UNCSW side event: Fight to stop violence against women

The United Nation’s Commission on Status of Women (CSW) is currently meeting in its New York headquarters. This year the theme is on prevention and elimination of violence against women and girls. The Commission, under the UN Economic and Social Council, is in its 57th year. Member countries participate during the ten days and at the end recommendations are made for governments to implement in their respective countries. Apart from the states, NGOs are also allowed to participate and hold side events.

A meeting such as this is extremely relevant to India, in the backdrop of increased reported cases of violence against women, the Delhi gangrape being a case in point. It was in this context that the Control Arms Foundation of India, The International Campaign to Stop Rape and Gender Violence in Conflict, and the Manipur Women Gun Survivors Network organised a panel discussion on ‘Six Decades of United Nations Commission on Status of Women’.

Panelists at the CSW side event. Left to right: Vanessa Farr, Rashmi Singh, Jody Williams, Minou Tavarez Mirabal, Arvinn E Gadgil, Binalakshmi Nepram

Panelists at the CSW side event. Left to right: Vanessa Farr, Rashmi Singh, Jody Williams, Minou Tavarez Mirabal, Arvinn E Gadgil, Binalakshmi Nepram

Panelists included Minou Tavarez Mirabal, Chair-International Council, Parliamentarians for Global Action, Arvinn Eikeland Gadgil, Deputy Minister, International Development, Norway, Jody Williams, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Rashmi Singh, Executive Director, National Mission for Empowerment of Women, Govt of India, Vanessa Farr, Feminist Freedom Fighter, and Binalakshmi Nepram, Founder, Manipur Gun Survivors Network, and Secretary General, Control Arms Foundation of India.

The two-hour event focused on the need to prevent violence against women, the role that men need to play in strategies, and demilitarisation. Vanessa Farr emphasised on the direct link between violence against women and global militarisation. “The enemy is poverty. There are no weapon systems in the world to prevent poverty”, she explained. Saying no to arms and ending impoverishment are key in this process, Farr said.

The sole male voice on the panel, Arvinn Gadgil said that specific people need to be asked the question, ‘What makes you adamant on this issue?’ The need for political will and putting pressure on parliamentarians, echoed.

Binalakshmi Nepram, hailing from the northeast Indian state of Manipur spoke of her own personal experience. She pointed to the state rank of the Department of Women and Child Development in India, and reduction in budget allocated to the department.

The CSW meeting concludes on March 15th.

Gun control: Good guys v/s bad guys

Just yesterday my brother-in-law made a valid point. There is so much protection given to children here in the United States of America (USA). There are guards stationed near schools during opening and closing hours to guide traffic so that students can safely pass. All vehicles have to stop when there is a school bus ahead boarding children. School bus drivers can even give you a ticket if you break a traffic rule. This is scenario one.

And then you have the Newtown shooting massacre that killed 20 children. Scenario two.

So why is so much being done to protect children and then when it comes to guns, there seems to be a sense of oversight?

Some may say that protecting children and gun control are two separate issues. Agreed. But in the case of Sandy Hook they aren’t. A guy had a gun. He used it. Children died. Wouldn’t those children still be alive today if that guy did not have access to a gun? Of course they would be.

The question is as much about protecting children, as it is about allowing (or not) the common man to own a gun. In this case, the Newtown shooting is an example of what a gun can do.

We all know that the gun topic is a political one. There has been a lot of back and forth on the availability of guns, high-end ammunition, so on and so forth. So far there hasn’t been any clear and outright stand coming out of the annals of power about whether one should be allowed to have guns or not. Any question in this regard almost always refers to the National Rifle Association (NRA). Mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg, said in an interview to TIME, “The NRA is only powerful if you and I let them be powerful.” This is where this issue takes on political colours. And we know there isn’t going to be a clear-cut solution any time soon.

No let us for a moment support guns. So that young guy walks into Sandy Hook Elementary with a gun. Then the principal pulls out her gun (let us assume she had one) and shoots down the guy, preventing the death of any of the students or teachers at the school. Well, it all sounds perfect on paper and in hindsight. But a gun for a gun isn’t the answer. The question should be whether Adam Lanza (or his mother, who was the license-holder) should have even had that gun in the first place.

There have been several supporters of gun ownership who have vociferously spoken about this. Most notably is radio host Alex Jones who appeared on CNN’s Piers Morgan Tonight. Jones said that the law that allows possession of firearms is to protect the American people from “tyrannical government and street thugs.” It’s a dangerous argument.

Here’s what I believe. A life lived in fear is not a life well-lived at all. It may sound philosophical, idealistic, call it what you may. What is the point of walking around in a shopping mall with a gun in your purse? Are you genuinely interested in buying new clothes or are you on the lookout for a predator with a gun who might go on a shooting spree?

There are good guys and there are bad guys. We cannot allow the possession of firearms in the hope that the good guys will get the bad guys. We cannot allow the usage of guns with the argument that the good guys are only protecting themselves. For every bad guy that’s killed, ten good guys have to die. That’s the way war works. And we cannot always be in war. It needs to stop some time. And that time is now.

The good guys will have to learn to live without guns, with the hope that the bad guys learn too.  And then they are no longer bad.

Where is Karnataka’s Lokayukta?

The state government in Karnataka seems to have forgotten about a post that holds quite high esteem in the state. That of the ombudsman. Or the Lokayukta. After Justice Santosh Hegde retired last year, Justice Shivraj Patil took over. He resigned soon after allegations were levelled against him in a housing society case.

Here is a video of the time Justice Patil was sworn in as Lokayukta. Alas, one wonders when we will see the next such ceremony.

Sonia Gandhi’s 15-minute ‘apolitical’ visit

She came. She saw. She left. The Congress may have termed Sonia Gandhi’s visit to Karnataka as apolitical, but the UPA Chairperson’s brief tour had politics written all over it. On the morning of April 28th, Gandhi was expected to arrive in Nagasamudra village in Mulkanmuru taluk of Chitradurga district, approximately 250 kilometres from Bangalore.

Massive security arrangements were put in place. As the Congress supremo enjoys Z+ security, the Special Protection Guards were there ahead to oversee all the arrangements. She was to arrive by chopper with some state Congress leaders.

I reached Chitradurga district the previous day itself. Finding Nagasamudra was a whole different task. One needs to take a deviation at Hiriyur towards Chelekere, go to Hanagal and then head to Nagasamudra. 50 kms more and I would have been in Bellary.

It was on the morning of the 28th that I saw the village. Hundreds of men in khakhi. Barricades. SPG. The village had been transformed into this high security zone. It had also rained the previous day, quite heavily, so many questioned the whole point of this ‘drought visit’.

Arranagements were made at the Nagasamudra lake, over a century old, which had almost dried up, except for the previous night’s downpour. The village is extremely backward. No proper water, electricity or cow sheds. It was a ‘sample village’ chosen by state Congress leaders to show heir chief about the drought condition in Karnataka. A group of farmers, weavers and women were to present a memorandum to Gandhi. The entire village waited with bated breath.

At about 9.30 AM we heard a helicopter hovering in the area. And there it was. The moment we were all waiting for.

About 15 minutes later the Congress leader walked to place near the lake where she would meet the villagers. Dressed in her trademark cotton saree, white with black checks, the first thing that struck me was how fair she is. Later when I told my sister this, she replied, ‘Obviously, she’s a foreigner!’

She rushed down the barricaded area, started shaking hands with the people, spoke to a few of them, accepted their gifts.

It all lasted 15 minutes. And she was gone.

I had spent the last 24 hours planning this trip for my office. The security personnel were arranging the place for the last two days. The villagers were up and about for even longer I guess. All for a blink-and-miss appearance by someone who is said to be heading the country, if not on paper.

What irks me is the point of the visit. Why visit at all if you are going to be doing it in a hurry? Can we expect any major changes in Nagasamudra?

But the bigger question that I feel requires an answer is the amount of money that was spent on visiting this place. Since Gandhi enjoys Z+ security, there’s nothing we can do about the SPG. Then there was the state police on duty.
Who paid for the chopper from Bangalore to Nagasamudra? Some say it is highly unlikely to be government money and that some businessman would have overseen the charges.

Whatever said and done, when there is so much talk about austerity, isn’t this visit taking it a bit too far? What assessment could Gandhi have made in those 15 minutes. More sadly, the people of Nagasamudra would have loved it if you heard them out patiently. Alas, none of that happened. It was a whirlwhind.

It’s therefore more than obvious that this was only poll tactic. I even asked Gandhi whether this was preparation for the elections next year. She was in such a hurry, I’m not sure she even understood my question. She nodded and kept walking.

Lawyers versus media

The friction between lawyers and media persons does not seem to be dying down. A day after that awful attack took place, the Karnataka Bar Council and Advocates Association have taken a decision to boycott court proceedings on Monday. Further, they will not argue any cases for media houses and withdraw from existing ones. They will also file defamation cases against those media houses that referred to lawyers and advocates as ‘goondas’. The Bangalore Police meanwhile have arrested four lawyers in connection with Friday’s attack.

One television journalist asked the most appropriate and significant question there is to ask, now. ‘What is happening?’ Well, nobody seems to know exactly. But the problem that spiralled out of control on March 2nd has definitely sparked off something.

Lawyers said that the media coverage has been one-sided, that the atrocities carried out on the lawyers was conveniently left out or mentioned only in passing. Well, true. But if the lawyers are going to go about town pointing fingers at the media, they also need to be willing to acknowledge the fact that ‘they’ in fact ‘started’ it in the first place. Many say that it was the media that provoked the lawyers at the city civil court. I was right there. And the chaos unfolded right before my eyes. It was a group of close to 30 lawyers who started it.

Now some city lawyers and the Advocates Association say that those lawyers were in fact not lawyers at all and that they bought black coats in bulk from a nearby store. Fine, let us take what they say, at face value. So if these lawyers were ‘fake’, why didn’t a single ‘real’ lawyer come to our rescue that day? Why did they just stand and watch? Easy question. No simple answer I’m sure.

That said, I would also like to acknowledge that a section of the media did express their anger in a completely unacceptable manner. But no advocate seems to be acknowledging their mistake as well. If 10 scribes damaged vehicles belonging to lawyers, are you going to call the media, in general, unethical? If so, that should apply to you as well. 30 lawyers may have started the mayhem, so we will also call lawyers in general to be violent. But I wouldn’t.

It is sad that the media and lawyers have brought it down to a game of ‘tu tu main main’. Lawyers have now started citing the Indian Constitution and other rules to prove that media persons cannot be allowed on court premises without prior permission. That’s complete bull. For the past many months, media persons have religiously tracked and covered high profile court cases, many of which have been filed by lawyers themselves. The lawyers have come to us and given sound bytes. After all this, they now decide to point out laws.

The issue is very simple. Friday’s attack was unwarranted. Those who attacked or assaulted must be identified and punished. Then, there should be a proper solution to whether the media should be allowed near the courts. If you don’t want us there, then fine, say so clearly. If the police can’t give us protection, then say that as well. If the state government can’t make up their mind, then be clear about that too.

At the end of the day, we have no interest in indulging in any sort of duel. We want to do our job and go back. CBI inquiry, judicial probe, committee report, are all for the sake of records. When you are on ground, none of it is going to matter. It’s going to come down to how the lawyers and media really want to be on the field.

Mahatma Gandhi preached non-violence. Ironically, he was a qualified lawyer and a practicing journalist.