Friday, 16 November 2018

Patriarchy cuts al(l)ways

One evening, Sohan was going through his Facebook wall. He read the #metoo status of Rohini and felt like sharing it. He copied and pasted the status, recalling a heinous incident he went through. Little did he know, that the night will pass pacifying his batchmates in a college facebook group, in response to his unexpected status. Memes were being shared on the group with the morphed images(his face imposed on the body of a bollywood heroine). That night, he became the hot target of jokes. In the end, he decided to delete that post and deactivate his FB account.

It is an illustration of the effect of Patriarchy which is little known in our society. Patriarchy is the social system governing rigid dichotomy of gender roles, in which males predominate in the roles of political leadership, social privilege and economic control of property. According to the concept of patriarchy, men are supposed to be strong, unemotional and logical. While, women are supposed to be expressive, caring, weak and dependent. This differentiation is mostly justified as per the inherent natural biological differences and is further reinforced with the empirical evidences and theory like "The men are from Mars, and women are from Venus". Thanks to our long term conditioning, the force of patriarchy has become the water that we all swim in like fish irrespective of the gender. In conventional and plain understanding, the victim is a woman while the perpetrators might be men or society in general.

In this article, I will discuss the lesser known dimension of Patriarchy, i.e., man as victim of patriarchy.

Lets begin from the childhood. The typical notion is that men are not expressive, but have you ever wondered, a 2 year old baby boy cries as much as a baby girl does. So, gender has no role to play right from the childhood. It is the social conditioning that forces a boy to wear a mask as time passes. A newborn baby girl is draped in a pink towel, while a newborn baby boy in a blue towel from the hospital itself. The segregation begins here, pink dolls vs blue trucks, fairytales vs Super Heroes.
Even in schools, in the class of SUPW(socially useful and productive work) , a girl is given the fair opportunity to explore her artistic talent by making flower  or rangoli or mehandi designs. It is a free class for the boys. Even punishment in school varies for the two genders. Since the boy is supposed to be rough and tough, he will be punished (murgha punishment) more severely than a girl child(usually the standing punishment).  A brother is supposed to take care of her sister(may it be younger or the elder one), pick her up late at night from her friend's place.

Alas! boys are systematically brutalized in order to prepare them for positions of domination. "Mard ko dard nahi hota" , "hath me chudiya pehni h kya", "real men don’t cry", type of mentality is forced down their throats, robbing them of core aspects of their humanity. To be more explicit, patriarchy is a form of cultural violence, which includes the physical, emotional, and spiritual brutalization of boys. The beauty of an equally responsible relationship and magnanimity of sharing and caring are not the essential elements expected from them.

When there has been hue and cry about the violence inflicted by males in our society, we forget the fact that no human being would ever do anything harmful to another human being, if they didn’t get brutalized in the first place, to the point where they lose the contact with their own natural self and it erodes their generosity, compassion and kindness.

Going further, as soon as a boy turns 25, job pressure starts building upon him. And by the time he turns 28, he is supposed to be the breadwinner of the family, which means he should choose a ‘stable’, socially acceptable and ‘masculine’ career rather than go after his passion which isn’t usually expected from women. In choosing a career of fashion consultant, he might have to pay the cost of being labelled as a gay or a pervert. He faces the restriction on the choice of clothing, the company, pursuing his passion.  How many guys can get their legs shaved(despite scorching summers) without being judged? Their choice is also ultimately dictated by the social norms.

While getting married, he is supposed to protect his male ego, where he cannot accept a girl of higher social or economic rank in the social hierarchy without challenges. The pressure to outperform his life partner never wholeheartedly allows him to support her (Watch the movie Akele hum Akele Tum).

Post marriage, women are seen as natural caretakers of the household, while men are discouraged from spending too much time with the children. Since the childcare is seen as a feminine activity, the fathers remain alienated from the feeling of being emotionally connected to their kids. Father figure has limited role of providing financial security to the kids. In the bollywood movie, Kabhi khushi kabhi gum, Amitabh Bachchan too was a victim of this phenomenon. Despite having emotions for his son, he had to pretend as a stone hearted person. As per social norms, men and women can't be equal parents to their children. It says that women are considered fit to take care of children and this results in women getting custody of children in maximum cases of divorce.

Patriarchy denies emotional literacy to men. The rigid gender norms might also be the reason behind high rates of suicides among men as men are less likely to seek help for emotional problems. The ingrained fear of being seen as weak puts a lot of pressure to hide their real emotions.

The cult of masculinity further turns a blind eye towards the fact that men can also be the victims of sexual abuse, or domestic violence. And if they were victims it was because they were not being manly enough. Or they are supposed to be sex hungry so their consent is implicit. Similarly, domestic violence is supposed to be directed at women only. While, there is a real possibility of men being victim of domestic violence. 

Men are confined to this conception of what it means to be a man. It forces them to live up to an unachievable standard based simply because they are men.

What can be done?
At societal level, it is impossible to change overnight. But change can begin at home. So start by dis-identifying  or de-associating yourself with everything that you have been conditioned to think or do. Learn cooking when you need to learn this life skill and not because of your gender. Learn to drive as and when needed. Question everything that you do. Undo your socialization and choose what you want to be. Be free of social norms, obligations or fear of being judged. Set your own values free from patriarchal suppositions.
Feminism, a new wave and a new concept is good for men too, since it is the bedrock of gender equality. It seeks to get rid of those archaic norms of what a “real man” or a “real woman" is expected to be. This value needs to be imbibed in the kids of today. [A must read: We should all be feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie(read the book review here)]. 
At the end, humanity, duty, responsibility, kindness and emotions are gender neutral concepts. There is a need to acknowledge that in the current set up there is a problem with gender stereotyping and we must fix it. It needs sensitivity towards and from both the genders. Lets strive towards a world where Sohan and Rohini will be looked at through the same lens. Imagine, how much happier we all would be, shunning the weight of entrenched gender expectations.

Book Review: We should all be Feminists

We should all be Feminists This book is adapted from the TED talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie of the same name.

This book is a personal essay where she talks of the experiences of sexism she faced in Nigeria. It eloquently discusses what feminist means contrary to what it is assumed to be. Feminism is more of equality rather than preferential treatment to one or other sex (I have written a blog post on similar lines: Modern feminism: Equality). Equality is the core of feminism only to be seen with the lens of inclusion and awareness. She argues that the first step to cure discrimination is to acknowledge it and that acknowledgment can come only with the personal touch or an extreme level of empathy. She strengthens and makes her explanation more convincing by exploring the other side too- how the gender divide hurts both the sexes almost equally. As it is only 50 pages long and intriguing book, it’s impossible to leave this book in between and it definitely leaves you with food for thought. Though the author has shared her own experiences and has hardly discussed anything in great detail. Yet further interpretation and exploration is left up to readers who can ponder over their own life and further think or write another 50 pages quoting their own experiences(I was able to do so :P). These instances mostly go unnoticed in our society most of the times, this book helps you pause and think about fresh dimensions of such instances. I clicked a few pages and forward it to my friends narrating the specific instances in past.  This book is a perfect piece where you read less, but have a great takeaway. This book is tiny, insightful and a brilliant short read.  I read this book and became a part of chain (second so far). Passing it on, I recommend this to everyone. Especially, the youngsters who are recently introduced with the concept of feminism.

Monday, 12 November 2018

Last nail in coffin

"I am extremely sorry for my behavior last night, if possible forgive me!!", and she walked into the bedroom.

"Is this sorry enough and for how long?", he posed the question to the empty air in the room.
"Aren't you saying it thousandth time?  I really wish if it could come straight from your heart. But you say it more like your favorite english word having infinite healing power with no feeling of regret or a real concern.  You say it because you are too familiar with my weakness to start afresh even after every tornado. You know that my heart will melt eventually. You know I cant be angry on you for long.  But, do you know, even an eraser has its limit and it cant always remove all the dents by the monster pencil? Just because I care for you, and, I cant see you in pain or guilt, does not mean that you will keep hurting me again and again. I do understand, it might not be deliberate and intentional all the time. But, the frequency and casualness of things call for an oblique intent not to be considerate at all. Aah, no worries, dear! I hold no grudges against you. You know you are forgiven even before you say sorry to me. But, do you really think my forgiveness can always fill up those cracks which are created and widened again and again? It can bridge the moment between us but not the distance which goes further and further.
Still I forgive you. Sorry to say, but at times, sorry is not enough to keep going. At times, sorry is not enough to rekindle the extinguishing flame of a relationship.
I am sorry, you have to stand at the receiving end of understanding this time.
I am sorry to choose indifference over holding grudges.
I am sorry to choose moving on straight over the repeated cycle.
I am sorry for giving up on you.
And sorry, we have exhausted our quota of sorries!!"

Monday, 25 June 2018

Karwa chauth for husband, rakhi/bhai dooj for bhai, ashtami for children. Is there something for wives/sisters/mothers?

If you are a Hindu woman, you are bestowed with a very important role, to take care of your family. You are supposed to keep fast for karwa chauth for husband, ashtami fast for children, tie rakhi to bhai for their well being. Is there any fast for well being and longevity of wife, sister or mother? Or is this the privilege exclusively available to the male community, again thanks to our patriarchal society? Does this logic says that it is the male community which needs protection?

Alas! statistics says otherwise. Right from female foeticide to crime against women, it is the women who are vulnerable and need protection spell, if any.  Going by that logic, in the contemporary world, it should be the responsibility of man to keep their woman safe.

For those who dont know karwa Chauth, it a North Indian festival in which married women will fast from before sunrise till she can see the moon that night. And unfortunately, if moon is not visible then the fast will continue the other day. Absolutely no water or food is taken at this time.  Lets check the utility of this fast. If at all, it had some substance, women dont need to divorce her husband if they develop hatred towards them. They would just cheat while fasting to reduce his age. Or if a husband is diagnosed with kidney failure or blood requirement, instead of arranging for new kidney or blood, the wife can go for fasting. Jokes apart, as per scientific studies, intermittent fasting can be disastrous for a woman's hormones, causing things such as reproductive issues and may worsen other pre-existing health conditions.

By not having a drop of water, I am opening myself to dehydration. Without any food, I am stressing my body. Does my husband's life carry more value than my own?  I hope its not. Moreover it totally defies logic and science. How would my eating less will make my husband live longer. Though there is concept of one soul after marriage(do jism ek jaan), yet the bodies would remain separate.  And even if it works in some hypothetical world, shouldn't it be the two way process? Isn't this tradition against the concept of gender equality? Shouldn't husbands also show reciprocity?

Then there is another kind of fast to get a good husband- Solah (16) Somvar, (as if there is no need of a good wife). Again by logic, the sex ratio says otherwise.  Increasingly, the average age of unmarried boys is increasing because of skewed sex ratio. Bride money is taking the place of dowry. Shouldn't the guys take note of this serious issue and start fasting?

Then, many of the mothers keep fast of Asthami for their children's well being. Doesn't this also goes against the common sense. Mother being more aged than her children needs protection from health hazards and age hazards. Shouldn't children fast for their mother?

Disclaimer: In principle, I am not against any religion or associated faith of fasting. People have different reasons behind fasting, including health reasons(cleansing of toxics), family legacy and minimalistic living etc, and I respect them all. I am just against the notion of stereotyping of the fasts against a particular section of society, i.e., women.

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Tax privilege to India's privileged

Why do people fall for greed, amass lot of power and wealth, engage in corruption? There are many reasons including poverty and opportunity, lack of ethical standards, competition for resources, poor deterrence and misuse of discretionary powers. However, I would like to draw your attention to lesser known and acknowledged reason - willingness to provide the cushion to the future generations. As widely known in India, "sat pidiyo ka sochna padta h ( we have to think for our seven generations while earning and making any substantial decision)". Given our present status of social security, there is always an urge to save for the future generation. This urge results in Dynasty politics, skewed ownership of resources and inequality of opportunity. The Rich becomes richer, poor becomes poorer.
विरासत की कुर्सी पे राज करते हैं ||
फिर भी खुद पे नाज़ करते हैं ||

Today, we shall discuss about inheritance and feasibility of taxation on inheritance. First lets understand, what is inheritance? An inheritance is money or property which you receive from someone who has died. Inherently, it is a birth right, however its morality and sustainability can often be questioned. Allowing privileged families to concentrate property ownership and thus deny the prospect to others is not justified. It creates an unfair hierarchy of the resources which further undermines the legitimacy of the very idea of property. Earth has given to all men and women equal means. So exclusively privileging some of God's children with inherited property and not others seems to be morally wrong.

Image result for inheritance tax imagesThe recent work of Thomas Piketty, Capital in the Twenty First century highlights that the inherited wealth grows faster than overall output and income and furthers the inequality. What might the possible way out then? Depriving of the inheritance rights might create chaos in further distribution of inherited wealth. Taxation seems to be fair way out - specially the progressive one.

Further, tax is the price we pay for civilization and progressive taxation acts as a balancing force. Inheritance tax is a tax that is levied against a particular asset during the time of its inheritance. 

Firstly, I want to be clear that inheritance tax is not at all related to death tax, so it hardly can be criticized in the name of "no taxation without representation".  It is a tax on the recipient of the income , the lucky winner chosen by the lottery of birth.
Neither there is a concern for double taxation. Its similar to the sales tax which is paid out of the income which has already being taxed.

There are number of arguments for inheritance taxes:
  • Firstly, they promote fairness and equality. It is morally legitimate, as the heirs have rarely done anything to deserve the money that comes their way. 
  • Secondly, they are going to definitely fill up the Government coffers and increase the tax base and in turn overall tax revenue.
  • Thirdly, parents would focus on increasing the capability by investing in children's educational and social skills, rather than spoon feeding with the silver spoon. They would hardly prefer a depreciating lump sum package over a self sustainable skill set to their children.
  • The parents who choose to leave a truckload of money for their successors, tempts them to lead an unproductive life with the easygoing money they already have access to. There are numerous examples of such rich brats. Studies have revealed that easy access to unearned wealth destroys the incentive to work and to experiment - one of the reasons the wiser among the super-wealthy are generally careful to limit the money they leave to their children and make them financially prudent by themselves
  • It would further reduce the gender divide. Since  in a country like India, inheritance rights are still limited despite having all the laws in place
  • they are progressive in nature, hardly hurting the lower rung of society. Its in the nature of direct taxes, which is supposed to increased for a developing economy
  • This might be a potential stimulant for the economy. If people know that they have to pay taxes with exorbitant rates on their money to be left behind. they’ll be more likely to spend it when they’re  alive.
  •  In fact, inheritance tax is a life saving tax: it promotes social mobility, uniformizes the opportunity, limits the inherited advantage, redistributes wealth
  • It would definitely reduce the greed to earn more and more and save more and more for future generation. The distinction between luxury of oneself and luxury of future generations bridles more corruption
  • Last but not least, more property would have to be sold while inheriting to pay the tax. It might ease the house-price inflation and giving people the chance to buy property by having higher liquidity

Its interesting to note that inheritance tax, which was known in India as ‘estate duty’ and is imposed on the property passed to an heir, was brought in effect in 1953 and abolished by the Rajiv Gandhi government in 1985 as it failed to reduce wealth inequality.

International scenario
Estate duty or inheritance tax is there in most of the developed countries like US, UK, Japan, France etc. and the taxes in these countries are as high as 50-55%. Countries such as the UK and the US already have inheritance tax in place. In fact, the US has three types of taxes on estates/assets being passed on to the next generation, which are, Gift Tax, Estate Tax and Inheritance Tax. 
However, these countries have a structured social security and retirement plan in place. 

Which safeguards to be kept in mind while implementing it?
No policy can be without its potential shortcomings, loopholes and disadvantages. We need to analyze it from Indian angle too.
Rich/HNI always get their own way, its necessary to plug those loopholes. The threshold can be kept higher(more than 10 crores) and reasonable tax rates so as to prevent the burden on the middle class. The implementation can come in phases. There should be robust mechanism which can be used to validate the real asset holdings. Digitisation of property, pan coverage of such records is necessary for that.

Those countries who have kept in place this system, have robust social security system. Indian concept of Hindu undivided family is the only existing full proof social security as on date. Indian government should think about this pressure on individual against the future uncertainty. Robust social security system is the demand of time

There is the risk that heirs will be forced to sell homes as soon as inheritance happens. It can be mitigated by allowing them other channels to pay the taxes gradually rather than by immediate sale.

This transition should be smooth and step by step so as to accommodate the upheavals which may result. Target the wealthy by setting a meaningful exemption threshold. Second, close loopholes for those who are caught in the net by setting a flat rate. With the revenue generated by higher inheritance tax, reduce other taxes like surcharges and cesses.

However, since the politics trumps economics mostly. This economic measure has to make its way out after passing through many tests- and a strong will for redistribution of wealth is needed for the same.

Sunday, 8 April 2018

Selfie Mene Leli Aaj

A Few days ago, I got an opportunity to witness the Russian dance performance, Swan Lake Ballet at the JLN stadium. Luckily and coincidentally, Sharmila Tagore was sitting in the row next to mine. Instead of approaching her and talking about her movie "Chupke Chupke"(one of my favorite), my first reaction was to confirm that she is Sharmila Tagore, and the next was to click a selfie which  turns out to be like this :D

True that, In the culture focused on “self,” “self-ies” have become so popular.
Once back home, I researched on internet about this behavior. And a term I found was Selfitis, which means obsession of taking selfies on smartphones. As per the article published in Business standard, it  may be a real disorder that requires treatment. As per the study by Nottingham Trent University in the UK and the Thiagarajar School of Management(TSM) in Tamil Nadu in 2014 claiming 'selfitis' had been classed as a genuine mental disorder by the American Psychiatric Association. India was chosen since there are highest number of facebook users. They have now confirmed the existence of this disorder and developed the 'Selfitis Behaviour Scale'.

As per this scale, six motivating factors were identified, with selfitis sufferers typically seeking to increase their self-confidence, seek attention, improve their mood, connect with the environment around them (to create a record of memories), increase their conformity with the social group around them, as well as being socially competitiveness.

These reasons worked out in the study cover more or less all the possibilities.

Probably, selfies are a reflection of the contemporary culture which has made people self-obsessed. We have a Prime Minister who himself has promoted this culture, validation from the high echelons. And we Indians especially the youth have definitely taken him as our role model in the instant case. Selfie diplomacy has reached another level in the global arena. On another positive note, under the head of Beti Bachao Beti Padao, selfie with daughter in Haryana has taken a great stride. On similar lines, Delhi based NGO Save Indian Family launched "selfie with father" campaign to bring together children from broken families and the fathers.

But personally, I think, Selfie has micro contribution in capturing the view behind except focusing on some zoomed-in faces.  The advantage of this phenomenal invention of 21st century is that – you don’t need to request someone else to click your own picture. Everyone of us must have experienced requests at some tourist spot from a couple or a group of people to click a photo. Thanks to selfie, these impositions have declined drastically.
Many of the remarkable days like Father's day, mother's day, Valentines day use selfie as the platform for demonstrating their celebration.

The market has not taken the risk to lose the consumer base by ignoring these trends. The technological developments in selfie camera are way faster than in the rear camera.  Selfie camera comes with variety of beautification, flash features. Roadside shops which earlier used to sell charger, cable, earphones are full of  Selfie sticks now. Social media websites have launched various selfie variants to satisfy the consumer base with the pleasure of self appreciation. Facebook selfie frames, google hangout features, beautify app, and whatsapp emojis are a few of the examples.

Why has there been a craze amongst people since its advent?
No offence, but we humans by nature are self obsessed and narcissists of different degrees. Its more than admiring oneself. We want to be loved and accepted. When we post a selfie for the world to see, we eagerly await for the likes and comments and admiration to pop up from friends or any other digital soul. 

We want to matter. We want these digital souls to think that “wow, that person has an exciting life".
A few people also blame "peer pressure"  to post selfies. And some follow the popular belief that if there is no picture of an event or experience, it did not really happen.
Last but most importantly, we want connection. Connection with the moment, connection with the person, connection with the object, we want to label and timestamp that memory.
These selfie lovers, enjoy the instant-fame and the notional happiness from the likes & comments they get from the digital world, without knowing that it is just a mirage – as good as optical illusion.

So, What's wrong with this generations' entertainment self validation tool?
At times the concept of taking a selfie becomes crazy and pointless when people use this technology to click photos where they should not be clicking them. A person is drowning in a pond and people are taking selfies with the injured instead of helping him out. As if, there is some attendance going on, that you witnessed that incident. Few years back, a person accidently got into the Tiger's cage in Delhi zoo, many of the videos circulated over internet were selfie videos. Many accidents are happening while taking selfies. As per a study, India has the highest number of selfie related deaths, 60% of all "selfie deaths". 

Not just that, people keep clicking pictures until they are satisfied with the result. They are satisfied once they feel its perfect. But when their definition of perfect does not fit the real picture it only increases their pressure and stress.

Has this problem been recognized?
Yes, the Ministry of Tourism, Govt. of India, has advised all states and union territories to identify tourist attractions, which are prone to accidents and erect signs warning visitors of the dangers involved in taking selfies at such  spots. Clicking a selfie at ‘Sunset point’ or ‘Echo point’ or ‘Suicide point’ is a bad idea. The Govt. wants to prevent incidents by setting up “Selfie Danger ones” or “Selfie Restriction Zones” at tourist sight-seeing locations. There are many devices in line which gives selfie alert sensing the probability of danger zone based on height, depth etc. The most important thing is sanity while becoming technology addict. There is no need to stop the habit, it’s a fun activity. But we should where to draw the lines. If you want to be happy with the admiration, likes on social media, you should live long to enjoy that. And to live long, you should keep creativity tamed.

Be a responsible clicker, Happy Selfies!

(Don’t) Waste the Thunder, Recycle

6:30 PM, I pressed the doorbell of my flat. As I was waiting for my brother to open the door, my eyes fell on a dozen cold drink bottles ...