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The plight of women that evades Jayalalitha

The alleged violations of the rights of Sri Lankan Tamils is just now the cause that is politically closest to the heart and strategizing of Jayalalitha, the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. In her current campaign to outdo her rival, Karunanidhi as champion of the cause of Sri Lankan Tamils, and her anger at not being unable to move New Delhi to give her more recognition, she is ready to do anything to threaten good relations between India and Sri Lanka.

It would not be wrong to assume it is being a Tamil herself that makes Jayalalitha so publicly concerned about the rights of the Sri Lankan Tamils, which she and her supporters claim are being threatened or violated, and about the unverified reports of harsh military action against Tamil civilians, in the battle to free the entirety of Sri Lanka, including the Tamils then held in bondage by the LTTE, and suffered most from its ruthless and savage terror.

Giving her the benefit of fellow Tamilian feeling for her rash and ugly demonstrations of support for the so-called cause of the Sri Lankan Tamils, it is necessary to ask her whether she has no feeling as an Indian for other Indians, one’s fellow nationals, who face serious human rights violations in their own country.


President Mahinda Rajapaksa in conversation with the rehabilitated youths when they called on President at Temple Trees, on Thursday which was the International Day of the Girl Child. Picture by Sudath Silva

There is plenty of proof today of the plight of the Kashmiri people, whose Human Rights have been systematically and ruthlessly violated from the time of independence by the Indian State. There is now evidence of unmarked graves of thousands who have been killed and interred by Indian troops over the years, in what is claimed to be suppression of the separatist insurgency by Kashmiri people.

It would appear that Jayalalitha has no feeling for these fellow Indians because she is a Tamil from Tamil Nadu in the South, and Kashmir and the six decade old dispute that has taken so many lives and caused so much fear and hardship to fellow Indians is far away in the North of India, much closer to Pakistan, and has no Tamils, to have any impact on her feelings or political thinking. In contrast, her readily demonstrated concern for the Sri Lankan Tamils must be because Tami Nadu and Sri Lanka are so closely situated, with only the narrow Palk Strait between them.

Adding to this is the blood affinity, the Tamil blood (if there is blood of such type) that runs in her veins, and makes her to do such ill-thought, spiteful and revengeful things that would make any decent and intelligent Tamil feel ashamed of one’s ethnicity(or blood) being associated with such acts. One cannot think of ‘Tamil blood’ coursing in anyone’s veins that will prompt the brain to deport schoolchildren who have come to one’s land for friendly, invitation soccer. Even an ounce of good ‘Tamil blood’ will not move people to attack pilgrims who have come to pray and seek solace and blessings from the blessed mother of Jesus Christ. But sadly for Tamils, both in Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka, and elsewhere in the world, Jayalalitha is one among a few such rabidly racist political opportunists.

If distance within one’s own country is what makes Jayalalitha ignore the plight of the fellow Indian Kashmiri’s in their struggle for Human Rights and dignity in their own homeland, and geographic proximity and belief in ‘common blood’ bonds makes her feel so much for Sri Lankan Tamils, as she claims to feel, there is another question that must be raised. What does she feel for the Indian women, those of her own sex, in her own motherland, who are perpetually harassed, threatened, battered, exploited, murdered and harmed in every way possible making India the shame of the world for the treatment of women today? Does this female political animal, with such deep feelings for the Tamils of Sri Lanka have even an iota of such feeling for the oppression of her own sex in her own land? If so where and how has she shown such feelings? What has this woman done to alleviate the condition of women in Tamil Nadu, yes the Tamil women of Tamil Nadu, who are as oppressed as women in other parts of India, when the country is emerging as a new economic giant of Asia and has even begun talking of exploring the planet Mars?

Guwahati episode

I write this on the first ever UN declared International Day of the Girl Child, when President Mahinda Rajapaksa met with a group of rehabilitated former female combatants of the terrorist LTTE at Temple Trees. This is the recognition given to the cause of women in Sri Lanka, particularly those women, mainly Tamils, who had to undergo so much brutality under their own so-called liberators through nearly 30 years of terror.

In a recent ugly episode in Guwahati in North-East India, a young female student who had just left a bar was set upon by a gang of at least 18 men, who dragged her into the road by her hair, tried to rip off her clothes and smiled at the cameras that filmed it all.

It was a scene where many of those having phones were using them to film it and not call the Police, as the men pulled up her vest and tugged at her bra, and groped her breasts as she pleaded for help that took so long to come. It was 45 minutes before the Police came. The attackers were arrested only six days late, after the story went viral on TV and social media and a banner was put up by the people that clearly showed the faces of the brutal attackers. This incident spurred journalist Helen Pidd of The Observer (UK) to write a deeply probing piece on the condition of women in India, which was published headlined ‘A bad place to be a woman’ (Guardian Weekly - August 10, 2012). For all the noise she makes about the treatment of Tamils in Sri Lanka, and of Human Rights violations on this side of the Palk Strait, it is most unlikely that this woman, Jayalalitha, does not know of the real condition of women in her own country. She is one who had scholarly beginnings when she was in school, has a good command of English, and was known for a fair grasp of political reality, to whom the condition of women India cannot be a secret. Yet, if she lacks such knowledge, or does not know of it as much as she claims to know about the condition of Sri Lankan Tamils today, these facts should help to open her eyes to the tragic reality that is much closer home to her, literally around her, than what happens in Sri Lanka.

In an ashram on a hill above the Guwahat where Mahatma Gandhi once slept, and the city where the above attack on a young woman that shocked many in India took place, Helen Pidd found a quotation from India’s great teacher of tolerance and non-violence in recent times, written in 1921. It said: “Of all the evils for which man has made himself responsible, none is so degrading, so shocking or so brutal as his abuse of the better half of humanity: the female sex (not the weaker sex).”

Ironically, when the Guwahat police eventually turned up, as reported by the Guardian and the Indian Media, they took away the woman for questioning and medical examination. No attempt was made to arrest the men whose faces could clearly be seen laughing and jeering on camera.

There was even an editor of a news service who remarked on Twitter that: “prostitutes form a major chunk of girls who visit bars and night clubs”.

It took some days, when the clip had gone viral and had been picked up by the national channels in Delhi, that the Police were shamed into action, stated Helen Pidd. By then, Guwahati residents had taken matters into their own hands, producing an enormous banner that they strung up alongside one of the city’s arterial roads featuring screen grabs of the main suspects.

Six days after the attack, the chief minister of Assam, ordered the Police to arrest a dozen key suspects. He met the victim and promised her 50,000 rupees ($895) in compensation. It was not surprising for the Guardian writer to conclude that, “such attacks are part of a culture of discrimination.”

As he commented further, “The damage was already irreversible. Most Indians know full well how tough life as a woman can be in the world’s biggest democracy, even 46 years after Indira Gandhi made history as the country’s first female prime minister in 1966. But here, caught on camera, was proof; and in Assam - a state long romanticized as the most female-friendly corner of the country, largely thanks to the matrilineal Khasi tribe in Meghalaya. The nation was outraged.”

“We have a woman president (at the time), we’ve had a woman prime minister. (A women Speaker and Leader of the Opposition, too, I might add) Yet in 2012, one of the greatest tragedies in our country is that women are on their own when it comes to their own safety,” said a female newsreader on NDTV.

She went on to describe another incident in India: a group of village elders in Baghpat, Uttar Pradesh, central India, who banned women from carrying mobile phones, choosing their own husbands or leaving the house unaccompanied or with their heads uncovered. “The story is the same,” said the news anchor.

Survey

“No respect for women. No respect for our culture. And as far as the law is concerned: who cares?” I may add there are women Chief Ministers in Tamil Nadu and West Bengal, but do they care?

The Guardian writer then quoted Samar Harlankar, a columnist in the national Hindustan Times who said of the Guwahati attack: “This is a story of a dangerous decline in Indians and India itself, of not just failing morality but disintegrating public governance when it comes to women…Men abuse women in every society, but few males do it with as much impunity, violence and regularity as the Indian male.”

Halarnkar then offered as proof a survey that caused indignation in India: a poll of 370 gender specialists around the world that voted India the worst place to be a woman out of all the G20 countries. It stung - especially as Saudi Arabia was at the second-worst. But the experts were resolute in their choice.

“In India, women and girls continue to be sold as chattels, married off as young as 10, burned alive as a result of dowry-related disputes, and young girls exploited and abused as domestic slave labour,” the Guardian quoted Gulshun Rehman, health programme development adviser at Save the Children UK, who was one of those polled in this survey.

Here are some of the statistics about the condition of women in India in a study done by the Lancet in 2011, quoted by Helen Pidd, establishing the veracity of the earlier survey: “45 percent of Indian girls are married before the age of 18, according to the International Centre for Research on Women (2010); 56,000 maternal deaths were recorded in 2010 (UN Population Fund); and research from UNICEF in 2012 found that 52 percent of adolescent girls (and 57 percent of adolescent boys) think it is justifiable for a man to beat his wife.

“According to the National Crime Records Bureau in India, there was a 7.1 percent hike in recorded crimes against women between 2010 and 2011 (when there were 228,650 in total).

“The biggest leap was in cases under the ‘dowry prohibition act’ (up 27.7 percent), of kidnapping and abduction (up 19.4 percent year on year) and rape (up 9.2 percent). A preference for sons and fear of having to pay a dowry has resulted in 12 million girls being aborted over the past three decades.”

It is not that the Indian media has been silent about this abuse suffered by India women, although it does not impress or impact on Jayalalitha and the likes of her in politics. As Helen Pidd states (and others who follow the Indian media know): “A glance at the Indian media reveals the range of abuse suffered by the nation’s women on a daily basis. It was reported that a woman had been stripped and had her head shaved by villagers near Udaipur as punishment for an extramarital affair. Villagers stoned the Police when they came to her rescue.

“In Uttar Pradesh, a woman alleged she was gang raped at a police station - she claimed she was set on by officers after being lured to the Kushinagar station with the promise of a job…A man in Indore was arrested for keeping his wife’s genitals locked.

Sohanlal Chouhan, 38, ‘drilled holes’ on her body and, before he went to work each day, would insert a small lock, tucking the keys under his socks… In June, a father beheaded his 20-year-old daughter with a sword in a village in Rajasthan, Western India, parading her bleeding head around as a warning to other young women who might fall in love with a lower-caste boy.”

Moralists

Not surprisingly, there are those in India similar to our own clownish politicians and overzealous moralists who try to blame the clothes of women for the dangers they are exposed to. Mamta Sharma, chairwoman of the National Commission of Women (NCW), a government body tasked with protecting and promoting the interests of Indian women, when asked by a reporter about the safety of women and suggestions for a dress code to ensure their safety had said: “After 64 years of freedom, it is not right to give blanket directions … and say don’t wear this or don’t wear that. Be comfortable, but at the same time, be careful about how you dress ... Aping the West blindly is eroding our culture and causing such crimes to happen.”

She added: “Westernization has afflicted our cities the worst. There are no values left. In places like Delhi there is no culture of giving up seats for women. It is unfortunate that while the West is learning from our culture, we are giving ourselves up completely to Western ways.”

This comment about aping the west, may sound good to some in our society, especially politicians seeking popularity at any cost and social minders obsessed with values that allegedly destroy our own social values, and have said that some of the recent cases of abuse of women in Sri Lanka is due to the type of ‘revealing’ dress worn by our young women today.

These remarks about women’s clothes caused a storm among activists for the rights and safety or girls and women in India. As Sagarika Ghose, commented in the online magazine First Post: “It’s not just about blindly aping the West, Ms Sharma. It’s also about the vacuum in the law, lack of security at leisure spots, lack of gender justice, lack of fear of the law, Police and judicial apathy, and the complete lack of awareness that men and women have the right to enjoy exactly the same kind of leisure activities.”

Maini Mahanta, editor of the Assamese women’s magazine Nandini (Daughter), believes the NCW chair’s remarks are indicative of what she calls the ‘Taliban-plus’ mentality that is creeping into Indian society. “In this part of the world, it’s worse than the Taliban”… “At least the Taliban are open about what they like and dislike.

Here, society is so hypocritical. We worship female goddesses and yet fail to protect women from these crimes and then blame them too,” the Guardian wrote.

Meanwhile, the Guwahati molestation case had become even murkier. Police had arrested and charged 12 men with ‘outraging the public decency of a woman’, and later charged journalist Gaurav Jyoti Neog of NewsLive with instigating the attack he filmed. Neog denies orchestrating the attack or taking any part in it, apart from filming it ‘so that the perpetrators can be nabbed’.

The verdict is out on that case, Helen Pidd states, but one thing is clear: 91 years after Gandhi urged Indian men to treat their women with respect, the lesson has yet to be learned.

Here are some more shocking facts about the plight of India’s women:

• Percentage of Indian girls who are married before the age of 18 – 45 percent.
• Estimate of number of girls aborted in India in the past three decades - 12 million
• Increase in crimes against women between 2010 and 2011 - 7.1 percent
• Number of Indian women murdered in 2011 for not providing a sufficient dowry - 8,618

(Source: International Centre for Research on Women (2010); The Lancet (2011); National Crime Records Bureau in India, as reported in The Guardian Weekly) These statistics have no relevance to Jayalalithaa, lacking any of the feeling she claims to have for Sri Lankan Tamils, for those of her own sex in her own motherland.

These are the shocking realities that Indian society has to grapple with, concerning human and women’s rights within one’s own country, while regional politicians such as Jayalalitha, Vaiko et al are carrying on their parade of falsehood about the plight of Tamils in Sri Lanka.

This parading goes on despite international organizations such as the UNHCR and many others who are most knowledgeable on the matter, commends Sri Lanka for the manner in which we have handled the issue of the internally displaced Tamils, and even the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon now welcomes the positive developments that have taken place in Sri Lanka including the complete resettlement of internally displaced persons, and the closure of the resettlement village at Menik Farm among others.

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