Tuesday, 23 December 2008

A Guard at Kotla Ferozshah

The last time I went down to Kotla Ferozshah which is supposed to be one of Delhi’s it monuments, I bumped into a security guard while I was trying to figure out what was beyond what appeared to be some form of stairs leading down into another area.

I’ve found that some of the people at monuments can be tremendously helpful and knowledgeable about them. This chap, however, seemed a bit odd. He didn’t start raving about the ruins as most enthusiastic persons – usually old men – who work in such places tend to do. Instead, he asked whether I was Indian. My initial thought was that he might have been wondering whether or not I’d paid the rate foreigners are supposed to pay for a ticket so I said yes. Then, he asked where I was from. Not wanting to be rude, I just smiled while he tried out everything from Jharkhand to Kerela. Seriously.

Not content to stop there, he continued and in addition to asking to where I was from, asked what I do. At that point, not wanting to be too rude, I said I lived in Delhi and am a lawyer which he didn’t believe. I suppose I look too bloody young to be a lawyer. And somewhere along the way, he asked who was with me. Considering that there was no one in the vicinity, it didn’t seem worth saying, “I’m here with my husband who, incidentally, is a boxer.”

By this time, I was beginning to panic although I didn’t know what to do. Turning around and running didn’t seem to be an option since if he had been so minded, I’m sure he’d have caught up with me in about five seconds (or less).

Anyway, at that point, he began to insist that I go down the ‘stairs’ claiming that there was no other way to the other side. I told him that I had no intention of going down them but couldn’t seem to get him to stop insisting that I do. Ultimately, not knowing what else to do, I went down. So did he.

If there was a path to the other side there, I didn’t see it. What I did see was an absolutely isolated courtyard and a structure with small rooms built into it. (The photo here is of the chap’s back while he was walking into the structure because I didn’t really want to ask him to turn around and pose for me.) I left him to walk into them and when he was out of sight, I turned, made my way as fast as possible up the stairs and got out of the area.

It turns out that if you’re desperate enough, you can get up eight-hundred-year-old steps so broken that they’re nothing more than an upward slope very fast even if you’re wearing high heels.

I later saw the guard in another part of the ruins while I was making my way out. He didn’t attempt to approach me. I don’t know if there actually was a path there which he was trying to show me in good faith, or if he had something else in mind entirely.

The chap’s bona fides (or lack thereof) aside though, thinking of the incident later on, what struck me is that a lot of people who say that while men should be taught to behave better instead of women being taught that there are n million things they shouldn’t do are right in the larger scheme of things, when it comes down to it, you’re responsible for not putting yourself in a dangerous situation.

Some men are anything but ethical. And walking into an unsafe situation, as I did, is a stupid thing to do. I was lucky and got away completely unscathed apart from feeling slightly shaken assuming that I was in danger in the first place.

And that’s another thing which bothers me. I think that apart from the consideration that getting into a fight with a man with a cane didn’t strike me as being a particularly bright idea, I wanted to give this chap the benefit of doubt and not assume the worst of him. And I didn’t want to be rude till he’d given me good reason to tell him to fuck off.

Although, at the back of my mind, there lay the thought (which I think I read most clearly expressed by Marcella Chester albeit in a slightly different context) that my safety is more important than some man’s hurt feelings which is why I didn’t feel even minimally guilty about giving the chap the ditch assuming he wasn’t trying to harm me.

A man who actually has your interests in mind won’t hold your being extra-careful against you and he won’t ask to be exempted from the precautions you take. The hard thing to deal with though is that there are times when your precautions can cause real pain to men whom you care about and who care about you, men who see your being careful as your not trusting them. There’s no easy way to explain that it’s got nothing to do with them specifically, it’s about you needing to do whatever you can do to ensure that you feel safe.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Amending the Law on Adultery

Adultery was made a crime under India's current legal system during the time of the Raj itself. Based on the idea that a wife belonged to her husband in the most literal sense of the word, the Indian Penal Code allowed husbands to choose to have criminal proceedings initiated against those men with whom their wives committed adultery since those men had laid claim over the 'property' which did not belong to them.

After independence, the law was challenged in a series of decisions, but the Courts upheld its validity and said that not only was the law constitutional but that it was also fair not to proceed against an adulterous wife through the Indian Penal Code. The rationale behind this changed though; wives were seen as being innocent and as requiring protection. Also, the courts ruled that the provisions of criminal law were not intended to be used by one spouse against the other.

Given current circumstances, and considering that Victorian England along with its moral code no longer exists, one would imagine that adultery should not be a crime. However, it has been widely reported that contrary to attempting to decriminalise adultery, the Government has been trying to garner opinions to see if and how the law can beamended to make wives punishable for the offence of adultery as well.

A number of activists have opposed this move for reasons ranging from their not believing that women should be made accountable considering that they are hardly in powerful socio-economic positions to not believing that adultery should be a crime at all.

It isn't entirely clear why the Government is concentrating on making the criminal provisions dealing with adultery gender-neutral instead of focussing on making adultery merely a civil wrong. Civil wrongs do not leave people in gaol, crimes can.

*IPC section 497: Whoever has consensual sexual intercourse with a wife of another man, without the consent or connivance of that man, is guilty of adultery."

Friday, 11 April 2008

Woman Without Identification

There's a woman I came across some time ago who's about my age.
She's been widowed twice. Has a son. Lives with her sister's family. She's alive. She has a life.
She has no identification: no birth certificate, no school certificate -- she never went to school -- and no marriage certificate -- neither of her marriages were registered. She certainly doesn't have a Voter's ID, PAN card, Ration Card or Driver's Licence.
I know she exists. As far as the government is concerned, she doesn't.
She can't open a bank account or do anything which requires some form of identification.
Her son's a child. Her sister isn't too happy about having her in her home, or so I hear. If she disappeared, I'm not sure who, if anyone, would notice.

Monday, 25 February 2008

A Photo of an Indian Woman

She’s looking down, quite literally seeing nothing but the ground beneath her feet. Her gait seems more purposeful than elegant and her heels are cracked. The way she’s draped her sari is anything but chic. And her footwear is both sensible and inexpensive although she’s wearing a reasonable amount of gold: earrings, two bangles along with those made of glass and a chain.

I've fallen for this photo. It was uploaded on to Flickr on November 29, 2007 by Harneet and has been licensed under a Creative Commons licence.