Dignity for the exploited, the hounded, the paperless, the Other

Month: August, 2017

Witches and a Bohemian

In western India, two years ago, a certain law was passed which defined witchcraft as “the use of supernatural power with evil intention”. That it was found necessary to legally ban this practice, implies that elected legislators believe in the existence of magic. In 2015.

The act also bans the hunting of witches. It states, “Whoever forces a woman, branding her as witch, to drink or eat any inedible substance or any obnoxious substance or parade her naked or with scanty cloths or with painted face or body or commits any similar acts which is derogatory to human dignity or displaces her from her house or other property shall be punishable with rigorous imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than three years but which may extend to seven years or with fine which shall not be less than fifty thousand rupees or with both.”

This is shocking because it suggests that the things outlawed by this sentence have taken place often enough to be so explicitly prohibited.

Even more unsettling is the question: what if the paraded-naked, force-fed, painted, evicted female is not, after all, a witch? Is the punishment different? What if a man is thus brutalized? Are the consequences milder? What if the woman is forced to eat an edible substance? Is that permissible?

The quoted sentence is dry and sterile, as must be expected in a piece of legislation. The phenomena it refers to, however, must be gory and full of the screams of a woman mishandled by an entire community.

Kafka would have been unemployed in India.



Hindi and English pdf version:

English text:

Virginity and pieces of string


As a child, I had often heard of the fabulous Indian rope trick, and was disappointed that I had never witnessed it. The feat has variations, I just read on Wikipedia, but most involve an ordinary rope ascending by itself into the sky, rigid enough to support the performer’s weight, who climbs to the far end, and then disappears. It is the India of the snake charmers, a magical land, a bygone era.

India today demands an even more developed sense of fantasy. Two instances of this were on Twitter yesterday.

One is a medical college which asks employees whether one is a virgin or not. Jeanne d’Arc would have understood the reasons behind this, but we who are not medieval French teenagers are mystified.

The other is a governmental order directing all employees of a certain department to celebrate the Hindu festival of Raksha Bandhan. This is not a suggestion. The note demands that “all the lady staff” shall tie pieces of string around the wrists of their (exclusively-male?) colleagues. This would be a harmless, amusing anachronism, if the energy, attention and other resources were not urgently needed to solve problems of indigence, human dignity, violence, unemployment, education and hygiene. The usual things, that is, that elected, paid governments are expected to tackle. Instead, they want the females to symbolically regard their co-workers as their siblings — and hope that those to whom this particular Hindu tradition is alien are tolerant enough to accept this transgression of the state into the realm of the Gods and personal cultural choice.

On the topic of culture, it is time to repudiate the usurpation by the Czechs: wherever Kafka might have been born, he is Indian.