Suzette Jordan (Pix by Diganta Gogoi published in Friday)

Suzette Jordan (Pix by Diganta Gogoi published in Friday)

Strangely Suzette has been on my mind for the last few days. Mainly because of everything that’s been going on about the documentary India’s Daughter. Many friends were asking me why I hadn’t written anything on the documentary on my blog.

I hadn’t because I was angry. One interview of a despicable rapist triggered such a debate and such quick action was taken by the government. But if you Google you will find a 100 interviews and articles both in Indian and international media on Suzette Jordan, the woman who had the guts to reveal her face after being gang-raped on Park Street, but the Indian government never bothered to order a probe into her case. Never bothered to check how a Chief Minister could write off a rape saying “it is a concocted story.”

I kept thinking Nirbhaya is gone but Suzette is there – still fighting, still struggling, still facing her rapists everyday in the courtroom, but her case and ordeal continues to be dragged on and on in a sham called a fast-track court. Nirbhaya’s family was given money, an apartment and jobs, but why did it continue to be a lone battle for Suzette Jordan?

Does tragedy work better in India?

Will Suzette’s death now bring the poignancy that her story lacked so far?

Now she will probably be, finally forgiven, for going to a disco late at night (the worst blunder an Indian woman could commit)? Her struggle will now be glorified, help will come to her family or will she still remain an untouchable, like she had become, because one insensitive lady one day had declared that Suzette was lying when she reported her rape?

When I heard about her death my first instinct was to believe that she had probably been murdered because there were plenty of people out there who would have loved her dead. I couldn’t imagine she had succumbed to meningoencephalitis.

We spoke last on Facebook messenger on February 27 and she wrote, “All okay with me except my back problems.”

This was Suzette Jordan. She might have been fighting a thousand battles at that moment but she always had the positivity to say, “All okay.”

Now I see people are writing that she had a contagious laugh had a great sense of humour. Why wouldn’t she? She was every woman and being a rape survivor did not take away her right to laugh and have a life.

I had once gone to interview Suzette on a summer afternoon and their home was like any other household. Her daughters were excited to spot a feline near their pet cat Hunter. They had a friend with them along with Suzette’s nephew. The kids were telling her, “Looks like Hunter’s got a girlfriend”, and all of them were laughing.

Completely unpretentious and at ease in her two-room modest apartment in Behala, Suzette brought up her two lovely and intelligent daughters being the best mother she could be.

On hearing about Suzette’s demise I thought of her daughters, of her mother Gilda Jordan. What they must be going through. Suzette was so protective about them. Once she said, “I am so paranoid about my daughters that because of me they don’t have a normal teenage life anymore. I am perpetually calling them on their mobiles.”

But the girls never held it against her. They loved their mother with all their heart and despite the fact that their life changed completely after that fateful night the girls continued to be the pillar of support in her life, the reason for which Suzette always said she had the will to live, the will to fight.

But very few people know Suzette’s battles brought small victories for Indian women. Even if the Indian Government did not announce a probe into her case the Delhi High Court invited her twice to know her views on her trial. She had told them that the two-finger test was the most humiliating thing any woman had to go through.

Since then the test has been banned in India.

Suzette was the kind of woman who demanded respect and ensured people gave her that. “Rape is not my shame,” is something Suzette always said.

This statement defined her.

It would be unfair to say that Indian society shunned Suzette Jordan completely. She explained her dichotomous experiences best when she said, “On the one hand I have been invited to talk shows on TV, NGO inaugurations, school seminars and award functions but on the other hand despite my work experience I have not landed a job. After the incident happened if I was asked by my landlord to vacate my apartment, the landlord of my current apartment rented this place to me despite knowing everything about me. I have had parents of my daughters’ friends agreeing to send their kids over to my place to spend time with them because I was scared for my daughters to go out.”

In the last interview that I did with Suzette she had said: “If I have come this far, I am not willing to give up hope. There has to be justice. But once the case gets over, hopefully I will be able to find some peace. I won’t have to remember every gory detail of what happened to me that night and talk about it in court day after day. I won’t have to see the people who did this to me, every other day.”

Justice is what Suzette Jordan deserves, not a candle march not flowers at her grave.

 

amritaspeaks:

My fellow blogger Fiza very beautifully brings out through this short story that how we have become immune to violence in other people’s lives but it just takes a simple step to stop it….Do read

Originally posted on insaneowl:

We Are Aware: Stop Domestic Violence
by Fiza Pathan

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Calvin was reading the Times of India in his sitting room when he heard the doorbell ring. Folding the paper and keeping it aside, Calvin sauntered to the door, peeped through the keyhole and beamed. On the other side of the door was his old school friend Jonathan with a can of coke in his hand. Calvin opened the door and the two men hugged each other after which they sat down in the sitting room. Jonathan kept on drinking his coke while he narrated to Calvin the happenings at his work place in Mahim. Calvin listened patiently but his hands were longing to hold and get back to his newspaper, especially the sports section.

Just then, a sound of broken glass was heard. Jonathan stopped in mid sentence while Calvin seemed unconcerned. The sound of the broken glass was followed…

View original 771 more words

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Jhinuk Gupta is a tax lawyer and a brilliant singer

Apart from the fact that their names start with “J”, Jhinuk Gupta and Jhelum Banerjee have much in common.

I should start with their capacity to hide certain facts about themselves. While I have known Jhinuk from school, I never knew she started singing Rabindrasangeet at four and was a topper at the music school Gitabitan, a fact she never wore on her sleeves.

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Jhelum Banerjee is a PR professional and singing is her passion

As for Jhelum the first day she walked into office I was quite excited to see a pretty face on TV (Jhelum was then working in serials like Bhalobasha Mondobasha and Ogo Priyotama) was going to be a part of a newspaper team. As I got to know her better I knew Jhelum continued to dabble in theatre and balance sales targets but I never knew she had so much music in her.

If some realizations are beautiful, it’s realizations like these. You know people for ages and then one fine day they take your breath away by their music, something they always carried in their heart, but you never knew.

Jhinuk’s rendition of Aguner Paroshmoni by Tagore during the staging of the dance drama Pujarini, at ICCR recently, had me in goose bumps and Jhelum’s Chhai Ronga Akash, a song which is a part of the album Kolkata Music Diary, which they launched recently, swayed me by its sheer passion.

These two women actually made me fall in love with Kolkata all over again. I realized,despite all the criticism, all our daily woes, all the issues, passion is still the crux of Kolkata’s social fabric. People still dare to dream, follow their heart and indulge in their passion.

Jhelum and team Kolkata Music Diary at the launch

Jhelum and team Kolkata Music Diary at the launch

Jhelum is now a PR professional keeping a hectic day job, yet she found the time to bring together a bunch of talented young people along with brother Pavlu Banerjee and cut an album that resurrects Mohiner Ghoraguli memories.

Jhinuk is a tax lawyer who followed the family tradition of joining the profession while keeping her love for music alive. Jhinuk is married to Rajib Gupta, the grandson of famous singer and music director late Pankaj Mullick, and in 2005 the husband-wife duo founded the Pankaj Mullick Music and Art Foundation, which aims at preserving the work of the maestro.

Looking at these two ladies I thought of my own passion for dance which got lost in a medley of day jobs, deadlines and duties. Or maybe I didn’t have enough music in me to keep the passion alive. Or did I?

Jhinuk and Jhelum taught me to think anew. I guess this is what real passion is all about.It makes others want to be a part of it.

 

 

 

Photojournalist Anindya Chattopadhyay with Ritu and Chanchal.

Photojournalist Anindya Chattopadhyay with Ritu and Chanchal.

While I have been hooked to the Uber cab issue as I wrote in my earlier post this piece of news in the Times of India caught my attention recently.

Someone threw acid on a lady named Jhuma at  Rishra on December 6, 2014, and her case got a mention in the newspapers but that’s about it.

Another story filled me with hope. Acid-attack survivors have opened a cafe at Agra, near the Taj, few days back. It’s a story of triumph.

Sheroes Cafe in Agra opened recently is managed by acid-attack survivors. Pix from Al Jazeera.

Sheroes Cafe in Agra opened recently is managed by acid-attack survivors. Pix from Al Jazeera.

Living with the trauma of rape or living with a face that has altered beyond recognition because of an acid attack – what is more harrowing? I really don’t know.

I have lived with someone very close to me whose appearance was altered completely. My elder brother’s handsome face actually became unrecognizable after his jaw bone had to be broken and a malignant tumour removed.

I never had the heart to ask him how he felt every time he looked at himself in the mirror because every time I looked at him I felt a stabbing pain in my chest.

He took it in his stride and would venture out often not bothering about the glances his altered appearance solicited. He even joked, “People must be thinking I was in a horrible accident or I was at the war where a bomb exploded in my cheeks.”

Added to that was the effort of eating, chewing, drinking, a pain that he never talked about lest his family felt upset.

But what he could overcome mentally he could not physically. My brother succumbed to cancer but never to his changed appearance, even to the last day.

But for him it happened. No one did it to him. He did not have to live with the reality that most acid attack survivors have to live with. The fact that someone hated them so much that they poured acid on them and scarred them for life.

There are acid attack survivors who have been suffering for as long as 15 years and nothing has changed after 23 operations but they hardly get any media attention. On the Stop Acid Attacks website I was reading the story of a lady who actually said no to further operations because it did little to better her appearance and discomfort.

I have never met an acid attack survivor but photojournalist Anindya Chattopadhyay has.

Delhi-based photographer Anindya Chattopadhyay (employed with Times of India) is an activist at heart. He uses the social media to keep reminding us about what’s happening around us through his photographs and keeps doing it even when the frenzy around an issue has died down.

Here Anindya talks about meeting acid attack survivors on an assignment and how it changed him as a person.

Over to Anindya….

A couple of years back I was assigned to shoot acid-attack victim Chanchal Paswan in Bihar. She was a high school student when four guys poured acid on her when she was asleep with her family on the terrace.

I cried after meeting Chanchal Paswan

I literally cried after meeting her. I was ashamed to represent a society that harbours such heartless men who could do this to a young girl.

We are supposed to be objective in our outlook and treat every assignment as a job. But it was very hard for me not to feel her pain. Or probably I didn’t? I would probably never know what she felt or feels now.

Ritu and Chanchal. photograph by Anindya Chattopadhyay.

Ritu and Chanchal. photograph by Anindya Chattopadhyay.

They are about inner strength and beauty

Later I again met her at a seminar attended by several acid attack survivors like her and human rights activists.
This was an inspirational shoot for me. I had interacted with almost all of them for assignments before. So they knew I want to focus on their inner strength and beauty through my lens.

The very definition of womanhood has changed for me
I have a daughter. I couldn’t sleep at night after
meeting Chanchal for the first time. After meeting those survivors I realised what is inner strength and mental power. For me the very definition of womanhood has changed after knowing them. I am grateful to Ritu and Chanchal that they allowed me to pose with them.

It is illegal to stock acid, hope the shopkeepers know that

I refuse to call them victims they are survivors for me. It is important to spread awareness about how
harmful commonly available acid is. Shopkeepers need to be made aware that it is no longer legal to stock these in their stores without a license.

Why can’t we employ an acid-attack survivor?

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Rupa is designing clothes and setting up a boutique

As for the survivors, one should know that they need to be treated with as much dignity as the next physically fit person. They are sometimes turned away from jobs that require direct client-dealing, as
employers feel it will discourage customers. That needs to change. It is the attackers who should be denied opportunities and be sent away
for reformation, not those who are attacked. Any help has to begin with acceptance. It makes me immensely happy to know Rupa has become a dress designer and Ritu is helping her and Chanchal plans to go back to college. This cafe that they have started is a very positive step and I wish them all the success.

Monetary help is important

Surgeries required by acid attack survivors is very expensive and they need stringent post-operative care. Raising funds for their surgeries can be another way of helping them. Right now, there is no
institutional framework to provide acid attack survivors with psychological counseling and monetary help from the state can only go so far. Rs 3 lakhs given by the government is nothing for the treatments they have to go through.

Behind this lovely smile is hidden a struggle that Suzette Jordan has to live every day. Pix: Diganta Gogoi

Behind this lovely smile is hidden a struggle that Suzette Jordan has to live every day. Pix: Diganta Gogoi

When I started writing this post I had meant to write something else, but so much happened in the last few days that I ended up writing something else altogether, changing my mind constantly as I got hooked to the news, analysis and – a letter.

I feel rape has probably become just another morbid story like so many other stories told in India every day. It is something like this: Rape happens, then media goes into a frenzy, helplines, SMS lines, come up, we cry hoarse then we go back to live our own lives, until another rapist strikes.

Women in India live with their instincts. Period! They live on luck too. When luck runs out God help us. (No one else probably will).

I have dozed off in my office car often while returning home after midnight. I just trusted my instincts and the smile of the driver who greeted me every evening.

Are my instincts good? Maybe. My luck? Must be. I have landed in situations too. Many times. But wriggled out using my brain, brawn, threats, other people’s help, mobile calls – and luck of course.

Check: You are lucky if you have not been sexually harassed in Kolkata

So the Uber cab controversy (whether they continue to do business or not in Delhi, about background checks of its employees, about repeated sex offenders being let off on bail) does not seem to bother me because I know one Uber gone will make way for another Unter (German antonym for uber and rightly means “under” and this is a figment of my imagination) and Indian women will be left fending for themselves, as usual. There will be luxury, yes. Safety? Doubtful.

Uber Cab. Picture taken from the net.

Uber Cab. Picture taken from the net.

The media would ride on the controversy wave to do stories but they won’t even know when palms would be greased, permits would be made and the Unter would make inroads into Delhi roads.

In the midst of it all this who is left out in the lurch? The victim, of course. The unlucky one, who was just at the wrong place, at the wrong time, with the wrong person and whose instincts just failed her for a moment and finished her forever.

I have been interacting with Suzette Jordan, the Park Street rape survivor. Although she has shown immense courage but it has been a lone fight for her from day one. No one has offered her a job despite her work experience. No one cares how she is surviving with her two teenage daughters or how she is dealing with the trauma of facing her perpetrators in court every day – for more than two years.

Media does not continue to report on the nitty gritty of Suzette’s life because I am sure it is already too mundane to be reported. They took notice when she was not allowed to enter Ginger, a restaurant on Hazra Road in Kolkata. Everyone went into a tizzy, supporting her on social media and some well-known names in journalism, all the way from Delhi, even went on to say that the license of the restaurant should be cancelled,

Does anyone know what happened after that? It’s business as usual at Ginger I suppose.

I read Shenaz Treasurywala’s letter.

I could identify with her letter and I am sure every Indian woman (and sensitive man) could.

If Shenaz writes now about the fear of rape that Indian women feel I had written about it in 2006 in an article in Times of India when rape hadn’t made it to the hot seat of headlines in India yet.

I can see we think similarly and I appreciate she has taken a stand.

But there are people who are saying it’s a PR stunt before the release of her film.

Could be? But would you go and watch some insipid film titled Main or Mr Riight spending Rs 300 from your pocket just because Shenaz here wrote this letter? I wouldn’t. I am sure you wouldn’t either.

And somehow I can’t find the connection how this could help sell her movie unless it’s based on sexual harassment of women.

It is not. And while Shenaz’s letter is still notching up hits on the net the film has already been written off by critics after the first show.

She addressed it to powerful men. Why not? These men have the power to bring change. Don’t they? Amitabh Bachchan’s polio campaign did help eradicate the disease in India. And if the PM of a country does not have the power to bring change who has then?

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Veeranganas are an all-women commando team keeping the streets safe in Guwahati. (Picture taken from India Today)

Talking about change. Have you heard of the Veeranganas? It’s an all-woman commando platoon guarding the streets of Guwahati and making it safer for women. Veeranganas have been created as a joint effort by Assam Police and Assam Government after a girl was molested on the streets of Guwahati.

Veeranganas have, for the first time, made me feel that a police force and government are serious about women’s safety. Otherwise if you are asking a woman to SMS before she steps into a cab and then you say you will track her on GPRS I am not sure how serious you are. Would GPRS tell you that four men got up in the cab in between and raped her while it was moving? I would like to know. And would you be able to reach on time to save her? Or would GPRS help you track the rapist after the crime has been done?

When a solution is thrown at us in the name of helpline, SMS et al don’t we need to ask how will it make us safe?

How many of you have used a helpline in times of need? Can you tell me? If you have and help has come your way please let me know. I would like to share your experience here.

Till then I will always side with the Veeranganas  more than the SMS, apps and helplines. The latter create fear for women the former create fear for men.

For me this is being proactive about the issue and not being blasé. And that is what matters.

Tomorrow I will publish an interview of Photojournalist Anindya Chattopadhyay, who talks about meeting victims of acid attack and the impact they had on him.

 

 

 

Swati Vakharia is an IT expert, who has started her website with a vision for women

Swati Vakharia is an IT expert, who has started her website with a vision for women

One good thing about blogging is you get to meet like-minded people in the virtual world. Swati Vakharia is an IT expert based in Baroda, with a company of her own. When I came across the website www.womenpla.net started by her, I quite liked the mix of content in the site. We got talking and here are the questions I asked Swati and her replies are interesting and thought-provoking…

What according to you is the biggest challenge Indian women face right now?

In India, we have a list of challenges actually! But the biggest one I feel is “safety”. Why is it that we never feel safe when we are stepping out of our homes? I have visited few other countries and I have seen women safely stepping out, in some places even at midnight.

India is our home and it really feels bad if we do not feel safe in our own country. I have seen many Indians do not allow their daughters, wives, sisters to work or study in other states of the country as they are not sure how safe that place would be for them. This situation constantly curbs the freedom of Indian women.

From the issue of rape in India, to Indra Nooyi’s confessions to Satya Nadella’s remark on pay hike, do you feel that the social scenario for Indian women is turning out to be really morbid?

I feel really bad that India is the 4th most dangerous country for women in the world according to a survey conducted by TrustLaw Women. From safety to self-respect women are always walking on the road of compromise. There is a need in a change of mentality in our society. It’s high time we all take a stand. 

Why did you want to launch a website like Women Planet?

Well, Women Planet is an attempt to get all those (and not only women as the perceived notion might be) together who believe that women hold immense potential to make a real difference. We are looking at this website as a platform to get not only like-minded people but people from different walks of life to share their experiences. The content of the website aim to educate, empower and entertain.

I love the way you write www.womenpla.net beta then cross it into beti. What’s the idea behind it?

Indians most often prefer a boy child over a girl. This is our way of showing that the girl child is equally important. We redesigned and re-launched www.womenpla.net few months back and as it is working in beta mode, we planned to write it as beti to pass on our message in a little different way.

Swati campaigning against female foeticide

Swati (left) campaigning against female foeticide

There are so many websites on women, how do you plan to be different?

I am happy that people are really coming up with something or the other to support women. I am not attempting to be different but I want to give genuine and usable information to my readers so I have a panel of experts where we have doctors, nutritionists, make-up artists, mind healers, psychiatrists, astrologers and more.

You are also having an annual magazine. When most of the bigger magazines are folding up how do you plan to survive?

The annual magazine is our attempt to get connected with more and more people and spread awareness and happiness. We are thankful to some corporate firms who supported us in our first edition of the magazine. The magazine is an extension of the website at the moment and that is why we are giving out free copies. Link for magazine download: http://womenpla.net/annual-booklet

What next from here?

We would like to conduct seminars, workshops, events to debunk myths around women and create new perceptions. We have many ideas and plans and with our expertise in online media, our initiatives in print media and our charitable trust womenplanet.org coming up soon we will be able to execute our plans in a bigger way.

For instance we want to come up with a hand booklet on health and hygiene and distribute them in rural areas where girls really lack the education and information in tackling these things.

 

Lit up balconies during Diwali in Dubai

Lit up balconies during Diwali in Dubai

Diwali in Dubai is truly a festival of lights. More than a week before the festival the balconies in numerous apartment buildings, in predominantly Indian neighbourhoods like Bur Dubai and Karama, look resplendent in beautiful lights and you cannot help but stop in your tracks to gaze at the breathtaking displays. On Diwali the diyas are lit at the doorways, sweets exchanged and colourful rangolis created.

And Diwali is also a time when people, you may not know too well and might not meet a lot during the entire year, call you over to their house to attend puja and aarti. It’s all part of the bonhomie that the spirit of the festival represents.

It was one such family home I stepped into this year only to leave with the feeling of sadness.

This family owns a sprawling apartment with a yearly rent of  at least Dhs 120,000 (Around Rs 2 crore), in an upmarket locality in Dubai. The extremely well-educated lady of the house was decked up in a saree and gold jewellery. The children and the man of the house, who is equally educated and holds a top post in a big company in Dubai, were wearing jazzy ethnic too.

Among the guests thronging the puja I noticed an elderly lady in a simple saree which was a stark contrast to the dress code in the household. She was occupying an inconspicuous corner among the last row of guests. Through the minimal interactions the family was having with her, I realized she was the mother-in-law.

As the puja started the family rattled off the shlokas (hymns), all from memory and I shifted in my place uncomfortably, thinking that I can’t chant a single shloka beyond the first line.

Then in my mind I started blaming my parents for my unawareness of the puja rituals and the sacred hymns because they never had a puja at home and my mother always said, “Be good to people. God resides in them. That is how you perform puja everyday.”

I ended up being different. I like going to temples, churches and dargas to pray. But yes, my mother has managed to pass on her beliefs to me to a great extent – I respect all religions, hence all human beings.

So here I was at the puja, arms folded, hoping for God’s blessings. The family took turns doing the aarti. First it was the lady of the house, then her son, then daughter, then husband. What about the mother-in-law? I thought it would be her turn next. But her turn never came. She performed pushpanjali and silently left the room.

I later came to know she was not allowed to perform aarti because she was a widow.

After all the education, all the money, all the veneration for God, they make an old lady stand in one corner and don’t let her perform aarti because she lost her husband?

I thought of my friend who lost his father at 12 and ensured that her mother ate non-vegetarian and wore colourful sarees, and lived a life away from these archaic Hindu customs. He stood up for her during his sister’s wedding and ensured that his mother was present at every ritual. I thought of my father and uncles, who had done the same with my grandmother more than 50 years back.

I felt thankful for what my family taught me and felt less regretful about not knowing the shlokas. I felt thankful that they instead told me about Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, the man who introduced the Widow Remarriage Act in 1856.

As the prashad was being distributed I left their home wondering if God would be able to deliver them from darkness into real light one day.

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