Showing posts with label The Times of India. Show all posts
Showing posts with label The Times of India. Show all posts

377 anniversary is a chance to celebrate the happy gay stories

A few years ago at the Times Lit Fest in Mumbai, I was asked on stage, “When will we have the happy gay story?” I was there talking about my own novel, Don’t Let Him Know, where one of the characters is a gay man who hides his sexuality and gets married to a woman, not exactly a “happy gay story”.

I don’t remember what I mumbled in response but the question stayed with me. The 2018 Supreme Court verdict that decriminalised homosexuality had not yet happened. But I cannot pretend that the verdict, landmark as it was, ushered in some Rainbow Ram Rajya. Even today I hear of young men, regulars at gay parties, who get married and unfriend their gay friends on Facebook overnight. Two school friends from a suburban town not far from Kolkata, consumed pesticide and killed themselves. They were close friends, said the family. One wrote the other’s name all over his journal but no one said the g-word. In the middle of the lockdown, I heard of queer friends of friends who killed themselves or tried to do so. Even the luckiest among us bear the scars of not fitting in and they run deep. For many of us chosen families offered solace that biological families could not, and the pandemic has torn many apart from those support systems.

Yet it is worth remembering that we’ve come further than many of us ever imagined we would in our lifetimes. Apurva Asrani, the award-winning editor/writer of films like Aligarh, recently tweeted about the joy of buying a home together with his partner. Not so long ago they had to pretend to be cousins to rent in a city like Mumbai where landlords only wanted “family” types. Even their parents had to play along in this charade.

Asrani says he was amazed by all the support he got for that innocuous new home tweet, even from those whose political ideology was at odds with his. The fact is when people think of heterosexual lives they imagine family vacations, the first home, Diwali shopping. When they think of homosexual lives people think about sex, not two men’s names together on a nameplate. Gay families tend to be invisible. Not that sex isn’t important, but it’s not the sum total of any life.

The Section 377 verdict finally gave us the chance to celebrate queer lives beyond the stereotypes of the mincing comic, the angst-ridden victim, the wistful lover pining in silence. We’ve come a long way from the faux-gay jokes of Dostana to the family rom-com Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan and the wedding-planner in Made in Heaven, a man who is unapologetically gay yet not defined by his sexuality. The verdict also freed companies who wanted to do right by their LGBTQ employees but felt circumscribed by Section 377 being the law of the land. Parmesh Shahani, the author of Queeristan: LGBTQ Inclusion in the Workplace, told me once that while traumatic LGBTQ experiences in the workplace are all too common, there were also stories of “hope and possibility” like the parents who come to an LGBTQ job fair to check out whether a company is queer-friendly enough or the company that does not just hire transgenders but also tries to find them housing because many landlords won’t rent to them.

On the second anniversary of the fall of Section 377, especially in a year as bleak as this, it feels all the more important to hold on to these stories of hope. India, in some ways, has been lucky. As the response to Asrani’s tweet showed, the 377 verdict came as a relief to many opinion-makers, left, right and centre, who saw criminalisation of homosexuality as an embarrassing throwback that undermined their own self-image of India as a modern state in a global liberal economy.

The danger is with increased and more assertive gay visibility also comes homophobia as Mark Gevisser shows in his new book The Pink Line. That has yielded political dividends in ultra nationalist projects as far afield as Russia and Uganda, with gay rights becoming a convenient excuse to target the European Union or the United States for imposing their own “liberal globalised commodity culture” and values on sovereign nations, pilloried as a new kind of cultural colonialism. Of course the irony is the anti-gay laws themselves were also the bequest of those same European states. All this to show that the path from decriminalisation to acceptance in a post-377 India will not necessarily be easy.

But on this day, the anniversary of a ruling where a Supreme Court judge said history owed LGBT Indians an apology for the ignominy and ostracism they suffered, it’s also okay to just pause, breathe and remember that gay stories too deserve happy endings.

Courtesy - TOI


Stepping back: India, China agree to disengage. But New Delhi must keep its guard up :The Times of India Editorial

In a cautious breakthrough, India and China have come to an understanding about de-escalating tensions along the LAC and begun withdrawing their troops from flashpoint sites. The decision came after a two-hour-long negotiation between India’s national security adviser Ajit Doval and China’s foreign minister Wang Yi, and involves a step-by-step process and creation of buffer zones. Such a zone has already been created at PP-14 in the Galwan valley that saw bloody clashes between the two sides on June 15. The PLA has reportedly removed its temporary structures at PP-14 to pull back by about 1.5 km to its side of the LAC.

Similar arrangements are also underway in the Gogra Hot Springs area as part of phase-1 of the pullback. But getting the Chinese to withdraw from the north bank of Pangong Tso, where they have constructed massive infrastructure, will be more difficult. In fact, the buffer zones themselves deny Indian troops access to patrolling points they have traditionally traversed. Finally, with the Chinese presence in the Depsang Plains still to be taken up, the disengagement and de-induction process may take several months.

Of course, India has to be alert throughout this period should the Chinese – who are masterful at deploying the ‘two steps forward, one step back’ strategy – again go back on their word to disengage. Besides, China this time has made fresh claims over the entire Galwan valley and continues to insist that it was in the right during the brutal clashes there. Beijing has also made large new territorial claims in eastern Bhutan bordering India’s Arunachal Pradesh – fulfilling which will require the Chinese to acquire the latter too.

All this clearly shows that China will not relent on pressuring India along the LAC. New Delhi, therefore, has to be prepared for a two front war as any conflict with Beijing will likely draw in Islamabad as well. We also need to bridge the vast power gap with China. India’s obsession with populist politics – see editorial below for one of myriad instances – doesn’t help here as it distracts from the real task of growing India’s economy and military might. It’s telling that India today is the world’s third largest military spender and second largest arms importer, yet suffers from shortage of critical weapons platforms. The Chinese, meanwhile, have their own fifth generation fighter. It’s time to get serious if we intend to successfully counter an expansionist China.

Courtesy - The Times of India.

Get peace in return: ‘Face’ is very important in China. Allow the Chinese to save face : The Times of India Editorials

As if a global pandemic and a severe economic recession weren’t enough, we now have a serious Indo-China border conflict in Ladakh too. Both sides had casualties for the first time in four decades. We lost 20 soldiers, which is heart-breaking and terrible.

Chad Crowe

Multiple sources say China started it all. They made an incursion from the current line of control into the Indian side. To break the precarious balance at the border seemed unnecessary. The loss of Indian lives is also unwarranted. As patriotic Indians, it fills us with rage. A full blown military retaliation may even be what the heart wants. After all, we seek accountability. We also want to send a message that this won’t be tolerated.

Yet, if we listen to our heads too (which we must here), we may realise that a violent retaliation may end up harming us a lot too. More anger isn’t more patriotism. Staying calm and thinking strategically through this situation could serve India much better.

To design a response, it’s important to assess the economic, military and diplomatic might of the two countries. Bravado and love for country is one thing, where India stacks up against China is quite another. China is five times bigger in GDP economy or in per capita income. This massive difference in wealth means they can outspend us. They can also absorb more pain from a war than we can. Pakistan, our regular adversary for instance, has a GDP only one-tenth the size of India. Obviously, the response has to be different in the two cases.

In terms of military, China and India have the second and third largest militaries in the world. China has around 50% more weaponry and manpower, and triple our military budget. At a localised border conflict, we could match up well. However, in terms of the entire defence force, they come out stronger. They pursued economic growth like crazy for the last four decades, and became rich and powerful. We didn’t. Maybe it’s a lesson for us to focus on what finally matters.

Diplomatically, China is currently going through a bad phase. Its image has taken a beating, especially in being seen as the origin country for the coronavirus and being silent about it for too long. China’s recent law to increase its control over Hong Kong is also seen by the West as going back on its word.

Despite China’s current diplomatic woes, the world’s dependence on China is immense. Diplomacy doesn’t work on hospitality or friendly rapport. Diplomacy works on leverage – who does what for who. China offers cheap and reliable factories for the world. India doesn’t (yet). China offers a huge market with high purchasing power. India offers a huge market too, but an average Indian’s purchasing power is one-fifth that of an average Chinese. Eventually, apart from some lip service in India’s favour, few countries will annoy China over some unheard of Galwan valley. The question then is, what should India do?

First, India shouldn’t escalate the military conflict. If we could have 45 years of peace before this event, we can strive for the same in future too. We need to talk to China, and offer something to get something in return. What could that be?

For this, it’s important to understand two aspects of Chinese culture. These are the concepts of face (miànzi) and mutual dependence (guanxi). After having spent over a decade living in that part of the world and dealing with Chinese companies, I can affirm these two concepts drive business and relationships there more than anything else.

Face refers to respect, honour and social standing. You can either ‘give face’ (give people respect and social honour) or make them ‘lose face’ (make them feel ashamed socially). Chinese people will do anything to ‘keep face’. They will feel compelled to retaliate if they ‘lose face’. When we fight with Pakistan we routinely insult, yell and make fun of each other – wearing emotions on sleeves. The Chinese, however, see a brazen public display of emotion as losing face.

However, if we can give the Chinese face (lost globally due to coronavirus), it could earn us something in return. If we stop insulting them, and treat them as an adversary but with respect, we will have a different outcome. We have Pakistan to vent our frustrations on. Don’t do that with China, at least at the government levels. Instead, we can get them face in the world (highlight their efforts post-pandemic to help other countries for instance). In return, we will get assurance of less border conflict. This may work much better than our unchecked aggression.

‘Guanxi’ is usually translated as ‘social connections’ or ‘relationships’. It’s simply, you scratch my back, I scratch yours (finds resonance in India too). What can we do for China? We can help their current image problems. We can occasionally take their side when the US bashes them, and not become too loyal to the US. We can make them feel less threatened about taking manufacturing away from them (many Indian manufacturing plants are Chinese JVs anyway). In return, we would want no trouble at the border – ever, and a public acknowledgement of that.

A non-military approach, which syncs better with Chinese culture will work far better in resolving our disputes with China. Let’s be less angry and more strategic here. Let’s give the Chinese some face and get peace in return.
Courtesy - The Times of India.

UP’s gun problem: Illegal firearms in the state a serious concern : The Times of India Editorials

At least eight UP police personnel, including a DSP, were killed in an encounter with criminals in Kanpur. The encounter took place when the police team was on its way to arrest Vikas Dubey, a history sheeter facing 60 criminal cases, on the intervening night of Thursday and Friday. Meanwhile, in Delhi a 17-year-old girl and her 15-year-old sister were shot at by two youths outside their house. The older girl’s fiancé suspected her of having an illicit relationship and wanted to kill her – using a pistol purchased from his village in UP’s Badaun for Rs 8,000.

Both cases show that access to illegal guns, especially in the UP-Bihar belt, has become a real problem. While Bihar’s Munger region has long been known for manufacture of illegal guns, over the last few years the trade has slowly shifted to UP’s Meerut area due to sustained police crackdown in Munger. This brings the hub of illegal firearms manufacturing closer to the national capital. In fact, such is the illegal gun problem in the country that in more than 90% of homicides committed using guns, illegal firearms are involved.

India has more than 71 million firearms, the second highest in the world after the US. But only about 10 million of these are licensed and registered. Which means that despite having one of the strictest gun control laws in the world, around 86% of civilian firearms in the country are illegal. Unlike the US, India’s law enforcement mechanism is weak, particularly in a state like UP which is too big for effective administration. And a thriving illegal gun industry further challenges the law and order machinery, allowing criminality to pervade other facets of public life like politics. The UP government must redouble its efforts to bust the state’s illegal gun trade, before it gets completely out of hand.
Courtesy - The Times of India.

The dame that got it right: Saroj Khan and female sexuality in Hindi films : The Times of India Editorials

Female sexuality has always been a tricky thing. While a man’s bare body, bulging muscles or toned abs are fine for display, a woman’s body has had to be just enough clothed and enough bare (and she herself just enough coy and enough of bold), for it to be in the realm of either sensuous or pornographic. It has been a balance that only a few have been able to work out right. And in the world of Hindi films, one name that will always stand forth for how she got that balance right in the making of the greatest female superstars, is Saroj Khan. Saroj Khan’s dance moves were talked about for their sensuousness, sometimes bordering on the erotic. And in them, a positive female sexuality blazed across the screen.

Saroj Khan or ‘masterji’ as she was widely known, had a singular and long career, and it would not be an overstatement to say that she, in a large part, was responsible for shaping the star persona of Sridevi, and to a greater extent Madhuri Dixit, both rising to become stars who could call the shots in a male dominated industry.

The stardom of both Sridevi and Madhuri was created, to a large extent, in and through their dance numbers. And both had prioritised working with Saroj Khan, who helped create for them their most popular song numbers, and most potent of screen spaces. And within these spaces, the female actor came into her own, holding forth a body that was constituted and empowered by a desire that was uninhibited yet sensuous, unabashed but delicate. And wherein femininity was about its openness as much as it was about its suggestiveness.

Saroj Khan choreographed such chartbusters as Madhuri’s ‘Ek do teen’ from her first hit Tezaab, ‘Humko aaj-kal hai intezaar’, ‘Choli ke peeche’ or Sridevi’s ‘Kate nahi katte’, and many more. In her hands, the Hindi film song became a space for critically configuring female sexual desire and indulgence as a compelling, and a ‘done’ thing. And for playing it up for the camera in so direct a manner that it made for a remarkable agency, something quite unprecedented for the Hindi film heroine. In lesser hands, it stood the risk of being less suggestive and more explicit, which might have spoilt it entirely.

Saroj Khan had possibly known only too well that an enduring female assertiveness was best tested and done within the space of a song-and-dance, a space of performance and enjoyment as it were, and somehow standing apart from the main storyline of the movie. Occasionally, it entered a realm of fantasy like in the ‘Kate nahi katte’ number from Mr India. And therein lay its subversive power. And its ability to create powerful fantasies and dreams around these female actors, and enthrone them at a par with their male counterparts. Fantasies that did not simply involve a male gaze of the female body, but of having that gaze returned in a measure that was equal, if not more. The very powerful fantasy of the opposite sex taking over male prerogative and becoming an initiator, of a female body that was sometimes so vibrant that it almost seemed happy to be pleasuring its own self. But at the same time, Saroj Khan knew enough of her own world to keep that sensuality pleasurable and non-threatening, she knew what boundaries must not be crossed.

Saroj Khan was the first lady choreographer to get her due in credits. Not only for her hard work, but because she was a survivor in a male dominated and misogynist industry. And in her leading ladies that legacy of survival and trumping the system reached its culmination. Not for nothing does Madhuri Dixit acknowledge Saroj Khan as her ‘guru’. In that pairing, of teacher and her muse, was achieved the greatest of heights. In Madhuri, Saroj Khan was able to sculpt a persona that was assertive and yet did not challenge status quos, and it became the recipe for their success.

Saroj Khan was no great rebel, and it was possibly because she understood what best served her cause. Through her work, she bent the system and still survived in it.
Courtesy - The Times of India.

‘We cannot look at this epidemic as a single axis of how many people are going to become infected’ : The Times of India Editorial

Some states have extended lockdowns, which appear to be the default strategy in combating Covid-19. A lockdown sceptic, Sunetra Gupta, professor of theoretical epidemiology at Oxford, explains the downside to Pinaki Chakraborty:

What were your thoughts on the lockdown?

I was very worried from the start. I felt it was going to cause immense harm and untold damage. So, I didn’t think that it was a good solution. In the UK it is a privilege that is accorded to those who have a steady income, nice houses and gardens and so you could immediately see the inequality highlighted by a lockdown. If someone does not have much you can’t tell them to stay at home during lockdown. That is true in the UK, but is also true in Dharavi. The thought of such sanctions being imposed in India and other countries with similar problems sends chills through me.

What does a developing country do when they don’t have health infrastructure in place?

This is just one disease. Let’s face it, we don’t have the infrastructure in place to prevent the deaths occurring from TB, diarrheal disease and other respiratory infections. We don’t have the health infrastructure and that is an international disgrace. What is being highlighted by this pandemic is a fundamental problem. Lockdown is certainly a way to respond and one can certainly make an argument that you can buy some time with lockdown. It’s possible the UK could have sustained a 2-3 week lockdown, simply to get their act together. But the truth about lockdown is that it’s not sustainable.

Why are states imposing more and more lockdowns when that isn’t the answer?

Why is the UK still in a state of lockdown? Quite a few academics are deeply against the lifting of lockdown. There are two reasons why they think so. One, it may lead to a surge in cases, so that’s the primary point of disagreement with them and I think that there’s enough evidence to suggest that in the UK lifting lockdown will not lead to a massive surge of cases. But my argument has been we cannot look at this epidemic as a single axis of how many people are going to become infected. We have to, like any other disease, weigh it up against the cost of lockdown. So, I think you have to take a broad perspective on these issues.

A huge number of infected are asymptomatic.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that a very large proportion of people do not suffer symptoms if they are infected. It has also started to emerge that many people are innately resistant to infections. So, overall this disease is restricted in becoming serious to a fairly small portion of the population. In areas where they have been contained such as Dharavi, it’s hard to square the density of the population and the infection of the pathogen with number of cases reported and number of deaths, without bringing into the equation that most of them who get the disease are asymptomatic.

In India is it a different situation altogether?

The thing about India is that it is very large and that it may have peaked in places like Mumbai. I would have expected it to have spread much earlier. When India went into lockdown, I thought it had already spread and had not caused too many deaths because of the age structure of the Indian population. Cases are all about testing and it’s difficult to rely on those numbers. It’s completely contingent on how much testing there is and how testing is being conducted, who is being tested. Most are asymptomatic and unless we do a thorough testing, it’s difficult to say how many cases there are. Deaths are tangible, so one would have to rely on clearly established Covid deaths.

When do you think we will be in a position to get the vaccine? Is it really required?

The vaccine will be very useful in protecting vulnerable people. One thing that has become clear during studies is that deaths are occurring in the elderly or frail. One of the things about India and sub-Saharan Africa is the age factor. Percentage of population in the category of being old and frail is considerably smaller than in the UK. But, in terms of numbers it’s quite high. One could protect them with the vaccine, much as one does with flu. There’s a flu vaccine, which is not great. There are those who are vulnerable, who are not elderly and frail, and who happen to have diabetes and other health issues. So, I think the vaccine will be very helpful in protecting those individuals.

DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author's own.

Courtesy - The Times of India.
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