The Woman on the Witness Stand

Film:  Court
Director:  Chaitanya Tamhane

When Sharmila (Usha Bane), the wife of the deceased Vasudev Pawar is questioned in court about the circumstances of her husband’s death, which the police have declared a suicide, her answers offer no evidence that corroborates this.  No suicide note, no sign of depression, and no recollection of hearing the song or singer that the prosecutor claims abetted the suicide by encouraging sanitation workers to end their lives.

Sharmila Pawar2.png
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Preparing for Sankranti

Looking at Sainath’s new website, People’s Archive of Rural India, I have grown more and more excited with every moment.  The everyday lives of everyday people, the diversity of rural life, rural voices, rural ways of expression … everything he talks about resonates with me and I am eager to take part in this project. Continue reading


Seven Fallacies about Menstruation and Culture

Never have I so acutely felt the weight of Jonathan Swift’s remark, “Falsehood flies, and the truth comes limping after it” as now, after responding to a “viral” article propagating pseudo-scientific mumbo-jumbo in connection with menstrual untouchability, which is a crime against women just as untouchability is a crime against humanity. To top it off, this article suggests, in conclusion, that reviving traditional customs may effect social change and greater respect for women. The author is not some cranky old chauvinist male but a woman who works with government schools and health departments to teach girls and women about menstruation.  Girls certainly do need spaces where they can speak freely and ask questions about menstruation, to know it is not shameful and that their bodies are just fine.  How awesome would it be if after a presentation on the subject they could go home and declare, “I am not polluting, I don’t have to sit in the corner or in the shed. I can go where I want, when I want. I am free! Instead we hear that when girls ask questions about why they are not allowed to touch people, pickers, temples, etc, this particular teacher tells them that untouchability is “a personal choice” and that the myths and rituals reinforcing it are rooted in “ancient wisdom” when women were “worshipped.” How many adolescent girls, hearing a teacher in school offer you on the one hand patriarchy masked as “ancient wisdom” and on the other “personal choice” will choose the latter? I hope this response can increase that number:

Ask Amma

Several people have forwarded to me an article, written by an educator, connecting “ancient wisdom” to the practice of menstrual taboo, and pitying the misguided women who expect modern ideas of gender and feminism to empower them.  After cataloguing popular justifications for menstrual untouchability and suggesting that they come from a time when women enjoyed respect, indeed worship, in contrast to the present context of crimes against women, the author concludes that menstrual taboo is a matter of “personal choice.”

I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.  Would those who condone menstrual untouchability extend their reasoning to untouchability?  Is it also a personal choice for us to connect to the “ancient wisdom” through the practice of untouchability?  With more than enough relatives who would be all too happy to think so, I take this as a wake-up call

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Sankranti Zindabad!

Gobbemma:  Decorated Gobar Ball placed on Muggu.

Gobbemma: Decorated Gobar Ball placed on Muggu.

We celebrated Sankranti yesterday.  We drew muggulu (rangolis) and topped them with gobbemmalu (decorated gobar balls).  We danced and sang traditional songs, including “Gobbiyello!” that details, verse by verse, every stage of the growth of a seed from the moment it sprouts, bears fruit to fruit till it ripens and we finish off by eating the fruit –  a జామకాయ (guava), as the song goes.  Each stage of growth is a cause for celebration and comment:

అవునాట అక్కలార?
 “Oh, really?  Is it so, sister?” Continue reading

A funny thing happened on the way to the Anganwadi

Along the way to the anganwadi in Appalagraharam,  we saw a group of children playing outside, in civil dress.  A rare sight, and not just because it was a weekday.   They were all girls.  We often see boys running and playing outside, but rarely do we see girls playing games that take up more space than the front porch [1].  Here they were deep into a kabbaddi match.

What’s the occasion?” we called out to them.

“Picnic!” they replied.  We walked further and saw another group, this time both boys and girls, playing various games.

Two adults stood nearby wielding sticks.  I went to chat with one of them.  What are they playing? Whose  turn is it?  Why are you holding a stick?  He dropped the stick.  We must not hit.  We agreed.  I turned back to find that Ravi was chatting with the other teacher.  I found them engaged in the same discussion!  I went to join them.

When we use force, we teach only how to use force, I explained.  We may think we are teaching some right way or right principle but all we teach is that when you have power over another, you may use force.  Maybe this is what we experienced as children and are now practicing upon others.  But we can change these dynamics, once we are aware of them.

Though the teacher dropped the stick when I questioned him, would he have done so if a student had questioned him?  Does the environment of the school allow the student to question?  That would stimulate critical thinking and responsibility on the part of the student and the teacher.

When I walked back from the Anganwadi, I noticed the stick was back in his hand.

1.  See also R. Ramanujam, “Gender Construction In The Informal Curriculum,”  Education Journal — Gender and Education, Volume 1, Number1, April 2005, p. 49.  Accessed online on Dec 30 2013.

and Position Paper 3.2 of the National Focus Group on Gender Issues in Education, National Council of Educational Research and Training, November 2006, Accessed online on Dec 30 2013.

Report, Solidarity


“Jeevanyatra: Diary” appeared in AID News, Sept 7, 2001

Jeevanyatra : Diary

Getting out of the bus, the otherwise shy and quiet 13 year old Kalsingh
from village Khedi affected by Mann dam shouted, “sarkar hamse darti hai!
police ko age karti hai!” the sparkle in his eyes reflected his own
surprise at the clarity of his statement ringing out into the air. In the
back of the bus waiting to get out, even I hardly knew that he was not
merely repeating a slogan, but speaking the truth. A force of police equal
to the number of children who had reached Delhi on the jeevanyatra which
left Kasaravad on 16th August, prevented the children from marching through
the streets to reach Mandi House where another group of children was
waiting for them.

– excerpt from my jeevanyatra journal, 24 August 2001 Continue reading


Demolition of a Dream

Demolition of a dream appeared in The Hindu on 3 December 2000.

The six-year fight by the people of Narmada valley, to retain their land, may have been stopped temporarily, but the country is left with questions to which there can be no answers. The displacement of the tribals, sustained for generations by the local resource and skill base, sounds a death-knell to our civilisation, writes L. S. ARAVINDA.

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The Ambassador and I

Behind me, on the stage, were Balamurali Krishna, N. Ramani and Ravi Kiran, preparing to perform together for the first, and (the announcer opined), possibly the last time. In front of me were 1000 people waiting to hear this trio in concert. I had come to the center of the front row of Waetjen Auditorium in Cleveland to talk with the Chief Guest of the Tyagaraja Aradhana, Deputy Ambassador Srinivasan.

Why was he the Chief Guest? Apparently the Indian Ambassador is regularly invited for this slot. Is this mixing of classical music and nation-state innocent? Is Srinivasan merely a fan of Tyagaraja? He told the audience that Clinton and Vajpayee had signed a mission statement and with Clinton’s visit to India, “we have really entered a new chapter in Indo-US relations.”

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