Wednesday, 26 December 2012

My Letter to the Justice Verma Commission

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Dear Justice Verma and the Commission,

As a woman who has been harassed on the streets several times over, here are my suggestions that I believe will improve the situation.

Crime, Punishment and Reform: Rape must be made a non-bailable offense. Penalty for the rapist must be 25 to life and if paroled the victims must be informed. Better yet, make it non-parolable especially for those who commit the most gruesome of these acts. The criminal's (after being convicted) details must be recorded in a national data base. If paroled, these criminals will have to report to the parole officer. If the parole officer slacks in their work, they will be held accountable. The approximate whereabouts of the parolees must be known to someone in authority at all times. This will help stop repeat offenders like the one who raped and killed a woman in Kerala in February.

A well linked Data Base of Criminals of sexual offenders must be maintained within the police force. All applicants to police positions, paramedics, fire fighters, teachers, post-offices, must be cross-checked with this list to make sure there are no major cases pending against them or that they have not been convicted of any major crimes.

Education and Training of the Law Enforcement Agencies: 
The training course for future police officers in India must include a course on dealing with rape victims and harassment victims. The course must include what needs to be done immediately including taking medical evidence, other evidence as well as treating the accuser with respect and not as a perpetrator.
This course needs to run through the entire police curriculum, not one elective in one semester.

Special Victims Units in Police Force: It is probably time to set up special victims units within the police force to deal specifically with cases of sexual assault and street harassment based on sexual orientation or gender. Sensitive police officers-in-training need to be selected and then further trained specifically to serve in these units. Psychologists need to be on these forces to evaluate the condition of the victims as well as to provide necessary help in interrogation of the suspect when apprehended. Very hardworking, talented, sincere students in the police academy should be selected to undergo training in countries where these kinds of units have been successfully deployed. Their training should be monitored and outcomes clearly defined and measured upon return. Clearly we need a very good education board for police academy just as we need for the rest of education system in the country.

Public Awareness Campaign: A campaign like ``Mera Bharat Mahaan" in the 80s must be in place on all TV and radio channels that emphasizes the right to safety for all citizens including women and elderly on the streets. Every village, every corner, every city of India must hear these messages. Please don't use the usual "Maa/Behan" argument, because that leaves out those who are orphans or those who have no male members in the immediate family and robs a wholly functional woman of their completeness. The right to safely negotiating the streets of India and contributing materially to its progress, is the right of every citizen whether or not they have living brothers/fathers/male cousins/husbands. These messages must be painted on auto-rickshaws, taxi cabs, buses and trains (just like the ones in place now for family planning).

As part of the public awareness campaign a plan must be conveyed to the public on how to report a suspected crime safely and effectively. Make it safe for people to report these crimes without feeling like they will be stuck in messy cases themselves.

Safety on the Streets and Public Transportation: Let us make it easier for people to report crimes being committed on other people by not treating them as criminals themselves.  Limit availability of acid to people. How are these criminals still able to obtain acid to throw at people on the streets to intimidate them? Investigate this and find ways to make it difficult for people to gain access to acids. Create a public awareness campaign brochure on what to do if you are under acid attack to neutralize it immediately. Teach it to the children and the youth and the elderly and everyone. Presumably it will have to be someone else who does that for the victim, so train them to use it.

Trains already have chains that can be pulled in times of emergency. But this did not happen in the case of Soumya from Kerala in Feb 2011. Why? This is a failure of public education and a fear of police rather than the infrastructure. But one does wonder how often these chains are actually tested? Who works to make sure that these things will actually work when needed? There needs to be similar things in bus stops and train stations everywhere. Things that raise loud alarms and sends a signal to the local police stations. Of course a fine for the those who abuse it will have to be instituted. There will always be crank callers who will abuse it and the police will be inconvenienced, but its a small price to pay for the larger safety issue.

Public Infrastructure: Street lights and 100 numbers are essential. The 100 numbers must be always operational. Police force must be trained to be on the scene of crime within in a few minutes of the call. Sure this means that there will have to be a huge increase in the police force. But isn't unemployment one of the other problems we face? Why not hold a strong national advertising campaign to recruit the best minds into the force early and provide them with sensitive training to serve on the police force? Surely there is enough talent out there to make this feasible. It may take a few years to see the outcome, but better late than never! If public infrastructure is getting in the way of speedy police assistance think about setting up more police response units or bettering the streets and traffic.

Public Alert System
: It is essential to get the word and likeness of the suspects out as soon as possible. We need to evolve a system that will quickly gather up visual description of the suspects to send out an alert within say 24 hours. The sooner we get the public looking for these people, the faster we will find them. If the victim is reported missing, then and only then, should the likeness of the victim be sent out to all media that can be used to help find the victim.

Electoral Reforms: No more rapists and suspected rapists on the ballots or serving in any public office. No more insensitive comments on who gets raped and who does not. No one asks for rape. No one. Not even those who trade sex for money. So, let's never blame the victim for this crime. What separates a civilized society from a jungle is that in a civilized society everyone can expect a modicum of safety and respect whether they are frail or ill or weak or poor or marginalized. Everyone deserves to feel safe.

Language and the Crime
: Language is a very important tool that can mold society's behavior. References to rape as "a violation of a woman's modesty" is too archaic and useless in today's context.  It is time to look at such verbiage and make necessary changes. Stop referring to street harassment as eve teasing. Teasing implies a playful activity. What goes on under the name of eve teasing is NOT playful, too violent, too invasive, too intimidating. Call it what it is: it is harassment. There is probably a lot more to be done even within the definition of what rape is. Including defining rape inside a marriage.

Entertainment and Media: Hefty fines must be imposed on TV and news reporters/channels who sensationalize these stories. For example, no need to post the pictures of the victim unless they are missing. No one needs to know how the victim looked. Any editorial or other piece of reporting that hints that it was the victim/survivor's clothes, profession that "provoked" the attack must be made to pay huge fines and undergo a sensitization program of social work.

Educating the Future Indians: Every school must have an awareness period in the curriculum. The CBSE schools had (probably still do) what is called Socially Useful Productive Work (SUPW) classes in place, which were used in these schools as either place holders for special classes or a way to teach knitting and stitching to the girls and electric circuitry for boys. Time to use these classes for creating public awareness in the minds of these young children. Use age appropriate methods to teach them to be respectful to all people irrespective of gender and sexual orientation. Use these classes as a time for moderated discussion among the pupils to help them air out their inner most fears and phobias and help them understand where they come from and why this is important. Specially trained teachers are needed for these courses, just as they are needed for courses in Physics and Chemistry.

Educating the Educators: Every school teacher needs to undergo training on how to teach and how to be unbiased when they teach in class. This is sorely lacking in the current context and is not to be underestimated. This training could be incorporated in the equivalent of BT degrees. This will prevent non-verbalized bias from creeping into the classrooms and will help keep impressionable youngsters from internalizing these biases from young age. Examples of non-verbal bias includes teachers asking a question and then unconsciously turning to the "boys side" to wait for answers. This sends a message that "girls" couldn't possibly have answers to these questions.

Auxiliary Public Campaign: It is essential for the infrastructure to function properly as intended if we are to really let police, fire fighters and ambulances to get to the site of crime/disaster. I am sure everyone has seen ambulances with sirens blaring and not one vehicle on the street moves to make way. It is time that we all understand the need to follow simple traffic rules. Those lights are not there for decoration. Please aim at starting a public campaign on this issue as well.

I am sure there are more that one can think of. But here is a start.

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Thursday, 29 November 2012

Broccoli Rabe, Sweet Potato Omelet

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Here's one more of my crazy omelets. The craziest thus far, I think.

For the "curry"

Broccoli Rabe -- 1 bunch
Sweet potatoes --- 3 small
Purple onions -- 2 fist sized
Mustard seeds
Fennel seeds (Saunf), -- a teaspoon
Oil for cooking -- I used coconut oil
Garam masala
Chili powder

The Method:

Boil the sweet potatoes in water, peel and break them into small pieces
Heat some oil, and add the mustard and let it sputter.
Add the fennel seeds and let it turn slightly brown.
Immediately add the onions and saute them until transparent.
Add the garam masala and and fry until the aroma smells cooked.
Drop the broccoli rabe and saute it
Add the chili powder, turmeric, salt and saute until almost completely cooked.
Add the broken up sweet potatoes and cook a little until the flavors blend.

For the omelete:

As always, break the eggs, whisk it until the yolk and albumen mix well, spoon in as much "curry" as you would like and make your omelet as per usual.

Makes 2 2-egg omelets and 2 3-egg omelets.

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Thursday, 22 November 2012

Spicy Acorn Squash Chips or Fries or Crisps

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Finally I got back my cooking mojo. I tried out an inspired acorn squash, chips/fries thing. I have made acorn squash soups before, but I wanted to try making a baked chips like thing. It came out awesome!

The Ingredients:

1 Acorn squash
garam masala
aamchur (mango seed powder, which is available in most Indian stores)
chili powder
organic, extra virgin, cold pressed coconut oil (or whichever you prefer)


Pre-heat oven to 400F
Peel the acorn squash
Cut it in half, remove the seeds
Cut the acorn in as thin strips as possible
Make sure that you get about the same size so that they all cook at same rate
Take a large pizza pan or similar and cover it with foil.
Melt the coconut oil and mix the garam masala, red chili powder, salt and amchur into the coconut oil.
Throw the acorn squash slices into the oil to coat it.
Alternately, you can simply dribble coconut oil over the slices and then sprinkle everything else on top.
Place the coated squash slices on the pan and put it in the oven.
Bake for about 40 minutes or more. Since oven times varies, I would start with the timer set at 20 minutes and see how it goes.

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Saturday, 17 November 2012

Equity is Important

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If you have been wondering what's up with me; if in fact, there is/are a you out there, I have been dealing with Sandy and the aftermath. But meanwhile, I came across this video which speaks to me in so many ways!

If the capuchin monkeys can realize that pay equity is important, what's preventing some humans from realizing this?

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Sunday, 21 October 2012

More on Golu Park/Forest/Village Setting

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In the last post (click here)  I identified some ways in which you can start your own "grass" for your golu. Here are some more ways in which you can "greenify" your golu.

1. Sod: If you have a backyard, you can always cut up a small patch of grass for your golu. Actual, real, grass. Grass as you know has a very shallow root system, so you don't really have to dig deep. This is what I landed up doing.
Line a shallow cardboard box with some plastic, sprinkle water regular -- but don't over water, you don't want to over water  your plants. Most importantly leave it in a sunny place. If you don't have enough sunlight in your golu room, leave the light on during the day.

2. Artificial stuff: that green plasticky indoor outdoor carpet will be perfect for artificial grass, if you are into that sort of thing.

My own rural/forest scene was made from mustard sprouts, grass I dug up from the backyard, some snips of barberry shrubs (that made trees) a rock and some sand.
Tribal people hunting some deer. With a "mountain" in the back ground

the mustard seedlings that will become the fields

The mustard fields and the "puliyaattakkaran' procession on the village road the connects the forest to the clearing

Pitch perfect!
The karagattakkaran performance at the village clearing!

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Saturday, 13 October 2012

Growing Grass for your Golu

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What kid does not want a park in their golu? Or a zoo? Or a cricket pitch? Every year, as a kid I used to fight for my rights to free space. In the context of golu of course, this would be a park, zoo, cricket pitch or all of the above.

When we were kids we used to use either whole moong ( or mustard seeds ( soaked in water and then sowed in a shallow pan of soil. Water it lightly regularly and you will have a glorious patch of turf for your golu needs. In Chennai, these things did not take long to grow and was the best quick fix solution. In the cooler climes of north america, though, it might take a little longer to grow these.

However, there are other options for the North American golu aficionado.

  1. Moong or Mustard seeds: just as described above
  2. Actual grass seeds: available, usually at the start of the Fall season at any garden or big box stores. Read germination time instructions and sow in doors in a large shallow potting dish (punch holes in the bottom for adequate drainage). Usually germination times are about 2 weeks. Remember  you need them to be a little taller than new seedlings, so give ample time.
  3. Onions/ Garlic: Bare root onions/garlic are often available around this time of the year. They can be sown in a pot and are fairly quick to "show their green". They tend to be slightly thicker than what you would call grass, but on the flip side, you could potentially get a harvest out of it later.
  4. Cat grass: If you are in a pinch and have forgotten to sow anything in time, these things can come in handyAny pet store carries them practically year round. Looks like grass: here are some pics for you of this thing: google images for cat grass. You may even find it in the pet aisle in grocery stores.
If you use any of these tips to create your patch of green for golu, I would love to hear from you. 

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Friday, 5 October 2012

October is here!

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The month of Navarathri (here was my last year's Navarathri write up and the golu) and Halloween is  here. Yet, my mojo is not! Whatever has happened, I wonder. But I did drum up some enthusiasm to at least glue the broken bommais ("dolls"/"sculptures") back together.

The husband bought me some "dolls" for golu this year to increase my repertoire, so to speak. But since the packaging wasn't quite up to par, some of these guys arrived broken! Boo hoo!

The karagatta kaaran came in two pieces -- but at least he was neatly severed.
(Click here to know more about the folk dance form called Karagattam. And here are some neat images of the dance)

Same thing happened with this guy carrying a pot (presumably one more of the karagattam entourage!) 

 But the lady with the pot on her head was not so lucky. She lost her head and the pot with it. Even with gluing she is not going to look whole. But, isn't that part of the charm of golu? Each "doll" carries the mark of its history.

 But what upset me most was this lovely (I believe Rajasthan made) brick breaker. He lost his thumb and his hammer and it is quite the challenge to stick that back! And some of his broken bricks are rolling loose and will need some way to stick them back.

I think even he is a bit saddened. Don't you think?

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Thursday, 27 September 2012

Unexpected Harvest

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Every year my compost bin hosts a tomato plant. Every year the little tomatos would be nibbled to oblivion by the not so little ground hogs. This year, I did not clear the grass growing around my compost bin and it had grown over the anaemic golden mop. Today I cleared out the grass and guess what I found?

Amazingly there were two completely ripe tomatos that were not eaten by ground hogs. Unfortunately, they were so worm infested, they went straight back into the bin again.

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Friday, 21 September 2012

Old IKEA Trivet + Tea Box = Jewelry organizer

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Even for a woman like me with not too many (I stubbornly insist) pieces of jewelry, there comes a time when some organization is simply important. For one, I cannot for the life of me remember the pieces I have and therefore land up wearing the same-old, same-old pieces of jewelry over and over again. Finally this summer was the year when I got to sorting out all of my dangling pieces that have hooks.

I converted an old tea box with a plexi glass door into a jewelry organizer. At first I simply used this as is, with the cardboard partitions that were used to separate the individual tea sachets to separators for jewelry. But that really did not keep the ear rings in their intended place. Unfortunately, I have no pics of that mess.

Remember the other trivet that was turned into a doorway key organizer? (Click here if you don't). I had another one saved up inside and it was in worse (or better) shape, because all of the crisscrossing pieces of wood had come un-done. I simply hot glued 4 of them in a staggered fashion like below and screwed on the hooks. Then I hung up the ear rings and rings. Done. Just be warned that screwing the hooks onto the wood could give you blisters!
Old Tea box with plexiglass door converted to ear-ring and ring organizer

Staggering the pieces of wood gave me the ability to hand longer pieces on the end and shorter ones in the middle!

You can tell I got tired of screwing those hooks towards the end!

I plan on hanging it vertically on the wall. So easy to just take one look and know what you have. I do have to make a few more for the chains and necklaces and also the ones that have no hooks to hang them by!

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Saturday, 25 August 2012

Sour Cream - Greek Yogurt Ranch Dressing and a Salad

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Here is my twist on the ranch dressing. I do not usually buy mayonnaise and I have never made my own, so my dressing had to be mayonnaise free.

The Dressing

1/2 cup Sour Cream
1/2 cup Greek Yogurt
3 or 4 spoons of extra virgin Olive oil
Fresh dill finely chopped
Fresh chives, finely chopped
Horse radish (prepared in vinegar) per taste
salt to taste
pepper to taste

Add the sour cream, greek yogurt, olive oil, prepared horse radish and a little water in a blender and blend until everything is fully mixed.
Pour it out into a bowl.
Add the chopped herbs and mix by hand until everything is well blended.


Fresh pepper and chives

The dressing
The Salad:
Mixed greens of your choice
Pepper Jack cheese (I am in love with this thing, but don't seem to like it melted)
You could throw in some nuts, but I did not.
Toss with dressing. Done!

The final nom, nom!

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