2ndlook

The Story Of Crime & Prisons

US - world leader in imprisoning people

US - world leader in imprisoning people


A World Of A Difference

USA, with a population of 30 crores (300 million), has a criminal population of 70 lakhs (7 million) – behind bars, on probation or on parole. US Government estimates a figure of 20 lakhs (2 million) people serving prison sentences.

A concerned editorial in New York Times newspaper summed up the situation.

More than 1 in 100 American adults are behind bars. One in nine black men, ages 20 to 34, are serving time, as are 1 in 36 adult Hispanic men. Nationwide, the prison population … (of the US) surpasses all other countries for which there are reliable figures. The 50 states last year spent about $44 billion in tax dollars on corrections, up from nearly $11 billion in 1987. Vermont, Connecticut, Delaware, Michigan and Oregon devote as much money or more to corrections as they do to higher education.

Persuading public officials to adopt a more rational, cost-effective approach to prison policy is a daunting prospect, however, not least because building and running jailhouses has become a major industry.

… the relationship between imprisonment and crime control is murky. States that lagged behind the national average in rising incarceration rates during the 1990’s actually experienced a steeper decline in crime rates than states above the national average … (ellipsis and bracketed text mine).

What goes on here …

The current status of Indian criminal system is a study in contrast. India, with a population of 110 crores (1100 million) has a prison population of 2 lakhs (0.2 million). The Indian National Human Rights Commission gives a figure of 3.5 lakhs as the prison population – including convicts and those who are undergoing trial. The UK Home Office survey of World Prison Population estimates Indian prison population at 2.5 lakhs.

Leader of the free world - leads in imprisonment also

Leader of the free world - leads in imprisonment also

With less than 25 people per 100,000 in prison India has the world’s lowest imprisonment rate. Cynics may snigger at India’s ‘inefficient’ police or the slow court procedures as the cause for this low prison population. That can only mean criminals are at large and India must, therefore have the highest crime rate – which is not true. India has low or average crime rates – based on category.

A police state is the answer …

The other option is if India had a huge police force. But then, India has the lowest police-to-population ratios in the world. Comparative statistics show,

The police-population ratio in India is very poor at 1:728, it was 1:600 as mentioned by the Home Minister in August 2005 to Parliament, with women constables constituting only 2.5 per cent of that number. The all-India average police-population ratio stands at 122 per 100,000, which is much lower than the UN norm of 222 per 100,000 (1:450). Most western countries have ratios between 250 and 500 per 100,000. Russia has a ratio of 1:82 and Australia 1:439. While Pakistan has a ratio of 1:625, Japan and Singapore have 1:563 and 1:295 respectively. Even developing countries like Thailand with 1:228 have a much better ratio than India.

Guns and crime

Gun ownership has been suspected behind the crime rates in the US. But the most recent argument against this theory is the spate of bank robberies – which dilutes this argument – at least partially. Estimates of the national stock of guns in the US varies between 40 million to 50 million households which own 200 million guns.

India is, in many ways, different. Recent estimates show that India is the second largest gun owning population in the world- with 4.6 crores (46 million) guns. One report report states that UP alone has 900,000 licensed fire arm holders and 1,400 arms dealers. Another report estimates more than 3 lakh illegal firearms in New Delhi alone.

The fear of God … and Death …

Capital Punishment

Amnesty International - capital punishment data

The ‘Desert Bloc’ societies are great believers in the death sentence. On the other, year after year, India has had the lowest numbers of death sentences – and executions. For instance, the ‘Grand Debate’ in the US of A, is as schizophrenic as it can get.

A majority of Americans support the idea of capital punishment–although fewer are for it if given a choice of life without parole. At the same time, a substantial number in a recent poll said they could not serve on a death-penalty jury. Our death penalty’s continued existence, countering the trend of the rest of the developed world, expresses our revulsion to violent crime and our belief in personal accountability. (from Death Penalty Walking By David Von Drehle Thursday, Jan. 03, 2008 from TIME magazine)

The Amnesty International website reports,

In 2008, at least 2,390 people were known to have been executed in 25 countries and at least 8,864 people were sentenced to death in 52 countries around the world.

As in previous years, the five countries with the highest number of executions in 2008 were China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the United States of America (Fig. 1). Together these five countries carried out 93 per cent of all executions carried out in 2008.

The spectre of Muslim gunsmiths

Muslims gunsmiths dominate this business – as can be seen from these reports. But the Indian Muslim, has like the rest of the country, not used these firearms dangerously. This is a strong argument against the ‘oppression of the Muslim in India’ argument.

How long would it take to create a religious jihadi militia? That too, at such a low cost.

But what is the question …

Which brings us back to the central question? Is there a causal link between gun ownership and crime? Are these directly related and proportionate?

All the 5 indices (below) create a bias for a lawless Indian society and rampant crime. With these five indices, namely: –

  1. Police to population ratio (‘increase police force’).
  2. Prison population (‘put more criminals behind bars’)
  3. Capital punishment (‘kill enough criminals to instill fear’)
  4. Poverty (‘it is poverty which the root of all crime’)
  5. Gun ownership (‘more guns means more crime’)

against a stable social system, how does India manage low-to-average crime rates.

How can India have such a low prison population, with a poor police-to-population ratio and a crime rate which is not above the average – in spite of a large civilian gun population. The answer goes back to Lipit Ishtar, Hittite laws, Hammurabi et al – 4000 years back in history.

Indian ethical system

More than 2000 years ago, Megasthenes a Greek traveller to India wrote,

Theft is of very rare occurrence. Megasthenes says that those who were in the camp of Sandrakottos, wherein lay 400,000 men, found that the thefts reported on any one day did not exceed the value of two hundred drachmae, and this among a people who have no written laws

Historically, trade in India is governed by शुभ लाभ shubh labh’ – and hence Indians have not been major players in drugs proliferation (unlike Japan, the West in which traded Opium in Korea and China) or in slave trade.

In modern times, though India is a power in computing industry, India is not a big player in spamming or in software virus. In August 2008, there was hoax story, which alleged that an Indian hacker, had broken into a credit card database – and sold to the European underworld – and some ‘experts’ feared that this would spark of a crime wave across Europe.

The Roots Of ‘Modern Law’

The story of crime and prison population gets more interesting after looking at history and tradition of India and the “Desert Bloc.” The ‘Desert religions’ derive their legal inspiration from the Hammurabic Law of 3000 years.

Babylonian laws had a fundamental impact on legal phraseology in the Bible and the classical world including early Rome. They followed the pattern of formulation that Hammurabi and other Mesopotamian lawgivers used, with a case by case listing of standard clauses. Thus the Babylonian laws show parallels with bases of the European tradition of legal thought, and may have inspired them. Yet Hammurabi’s name was not attached to the laws; the Biblical, Classical, and the Islamic traditions did not remember him, and he was fully forgotten. The situation was only reversed when Europeans, in the mid-nineteenth century AD, started the archaeological exploration of the Middle East and deciphered the cuneiform scripts. By accident, Hammurabi’s name appeared among the earliest inscriptions found. (from King Hammurabi of Babylon By Marc Van de Mieroop)

Sons Of Hammurabi

Western historians glorified Hammurabi as the world’s first law giver – and Occidental-Levantine (including the Shariat) laws are based on Hammurabi’s legal code of “an eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth.” Of course, the modern state of Israel follows the system of two eyes and all your teeth, if you hurt my one eye.

Hammurabi’s laws and edicts were retributive, vengeful and punishment oriented. The focus of Hammurabi’s legal system is to give a ‘fitting’ counter punishment for a defined offense – even in the face of an alternative data set.

The first followers in the last 3000 years, were the Greeks. With fresh slaves, bought with newly discovered gold, the Greeks took their first few steps in defining a legal systems. Draco started the Greek legal code which set standards in severity and repression – death for stealing an apple or a cabbage. Those convicted of idleness were condemned to death. Plutarch reports that one contemporary reported that Draco’s laws “were written not in ink, but blood.” It took Solon, widely travelled in Asia, where Hittite’s liberal laws were still in force, to relax Greek laws.

Romans continued with these legal practices and termed this legal concept as lex talionis. The Old Testament advocated “an eye for an eye” (Hebrew: עין תחת עין; Exodus 21:23-27). Islam set up the system of Shariat laws on the same pattern.

But not in Indic nations. 4000 years after the Hittites, Gandhiji was asked about the Hammurabi’s “eye for an eye” kind of justice. Like the Hittites, Gandhiji rejected Hammurabi’s legal constructs. His famous position was “an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind”.

Results & ConsequencesSiege Mentality

These laws created a system of revenge, fueds and vendettas. The result – fractured Europe, a rampant history of genocide, fueding Middle East.

The largest prison population in the world is USA, currently at 2 million. The US has more people in prison than the totalitarian regimes of Russia or China. USA also has one of the highest crime rates in the world.

Is there a causal link between the Hammurabic legal systems and the crime it seems to engender.

Massacre & Slavery

Hammurabic legal systems also created, supported, protected the premier slave systems of the world. It is also the same system with a singular record for blood baths and massacres in the history of mankind. This is region and system that gave rise to the three slave religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

The three ‘desert religions’, gained their first converts from slaves, but continued with slavery till the 20th century. The 3 ‘desert religions’ instead of reforming slave societies, just enabled the transfer of slave titles. Freedom meant old slaves became the new slave masters.

Western history is replete with examples of blood thirsty conquerors whose achievements were measured by territorial conquest, loot and slave capture.

The Indic Legal SystemBuddha And Angulimaal

The alternate system in that era, 4000 years ago, was the Hittite legal system. We get an insight into the Hittite legal system from (more than) 10,000 clay seals and tablets at Boghaz-koi, unearthed in 1907-08. These tablets and seals reveal the legal minds of the Hittites. Vastly, different from Hammurabic laws, Hittite law, was based on amelioration of the effect of crime and driven less by fear of death and punishment.

The Hittites, Mittanis and Elamites (using Indo-Dravidian languages) were Indo Aryans, who dominated Asia from Indian borders to Europe, till 500 BC. Kassites, the other major ruling clan in Levant’s geography (apart from the Egyptians) heavily adopted Indo Aryan cultural motifs.

The Indic (Hittite) legal revolution 4000 years ago plays out even today.

The Indic Bloc rejects Hammurabi

The earliest legend on justice in India is Silappathikaram (Tamil: சிலப்பதிகாரம்). Written by Ilango Adigal /Elangovadigal, supposed brother of Cheran Senguttavan. In the famous play, Silappadhikaaram, (also Silappatikaram) was about miscarriage of justice. The protagonist in the play is King Neduncheziyan.

Neduncheziyan is famous (in Tamil literature) as the fabled, erring Pandyan King in the Tamil classic – Silappadhikaaram. Neduncheziyan’s mistaken justice, brings him grief – and finally death. This classic, written by Jain saint, Ilango Adigal /Elangovadigal, Neduncheziyan in the Tamil classic, is overshadowed by the other real King, Cheran Senguttuvan – whose brother is Ilangoadigal.

And who is Neduncheziyan?

Replace ‘d’ with ‘b’ and you are with Nebuchadnezzar – famous as Babylonian Kings. With a name very close to the Tamil name of Neduncheziyan (Nedunchedianuru) – a current and modern Tamil name. And Nebuchadnezzars were successors of of Hammurabi. Who also waged war against the Elam kingdom, (ca1764).

There are at least four – but we are interested in two of them. The first was Nebuchadnezzar I (ca1126-ca1105) who invaded Elam (the Dravidian rulers of modern Iran). But it was Nebuchadnezzar II, who commissioned one of the wonders of the ancient world – The Hanging Gardens of Babylon – for Amytis, his homesick Elamite princess. Amytis, the daughter of the Median King, (a neo Elamite King), longed for the greenery of her homeland.

A prominent ruler of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar-II, 605-562 BC, (as spelt in English) not only married an Elamite princess, but also took on an Elamite name (related to the Dravidian languages).

Nebuchadnezzar III (Niditu-bel), who rebelled against Darius I of Persia in 522 BC and Nebuchadnezzar IV (Arakha), who rebelled against Darius I of Persia in 521 BC are the other two.

Gautama Buddha won his spurs after converting daaku “Angulimal.” Daaku Angulimal was a notorious criminal – who severed thumbs of his victims, as mementoes from many murders. During his encounter with Buddha, the Daaku was left standing and powerless – only to give up his ways.

Gandhiji and the Calcutta Riots

Commandent of Moradabad, Lt. Col. Coke, wrote in 1822:

“Our endeavour should be to uphold in full force the (for us fortunate) separation which exists between the different religions and races, not to endeavor to amalgamate them. Divide et Impera should be the principle of Indian government.”

The Morley-Minto Reforms of 1909 paved the way for communalization of India. From 1910-1940, the British vigorously implemented the ‘divide and rule’ policy. At the time of 1947 partition, organized gangs started communal riots. Kolkatta (then Calcutta) was in flames. More than 4000 people died. The British Raj was a mute bystander. In contrast, areas ruled by the ‘decadent’ and ‘feudal’ Indian maharajahs, did not see such a magnitude of communal riots.Gandhiji In Calcutta Riots

Cut to Gandhiji during the Calcutta riots. Gandhiji met Hindu and Muslim leaders (and gangsters). Riots ceased. The effect of this came to be known as the Calcutta Miracle. After bloody riots, people came forward to lay down arms. Gandhiji, in an encounter with a sobbing rioteer who confesses to killing a Muslim child – in a revenge killing. Gandhiji suggested that as repentance, the rioter adopt and raise a Muslim orphan child.

The Age Of Dacoits

Dacoity is a uniquely Indian-English word – made, formed and used in India. Derived from the Hindi word daaku, Dacoits were (and are) outlaws operating at the periphery of legitimacy – and morality. These brigands were a response to the shrinking opportunity base due to colonial practices (some of which continue) in India. These dacoits typically did not usually target the State itself or the poor.

Vinod Khanna In Mera Gaon Mera DeshMany successful films were made revolving around these dacoits. Sunil Dutt built his career around dacoit films like ‘Mujhe Jeene Do’ and ‘Praan Jaye Par Vachana Na Jaye’. ‘Mera Gaon Mera Desh’, a pioneering dacoit film, made Dharmendra and Vinod Khanna into super stars. ‘Sholay’, an all time big hit centered around a dacoit running amok – with a powerless State.

The target of the dacoits were the beneficiaries of the system – the rich. Since, the dacoits did not directly challenge the might of the State, the state was not very worried about these dacoits. But loot, these dacoits did. Especially the rich. In the 1960-1970s, dacoity had acquired fearsome proportions. Large swathes of some Indian states were beyond the pale of law – and authority.

Jayaprakash Narayan And Sampoorna Kranti

Post-colonial India was gradually reconstructing its economy. The building blocks of a competitive economy were being put in place. Shortages, inflation were endemic. In such an atmosphere, dacoits started acquiring overtones as a sign of a ‘failing’ Indian state.Jayaprkash Narayan

One man stepped forward and made these daakus see sense. In April 1972, 500 of these dacoits surrendered to the State. These murderous dacoits surrendered at the appeal of a man who never held any office of power (or pelf). Jayaprakash Narayan was the man, at whose behest these Chambal daakus surrendered. Some of these dacoits became members of the Indian Parliament. Jayaprakash Narayan, who at one time, was seen as second only to Nehru, gave up electoral politics in 1954 and worked on the Bhoodan movement with Acharya Vinoba Bhave.

Criminals In The Indian Parliament

For the last 10 years, more than 20% of the elected representatives in national and state parliaments had criminal charges pending against them. In some cases, the charges were petty and manufactured by political rivals. Reality is, that there are criminals in Indian Parliaments. Some criminals like Shahabuddin were, of course, less elected and more manipulated into the Parliament.

Typically, India baiters revel in this and Indians are concerned about this. But, not The Indian Voter. He is unwilling to demonize candidates with a criminal record. The Indian Voter seems to definitely ambivalent about the criminal record of some of the candidates.Marooned Mumbai

Interestingly, (and importantly) how does the Indian Criminal respond to this ambivalence and ‘softness’ – one can even call it an act of faith?

Mumbai -July 26th 2005

944 mm of rains in a matter of 4 hours. It was the single largest downpour in the last 100 years of weather records in the world – over an urban agglomeration. No city in recorded history has received so much rain.

Mumbai was paralysed. Communications lines went down. Electricity black outs engulfed parts of the city. On the arterial road across the Mumbai (the Western Express Highway), thousands of cars were marooned and abandoned by owners. Of these hundreds were BMWs, Mercedes-Benz, Honda Accents, SUVs like Pajeros, Landcruisers – abandoned on the roads. It took the city 4 days to recover. For three days, Mumbai was at standstill.

SWAT team drives past Convention Center, New Orleans.Criminals, technically, had a free run of the city. Much like New Orleans after Katrina. Vandalism, rape, pilferage could have easily happened.

Just the wipers, door handles, car tyres, headlights, car stereos from these high end cars would have yielded around Rs.25,000-Rs.50,000 (US$600-US$1200) per car in the ‘grey market’ – attractive targets for criminals during these 3 days.

How many of these cars were, finally, vandalized? None. No such incident was (at least) reported. Unlike New Orleans and Katrina where the National Guard had to be called out. How many women were raped?

None reported – but spontaneously, many Mumbaikars set up free tea stalls for the stranded. Strangers sheltered stranded people at their homes. Of course, there have been posts that Katrina reports were exaggerated and unsubstantiated.

https://i2.wp.com/farm1.static.flickr.com/48/113413705_0236c9dea0.jpgCriminal As A Human

It is this non-vindictive treatment of the criminal through myth and example, in ancient and modern time that has differentiated exercize of authority in India and handling of the criminal. It is this treatment that makes India and the Indian criminal different.

Modern econometric modelling has an interesting perspective on Indian economy where research shows that for much of the last 1000 years, India has been a significant economic power till the 1900. China and India, this analysis estimates, for the last 1000 years, accounted for 50% of the world economy. Statistical analyses showed India with a world trade share of 25% for much of the 500 years during 1400-1900.

With this prosperity, the most interesting (historical) aspect of the criminal management story is the absence of any surviving mass jails in India prior to colonial India. Just how did pre-colonial India, one of the largest (and most prosperous) populations of the world, deal with crime and criminals?

Marooned Mumbai

Feminism, Women, Social Position, et al

Posted in Feminist Issues, History, Uncategorized by Anuraag Sanghi on November 13, 2007

Indian women in the ancient world …

One of the wonders of the ancient world was The Hanging Gardens of Babylon – commissioned by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon for Amytis, his homesick Elamite princess. Amytis, the daughter of the Median King, (a neo Elamite King), longed for the greenery of her homeland. A prominent ruler of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, 605-562 BC, (as spelt in English) not only married a Elamite princess, but also took on an Elamite name (related to the Dravidian languages). Replace ‘b’ with ‘d’ and you are very close the Tamil name of Neduncheziyan (Nedunchedianuru) – a current and modern Tamil name.

Interestingly, Neduncheziyan is more famous as the fabled erring Pandyan King in the Tamil classic – Silappadhikaaram. Neduncheziyan’s mistaken justice, brings him grief and finally death. In the Tamil classic, Neduncheziyan is overshadowed by the other King, Cheran Senguttavan. Cheran Senguttuvan’s fame rests today on the Tamil classic, Silappadhikaaram – written by Jain Saint, Elangovadigal.

And who were the Elamites?

The Elamites

The people of Elam (yes in Tamil, Eelam means homeland), were the first to civilise the Iranian Peninsula in the 2700 BC period. They were contemporaries of the Egyptians, the Mittanis and the Hittites. The Elamites were a significant people till the 800BC in Persia (modern day Iran).

The Elamites concluded a major treaty with the Akkadian, King Naram-sin (Naram to Narain and Sin is the moon goddess, Chandra; possibly Narayan Chandra). Akkadian language, is itself implicated of being in cahoots with Sanskrit and Indus Valley languages – and the creation and spread of most modern languages. The Elam culture had a language which is similar to Dravidian languages. Elamites were founders of the first kingdom in the Iranian geography.Bas relief From Susan

The Greatest Chariot Battle In History

1301 BC. An Egyptian land army, numbering more than 20,000, (divided in 4 divisions) was raised. The leader – Pharoah Ramesses-II of the XIX Dynasty. They were out to punish a small kingdom of Hittites, for trying to lure Amuru, Egyptian vassals, to their side. Another force set sail, in ships, to reach Byblos and squeeze the Hittites in the world’s first pincer movement.

What followed was a historic chariot battle.

Peace broke when the queens of Hatti and Egypt, Puduhepa and Nefertari, both of Indo-Aryan extract and parentage, respectively, sent one another congratulatary gifts and letters. Over the next 15 years, they arrived at modus vivendi and drafted a peace treaty.

This peace treaty is the first in recorded history. A replica of this peace pact, in cuneiform tablet, found at Hattusas, Boghazkoi, hangs above the Security Council Chamber, United Nations, in New York, – a demonstration to modern nations the power of peace through international treaties.

Enter The Mittanis

One series are letters written by a Mittani king named Tushratta (meaning ” of splendid chariots”, similar to Dashratha meaning ” of ten chariots”) writes to his son-in-law, Amenhotep III, the king of Egypt ( the letter reads much like an Indian father-in-law’s letter will). Amenhotep married Tadukhepa, Tushratta’s daughter.

In these letters Tushrutta reminds Amenhotep, how his father, Thutmose IV had sought marriage seven times, with Tushrutta’s daughter, before this marriage to, Tadukhipa, was agreed upon.

Hittites were one of the main branches of Indics in the region. Ramesis II is about 100 years after Akhenaten – (एकनाथन Eknathan meaning One God in Sanskrit). Akhenaten’s father, Amenhotep-III who wanted to marry the Mittani (another Indic kingdom) princess, daughter of Dashratta (Tushrutta).

Similarly, in order to marry Hattusil II’s daughter, the Amorite King Putakhi agreed, in the treaty of alliance for a specific clause “to the effect that the sovereignty over the Amorite should belong to the son and descendants of his daughter for evermore”.

The daughter of King Artatama was married to Tuthmose IV, Akhenaten’s grandfather, and the daughter of Sutarna II (Gilukhipa, – “khipa” of these names is the Sanskrit “kshipa,” night) was married to his father, Amenhotep III (1390-1352 BC), the great temple builder (alike the focus on temple construction in South East Asia 1000 years later).

Queen Sitamen

Queen Sitamen

In his old age, Amenhotep wrote to Dasharatha many (7 requests are documented and evidenced) times wishing to marry his daughter, Tadukhipa. It appears that by the time she arrived Amenhotep III was dead. Tadukhipa married the new king Akhenaten and she became famous as the queen Kiya (short for Khipa).

What is it, about these Indic princesses, that made them so sought after?

Indic women and Political Power

Interestingly, most Indic countries have had women in political power – in the post WW2 nations. Srimavo Badranaike, Indira Gandhi, Benazir Bhutto, Shaikh Hasina, Khalida Zia, Sukarnoputri, (not to forget Mayawati, Jayalalitha, Uma Bharathi) were amongst the first in the world to rule their countries. The three divas/devis of Indonesia are not a co-incidence. Aung San Suu Kyi is waiting in the wings to add to this list.

An all-time favorite is, of course, the USA without a woman President, Chief Justice. So, much for political opportunity in the land of the free!

Economic Power

India has the world’s largest private Indian gold reserves! And it is Indian women who have created, maintained these reserves over the centuries even to the amusement of the westerners. It is RBI’s failure that India has no financial instrument to make this gold, liquid, usable and empower India(n women).

Chinese Guanyin Figure

Chinese Guanyin Figure

Religious

The 2 most important festivals in India – Deepavali and Dusshera, are devoted to Lakshmi and Durga. Feminine goddesses. How many societies in the world have any female deities at all? Which society celebrates the biggest days in the year with female deities?

Marija Gimbutas, a Lithuanian archaeologist, an expert in 16 European languages, excavated sites of Vinca, Starcevo, Karanovo and Sesklo cultures. Based on some pioneering work, she suggested that Indo-European cultures have descended from matristic (not even matriarchal) cultures which also worshiped “mother goddess” or female deities – something which starts happening from Indic cultures only. The whole of West Asian, European cultures have no worship of any female deity. Interesting thing is the furore this has caused – How can We Europeans, be female worshipers? is the unspoken objection!

In China, it was Buddhism which enabled the introduction of a female deity, Guanyin (or Kuanyin, Kwan Yin, Miao Shan, 观音觀音), the Goddess of Mercy, in the Chinese pantheon. Though there are 4th century mentions of Guanyin, but it was only 14th century, during the Ming dynasty, that worship of Guanyin became popular.

Working Women

Amongst the poor and low income income families, women are in a position of power as they significant contributors to family income. Malnutrition amongst poor, exists – regardless of gender or age.

Amartya Sen highlights in his landmark study (Poverty and Famines: An Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation By Amartya Sen) about The Great Bengal Famine that “…for every dead woman there were nearly two dead men …” Sir Charles Elliot Famine Commissioner in Mysore in 1876 the general belief about Indian famines that “all authorities seem agreed that women succumb to famine less easily than men.”

However, it was by the beginning of 20th century, that the West put the Birkenhead Drill in place. First used by HMS Birkenhead, in 1852, it allowed orderly evacuation of women and children first. Over the next 50 years this became standard practice. In India, during famines, the old, the children and women were the last to be deprived. It was the men who paid the price.

Role Models

Indian texts, scriptures and classical litertaure has no negative characterisation for a wife – Mandodari, Ahalya, Sita, Draupadi, Kunti – the entire pantheon. The story of Kannagi’s fight for justice for her husband (from the classic Tamil play, Silappatikaram) is repeated in some part of South India, every day, even now, 2000 years later.

The Western frieze of mythical characters includes Delilah, Helen, Clytemnestra , Jezebel murderesses, adulteresses. The entire Greco-Roman frieze does not have a single positive characterisation of a wife.

Women are the source of all evil is current western concept – after all, Eve led Adam to his downfall from the Garden Of Eden. After a war with Midianites, Moses asked the Israelite army to kill all the women captives.

Moses blames the women – and an angry Moses tells the commanders

“of thousands and commanders of hundreds – who returned from the battle.”Have you allowed all the women to live?” he asked them. “They (the women) were the ones who followed Balaam’s advice and were the means of turning the Israelites away from the LORD in what happened at Peor, so that a plague struck the LORD’s people. Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.” (Italics, emphasis, bold letters mine).

In India a Grihalakshmi can take her Pati Parmeshwar anywhere in life.

Universal Suffrage

Universal suffrage came to the USA, Britain, France, Belgium, Canada, Australia after a long struggle. The USA had to pass the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920; Italy in 1945; Canada in 1940; France gave women the right to vote in 1945; Switzerland in 1971 gave its women the right to vote in all elections.

These “advanced” countries, gave women the right to vote after a long struggle. In India, universal suffrage in 1950 started from the very first election in sovereign India. Without any female activism, Republican India had universal adult franchise from the very first day.

Education And Women

Indian women have been doctors, lawyers – and freedom fighters. The role of women like Sarojini Naidu, Kamala Nehru, Kasturba Gandhi’s Annie Beseant, Madam Cama is more famous than known.

An interesting insight on the role that Indian women are playing in education is highlighted in – “Postcolonialism, Feminism, and Religious Discourse” by Laura E. Donaldson, Pui-lan Kwok. Indian women have been in the vanguard of the Indian culture – Bharatnatyam, Classical Indian Music and Sanskrit. If Indian culture survives another 100 years, Indian Woman, you saved it.

In the explosive TV content sphere, it is a matter of interest that TV stars are women – and men seem to be playing a nominal role (of looking good; next to their women).

Indian Women & Fashion

Much to the grief of Luciano Bennetton, Indian women have not taken after western fashion – unlike Indian men. Indian women have changed their fashion sense – from very regional variations to the very pan-Indian salwar kameez. But Indian.

But 2300 years before Luciano Bennetton, when Alexander’s armies visited India, one of the few things they could take away were Indian clothes. Indian clothing became popular in Macedonia. The Macedonian national costume is the salvaria – which is the same as the salwar of the Indian North West. The entire North West Indian sub-continent, from Punjab to Afghanistan wears the salwar – which is tubular leggings.

This is a unisex garment – like the sari /dhoti also is. And popular all over India today. Unlike other parts of the world, where women were forced to conform to a male standards and prescriptions of dressing, Indian women were free and dressed like their men did (Feminists note – Indian men were forced to dress, like their women did, since you insist).

Unisex clothing, saris and dhotis dominate the Indian plains, and the salwars, in the North West mountain regions of Indian sub-continent. The Indo-Scythians used leather leggings – which were helpful in case of long marches on horse backs.

Criminals & Rape

While the press and activists beat their breasts about crimes against women, an interesting first hand insight that I can share. In Indian prisons, criminals and under-trials accused of rape are shunned by all other prisoners. They are not welcome in by other prisoners – in any any social activity. This is one crime that other criminals do not accept. However, much Indian films may show criminals targeting women, in reality, inside prison walls, criminals who have targeted women are not accepted.

Divide et impera

Indian women have a poor status in society – just like all other Indians. Period.

Indian society, due to economic poverty, political evolution, social changes has a long way to go before people (women, men and children) are treated right. Indian poli+bureau+crats are following their old colonial gurus and using ‘divide et impera’ divide and rule strategy. Further, western agenda, ideology, humungous funds drive many governmental programmes – which further creates false issues.

So, there are a myriad lost causes – child labour, dowry, poverty, backward classes, reservations, each one of which divides and gets lost in the “dreary desert sands”. Isolating “women’s” causes just furthers the date when everybody will get treated right. And that is my quarrel with all these sociologists, feminists, NGO groups who have serious misgivings about the status and empowerment of women in Indian society.

These misgivings – based on anecdotal evidence, ‘international’ (read as western) imagery and paradigms, social biases and prejudices completely miss the picture.

Post Script

Shobha Narayan, a columnist, wrote,

Correct me if I am wrong, but I think Indian clothes are on the verge of dying out of corporate India. Sure, there are women executives who wear saris: ICICI’s Renuka Ramnath, Britannia’s Vinita Bali and HSBC’s Naina Lal Kidwai come to mind. In Bangalore, I am proud to say that prominent women such as Sudha Murthy and Rohini Nilekani don’t just wear Indian clothes, but bindis as well.

Unlike traditional Japanese attire such as the kimono, Indian clothes are wonderfully adaptable and comfortable. Nobody even knows what traditional Chinese clothing is. You have to go to Lijiang and Dali and observe pretty maidens from the Yi tribe in colourful red clothes to realize what China has lost in its race for economic prosperity at all costs

For my Delhi gig, I took the middle path, which I guess is the same as copping out. I wore Western clothes for one session and Indian clothes for another. I am not proud of my choice. I feel that I should have worn Indian clothes throughout, particularly in light of what I’ve just said. But cut me some slack, okay? It was my first presentation and I wanted to blend in.

Shoba Narayan has spent time in three countries – India, the United States and Singapore. After graduation, she enrolled as a Foreign Fellow at Mount Holyoke College where she majored in Fine Arts, focusing on welded steel sculptures. She went on to do five years of Art – three in graduate school in Memphis, and a summer at the Vermont Studio Center in Johnson, Vermont.

After marriage, … she attended Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism (J-school) and received a Master’s degree. She also won the Pulitzer Travelling Fellowship awarded to the top three students in each graduating class. Armed with the degree, she pursued a career in freelance journalism, writing for many publications including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, Condenast Traveler, Time, Gourmet, Food & Wine, Saveur, Newsweek, Beliefnet and House Beautiful, among others. She also worked as a commentator for NPR’s All Things Considered Weekend.

Shoba’s first book, “Monsoon Diary: A Memoir with Recipes” was published in April 2003 by Random House. She lives in Bangalore, India with her husband and two daughters.

And no! Indian clothes (and whole parts of India) are not dying out, Shobha! There are Indian Women (many more like you) taking care of that! Thanks.

But a rare piece of journalism was recently in the Times Of India. Untouched by Western effacement of Indian alternatives, this post makes some interesting points about the role of Indian women in Indian politics.

“A patriarchal ethos dominates both the societies, American and Indian, but they operate in different ways. In India, despite the patriarchal ethos, powerful women leaders have emerged,” says political scientist Imtiaz Ahmed.

The most famous examples are BSP chief Mayawati and AIADMK head Jayalalitha. Both emerged from the shadow of iconic godfathers, to establish themselves as leaders with grassroots support.

Neerja Gopal Jayal, professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University’s centre of law and governance points out that “Even at the panchayat level, we have had women from the member families being nominated. But the first time, patronage may work but not the second time. And this is true at the national level too.”

Clearly, the Indian system — or lack of it — gives space to those who have no political backing or godfathers. For every Jayalalitha, Sonia Gandhi or Sheila Dikshit, there is a Mamata Banerjee, Sushma Swaraj and Renuka Chaudhary.

Ranjana Kumari, director of the Centre for Social Research says, “What is unique to India, is the fact that women have the space to grow as leaders. Maybe, it has to do with our cultural ethos, where women are worshipped as goddesses.’’

More power to you Indian Woman.

Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
%d bloggers like this: