Friday, 6 March 2015

Why I Refuse to Give up Hope

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Much has been said about the attitudes of the defense lawyers, the perpetrators and some policemen interviewed in Leslee Udwin's documentary, "India's Daughter". I would like to amplify the other voices in that documentary in this post. The voices that give me hope, because, for far too long the narrative about women's safety and the Indian culture has been hijacked by people like those mentioned above. It is time to wrest that narrative out of their hands and put into those who will make change happen. So here are the people and their actions that give me hope:

  1. Jyoti Singh: For asking that her parents spend the money they were going to spend on her wedding on her education instead. Note: she is from a lower middle class family.
  2. Jyoti Singh's parents: For creating an environment where she felt comfortable enough to make this request. For actually selling their land to fund her studies -- despite opposition from Jyoti Singh's father's brothers
  3. Jyoti Singh: for showing a strong will to live and bring the perps to justice, even when she must  have been in so much pain. 
  4. Jyoti Singh's parents: For proudly stating their daughter's name and not acting like she is to blame.
  5. Jyoti Singh's tutor and several other men and women: For thinking that a woman returning from the movies with a male friend at 8:30pm is no big deal.
  6. All the men and women who were protesting in Delhi: They were asking for justice not just for Jyoti Singh, but for several other women.
  7. The woman protester who mentioned her husband when talking about her protests. Take note, guardians of the Indian culture: there are husbands out there who fear for the safety of their wives, but fully support their need to protest. 
  8. The husbands and SOs of women like the one above.
  9. All the men and women who protested in Delhi: They kept it up for a month or more and made a landmark change in the law happen. For a large country like India, this is no mean feat.
  10. All the people who wrote to the Verma commission to fuel this change.
  11. The Verma commission itself: for pushing this change through
  12. Gopal Subramanium, Senior Advocate of the Supreme Court and Co-Author of the Verma report. For giving credit to the feminist scholars who came before the Verma commission and articulated the root cause of the problem. Pause here, Guardians of Indian culture. Here is a man in a very senior position, someone surely worthy of your respect and he just gave credit to women. Not just any old group of women, but feminists. And he referred to them as scholars. So, may be there is a lesson here for you.
So here is my salute to everyone that has helped push this issue this far. May your tribe increase and may the voices and actions of the moderates be the norm.
May the truth win.

PS: The documentary has been maligned by too many people who have not actually watched it. I have watched it and it is a balanced documentary. There was no case to ban it at all.
Here is my first reaction to the ban:

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Thursday, 5 March 2015

Silencing India's Daughter

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India's motto is brave. It says, "Satyamev Jayate": truth alone wins. Not truth also wins. Not, truth may sometimes win. Not, we hope that we will let truth win.  Not, that we trust in a God to make sure that truth will win. It states unequivocally that truth will win.

It is, therefore, ironic that a country whose motto is to seek the truth has chosen to ban the documentary that tries to do precisely this. How can the truth win, if the collective consciousness of an entire nation is sought to be buried deep into the Earth?

Those that sought the ban said:

  1. We will not allow anyone to profit from the misfortune of another
  2. The country has been shamed
  3. This is a conspiracy to defame India
  4. There was no need to interview the perpetrator, this will only titillate others of similar mind set.
This last point stirred up even those who don't normally propose banning as a knee jerk reaction to every uncomfortable truth. They sought to ban this because, who in their right minds would want to revel in the details of the crime? Having watched it, I can say that the documentary does not revel in his description of what was done to Jyoti Singh. My reaction to the documentary was that it was very sensitively done and very balanced. It tried to get to the heart of the problem. It tried to start a very necessary conversation about this problem and most importantly it conveyed a very hopeful message that there will be a solution for it. 

So why did a documentary that was not at all about the lack of remorse of the perpetrator become all about it? May be it was because this was the unfortunate tag-line that the TV networks decided to go with to promote the film.

But, let's take a step back from all this hysteria. Forget what anyone thinks of the country or the culture or whether the West is saving the East or anything at all and just ask ourselves the only real question that matters:

do we want to change the status quo for women in India or not? Do we want to make it safer for not just women but everyone else, or not?

I am hopeful that there are enough rational people in the country who will then move to the next important question: how can that be done? And the answer to that is in the quote from documentary, which for some reason has received no attention at all.

This quote from Gopal Subramanium, Senior Advocate of the Supreme Court and Co-Author of the Verma report, is where the solution lies, "Nobody is a monster that he is excluded from the society.... any society that has rapists has to take responsibility for them. This is the first thing that the feminist scholars that came before the Verma commission said ..... that these are our people. These men are ours". This truth needs to come out into the open. This needs to be digested so that we can heal and move on and make the society a better place. For all of us.

The documentary is available at :

My letter to the Verma Commission is here:

And here is why I refuse to give up hope:

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Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Sian Ka'an Biosphere

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The Sian Ka'an Biosphere is located close to the city of Tulum in Quintana Roo, Mexico. The road to Sian Ka'an is not well maintained and a local restaurateur told me that there is another way to get to Punta Allen by your own car and once there, we could just hire a boat to go watch dolphins in the wild. We had, however, already booked our tour with iTour and so we decided to stick with it.

The tour assembles at 8:00 am at the iTour hotel (located at the intersection of the Carr Cancun-Tulum and Avenida Coba Sur) and gets back at about 5:30pm. We were driven in a van up to the lagoon, where we boarded a boat to travel via the lagoon to Punta Allen.

The boat ride in the lagoon was good, the captain knew what he was up to and

we got to see several crocodiles and birds making their home in the abundant mangroves.

Crocodile nestled in the mangroves

Swimming away lazily

Flying Pelican

Pink Spoonbill

Fly High!

Unidentified Perching Objects

When we reached Punta Allen, we stopped at a restaurant, had some very light food, changed into swim suits and headed on another boat into the sea to see dolphins, manatees and tortugas (sea turtles). The first thing we went searching for was the dolphins.

We came across a pod of four dolphins that were just lazily, but gracefully ambling about in their backyard

At one point, the four of them were swimming in formation just ahead of the boat.

We watched them for about 20 minutes, then raced off to look for tortugas. Unexpectedly, we found a large manatee and hung out with him/her for a bit.

It was impossible to see the entire shape of the manatee under the water, but he/she did come up for air several times and I got the snout on camera.

The next to be sighted was the tortuga and boy did it take its time about getting up to surface level. By the time the tortuga stuck his/her head out I was done taking pictures, so I simply watched him/her go back down in a 45 degree dive. He/she resurfaced one more time, before completely disappearing from view.

Then the captains takes everyone to a spot where it is possible to snorkel and then a shallow area where everyone can swim before heading back to the restaurant for a meal (not good at all, especially for vegetarians) and then back via the lagoon to the van and the hotel.

Summary: I liked the biosphere itself, but the tour company left a lot to be desired. What I liked: the dolphins, the boat ride, the wildlife.

What I did not like: (1) the tour company should have communicated that they were not going to have water on board (especially when they said several times that there was going to be food on the tour); (2) the tour guide was communicating through a walkie talkie in the lagoon, but our boat had no walkie talkie on board so we really did not get to hear what she said; (3) vegetarians will get only rice and tomatoes -- but I was not really expecting much in that department anyway; (4) there were only two of us who spoke English, so at some point the guide decided that it was not really worth it to translate everything she was saying into English; (5) when booking the tour were assured that even though one of us could not swim, someone will help us during the snorkeling bit of the tour -- not really. There was not even a ladder to get into the ocean, until one Italian tourist managed to communicate the need for it. The seas were somewhat rough and I did not want to take the chance that the captain will actually keep track of me. Also I was completely dehydrated and light headed from the sun by the time we go to the snorkel site (remember no water-- and this was the only time during the entire Mexico trip when I did not carry my own bottle). Just to clarify, I think the captain was nice-- but there was no way I could have communicated what I wanted to him and the guide was not anywhere near my boat. This was not expected since we were told that this was a multi-lingual tour; (6) when we got back to the lagoon, the boat had no docking area and I had to jump about 7 feet from the prow of the boat as the captain was really in a hurry to get back -- not a good thing if you have spinal injuries (7) we then had to walk on junk that had washed ashore at that beach to get back to the restaurant.

Despite all this, I still recommend finding a way to go to the ocean to watch the dolphins in nature, because there is nothing as beautiful as wildlife doing their own thing. Hearing them breathe is the most soothing thing ever.

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