Saturday, March 25, 2006

ethics and allopathy

ive often made references to allopathy's unsavoury ethics. let me explain (again) that first, it is the system i attack : at an individual level, people are often inspiringly wonderful - i personally know of a few very ethical and compassionate allopathic doctors who put patient welfare before allopathy every time. i deeply respect their effort and ability to heal people, as well as their ethical integrity and their courage in handling conflicts between loyalty to the system and to the people they heal.

i think such doctors are healers in the most basic sense of the word - they are so gifted, that even within allopathys rotten framework, they manage to work their miracles. which brings me to the second point on my agenda. why is the system still important then?

well, because the system isnt really structured with those of exceptional ability as its primary focus. the system aims to address the average elements (if not the below par) - the average doctor in this case, with an average sense of ethics, and average knowledge. the system is supposed to lay down guidelines when such people are in sticky, potentially complicated or dangerous situations. just like the protocols to be followed in an emergency treatment. if a system has gaping loopholes, or is inadequate, or even worse - is unethical, then the chances of these "averages" making mistakes or being unethical increases, and puts the people the system should be protecting, at much greater risk.

when i was working within an allopathic framework, it was maybe easier for me to examine issues with more detachment since i wasnt a doctor (and therefore not someone who would have to pledge blind loyalty). when i underwent training in medical ethics i had several questions. many of the questions were based on very specific trends and events - landmarks, in fact, in allopathic history and bioethics.

unfortunately there are so many instances i could think of to discuss here. for brevity’s sake, i’ve shortlisted two studies. one is the Tuskegee syphilis study, because I think it provides an excellent example of how corrupt the system can get, and how ostensibly “unrelated” social factors have a major influence. it offers a perspective on how serious the issue of medical ethics is. the second the study is the thalidomide disaster. the sort of loopholes that even i, an inexperienced layman can find are so many. also, this disaster underscores the importance of informed consent, something that i think is treated a little too glibly, and not given the consideration it deserves, especially in a country like ours.

the syphilis study.

the study subjects were 399 african american men with latent syphilis and 201 men without disease. they were enrolled based on a survey/study conducted in 1930 on venereal disease control. this study identified macon as having the highest prevalence of syphilis amongst the six southern states covered.

in 1933, the us public health service in macon county in Alabama started an investigation to study the disease progression when left to itself, without active treatment. tuskegee was a rural settlement, consisting of a high african american population. it was poor, with a high rate of illiteracy, and insufficient medical care. the incentive to enroll in the study was free food, medical care and burial insurance. the men were told they were being treated for “bad blood” and thereon exploited by the study investigators.

this study lasted for 40 years and featured only sporadic clinical re-examinations as and when a public health physician happened to come to tuskegee. when the study commenced, there was no known cure for syphilis. when during its course, penicillin was discovered as a cure, it was withheld from the participants.

it was not mere oversight either that denied these men treatment: in 1942 when the assistant surgeon general came to know that some of these men had been called for medical examination before enrollment in the army (for this was the time of bloody international conflicts as well), and been directed to undergo treatment for syphilis, he took action to “safeguard” the study. the macon county selective service board was supplied with a list of 256 names of men under 45 years of age to exclude from the list of draftees to receive treatment.

the rationale given for withholding treatment when the cure was discovered, was

"...Such individuals seemed to offer an unusual opportunity to study the untreated syphilitic patients from the beginning of the disease to the death of the infected person. An opportunity was also offered to compare the syphilitic process uninfluenced by modern treatment, with the results attained when treatment had been given.”

the study was exposed only in 1972. by then a 100 men had died due to syphilis related complications, and 28 because of syphilis. at 40 wives had been infected, and 19 children had the disease at birth.

8 months after the study was abandoned, a case was filed against the institutions and people involved for $1.8 billion dollars. a civil rights lawyer, fred gray, took up the case and demanded $ 3 million as damages to be paid to each living participant and the successors of the deceased participants. the case was never tried, and the us government made an out of court settlement whereby each survivor got $ 37,500 and the heirs got $ 15,000.

im sure you do not need me to point out issues about patient confidentiality, physician’s ethics, racism, the deliberate and utterly irresponsible use of the trust vested in the public health authorities, basic human rights etc.

if this sort of thing seems a one–off, freak disaster, I would only request a closer look at recent incidents like this one where columbia university medical center doctors assisted glaxo smithkline in a study to administer trial medicines for AIDS on 3 year old children, in an orphanage in no less prominent a place than new york.

lets move on.



in the 1950s thalidomide was sold as an over-the-counter drug in Australia, japan, Canada, brazil and Europe. it was supposed to help with several ailments, including morning sickness during pregnancy. it was so popular, it was around the third largest selling drug in Europe. the drug was manufactured by a german company which declared that it was perfectly nontoxic, lacked a hangover effect, was nonaddictive etc.

the german company, however, did not have any human safety data for it. knowing that the fda would require this information, in 1959 (19 months before submitting the drug to the fda for approval) the American distributor of thalidomide approached private physicians and recruited them to distribute the drug and report their observations to the company if they felt it was necessary.

by 1961, European, Australian and a few American doctors reported that children of mothers who had been treated with thalidomide were born with severe birth defects. before thalidomide was pinned down as the cause, over 8000 infants were born of whom several were without arms or legs.

post thalidomide, there was a bit of a flap about need for human data and informed consent for administration of a study drug.


when the fda received the application for thalidomide, it was given to dr.kelsey, a newcomer, as an “easy” case. if dr kelsey’s team had not communicated with the company within 60 days, the company could assume that the drug had been approved.

the medical officer handling the case could either call a pharmacologist, or handle it themselves. fortunately, dr kelsay chose the latter option. the pharmacologist found that there was not enough data on absorption, and also that toxicity studies had not run for an adequate time period.

the application records consisted to a large degree, of german reprints with English translations. (this translation and back translation process still has several loopholes which make it extremely easy to misrepresent data).

the chemist happened to have been educated in german, and so was able to fluently read the application material. she found errors in translation. she also found problems with the manufacturing controls.

several of the sweeping claims made about the drug, its toxicity, potency, absorption and so on were watered down and eventually altered in the data submitted to the fda.

the fda team did not know that the drug had already been marketed in germany as a paediatric medicine. it had also been sold in Britain but had been eventually withdrawn because of toxicity in humans.

there was a shipping strike, and so the team didn’t receive several foreign publications in time because mail was delayed. they did fortunately manage to get one publication on time, which described related cases of severe peripheral neuritis. the fda then took that up with the manufacturer.

manufacturers' and study investigators' claims about drugs proposed for studies often sound like sales pitch. when reading the transcript of the NIH FDA conference on thalidomide, this caught my eye.

The very severe adverse effects are very clearly a detriment to some of the investigation that has occurred. It's particularly important, then, that one look at the potential benefits, and that these benefits meet a higher standard, I think, a standard that will remove the onus of the very severe adverse effects that occur.

there is also a reference to the informed consent template used by the investigators, which opens up new avenues of worry and fear.

there's an informed consent document that's being used for research purposes. So most of the investigators who are doing research with thalidomide probably are using this, or some form. (emphasis added)

after all that, thalidomide continues to be explored as a means of curing prostrate and other cancers, leprosy, physical deterioration in AIDS, obesity etc. hmmmm.

so yes, this sort of background is my frame of reference when i speak negatively of allopathy.

brownskinspeak, feminist issues

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Saturday, March 18, 2006

thinking aloud about BNP

be warned, this is stream of questionable consciousness writing because im thinking aloud here! :D

what i heard being said amidst the blank noise

"i feel so much better knowing that i'm not the only one"
"oh my god! it happened to you too?"
"our experiences are so similar"
"i could relate to every word.."
"suddenly, every woman i know seems to have been through this"

is there a doubt? of course it happens to almost every one of us. yes, the world can be (and often is) that unsafe and vicious a place.

we are taught to dismiss it. these things arent to be discussed. arent worth spending time on to think about.
"this is the first time i'm saying this"
"i've never spoken about this before"
" something that i've never forgotten about though i've discussed it with anyone"
disassociate. treat it in a third person context. philosophise as a coping measure: "it happens. thats the way life is". "so im stronger for the knocks ive taken". you amputate any emotion that reminds you just how personal it all is. but then it happens again, only, to someone else this time. and then we allow ourselves to acknowledge the fury.
"i felt so furious reading that"
"god! i could kill him for doing that to you"
"that creep!"
when it happens to somebody else its easier to be furious?


maybe, to acknowledge that our society is filthy, unfair, and our social systems hurtful and wrong is easier in the third person. because if you start feeling angry about what happened to you, you get commit yourself and get too emotionally involved in a problem without a foreseeable remedy. you run up against massive elements which are beyond your control, so your anger is frustrated from seeking a constructive outlet. and you cannot live daily with a growing anger that has no release.

so .... shut out what you face from your reality, and try to continue with life.

the more we willingly accept the divorce between reality and personal experience, the easier it is for the social dictates to be imposed. for it to be imposed that women should be cut off from their experiences. they mustnt speak about them, mustnt have changed for them - you cannot be an angry woman, even if youve been attacked. you cannot be hostile or aggressive. must continue to be meek and docile.

who would not be irrational if they had to reject everything their own minds told them, to accept an arbitrary external authority? of course it doesnt make for logical thinking. "women are illogical". because we teach them to be so.

i feel a new surge of gratitude to the articulate, courageous and clear-sighted feminist authors. much of their literature is about speaking about these amputated, quarantined issues. because they too often couldnt say "i" and "my" they used a third person medium of a highly complex, very real character to give voice to the women of that era. we hear our silenced stifled thoughts in those stories.

the right to independent thought and reasoning needs to be fiercely guarded and treasured.

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Tuesday, March 14, 2006


the blank noise project blogathon triggered many thoughts in my head as i read each post. directly or tangentially, id like to explore some of the things that i noticed. im starting with a simple thing (its mid-week! :D) - ive lost count of the number of men who said "oh my god. i didnt know being a woman was like that". at the same time, someone mentioned how while it was understandable that women be suspicious of men at large, not being trusted is unpleasant when you're a genuinely decent guy. and so two trains of thought chugged side by side :-)

what makes a woman trust a man? in these times of escalating violence and crime, i suppose its something every woman spends time to think about at least once - you know, to sort of evolve a thumbrule for herself. i know ive come back to this question several times, because every time i get to know myself better i realise what i worked out so far wont quite do!

i guess we start out with the readymade axioms laid down for us - never trust strange men, blah blah. sometimes sudden potlums of wisdom are tossed our way - i still remember distinctly the time when out of the blue, my friends mother popped into our room to say "m___, never trust an older man. a guy your age only knows as much as you do. he can never hurt you that badly - beware of older men. theyll muck around with you emotionally, and thats much harder to recover from". ok, after meeting a revolting man who was 35-ish, with an adorable little daughter, i am wary of older men. in concept, middle aged men still give me the heebie jeebies. sure, there are exceptions - some of em are such terrific people... but what price misguided faith in mankind?

to establish context, by trust i do not mean discussing your most private problems, i mean simply the opposite of steeling yourself against a possible attack of any kind.

as far as ive observed from the women i know, there are these basic ways of dealing with this trusting a stranger business -

1. every man is suspect until proven innocent
2. no man is suspect, until he does something to make you uncomfortable
3. suspect or innocent according to some evaluation system. - who vouches for them, the company they keep, relationship with them and so on.

ive been down all three roads. while yes, its really awful for nice guys to be looked at with ill concealed apprehension and clubbed with the schmucks, its pretty hard for the user of such a system too. you just cant ever relax! all the time your systems are on high alert and you have to be watchful. if you happen to be an open, confiding sort of person, the worse for you.

there's also a twist possible to this, like "i will treat you as a nice guy - please prove my depressing conviction, that men in general are horrible, wrong". if the person does turn out to be not decent - its shatteringly disappointing. you feel so bitter!

if you trust every man on the other hand, youd obviously get hurt mighty soon and quite a bit. so scratch that option too.

whats left? well... the who-does-this-guy-hang-out-with does work to an extent, but you soon run up against a wall. men often have friends that theyre perfectly comfortable being with, but those friends are not meant to be introduced to women they know. so now you have to do an fbi sort of digging into the persons association with your friend... a subtle, "hey, i met this friend of yours" isnt always picked up by all men. so what, youre supposed to ask "hey, that friend of yours - is he sleazy or is he ok?". er... this is usable on some occasions, but mostly not!

sometimes we also each use personal detectors. i go by instinct quite a bit. i rationalise - if they work in this field, if this person likes them, they must be ok. i definitely go by hair - i know for sure when someone's touching my hair whether theyre ok or not! i feel awfully sick if someone shady touches my head. i judge when im being hugged. i judge when i see how their eyes wander when were out. i judge by the books and movies and songs they listen to. and i know damn well that none of this is unique – most of us women do it.

you make constant people assessments and evaluations every moment, without missing a beat on anything else. its not like theres a "case closed" either... there are very few men whom you can declare permanently safe - most are for the moment. for the circumstance. for the crowd. because youre as street smart as you are. because someone knows where you are or at least with whom.

being able to juggle such fine tuning with everything else and still functioning as a reasonably psychologically healthy person is, i think something to be respected and appreciated on one hand, not merely to be made the butt of "women are" jokes. on the other, its also food for thought that such paranoid behaviour has eventually become so normal – so common place and everyday an affair.

its complicated being a woman in a male dominated order that condones violence and harassment. if we didnt prove ourselves equal to the challenge every single day, we wouldnt be around, intact, for too long.

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Saturday, March 11, 2006

bloody diamonds

because the story of the bushmen's struggle for survival and protection of their ancestral land should be heard, remembered and repeated to as many people as possible.

a hearing organised by the united nations on july 31st and 1st august 2000 conducted by the security council committee officially acknowledged the link between the trade of illicit stones in sierra leone, and the trade in arms and ammunition. in december 2000, the un general assembly passed a resolution whereby (hopefully) the sale of these stones would be curbed, and a system of certification of origin would be established so that only clean diamonds would be traded and no more lives would be lost.

but even before the sale of the stones, this is the account of how some of them were obtained in botswana - what follows is a condensed version from the meticulous documentation of a group that does outstanding work in standing up for the rights of tribal people - survival international.

to start with.... what does the government of botswana have to do with the de beers mining corporation?

  • Diamond mining in Botswana is controlled by a company called Debswana (ie. De Beers Botswana), which is owned on a 50/50 basis by the government and by De Beers.
  • Many of the directors of Debswana are senior political figures in Botswana. For instance, the deputy chairman of Debswana, Dr. A.R. Tombale, is the permanent secretary in the Botswana Ministry of Minerals, Energy & Water. Another director, M.L. Selepeng, is permanent secretary to the president of Botswana. Another director, TC Moremi, is permanent secretary at the Ministry of Commerce and Industry.
  • Diamond industry sources call this "interdependence" and a "mutual beneficially [sic] relationship model". [...]
  • [..]As the Financial Times says, "Anonymity is paramount in the diamond trade. The industry is secretive to the point of paranoia... Contracts and written codes are virtually unheard of." Discussing its plans to explore for diamonds near Debswana's Orapa mine, the mining company African Diamonds stated, "Ground geophysical surveys suggest that some of the kimberlites [diamond-bearing rock] may be bigger than reported by De Beers."
  • De Beers keeps the price of gem diamonds high by severely restricting supply. As The Times has reported, "The company has vast diamond stockpiles, but keeps prices high with a tight control on the supply line." [...]
(From their report dated 16 June 2005)

a timeline of what has been happening so far -

early 1980s -
a diamond deposit was discovered in Gope (a bushmen community)

1982 -
de beers entered into a joint venture with falconbridge to evaluate the potential and worth of the deposit.

1986 -
the minister of commerce and industry announced that the bushmen would be relocated from their rightful land in the central kalahari game reserve, but did not initiate any action as of then.

1996 -
the formal evaluation of the mine was completed.

1997 -
enforced evictions started. the xade bushman community, which was prospering with a school, clinic, airstrip, hospital and water well, was completely removed. it was called a "coincidence".

within another two months, another "coincidence" : anglo american (which partly owning de beers) sub-contracted a company nepcal to ferry mining and drilling equipment to Xade and other destinations in the reserve. when asked about this, anglo american first denied any knowledge of its activities within the reserve. in 2002, they admitted to drilling two exploratory holes in the reserve in 1997 - one near Xade - but said they had had no contact with bushmen (who had already been "moved" away). concerning the contract with nepcal, the company said they had "not been able to verify beyond doubt the existence of such a contract". (?!)

june 2003 -
the ghanzi district commissioner claimed that "some prospecting companies had discovered diamonds in the area [of Xade]", and that anglo-american had been granted a concession for exploration in 1997 near Xade.

1999 -
mineral exploration camps were set up within a few miles of Molapo, a major Bushman community within the CKGR.

2002 -
more enforced evictions of bushman communities, including Molapo, removed in their entirety. government officials destroyed another water borehole in a bushman community, forbade all hunting and gathering, and emptied all the bushmen's stocks of water.

in 2005, Surivival stated that almost the entire CKGR was being explored for both diamonds and precious metals, with the prospect of further encroachment into the CKGR by mining activities being highly likely.

the sale of illicit diamonds bankrolls several corporations and rogue military factions. the money they make from these stones funds gun-running and related trade in ammunitions. there has been horrifying violence, torture and suffering because of the stones the UN politely calls "conflict diamonds" and others more frankly call "blood diamonds". the killings for these stones went on for several years, until the international community was forced to take notice of survival's refusal to be silenced as they persevered for justice, campaigning

" a diamond is forever. bushmen are not."

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Thursday, March 09, 2006

the man for their daughter

"we are not a very conventional family. our daughter has studied ______ . she is well-read, and is very interested in the arts. she is currently working in ____"

the gaggle of relatives got to work, aunts busily ringing up each other's uncle's, daughter-in-law's, co-sister's brother and other obscure connections to Spread The Word. the uncles took life easier, sat in several acquaintances' houses and over cups of piping hot coffee, dropped a a word in the Right Ears in meaningfully hushed tones. naturally the friends had Been Told as well.

the phone rang. an excited self-appointed deputy on the phone.

"i found someone! you have to call them right away!"

"really?" - scramble for pen and paper - "tell me...."

"they're an excellent family, veryniceboy"

excited cooing

"he works in ______ , an MNC - gets a very good salary"

cooing gives place to "oh, nice. ok.."

"he doesnt smoke"

"oh... "

"doesnt touch alcohol, not the partying kind and all.... veryniceboy, not religous but traditional. and its an excellent family".

the paeans were sung, the receiver was replaced.

she turned to her husband who had come up to stand beside her expectantly. "he's a Very Good Boy. doesnt smoke, doesnt drink, very traditional."

they stood looking at each other in silence.

finally she wailed "how do we say no? i dont want someone like that for our daughter!". he nodded in exasperated agreement, "i'm also allergic to Very Good Boys... my son-in-law had better not frown at me disapprovingly if i want to have a beer some evening!"

this is really how aunty and uncle hunted for a husband for their daughter - this couple has always been Unique, but i think they surpassed themselves this time :))

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Tuesday, March 07, 2006

lessons learnt on 29C.

dedicated to the
blank noise project (the more i roll that name around in my head the more i like it!).

the harassment of women is our sexist culture is an old problem thats sadly still in existence. in india, its all the more open and violent with so many of us packed tightly together. all of us women are given The Talk after the first time we are groped : "no, i know you didn't do anything, that's how some men are. forget it. and from now on, hug your file to your chest to shield it, and dont make eye contact with any man on the road".

i for one, hate being helpless, so im simply focussing on what we women can do for ourselves - basic self defence to use against harassment.

(NB: please understand that im not advocating general violence and a free-for-all. you will have to use your discretion and make situational judgements about what you're comfortable doing.)

* * *

29c was my daily bus ride in college days. its one of those ultra crowded routes (like 1) which really brings out the flavour of the term "over populated"! after getting pinched, squeezed, felt up, having my kurta ripped (that was a new one - didnt know theyd get that violent), i figured it was time to do some serious thinking.

id learnt martial arts in school for 8 years, and so i figured that i was pretty safe on the bus - that i could protect my person if needed. i got a rude shock when i realised that fighting in a bus was something i was totally unprepared for - for one thing, nice civilised tournament rules are crippling in street fighting, and for another (especially in buses), youre talking a serious lack of space. all those graceful sweeping chops and soaring kicks are out of the question when youre more or less on tiptoe because the place is so packed.

so my sister and i sat down and chatted one day about these bus encounters (ah. female bonding...!) and these are the things we thought of. im extremely pleased with this bunch of ideas because
a). it doesnt matter how strong your opponent is
b). it works in those cramped buses
c). you neednt be a weight lifter to pull this stuff off

so here's presenting:

lessons learnt on 29c

1. if you dont like violence, swearing is good. the more fluent and artistic (/ anatomical) it is, the more attention it gets. yell. stop the bus. ask the conductor to make the guy get off the bus.

being made to get off a bus between two bus stops is bloody irritating, that too during the morning rush to work/college. so for sheer pestilence value if nothing else, i think this would dampen these guys interest in harassing women as a way to pass time.

also, even in an actual fight, if youre close to your opponent, coming right up to the face and screaming at the top of your lungs momentarily stuns and (understandably) unnerves the person. feel free to then kick opponent, one numbers, duly stunned.

2. use those heels. several of us kill ourselves tottering around in heels, lets give those wretched things at least a moments justification for existence. bend knee, lift foot and place very, very hard on his foot. the nice thing about this one is that you neednt even bother wriggling and turning around to face the slime. (if you like subtleties, dont let that smile of pleasure cross your face: be as wooden faced as these sods generally are.)

3. alright, so youre unfashionably sensible, or a 6 footer - no heels. use the elbow. clench your fist (i find it helps call up more power quickly) and drive your elbow backwards into the guys ribs, stomach, groin, throat, wherever. it will seldom hurt your elbow, and quite often will leave the other person winded and in some pain, though not serious. again, you dont need to be able to turn around for this one.

4. bite. i can understand this option being distasteful to many because come on, who wants to touch a guy like that, let alone put some of him in your mouth?! but if you can bring yourself to do it.... bite chunks out of offending hand.

5. do carry a safety pin - or better yet, that pronged thing that tailors use to remove stitches. its horrendously sharp. jab, puncture, poke. a pen, a sharp pencil and other simple objects can also be really handy.

we hear a lot of tripe about the weak soft female body and the Invulnerable Strong Male body: now the following ideas are more militant -

6. the adams apple is so beautifully framed in the throat. make use of it. punch, rather than jab. jabbing looks more classy, but is actually trickier business. when punching, if youre aiming for a more widespread impact, make contact with the flat, finger part of your fist. if its the more localised, more painful effect: use the knuckles. beware though, if you really ram the throat, you could get the wind pipe.

7. it doesnt matter what sort of a beefcake the guy is, the pinky is very easy to break. hes putting his hand well within your reach when hes feeling you up - take hand, keep bending the little finger back - it will snap. this is bloody painful and should quench his thirst for further encounters with women. it will also bruise the brutes ego : imagine having come off so badly in an encounter with a Mere Female. sheesh, the ignominy!

8. poke the eyes - easy to do and it hurts like hell.

9. if you have the space to move enough for a punch, punch the nose. it breaks quite easily, and even if youve not broken it, you can cause blinding pain without doing a serious injury. and you dont need phenomenal arm power to be able to do this.

10. this needs space, but it definitely features on my list: a solid sweeping kick between the legs. note: sweeping kick - dont bend your knee, cos if you do, you need to get much closer, plus it needs better aim - something that may be difficult given our potholes. depending on the power used, a kick like this could leave him doubled up clutching his crotch, unconscious, or sometimes - it does happen - dead from shock of acute pain. so you want to be really careful with the use of this one.

now. that sounds like a very happy list i know, but theres also more stuff to consider...

1. are you a person capable of violence? i wouldnt bank in blind faith on being able to kick, punch or fight dirty. the sad truth is that most of us women arent (we're too strongly conditioned to be "nice"). so if you just arbit assume you can do these things and then find at the critical moment that you cant, it will let you down big time. please consider very carefully how violent you are, how much you can bring yourself to do, if you can handle the consequences of violence.

2. please consider the unpleasant but very possible situation of there being a gang of men. you may be able to topple one guy. do you have the fighting skill to take on many? in such a scenario, many times if its not a really big issue, it may be better to stay non-physical but use the legal option, or verbal option, or vocal optional (ie, scream like hell)

3. i do not recommend weapons. anything that is capable of being used as a weapon (except your own body), can be grabbed from you and used against you. i know some people carry penknives and jazz, but i really dont think its a good idea at all. guys on the street are seldom armed, so why introduce a dangerous, potentially lethal element?

4. when you do these things, and especially act in control, the other men around who were simply shooting you knowing, lewd looks when they saw what was happening, will get hostile and try to intimidate you. they will start yelling and telling you how you had no right to do whatever it was that you did.

stay cool. most men find it extremely unnerving to be confronted with a woman who can keep her voice low and stare into their eyes returning look for look. this i will swear by. explain calmly that the moment they stood by watching what was happening to you without raising a finger to help, they lost the right to interfere. now they can just take a hike (and no, you neednt be that polite about it either! :D)

so there it is - self defence for the streets. i hope that helped :)

ps: thank you j. , for being an encouragingly bloodthirsty sounding board and reminding me of the stuff i had left out! :))

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Monday, March 06, 2006

eve teasing - the claims of ownership

humiliation, actual and insinuated gender-based violence, violation of privacy and sexual harassment are issues women around the world are tackling. however, its such an established part of our culture that we even have our own term for it. "eve teasing" as its coyly called, is a word of indian origin.

we know it is a pretty old phenomenon - almost something of a tradition. probably if we asked our fathers and uncles, theyd admit to whistling at girls or following them around in their college days. they may hastily add that its a lot more violent now than in their days, but nudge, wink. these things are part of growing up eh? "adolescent pangs".

sexual harassment is condoned by society as an acceptable phenomenon - after all, we do have a seperate blanket term for it. a term to hide behind so that we can forget that what it refers to, is the assertion by men around us that they own women. "their" women. little boys gang up and stand in the corridors lifting up each girl's skirt as she passes, grown men gang up and remove it. men have a societal grant to stare at, discuss and dissect womens bodies as though they are inanimate .

such behaviour is part of expression of "male sexuality". well, no - maybe thats a very narrow view. its also to do with female sexuality - eve teasing tells us that female sexuality is nonexistent if it doesnt exist to gratify male lust. we are sexless feelingless objects except when of interest to a man. if we happen to get hurt in the process, its magnanimously discounted. after all, "these things happen".

what is really interesting, is that even several men who feel upset by such a thing, still speak of how they were only able to stand by and witness their sister/mother/friend getting harassed in terms of the episode being a personal insult to them! again, the woman is passive in the situation, almost a non-element, while the men around her fight either to encroach on or guard her person. should the woman happen to do something, it results in a huge hue and cry - you even hear the occasional "whatever he did, you had no right to do that!".

and intimidation follows: a mob of smouldering tempers, a threat of beating up, acid throwing, kidnapping, rape... if the woman actually braves all this and does something, very often the police capitulate (forgiving, generous authorities) and magnanimously pardon the offender. male dominance is upheld at any cost.

its after all a concept that we have romanticised from childhood. we have legitimised stalking, emotional blackmail and harassment, white-washing them all as acceptable expressions of "love", until we've thoroughly confused infatuation with physical attraction, with love. result: (pseudo) love stories and songs in popculture saying

" I don't care who you are
Where you're from
What you did
As long as you love me "
- backstreet boys, "as long as you love me"

( youre a non-person who exists in my world solely to pander to my needs.)

" There's so many times I've let you down
So many times I've played around
I'll tell you now, they don't mean a thing"
- john denver, "leaving on a jet plane"

(isnt that convenient now!)

and so we mutely accept being groped, pressured into sexual relations, fought over like property, even being told that all that is "normal". our former defence minister george fernandes even asserted in parliament (so much for that sacred institution of democracy) that women will get raped in times of conflict. these things happen. stop making a big fuss about it!

yes im bitter about it. very much so. and what breaks my heart more than anything else, is that these guys arent all otherwise thugs and rogues, theyre just average junta like you and me, and theyre participating in a social ritual that they have been taught. the "boys", are being "boys". so we girls end up being sexually abused and harassed women. in this prevailing social order women end up living in a police state perenially : looking over their shoulders, furtively doing a headcount of the other people on the road, being strung up, all the time bracing themselves against the next grope, nudge, leer and isult.

"solutions" like promptly posting cops all over the place, segregating men and women in a vehicle - most animals dont require that treatment - merely underscore and quietly accept that things will continue as they are now.

for a genuine long term solution we need to rethink sexuality and sexual expression so that we can start looking at establishing sexual rights and having mature and responsible relationships. all of which is possible only when we firmly reject the "normalcy" of violence against. speak up against harassment and sexism.

also posted on sthreeling.

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