Sunday, August 02, 2015

The curious legal case of "hyperandrogenism"

The Lausanne based Court of Arbitration for Sports recently partially upheld Indian sprinter Dutee Chand’s appeal against the Athletic Federation of India’s decision to bar her from participating in any future sporting events on grounds of hyperandrogenism  (a condition with testosterone higher than normal range defined for women by the International Association of Athletic Federations). She filed the appeal in the highest sports authority after taking a firm stance that since these hormone levels was what she was born with naturally, she should get the right to compete in the women’s category without undergoing medicinal or surgical treatment to suppress hormones that’s posed as the only way out to save her sporting career. With great quality of arguments put forth by both sides, what deserves attention in the analysis of this landmark verdict is the complexity in the segregation of “men” and “women” in competitive sports. With no clear scientific markers defining “what makes a woman a woman”, the verdict has just put a lid on the Pandora’s box with the search for the lock still on.

Hyperandrogenism regulations introduced by the IAAF in 2011 are probably the only policy in the sporting world that prohibits an athlete from participating on account of a naturally occurring phenomenon i.e. the excess of endogenous testosterone. Before debating on the fairness of these, it is important to understand the logic behind the introduction of these regulations in the first place. It is a well-accepted fact that in order to encourage the participation of women in sports, it was imperative to separate the men and women categories. On account of greater lean body mass, men possess an inherent advantage in sports performance that can be scientifically proven by the margins of records held by both categories in track and field sporting events. 

So the task in hand for sporting authorities was to establish a marker that distinguishes the “men” and “women” categories so that a balance between fair play and non-discrimination is maintained. But the paranoia of men masquerading as women has been historically subjecting “suspicious” athletes to gender verification tests that have a very nasty history. Started in 1936, this testing became compulsory in 1966 Olympics where female athletes were required to drop their pants for inspection of their genitalia. The outrage over this humiliation made them shift to Barr test that checked chromosomes (XX for females, XY for males) which later on was found to be not substantial enough to verify sex and had to be dropped by 1990. The latest attempt was the framing of the “hyperandrogenism policy” which relies on the logic that the different levels of testosterone produced by men and women determine the vast difference in performance. Hence any woman who is found to have endogenous testosterone beyond “normal range” (>10 nanomoles/litre of blood) was barred from competing so that she didn’t have an unfair advantage over others. 

There have been multiple instances of barring due to “hyperandrogenism” but so far no one had thought of putting up a battle against it. In order to save themselves from the humiliation of their gender being questioned in personal and professional life and jeopardizing their careers, they chose to quietly go under the knife for corrective surgery to not only suppress the excess hormones but also look more “feminine”. But this was to change by an Indian sprinter named Dutee Chand. Though from a humble origin of a weaver’s family in Gopalpur (Odisha), her stellar career record and spirit to fight for her right to compete as she naturally is, proves that she is no ordinary 19 year old. 

The case in itself had many premises. The first one was discrimination. The court acknowledged that these regulations are prima facie discriminatory since they only deal with excess of natural testosterone found in women and not men. Also they place restrictions on the participation of female candidates due to a natural characteristic which is in contravention to the “non-discriminatory” stance in the Olympic charter, IAAF Convention and laws of the Monaco. These are the highest prevailing laws capturing the essence of sport being open to all and had previously upheld Oscar Pistorius’s right to compete with prosthetics on the same grounds.

The second one was the scientific basis of the regulations. There has been a lot of debate on a) whether testosterones singularly determine the performance difference between male and females or are there other factors too like growth hormones, genetic variations etc b) research that proves the overlap of endogenous testosterone levels between elite male and female athletes thus questioning the limit of 10 nanomoles per liter set as normal range for women c) research that proves the extent of unfair advantage that this gives to female candidates. The IAAF claimed to the court that hyperandrogenic conditions show up at a rate of only 1 in 20,000 women in the general population but at a rate of 142 in 20,000 elite female athletes. This, they insisted, proves how much of an edge these hormones give. But the court was not persuaded by the IAAF's data. The court acknowledged that testosterone is a key causative factor in determining the lean body mass, the variation of which is responsible for 10-12% difference in performance between men and women. However the basis of these regulations is that the females with excess of testosterone and sensitivity to it have the same competitive advantage over other females that males would have over females. But this basis is not backed by scientific evidence. Even if these hormones do provide an advantage, there is no sufficient proof that it is any more than advantage offered by other factors like nutrition, access to specialized training or genetic and biological variability.  

The beauty of the judgment lies in the observations that give us ample space to think. If a female with high testosterone levels and sensitivity to it is barred from participating, she cannot even be asked to participate in the male category since that is not the gender she identifies with. There is a rare possibility of the intersex athletes or ones with a sexual dysfunction to participate in a separate category created since this may not be backed by legal recognition of a “third gender” in home countries and also may lead to social ostracization. Divisions basis skill level rather than gender will be even more arbitrary. So it may be concluded that gender based categorization of sporting events is logical. What warrants attention is that gender is a psycho-sexual construct and that nature doesn’t provide strict compartments for men and women. Shouldn’t the gender that one identifies with be enough? Are we ready to cause further discrimination and humiliation to the athletes just because we find it plausible that a man may be posing as a woman both on and off the field?

The next question obviously is the fairness of allowing anyone who identifies with being a woman to participate as a woman. The answer to this is another question- do we have the competence to decide what makes a woman a woman? Just because someone’s chromosome wiring ended up giving her internal testes or deformed genitalia or a genetic/biological make up that gives her a broad structure, less prominent breasts or not a soft face doesn’t mean that she isn’t a woman. If she stands out being different from other women, why shouldn’t it be treated as an innate trait which makes her special as the other athletic champions we celebrate? 

Michael Phelps suffers from a rare genetic disorder called Marfan’s syndrome that gives him hyperflexibility and also has high lactate tolerance that keeps him going when others stop due to muscular acidosis. Finnish skiing champion,  Eero Mäntyranta, has a mutation in a gene that increases his oxygen carrying capacity by 25-50%. Usain Bolt’s spectacular long legs make him complete 100m in 41 strides. These outliers are household names not just because of their congenital abilities but the ascetic focus sports had in their lives. 

Dutee can run, for now. But with the onus now on the IAAF to either gather sufficient evidence to back that hyperandrogenism indeed creates an uneven playing field or find yet another scientific dividing line between male and female categories, we may just end up in the murky waters that we wished to escape from.  It can only be hoped that sport authorities (AFI and SAI) and media back home have understood the importance of handling such issues in a responsible and sensitive manner. As for the “aam aadmi”, hopefully better sense prevails and time wisely used in enjoying the upcoming US open with a cuppa, raving about Serena William’s performance than stereotyping her as one with the “built of a man”. 

This article was originally published in the Political Indian (02.08.2015)

Continue reading The curious legal case of "hyperandrogenism"

Friday, July 17, 2015

Rape, honor and the Supreme Court

"We would like to clearly state that in a case of rape or attempt of rape, the conception of compromise under no circumstances can really be thought of. These are crimes against the body of a woman which is her own temple. These are offences which suffocate the breath of life and sully the reputation. And reputation, needless to emphasize, is the richest jewel one can conceive of in life. No one would allow it to be extinguished. When a human frame is defiled, the “purest treasure”, is lost. Dignity of a woman is a part of her non-perishable and immortal self and no one should ever think of painting it in clay. There cannot be a compromise or settlement as it would be against her honor which matters the most. "


The recent SC judgement (State of MP vs Madanlal) slammed any attempt of mediation between a rape victim and his/her perpetrator as a "spectacular error". Before you laud this judgement as "landmark", pause and think.

 Mediation is a form of alternative dispute resolution that is legally allowed mostly in cases where two parties are aggrieved and both claim that their rights have been violated like in a property dispute or a divorce settlement. But in a rape case, only one party is victimized. There are countries where victim offered mediation is possible even in rape cases. The victim expresses the impact of that incident on her life and the perpetrator the rationale that egged him to commit such a crime. With well trained counselors mediating such a process, often the perpetrator is reformed and the victim no longer feels victimized after she gets answers and is in a position to grant mercy.

 But such a system for restorative justice is not matured in India. Allowing mediation here is not only painful and disrespecting of the victim but also opens gaps for getting away easily by monetary settlement or offer for marriage, none of which can bring true justice to the victim. For the same reason, based on Justice Verma recommendations, an amendment was brought about in Sec 376 of IPC last year - an entire section about awarding lesser punishment for rape on "special grounds" like marriage offer, passage of time etc. was omitted. Also since rape is not a compoundable offence, the case has to go for trial. Hence, credit to the SC for reiterating this and making it clear.

However, with any SC judgement carrying the weight of a benchmark law, certain prudence in choice of words is a must. By reiterating that rape leads to a suffocated life and sullied reputation, it is just endorsing the reason for which this brutal crime occurs in the first place. Rape is not just a sexual act but one of domination. It is an irrevocable crime for it disregards the "consent" and "well being" of an individual. Women stand as the most vulnerable target of hatred between communities because their "purity" is associated with "honor" of the group at large. 

The war in Democratic Republic of Congo or the partition of India and Pakistan, the sex slavery by Japan in WWII or by ISIS today - stand as evidence for rape being used as a weapon because the perpetrator is well aware of the stigma associated with it. Even in cases of rapes linked to vengeance or a reminder of being subordinate, the choice of the crime is with the consciousness of teaching a "life-long lesson". And here we are- instead of de-linking honor and repute from the chastity of a woman's body, we are strengthening that illogical bond that doesn't allow the restitution of a rape victim. 

 It is a shame on us that a rape victim should be made to feel that her reputation has been soiled or her life is beyond redemption when it is she who has been violated and deserves life to go on as the same, if not better, for a quicker restitution. The Park Street Rape victim had a name. Till the moment in March this year when she breathed her last, her fight to be known as "Suzette Jordan" was not over. The upholders of the law of the land , beware. The richest jewel of life isn't reputation but life itself which ceases to get extinguished on the very same day. The dignity of a person lies within and isn't fragile to be painted like clay.

Continue reading Rape, honor and the Supreme Court

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

3 Day Quote Challenge- Day 3

This is oft quoted by Richard Branson who attributes the success of his Virgin empire to this simple piece of advice given to him by Sir Freddie Laker, one of the first entrepreneurs to adopt and run successfully the "no frills" business model for airlines. Understanding this actually gives a certain perspective to people who we might have judged as unsure or flippant. If someone ends a long relationship or makes a bizarre, unrelated career move, it doesn't prove anything. Doubting the intelligence of a person who changed his mind in pursuit of what he really wants in life is being myopic.  So isn't this contradicting the virtue of consistency that we always seek in our lives? The question should actually be if it is always a virtue after all. If one is continuously revisiting a thought from different points of views, the understanding of it may change. What's most appropriate now may seem not so a moment later. The key is to introspect sufficiently and be flexible for a change This is not akin to abandoning a sinking ship but changing to one which you think takes you closer to the sought destination. A consistency that drives you to be adamant about your point of view and blinds you to others makes you foolish, not wise. What do you think? 

Continue reading 3 Day Quote Challenge- Day 3

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

3 day Quote Challenge - Day 2

There are umpteen travel quotes but this one by Robert Prisig in "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" is something to reflect upon.  We spend the first half of our lives in finding out our purpose on this planet and the second half in using the gift that we have to realize it. There's an interesting analogy that can be drawn between this journey and scaling a mountain. The change of landscape at each increasing level in the mountain is a reflection of the skill of adaptation and survival with increasing hostility of conditions. And the way we scale it- be it the pace or the amount of rest that we need to take in between bouts, differs from person to person. If we wish to reach the top only for some self gratification, we are bound to lose out on all that life on the sides can teach us. Following this, we would keep on wanting to scale higher mountains not realizing that we will continue to feel shallow unless each footstep is lived as an event in itself and not just as a means to an end. Does this mean that goals aren't important? Of course not. "There are no sides without the top"- so have a goal and embark on the journey, just don't rush it but live each step at a time. 
Continue reading 3 day Quote Challenge - Day 2

Monday, June 29, 2015

3 day Quote Challenge- Day 1

Such a simple thought, yet so defining. The moment you understand this, the way you look at life changes. You take cognizance of the role you play in the larger scheme of things and it is this potent mix of power and responsibility that makes you understand your worth. No one is isolated; choices made and actions taken by each one of us chart out an all new course that history takes. Had Archimedes not decided to take a bath or Newton not acted upon his urge to take rest in the garden, we would neither have been able to traverse within the continent cut across by oceans nor explore life beyond the realms of earth separated by space. These are ordinary men who are hailed as extraordinary only because they believed that "nothing is insignificant". Whenever you seek a reason to believe in yourself or what you would love to do, the time would be ripe to whisper these words to your heart.  

Continue reading 3 day Quote Challenge- Day 1

Monday, June 22, 2015

When is "silence" really "golden" ?

In one of the sleepy and low profile by-lanes of Chembur (Mumbai) lies a building named "Disha". The sign boards that lead to it remind you of those discreet ones on country roads, ensuring in a way that only those who are there to find it end up finding it and to the rest, it is sheer ignominy. The gate is perennially open in urgent need of some fixing at its hinges, much like those who traverse through it. Whether you came up there alone or were brought there, whether you are in a quagmire of love, work, pregnancy or old age - the initial despair for feeling the need to come this far to a psychiatrist's clinic despite many known gradually gives way to a comfort of not being alone among the peer group of unknown. When your eye meets that of another waiting in that compound, the pain gives way to a smile - both acknowledging that perhaps "silence" was not all that golden for us - we don't mind paying to be heard- for the real gift of expression is only realized when someone else has the gift of listening.

While it is considered a virtue to be able to measure thoughts before putting them into words, the pressure built around this has the capability to perpetually mute people. Those who profess the importance of silence should understand that for tranquility and equanimity that it seeks to bring in life, it is also vital to clear out the noise of the person you listen to. Not all that a person says needs to make sense, for who are you to adjudicate on another's sensibilities. Not all that is spoken to you needs to be acted upon, for who are you to make another feel dependent. Not everyone has the same emotional intelligence, the same circumstances or the same priorities. In spite of having the locus of control within you, there will always be a time when you feel the need to be listened to. Perhaps, that's why some may go to the wilderness or pray- for even in that passivity, there's a comfort that conversations can be as long as you need them to be without the fear of being judged and the path to clear out the mess comes from nobody else but within. But what if that doesn't work? It's a shame if they are quiet when they want to scream, if they keep it to themselves for the fear of being misunderstood later. Not all will have the courage to walk alone through the gates of "Disha". Fear those whose muted life pushes them to seek refuge in alcohol, drugs and in the worst case, death.

There are 1000+ new stories on Facebook everyday but whose story are we a part of from start to end? There are 100+ "i am doing fine" conversations on Whats-app but who among them has eyes welling up every now and then , feeling the need to connect to us? " There's not a worse sight than an amputated spirit", said Al Pacino in the Scent of a Woman. I cannot help but wonder if our misunderstanding of "silence is golden" adage is somewhere creating one.

Tangy Tuesdays

This article has been linked to #MondayMusings  (June 22,2015) on WriteTribe

Continue reading When is "silence" really "golden" ?

Friday, June 19, 2015

Why I don't look for my dad in anyone else?

Every banker's child probably understands the harrowing time fathers have managing the year end closures in March. Somewhere in the midst of the loads of messages and calls that my dad made each day,each hour to check on me while I was counting my last days in my marital home, I mentioned to him about my annual company day that was being held in mid March. Not wanting to return back to an empty house, I had enrolled myself for a multiple of dance performances for the annual function that gave me a chance to stay back in office longer. The thing about annual days is that they are also "bring your family" days. It hadn't struck me yet that may be I would miss the privilege that year. But then I had forgotten that I am too special to miss out on joys like these. So Dad jokingly quipped, "Missing out on you performing a Rekha's Salaam-e-ishq is not something I can afford to regret about. And there needs to be someone to protect you from the audience going berserk. I am catching the next train from Baroda to Mumbai". I didn't have to say anything and in spite of the work load, there he was- cheering every time my face popped up on the screen- a man so proud of his family always that you can never imagine being alone.

It is in the self revelation of his imperfection and not perfection and in his failures and not successes that we have understood the greatest lessons of life. His lack of focus due to which he had to discontinue his M.A. (Eco) in DU and pursue it further in Sambalpur University, his nervousness that couldn't get him past the RBI interview, his inability to understand the suffocating creativity of a housewife, his frustration of not being able to balance work and personal life are all stories that I have heard from him. His innocence in elaborating his own follies and the pride in elaborating our achievements underplays what he has made of us. The man handpicked rotten vegetables (what else will be available at 10 pm) and took her to the same movie "Sharaabi" thrice in the year (what else would be available on Housefull Sundays without pre-booking) but he ruled his woman's heart (to name a few) with his simple "Thank you ", fascination for her poetry and indefatigable support (even vocal sometimes) for her decisions. He couldn't ever make it to my PT meeting but he compensated for it by waking me up at 4 am everyday to practice Tables, Mental Maths and listening to my lesson memorizations all through the night during ICSE. His fundamentals in Economics are crystal clear and till date, he spends hours discussing the subject with me. My dad never wrote the Scale 3 bank exams since his passing the same would mean a promotion. The promotion was not an opportunity for him to advance his career but a ticket for transfer that would take him away from his family. We are all so self conscious and self obsessed that I wonder how a species like him has managed to survive on this planet.

If you have a father like him, you will understand why the idea of manipulating dads as shown in certain recent ads is not cool. If you have a father like him, you will understand why the movie "The Pursuit of Happyness" is on your all time favorite list. If you have a father like him, you will understand why it is impossible to find him in anyone else.

Continue reading Why I don't look for my dad in anyone else?

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Yup, you heard it right ! I don't wish to be a mom........

I am an absolute hit with kids. Right from amusing them with my rendition of "Lungi dance" to disciplining them to get their cursive handwriting perfect, I love it all. I have been almost half mother to my brother who is 9 years younger to me and almost mother to all the men who I have loved in my life. Even with such credentials, I have to say that I don't wish to be a mom. This is not a "I am a rebel" statement from my repertoire but something that I strongly feel knowing very well that my biological clock is ticking away and that such an irreversible stance is inviting not-so-friendly judgments for a lifetime.

A lot of people think that those who haven't had a great childhood are the most probable ones to think on these lines. I beg to differ on such an assumption. I have had a fairy-tale childhood with the most progressive parents anyone could wish for. To such level is my respect and admiration for them that I can't think of making them my role models lest I end up being a total disaster. And specifically about mothers, for umpteen reasons, I don't see myself being able to emulate an inch of what my mother does. I am far from being selfless like her to throw the best birthday party at the time of recovering from a surgery or stay away from my husband for lending stability to my children's education. Taking a life risking boat journey with my partner from Tierra Del Feugo to Antarctica is just one among the crazy travel plans I have. Though being with family is one of the experiences I cherish, I can't find myself planning all my holidays around them as my mom does. All mothers had dreams of their own which they either gave up or went slow on so that their children chased dreams of their own. But as much as I know myself, while I will be thrilled if someone close to me succeeds, it can never take away the angst for not being able to do things on my bucket list.

Picture this. I consider life to be a book that each one exclusively authors. There are editions that mark your maturity in perspective through life, sections that are based on experiences of reading, writing, traveling, learning a language/a musical instrument, teaching, laughing and crying at the same time, saving a life, emerging victorious through grueling pain, being loved by a lot and being hated by even many more. The important people in your life are the ones with whom you exchange manuscripts before all your books hit the market rack. No ones story revolves around the other and yet you share life with them effortlessly. I am lucky that the people I didn't choose- my parents and those I chose- my friends and partner- love me for being honest to this design. Motherhood is an irreplaceable experience and life is incomplete without it. But we are all are going to miss out something in life, aren't we? And that's why we have people and stories . While I learn how mothers changed destinies of their creations, I will reveal to them the joy of creating mine.

Continue reading Yup, you heard it right ! I don't wish to be a mom........

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Checked off my bucket list: Fine Dining alone

Gorging on a quick peanut butter sandwich while you're alone at home watching Game of Thrones is not a bad deal. Then why are there myths galore about fine dining alone? Dining has always been such a communal activity since childhood that eating alone by corollary is assumed to be out of compulsion than choice. I remember a prep school friend who always used to sit alone to eat. The buzz word was that he was a loner. Remember "Geet" from Jab we met. Just like that assuming that he was troubled, I could never let a person to be in peace all by himself. I was stunned and later laughed my heart out when I found out that he was least interested in sharing his "Mutton Keema" and "Green Pulao"  with classmates whose lunch sucked big time !  Well for all the dictum of sharing and caring, I completely empathize relishing the experience of dining alone.

Yesterday I had a dinner date with myself at the United Coffee House in New Delhi. That's where I came up with 3 reasons you shouldn't miss out on this experience.

1. Ordering was never as much fun before- First, you can take as much time as you want to scan through the menu pages without the pressure of deciding on a dish soon. Second, you don't have to sacrifice choice no.1 for choice no. 2 or 3 for a popular vote. Spoil yourself and order the weirdest sounding dish ever, who cares. Third, add those extra specifications on how your dish needs to be cooked. If you have traveled a lot and know your cuisine well, this is the perfect time to shed your modesty.

2. Silence is the ultimate honor to a great experience- That's something we have witnessed in dining with family as well. The person who enjoys food the most speaks the least and his silence is the ultimate compliment the cook looks out for. You can salivate remembering the Chicken and Mushroom Risotto served with a glass of Chardonnay and climax remembering the Tiramisu only when your mind is parallely not processing any conversations or scrambling for words to fill in those awkward silences. And there isn't a better time to let go of yourself with A Capella music, in contrast to the restlessness in Connaught Place right across the door.

3. It's the ultimate validation of you enjoying your own company- There are the initial hiccups of awkwardness while taking a seat alone in a place like this but once you stop dwelling over the pity that you think are invoking from the crowd leering at you, this time for yourself is a luxury that you deserve. It's no different from traveling alone. Coming to terms with enjoying being with yourself doesn't make you an anti-social or self-obsessed. The more you appreciate space for yourself and consequently others, the closer you will find yourself to people.

So while there is a different charm altogether in repeating stories with your friends and family over dinner during which the world around ceases to exist, dining alone makes you search for your place in this world. Get started and experience both, for the story of life to completely unfold.

Continue reading Checked off my bucket list: Fine Dining alone

Friday, May 01, 2015

Section 498A of Indian Penal Code: A perspective

498A. Husband or relative of husband of a woman subjecting her to cruelty–Whoever, being the husband or the relative of the husband of a woman, subjects such woman to cruelty shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine. 

Explanation.-For the purpose of this section, “cruelty” means- (a) any willful conduct which is of such a nature as is likely to drive the woman to commit suicide or to cause grave injury or danger to life, limb or health (whether mental or physical) of woman; or (b) harassment of the woman where such harassment is with a view to coercing her or any person related to her to meet any unlawful demand for any property or valuable security or is on account of failure by her or any person related to her to meet such demand.”

The bandwagon of cases of misuse of 498 A frequently catches our imagination. So much so that it carried the weight of an entire film (Daawat-e-ishq) on its shoulders where 498 A is termed as a "kutti cheez". The problem with a lot of us is the sweeping generalizations we fall for. From a time when each husband was looked down upon with suspicion at the unnatural death of his wife (since dowry deaths disguised as kitchen accidents were on a rise), we are now witnessing a tectonic shift with the husband viewed as hapless and innocent (with misuse of 498 A being termed as legal terrorism by the apex court of the country). We were wrong then, we are wrong now. The essence of criminal law is "beyond reasonable doubt" and assumptions basis the fad of the day isn't the right way to deliver justice.

I had the opportunity to be exposed to this law and its various stakeholders- police, lawyers, human rights group, society and most importantly the victim (both men and women) for a period of 18-24 months which made me understand the intricacies of the journey. First, approaching the police to file a FIR invoking section 498 A against husband/ in-laws is the most drastic step a woman would be willing to take. Since the possibility of an arrest is high, it is a point of no return in a marital relationship. If there is any willingness to have a reconciliation, the woman would rather seek remedy under the Domestic Violence Act 2005 where the procedure for withdrawal of the case is much simpler. So majority of the cases would involve women who have suffered beyond their threshold and whose fear for her life is much greater than the pain that awaits her in times to come.

The process of being probed on every minute detail of what happened in your bedroom not in front of a counselor but a police station with multiple women officers sympathizing is not the start you wish for. Be it lawyers, police or your own family- the understanding of the concept of "emotional violence" is alien to most. So no one will pay heed to a complaint of mental harassment and the woman is likely to be interpreted as "too sensitive or not matured enough" , which is why women don't report cases early on. And then there are cases of marital rape to which the killed spirit of a woman has no remedy since it isn't acknowledged a crime. That's where there the system provokes falsification of charges. One false claim of you being punched in the stomach, being locked up in the room without food or even being asked dowry is the de-minimus to get your genuine complaint registered under 498 A.  Whether this is fair is a point to ponder on.

 Let this not fool us to believe that a woman who makes no false complaints has a strong case. Faulty and corrupt investigation practices, proceedings that run into 4-5 years and an unforgiving system that doesn't allow you to move on are a tough ask. Women are in fact asked in course of the proceedings to settle and start afresh. If 498 A cases end up with filing of divorce under mutual consent, questioning the genuineness of these cases is again a point to ponder on.

Having said the above, it is also a harsh reality that there are women who blatantly misuse these provisions. There are cases where the man is harassed so much that he starts contemplating separation. Since we still lack the maturity to settle such disputes amicably, resorting to character assassination or lying about intentions just creates more animosity provoking the woman's family to file a false complaint to get back at the guy's family. Ideally, post discussion with families, a divorce should be filed as soon as possible. This is where the system again fails us by not having a provision like "irretrievable breakdown of marriage" as a ground for seeking divorce. If you can file for divorce only by proving cruelty, impotency, infidelity etc, it is once again inviting storytelling and evidence buildup.

Taking note of the high number of arrests and finally low convictions made under sec 498A, the SC observed that 498A has the dubious distinction of being used as a weapon by "disgruntled wives". This aphorism reeks of a generalization that is best avoided. If convictions have remained low in spite of a 20% increase in dowry deaths between 2001 and 2013, is diluting a strict law the solution?

498 A assumes the charged guilty unless proven innocent and is non-bailable (bail not at police station but after being produced in front of a magistrate). This is only to provide protection to the woman who is still a vulnerable class, not harass her in the process of getting justice and eliminating abuse of power and money. A proper investigation before an arrest and noting its necessity has always been the imperative. If it has been flouted and arbitrary arrests have been made, the solution is not to deter the police from making arrests when necessary but to strengthen the investigation mechanism. Speedy disposal of cases with empathy and without prejudice is the sin qua non for justice. If the case has false allegations, quick closure of the proceedings should be followed by a counter case for defamation (Section 499) and false evidence (Section 193) which can invite imprisonment up to 7 years.

Let prejudices not obscure the truth and generalizations not color the lies. Stereotypes are to be kept at bay if justice has to see the light of the day.

Continue reading Section 498A of Indian Penal Code: A perspective

Friday, April 10, 2015

What would change if I knew the time of my death ?

Last night I had a dream. I saw myself sitting at a bench in Central Park, gazing at a group of carefree kids laughing their heart out. I was so engrossed that I didn't notice a white bearded man in a tattered coat (with curious resemblance to Morgan Freeman in Bruce Almighty) take a seat next to me. "Why do you think they are so happy?", he uttered. Without a blink, I answered, "Because they have no questions." In a flash, the time stood still with only the man and me alive. The man said, "My child, I want you to be just as happy as anyone else. If finding answers are so important, ask me anything but only one thing that can give you back the smile." He had no halo but I was awestruck enough to believe that he was there, in that moment, for me and meant each word. I closed my eyes and wished, "When shall I die?"

Katolische Pfare Halstatt , Austria  (Source: World's Most Beautiful Cemeteries , Conde Nast Traveler)

The question of when and how each one of us shall die arouses a strange gut wrenching feeling. But to think of it, having the answer to that question would make me witness a miracle, which is life itself.

A long life span may seem more comforting, but on the contrary, it permeates a complacence that does not allow you to complete even half of your bucket list by the time your clock stops.

To pack bags and travel the world with my partner ,taste and learn the most exotic cuisine, dance with the local folk-lore and take in the humanism underlying the diversity across - would immediately take priority over- investment in life insurance premiums, giving birth to a new life or adhering to the life-long norms of the society- only if I knew that my life is shorter and crisper than what most people wish to be. It was disturbing to realize that I had also assumed that I am going to have a long life and have probably staved off so much time, not living each second to the hilt.

The man will probably not come back to give me the time in hand. But he did shake me up- to value each second for there's no right time; to value each person for there's no best companion; to value this life for there's no chance of being born again the same. If my plans for life are prone to change basis the time I have, I guess I need to re-work my priorities. All cheese that had to be moved much earlier or is planned for tomorrow has to be moved today. The last thing I want is to sigh on my death bed is the question, " What would have had changed if I knew the time of my death?"
Continue reading What would change if I knew the time of my death ?

Tuesday, March 31, 2015


Why "My Choice" empowers ?

While traveling through a village, giving sermons and being greeted with hopeful eyes, Buddha had a chance encounter with a man who started hurling abuses at him. Without getting upset, Buddha asked him, " If you buy a gift for someone and that person doesn't take it, who does the gift belong to?". Puzzled by such an obvious question, the man replied, "I bought the gift. Of course, it belongs to me". 

Buddha's point was that we always have a choice- whether to accept what a person offers- adulation, anger, advice and be affected by it or not accept it allowing it to remain with the former. It is this choice of doing what you believe in that's most empowering and liberating. We might espouse always having a choice and the significance of being brave enough to make unique choices but the real thing to introspect upon is whether we believed we always had a choice, whether we made things simpler and easier for others to exercise their choice and if not, whether we could have done things differently so that everyone had a choice.

We don't choose the family we are born into or the society we grow up in. We can't anticipate the kind of people we will meet ahead in life. We have always been taught that we need to take people along in our choices thus conditioning us to a list of the rights and wrongs conforming to which will not rock the boat. In such a scenario, is our volition really free and are our choices really ours? We keep consoling ourselves that we weren't selfish but how many can really be at peace for giving up things that we really wanted to do for ourselves? How many of us can promise that learning from this, we won't impose our choices on others? It's a vicious circle that I can see breaking free when people start loving themselves much more than anybody else in the world.

From what life has taught me, this self-love is the most liberating and empowering force ever. It's difficult to make most people understand this. But I saw the Vogue Empower video doing that and for all the shock value that it has, it's an attempt to make the deaf hear. From where I see it, it's a video with 99 women claiming that what they do in life will be their choice. Whether it's a woman, a man, a child or an elder- the same theme can be used to make a video on anyone's empowerment since choices are of an individual and are not class specific. From where I see it, it's not targeted at men but at anyone who doesn't respect your choice. The choice to have a baby is of two people and if either doesn't want it, it shouldn't be thrust upon. The choice of sexual orientation is what you are born with, it's not a disease to be cured or a fad to be counseled out of. The choice of the kind of relationship you want- only for lust, only for love or for both- with fidelity or not- is upon two people who are in the relationship.

It's not easy for a person to rock the boat and make choices that are not popular. No one can deny that he understands the risk of drowning himself or the people he chose to travel with. But nevertheless if he/she has the gumption to take that risk, why get antagonized? As long as one's choices are consistent and have equal standards, why not just let them be ? And if all resolve to guide and not preach, give the confidence to stand by each other irrespective of the choices made, everyone will stand empowered.

I am lucky to find myself in the company of people who have never hesitated to share their perspectives but value my choices above all. What connects them is the self love so high that they neither crave for approval themselves nor get tempted to approve of others actions. One should be open to learning from other's mistakes but should have the freedom to make theirs too. Show them the room of order but give them the key to the chaos too. This responsibility disciplines like no other force. Give them the "choice" that liberates, empowers and fills with love, rest assured it will be given back to you.

Continue reading Why "My Choice" empowers ?

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

AIB to India's Daughter: All that keeps the bakchod Indian's interest alive

The helplines are buzzing with life. The agitation of living in a ban republic is driving everyone nuts. The first caller can't handle his anxiety to see the banned sadomasochist "Fifty Shades of Grey" though he assiduously backs up his hard drive with the porn downloaded from DC++. The second caller is deeply hurt at the banning of "India's Daughter" though he watched it only after it was banned just to realize that it's a polished version of "Gaur Se Dekhiye is Insaan Ko" that made each viewer relive the ghastly memories of Dec 16, 2012 to no effect. The third caller sulks at the controversy about the AIB Roast video probably because he hasn't seen other ROAST videos that hit way below the belt but with a different class altogether. I cannot help but notice - are we concerned about turning into a ban republic OR sulking about everything banal that is banned in this republic? There have been multiple things that have been restricted in the past,  on grounds of threat to law and order or the sensitivities of varied sections of people or for reasons not understood by us. But if we do want to use our voice to fight for the freedom of speech and expression, isn't it fair that we judiciously use it for  a work that is great in quality and truly deserving of a backing. Though discussed in the Jaipur Literary fest, why wasn't there any anger when the noted author Perumal Murugan had no option but to apologize for the classic Madhorubhagan (One Part Woman) and renounce writing forever ? Have we really lost the ability to decipher what needs to be agitated upon? The recent chaos and the bugle sounding over mediocrity relegates into the background a tolerant India that as a nation breaks its silence and fights back only on things that matter.

3 years ago when "India's Daughter" battled for her life, the whole nation woke up to fill the streets not only to India Gate but also to discreet chowk of the quaintest Indian town. We can hardly imagine what a victim of abuse be it Nirbhaya or the Badaun girls or the child molested in Bangalore wished to be different. Would things have been different had sex education been compulsory in schools, if she had known that his touch was a bad one, if he had known that there are boundaries that need to be respected and " a no is a no" ? Would things have been different had she been taught that no form of violence should be tolerated by a woman, that it's prudent to step out and report in the first stage of any oppression rather than wait for things to get worse in the hope of saving the honor of the family? Would things have been different had the police understood the concept of "emotional violence" and lodged an FIR without any proof of gagging or abuse marks? Leave the serious ones, let's talk about what happens daily? Would things have been different if we rubbished the gossip that a colleague got promoted not for talent but for sleeping with the boss, if we kicked in the butt every sexist assumption that we encounter every day? No one knows the answers. What we do know is that it's a long battle that requires us to use our voice from time to time. The Justice Verma recommendations and the consequent reform in rape laws bear testimony to how much our angst matters. The furore is like antibiotics- effective only when used judiciously, not to be prescribed for daily bakchodi.
Continue reading AIB to India's Daughter: All that keeps the bakchod Indian's interest alive

Tuesday, February 24, 2015


Bodh Gaya and Vipassana- The Grand Finale

Mahabodhi Temple at Bodh Gaya
The contrasts between Gaya and Bodh Gaya situated hardly 30 mins away are exhilarating. Unlike other pilgrim towns that I have visited, there was a marked difference in what I felt in Gaya. It wasn't the thousands thronging the station, the streets and the by-lanes for the "Pind-daan" during "Pitru Paksh" at Gaya that was bothering me. There was an eerie sense of negativity and restlessness in that town which was probably explained by understanding the reference to Gaya as being blessed by Vishnu but overpowered by the curses of Sita. " According to the Ramayana, at one point of time Falgu was one of the major rivers of India.
Pind-daan at Falgu
But its fate changed when Lord Ram visited Gaya with wife Sita for
 pinddaan during pitripaksha. While Ram and brother Lakshman were away, to fetch pinddaan material, suddenly an akashvani (celestial announcement) happened, stating that this was the best time to offer pinddaanHonouring the akashvani, Sita performed the pinddaan keeping the Falgu, a Brahmin, a cow, tulsi (holy basil) and a banyan tree (vat) as witnesses. When the two brothers returned, she told them she had performed the ritual on hearing the akashvani. But when she looked at her witnesses, except for the banyan tree none of the others testified that Sita had indeed performed pinddaanThis upset Sita and she cursed the other 4. She cursed Phalgu river that it would be dried on the top (geographically explained to be a subterranean stream), the cow that it would no longer be worshipped from the front, the fire that whatever came in contact with it would be destroyed and the Gaya Brahmins that they would never be satisfied but blessed Akshay vatam that it would remain evergreen. " That atmosphere hence is what happens when you lie. All that changes to a peace within when one enters Bodh Gaya-no wonder for its pristine beauty and serenity that this place was chosen by Buddha to meditate and finally seek Enlightenment.It was here that he discovered that suffering will disappear if we know ourselves. Rediscovered by Buddha himself, Vipassana is nothing else but an insight that cuts through conventional perception to perceive mind and matter as they actually are: impermanent, unsatisfactory, and impersonal.

Vipassana center @ Bodh Gaya
In order to see things the way they are, one ought to have a "beginners mind". Almost as if you are born again into a different place, one has to detach from the world- no communication (10 days of noble silence), no books, no newspapers, no mobiles, no notepad to evoke memories or put down what you feel. Whatever happens in the moment is important and needs to be accepted the way it is- irrespective of the sensation it evokes, the moment is transient and will pass. Attach yourself to a happy moment and you invite misery when it doesn't happen again when you expect it too. Attach yourself to a sad moment and you are perennially miserable missing out the umpteen worthy moments that passed by. In the course of practicing Vipassana, one leads the life of a Bhikshu- surviving on the alms of others.
Bhikshunis @ Bodh Gaya
Imagine every single expense of your stay not being paid by you. Imagine you being served by ex-students of Vipassana who in real life are much highly placed than you are. It is this humility in the life of a Bhikshu that helps us to accept the truth in every moment. Most other forms of meditation involve focusing  your attention on an object or chanting a hymn and temporarily experiencing a sense of calm by suppressing your feelings. But the feelings return when the object of association disappears. In Vipassana, you concentrate on your sensations. the human body experiences umpteen sensations at any given point and each one is just as transient as the other. If our mind is fixated on experiencing a particular sensation, then that part becomes a blind spot- far away from the true nature of sensation that exists there. If not, its a free flow akin to life that has so many experiences to offer. Of course the mind is not quiet or stable when you start doing this- you will be overwhelmed by what comes back as memories, shocked to find out the truth, miserable at what you have done so far so much so that you would want to run away. But that's where Vipassana is different- by making you bring up feelings, thoughts, emotions- it makes you deal with it rather than suppress it. And once you accept the truth, it rises like a bubble from within and disappears from the top of your mast, never to return back and haunt you. 10 days of pure magic worked by you  on you. The addict from Mexico, the cynic from Slovenia, the spiritual from Texas, the prankster from Ireland, the smitten from Australia and the love hurt from India- all had the same childlike smile and seemed to have understood each other for ages without uttering a word. No time before had I loved walking barefoot, no time before had I worried about a sheath of broken glass or soft grass ahead. Not just for speeches, I knew what it was to love life.
Bliss in meditation

Rewind to Oct 2013- in the backdrop of a painful divorce, I had made a great friend. Absolutely unabashed in his approach, he can make cynics take note of everything positive that happens around. For some strange reason, though I started with how unfair things were with me in my marriage - that part that which is true but convenient to speak, I opened up to him about all that I couldn't deal on my own, what I could have done better to save my marriage. He never judged me and for the few moments he did, he more than made it up by admitting to it. Months passed and I knew it was love. But just the thought of falling in it made me shiver. I had been battling a hundred demons inside, one of them convincing me that I was probably too egotistical to sustain a relationship. Six years with a  guy who is now happily married to another classmate and one and half years with a guy who will eventually be happily married, can even make the staunch romantics sit up and wonder what's wrong in your head. Also people are nice to victims. As soon as victims stop getting victimized and fight back, all that sympathy-empathy disappears. And if you happen to be a divorcee who is coming back to life and is in love, God save you from getting stereotyped as a class A whatever. Sept 2014 and Vipassana comes to my rescue- it's the ultimate realization - in common parlance, "shit happens" (shit = events in life + people) and even if it does, learn from it, move on and "Carpe Diem" (seize the moment my friend). So Elizabeth Gilbert after completing her meditation in Kolkata went all the way to Bali where she found love once again. All I had to do post Vipassana was make a quick phone call to Delhi. And since then, boy !!! Has my life been rolling !!! :) :)
Continue reading Bodh Gaya and Vipassana- The Grand Finale

Friday, February 20, 2015


Bodh Gaya and Vipassana- Part 2- The journey

I love train journeys. I can't help but draw parallels with life itself. Isn't life a one way train ticket- you get on board with some who will eventually leave you half way to catch a super fast express forward, others who meet you on the way making every moment enjoyable but making no promises of where they plan to break the journey. Some who get on your nerves and to avoid them, you request the TT to change your seat. But if too many people happen to get on your nerves, the TT would probably stop entertaining your requests and point out that the problem perhaps lies with you. In a journey, you are at your best in the beginning. When you start getting comfortable with seeing familiar faces, you start seeking permanence and wish you see them everyday. You start believing that meeting them was perhaps the purpose of your journey which it is not. You become vulnerable and they also get to see you at your worst. Everything is ephemeral and people you wanted to hold on to sometimes need to leave you behind. They would head for the same destination anyway but may be not on the same train that you picked. And when they bid farewell- they could either be grateful for the moments they spent with you and cherish them for life or scar you citing your vulnerabilities as the reason they rejected you as a co-passenger. It's up to you to realize that there's nothing sad in accepting that we are on our own always. That's the thing about love, life and train journeys- no matter how long they last and where they take you, they are always worth it. And this belief awaited to be strengthened as I completed my 14 hour train journey from Cuttack to Gaya.

Coming up next: Last Part: It's not just Elizabeth Gilbert who found love after meditation. It's not an epic ending. Just a prologue to an eventful start.

Continue reading Bodh Gaya and Vipassana- Part 2- The journey