary!

Friday, February 03, 2006

Memory II: Tales of a 100th Grade Nothing

I know I am being bad but I just can't make myself work on the paper anymore. So will continue with the memory series - of which I managed to write just one till now.
So here goes...

Memory II: Spiti Valley, July 2001

Places to be remembered (in order of their appearance in my itinerary 5 years ago)

PS: For the first time I take no credit for the phototgraphs: The first one is of the monastery and the next two of Thanka painting in the gompa itself.

Let me play a memory game

Reached the bus station, tired and dirty. As could be expected from two alcoholic dope head friends, neither was there to pick us up from the station. That would have been fine just that didn't know the name of the hotel we were staying in. All we knew was that it was across the
bridge" - whatever that was. That ofcourse did not hinder our baragining with the auto driver "30 nahi hum to 20 denge (for where who knows that!)". Midway saw Ad rolling down the hill with blood shot eyes and vodka breath so decided to save the screaming for later.

The "hotel" turned out to be a half finished little house with no facilities - even the bathroom was not usable in the room Pi and I were sharing. But then that wasn't enuff to dampen our enthu - the sneak peak of the diary entry helped!

Manali is great off season and in the month of July only the real dedicated dopeheads or the adventurous trekkers to Spiti and beyond can be seen stocking up on their supply of hash or trek mix respectively! Our hotel owner (manager cum receptionist cum cleaner cum dope supplier) was a prepetually stoned guy who charged guests random amounts for the room and the tea. He made most of teh money from the Israelis who stayed there and relied on him for the dope supply!My fav was this young Israeli girl who wd have a new guy over every night and wouldn't let us sleep. But she would gurgling "namaste namaste " to us early morning and shoving "stuff" into our mouths in the name of "shivaji ka prasad"!

Night was fun - resturant hopping - the Tracy Chapman store, the one with hanging lamps and low tables. Ofocurse we never reached the "promises you all the vices" Raasta CAfe.

(The pics are of Old Manali, babaji and some tourists strangely trying to horde some 'stuff' from all the freely growing marijuana bushes!)

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

I'm a boy I'm a boy but my mom won't accept it

I burnt my tongue on the coffee in the grad lounge and also got terribly sick of editing the zillionth draft of my paper so now will take a creative break and do some random blogging!

So this conference I was attending comprised of a cackle of feminists from sociology. This group of smart oldies have realised that the only way to get new members to attend their conference is to have it in exotic good weathered places. The last winter meeting was in Miami & who will want to miss Miami in the middle of January? It's wierd cos mostly all they do is stroke themselves for all their good work ("oh did u read my last book , it's REALLY good" - yup no modesty in anyone here!) and pretend to really care for us mere grad students. Maybe I am being too harsh but it pissed me off that it claims to be the a place where faculty intercat with juniors and tra la la and almost everywhere we were completely ignored. Well, I do confess I was not bothered since I really was more intersted in taking a dip in the sea than hearing them be so "liberal" and revolutionary as to assign "different color ribbons for colored faculty" (?? who does that???)

well, who cares. I got my sun, sand and mofongo!

The beach benind our hotel was supposed to be our "private" beach - it was not too bad just paled in comparison to the private beach that next door neighbor Hilton owned! But what the heck, blue water is blue water and blue sky cannot be bluer above Hilton so we were happy!

ok tongue healed so back to work for a bit...

Another coffee break. it's 3 pm and disgustingly cold out. Missing my lil beach outside hotel Normandie. The good part about SJ was that even tho the beaches were no great shakes (no, they were great but not as great as u expect the "Carribeans" to be - I mean they were worse than Goa in soemways cos of the buildings around - here I go singing Jana Gana Mana again) the old city made up for it. I never thought I would enjoy a city so much - cobbled streets, fancy restaurants, colorful shops, view of the sea from street ends, palm trees on every sqaure in the middle of the city, houses of bizarre colors lined one after the other, old style lamp posts, plants sand creepers hanging from peopl's balcony.. I was so enamored that even the police man in blue uniform seemed quaint and exotic!

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