Monday, March 19, 2007

Noble effort

Picked up a copy of Insight ... creating awareness, a new magazine based in Delhi that allegedly is looking to spread enlightenment about sundry social issues.

Unfortunately, the whole project just seems a bit off. I can't quite gauge the forces at play here -- perhaps its backers have vested interests, or maybe they are simply incapable of translating their thoughts into suitable English -- but their stated intent conflicts a bit with the magazine's contents.

Let's take, for instance, their covery story, "Women: Freedom With Caution." It starts out promisingly enough, with the reporter narrating three instances of crimes against women. And then you turn the page.

Which includes such gems as, "Late night parties are a big hit these days, as life has become busier and women have become career oriented they usually do not find time to enjoy life, and late night parties serve as a good option for them but while going out for such parties it should be made sure that venue for the party is safe and proper arrangements have been made. All such parties should be ended at a reasonable time so that it do not pose any unwanted situations or danger for anyone." (Suffice it to say, [sic], [sic], [sic].)

Or this: "Studies show that the concept of woman liberalization and empowerment was highly misunderstood. Late night parties, drugs and immoral dressing were tagged as freedom of women. What we forgot was that this is not our culture and this is not even what our women wanted." (One: What studies? Two: What kind of dressing is "immoral"? Three: What is your culture? Four: What DO your women want?)

Once more, with passion: "Though not completely, but somewhere women too are responsible for the indignities hurled upon them. ... Though what one wear's is a matter of personal choice but still woman should be prudent enough to decide clothes according to the place and occasion. Traveling in public transport wearing skimpy clothes is a direct invitation to trouble. ... Dressing sensibly safeguards one from inviting unnecessary trouble. Clothes not only reflect one's personality and state of mind but they are also associated with respect of family and elders." (Wait, so there are women who wear, I don't know, string bikinis on DTC busses? Most I see are in saris or salwar kameez ...)

Tips for the workplace: "A woman who is more frank with her male colleagues is often termed as cunning and easy going and they are on a look out for an opportunity where they can take an undue advantage of her. It makes her an easy prey and everyone wants to use her when ever possible. Many a times, their frankness is interpreted in wrong sense. Her conduct is often misunderstood as an invitation and she has to face unwanted situations. So while conversing with a male she should make sure that her respect is intact." (My respect is definitely not intact, if this is the measuring stick.)

In-depth sociological observation: "Women are more emotional than their male foil." (THAT explains the crying fits!)

Now, I'm a glutton for punishment, so I actually sat through all that dreck without flinging the magazine out the car window on my commute home today. And I found that I agree, to some extent, with the reporter's penultimate point: "The aim of liberalization is to incorporate independence and self-confidence among women. It's an attempt to provide them with equal opportunities to show case their talent. They should realize that whatever they do they have to safeguard themselves from being a victim."

I can buy into that. I think too many people pass the buck, shirk responsibility, etc. But the rest of the article seems to say, "You know, we think equal rights are nice and all, but you need to find some way to enjoy them without crossing the lakshman rekha." For a publication that bills itself as one that "will come out with topics on how to reforms our society in various spheres and dimensions," it certainly seems to have a rather regressive view of the world.

Then again, perhaps I'm projecting my Western mores on something I don't understand. How do I unravel all these threads?


Andy said...

I came here via Desipundit. This is a good post. You should probably go to the editor's office and whack his/her head with the same mag :-)

Twilight Fairy said...

I think their whole concept of liberalisation is warped! Pretty much inane .. were they writing on behalf of the rural population which anyway doesn't know what equality of women means?!

Amodini said...

I haven't read the magazine itself (are they online ?) but they are regressive. So, they want women to progress, but with "moral" dressing, and downcast eyes, please ?

Lokapala said...

Why is every opinion even mildly in favor of the traditional tarred with labels like "regressive"? You question the "vested interests" of the backers, but it would be naive to expect a magazine with social commentary to lack a viewpoint. Or perhaps the only acceptable ideology is one that accords with your own?

You question a view of Indian culture that extols its lack of "late night parties, drugs and immoral dressing." As a self-described Westernized sophisticate, you don't see anything amiss in the fundamental dislocation of the mode of living of urban Indians. But to the vast majority of Indians, who still have a largely unified conception of what it means to have Indian values, the Page-3 culture of E-popping, promiscuous quasi-celebrities appears (perhaps unjustifiedly) to be a natural outgrowth of the women's empowerment movement. In order to correct great wrongs in society, this movement has adopted a vision transposed from Western societies where it evolved organically, and inevitably, it sits uncomfortably over Indian society because it is not made for it.

I don't disagree with all that you've said, but your article reeks of the very elitism that this attitude reflects. To your credit, you admit your possible bias. I believe I share that bias to some extent. The writer of the article clearly isn't a master of the English language, and that likely explains the rough edges of the article. But saying "[sic], [sic], [sic]" does nothing but trivialize the argument and suggest that you'd rather establish the natural superiority of your views before even beginning to address those of the author.

Finally, emancipation of women in India has been one of our greatest achievements post-Independence. But in personal freedoms as in all else, a "lakshman rekha" is sorely needed. This applies, of course, to both men and women, but it is absurd to insist that the standards be identical. Perhaps they ought to be even more restrictive for men. I don't know. But I do feel that your offhand dismissal of these issues is unjustified.