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

A Passage to Bangalore…

How i got to Bangalore in spite of Hurricane Irene…

Puma store at Forum Mall, Bangalore

Greetings from Bangalore! Can’t believe I’ve let so many weeks go by without posting something here. But then again its been an eventful few weeks. Left Jamaica on Aug 27 heading for New York and then Bangalore. Instead Irene re-arranged my trip and i found myself twiddling my toes in Miami for two whole days. Fortunately was rescued by my good friend Pat Saunders of Miami University. When I left Jamaica American Airlines couldn’t tell me when they could get me to New York because no one had a clue when the airports would reopen there. Fortunately I had plenty of leeway as I had planned to spend several days in Long Island with my favourite aunt before boarding my Emirates flight to Bangalore.

'Fairness' creams on sale at Dubai airport, en route to Bangalore

Still when i got to Miami I decided I wasn’t leaving the airport till I had been given a seat–some seat, any seat–on a flight to New York, so i joined a very long line at the AA counter and ignored employees who assured me that I could leave and re-organize my booking by phone instead of waiting in the long line now. Let me tell you that was a wise move on my part because an hour or so later I was given a standby seat on one of the first flights to NY two days later. Also a cursory check with AA’s twitter feed informed me that people were holding on the phone for hours to talk to agents and rebook flights. i mean 3-4 hours, no joke!

It didn’t hurt that I had a first class ticket. No, I’m not rich but i was using my miles, AA has a generous system that allows you to accumulate ‘miles’ or points that can then be exchanged for actual tickets, incl first class ones and every now and then I use that option. Well this was a very good time to have done so because when i returned to the airport for the standby flight two days later i got on without a problem, being No. 5 in a list of 60 on standby! and i still got to travel first class!

Interestingly, befuddled from lack of sleep and general anxiety (why does that wretched Miami Shuttle have to pick you up a whole hour before its necessary to get you to the airport by a particular time? especially when i was the only passenger!) i had first joined a 3-400 strong crowd waiting for the general check-in counter to open at 4 am. As the time approached the crowd swelled and tempers frayed but the AA staff remained courteous, sympathetic and helpful. And this was before i woke up and realized i was in the wrong line…I was truly impressed by their civility and decency.

So i finally arrived in a wet and bedraggled New York, only to find that my aunt and uncle whose home is normally a beacon of all mod cons, had no power for the next two days, which meant no phone or internet as well. On top of that they were busy scooping water out of their basement–the whole thing seemed slightly surreal. This was New York?!

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Air hostesses of Emirates airline welcome passengers inside the A380 aircraft for Delhi-Dubai flight. Airbus A380 arrives at T3

Anyway, a couple of days of making my ritual contribution to various business establishments followed (also known as shopping) after which i boarded my Emirates flight for Bangalore on the 1st. And let me tell you Emirates treats its economy class passengers like business class. EVERYone gets a hot towel, EVERYone gets a cute little bag with a toothbrush, socks and a mask and menus with three meal options. The Dubai to Bangalore leg served the most delectable fish biryani I’ve ever eaten.

Emirates little flightpack

So I arrived in Bangalore in time to take in dear Usain’s latest exploits, and although he missed the 100m a new star was born, Yohan Blake, and how magnificently Bolt ran the 200m and the 4×100! So what if the two of them weren’t standing rigidly at attention during the national anthem. Lighten up folks! Truly large nations don’t get their knickers in a knot about things like this! In fact its a sign of the opposite. In the meantime check out this Puma ad featuring Jamaica and India.