Monday, June 18, 2007

Why look for differences, instead of similarities between sexes? Are you complaining, ‘if men and women are equal, why clamor for privileges or look for special treatment?’ Melvin Konner, a renowned anthropologist poses the question, ‘Why raise gender differences?’ and answers in his book, The Tangled Wing that ‘insistence upon the nonexistence of significant biological basis for the different behaviors (that) we observe in the two genders, can only obscure the path to understanding, amelioration, and justice. The truth may not be helpful, but the concealment of it cannot be (helpful either).’ Ignoring differences may lead to temporary harmony but it does not make them go away. Differences that you wish to tuck away from view remain as differences. As one thinker would say, ignoring the aggressive nature of males or the female inclination toward mothering does not eliminate the differences; it only drives them underground, with predictable eruptions later, often involving conflict.
More women are engaged primarily in domestic tasks and child care at home, while the men go out to work. It may be possible to cite examples spanning the entire gamut of history by references to women in every facet of human endeavor, from the Vedic times to the contemporary India, from being a goddess personified to philosophers; to poets; to scientists. They will continue to remain as exceptions and cannot prove that women have obtained the status of equal competitors in all walks of life. Women were first engaged for cheaper labor. Women became nurses, teachers and telephone operators. The strict segregation of women into certain occupations began to lessen somewhat as new opportunities arose for female workers in traditionally male occupations. New technology has meant that many tasks that once required heavy physical exertion, and hence were restricted to men, can now be performed simply by pressing buttons, sitting in push-back chairs in air-conditioned offices. There have also known how to wield power.
Power, Dr.Bevans says, is can-do-ness, the capacity to make-things-happen, the ability to accomplish results in the world. At first glance and in most conscious thinking, men are more powerful than women. It appears, if we don't look below the surface that men are in charge of things, including women. Men do act and talk big; we "show off" and stand out. We like to think we are the more powerful of the genders, and women, for pragmatic reasons, often let us, even support, outwardly, such illusions: "You're so big and strong; I'll let you make the camp (and money)."
Hear Dr.Bevans further say: ‘The male mode of dominance and aggression easily looks more powerful than the female mode of submission, where powers are most often hidden. Men seem to be more powerful than women. Peer more carefully, however, below the thin veneer of appearances and muscles; look longer, past present tense; listen for more than what is spoken; watch for long range results rather than short term displays; and you may see that things are not what they seem. With obvious exceptions, as in all our other gender differences, femininity, by and large, is more powerful than masculinity.’
How would you rate these women - Indira Gandhi, Benezir Bhutto, Khaleda Zia, Sheikh Hasina, Srimavo Bhandaranaike, Chandrika Kumaratunge, to take examples only from the sub-continent? True, they have all had either their fathers or spouses or both, as active politicians, who consciously cultivated the way for their ascension to seats of power. A woman, with no such support but making it to higher echelons, in spite of several handicaps, biological and societal, by sheer industry and iron will commends respect. She shall progress the same way, meriting every step in the ladder. Such a person shall not stop somewhere in the middle and demand that she shall be given way, because she is a woman.
Every democratic expression in India, including the election process, is a new lesson itself. The issues involved in the choice of President and the gender preferences are matters of topical interest. Laws, too, have a gender bias. Be it in the Indian Constitution or Penal or Labor laws, women, like children, are considered a class by themselves that deserve to be treated differently, equality clauses notwithstanding. The crutches are only for pulling one to get up. Once raised, she ambles across, tossing the props to the wayside. A Indira or Khaleda or Chandrika at the helm of a nation’s ship does not give the impression of all round women empowerment. The esteem that Dr.Radhakrishnan earned or how Dr.Kalam is reckoned, is sui generis. They are men of their own merit. Does the first citizen of a country, be he or she, get the respect for what the nation earns for the person or does the nation get the respect for the esteem that he or she commands?

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Big brother, love personified!

Big brother, the love personified!
George Orwell’s all-seeing leader of the dystopian Oceania, Big Brother, symbolizes the eyes and voice of the state machinery that has ubiquitous presence: around the street corner, up the billboard, in your bed room and literally purveys all your activities. This character gave birth to a kind of real life soap, invented by the Dutchman John de Mol
and developed by his production company, Endemol. It is reported to be a prime time hit as a TV program in over 70 countries. The weekly tasks for the participants are set by an invisible big brother.

G 8 is some kind of a big brother in the global political arena. Here it is not just one person, but an assemblage of self styled mighty eight that condescends to set the agenda for governance for the rest of the world. Together, these countries represent only 14% of the world population, but they account for nearly two thirds of the world's economic output measured by gross domestic product
. China and India are two fast emerging leaders in world economic development and it is not possible to drop them in the wayside. It is therefore not surprising that there have been later formulations to accommodate them in some way. It is done through a separate set of meetings known as the "G8+5, attended by representatives from all eight member countries in addition to the People Republic of China, Mexico, India, Brazil and South Africa; created at Gleneagles, Scotland in 2005, primarily to reach a consensus statement on a post 2012 Climate Change settlement. Representatives from the European Commission are present at all G8 meetings.

As the annual summits are extremely high profile, they are subject to extensive lobbying by advocacy groups, street demonstrations by activists and, on rare occasion, terrorist attacks. The most well-known criticisms center on the assertion that members of G8 are responsible for global issues such as poverty
in Africa and developing countries due to debt crisis and unfair trading policy, global warming due to carbon dioxide emission, the AIDS problem due to strict medicine patent policy and other problems that are related to globalization. G8 leaders are therefore pressured to take responsibility to combat problems they are accused of creating.

Maybe, Asia and Africa will join some day to float a new organization and call it A2. Each of the participating countries will identify what it is strong in and leave a trail of rich legacies for the rest of the world to benefit from. India has vast repertoire of literature, philosophy and music. They will perhaps shift emphasis only from preoccupations with economic issues to ethical and cultural considerations. The values of strong family ties will re-emphasized and a spirit of camaraderie that lays the foundation for vasudeiva kutumbam will emerge. A2 will not be a big brother but a benign patria potestas.
Incidentally, a big brother, in the Indian understanding, is not one that bosses around. He takes the mantle of a father, when the latter quits. A brother protects the honor of the family and plays a decisive role for finding a suitor for his little sister. In both Ramayana and Mahabharata, the filial bonding between brothers exemplifies the best traditions of Indianness. Look out for the equivalent expression for brother in every Indian language. From Anna, to Chetan, to bhaiya, they spell out an immediate affectionate relation who oozes love to the younger ones. Brothers seldom fight, the Ambanis and Singhanias, notwithstanding. Or, if they do, the big brother knows how to quell it and bring harmony. If the family branches from the first degree of brothers to the second degree through the children to cousins, they become pangalis. Fissures appear; partition actions emerge. From the days of Pandavas and Kauravas to the present day, pangali fights are commonplace. The big brother knows when to partition to keep amity. But, have you not played a lawyer to fighting brothers? Or, a mediator to querulous siblings? Or, a Judge to litigious family? Identify the big brother amongst them who can put an end to the litigation. We just cannot afford certain kinds of litigation in courts. No other country has, perhaps, partition actions amongst members of the same family, as we are now having. We shall use the courts for settling scores with the government oppression, wherever it exists; to make the government officials work; to smoothen industrial relations; to bring honesty in commercial transactions; to bring the culprits to book; to eradicate the scourge of untouchability. So, what do you propose to do, when you have a partition suit between brothers? Go to the big brother!

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Get young by the day

Are you frequently talking about the ‘good old days’? It is probably a symptom that you are getting old! How do you bring back the youth in you? To many of us, the constant refrain is that the present is choking us and the worthwhile distraction is a fanciful flight down the memory lane about the things of the past. As Thomas Carlyle would say, ‘The past is all holy to us; the dead are all holy; even they that were wicked when alive!’ That is why it is said that the past is the only dead thing that smells sweet. Decrying the present is an eternal malady. The great old days that your father talked about were actually days of slavery under the foreign rule and how Bharati fulminated with emotion about ‘the heart that is seared when you think about those cowards’, in his words, ‘Nenju porukkudillaye…’

We reminisce in the past with pleasure, whenever the talk hinges about the lawyers’ practice in courts; of the doyens of the bar that strode the courts’ corridors; about the great judges that presided over the courts; of their judgments; In contrast, of the conduct of lawyers today, especially, of the juniors. Comparisons will be made point by point between the lawyers and judges of the yester-years and present insolent disposition amongst the youthful lawyers and the slothful ways of some of the judges.

The quality of the lawyer would be recalled as stupendous, if he was fluent in the language, with a quick recall of case laws from memory. The repartees and the wit that he was capable of generating would be topics for discussion at parties. If he had a sharp tongue and could set off a breeze in court halls, it would be an additional resource to gloat over. Objectively, all these qualities are not unique to any one particular generation. Will you not honestly concede that your son or daughter in school or college reads more and has a greater fund of knowledge than you did or had in your school or college days? He or she is perhaps more articulate than you were capable of at his or her age.

Look at the books, the number of enactments and the rich store of precedents that the present generation acquaints itself with, by the time they join the profession. Computer savvy that they are, they have enough skills to pull out in a trice in a sheet of paper all the important cases that are relevant for your cases, the cases that were followed and cases that were overruled. Many psychometricians agree that IQ levels are increasing generation after generation. Among the various causes outlined are: better nutrition, more educational toys, computers and TV programmes. Talking and writing skills are no less on the decline among the younger generation. Long winding arguments are the old lawyers’ bane. Slick presentation belongs to the emerging younger milieu. The law students of the present generation hone their skills in the art of advocacy and preparation of memorials in their moot court circuits across the globe, rubbing shoulders with the brightest in the East and the West.

One must always maintain one's connection to the past and yet ceaselessly pull away from it. Nostalgia is a seductive liar! You are prone to exaggerations, while recalling events of the past. A famous writer once said, “Many are always praising the by-gone time, for it is natural that the old should extol the days of their youth; the weak, the time of their strength; the sick, the season of their vigor; and the disappointed, the spring-tide of their hopes." Not just the better days, it is certainly romantic to talk about even poverty, so long as it is in past tense; of your travel by foot or by a rickety bicycle, if you have now a car to drive by!

To look back into antiquity is one thing; to go back to it is another. Talk about stalwarts to bring home to the new generation the continuum of the great traditions that they have inherited in a way that Fali Nariman talked about, at the august occasion of unveiling the portrait of Govind Swaminathan, a towering personality that wrote himself among the greats of the Madras Bar. He recalled, “Govind never mumbled; he always completed the sentences.” Our wealth is the present generation of young lawyers and judges. Invest in them all the confidence; Help them to flower to their fullest potential; prepare them adequately to a smoother transition. As old belongs to the past, youth belongs to the future. Even the old is young if (s)he plans and strives for a bright future ahead.

As bad as you may portray to day, tomorrow ere long, will be your own good old day!

What's your vote on father-in-law?

What is your personal rating of your father-in-law? Every relationship through (lawful) marriage up to the second degree gets a suffix ‘in-law’. Among other relatives for a man, the father-in-law occupies a unique position. He is for ever visualized as a person to whom all and sundry demands could be placed! He treats you as ‘mapillai’, by which expression you enjoy several privileges; It is even a bye-word for being fashionable (‘dress like mapillai’); enables you to play tantrums ( ‘mapllai murukku’) and even complain freely about his daughter, what you can’t do directly to your wife!
In the pre-independence days, when English judges presided over High courts and subtle principles of Hindu law were expounded through judicial pronouncements by reference to original Sanskrit texts, lawyers had to strain every sinew to help judges lay down the correct law. A story attributed to Rajah Iyer, a doyen among lawyers, was: He was explaining the position of various legal heirs and their respective entitlements to a Hindu father’s estate before an English Judge. The judge, who was ill at ease in following the trail of arguments, asked in a matter-of –fact tone, ‘Tell us, Mr.Rajah Iyer, what is the share of the son-in-law in the father (in-law)’s estate? Taken aback by the na├»ve interjection, Mr.Rajah Iyer regained his composure in a trice and told the judge of what the law did not actually accord to the son-in-law but what he was accustomed to, in practice, ‘My lord, a son-in-law gets all the property that he could lay his hands on; not merely after death, but even during the life of the father-in-law!’
The customary Hindu law, while it placed fetters on the right of a Karta to make gifts of joint family property, makes an exception to reasonable settlement of properties to his daughter at the time of marriage. Going by the virtual possibility of husband’s control over his wife’s property, it places the resources of the father-in-law in the hands of the son-in-law soon after marriage. It is not merely the right exercised over the father-in-law’s bounties by a male through his wife that is real, but even a pre-nuptial arrangement by way of gift by the father-in-law to the prospective bride before marriage has been upheld by judicial innovation by terming it not as a gift but a transaction supported by consideration of marriage. While a father-in-law may reward both the son-in-law and daughter-in-law, it is the female’s property that makes possible for a father-in-law to figure as one of the heirs, as ‘heir to the husband’ under section 15 of the Hindu Succession Act. To a male Hindu dying intestate, pitifully, a father-in-law has no scope whatever to figure as a heir. A widow of the pre-deceased son is however a heir to the father-in-law.
The wealth of jokes on every type of individual and for every occasion does not make fun of the father-in-law. English jokes on mother-in-law depict her as a person that plants herself in the house of the son-in-law, drains his resources, but never returns to her husband’s house. Mother-in-law and daughter-in-law tussles are proverbial but you have never heard of any slur through any joke or adage about a father-in-law, have you? Yahoo, which hosts a website soliciting answers to difficult questions, raises the question, why there are no jokes on father- in- law, on a same degree of concern as coping with enigmatic issues like, why you press a TV remote control button hard, when you know the battery is weak or why banks collect extra charges, when they know there are ‘no sufficiency of funds’!
The status of father-in-law, as a heir, vis- a- vis the property of a female, though a distinct possibility, in terms of inter- personal relationships, he does not enjoy always the exalted position through the eyes of a daughter-in-law in all types of situations. A father-in-law is also normally paraded along with the mother- in- law and the husband, in dowry prohibition cases. Matrimonial misdemeanour cases also sully the image of the father-in-law, who otherwise deserves a high pedestal of respect. Imrana’s travails and the alleged fatwa issued by Darul Ulooma Deoband for the violence committed on her by directing her marriage to the perpetrator of the wrong, are best forgotten as rare aberrations of human conduct that are not repeated ever. The common perception is, however, still a high degree of veneration for the daughter-in-law to the father-in-law.
All things considered, a father-in-law is a wonderful human being in the extended family. The vacation has not ended. Have you not visited your father-in-law yet; or, if you are a father-in-law, have you not pampered your son-in-law?

Artistic obscenity

M.F.Hussain, Shilpa Shetty and Chandra Mohan have suddenly newfound friends and enemies. The issues underlying the highly charged emotional fulminations against them and in a greater degree, to the righteous indignation among the intellectual elite against the self-styled moralists have been the dimensions of license to the forms of expressions that arts and artists shall enjoy through their chosen medium. In all the cases, police have acted on complaints of certain sections of the public, who have claimed that their religious sensibilities have been hurt or the cultural mores of our country have been undermined; and in two of the cases, the magistrates have been persuaded to issue summons to the artists to answer to the criminal charges.
M.F.Hussain would draw the picture of a nude woman and call her Goddess Saraswati. Nude pictures per se would not have made a difference, but when he decides to call the painting as of Goddess Saraswati, he draws flak. If two celebrities kiss each other in a tango dance embrace in full view of the public and that too in an awareness campaign of AIDS, you may not probably expect cheers in praise of the celebrities. Exhibition of students’ talents in their campuses invariably attract public attention (have you not visited the cultural fests in college campuses, although you are not a college student yourself?) but in Vadodra, the exhibition was a part of an appraisal program of the student-artists. Depiction of deities in prurient form, so long as the public entry had not been barred, could not have gone un-noticed.
Since when have we become intolerant to artistic depiction of nudity and called it obscene? Among the best-known examples of erotic literature are the Kama-sutra and other Sanskrit literature from about the 5th century AD, Persian lyric poems called ghazals, Ovid's Ars Amatoria, the 16th-century Chinese novel Chin p'ing, William Shakespeare's Venus and Adonis, the writings of the Marquis de Sade, and D.H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover. Among the most explicit sexual depictions in the world in the form of sculptures, Khajraho and Konark may be the most outstanding. If tolerance to such art forms was possible in India so many centuries back and also elsewhere in the world, why has it become different now?
Religious obscurantist among Hindus, religious fanatics among Muslims and dogmatists among Christians, the main religious groups in India, are always lurking. You can not simply wish them away. If we are talking about Khajraho or Kama sutra, an extensive knowledge of the historical context in which the artists lived and worked is also necessary, as well as empathy with and understanding of a particular artist's ideas, experiences, and insights.
Even in the West, the tolerance did not come in a day. In 1559 Pope Paul IVassigned Daniele the task of painting in draperies to cover the nudity of many of the figures in Michelangelo's ' Last Judgment' in the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican. Immoral works also were suppressed in Protestant countries such as England, where, prior to the 18th century, restrictions were applied almost exclusively to antireligious or seditious acts or publications, rather than to obscene material in the modern sense. Perhaps the most celebrated obscenity trial in 19th-century France was that of
Gustave Flaubert, who was charged with outrage to public morals and religion for his novel Madame Bovary (1857). In U.S.A., the Comstock Act (1873)named for its chief proponent, Anthony Comstock, provided for fine and imprisonment of any person mailing or receiving obscene, lewd, or lascivious publication and it became notorious as the basis for the widespread suppression not merely of pornographic books and pictures but also of publications containing legitimate medical information about contraception and abortion, as well as contraceptive devices themselves! The difficulty of the task of identifying what was obscene was reflected in Associate Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart's concurring opinion in Jacobellis v. Ohio (1964), which dealt with the alleged obscenity of a motion picture: he wrote that, though he could not define obscenity, ‘I know it when I see it’.
There has been some gradual shift in sexual morality, and the Encyclopedia Britannica observes that obscenity laws in Australia, Canada, the United States, and western European countries were gradually relaxed beginning in the 1960s. Similar developments occurred in countries in Eastern Europe following the collapse of communism there in 1989. For example, in the Czech Republic and Poland in the 1990s, sizable pornography industries developed, and they faced little legal intervention or censorship from the government. Generally, the new legal environment in North America and Europe favoured greater sexual permissiveness and the right to individual privacy. Perhaps the most significant development in this regard was the decriminalization of homosexuality in many countries and the removal of proscriptions against depictions and discussions of homosexual relationships in books, motion pictures, and other media. Countries in Africa and Asia generally have been slower to liberalize such laws, and India herself has maintained the older British obscenity laws and definitions.
In our present times, there is a mutual distrust among the various communities and we have to evolve a new ethos and a holistic approach to understanding art in all its diverse facets. The time has just not arrived. Read the provisions of Indian Penal Code on offences against hurting religious sentiments, obscenity and homo-sexuality. You cannot have the provisions in the statue book and still say that the certain sections of the public, the police or the magistrates are wrong, can you?