Monday, November 3, 2014

The simple-difficult task of breaking the silence – part V: Rape

(Read parts one, two, three, and four of my series of blogposts on sexual violence in india)

The rape map of India (click to enlarge), outdated as it is, is a good one-glance artifice to immediately focus one's mind on the issue. Recent news has reported on many incidents of horrific rape, from the horrendous Nirbhaya case to the more recent Uttar Pradesh incident, bringing rape to the forefront of the Indian mind. However, most of us still dont see the problem for what it really is. We still hide behind ideas like "rare“, 'provoked', 'kidnapping and rape by strangers', 'it's not all that common' to happily ignore reality. After all, if we don't acknowledge that there is a problem, then we dont have to try to do anything about it, and if we can blame the victim or some faceless monsters, then we dont have to examine our own roles in the rape culture or change how we think and behave.

However, here's the real picture. Statistics from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) 2013 show that there are 93 reported cases of women being raped in the country every single day. The NCRB data, shows that some states are more advanced than others in the matter, with Madhya Pradesh leading the line-up of ' bad place to be a woman ' with 4335 reported rapes in 2013, followed by Rajasthan (3285), Maharashtra (3063) and Uttar Pradesh (3050). and these are just the REPORTED cases. Any reported crime figures are always gross under-estimates of the reality on the ground, much more so in the case of sexual violence.

The number of rape cases that DON'T get reported are vastly higher than the number of cases reported. A UN study of 57 countries worldwide estimates that just 11% of sexual assault cases are ever reported, and this is in countries like the US! One can guess, then, how many cases actually make it to record books here, given our taboos, hangups over 'izzat', social stigma, refusal of the cops to take reports, and more. Realistically, it is possible that less than 2-3% make it to a formal report/complaint. In spite of this, India ranks number three in the world in the sheer number of reported rape cases, far, far worse than war torn poverty stricken Ethiopia at number 10 (feeling the superior glow of 'mera bharat mahaan' yet?)! Really something to think about, and time to give up the idea that rape is rare.

In fact, as a woman in India, who has lived here all her life, i can say that we all expect it, all the time. It is so common, and the entire culture around us so encouraging and supportive of rape and so much against the victim, that we have an "is this how mine happens“ moment almost every week. Every time i hear a set of footsteps behind me – even in my own lane, 20 meters from home – every time i find myself in any situation were the men significantly outnumber the women, everytime i am alone around a bunch of men, fear squeezes the gut and i automatically think 'so this is how my rape happens'. We are reconciled to it, we know that the statistical probability of this happening to us in our lifetime is far, far greater than the chances of escaping it entirely.

As for the myth of the stranger, the monster, from whom 'Indian Society' insists on saving its women. The actual, horrifying fact is that a majority of the offenders are well known to the victims. NCRB statistics show that 94% of the rapists were familiar to the victim, which includes neighbours (10782), other known persons (18171), relatives including siblings (2315) and yes, even parents (539). So let us stop to examine what, in our esteemed and much defended 'culture', makes it all right for people to rape so many women they know so well, without the least fear of retribution, justice, or punishment. Why do we have such a pathetic record of registering rapes, or punishing the rapists? (And no, one death sentence in a particularly heinous case does not count, when thousands and thousands of others go unprosecuted or slapped on the wrist with laughable sentences.)

This video may shock and horrify a few of us intellectual, educated, liberal Indians (does it though? Really?), but it is a very representative, very true picture of how the majority of the country still thinks of rape. It happens to 'westernised' women who wear jeans, have 'love' relatinships outside their castes, go to pubs, drink, smoke, mix with guys, and wear indecent clotjhes. Basically it is the fault of the victim for crossing every socially acceptable boundary imposed by the patriarchal structure of out society, it is her punishment for trying to fly too high, for having no morals. Men are not at fault, they are provoked. Either by the behaviour or clothes of the woman, or by fastfood, or some other factor! At worst, it is a mistake made by boys and should not be held against them!

However, the facts say otherwise. Women are raped no matter what they are wearing, from miniskirts to burkhas, from sarees and ghagras to bikinis. It is NOT about her clothes. It is not about attraction either because 12.5% of the total reported rape victims in India are minors and older women get raped too. From the gang rape of a 51-year-old tourist, to the rape of a child of a year and a half (how did she provoke? What was she wearing? Was she drinking/pubbing?having an affair?), to the rape of 6 year olds, 5 year olds, 10 year olds, children between between 2 and 10 years old, it happens, all the time. And this does not even include all the cases of rape as punishment, ordered by religious or even governing/political bodies.

Add to that the fact that marital rape is not a criminal offense within the Indian legal framework, except during the period of judicial separation of the partners, or where the wife is below 15 yers of age. When women's rights groups lobbied for marital rape to be criminalised, in the 1980s, it became an ongoing struggle for making this logical step to protect women in their own homes, which failed, because both the judiciary and the government argued that the contract of marriage presumes the woman's constant and never ending consent to sex. They concluded that criminalising marital rape would weaken family values in India (because, after all, what is more indian or valuable than disrespecting your partner and raping them and assaulting them and not even giving them the right to say no)!

But there’s little denying rape’s all pervasiveness in India. According to one particular 2011 poll cited by the Times of India, as many as 25 percent of Indian men admitted to committing an act of sexual violence, and roughly 20 percent of those polled conceded that they had forced their wives or partners to have sex when the woman was reluctant or unwilling. Maybe, then, it is high time to stop thinking about rape in stereotypes, and to realise that it happens everywhere, everyhow, everywhen, and the only one to blame for it is the RAPIST.

Since i posted this blog, THIS bit of news has come out. Another feather in India's Rape Cap. 

Friday, October 31, 2014

The simple-difficult task of breaking the silence – part IV: Conjugal Torment

In this post, part four of my ongoing series of blogs on sexual violence in India (read parts one, two, and three), i intend to discuss that tool of everyday violence and opression – sexual and otherwise – perpetrated on a majority of indian women, everyday – the great Indian marriage.

We live in a country where marriage is as much of a fact of life... for everyone … as growing up, growing body hair, feeling hunger/cold/heat, death and so on. We dont have a concept of choosing not to get married because everyone must. Neither do we, as a rule, have a concept of choosing who we marry (beyond a pretend selection among candidates vetted and put forward by parents, and even there the boys get a far better say than girls). So, we live in a society where as women, we are mentally prepared from day one – practically from the cradle onwards - to be compulsorily and without choice married off to a total stranger, and expected to fulfil our conjugal duties (read provide sex).

We are also a patrilocal society, where the new bride is expected to move in with her husband's entire family, and basically act as an unpaid maid-of-all-works for every member. She is also expected to dissolve whatever values, learning, personality she has manage to acquire at her parents' home, (often in spite of efforts to make her a blank slate) and totally reformulate her entire being in the mold of her in-laws. Basically, she is the lowest ranked member of the new household, with no rights, no voice, no one to fall back on, and only a long list of DUTIES and expectations to live up to. One foot wrong, one failing, one 'flaw' and not only does she stand to be persecuted, screamed at, even hit, her parents, their values, and their very 'culture' will come into question. Often, they will be called up to be insulted.

Into this witches' brew of seething turmoil, add the worst two ingredients. A lifelong training to grin and bear anything the husband does to her, and an almost total absence of any kind of knowledge about sex on the part of both partners, complicated by far by a huge set of myths and misconceptions on part of the man. My own personal experiences as a counsellor for sexual health, online and offline, for almost 20 years now, keeps reasserting to my mind how little we- as Indians – know of basic human sexuality, and how many wrong and dangerous notions we have.

For women, the extreme taboo surrounding not just anything sexual but anything physical means that they are often unaware of basic hygiene and health related to their own bodies. Menstruation, puberty, various discomforts and discharges, these are not just mysteries, they are things to be ahsamed of and ignored, often to the point of illness, and never to ask about or get a straight answer about. As for the male anatomy or the actual sex act, they know only what they can glean from vague but thrilling whispers overheard when the married women get together, and the suggestive jokes they are pelted with around the time of their wedding, both sources being useless as a way to learn anything meaningful and often filling their heads with dangerous notions and fear.

In the case of the men, the situation is far worse. Not only is their entire knowledge of female anatomy derived from foreign porn (leaving them with no idea what a real indian woman looks like), their total knowledge of the sex act is derived from the same source as well. This means they routinely expect their women to be 'brazillian wax'ed, buxom, unrealistically flexible, able to take monster organs with a smile both vaginally and anally, completely in love with performing oral sex, and capable of acts like 'squirting' orgasms. Sex, to them is insertion, thrusts, climax, and thats all, and they are convinced that the bigger and rougher they are and the harder they thrust, the more the woman will enjoy it. In fact, they have no concept of foreplay, no concept of sensitivity or paying attention to a partner's needs, no desire – in most cases – to even care whether the partner feels anything as long as they themselves get off.

To top that off, they also have the concept, egged on by friends and society in general and bollywood, and all kinds of popular culture, that a marriage MUST be consummated on the 'suhaag raat' or the first night. Most believe that if they don't essentially rape this practical stranger they now own on that very night, they will somehow be less of men, and their wives will question their masculinity as well. Additionally, with marriage being the only endorsed and allowed way for people to be sexually active, most of these men are like rabid starved animals who have been waiting for years for this opportunity to finally stick it in someone. And thy are not going to wait.

The result, a horrendous night for the woman, which is a good trailer for what the rest of her sex life is likely to be – for the rest of her life. Scared, anxious, nervous at having to leave everything she knows and make herself into a new person to suit the random demands of a family of strangers, married to a stranger she barely knows (inspite of the 'modern' practice of a bunch of dates – often chaperoned by cousins or unmarried aunts), and already dreading an act she has heard enough about to fear, she is given no time to get comfortable. Forget arousal, she doesnt have the choice to even relax, or just unclench – mentally- before her 'parmeshwar' or god asks for his rights.

Is it a wonder then that most women, even educated, modern, free mixing allowed, working, totally 21st century Indian women have shatteringly disastrous and painfulexperiences beginning their sex life. And no, it does not get better. To add insult to injury, we dont have a concept of – let alone a law against – marital rape. She has no right to refuse to have sex with her lord and master, and in most cases she does not even realise it is possible to say no. Ill or well, happy or depressed, fresh or tired, turned on or not, doesnt matter. If he wants it, he gets it. She? She is not supposed to have wants, or needs or desires or opinions, so it doesnt matter.

Rape? But thats what strangers do to women right? Thats why we call it izzat lootna... or robbing of honour. We force raped women to MARRY their rapists because it restores their robbed honour, never mind her trauma at having to have a lifelong repeated experience of sexual acts with the monster because there cannot be trauma. By virtue of the fact that he is now her husband, the rapist becomes someone whose attentions she is required to welcome and enjoy. Simple. So how can a husband rape his wife? He owns her, he has full rights to do what he wants to her, whenever he feels the need. Where is the question of her desire, consent, or refusal thereof? She is chattel, property, she has no will of her own. This is her DUTY! And this is the attitude not just of our society, but also of our judiciary and our ministers.

Given this mentality, a woman has ZERO legal or social recourse against cruelty. No matter what he does to her sexually, and how much she suffers, she has no support. No one to turn to, no help, no way of stopping it. In most cases she does not even realise that this is abnormal. An overwhelming number of women think that it is normal for sex to hurt, all the time, everytime, and more than half of them have never even come close to an orgasm. It is not surprising that women suffer decades of sexual trauma at home, at the hands of the very peperson who is supposed to care most for her, and often does not even recognise it as torture. Even if she does, she has nowhere to turn, no one who can help. She just has to live with it until one of them dies.

Monday, October 20, 2014

time to talk about it. time to DO something

This video WILL leave you mindnumbed and depressed, but it deals with an issue which we need to talk about more and more. Most importantly, above and beyond the talking, we need to ACT against child abuse.
*****Please do not watch it with young kids around****
Please watch all three. NSFW.
trigger warning: adult survivors of abuse, or parents of young children, please be aware that the content, especially Parts 1 and 2, will trigger reactions.

The simple-difficult task of breaking the silence – part III: “Eve Teasing”

Another apect of the daily, all pervasive, constant atmosphere of sexual harrassment (read more about it HERE and HERE), and abuse, and objectification of women, trans people, effeminate men, and all possible “others” is our very own home grown quaint and innoccuous sounding phenomenon of eve teasing.

Fantastic, isn't it? We see daily public molestation and harrasment of a large section of our population as so much of a non problem that we dont even bother to call it harrassment at all! We call it teasing. As if it is something like a dear friend gently teasing another for fun, or a sibling pulling anothers leg gently, and with love. The reality? It is abuse, it is violation, it is violence on the person, it is harrassment, it is disgusting, sick-making, scary, threatening, and a lot of other things. It is NOT fun, not for the recipient at least, and it is not cute. It is not cute when the recipient is a child (yes children are “eve teased” too), and it is not cute when she is a teen or an adult.

Most people i talk to... no thats not true ... most MEN i talk to dont realise 2 things. How common it is, and how horrible it feels to the one on the recieving end. Like ragging in colleges, eve teasing has been given social sanction, has become a “boys will be boys” “harmless fun” “dont overreact” “not a big deal” “everyone does it” kind of activity that almost seems to be a part of some male rite of passage, of proving mardangi. As if treating half the population as objects, as playthings, as less than human, says anything complimentary about you at all. Bollywood makes matters much worse, with almost every movie showing the hero “eve teasing” and harrassing the heroine for often extended periods of time as a way of showing his romantic interest, after which the heroine proceeds to fall in love with him. NO, groping, harrassing, catcalling me are NOT aceptable or welcome ways to show me you like me. And NO i am DEFINITELY not going to like you for this behaviour. It will disgust me, anger me, make me want to castrate you, but it will NOT, under any circumstance, make me want to date, romance, or marry you.

And most men seriously dont understand how common or horrible it is! The occassional news report of a woman molested in something as flashy as the Delhi Metro, and protesting, has them clicking their tongues in annoyance and muttering about how unsafe Delhi has always been for women, but they have NO clue what their own friends, sisters, mothers, wives, aunts, daughters face every single day as they go about the business of their daily lives. Of all the men i have talked to in my life... and that numbers in tens of thousands both online as well as face to face ... almost 90-95% had no idea how everyday and common molestation in daily life was and is for women, especially in india.

I do not know of a single indian woman who has never faced the nasty creepiness of “eve teasing”. The milder forms – catcalling, crude comments, leers – we just habitually shrug off, in spite of the ditry feeling it leaves on our skins and the nasty taste in the mouth, because it could have been so much worse, and often is. The first few times a girl (yes girl... for example the first explicit molestation i can remember in public transport was when i was 10-11) has to deal with some creepy man pressing in too close to her in a bus or local train, often with an erection (which she may not know about but which feels icky nevertheless) pressing into her back, it comes a a huge shock. She freezes, feels nauseated, shaky, and before she can get her wits together, she has been groped a few times and the guy is gone.

She may or may not choose to tell someone about it. May not... because she has been brought up not only to feel powerless and without agency in most things, but also because anything to do with sex, men and women, those body parts, and so on is such a taboo that she may not even have language to describe what happened or why she feels violated. May not because she fears, rightly, that she will be the one to blame, that it is somehow her fault, because that is what society will think too. Too much freedom, too short/tight/few clothes, too much agressiveness, too much something. If she does tell, it will probably be another woman, her mother or an elder sister/cousin, or friends. And that's when she will realise that it happens to all of them, even to much larger and scarier extents, and that they shrug it off as part of being a woman in india. And they will advise her to do the same, and she will learn to do it.

And it gets worse when men are in groups. All girls/women/transpeople/ohers soon realise the basic rule. You can easily and and safely walk past or be around most men, as long as they are alone. Chances are above avarage (not good, but better than otherwise) that you will be fine, and unmolested. Yet put them in a group, and it is best to cross the road to avoid them. Even boys we knew, at durga pujas or neighbourhood gatherings, perfectly well behaved and even nice as some of them were, we would not walk past them when they were surrounded by a bunch of their pals. Something about havint to prove themselves to be men in the eyes of their pals, and the egging on from the mob, makes perfectly decent seeming men (or are they pervs but just afraid to act alone?) to turn into creatures to be afraid of.

It is a coping mechanism for us, ignoring or just not thinking about what happens almost everyday. We cant afford to think about it, because if we did, the rage, humuliation, disgust would be so great that we would just curl up in bed and refuse to go anywhere and do anything. So, we tell each other our stories (or not), tell each other “hota hai” and we move on. When a faceless stranger gropes you on the bus, move on. When a passing bicyclist reaches over and pinches your not yet fully grown breasts, move on. When men expose themselves to you and jerk off while looking you in the eye-- on the street, in trains, across the street, in the house next door, move on. When an autorickshaw/cab driver adjusts his rearview mirror specifically to look into your cleavage, move on. When 4 boys, not much older than you, feel perfectly secure about surrounding you on your way back from school to grope, pinch and molest you while saying nasty things, move on. When a long distance taxi driver thinks it is perfectly fine to lean over and grope you between your 14 year old legs just because you happen to be sitting in the front passenger seat, move on. When the guy next to you on the bus keeps “accidentally” pushing his thigh into yours and his elbow into your breast, move on. When travelling in the ladies compartment of a local train, when a man in a saree presses his erection into your lower back, move on.

And no age does not seem to matter much. From around 8-9 unless you have the misfortune to run into serious pedophiles on a regular basis, this has been part of life, expected, accepted, shrugged off wth a “what can you do, that's what it is like” till today, when i am less than a year away from 40. and no it has not abated, reduced, or disappeared. Nor do looks or figure. All the women i know face these things, no matter what they look like, and whether skinny or massively overweight. Neither does what she is wearing. We have faced these things in everything from burkhas and demure salwaar kameezes to jeans.It becomes so everyday, so much of a non event, that we dont even think about it anymore.

Some of us do, however, take some innovative countermeasures. Making a noise may not always be fesible, or comfortable. So we come up with our own ways of discouraging the pervs. A rolled up umbrella under my arm, for example, is standard equipment for me when i step out of the house, rain or shine, summer or winter or monsoon. Delicate darling afraid of a few drops or a tan i am not, but the umbrella has a serious purpose. Any lothario who makes the mistake of getting too close is going to feel it thrust back... sharply... into his solar plexus. When a hand reaches between the seat and the bus wall and under my arm to grope my breast while i travel, or reaches forward from the row behind me in a cinema theatre to do the same, it will feel the sharp jab of my supersize safety pin – another essential i always carry.

And yet, we still call it teasing. We still dont think it happens very much, or assume that it is mild, harmless, and fun for both parties when it does happen. Isnt't it time to wake up? Realise the truth? And act?

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The simple-difficult task of breaking the silence – part II: Child Sexual Abuse

When one begins to talk, write or think about sexual violence (as i decided to do HERE), it can be a massive undertaking. There are so many forms of sexual violence women (often men, and frequently all other genders as well) have to face everyday, that a comprehensive analysis is a gargantuan project. I have no illusions that i can analyse it all in any kind of complete way. I just want to examine my thoughts, opinions, experiences and emotions on the range of sexual violence that people have to face everyday. The only way i can even imagine trying to do this is piece by piece, facet by facet.

The earliest, longest lasting, most pervasive form of sexual violence most humans face is Child Sexual Abuse (CSA). And yes, boys face as much of it, are as much as risk from it, as girls, and non conforming kids of all genders, trans kids, are all at high risk. It's not something we like to think or talk about. The idea of children at risk, coming to harm, being permanently and deeply scarred and damaged, is not something any parent, or sensitive human being, would like to face. And when we do talk about it, as we have just started doing, thanks to TV talk shows, exposure to global news and current affairs, and “human interest” pieces in the print media – we still think of it as something to protect girls from. Yes, girls need protection, but so do boys, and transkids and other gender variant kids, or queer kids (but then recognising that anything other than boys and girls even exist is a whole different struggle in the making in our country).

We persistently shy away from the thought that "boys" might be at risk too. It goes against everything conditioned into us by patriarchy. Boys/men are never weak enough to be victimised after all. And they shouldn't be, right? Men as abusers of boys is also something we dont like to think about, bringing, as it does, the whole “homosexual” spectre to the forefront of our minds (another myth – that all gay men are potential abusers or that all male abusers are gay. They are not. Abusers are a category by themselves. They are either on a power trip, or are pedophiles, or both.) As for a woman as abuser? That's possibly an even worse and more uncomfortable thought to get our minds around. Women are supposed to be weak, the victims, the pairon ki jooti, in patriarchy. Alternatively they are supposed to be the maa, the devi, or other backhhanded ways of keeping her subservient and without real power. Being an abuser assigns some agency, some power, some authority to the it or not... and we don't like the thought of that.

We also persistently warn our children (when we do so at all) to “not speak to/take sweets from strangers”. Yet, statistics show that most of the perpetrators of CSA are people known to the child, trusted by the child and the family. They are people who are so much a part of the family or social circle that they are trusted to be alone with the kid for various lengths of time. They are uncles, aunts, neighbours, tutors, teachers, family friends, caregivers, domestic help, doctors, and so many other people. And this in itself makes CSA such a devastating thing for the child. The child's entire world view is threatened and destroyed when someone who is supposed to keep it safe, protect it from “strangers”, take care of it, actually abuses and tortures the child. These are people with authority over the child, people the child is taught to respect and obey, which makes the situation worse. No matter how much discomfort or guilt or shame or disgust the child feels over what is happening, he/she/ze feels the pressure of that conditioning to obey, to do what they are told, to silently bear the abuse. This leads to further lifelong guilt at their own inability to prevent the abuse, or stop it, a sense of having deserved such treatment, shame, and a total destruction of self esteem.

Telling is the toughest thing for any survivor of sexual abuse. Given the personal, intimate nature of the crime, and our glaring taboos with regard to anything to do with our bodies or sex, it can be almost impossible to comprehend the abuse as abuse, and even if they do recognise that, it is not easy to talk. In a society where a child cannot ask – or get a clear answer for – where it came from, where girls routinely have hysterics at school at first menstruation because no one told them anything and they think they are hurt, seriously ill, or dying, where the TV channel is switched every time there is an ad for a feminine hygiene product or a kiss on screen, where we NEVER use the correct words to name body parts that have anything to do with sex, childbirth, feeding, and so on, how is the child supposed to get up the courage to tell its parents of sexual abuse? Where is the child supposed to even find the language to understand what is happening to him/her/ze, let alone tell someone?

If the child does manage to tell someone, somehow, chances are they will not be believed. I have seen and counselled so many survivors who did tell, and who were punished for it, or simply disbelieved, told not to make up such horrible stories about such-and-such uncle/aunty/bhaiya. They were scolded, threatened, told not to be such bad children. Imagine what that does to the child. Not only do they have to live through a nightmare they will carry with them lifelong, not only do they have to find ways to survive and deal with things that will scar them forever, they also have to deal with the disbelief, the lack of trust, from other adults that they trusted enough to tell.

Society and the predators also take advantage of our basic sqeamishness and discomfort with these topics to deflect blame from where it lies. So organisations like NAMBLA can claim that some boys want/need to be sexual with adult men, while judges of one of the foremost justice systems in the world assign ridiculous sentences to abusers because the girl was “older than her chronological age” and supposedly tempted/seduced a man 30 years her senior, an adult. Or repeated rapists of teenagers get away with no prison time because they need to be “rehabilitated” after a “light” crime.

We forget one basic fact. The adult is the person with power, in authority, and therefore with responsibility. The child may not know enough to resist, the child may even instigate or enjoy sexual acts, it is still abuse, because the child does not know the full implications and repercussions – physical, emotional, and mental – it is the responsibility of the adult to not go there, to put a stop to it. We do not allow a child under our care to eat as much ice cream as he/she/ze wants, even though it loves the ice-cream, wants it, begs for it. Why? Because we know what the child doesn't – it will harm them, make them sick. Precisely the same logic of responsibility applies to sexual acts (not comparing CSA to too much ice cream in any way). The adult MUST take the responsibility for the power imbalance.

And yet, society looks the other way, or actually blames the child! When it comes to sex, we are all massive hypocrites, and nowhere is it more evident than in the way we handle cases of sexual violence, and our attitude towards it. No wonder it comes to light so rarely. Children hardly ever tell, and even as adults, most never acknowledge or talk about their abuse. It takes years and years for even an adult to be able to discuss abuse in anything more than vague and general terms. It even takes someone like me – so bold, open, frank, brutally straight forward, never mincing words, writing about so many taboo things – years and years to write about it. It takes months of trepidation even after i make the decision, it takes shying away every time i sit down to write, it takes avoidance – doing anything else to avoid actually writing, and in the end i am still uncomfortable getting too personal.

It is not surprising then, that as many as an estimated 90% of child sexual abuse cases are never reported, never brought to light. The children just continue to be abused, often by a series of abusers, often over a long period of time, sometimes even years. These children just survive the experience in any way they can manage, and go on to live whatever type and quality of life they can manage as grown ups. They are forced to deal with their demons and their trauma on their own. From my own experiences, from my friend circles, and from the large number of people i have informally counselled over 20 something years, i am forced to think that 60-70 percent of adults, including men, and all other genders (the proportion is higher in gender/orientation variant people often as PUNISHMENT for their variance) have endured some form and duration of abuse, or at least an attempt at sexual abuse, as children. Worldwide statistics support this estimate too.

These are NOT isolated incidents, they are not RARE, they are NOT too few to be talked about. I dont know of many people who HAVEN'T faced it, and i know a lot of people. On the contrary, it is ESSENTIAL and IMPERATIVE that we talk about it, that we face the reality, that we recognise the truths of Child Sexual Abuse. Only then can we have any hope of protecting our children from it.

CSA is not isolated. It is happening all around us, all the time.
CSA does not happen only to girls, boys are equally at risk, all genders are at risk.
Abusers are not monster-like strangers who can be recognised at a glance. They are freindly, nice, amiable, seemingly trustworthy. They are friends, relatives, caregivers, authority figures.
Abusers are not all men. Although a majority are male, there are many women abusers too.

No matter what the perpetrator says, the child IS the victim, and it IS a crime

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The simple-impossible task of breaking the silence – and why it matters: Part I

My mother has been writing a sort of memoirs, a kind of autobiography, in serialised form on her FaceBook writers' group wall. It has been much appreciated not just in her many literary circles online, but among her friends as well – many of whom are much younger. She has always had a talent for putting her say across in simple, touching, easily digestible language and a fluid style that appeals to people across age, class, and educational segments, so her popularity is not surprising.

One of the more recent posts was about a couple of incidents of sexual harassment/abuse she faced in her childhood. The responses to the post have been interesting, to say the least, and have reconfirmed some of the things I firmly believe in, about issues relating to sexual harassment and abuse – of anyone, anywhere. How common it all is, is evident from the numerous women who have shared their own stories in response. The flip side is also highly visible – how many men choose to believe that these things don't really happen, or are isolated cases perpetrated by mentally ill or monster-like criminals – such that we need not even pay attention or talk about the issues at all.

It's not easy to talk about, especially for the survivor. Society, upbringing, conditioning, all succeed in convincing women, and girls, that not only is being the victim of a sexual crime something to be ashamed of, but it also, in most cases, her own fault. Add to that the trauma resulting from being on the recieving end of any kind of violence, as well as the intensely personal and intimate nature of sexual violence, and it is not surprising that women dont really talk about it.

And the men? Men, in India at least, are culturally discouraged from even wanting to know. If they also happen to face such an incident, it is all the more impossible for them to open their mouths about it, given the additional pressure of masculinity imposed by patriarchy. A man who is a victim or rape, or molestation, or sexual abuse as a child, teen, or adult, must bear the additional burden of continuing to prove he is a MAN, a MARD. The very incident causing so much trauma, in his own conditioned eyes and mind, as well as in the eyes and minds of a hetero-patriarchal society, makes him weak, makes him less than a mard, and no better than a woman. No wonder then that they do not talk about it, even with each other (least of all with each other actually, not surprisingly).

In my numerous years of being the social butterfly, of counselling, of connections to NGOs and dabbling in activism, it has become evident from my own experiences, both personal and heard/seen/dealt with, just how common this type of violence and abuse generally are, especially in India. Statistics from countries like the US, which are more proactive in recognising and identifying the problem, where people are far more likely to at least know of the issues, and where a much larger proportion of such crimes actually gets reported, estimate that 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys is a victim of child sexual abuse. And this does not even include the daily Indian hell known as “eve-teasing” that every Indian woman faces, everyday, or sexual harrassment at the workplace, or at home, or outright rape. Given the fact that 95% or more survivors never tell anyone, and given the head in the sand, taboo riddled attitude we Indians have to anything even remotely connected to physicality or sexuality, one can imagine how bad things must be here.

After seeing some of the more ostrich-like responses on my mother's post, i made up my mind to write of my own experiences, which seem to be fairly extensive compared to some of the commentators who would rather ignore the issues altogether, or create a senseless argument for the sake of argument itself – in the process ignoring the real problem. And yet, it took me – educated, articulate, bold, don't-care-what-the-world-thinks, i-write-my-mind, i mince no words, me, the activist, politically aware, outreach oriented me, the agony aunt, confidant, and counsellor for so many survivors me, more than a month to even begin! THAT's how tough it is to talk about.

However, here it comes. This and a few following blog posts will examine some of the issues raised in the comments of my mother's post, some issues i think it is high time we really look at.

  1. Is this situation that i keep talking and ranting about merely in india? Or is it this bad elsewhere as well? (am i speaking from personal knowledge?)
  2. Is it unnecessary for me to comment on the topic simply because “everyone knows that these things happen sometimes, and accepts it”?
  3. Is it necessary to talk about it when we can't change things? Can something be done? What is the way to do it?
  4. Shouting does not solve any problems (why not? Its a start)

And a bunch of others, thrown up by the readers, and some things i wish to elaborate on as well, which just cannot be done in the limited canvas of a comment to a post on someone's timeline. It is going to be difficult – not just to pour out this seething mass of negative emotions collected over decades of hands on dirty work in the field in an articulate and comprehensible manner – but also to delve into personal history and use experiences as ways to illistrate, examine, and explain my stand, and some of the reality that being born female in India automatically lets you in for.

The reason i am breaking this up into individual posts is twofold. It makes the posts shorter and easier to read, rather than the enormous and involved narrative/critique it would be if i did it all in one go. However, it also gives me more time, and space, to ruminate, chew-the-cud, and properly formulate everything in a more logical than emotional manner. It is time to break the silence, time to shout about it, time to --- no matter how hard it is.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Saving Lives

There was a fire, last night, in our building.

The first we knew about anything was a bunch of fire trucks, ambulances, and excited people congregating around the parking spots. There had been a power outage earlier in the evening, surprisingly, and when the power was turned back on, we decided dinner had been delayed enough, and sat down at the table. That’s when we began to notice a much higher level of noise and activity in the usually placid corridors. Almost immediately, the power went out again!

Then, the running around began, and my neighbour appeared, frantic, at my door. “Can you see the fire trucks down there?” she wanted to know. “Do you think they’ve come to our building? Looks like our building!” trying to calm her down, I accompanied her on a window to window, balcony to balcony, apartment to apartment see-what-you-can-see expedition. Yes, it turned out; the problem was, most definitely, ours. Calls of “fire!” and panicked “oh my god, what are we going to do!” could soon be heard adding to the already considerable din of wailing sirens and general hubbub.

Soon we had security and some occupants going from door to door asking people to please go down to the downstairs common area, out of the building. They came to my door too. Instead of running blindly, as I saw so many doing, i asked what the hoopla was about. Turns out it was a minor conflagration, caused by a power surge as the outage ended a little while before, and limited to the small room that housed the electric meters. So why did I have to give up on my dinner and rush downstairs? Surely two fire trucks were more than capable of handling a fire that could be put out by one large domestic grade extinguisher? All the panic around me was setting my teeth on edge.

Thinking about it rationally though, I decided that we should saunter down to take a look after all, merely for the fun of it. So, down we went. The tiny little fire having been efficiently and swiftly dealt with, the atmosphere in the common areas was more festive than anything. Someone walking in at that point, and unaware of the previous events, would probably think some kind of a meet-and-greet and chinwag with your neighbours event was going on. Lots of laughter, lots of chatter, it was like a party! People we met only occasionally in the elevators, or passed with a nod in the corridors were sharing anecdotes and tea from a nearby stall. Kids were running around, playing, thrilled at the unexpected delaying of bedtime and the unusual gathering of the all the little monsters from the block. Passersby on the street stopped to watch, amazed by this hilarity in the middle of the night in an otherwise normally quiet building.

When I finally trudged my way upstairs, as hypoglycaemia began to attack, headed for my long neglected meal, the block party was still in full swing. In bed later that night, or very early the next morning really, I got to thinking. True, this was a damp squib hardly worth blogging about, true the drama lasted much longer than the actual fire, true having a police station and the fire station practically next door was a huge advantage (it was the cops who actually noticed the flames and called the fire-fighters! The security guy, as usual, was oblivious), but what about when things are more serious?

Suppose it was a bigger fire, or the fire station was further away, or the cops less alert; suppose things HAD gotten out of hand. Are we... am I ... prepared to deal with such an eventuality? Assuming I have a few minutes to gather a couple of important things, grab my loved ones, and limb down a huge number of stairs before the whole thing goes up in flames. What does one grab? It is all very well, and perfectly right, to say as long as lives are saved, the rest is not important. I agree I would rather have my man and child safe and unhurt than anything else on the planet. But what if it came to that?

We escape with our lives, and the clothes we are standing up in (which, given that we were lounging about at home, are likely to be extremely tattered and disreputable). Then what? Sure, the money in the bank is safe, but all the paperwork proving that it belongs to me, and all methods of accessing it (check books, ATM cards) just went up in flames. All my clothes (which include a few superlative sarees i have collected over the last 20 years, Ouch!) are gone – but one can buy more clothes if one can access the money. Furniture, knick-knacks, random clutter collected from living, is dispensable and easily replaceable. More traumatic to lose would be my hundreds of books, gut wrenchingly painful thought, but that too can be replaced with a little money and time.

The problem would be losing a bunch of other irreplaceable or difficult to replace stuff. For instance my computers, and their backups, which contain all my work, my writing- professional and personal, digital versions of my sketches and paintings, my photographs (which include pictures of my loved ones, and my baby – from her birth onwards- which is an added loss), my ebooks (about 1000 of them), the gallows for my next book, important documents and accounts of my firm, and so much more. Most of it is irreplaceable, some of it truly very difficult to replace.

Then there are the papers. Passports, birth certificates and degrees, insurance policies, work related documents, tax and investment related paperwork, bank documents and documents related to safety deposit box, in short, every single paper that proves who I am and what I have. My entire life, and all my assets. I realised not only that I, and anyone else, can lose all of this in one fell swoop, but I have no idea what it would mean in the long run. I have no idea whether any of this can be replaced, or how to go about replacing it. I have no idea what happens with the stuff that can’t be replaced.

SCARY! Without a wake up call like a close shave, how many of us bother to think about these things? Oblivious as we are in our daily grind, when do we even realise that something like this is worth thinking about? My “take-away” from this incident is simple. I am going to find out about how to replace each of these papers, and what and how long that takes. I am also creating multiple back-ups of backups – external hard disks, photocopies – and stashing them with others, with parents, trusted friends. This should at least make sure that even if I have to walk out of my home forever, at a moment’s notice, the important stuff is already safe.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

TOTALLY off-track, for a friend.

Classical engineering courses for the CSE curriculum (WBUT as well as others), as well as programming courses, from the comfort and convenience of home, VIA Google Hangout. Initial offering includes Python and Ruby on Rails as well as Microprocessors & Microcontrollers. interested parties please contact 

(Debasis Das received his BE degree in Electronics Engineering from the Jadavpur University, Kolkata in 1968. His M Tech was from IIT, Kanpur in Electrical Engineering (Computer Science Major) in 1979. Debasis worked in DRDO for sixteen years and twenty two years in the Indian Software Industry working with software industry majors like the HCL, PCS, Rolta (twice), Neilsoft, Genesys International and technology companies like DG2L technologies(twice), Zintec Software, Parsec Technologies( US stint), Global Edifice, etc. He was head of Computer Science and IT departments at Mallabhum Institute of Technology, Bishnupur, W Bengal (2009 – 2011) and Dean Academics at SR Group of Institutions, Jhansi (2012). He has two textbooks to his credit. One on Microprocessor based design in old media and one on project Management, a text for Kindle e-reader. He has more than a dozen publications internationally and nationally and a couple of hundred articles on the Internet (check out consultdebasis. com).)

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

PRIDE – Twice Over

Over the last week and a half, I attended two events linked with the Kolkata Rainbow Pride Walk. A fundraiser - and the actual walk. It took me many years to get up any sort of momentum to do this. I have been toying with the idea of immersing myself in the community again, of going back to outreach and activism in whatever small way, and of reaching out to make some friends. Yet, somehow, over the years, inertia has been difficult to get over. Getting more and more lonely and feeling more and more stagnated has not been enough of a goad somehow, and seemed to bring depression and listlessness and apathy rather than action. Until finally, June decided me. Shit happened, and it was either get out and do something, or start taking medication. So, I went to the Pride events.

 And I am glad, so glad I went. Having a huge circle in Pune, and being a part of many events there, I knew I was definitely interested in meeting the bunch here, had been in contact with a few of them online recently, but hadn’t yet met anyone, and basically just chickened out of walking in alone to a roomful of strangers. In fact, I dragged a friend of mine to the Pre-Pride Fundraiser party night, because I so badly wanted to go, but didn’t enjoy the thought of going alone, as I didn’t know anyone in the Kolkata community. By the end of the evening, both of us felt like we were among lifelong friends, and I ended up wondering what I was making such a fuss about.

No one who has not been to one of these events will be able to imagine the sheer exuberance and madness of it. And more than that, what I have always loved, from OLAVA to Larzish to every single event I have every attended, to the little get-together evenings, pot-lucks, and picnics, is the instant camaraderie. Just by virtue of the fact that you are there, that you turned up, you are instantly accepted and welcome. Maybe it is a reaction to all the othering, exclusion, and rejection each faces in society in general, in their “real” lives, that the minute they, or you, are in the safe space of a community event, everyone becomes family. Sure, not everyone is equally friendly, and some are more welcoming than others, but they are, overall, much friendlier and welcoming and accepting than any other kind of gathering I can think of.

Not for the first time in my life, I made more friends in roughly three hours at the party than I have ever made at ten non community events. My date/friend pointed this out… astonished at the warmth she was getting from total strangers. As a straight identified woman, who has never even met someone she knew to be LGBT, she had expected to feel like the outsider, like she didn’t belong, maybe even someone to be looked at with a little suspicion. Instead, she was instantly didi, and a part of the proceedings dispensing make-up advice to performers, helping pin the errant pallu or wig, laughing, chattering, and feeling very much at home. She asked me if these events were always like this. And I had to say yes.

Her questions made me think. What is it about being community or family that makes so many of these people so nice, so genuine? Maybe it is the fact that they are treated like non-persons on the outside. Maybe it is the relief at no longer having to hide who they really are and who they really love. Maybe it is the relief at finding others like themselves. Maybe it is the rare feeling of safety. Maybe it is the fact that a lot of the people at these events are activists, actively fighting to make the world a better, friendlier place. Maybe it is the basic layer of genuineness introduced by the act of coming out. Or maybe, as is likely, it is a combination of all or any of these things. Whatever it is, the evening was phenomenal.

This made me all the more determined to walk the Walk. There were some domestic skirmishes over it, the timing clashing with plans monkey and her father had made for our Sunday outing. However, this time, I wasn’t going to bend. I needed this. So, 2.30pm on Sunday 13th July, I stared horrified at the layer upon layer upon layer of charcoal clouds piling in and the heavy downpour beginning to set in, just as I left for the start point. The closer I got to Triangular park, the heavier it seemed to come down, and by Jadavpur crossing the roads were turning into rivers. Needless to say, I was not feeling great. When I got to the gathering point, it looked deserted. Not to mention the tons of water coming down from a sky that had remained perversely bone dry for two whole weeks previous to this very day!

Oh! And just to make things more interesting, on the very day when I needed to coordinate with facebook friends. and walk organizers, and parents, and partners, and offspring, I had managed to walk out the doors without my trusty phone. So, borrowing an phone, I finally managed to speak to someone and confirm that people were collecting and the walk would certainly take place although it might be a little delayed. And so, roughly an hour after the original scheduled time, we set off.

Festive is not even close to a description of the supercharged, pulsating atmosphere thrilling through the thousand odd participants. Costumes, masks, painted faces, and outlandish mannerisms were as much in evidence as the regular jeans and tee, and unassuming body language. Masks were fewer than I expected, though, and more people seemed comfortable showing their faces or talking to the press. Cameras everywhere, of which mine was one, and music, dancing, sloganeering! What an amazing atmosphere!

The distance from Triangular Park to South City Mall is definitely more than most people walk for fun. With my ex-broken left foot, and my suffering from plantars fasciitis right foot, it is practically impossible. I had my misgivings about walking the whole way and was ready to hop in a cab when my lower extremities gave out, and going and waiting for the walkers at the end point. Such is the power of a cocktail of enthusiasm, fellow feeling, and adrenaline, that I didn’t even feel tired and walked the whole way pretty easily. Looking at everyone, smiling at and being smiled at by random strangers just because both of us were at this together, talking to the press, talking to bystanders, listening to and chanting the slogans, and generally having a whale of a time, we were ready to disperse before I knew it.

Why are you here, the lady from the press had asked me, among other things. And I told her I was there to support the cause, which I was. I was there to put a face to this nameless things called a queer person. I was there to make someone feel less alone and to show the ones in the closets and the ones confused about who they are and whether it is normal/ok that they are not the only ones. I was there for the outreach value of the leaflets we distributed, or the answers we gave, or just the sheer presence of a thousand “other” people marching down the main streets of the city.

But more than any of that I was there for me. For that feeling of being among MY people, of belonging, of meeting so many fantastic human beings, strong women and sensitive men and every gender defying shade in between. 

I was there to find friends again … friends who understand what I am saying, where I am coming from, and who don’t think either is a waste of time. I was there to build coalitions which will facilitate future outreach and activism that I want to get back into. And … it was worth every minute. 

PRIDE and prejudice

On Sunday, I spent an amazing few hours sweating my guts out, dragging my injured feet, and walking an unprecedented distance and time, and enjoying it immensely. The occasion was the 13th annual Kolkata Rainbow Pride walk, and I LOVED it! What is a Pride Walk? Simply put, Pride Walks, Pride Parades, and Pride Parties are events that celebrate lesbian, gay, bisexual, asexual, transgender, and intersex identities and cultures. Usually held around June-July every year, to commemorate the Stonewall riots, these are annual events that put these identities “out there” in public. This one began at Triangular Park and ended very close to South City Mall on Prince Anwar Shah Road, after travelling through the Gariahat More, Golpark, Dhakuria, and Jadavpur Thana areas.

People who know me well would be mystified at how I managed to hobble the entire distance without wanting to take a cab home. I wondered about that myself, at the end of the evening, when I crashed into the couch at home and promptly found myself unable to get back up again. Although I felt neither the pain nor the time when the walk was on, lost in the sights, sounds, adrenaline, sloganeering, and sheer enthusiasm, when I finally unwound, every muscle and bone in my back, glutes, legs and feet felt like masses of shivering, shaking, agonizingly painful jelly. But the glow! The wonderful radiant glow I felt, still feel two days later, makes up for my still aching muscles and my damaged foot.

Over the last couple of weeks, as I prepared – excitedly – for the pre-Pride fundraiser, and then for the walk, wheels started to turn in peoples’ heads. Those who know me well, including my family, know perfectly well where I stand on issues of gender and sexual diversity, and why. It was the more recent, and I must say more removed, people who became more and more curious, mystified, and sometimes even uncomfortable. Well, I’m quite the bitch, and I must admit I enjoy being brash, open, frank, and upfront about my opinions, and I LOVE shaking people out of their cozy hetero-patriarchal, unthinking, comfort zones. So I minced no words over the last few weeks, and every time someone asked me what I was doing, or what was new in life, I told them about the walk, and how much I was looking forward to it.

As an almost automatic response, many, many times in the last few weeks, I have been asked “are you a lesbian?” ( or other versions such as “are you one of them”, “are you into that”, “are you that way”, and, from the more articulate ones, “are you bisexual?”). I’m not even going to get started on how presumptuous it is for a comparative stranger to ask something like that … that’s a whole different blog post in the making. The point -- as I told them and as I told the lady from the press who asked something similar during her “interview” while we walked -- is that it is totally immaterial what my personal gender identity, sexual orientation or preference is.

My reason for being at the walk, my reasons for being involved in LGBT activism/outreach for so many years, and my reasons for being there for the community in whichever way I can have to do with numerous things, very few – if any – of which have to do with who I may or may not have loved/slept with in my life. Any number of issues, motives, beliefs drives my engagement with the community, and while they are based on personal opinions, almost none of them are driven solely by personal gender sexual identity. I do what I do, write what I write, post what I post on my blog, Facebook, or elsewhere, because it makes sense to me. And by that I mean it makes sense to the rational, political, egalitarian, liberal, libertarian, individual rights, human rights based belief system and worldview that I subscribe to.

The same way you don’t have to be a tree to be an environmentalist, the way you don’t have to be an endangered species to be a conservationist, the way you don’t have to be a person of color to believe in civil rights or affirmative action, the way you don’t have to be a street dog to be an animal rights activist, that very same way, you do not have to be “like that” to believe in or fight for LGBTIA rights. I have written before, even here (in "why i support LGBT rights", as well as "377 bites the dust" and "377 Update"), about some of my reasons for supporting the community, about how these beliefs are more about equality, human rights, and individual freedoms – the very place where my other beliefs (like women’s rights, civil rights, and all other kinds of equality) comes from. My presence at the Pride Walk was much more a matter of any or all of these stands than about whatever my personal choices, preferences and leanings might be.  

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Reliving Childhood Memories ….. Almost

It has been roughly 25 years since I last went to the circus.

As a child I remember visiting often, and loving every minute of it, until around the time I was 13 or 14. That was when various kinds of activism eliminated all animals from the circus, and – for kids like me – took all the fun out of it. Yes, there are great circus shows worldwide without animal performers, but India of the late 1980s was not the place to find any of them. So circus watching died a natural death, and the heart pumping excitement of seeing the tents or a random poster disappeared. Soon, the tents stopped appearing and the posters were no longer put up. Nationwide, at least in the larger cities, circus troupes quietly disappeared never to be heard from again for the next quarter of a century or so.

I grew up, and the whole idea and excitement of the circus faded into the background of more grown-up pastimes. Until very recently. In the last couple of years, I have been seeing posters and billboards advertising the odd circus troupe in some remote section of the city or another. Steadily toying with the idea of going, especially now that monkey is old enough to enjoy it, I made up my mind to take her to one, one of these days, before she became addicted to technology to the exclusion of all else. And still, somehow or the other, we never quite made it. Time was never right, distances were too long, traffic too unbeatable, or the tents had packed up and left by the time I got around to it. Something always got in the way. And then, two weeks ago, one pitched its tents right here in my neighborhood!

Before a single coherent thought could form, I found myself walking back to the car clutching a handful of tickets! For the couple of weeks that it has been here, monkey has passed the grounds everyday with a sigh. She was marveled over the lights in the evening, and wondered about the big sleepy tents in the day. And every day, every single day, she has asked her father, or me, “Can we go one day?” so when I woke from my trance with enough tickets for a whole bunch of people, I knew my little one would certainly be pleased. But what I was looking forward to, more even than her excitement at knowing that we were going, was the wonder and awe I was sure to see on her face during the show – the same wonder and awe I remember feeling every time I was taken to see the circus – from as far back as roughly nine years of age (about as old as my daughter is now).

We didn’t tell her about the tickets. Being the weekend, I picked her up from her “dance” class (which is essentially an excuse for a bunch of kids to behave like total nutcases and go crazy with music) and told her we had to go somewhere. Now, strangely, my little one doesn’t like surprises, and when told something like that assumes that mommy is dragging her to some relative/friend’s home where she may or may not find company (given that most people we know are either childless or have much older kids), or to some boring grown up activity like shopping. So when the car turned into the fairgrounds, it was quite amazing to see her go from morose and protesting to lit up and bursting out of her skin in a split second.

Walking in, sitting down, I could see all the stars in her eyes that I had expected. She saw the incredible trapeze artists flying overhead with so much awe. She loved the little trained dogs, and birds (yes, SOME animals are back), she rolled around in laughter when the clowns did their thing, and shrieked with joy when the elephants worshipped an idol or played cricket. It was like being nine again for me too. The sheer vicarious pleasure of seeing all this for the first time through her eyes brought back all the memories of my own magical first time at a circus. I could feel all the awe, the surreal feeling.

And then, I looked around. I could see all the broken equipment, the dilapidated chairs, the holes in the tent and in the mats, but most of all, I could see the emptiness of the tent. For a weekend primetime show, the tent was terribly empty. Hardly 40% of the seats were taken, and we were the only people in the more pricey seats. Seemed strange at first, until I noticed the expressions on the faces of the kids that were there. Most of them, as young as my own or much older, looked bored, uninterested, and uninvolved. Many were fidgeting with their “latest” phones and tabs, and seemed hardly to be paying any attention to the action in the ring, except when they shot videos of it….presumably for facebook.

I wondered if it had always been this way and I had merely been too small or too enraptured to notice, or if things had really gotten that bad. Speaking to my father later cleared things up a lot. He was grown up and cynical enough even when he took us to the circus as children, but he does not remember it being quite so pathetic. Sure, circus has always been a little shabby around the edges, in India at least, but the abysmal situation we found on this trip is far, far worse than anything we could have even imagined. The entire enterprise seemed to be hanging on by the barest of threads, in danger of having to give up at any moment.

Somehow, we have managed to get our children to lose that sense of wonder that I remember so well. And more than that, we have managed to kill any desire to experiment, try something new, or be interested in anything outside their own narrow spheres. No wonder then that circus troupes all over the country are struggling so badly. Even under the best of circumstances, with packed shows, they are difficult and very expensive enterprises to run. All those people to feed and pay, animals to buy, feed, and take care of, equipment to acquire and maintain, lights, travel, setup, and on and on. Given that even a primetime weekend show has such dismal occupancy, one can imagine what the “not so popular” shows must be like. It is a miracle they are even making enough to continue to stay in the business at all!

It makes me sad though, the fact that my daughter, one of the few children I know who would rather play outside or go to the circus than sit in her room with her PS2, may not be able to enjoy this wonderful display of human skill for much longer.