Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Arab Women in Image Trap

by Ruby Bird Society November 27, 2005
Discussions on issues facing women in the Arab world tend to be monochromatic, often completely overlooking the diversity in the lifestyles and conditions of women in that part of the world. The media, intellectuals and feminists - no doubt, with the best intention - have bought into stereotypical depictions of Arab women. Readers and viewers are told that Arab women are weak, passive and always veiled. Most Westerners are unaware that women enjoy political and social rights in many Arab countries (especially, Tunisia, Lebanon, Morocco, Jordan and Syria). Undoubtedly, many Arab countries are a long way from achieving gender equality. But is this not a global phenomenon, not confined to the Arab world alone?
The Arab world itself is comprised of several nations (22 countries in all), with the status of women varying widely in all of them. The media, however, projects one norm - the most sexist and oppressive - onto the Arab world as a whole. There are no easy stereotypes that fit all these nations. In Tunisia, for example, wearing the veil is forbidden. However, women are yet to reach any kind of equity in the political or professional streams. The Tunisian President, Ben Ali, says that he wants to bring about a 30 per cent participation of women in public institutions by 2009. On many counts, Arab nations lag behind many other countries on gender issues.
Most Arab countries comprise a Muslim-majority population. The Arab world is excessively hostage to clerics, who do not allow the codification of civil personal status laws. They interpret Islam to sanction and perpetuate many sexist practices and views, including polygamy, the requirement of wifely obedience and unequal inheritance for women. What commentators miss here is that all of these practices have at one point or another been part of Christian and Jewish civilizations as well. In fact, culture is a wider concept than religion - it incorporates not just religion, but several other factors as well.
Hoda Elsadaa, a women's rights activist, who teaches English literature at Egypt's Cairo University, explains that while women hold prominent positions in the government or the academia in many Arab countries, the discrimination against them takes a more covert, culturally-cloaked form. She cites the example of the Egyptian minister of finance, who until 2001 was not able to travel without her husband's permission. Fatema Mernissi is another famous Arab intellectual in the West. Born in 1940, she studied political sciences in Morocco, France and the US. Since the 1970s, she has been writing expressively about the emancipation of women, and her works are widely read in both the West and in Islamic countries.
Finally, the situation of women in the Arab world is inextricably intermeshed with US policies in the Arab world, the economic exploitation, the US sanctions, western colonialism, discrimination by the media, the dynamics of US-Israel relations, and many other local and global affairs that impact women's lives directly.
By arrangement with Women's Feature Service Ruby Bird writes on Arab culture, specifically on gender issues. She is based in France. Top Society The Week of November 27, 2005 India's Foreign Policies in South Asia Need Review by Dr. Subhash Kapila Can Janata Rise Like Phoenix? by Rajinder Puri State of Hijack by J. Ajithkumar Narada and the Illusion of Maya by Aparna Chatterjee Kabira Teri Jhompri Gal Katiyan Ke Paas Why Bad Things Happen to Good People by Lama Chuck Stanford A Case for Islam by Dr. R.K. Lahiri, Ph.D Attention Seeking Behavior by Michael Grose Marriage is NOT about Religion by Meera Chowdhry Peeping Toms by Kusum Choppra Mystified Identity in the Mystified River of Life by Jayati Chowdhury Inducting Rasayana Therapy in Our Daily Routine by Dr. Krishna R.S. Magical Spots of the World by Dilip D'Souza Accessing Freedom by Robert L. Sungte Asia Quake, One Month On by Shehar Bano Khan Arab Women in Image Trap by Ruby Bird Gender Lens on Gypsies by Elayne Clift School of Wisdom by Neeta Lal Senior Story by Mohan Dadlani

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Beauty's ugly spot

The Hindu Magazine Sunday, Nov 17, 2002
Out of forty-eight chromosomes only one is different: on this difference we base a complete separation of male and female, pretending as if it were that all forty-eight were different. Germaine Greer

The word that comes to the mind when one thinks of women, irrespective of their nationality, culture, religion, class and social situation, is "beauty". Just as all men are assumed to have different I.Qs, so are all women assumed to have different Beauty Quotients, which means that some women are more beautiful than others, though all women are beautiful. Beauty is no more defined in terms of abstract ideals such as "truth" (Keats), "essence" (Lawrence), "exuberance" (Blake), "genius" (Oscar Wilde), or bliss. Today, the concept of "beauty" has grown into a flourishing global industry which treats beauty and the female body as commercial equivalences. Sheer paradox. Worldwide, a woman's "Agency" and "Empowerment" are advocated, while a consumerist culture traps women within the ambit of market exchange relations. This trap is laid for women right from childhood. For the girl, to be assessed as being "pretty" or "beautiful" is the highest accolade. "Little boys are made of frogs and snails, but little girls are made of sugar and spice"... thus goes a nursery rhyme. A baby girl is "beautiful" as a baby boy is "mischievous". The girl becomes a "charming" woman while the boy becomes a "daring" man. Beauty is no more an abstraction but can be made concrete by any woman who is rich enough to spend to measure herself upto the beauty standards set.
A global market revolves around these beauties or else it collapses. Beauty contests are, therefore, held all over the world. Female faces — from hoards of advertisements — stare, smile and invite us to buy everything under the sun: that new jar of face cream, box of powder, tube of lipstick, mascara, eyeliner..., which promise magic formulae to transform ordinary women into extraordinary beauties. When a girl grows up, she is taught to absorb an ideal image of a woman which, in our contemporary world, is a "tall, thin frame perched confidently on stiletto heels". This frantic pursuit of beauty goes to the extent of skin peeling, reshaping of noses, fitting breasts with silicone, wearing false eyelashes and false nails, and starving at the risk of damaging one's kidneys and liver. But beauty is worth it all!
Beauty standards are neither natural, constant nor absolute. A woman's body and looks are assigned different meanings by different generations. The images created represent historically inert structures. The inertia and change are not merely cultural conditionings imposed on women but a result of their own construction of psychological gender. Taste and judgment are always contingent upon the observer, changing with time. The historical variations range from the most painful experiences in ancient societies to modern elective methods used to reshape the anatomical parts of the female body. Devices to reshape women to whatever image that happens to be currently acceptable to those with the power to define it, have resulted in sometimes painful, and harmful, contrivances. Women have to change their figure every time the beauty standards are altered by the shifting social, economic and political influences.
The old Chinese practice of binding a girl's feet is a vivid example of the omnipresent principle of controlling women's bodies. Chinese poets went into ecstasy to see a woman's bound feet like "three inch golden lilies". They found beauty in women walking on their tiny feet like tender young willow shoots in a spring breeze. The story of Chely Rodriguez of Carpentaria, California, in our times is not much different from the heinous practice of Chinese foot binding. She starved herself so that her weight dropped to 98 pounds to concur with the ideal "hour-glass" image. In classical Greece and Rome, female curvaceousness was unattractive. Women wore restrictive bands to flatten their breasts. Similarly, by the 1920s, flat chests were again fashionable and "boyish" figures were in. In the 1950s, the trend was different and elective breast surgery was in demand to increase the bra size. Elizabeth Taylor, who underwent cosmetic surgeries quite often, was described to be "the most beautiful 61 year old on the planet." Notions of beauty are class advantageous. Beauty is contingent upon age and there is no level playing field in advancing age. The western images are downloaded in developing countries, which are potential markets of the beauty industry. Powerful signals are sent to girls to reshape themselves to the "hourglass" figure. Blatantly and subtly, the media preaches the ideals of beauty. For those who have earned their living through the beauty-game, by playing to the tune of beauty-architects, aging is hellish. This is the case with film stars and models. As they grow out of 25, they are thrown out of the profession because their only merit was their "beauty". Failing to value themselves, some of them end their life.
A woman's body is functional. It has to carry a child, unlike a man who is better fitted to keep whatever looks he is born with. But a pregnant woman or an average woman is not the modern ideal of beauty. Even those women competitors in beauty contests are not allowed to be natural. They are the creatures of artifice. They wear false eyelashes, artificially lift their eyebrows, undergo cosmetic surgery to reshape their breasts, and are required to dazzle us with full make-up and have elaborate hairdos and the latest fashionable attire. As a result, average women are encouraged to artificially imitate them as these beauties themselves are not quite as nature made them.
  • First, beauty norms render a very negative, devalued identity for women who gradually lose dignity. In the name of beauty, women are reduced to "biology" which, in turn, reduces the body into an "object", which again may be gainfully bought and sold profitably as a commodity in this new consumerist culture. The concept of beauty relates to a woman's body as the only merit that women can boast of, irrespective of any social distinction.
  • It is reductionism to the base. A woman is reduced to an object. It is the aggregated quality of physical, psychological, intellectual and spiritual endowments that make a man or woman an agency. When a woman is reduced to her looks alone, she is deprived of dignity and worth. Her looks alone define her, not her differentiated mind. Therefore, women are not naturally accepted by men as colleagues or intellectual companions. Beauty and intelligence are rarely thought of together. Nietzsche said "when a woman inclines to learning, there is usually something wrong with her sex". Rather, a girl who tries to show off her mind instead of her body is penalised. When a girl stops listening and starts talking, she is considered to be rude and aggressive.
  • Whether a woman's I.Q. is 60 or 160, her first duty is to look attractive. The value of a woman is in proportion to her approximation to the beauty standards set. In 1966, when a woman was appointed as a vice-president of a corporation, journalists were impressed not by her competence but by her own statistics — 34-24-36. People marvelled at the anomaly that a brainy woman can be built too!
  • Consequently, women are tutored to feel that their body is not worth unless it fits the "beauty" frame set by society. They are psychologically alienated from their body, feeling inferior and detesting every normal phase of their physical growth. These phases do not relate them to men. What is more painful is that they are treated as an inferior species and in a culture like ours, they are untouchables during those women-specific occasions in their biological growth. A woman's body is deemed to be valuable only as long as it satisfies men or pleases others in the society. In fact, one's body represents one's integrity, as a separate self, distinguished from others. It is only through the body that one integrates sexuality with gender. But the silent and meek subjugation of women under the barrier of "beauty" encourages the display of obscene advertisements, posters, and the broadcasting of vulgar film songs, dialogues, dances and postures. To women who are involved in these displays, it is one way of asserting themselves and turning their body to be gainfully used as an asset in a market world as it is in the case of a poor manual labourer for whom his body is the only asset accessible.
  • The saddest fact is that women absorb only what society imposes on them and try to live accordingly. They do not realise what they really are, but seek for a pattern from men. Being-in-the-world for women is conditioned by the relationship between body and beauty. Hence it results in the differentiation within the psychological experience of a woman, between how they relate to self and others and how they construct their identity. Their relatedness and identity are constructed by external agencies of power — in our times, by the business tycoons who spin out of the beauty concept a multi-million dollar industry.
  • It is time we corrected out attitude towards women. The dehumanisation of women is not only detrimental to women but to men also. A woman's subservient status signifies an aberration in the nature of men too. It is imperative, therefore, to unmask the beauty myth. Our concern should be to create those roles in which women and girls are valued for their merits other than sex and beauty. From childhood, girls should be taught to respect their own bodies and their options and choices in order to feel self-worthy. Above all, the media and advertisements that constantly dredge up insulting and demeaning images of women should be countered through a powerful convergence of political, social and institutional wills.

To sum up, the cult of beauty is a cultural insanity. Its touch is beastly. Destructive. Surreptitious. Glamorous. Ultimately death — the death of human dignity and worth. Beware of it! Both men and women.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Coming together as a rainbow

Chandrabhan Prasad
The Pioneer May 11, 2003
How often do Dalit scholars, politicians, social activists, officers, entrepreneurs and NRIs assemble under one roof? To my knowledge, never. The scholars, writers and poets active in Dalit movements tend to believe that, barring them, everybody else is useless, serving their individual greed. Dalit politicians tend to believe Dalit scholars are a hopeless bunch of chest beaters, unknowing of what is happening at the grassroot level. Dalit bureaucrats tend to believe they know everything, and therefore all others must surrender their thinking abilities over to them, if at all something new must happen in the Dalit movement. Dalit entrepreneurs, however small they may be as a group, tend to believe everybody is after their money, and money alone. Dalit social activists tend to believe they are the most authentic flagbearers of the Ambedkarian resolve, but largely ignored. The only point of consensus among the above groups is their stand against Dalit bureaucrats, for everybody is united in hating them.
A large part of the Dalit genius, time, and resources is wasted in mutual distrust, mutual leg pulling, and mutual one upmanship against each other. I can hardly recollect one occasion where representative faces from all the above groups sat together under one roof, to deliberate on the crises the community is confronted with today. While all the above streams are passionately Ambedkarite, generally honest, and dedicated to the cause of Dalit emancipation, they are not always very focussed. Dalit scholars often fail to understand the constraints of India's parliamentary democracy, where most Dalit representatives are elected from a majority non-Dalit electorate. Dalit politicians, rooted to their business of politics, are often ignorant of the intellectual discourses taking place in contemporary India. So are the other groups, all living in their own self-constructed worlds of freedom and freedom struggles.
I have come across Dalit politicians with a profound grip on the dynamics of Indian society. I know many Dalit scholars, largely wordless, but extraordinarily great strategists. There are Dalit bureaucrats who could put many a Dalit scholar to shame in terms of their scholarly depth, and there are Dalit professionals who could be described as model Dalit activists. Dr LN Berwa is one such example. And there are a number of Dalit activists who could coin slogans to help lead all streams of Dalit movements. The BSP activists are masters of that. And there are Dalit entrepreneurs who not only fund Dalit movements, but who could also be substituted as ideologues. But there has been hardly any initiative to bring all shades, all streams of the Dalit movement under one roof, where all can mutually enrich all, all mutually believe in all, together unleashing a new Dalit movement.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Black liberation

Race, Islam, and terrorism: Most African-Caribbean men who become Muslims do so because it gives their lives hope and meaning. Robert Beckford The Hindu Wednesday, Aug 17, 2005 - Guardian Newspapers Limited 2005
Introducing the subject of "race" into the analysis of any area of social conflict can enlighten or obscure the real causes of distress. And this perilous pathway has been followed in some of the news coverage of young black men and domestic terrorism. Black men converting to Islam should be placed within the religious context of their communities, where religion still matters. African-Caribbean men and women continue to turn out in large numbers for religious activities. But Islam is able to do what the black church cannot — attract black men.

I have an ongoing dialogue with an artist who converted in the mid-1990s. His journey began when he listened to tapes of African-American Muslim preachers while at graduate school in America. The tapes made a clear-cut link between a commitment to Allah and black liberation from poverty, drugs, gangs, and meaninglessness. His first visit to a predominantly African-American mosque was life-changing. Hundreds of smartly dressed black men full of self-belief, black pride, purpose, and respect immediately became role models.
Many black men were impressed by Islam's Africa-centred preaching and positive association with blackness. After all, one of the most powerful icons of the 20th century, Malcolm X, made the journey from Christianity to Islam in search of black redemption. My artist friend says mainstream Islam provides him with a social awareness and commitment to justice that is mostly ignored in black churches. I have a nephew who recently converted while serving a prison sentence. Spending an inordinate amount of time alone in his cell, he took to reading the Bible and the Qur'an to pass the time.
Intrigued by the notion that Islam was the last testament, God's final revelation, he pursued his interest by attending lessons with the imam assigned to the prison chaplaincy. Convinced, he became a devotee. It was clear to me that the daily regime of Islam provided him with the tools for personal discipline and an interest in intellectual thought. Most African-Caribbean men converting to Islam do so because it is a religion with a capacity to give their lives hope and meaning. This is not a new idea. As long ago as 1888, the Caribbean educator Edward Wilmot Blyden argued that Islam was more respectful of black culture and easier to translate into Caribbean culture than Christianity. (Robert Beckford is a lecturer in African diasporan religions and cultures at the University of Birmingham, U.K.)

Close family members living abroad

At Home in the World THE INDIAN EXPRESS Thursday, August 18, 2005
Over 20 million people of Indian origin are dispersed in 110 countries all over the world outside India. About half of them are first generation immigrants or their immediate families — mostly in North America, Europe, the Middle East, and South-East Asia, apart from our own regional neighbourhood. In modern times many factors caused this wide dispersion — compulsion (indentured labour), hunger for knowledge and exposure, ambition and opportunities. India’s civilisational values, strong family bonds, nostalgia, and national identity exert a strong pull on all expatriates wherever they live. As is commonly said, you can take an Indian out of India, but you cannot take India out of an Indian.
Expatriate Indians are making vital contributions to India. Huge foreign exchange remittances, transfer of skills and technologies, establishment of market linkages, investments, and building a strong constituency for jettisoning economic orthodoxy are among their major contributions. This role is increasingly acknowledged and appreciated. The Indian state too is responding with some sensitivity in dealing with the needs and aspirations of expatriates. The meteoric success of accomplished Indians is helping transform the image of India, and our recent economic successes in turn are shoring up the self-esteem of expatriates.
But expatriates are playing an even more vital role in transforming India. Overseas Indians have a disproportionate impact on our national life. Most of the million elite families in India dominating our politics, business, bureaucracy and professions have one or more close family members living abroad. These strong bonds are shaping our attitudes, influencing policies and fueling aspirations. How can we channelise these energies constructively to build a liberal, democratic and humane society fulfilling our true potential and meeting the challenges of the future? There are three broad areas awaiting the infusion of new ideas and modern attitudes.
  • First, our politics has become big business, and rent seeking and abuse of power have become endemic. Money, muscle power, caste clout and pedigree have become the chief determinants of political recruitment, not true leadership qualities and contribution to public good.
  • Our democracy is robust and liberties are real. But our polity is in disrepair and needs mending. Greater representational legitimacy, democratic management of parties, better systems to make honesty compatible with sustenance in power, institutional checks and balances to prevent abuse of power, true empowerment and participation of people through local governments, accountability, and effective mechanisms to combat corruption are all critical to make our democracy work for the people.
  • We need to reclaim the republic stolen from our people. Expatriates who have seen how democracy can work for public good and prosperity, human dignity and empowerment, rule of law and institution building can play a creative role in reshaping our polity.
  • Second, India is confronted by growing challenges of modernization. Vast numbers complicate the crisis immeasurably. Even if we assume the will, commitment and resources, we lack the domain expertise in meeting these challenges. Education, healthcare, urban management, policing, delivery of justice, water, drainage and sewerage systems — all are in crying need of rejuvenation. Even a casual acquaintance with European public transport, British healthcare, American universities or the world’s great cities reveals how much we have to do to make up for lost time.
  • It is not merely a question of investment and infrastructure. We have to redesign them and make them replicable and sustainable by viable institutional and technical mechanisms. We need to adapt the best practices and innovate constantly. Who better than expatriates to make it happen, with their understanding of our special problems and intimacy with the best systems elsewhere, that work?
  • Finally, our society has unique advantages which promote harmony and happiness — strength of family, respect for elders, civilisational ethos, great sense of right and wrong, societal pressure moderating individual behaviour, contentment and natural propensity for restraint. But we also have some terrible deficiencies.

Moral neutrality to inequity by birth, wealth or position, mistrust and antagonism across groups and vertical hierarchies, and lack of a sense of common fate are our great failings. These are cultural traits in an ancient society with enormous baggage. Egalitarian approach to life, fair reconciliation of conflicting interests, and fusion of private gain with public good must all be integrated with our societal life. Expatriate Indians have the advantages of distance which lends objectivity, and exposure which opens new vistas.

They need to be in the vanguard of a social movement to overcome some of our egregious propensities. Our national leaders during freedom struggle were inspired by the liberal values and rationalism of renaissance. But popular nationalism was largely shaped by resentment against British racial bigotry, cultural atavism and idolatrous sense of patriotism. Expatriates can help us rediscover true nationalism based on liberal values, human dignity, enlightened self-interest, fulfillment of our potential, mutual respect and harmony. The writer is the coordinator of Lok Satta movement, and VOTEINDIA, a national campaign for political reforms Email:

The courage to be self-critical

INDIA EMPOWERED TO ME IS Doing away with the idea of exclusivity FORMER PRIME MINISTER THE INDIAN EXPRESS Thursday, August 18, 2005
Empowerment is a philosophical and historical process. It began with the French Revolution and continued with many others, particularly the Russian Revolution. Its philosophy and progress took birth after the Industrial Revolution, which is perhaps the most significant revolution as it triggered many things, particularly the concept of empowerment for the depressed sections of society. The most significant concept the Industrial Revolution gave us was the idea of educating workers, as it could not make workers productive without education.
A new impediment is the idea of exclusivity: those who have entered the empowered circle do not want more to come in. Coalition governments are an effort for inclusiveness so that those regions and segments of society, whose presence in legislature is small, get an opportunity to participate in governments. While many cynically point out to the absurdity of two-member parties, I look at this trend positively as it is an attempt to eradicate this unevenness. Democracy as an institution is meant to pursue the process of empowerment of those who are denied their rights, all the time.
However, disempowerment in the name of history, culture, caste or gender is not confined to India alone, even countries in Europe and South America are still giving the right to vote. In West Asia and the Islamic world, large populations still do not participate in the empowerment process. In an ideal society, only governments alone cannot accomplish this progress, it requires a re-education of society. Fortunately, the emphasis on the importance of a scientific temper is a concept which is entrenched in our society, from Buddha to Gandhi. Scientific temper basically means the courage to be self-critical.

Life is a big jumble

The new demographics promise nothing less than a redefinition of the stages of life Amrita Shah THE INDIAN EXPRESS Thursday, November 08, 2001
An advertising executive in Hong Kong once gave me an intriguing explanation for the rising divorce rate all over the world. People, he claimed, married on the principle of ‘‘till death do us part’’ secure in the knowledge that the end was a mere couple of decades away. With life expectancy rates having increased by leaps and bounds over the years, he surmised, ‘forever’ suddenly became too long to spend with one partner and as a result multiple relationships increased.
I do not know if there is any scientific evidence to support the above theory. But the eminent writer and professor of social science and management, Peter Drucker, writing in the latest issue of The Economist, draws a similar connection between longevity and work. In the near future, claims Drucker, people will keep working till their mid-seventies and in all likelihood switch careers or types of jobs as 50 years of a working life unprecedented in human history is simply too long for one kind of work. This means, that in years to come, we will have a shrinking segment of youth and a burgeoning one of the aged. The shift has the potential to transform life as we know it.
Drucker, looking specifically at the workforce, predicts that retirement benefits will start at a later age and will decrease in size with the corresponding increase in the number of claimants. Drucker also predicts that developed countries with their rapidly declining and aging populations will need to import labour. The kind of upheaval large scale immigration can create is mind-boggling. The possibility of a backlash in countries that are not used to such large numbers of foreigners is one possible effect as is the potential for growing multiculturalism, mixed marriages and so on. Such specifics apart, however, the new demographics promises nothing less than the redefinition of the various stages of life. What will childhood mean? And youth? And maturity?
A recent study for instance reached the conclusion that adulthood was no longer achieved at 21. The modern youth, it maintains, has to live a full 35 years to be considered an adult. Contradictions abound though. The old, for instance, have become increasingly youthful thanks to medical advances, fitness fads and other factors. Children, on the other hand, are growing up faster than ever before, weaned as they are on a range of sophisticated sources of information, toys and gizmos. ‘‘The line,’’ it claimed, ‘‘between maturity and childhood has blurred or vanished completely.’’ It is these shifts and blurs that are certain to go some way in shaping the future.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Irresponsible celebration of wealth and beauty

What kind of a society have we become? Is this the land of spiritualism? Of Hindu tolerance? Of Buddha and Gandhi? In his book, Revenge & Reconciliation: Understanding South Asian History, Rajmohan Gandhi claims that contrary to popular belief that sees India as a haven for the seeker, retribution has been a significant part of our legacy. Starting from the Mahabharata, encompassing events such as the execution of Arjan Dev and Partition to the killing of Indira Gandhi by her bodyguards, bloody revenge has been a strong theme.
In the present set of instances, however, we seem to be faced with a less dramatic and far more commonplace problem of impulse control. How commonplace we do not quite know for information is scarce. But a recent magazine story documented instances of manic rage in children including rapes of infants by teenagers and quoted an Indian Council for Medical Research study that claimed that 12 per cent of Indian children below 16 had behavioural problems. A study of schoolchildren by Vimhans in Delhi and around found aggressive behaviour in 12 per cent of their sample.
Why is all this happening? Exaggerated expectations, peer pressure and warring parents were some of the reasons quoted for aggression among children. The entertainment industry is another common target in the blame game. And it is true that excessive violence in films and cartoons can have the effect of deadening sensibilities and inducing the sort of callousness that we have witnessed rising on an alarming scale. But these are just some of the reasons. In a sense, they are the outcome of changing attitudes and priorities. Is it the entertainment industry, for instance, that is the culprit or is it our excessive need for entertainment that seeks greater and greater stimulation — be it in the body count or in the amount of goriness on screen. Yet self indulgence and excess are glorified in every billboard and television commercial. Similarly over the last few years, the cult of the individual has assiduously and painstakingly been built up along with its emphasis on instant gratification, competitiveness and getting ahead, at whatever cost.
Simultaneously we have seen a build up of intolerance and hatred towards categories of people. The irresponsible celebration of wealth and beauty, for instance, that has the effect of marginalising whole sections of people: the poor, the unfashionable, the old. The demonisation of communities which has spawned a series of violent repercussions. Equally serious is the widespread trivialisation and dumbing down in every area of public life particularly political discourse that sees adults trading insults like juvenile delinquents. There are probably many more complex factors involved in the growing brutalisation evident around us. But these are some of the things we need to think about if this is not the India we are proud of.
The brutalisation of a nation THE INDIAN EXPRESS Thursday, October 24, 2002

Monday, November 21, 2005

Sports, exercise, athletics

My Experiences in the Experiment for the Education for Tomorrow by Prashant Khanna
I had the benefit of receiving my education in the Centre of Education started by the Mother under her own close supervision and care. That a healthy mind resides in a healthy body is now a recognised tenet of education in good educational institutions, but in Pondicherry this was implemented as far back as 40 years ago with a rigour beyond the farthest stretches of imagination of people elsewhere. It might come as a surprise that the time spent in sports, exercise, athletics was as much as in studies. It extended to almost 3 full hours, starting from 4.30 p.m. and going upto 7.30 p.m. and sometimes beyond.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

If you can’t climb a tree or make a pot, how can you throw a javelin?

It is the caste system that has discouraged competition, and destroyed sports culture The Indian Express Wednesday, October 06, 2004
We have returned empty-handed from the Olympics except for a silver in shooting. The pundits of ancient Indian history tell us that we have influenced the world with our ancient great games. Perhaps the only great game that our kings and acharyas were aware of was archery (banavidya). We heard a lot about Dronacharya’s so-called greatness. In terms of merit and efficiency, we know how anti-merit Dronacharya actually was. Between Arjuna and Ekalavya, one was put on the road of victory by denying equal opportunity to the other; Ekalavya’s body was mutilated.
However, India’s sports culture also suffers from a deeper malady. In ancient India, what were the games that we specialised in? From Ramayana and Mahabharata, we do not have any evidence of India acquiring great stature in the art of physical exercise, in which competition was thrown open for all social classes. Any nation’s sports culture emerges out of a strong production culture in combination with a mass intake of high-calorie food. National energy is built through day-to-day practice of the work ethic.
At a fundamental level, in the caste system, the Brahminic culture held all work that was centred around the body as spiritually undignified. Tilling the soil, pot-making, shoe-making, shepherding, toddy-tapping, palm- and coconut tree-tapping were seen as lowly and degraded. Those who were in a high spiritual position condemned productive and energy-building work. In fact, moksha was to be attained not through physical exertion but through mental efforts. No wonder India has traditionally failed to produce great sportsmen and women. If you can’t climb a tree or sculpt a pot, how can you throw a javelin or a discus?
Food culture plays a crucial role in the sports culture of a nation. In India, the hegemonisation of vegetarian food, the upholding of vegetarianism as morally superior, as against the consumption of multi-cultural foods, has cut at the root of the growth of Indian human energy both at the social level and also individual level. Two things happened because of the vegetarian campaign in India. First, enormous wastage of food resources. Second, Indian agriculture has been turned into a vegetarian agricultural process that limits the expansion of our food resource. The middle class, which is competing to send its children into the sports field, has become an insulated social mass in terms of food habits and work culture.
Leisure-centered games like chess and cricket do not help us in building the nation. At best, they may create emotional nationalism. India thus needs to encourage more energy-related rather than emotion-related games. Exceptional players like P T Usha, Dada Kishan Lal (who led the hockey team in 1948) came from lower-caste backgrounds.

Waiting for Toilet

Sudhirendar Sharma
On November 10, the rural development minister Raghuvansh Prasad Singh was lamenting that a toilet or lack of it is the indicator of a country's health, not the GDP or Sensex-driven growth curves. A pithy observation for today, which happens to be World Toilet Day. Official apathy seems to encourage lack of sanitation in the country. Public hygiene is seen as a frivolous matter, whereas it is serious enough to beg the time and attention of policy planners. Singh's campaign for more toilets is as laudable as it is difficult to implement.
Noble laureate V S Naipaul diagnosed the practice of open defecation in his book Area of Darkness (1964). Naipaul believed that most Indians suffer from claustrophobia "once inside an enclosed latrine". He even wondered at the society's "collective blindness about the practice, arising out of the Indian fear of pollution and the belief that Indians are the cleanest people in the world".
Gandhiji had long remarked, "For India, sanitation is more important than independence". Does this remark hold any value? Sociologists contend that till girls and boys refuse to marry into a family without a toilet, the sanitation conditions are unlikely to change. The idea behind observing World Toilet Day is addressing sociological concerns, toning up technical hiccups and making toilets part of the global development agenda. Talking about toilets, however, is not glamorous. And to raise funds for toilets is even more daunting. To describe to an audience the significance of toilets, yet steering clear of lavatorial humour, is possibly the ultimate challenge development workers face today. The writer is with the Ecological Foundation. THE TIMES OF INDIA Saturday, November 19, 2005

Saturday, November 19, 2005


Italian author Umberto Eco visited India to chair a roundtable on 'Strategies for Acquiring Mutual Knowledge'. During the session he spoke at length about the care one must take while translating texts. He said that while translating, specially from one culture to another, extreme care should be taken in making the text accessible to the language it is being translated into.
The organisation that brought Eco to India, Transcultura, has been campaigning for alternative anthropology and "is constructed on the principles of reciprocal knowledge, respect and mutual enrichment, it develops metho-dologies of transcultural analysis applicable to different situations and intercultural contexts". The Italian semiotician feels such anthropological studies remove counter-positions of Us and Them. Most ethnic conflicts, therefore, have their foundations in the baggage of prior knowledge that comes with what we have read and seen on television and cinema. The basis for understanding all cultures is to make the correct translations, the right adaptations. Manoj Nair The Times of India Nov 19'05

There should be a common kitchen

The Unisex (Androgyny) Movement ultimately denies that there are TWO sexes. The New Left is trying to replace Sexual Complementarity with Angrogyny - Peter Myers, July 30, 2001; update July 21, 2004. June Singer's claim that Androgyny is the Guiding Principle of the New Age comes close to the mark. This is the idea that the individual human contains both sexual poles, instead of just one. It's the basis of the Unisex movement (unisex hairstyles, unisex character-traits, abolition of complementary roles in marriage).
H. G. Wells proposes (in his 1906 essay Socialism and the Family) that the individual, not the family, be the basic unit of society, and that the state take over the parenting role, paying women to have children. Bronislaw Malinowski debates Robert Briffault on the Anthropology of Marriage: marriage-malinowski.html. The West is the new Soviet Union - the bastion of Marxism (the Trotskyist/Fabian/New Left kind) & Zionism it was meant to be before Stalin wrecked the plot. Behind Feminism, Gay Marriage, the World Court, and the Kyoto Protocol lies a revamped Communist movement. Being anti-Stalinist, it does not wear the Communist label, and instead disguises itself behind a multitude of single-issue lobbies.

The Trotskyist/Fabian version of Communism is alive and well. Open-border immigation, casual relationships treated as equivalent to marriage, sex war, parents afraid of being "dobbed in" to the government, children equal to parents and the property of the state ... the wreckage of family life was brought to the West from the pre-Stalin period of the Soviet Union. We did not recognise it as Communist simply because we identified Stalin's modifications as Communism. In the early (Trotskyist) period of the Soviet Union, marriage was abolished, polygamy was abolished (this mainly affected the Islamic cultures of Central Asia), and homosexuality was legalised. Stalin restored marriage, gave advantages to married women over unmarried women, and made sodomy a crime. The Marxist Cultural Revolution, begun the West in the late 1960s, has taken the West down the path pioneered by the USSR. This change was engineered by the New Left, which had substantial non-theistic Jewish leadership: new-left.html. One must distinguish between the theistic and non-theistic Jews in this respect.

To understand the change wrought by New Left, one needs to know the Marxist theory of the history of relations between the sexes. It may be expressed as follows: Marriage as we know it arose only a few thousand years ago, when men enslaved women, making them their private property. Before that, descent was matrilineal, and a woman's children were supported by her relatives, no matter who the fathers were. Generally, the fathers were unknown. A woman had one or more husbands or lovers at a time, discarding them as she tired of them or fell out with them (or as they died). When this system was restored in the USSR, the state took over the role of the relatives, in looking after a woman's children. The woman joined the workforce, and the children were looked after in childcare centres. sex-soviet.html.

H. G. Wells, a closet Trotskyist, advocate of One World, wrote of Marriage and the Family: "Socialism, if it is anything more than a petty tinkering with economic relationships is a renucleation of society. The family can remain only as a biological fact. Its economic and educational autonomy are inevitably doomed. The modern state is bound to be the ultimate guardian of all children and it must assist, place, or subordinate the parent as supporter, guardian and educator; it must release all human beings from the obligation of mutual proprietorship, and it must refuse absolutely to recognize or enforce any kind of sexual ownership. It cannot therefore remain neutral when such claims come before it. It must disallow them." (Experiment in Autobiography, Gollancz, London, 1934, vol. ii, p. 481). Wells' "socialism" is quite different from what I mean by that term. More from Wells: opencon.html.
Likewise Bertrand Russell. He wrote, in In Praise of Idleness (London, Unwin Books, 1973): {p. 35} All this would be changed if it were the rule, and not the exception, for married women to earn their living by work outside the home. ... {p. 36} The problem is to secure the same communal advantages as were secured in medieval monasteries, but without celibacy ... {p. 37} The separate little houses, and the blocks of tenements each with its own kitchen, should be pulled down. ... There should be a common kitchen, a spacious dining hall ... All the children's meals should be in the nursery school ... Fram the time they are weaned until they go to school, they should spend all the time from breakfast till after their last meal at the nursery school ...

Teenagers in the West are totally turned against religion, and their parents, by the music & Hollywood TV shows that fill their minds. The West is the new Soviet Union. People like me are the new dissidents. I am no prude, but I believe in marriage, because it's for the long-term rearing of children. However, I don't believe that husbands & wives should be each other's private property. We all need to love more than one other person, and this includes sexual love. Is my position hypocritical? No - there's always been a certain amount of sex outside marriage. But to make that the norm, in place of marriage, to treat "relationships" as the equivalent of marriage - in effect to abolish marriage - that is another matter. As social breakdown proceeds, desperation will force us back to the essentials of life. We'll be looking for ways to re-establish family ties, and the bonds between men and women.
Under Lenin & Trotsky, the USSR abolished marriage - that's the situation we're in now, and we might as well learn from the USSR experience. Stalin brought marriage back in, and gave married women privileges over unmarried ones.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Eros vs. Aphrodite

In all justice, one must point out the judaic influence on Freud. It is expressed in his monotheistic beliefs in Science, as if thruth could have only one definition, and it shows also in a very noxious sexism. Freud could not imagine that strength and divinity could have a feminine form. It seems that Freud was himself victim to the male judaic obsession with god the father, the very obsession he had denounced. Even his idea of love, which was after all the only domain left to women, was personified by a male divinity. Why did Freud choose Eros, instead of its mother Aphrodite, the great Goddess of libido? Had he chosen to personify love by Aphrodite, instead of Eros, he would certainly not have written that libido is male. Ginette Paris

Friday, November 11, 2005


Jonathan Freedland
France's refusal to see the ethnicity of some of its people as relevant translates into de facto racism. If human beings were free of prejudice, the French republican ideal would work beautifully. Because we are not, it allows racism a free hand. It is a classic example of what happens when an idea designed for one era remains unchanged for a later one. A once decent value becomes pickled into a dogma — enforcing the very opposite outcome of the one it intended. The French do not face this problem alone. The U.S. has a model of integration that is the reverse of France's: it positively encourages new migrants to hold on to their first culture, happy to let them hyphenate as Italian-Americans or Irish-Americans. But that model is not perfect either. As we saw after Katrina, there are still plenty of Americans who feel excluded by their race. Britain has an emerging model too, one called multiculturalism. It did not arrive from nowhere, but partly came out of its own experience of race riots in the 1980s. Unlike France's, it recognises difference and has passed legislation to protect it. But multiculturalism is still the best model at hand. And, after the last 10 days, it may be the only one left. - Guardian Newspapers Limited 2005 © Copyright 2000 - 2005 The Hindu Date:10/11/2005

English as national language

The Indian Express: Friday, November 11, 2005
With a Government school coming into the villages in early Sixties, the nation began to connect with the village. Child education became a symbolic dream of their nationalist modernity. Education landed in our village like a helicopter of election season. In those days, we did not realize that by reading those text books we were going to produce a crippled mind that would push us into a culture of indignity of labour. The religion-centric nationalist education kept all the religious identities on the national table to drive daggers into each other. The caste-centred cultural spheres made us treat each caste an enemy of the other. A real secular self, with an inbuilt sense of dignity of labour, is yet to be born. A scientific temper that can challenge, our very neighbour, China, if not the West, may spring up if we recognise English as necessary national language to be taught on par with every regional language in every state from class one to every child. We must—and must—take out all forms of religious content from text books and teach dignity of labour on compulsory basis. Perhaps India then begins to empower itself.