Culture

Readers Respond to Smart Cities, Patriarchy & Toilets, Zoya Akhtar, Warring CMs

Select comments from our readers on stories in The Wire last week.

Smart cities and Modi

I’m glad that The Wire is not owned by a business group or funded by advertisements. That would allow you to be neutral and objective. However, one finds that you are totally anti-Modi, almost as if you are the intellectual arm of the opposition. For example, why should a piece on smart cities – ‘A Trip Down the Rabbit Hole of Modi’s Smart Cities‘ – have a headline that is anti-Modi? Can’t The Wire criticise the government and its policies without bringing in Modi? Is the lead content in Maggie Noodles high because of Modi’s passion for FDI ?

S. Sundar
New Delhi

The Wire replies: Of all the government’s programmes and policies, perhaps none is more directly and personally associated with Narendra Modi as the ‘100 Smart Cities’ initiative. The article you cite had another reason for Modi’s name to be in the headline: it drew upon the experience of the flagship smart city that came up in Gujarat during Modi’s time as chief minister, i.e. GIFT City. The Wire, incidentally, is neither anti-Modi or pro-Modi.

II

Anybody remember rurban and PURA, the provision of urban amenities to rural areas? These buzz-words were immediately picked up by smart politicians, used for electioneering and then cast aside. Bureaucrats took charge of these concepts but conveniently ignored the inputs of technocrats who would have helped the government implement them. The budget provided funds but these were used haphazardly for the convenience and benefit of politicians. The result? The rurban word has of course been forgotten, and as for implementation – even after six years, not a single rural centre in the country has developed into a rurban space. I fear ‘Smart Cities”, a favourite election slogan, may meet the same fate, or be turned into a business opportunity for corporates with government money. Don’t be surprised if a toll is levied on citizens even to breathe the air in Smart City areas!

Kanaksinh Jadeja

Patriarchy, pardah and sanitation

Nikhil Srivastav and Aashish Gupta’s article, “Why Using Patriarchal Messaging to Promote Toilets is a Bad Idea“, raises a number of shocking points about the campaigns that link sanitation to women’s safety rather than to public health for all. While disappointing, the government’s attitude is not exactly surprising.  But I would have expected better from Vidya Balan.  Why are otherwise smart, socially responsible people going along with the outrageous implications of such a message?

A few years ago the Guardian published an article co-authored by directors of four international organizations (WaterAid, Oxfam International, UN Millennium Campaign and Unicef), containing the following paragraph that has been quoted by everyone from angry young bloggers to the American Bar Association:

A report in the Times of India in February this year quoted the police in another district of Uttar Pradesh as saying that 95% of cases of rape and molestation took place when women and girls had left their homes to “answer a call of nature.”

Your piece however points to data that indicates that “most sexual violence occurs within the home, not outside it.”  Rather than attributing violence to location, or trying to enclose women in the name of safety we must open the minds of all to the truth about violence, the facts about health and hygiene, and the right to freedom and dignity for all.

Aravinda Pillalamarri
Association for India’s Development

II

This is an issue to be dealt with sensitively. Some of these messages are indeed badly dealt with. The decision to construct a toilet lies with the male in rural areas. The influencer is the lady of the house, and she is so much subdued that she doesn’t speak. The women have to wait for night to come or get up before dawn to defecate in the open. This reality of pain they endure is much more important in the short term, then their lack of empowerment. Having a toilet adds to the cycle of actions for women’s empowerment in the long term – not just on paper, but more so, socially – something which will happen more rapidly if they have financial inclusion. Nonetheless, having a toilet at home, frees them and works positively in the long run.

Patriarchal messages are intended to prompt their husbands – to influence them to build toilet. I understand that promoting toilets with the idea of ‘shaming’ men whose wives and daughter go out in the open reflects the gender bias prevalent in society. But in the short term, this aspect of society will always come forth in rural communications; if the message put out is that toilets are safer for ‘your’ women, then even this helps women’s empowerment in the long run. In UNICEF’s case, their campaign was a satire on the purdah system. Patriarchy is such a reality in rural India that that one can only deal with it by creating indirect pressure on men. These ‘objectionable’ signboards do just that. Communication only uses this as a cultural insight – which in itself is a reality on the ground – like a literary mirror.

Abhishek Shandilya

Two CMs racing to outwit each other

Though the political rivalry between KCR and Chandrababu Naidu is a continuation of their past larger-than-life ego clash, one should not forget that the division of Andhra Pradesh had nothing to do with the so-called backwardness of Telangana but with the fact that two egotistic leaders could never adjust to their style of functioning in the Telugu Desam Party. The present phone-tapping and cash-for-vote scandal which resulted in the arrest of TDP MLA Revanth Reddy were linked to the mind game of both the CMs who are in a race to outwit each other. Their immediate goal is to block each party’s entry into their areas of influence, with a difference being that the TRS is waging a proxy battle on behalf of YSR Congress led by Jaganmohan Reddy. It is interesting that right from the time KCR nurtured ambitions of a separate Telangana and even during the poll campaign In 2014, not once did the TRS chief criticise Jagan in any of his speeches. Many observers feel that KCR would be happy to see the exit of Naidu in the 2019 Assembly elections and may even welcome YSR Congress capturing power in the residual state of Andhra Pradesh.

The comforting factor for KCR is that the Jagan party does not have any hold in Telangana. TRS faces a major threat only from TDP in this region. In fact, in the last election, both the TRS and TDP were neck-and-neck in early counting rounds and it was only later that TRS took a decisive lead, leaving all others way behind. The present war of words  between Naidu and KCR stems from this.  In this entire tamasha, all the key players will finally make an ‘honourable’ exit without any trace of culpability. In the next Assembly elections, there could be many new political equations and the Congress could well spring a surprise in Telangana; the TRS, if it finds the going sticky, may not hesitate to embrace the Congress or even merge with it to keep the TDP at bay. The YSR Congress is eager to add fuel to the fire between KCR and Naidu  and its Saakshi newspaper and TV channel are doing their bit to seal Naidu’s fate.

V. Sriharsha
New Delhi

It’s a Euro-American FIFA

The only sin that FIFA boss  Sepp Blatter committed was to rotate the World Cup’s hosts, which is a good move. He proved to be a good world leader rather than just a leader who represented the interests of the US and Europe. The Europeans and Americans are still bitter that the the World Cup was played on African soil and Brazil. They are even bitter that Russia, their enemy, will be hosting a World Cup. They hate Blatter for having changed that when he took over FIFA.

The FBI is not Interpol or the International Criminal Court. How can it can go around the world investigating and using propaganda to arrest people simply to pave the way for European and American candidates? There is no transparency either in what they are doing. That’s why their own journalists are lying to the world. They lost a fair election and now they are using hostile measures. It will be just if America and Europe forcibly take over FIFA, and that all the nations from Africa, South America and Asia withdraw from this body so that it can be purely European and North American.

Moses Selokela,
South Africa

What’s the Indian stand on MSG?

I read the piece on MSG you carried. If what I have understood is right,  the FSSAI regulations – unlike the USFDA’s rules – are not clear on the subject of printing ‘No added MSG’ on products consumed by those older  than 12 months. Am I correct in understanding that Indian manufacturers are not exactly forbidden from printing the rather misleading ‘No added MSG’? Also, when this is totally an Indian issue,  what is the need here for FSSAI to mention that Nestlé has violated USFDA regulations? Is it because that USFDA regulations are more stringent and  considered the gold standard on food safety? Or maybe the FSSAI is just trying to say that the issue isn’t as serious as it’s made out to be?

Vijayakumar Pitchiah

Vasudevan Mukunth replies: You’ve understood right, the FSSAI rules (FSS (Packaging & Labeling) Rules 2011) don’t explicitly mention when Indian manufacturers can or can’t say “No added MSG” on products other than for those products intended for use by infants under 12 months.

Why the FSSAI chose to cite USFDA rules and not something domestically framed is unclear. I suspect the body thinks the USFDA rule is a standard – because in its June 5 Order it says that because Nestle violated FDA rules, it’s also in violation of FSS Rules 2011. I’m still trying to resolve this.

Zoya Akhtar’s critique of marriage

I don’t agree with Tanul Thakur when she writes that “Zoya Akhtar is a difficult filmmaker to understand. She has made three feature films and one short so far, and yet you will be hard pressed to find a clear-cut narrative in her filmography.”

If you were to look at all three films of Zoya plus two films of Reema, you see a common theme running across all five. To me it appears all of Zoya and Reema’s films question patriarchy’s most cherished institution: marriage. Their cinema is a critique of marriage. They have repeatedly questioned the myth of the heterosexual Indian marriage.

Luck by Chance was about the inability of a man to fall in love and marry, the inability of a married man to stay loyal, the inability of a loyal man to love his wife, and the inability of a woman to find a loving man.

Honeymoon Travels showed how perfect marriage could only happen between superheroes. All other forms of marriages were fragile and the film showed different layers of vulnerability by contrasting marriage with sexual aspiration and desire.

Zindagi was about about a man who did not want to marry. He had two friends, one whose parents broke their relationship. His biological parents did not marry when they conceived him since they wanted different things from life. Even after his mother married someone else, that person died. So for her marriage was a memory, it did not last. And the second friend was so money-minded that he forgot how to love.

Talash was about the inability of a heterosexual couple, who were reasonable, educated, had status and power, to have a fulfilling marriage because they lost their child and could not reconcile with that.

Sheila ki Jawani was about the complete incoherence of parents when it came to understanding what their children wanted.

Isn’t Dil Dhadakne Do about compromised marriages?

Would you not say Zoya and Reema have systematically critiqued the institution of Indian marriage in their films?

Have they not diagnosed marriage as a memory, a compromise, an inadequate institution, only a dream, a loss, an institution incomplete and in utter disrepair, horribly at odds with modern conditions? And in some films have they not stressed on individualism, doing what people liked as a solution to what their marriage was doing to them?

Taha Mehmood

Jaya’s fate as test case for Achche Din

It will be interesting if someone came forward to calculate the present market valuation of Jayalalithaa’s assets assessed by the Karnataka High court in its verdict acquitting her. I am sure the present value will not be less than Rs. 10,000 crores, which could show the gravity of error by the High Court.  NDTV’s Srinivasan Jain did a great job by visiting two of Jaya’s  commercial properties which were valued by the High court as equal to a sentry shed. What about the remaining properties? In order to expose the gravity of the judgment’s errors, the present value of all her assets should be calculated.

We are ashamed to call ourselves Indians now, as the BJP government which promised to end corruption is now hand in glove with Jaya in her acquittal and even congratulated her. This exposed the BJP’s double speak. The Jaya case is an acid test for  the Indian judiciary and the Modi government to prove that India has indeed changed and that ‘Achche Din’ are here for all Indians.

Haneefa

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