How are we going to repair Indian culture?

So much has been said, so much written, emoted, protested, pronounced and declaimed that you wonder if you should even venture to add anything to the maelstrom surrounding the young woman so brutally violated in Delhi who has now succumbed to her fearsome injuries. Yet not to mark her death with a post would be to disregard her life, to avert my gaze from this youngster who paid so dearly for having been out with her male friend in Delhi on December 16.

Image from Bangalore NH7 Weekender

Image from Bangalore NH7 Weekender

On that same evening I was in Bangalore, with Achal and Rita, enjoying the stupendous NH7 Weekender music festival. Somewhere in a field near the Yelehanka Airforce Base this superbly organized event featured seven stages or music stations facing different directions each one with a roster of acts simultaneously pumping out a particular genre of music: rock, soul, folk, punk, electronica and of course the Pepsi Dub Station with Reggae-inspired music. In fact i had organized this outing so i could hear the Reggae Rajahs live at the Pepsi Dub Station.

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We watched Indian Reggae fans skanking and vybsing to the Reggae Rajahs who put on a great performance. We had barely arrived in time to catch them and missed all the earlier acts but it was wicked to be in Bangalore listening to live Reggae and so much else. The whole event had a mela-like atmosphere, thousands of youngsters, i mean probably 20 thousand young men and women, many of them out with each other and enjoying themselves. There was food, drink, other stuff to buy and the music crashing all around us, what an awesome moment, especially catching just before we left, the amazing Indian Ocean, one of the oldest pop bands in India.

Achal vouchsafed that the experience had restored his faith in Bangalore which in recent years with the explosion of tech industries had become unrecognizable from the gentle, civilized city it used to be. But seeing all these young men and women out having clean, good fun said something for the kind of space still available for non-religious, communal, Western-inflected, almost cosmopolitan recreation. Mind you you had to well-heeled, the tickets weren’t cheap but it wasn’t by any means exclusively an upper-class, English-speaking crowd.

In the aftermath of what took place in Delhi that same night, originating in a part of Delhi i know so well–Munirka–having studied at JNU (Jawaharlal Nehru University), i was haunted by the thought of what a hostile space that city i love so much represented for a young man and woman who had only aspired to see The Life of Pi that evening. Early reports suggested that the rapists had taunted the young woman for being out alone with a man at 10 pm, as if to say she was now fair game for rape. They then had their way with her, expressing on her body and that of her companion, but particularly hers, all the repressed desire and rage engendered by a society that refuses to acknowledge the sexuality of its young, that keeps it pent up beyond all reasonable limits, allowing no space for young women and men to be with each other and enjoy their youth.

Who were these men? How old were they? I bet they didn’t have girlfriends or wives yet…where was their sexual energy supposed to be spent? This isn’t to justify their bestiality…personally i think they should be castrated as an example…but these are questions we need to ask and find answers for.

Ironically the long term cure for the rape culture so cozily nourished by draconian Indian kinship and marriage practices is the very thing this unnamed young woman and her friend were doing that evening. The practice of young men and women going out together before marriage has to be encouraged, cultivated and normalized before there’ll be any reduction in rapes. Look within India at cultures that have space for mating rituals before marriage and see what the correlation with rape is.

Gujarat may feature very high on the rape radar because of the systematic, premeditated rape that accompanied religious and ethnic riots there but if you look at regular, everyday rape statistics there i wonder what it would show. Because Gujaratis are generally very permissive towards their young and have space in their culture for widespread pre-marital mixing. Their garbas and other communal dances are designed i think to engage the sexual energy of young Gujaratis legitimately, within the culture, respecting cultural codes. As long back as the 60s and 70s the prevalence of courting couples had changed the name of Law Gardens in Ahmedabad to Love Gardens.

Look at Bangalore and the NH7 weekender event i described earlier and the vibrant pub culture long associated with this city. In recent years religious fundamentalists have decreed that pubs and other places be closed earlier and earlier, that spaces where the young could dance be shut down, all in the name of some sinister vernacular morality that ultimately begets, actually propagates, widespread rape, much of which takes place within families, with underage children, with the helpless and the most vulnerable in our societies. I haven’t even touched on the dread subject of Dalits all over India and the routine violation and terrorism they face at the hands of ‘moral’, ‘upright’, ‘chaste’ Hindus.

So rage against the government all you want, the problem is really with Indian culture, broadly speaking, despite the preponderance of female gods. Goddesses notwithstanding, as constituted now its a culture that incubates rapists, then trains them and arms them. How are we going to repair that?

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Nirbhaya image via Deepak’s Lore

Onam in Kerala

Kerala, where i come from in India, has just finished celebrating Onam, the closest thing we have to carnival. Every year for a whole week people celebrate harvest-time by welcoming back King Mahabali, a legendary ruler of ancient Kerala. Mahabali was an exemplary ruler, who put the welfare of his people above everything. Unfortunately he became so popular that the Gods became upset and banished him from the kingdom allowing him to return once a year just for a day which is celebrated as Onam. This year it was August 23rd and everyone was slightly distracted by the wedding of Shashi Tharoor, the famous tweeting minister, also from Kerala, to his third bride, Sunanda Pushkar, a Kashmiri, on Onam morning.

People cook magnificent feasts and lay down carpets of flowers in front of their homes to welcome Mahabali back. There are ceremonial dances and one of the highlights of the whole festival are the famed snakeboat races. Last year this time  i was in Alleppey with friends and attended the renowned Nehru boat race there. These races are awesome spectacles, i remember being taken to watch them as a child, when some of my uncles used to participate in them. Here are two videos to give you a taste of this extraordinary event.

Onam is celebrated by Hindus, Christians and Muslims alike.

As a fellow Malayalee (from Malayalam, the language spoken in Kerala) based in Dubai tweeted yesterday:

arun4Officially kick-starting Onam celebrations at home. Watching ‘Kerala Cafe’, devouring Masala Dosa & sipping Scotch in true #Mallu style.

Below is a humourous video about celebrating Onam in the diaspora:

And here are three images from Kerala Tourism showing the splendours of this unusual little coastal state:

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