ERUPT – I

She stood there, can in hand, head reeling as though she were drunk.

Am I drunk?

She tried counting the shots she had downed since she entered the pub. 11, 12… 15? She wasn’t sure. But she wasn’t drunk, she was sure. Excited, maybe. Yeah… excited. That’s more like it! She knew she couldn’t get drunk, even if she drowned herself in a vat of liquor. Of course she’d never tested that belief. She was too good to ever do something as crazy as that. At best, drinking would just make her sleepy. She had always been proud of how she was born in a sophisticated family, was brought up with such high values, a pure vegetarian, teetotaler, had held her drink well when she was introduced to it by friends. But now, her tolerance to it had become an irritating matter. Because sometimes she wanted desperately to get drunk, and couldn’t. Like at flashy parties, or after fierce bedroom fights, or family blame games, or when she felt lonely. Drinking could never give her that false sense of peace that others craved.

Then what was the point? Why did you drink? 

She knew why. It was her Anniversary today.

(Image Credit: Google Inc.)

That’s why she was dressed in black, teetering on stilettos too high for her to handle, pouting with scarlet lips at the first group of twenty somethings she had found in the pub and recklessly befriended, as if they were her homies. She wanted a date to remember. It had to start with drinking because she wanted to test her limits. But damn these tiny pubs and their closing time. So the twenty-somethings suggested that they should do something stupid and crazy. And they dared her. Which is why she was staring at the stark white boundary-wall of the Courthouse. And because this night was all about testing her limits.

They were jeering her behind her back,  “Oh, I know she can’t do it…. She’s too tame. Too old for fun!” said the twenty something in the crew cut and slashed-at-the-thighs jeans.

The girl in the red slacks hissed, “C’mon… Before someone sees us!”

But that’s the point… To get noticed being bad, or else what fun is there in doing bad? 

Let’s start with it.

She shook the can in her hand, and approached the wall. With one firm hand she pressed a hand on her nose, and with the other, shaky hand, she pressed the nozzle on the spray paint can.

Pzzzzzzt!

A red mist began to form patterns on the wall. She let her imagination guide her hand as she painted the one word that came to her mind – Erupt!

She painted that one word over and over again, at several places on the wall. She wanted to remember this sensation, that word and what it meant to her tonight.

At last she stood back to look at her handiwork. She was still shaking, but now with excitement and pride. For the first time in years she felt alive. The loud hooting from the over-excited jackasses behind her was nothing compared to the gush of blood she could hear coursing in the veins of her ears, throbbing with an intensity that made her head ache.

“Oh my my, Auntyji, you’ve done it! Ha, you’re something!” That came from the guy in the bomber jacket, the one who had been eyeing her all night long. He was now right behind her, she could sense his warmth right through the gauze of her dress. She looked back at him, he looked down at her with a lewd smirk, and she said, ‘back off‘, in a tone so sour it could curdle milk in an instant. That wiped off his grin and he took a few steps back. Thank god he wasn’t that stupid.

Just then, the shrill sound of a whistle pierced their bubble of excitement. The twenty somethings started running, but she stayed glued to the spot. The guy in the bomber jacket made a last ditch effort at earning brownie points with her, “What are you waiting for? That’s a police constable. C’mon!” He stretched out a hand towards her.

She turned the other way and started walking towards the police constable

IN THE AFTERLIFE

No, no, this isn’t a preachy sermon about how you should prepare for life after death. Well actually, this is about that except its not your afterlife I’m asking you to prepare for, but for those you leave behind.

Life has no surety. Death, however, is a certainty. We can get any number of insurances and jeewan bimas but nothing can ever prepare us for the final moment of death, not even when science has quantified the days, months, years of our lives. It’s hard to accept that all this skin, sinew, these memories, these people and their love that we have, all that we cherish, will be lost to us. But its harder for those we leave behind because they face the void created by us. And since we live in a material world, material matters do affect families hard. Enter family feuds, frozen bank accounts with no nominees, property wars, divisions of men over matter. Cheap it may sound, but these realities of life after the death of the dearly departed is what families are left to grapple with over and above their grief.

Why not make life a little easier for them? Why not leave them with a Will that clearly defines ownership and management of your assets?

I can see you shaking your head. You’re saying:

  • I don’t have that much property;
  • My spouse knows all that I have;
  • My bank accounts have nominees;
  • My children are too good to fight over the property after I’m gone;
  • I have a portfolio/asset manager who will know what to do, or worse still,
  • Meh, I’m still young and healthy!

All these are valid statements, even the last one, but a Will does not take care of just your monetary assets, it pronounces your wishes on all your assets, yes, even your collection of books or shoes or your kitchen utensils that your bank/portfolio/asset manager will not concern themselves with.

I have my mother-in-law’s example to assert my point. My father-in-law died at the age of 55, at the height of his career, within three months of being diagnosed with a rare form of lung cancer. Needless to say, since it was sudden, his family couldn’t prepare for his departure, emotionally or otherwise. She was left with two years worth of struggles over bank accounts that had no nominees, some properties under his own name with no rights of joint ownership in the name of my mother-in-law, no mutation instructions about immovable assets, no power of attorney (POA) giving her authority to manage the assets, no knowledge of where or how his mutual funds were invested and a vacation notice from the government to vacate the government lodgings they had, all this while her two sons were still in school… and she herself was unemployed. Every time she approached a bank or a government authority she was asked to produce a valid will, a succession certificate, letter of administration or a POA, neither of which she had. So the general law concerning succession took over and we all know how long that takes! She suffered a lot because he would always tell her – there’s still plenty of time left to plan. I’m sure had he been alive he would have never wished such hardships on her.

A few figures for you to consider –

Not long ago, Daksha, an NGO that analyses the performance of the judiciary, published a report that said that out of all criminal and civil matters pending in courts in India, 66% were property related matters and 10% of them were family feuds over property*.

In my personal experience as a lawyer, land matters typically take anywhere between 5-50 years to resolve, sometimes even longer. A person’s next generation could be born and die within that kind of time-span. One family dispute I was involved in took as long as twenty years and that too only in the lower courts, and the parties were still willing to appeal to a higher court. The amount of time and resources such court cases waste is staggering! Besides, in India, if you die intestate i.e. without a will, the laws of succession (in case of Hindus, Parsis and Jains, it is the Hindu Succession Act, 1956. Muslims have personal succession laws and Christians are covered by the Indian Succession Act, 1925) take over and they take a mighty long time to settle property on the rightful heirs.

Executing a will is thus not a futile exercise, especially when your assets are huge. It is a document that centralizes your assets and your wishes regarding the management of those assets in one document while avoiding legal tangles, delays and family feuds. A little planning at your end could ensure that your assets reach those you wished to bequeath them to at the right time.

In India, under the Succession Act, 1925, a will is defined as a legal declaration of the intention of a person with respect to his property, which he desires to take effect after his death.

Anyone of sound mind, not under the influence of intoxicants or under distress, over the age of 21 is capable of executing a will. Even a disabled person. More importantly, in India, it isn’t necessary for the will to be executed on stamp paper or registered even. Sure you can do that, it’s good practice. But even if you write –

“I want all my property to go to my children in equal parts,”

over a piece of paper, signed in your own hand before two or more witnesses, this bit of paper will also be treated as a valid will. But don’t do that. Seriously!

You can change your will as many times as you like in your lifetime, but once you die, your last executed will becomes the final word on your wishes.

A few things to consider before making a will –

Legal Advice: Consult a lawyer if you’re unsure about the legalities of certain types of assets, especially if your assets are many. Drafting (writing) a will is also an important aspect of making a will, one that you may not be well-equipped to do. Hence, consult a lawyer. There are sites online that offer you templates to make wills online and help you with other legalities pertaining to wills.

Avoid Duplication: There can be only one will at any given time. Try to include all your known assets in that single document because eventually only your last Will shall be considered your final will. Having too many copies related to different assets will defeat the purpose of making a Will. You can keep updating your will from time to time but ensure that each time you do so, you clearly mention that the last will stands revoked.

Minority of Beneficiaries: If you wish to bequeath something to minors (below the age of 18), appoint guardians on their behalf for the bequest.

Right Executor: An executor is someone who declares your will to your family and ensures that bequests in the will are properly disposed of. Appoint a person who is considerably younger than you, is capable and trustworthy for the job. Execution (the process of declaration and distribution) of wills is not required to be done before a court of law, but you could request for a Magistrate or a public notary from the authorities**.

Above all declare that you are making the will in sound mind, without duress or coercion, and in full control of your mental capacities.

There are no guarantees that making a Will will necessarily mitigate all legal issues and family problems arising therefrom, but you would have done your part in ensuring that your obligations towards your family have been fulfilled. You wouldn’t want them suffering or fighting amongst each other, I’m sure. Which is why you must invest in some time towards making your will.


** Importance of will and some essential points to be considered while making a will, Jagao Investor, November 14, 2010.

Image Source: RobVanDerMeijden for Pixabay.

 

EDUCATED ANGOOTHA CHAAPS: THE REALITY OF ‘EDUCATED’ INDIA.

She comes in, sharp at 9.30, pale, lanky and shivering from the cold that has begun to build up over the past few days. I immediately chide her, “You’ll never wear a sweater to work, will you?” as I hand her her usual cup of tea.

“Forget it, Didi. Where am I supposed to keep the sweater when it starts getting warm again? So I don’t wear one.”

“But you’ll catch a cold this way…”

“Who cares. Do me a favour…” and she brings her cell-phone to me. “Tell me what’s written in this text?”

I read her some promotional text from some company. And I remind her for the umpteenth time that she ought to at least learn the alphabet. Her reply is always the same “Who cares?” And she forthwith busies herself with her work around the house.

This is the daily morning conversation I have with my house help. Over her education, or rather, the lack thereof. She is one of two girls in a five-sibling household. She belongs to a less-fortunate background and hails from a backward region in India. Resultantly, her parents never stressed that she or her sister ever finish their education. She has studied only till the 7th grade, her sister has studied less than that. And the sum total of their education has now reduced to an ability to scrawl their name on forms and bank cheques, should the need ever arise. But for all purposes, they are, what we call illiterates in India – angootha chaap.

Remember that age-old advertisement issued by the Indian Government that used to air on DD  – Poorab se surya uga, where an old man teaches a child from an unfortunate background how to start writing his name? When I was a child I used to wonder would I be able to know it all if I only learn how to write my name? Obviously not, as I later realized. The advertisement was a great initiative by the Rashtriya Saksharta Mission. But unfortunately, education is still underrated in our country.

Learning how to write one’s name is not an education, because one can learn how to write their name purely by memory, without learning the alphabet at all.

In fact, learning the alphabet itself is not an education, because the alphabets are of no use if one does not know how to string them into words and sentences, or read them from a book or a placard. 

Like my Help. She knows the English and Marathi numbers, but does not know basic mathematical problems. She knows the Marathi alphabet, but does not know how to read or write them. She knows how to write her name, but does not know any other word consisting of the same alphabets constituting her name. She does not even know how to tell the time! She comes to me for help with everything related to reading or writing. I fill out her bank forms. I inform her of her child’s scheduled parent-teacher meetings. I tell her when she’s supposed to pay for her loans. I have even instructed her on which medication she should take at what time, all because her ‘education’ amounts to nothing. And the irony is that she has admitted her child in a private school where English is the medium of instruction.

I often ask her, “Just what did you learn till the 7th grade if you don’t even know how to tell the time?” She only shrugs in response.

You may say that it’s her fault entirely for not using her education and I would say you are not wrong. But her circumstances, coupled with the prevalent social outlook on girls her age and of her background does not leave her a choice in the matter. Her parents thought it wiser for her to be married off at the young age of 15 (yes, unfortunately, child marriages still happen in India),  rather than letting her continue her schooling. They thought she would do better being a housewife and a house help, than being a teacher at a primary school. Because teachers at primary schools have liberated ideas and no one in their society needs a woman with a smart mouth.

She’s not the only one. There are countless others in India like her. There are countless men too, who know nothing beyond writing their names. Her brother is no less. He’s cleared his matriculate but does not know how to write a letter in Marathi or Hindi. I wrote his resume for a job application for a clerk’s position because though he can read somewhat, he cannot write at all. Needless to say, he’s still jobless.

Education is still considered a necessary evil in our country not a pure necessity, like clothing and housing. Forget about her class, I still come across women my age and from my background who have only cleared their matriculate and have forgotten much of what they learnt at school because they were expected to be home-bodies. No, this isn’t about how women should be allowed to work; this is about how women should be encouraged to at least get a graduate’s degree, because even if a woman is to be a stay-at-home mom, she ought to  be able to teach her own kids, and not ship them off to tuition classes, which, unfortunately, has become the norm these days in India. There is a parallel education system running, no, thriving in our country, all because there are so-called educated parents at home who are unable to teach anything to their children. What use is such an education? What use are such advertisements on education when the concept itself is reduced to learning by rote? An education does not end at school or college. It begins from there and is a life-long affair. But unfortunately, for many of us, their education ends when they receive their graduate degrees.

There are free schools with free books and free meals but their’s still no zeal in the lower echelons of our society to study. Why? Because earning the bread takes a precedence over receiving an education. Because these free sops are taken for granted rather than being grateful for. Because our society itself permeates an outlook that its okay to be an ‘educated’ angootha chaap. What India needs is not just education being thrust upon the masses, but education being made a mandatory requirement for every walk of life, even if one wants to be a house-help. What India needs is a change in the outlook of the masses, right down to the grassroots, that being educated means reading, writing and speaking at least one language well enough, apart from being able to do basic mathematical calculations. What India needs is a cultural revolution that an education does not end at marriage or being a mother.

What we need is to tell ourselves that its NOT okay to be ‘educated’ angootha chaaps.

She marvels at my 4 years old’s ability to already recognize the alphabet from a chart I’ve hung at home, her ability to use complicated words and count from 1 to 30 and backwards. I tell her again, like I always do, “Sit with me for at least half an hour each day and learn the alphabet. Slowly, you’ll come to learn how to read and write too. I’ll teach it all to you. I’ll even enrol you in night school, if you want.”

She only shrugs it off and reiterates, “Who cares? At my age what am I going to do with reading or writing?” And she busies herself with the sweeping again.

She only’s 26.

(Note: ANGOOTHA CHAAPS – Illiterate and uneducated)

IN THE END

When your time is near,
And your heart reflects fear,
And you’re breaking down in tears
Because you’ll lose all you hold dear;

When faith unfaithful
Turns her back,
And the vision before your blurry eyes
Turns tar black;

Remember the only thing
That will always hold true –
That even in your end
He hasn’t forsaken you.

God still loves you.

Pradita Kapahi

PROFANITY IN EVERYDAY CONVERSATIONS

“She’s my bitch!” 

“Yo wassup dawg?!”

If you’ve been around in the world (of course you have) you’ve heard the above statements that have become a sort of fashion statement these days. ‘Hip’ girls and boys referring to their friends or their boyfriends/girlfriends thus and without any qualms too. Note that the intent in the above two statements is not to ridicule or slander, but to express affection for a friend instead. I don’t know when and how this started but weren’t those two words supposed to mean an insult? At least I would be very offended if someone called me a bitch. I don’t suppose this shift in how we perceive these cuss words came about because our generation was suddenly swayed by a sense of brotherhood for our canine friends. Nope! But used affectionately or in a derogatory way, the context doesn’t make their usage any less offensive. They’re both representatives of how profanity has permeated into our everyday parlance.

Profanity today has seeped into our everyday vocabulary to the extent that some things are best described only by the use of derogatory terms. For example –

Shit happens.

Life’s a bitch.

What an ass!

What the fuck is that?

Profanity has shifted, or should I say has been promoted, from being something used only to cause offence to something that sometimes conveys an idea best. But perhaps this shift in how we perceive the use of profanity now is the reason why we hear so much of it in everyday conversation.

Remember the time when you would get a stern look from elders for using terms as mild as ‘stupid’ and ‘shut up’, while today ‘shut up’ has become an equivalent for ‘seriously’ or ‘really’? When language starts to accommodate ‘foul’ in the ‘fair’ category it naturally leads to a downfall in the quality of language and the smudging of lines on what is acceptable and what is not. There is a reason why language from old books and period films sounds classy and sweet. Its because such allowances in language were not allowed then; a bitch meant only either a female dog or an insult to a woman; no other meaning to that expletive was allowed and entertained and the usage of the latter was frowned upon. What’s more, people considered it a part of good manners to keep their tempers and tongues in check.

When language is courteous, foul language automatically is kept under control because its use is considered taboo. But when language starts to get discourteous, starts passing off cuss words as normal usage, ‘wassup bitches’ is what you get and since today we are being trained to see these cuss words not as an insult, therefore even a derogatory ‘son of a gun’  sounds like a phrase used for appreciation.

But why do we use profanity? What makes its use so compelling? We’re all humans, we’re prone to getting angry and letting our mouths run loose along with our imaginations and getting creative with expletives. In some cases, it is even considered cool to use foul words, but what I don’t understand is why we use them at all? Forget about all the morally right reasons for not using bad language and just for a minute concentrate on the practical uses of foul language. What do you get?

Beyond the perverse joy of watching someone’s face fall and getting a kick out of it, or letting off steam, foul language really doesn’t serve any purpose because – 

A.  It doesn’t get the point across. The one being abused closes his mind to any attempt at conciliation or a fair argument thereafter.

B.  It makes the user sound uncouth and vile.

C.  It’s a waste of time and energy because it resolves nothing.

Oh, but it feels so gooooooood, did you say?!

I know that! I’ve been there, done that too. But apart from being branded a ‘bitch’, I didn’t accomplish anything else out of using profanity. I lost plenty though – friends, goodwill and face. I was the proverbial smart mouth who everyone liked to steer clear of and it was the reason why I drove myself into a lonely place. Coming out of that place was tough, and I’m still trying to mend the bridges I tore down.

As someone who’s been both at the giving and receiving ends of profanity, what I’ve come to learn is that using foul language is like using sarcasm – it’s perceived as something cool and witty, but is actually an infantile preoccupation of an egotist who does not have control over his emotions. Sure in some circumstances, both foul language and sarcasm are deserved, but I would say in most cases, a greater revenge would be to laugh in the face of your abuser and never give them the satisfaction of letting them get under your skin.

Coming back to the original theme of this article, the allowance of profanity in everyday conversations has led to a degeneration of language because we have taught ourselves that it is okay to use foul words even for expressing our appreciation or love. It sets a wrong precedent for not only our generation but even the ones coming after us who would only learn that there is no ceiling to how foul-mouthed you can be because by then the lines between courteous and uncouth words would have blurred to the extent that terms like ‘bitch’ would be regarded as both an appreciation and an insult. When we ourselves make such allowances in language we do not have the right to point to the younger generations and cry foul. Can you really blame a teenager who calls her friends ‘bitches’ or ‘dawgs’ when he/she has seen others do the same? Its unfair to them.

We should either clean up our own act or shut our eyes and ears to the degeneration of language and consequently the degeneration of our morality. Restraint on language also translates to restraint over temper because the use of foul language is a kind of vent for a frustrated soul, so that if you keep it in check, chances are your temper too will subside quickly, but if you over-indulge it, soon your hurt ego will not be sated by the mere use of foul language. It will deviate to worse alternatives. Not to generalize things but an example is that of an abusive parent and one who controls his tongue.  Who do you think is more likely to beat down his own children?

We need today to teach ourselves and our future generations that while expressing our love or anger is alright, the use of profanity to do so is absolutely unacceptable. The languages of the world are rich and flexible enough to provide enough room for creative expression without resorting to the use of bad words. If your tongue is sweet it will only invite more sweetness from others. Nobody likes a barbed wire.

Featured Image: 1820796 at Pixabay

LOOKING FOR THE LOO

I have a great relationship with my bathroom! I see it so often and spend so much time in it that it could very well double up as my bedroom. What isn’t there to like about a place that relieves you of that niggling pain, or helps you relax and cleanse yourself? Which is why I love putting up potted plants, paintings of more potted plants and magazines in my bathrooms. Makes sense to make it comfortable when you want to spend so much time there, no?

But as much as I like my bathroom, I hate my bladder because it has always been the source of embarrassment for me. As far back as secondary school, I’ve had ‘pee’ issues. I was always infamous for being the girl who went every period. At college, if us friends ever decided to go anywhere as a group, someone would inevitably joke, ‘Pradita, make sure you’ve done the necessary before we leave… and no water afterwards!’ What a shame!

Things didn’t improve for me when I got married. My MIL especially would always reproach me for how frequently I needed to go everywhere… and in a Sari too! I think if there is a Guinness record of visiting the most bathrooms in a city, I must be the record-holder because within the first three months of my marriage I had acquainted myself with the insides of each and every one of our family friends’ bathrooms, and the public loos at supermarkets and malls in our area. It got to the point that if an acquaintance wanted to find a toilet in a public place, they would ask me!

It was heaven to know that no one judged you for going when I was pregnant, seeing as how pregnant women have to go a lot. Surprisingly, it’s become better since the birth of my daughter, but even now the odd unfortunate incident does occur, and I still have to maintain my ritual of relieving myself before I venture out of the home… and no water afterwards.

So yes, I hate my bladder and what I hate even more is that it has not an iota of control over what it’s supposed to control and contain – pee! I’ve had misfortunes like missing the school bus, getting an earful from teachers and relatives over my urgency. I’ve lost out on friends and even a potential boyfriend because I got too irritable and screamed at them, all thanks to a bursting bladder. I made friends with Meftal Spas to counter the pain when I had a hold-it-in-thon.

But the most embarrassing moment for me was in Secondary School when I had moved to another city and so had to join a new school. I was new to everything in that city. It was my first day at school and I was, like how most newcomers are, lost. Needless to say, my bladder wasn’t happy with my nervous condition and it quickly starting pinging me evacuation messages. I excused myself from the class and went looking for the loo. The school was huge and old, which meant that I had to walk a lot from one wing of the school to the other as per the directions given by my bench-mate. I ran at the first sight of ‘Toilet’ written on a placard and nearly skidded to a stop when I saw urinals inside. Oops! It was the Boys Bathroom.

Now my bladder had already reached its limit and I was just barely holding on. So my inner-self screamed, ‘The Girls Bathroom is a whole storey up. No one’s here. Just go into one of the stalls!’ And I did. And the moment I did, a boy of about my own age appeared (we must have been ten). He came to a dead halt and so did I. And then he squeaked (obviously because he was embarrassed to see a girl in a boys bathroom. Maybe also because a girl saw him zipping up), “Didi, this is the Boys Bathroom”, and he snuck out of there.

I didn’t pay him any heed. The moment he left, I rushed to one of the covered stalls and relieved myself. Thankfully there was no one else in the bathroom to add to my shame. But when I finally reached the classroom, what do I see? The boy who I had an encounter with was, in fact, my own classmate. He looked at me and giggled, and I could almost see the rest of my future in that school flash before my eyes – being branded “Pee Queen” or smart mouths at school mocking me, “Hey Pradita, looking for the Loo?” Oh god, why couldn’t my bladder just let me be?!

That whole day I kept imagining the worst, that people were staring at me, that they were making jokes and that no one would ever be friends with me in that school. But nothing of the sort happened. Weeks went by and eventually, I got over that incident. I made friends, lots of them and though they all would joke about how frequently I  needed to go, no one ever mentioned that incident. However, I could never look that boy in the eye and never made friends with him throughout the two years that I spent at that school. Also, I double check now if I’m using the Girls Bathroom.

But just four years back that boy got in touch with me through Facebook and when I asked him if he remembered that incident, he said, “What? That really happened? I don’t remember that.” (No wonder I made friends and no one called me Pee Queen at the school) I thanked him profusely for never mentioning it to anyone. He didn’t seem to understand why I was making a big deal about it.

When I look at this incident now I realise just how funny life is sometimes. Such incidents, to some, they mean a lot; they could mean the end or the beginning of something; they could leave a mark on or even scar your memory. And yet to others who may even be connected to the same incident, such incidents could mean nothing at all. This only taught me that I should never take such silly episodes seriously in life because life is much more than that.

Our embarrassment over something is a state of mind. Like how public display of affection is okay with some, yet embarrassing to others. That day I may have been embarrassed by using the Boys Bathroom in an urgent situation. Today? Well, let’s just say my bladder doesn’t leave me an option.

Pradita Kapahi

Image Source: Zorro4 / 142 images

SPEAK UP FOR CHANGE!

It was a Sunday night when my frazzled house-help called me to tell me that she wouldn’t be coming to work… ever.

I was stunned. For any busy mother with too much on her plate, house-helps are more important than their own husbands. I frantically asked her why she had made this sudden decision because she loved working, I knew. She loved the independence and the money these odd jobs gave her.

She answered between sobs, “Didi, I can’t stay here while my husband is threatening my life. He won’t let me be. He’s lost it. He hits me and does drugs. And he doesn’t even care for the children anymore. What will become of my children if he kills me? I have no one here in the city. At least my people can support me in the gaon (countryside). That’s why I’m leaving.”

I knew what she was saying wasn’t a fabrication. Her husband had been very abusive, both mentally and physically, for over a year, going to the extent of making an attempt on her life last year! Heaven knew why she hadn’t bolted back then itself. I insisted that she see a lawyer for a divorce but she was afraid of her folks; ‘what will people say‘. When she didn’t do that I sent her to a doctor to dress the wound. It was superficial thankfully, but the attempt had shaken her to the core, as it would. The police had refused her help because let’s face it, the Police don’t do much in India unless you have connections (if you know what I mean). Sheer will, her children’s education and a helpful sister were the only reasons why she was staying on in the city even after the attempt, but that sister too had lately moved away, leaving her absolutely alone against the wrath of her terrorizing husband.

There was nothing I could do to help her or to make her stay. I was in no position to offer her a place to stay or another job. Even I felt that she would be safer in her gaon. But I did feel strongly that people like her are always trudged upon by the powers that be just because they don’t raise their voices. They never have. Which is why the oppression never ends.

This whole week on Candles Online we are discussing the topic of Raising Voices. For the remainder of the week, you shall have compelling arguments from contributors who encourage raising a voice against some form of oppression prevalent in our society. In this article, I shall be discussing raising a voice as citizens of a democracy.

I discussed above how people like my house-help suffer in silence because they chose to suffer instead of lashing out at their oppressors. But let me not generalize it for people like her, because it isn’t just ‘people like her’ who suffer in silence, but most of the population. Take for example the recent debacle over the movie Padmaavat, which I have written about here. It was shameful that a section of the Indian population was rioting over a harmless piece of fiction, but what was even more shameful was the way the general public was silent over it, except a few brave voices. Everyone knew that the rioting was unjustified, yet people who Tweet or post statuses about what they eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner, or are quick to add hashtags to be a part of the latest fad in the country, wouldn’t raise a voice for fear of incurring the ire of the rioters, while the authorities were, as usual, playing coy of stamping out the riots for ‘political reasons’.

Coming back to the point of the unhelpful Police, have any of you lost a phone, or a vehicle and have been turned out by the Police with the statement, “Lodge an FIR, and then we’ll see”? Or have you heard that a rape or an assault victim, especially a woman, has been taunted by the Police, “If you dress like that, or roam around at that hour, its bound to happen”? Or have you ever faced a wall of stone when you approached the Police about your grievances against a political big-wig? And how many of you have taken action against such latent oppression?

The Police are not the only authority or institution that feeds on the fear or worse still, the apathy of the public to get away with it. Every authority, when it does not have the ‘check’ of a watchful public, becomes a dictatorship, even a democracy like ours that is ostensibly of the people, for the people and by the people.

Forget about the government and other authorities, sections of our population face oppression and maltreatment at the hands of those who wield power over them in some way – like my house-help who couldn’t speak up about her oppression for months because of her husband or her in-laws who forced her into silence in the name of saving the marriage. Or abused children who can’t speak up about the heinous acts done to them because of fear of retaliation and ridicule from their families.

You may say, and your point would be valid, that no good has ever come from raising voices against oppression; you would only be beating yourself down while the powers that be will be quick to dismiss you, maybe even kill you! Some of you may say that ‘the system’ won’t allow any changes. Yes, maybe in the short-term it won’t, but in the long-term, it will. You and I may not be able to see that change, but at least our children will because we dared to do it. 

History has taught us that changes come only when a voice is raised against oppression –

The bans on Sati, child marriage, untouchability, apartheid, and the right of women to vote, to study in general schools and colleges, and to own property, these changes all came about because someone dared to say ‘no’.

Having seen what it is like to be in a Democracy, I think it is time that we stopped relying on the power of our votes alone to bring about changes. All political parties, all elected candidates, all oppressive factions of societies suffer from selective amnesia after they come to power. They may write off their promises to us, giving an excuse of authoritative encumbrances or may just shrug us off like dust on their shoulders after they’ve received our votes. The easiest medium of change is raising a voice because it brings immediate attention to an existing grievance. No one achieved anything by staying silent in the face of oppression. Even Mahatma Gandhi’s Civil Disobedience and Satyagraha movements relied on silent disobedience against the oppression of the British.

We are born free and the same powers that gave the oppressor their voices gave us a voice too. We have the additional right to freedom of thought and expression granted by a Constitution that claims to belong to its people.

Speak up for change!

Let your oppression be known.

Your voice makes this society, this nation.

Make it matter. 

 

Image Source: Ninocare at Pixabay.