Monday, January 28, 2013

मैं देवी हूँ।

तेरी बर्बादियों में ही
तेरा उद्धार है,
तेरा नौकर रह जाना
तेरे जीवन का सारांश है।

आह! तुझे थी चाह क्या
मेरी बराबरी की?
जूठन चाट मेरी, उतरन पहन
और खुश रह।

तेरे हालात को समझ
तेरे समाज को बदलना,
मेरा मकसद नहीं;
बस होना है स्थापित वहाँ।

कुर्बान हो जा तू,
ये सौभाग्य है तेरा।
मुर्ख! तुझे तो बलि चढ़ना ही था।
मैं देवी हूँ।


Teri barbadiyo me hi
tera udhdhar hai,
Tera naukar reh jaana,
Tere jeevan ka saraansh hai

Aah! Tujhe thi chah kya
meri barabari ki?
Joothan chaat meri, utaran pehan
Aur khush reh.

tere haalat ko samajh
tere samaaj ko badalana,
mera maksad nahi;
bas hona hai sthapit wahan.

Kurbaan hoja tu,
Ye saubhagya hai tera.
Murkh! tujhe to bali chadhna hi tha.
Main devi hoon.

This poem originates from some of the craziest, thoughtless work I see around in the name of development, charity and social work by the upper class for the lower class. Reading "Pedagogy of the Oppressed" by Paulo Freire has made me question my own role, social positioning and the work I do; along with several institutions around me. People who know me and know my quest would understand why this poem and why at this time in my life.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Beyond candles and the cries

I was talking to some friends about the value of discipline and the implications of the same when we lack it in our society. A friend proposed – Fear from an authority has successfully induced a sense of discipline and responsibility, even if it’s not sustainable. Is that not better than not having it at all? In such case, what is the role of democracy? Would some stricter laws and their implementation not help? People need to behave and for that if force is the only option, why not use it to discipline them a bit? 

I wonder, whose definition of discipline are we seeking, especially when we talk about it with respect to a social suffering or people’s movement? For some, lighting up the candles at India gate may be an act of indiscipline. For others, it’s a representation of their angst and call for justice. For some walking colourfully dressed in LGBT Pride March may be indiscipline. For others, it’s actualization of their identity and a demand for respect for their being. In my understanding, even a rape is not as much an act of sexual assault as it is an act of indiscipline in response to power imbalance. If I put myself in victim’s place, all I see is a heinous crime. It indeed is. However, for a moment if I slip into the skin of any of those men, what do I see of myself? The first question is, why did I rape? Why could I not control the want of such a sadist act? Why such want did arise in first place? Why are women, children – both boys and girls, and old people are being assaulted, left, right and center? Is it really about gender… or let me ask… is it only about gender? Or is it more about a deep apathy – to anything which is not “I”?

I fear any progressive action will arise from our discussions without looking at these questions. I think our current social framework (which is heavily derived from capitalism) has accentuated our desperation to institute this “I” so much that we don’t empathise any more. Even when we do charity, it is more for our self actualization than anything else. We don’t put ourselves in others’ shoes, not really. We want the best for our own feet. And in want of those perfect shoes for ourselves, we cheat others, abuse others, rape others and even kill them. It is this want to get the best shoes for ourselves that we have let a fucked up education system exist for so long. We want “better” school for “our” kids and let others go for whatever shitty schooling leftover. And when those “others” don’t behave in better ways than us, we say “oh, they are such an undisciplined lot!!” We suffer from this interesting paradox where on one hand we don’t want to let other people think and reason lest we won’t be able to rule over them. On the other, we want them to think and behave rationally. 

Have we ever wondered what went wrong in the upbringing of those six men that they committed themselves to do what they did? Were they born to be rapists? Do we ever reflect as parents of children who commit such errors in their lives, as to what is our role in what they do? By raising these questions, I am not saying that those whose crime is proven should not be punished. They must be. All I am saying is that we, I and you, are also responsible in whatever happened or might be happening to some other girl, or even a boy, in some other bus, train, home and elsewhere at this moment when you are reading this. 

And why do I say that? Because we are too busy with irrelevant things. Because we never question what our children are being equipped with in the name of education – not just in our schools but in our homes, playgrounds, streets, the roadside posters, movies, television and wherever there is an opportunity to learn. No, I am not saying that we start censoring every aspect of our child’s life. Rather, I am asking a different question. How often we select a school because it enables our children to start making rationale and just choices? A school that helps our children make sense of the world with their conscience? How often do we look beyond the infrastructural and academic facilities of a school? How many parents actually engage with the school of their children (and just attending PTA meetings is not engagement!)? How many times do we question if the school has clear goals for gender sensitization or sexuality education or social conscience building or any such thing, while selecting for a school for our children? It doesn’t really simply start in a bus on a Delhi road. It starts very well in the male washroom walls and doors where our children draw a vagina and a penis in most obscene form. It’s not just exploration. If exploration has to happen it should in the classroom and drawing rooms and not washrooms. But do we have any clue what is happening in our schools? Well to a good extent, whatever we want to happen is happening. 

So what do we seek for while selecting a school? If we are from upper economic class, we check for a swimming pool and a tennis court. If we are from the middle class, we look for the urgent attention on academics that we have come to believe, will change our state of affairs. And if we are from the lower economic class… oh forget it, who cares? And the major problem here is not what we choose, but that we come from a class. Because it is our sense of class identity that defines what we want and ask for. Our consumption of educational experiences is class-based. But do we realize that our social transactions in open society are not? And if we agree that our educational experiences do shape up what we do when we grow up, is it not only just that everyone gets similar quality of educational experience before we expect everyone to behave sanely in equal fashion?

Check this. In the Quality Education Study** released by Educational Initiatives Pvt. Ltd., a large majority of 67% of students think that it is ok not to consider others convenience if done only once in a while is or if they do not complain or one is clear that laws are not being broken. About 40-43% of students in classes 4, 6 and 8 felt that education for a girl is not as important as responsibility towards the family, if a choice has to be made between a boy or girl child in providing education, boys are to be preferred over girls. Some of them also felt that in the long run, educating a girl is a waste of resources. The report also tells us that over 60% of time, even in these schools, is spent on only academic learning. From the remaining, most of it is utilized for other co-scholastic learning. There is no clear mention of any engagement at the levels of social justice and conscience building. And here’s the twist. These are the “top” private schools that India has, the ones which almost everyone in our country would aspire to send their children for. 

In my entire educational experience, I learnt English, Math, Science and even a funny subject called Social Studies where I only parroted the dates certain people fought on or certain boundaries that some political leaders have drawn. I could see gender discrimination, sexual abuse, religion and caste based discrimination, stereotyping and class struggles all around me. But I could never make sense. And no one ever talked about it formally. Whatever I learnt I did from my peers who were equally clueless. It was not even decent to talk about any of these. “Tum in sab pe dhyaan mat do. Padhai me mann lagao. (Don’t bother about these things. Focus on your studies.)”  - was the typical response from family and teachers. And just that you should know, I went one of the ‘good’ schools in India. I wonder - what was that padhai which was so critical that nothing else was addressed?

Over the years, I have come to believe that our educational experience has a necessity of building a social conscience. “Preventing conflicts is the work of politics; establishing peace is the work of education,” said Maria Montessori*. We don’t exist as isolated atoms in the scheme of things. However independent we would like to assume that we are, even when we excrete in the morning in our closed toilets, it is a social transaction as there’s someone getting into that stinky sewer when it chokes. And we need to respect that. If a girl is travelling in a late night bus, that is not a sexual advance. She is just travelling late. We need to respect that. 

And this is the kind of discipline that I would like to see being developed in our schools. For me the fear of being punished for not walking in a line is not discipline. Because sooner than later, the fear will go and I will break the line. However, when we discipline our behaviour by developing our conscience, it is expected to stay on. So it’s not as much about stricter laws. It’s not even so much about government’s failure for providing safe spaces or transports. These institutions are as weak or strong as we ourselves are. The victim’s friend told a news channel, “We were without clothes. We tried to stop passersby. Several auto rickshaws, cars and bikes slowed down but none stopped for about 20 to 25 minutes.” Don’t we see that all those who just passed these victims that night, did contribute to her death, however miniscule the contribution be, along with the rapists, the ineffective police, slow hospitals and irresponsible government? No we don’t see that. And we don’t care to see that. Because that points a finger at us – the people.

I think next time when we get angry with what happened in that bus we need to think about what kind of education our child or sibling or any other child is receiving. And we should ask some different questions... some tough questions. That may help save a girl in some other bus or train. 

* Maria Montessori was the Italian physician and educator who developed Montessori education.
** Source: Quality Education Study, Educational Initiatives and Wipro