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Posts Tagged ‘Gender Bias’

(Non-statutory warning: Reading the article below could be injurious to readers’ mental health and leave them a wee bit depressed. Caution is advised.

The author is reasonably certain that this article is not an outcome of the kind of wholesome pessimism which is believed to envelope one in advancing age.)

There is a mood of despondency which descends upon my frail grey cells once in a while. Dark clouds which have gathered upon me are accompanied by sinister rumblings. Lightning streaks of a menacing kind keep lighting up the sky, duly followed by thunderous howls which pierce my ears. One peers into the future and one shudders to think of the kind of world one would leave behind for our progeny to live in. Tectonic plates of our society appear to be shifting, causing major upheavals.

No, one does not allude to the pandemic stalking us these days. Nor does one refer to such universal problems like global warming, economic disparities, widespread poverty and illiteracy etc. Instead, one refers here to tectonic plates of a different kind – the ones which impact our value systems, human values, social harmony, honesty, fairness and justice, norms of democracy, absence of truthful and factual information, materialistic progress, and the like.

Consider what is happening around us these days.

Some Ground Realities

The Lack of a Conscious Approach to Business Goals

Businesses continue to be driven by greed and avarice alone. Hapless CEOs have no other option but to keep delivering results from one quarter to the next.

There are no guarantees that Volkswagen will not soon come up with yet another technical trick to befool the regulators and its customers. Boeing may yet again secure approvals for launching a model which might put air passengers’ lives at risk. Financial scams will keep tumbling out of corporate closets at a standard frequency which might put an atomic clock to shame.

Think of rising inequalities. Consider a report presented by Oxfam at the January 2021 World Economic Forum’s Davos Agenda, titled ‘The Inequality Virus’. It says that the 1,000 richest people on the planet recouped their Covid-19 losses within just nine months of 2020, whereas the world’s poorest could take up to a decade to recover from the pandemic induced setback. I am certain that philanthropic initiatives of the richest have not suddenly seen a proportionately higher uptick.

So, every crisis that humanity faces turns out to be an opportunity for the well endowed to amass greater wealth. Is this the kind of Materialistic and Unconscious Business model that we wish to continue following? Our answer would of course depend based on whether we are from the ‘haves’ side or the ‘have-nots’ side of the society.

The Monkey Business Called Politics

Probity and decency in the public life of our leaders is long since buried. Gone are the days when vibrant democracies needed a strong opposition to thrive. These days, even the President of a country can himself turn against the hallowed portals of democracy and send rampaging mobs braying for the blood of those out to declare him defeated in an election. In other words, it is one of those promotional offers – you vote in a President and get another one for free!

The aforesaid top boss’ term has revealed enormous gaps between the ideals of American democracy and the reality. Even before he exhorted his followers to attack the Capitol and the legislative branch of government, he ignored watchdog rulings and constitutional safeguards, pressed to overturn the outcome of an election, and pardoned those who covered for him, all the while funneling taxpayer dollars to his family business.

In yet another country, the main adversary runs the risk of not only being poisoned but also getting imprisoned on some ground or the other, while those in power brutally suppress dissent marked by men’s underwear and gold-painted toilet cleaning brushes.

World over, there is no dearth of leaders who have dictatorial ambitions but mask these well with democratic credentials. Speak of transparent political funding and all one gets is the silence of a tomb.

In yet another country, lies, obfuscation of facts and clever data management seem to have become a norm. Photo-ops, positive optics and feel-good media feed by devout followers keep the entire nation in thrall. Attempts to stifle dissent and to paint anyone not toeing the rulers’ line as unpatriotic continue unchecked. Getting offended by comments made by those living thousands of miles away appears to have become a national pastime. When a stand-up comedian speaks up, our clairvoyant nature allows us to guess what offending remark he is yet to make. Prompt legal action gets taken, nipping the intended mischief in the bud.

Building physical infrastructure is simply great. So is the drive to embrace technology to make life of a common man simpler. But when this comes at the cost of demolishing social harmony and making a democratic country free of any kind of opposition worth its while, the long term price of a ‘progress’ of this kind is rather high. I am not an economist, but I wonder if an economy can grow while the society itself is getting fragmented.

World over, quite a few governments have even used the pandemic as a cover to suppress dissent and cut short processes to introduce laws of an unpopular kind. In the process, their soft power is bound to dive down.

The Rudderless Social (and Anti-Social) Media

During 2020, in India, when our northern neighbour had encroached upon our land, and when the media should have been doling out useful health tips for people to stay safe in the midst of a pandemic, the only ‘breaking news’ was the suspected suicide of a Bollywood actor and the activities of his girl friend.

Social media, duly backed by smart algorithms, Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, keeps shaping our thought processes, our choices, our preferences, our perceptions and our beliefs. We are already living in a fish bowl where the law makers as well as the private players are hands in glove to sell detailed information about us to the highest bidder. Privacy concerns and personal liberties be damned. Pretty soon, it may happen that government support is available only to those who have a pro-government presence on various media platforms.

The whole idea is perhaps to help a lay person evolve into a dumb chum of the first order, unable to use his own judgement in matters of public importance; essentially, to numb the person’s grey cells. In other words, we all become zombies (or jack asses, if you prefer) of the first order.

Little do we realize that there are no free lunches in life. Any service available to us free of cost over the world-wide-web we have spun around ourselves only means that ‘We, the People’ are the product on sale!

If our social media czars do not come up with a realistic code of conduct for themselves soon enough, governments, to salvage their public image, may soon have to start dishing out harsher laws.

Perhaps, one of the czars will soon set up an academy to groom many of our whizz kids into becoming ethical hackers and algorithm developers.

Neglecting Half of the Homo Sapiens

If they stay at home, their contribution to society is never even acknowledged. Rather, it is taken for granted. If they venture out of their home and hearth, lustful gazes disrobe them mentally. If they get violated, they only have to take the rap. In war zones, they are the instruments used to inflict deep wounds on the psyche of the other.

Yes, I refer to the tribe of the so-called delicately nurtured. They are the ones upon whom Mother Nature has conferred the unique capacity of keeping our civilization alive and ticking. They may be as tough as nails and proving themselves to be better than the so-called sterner sex in all fields of human endeavour. A fact which was reinforced yet again when a deadly pandemic arrived at our doorsteps. In public, they may get put on a pedestal and revered. But in private, they often get treated like a doormat, treated as mere objects, only to be used and abused.

Doting lover boys, upon metamorphosing into husbands, often shed their chivalrous masks and start behaving like dictators. If a family breaks up owing to mistreatment, ridicule, abuse and violence at the hands of their husbands, it is the lady of the house alone who gets the entire blame – for being obstinate and uncompromising. The general view is that she is a gold digger of sorts.

Such a patriarchal mindset is not an exclusive prerogative of the poor alone. Nor does it respect geographical boundaries. Education levels also do not make much of a difference. Take couples across different countries, economic status and education level and one is apt to find this to be a universal phenomenon. The Chivalry Quotient may vary across all these parameters, but a singular shortage of preux chevaliers is felt all over our planet. Religious beliefs and even some spiritual tenets reinforce such derogatory views.

In respect of the legal framework, our experience in India has been a mixed one. The females have learnt the art of terrorizing their husbands and their families by foisting cases of imagined harassment, with the sole aim of securing better settlements while seeking divorce. Surely, the training in chivalry truly begins at home – either in the kitchen or at the dining table. Laws can play only a limited role.

The tectonic shift taking place here is that of divorce rates going up and couples preferring to remain friends with perks. Upwardly mobile wives who can stand on their own feet detest drawing husbands who refuse to wear skirts and help out with domestic chores. Once the family structure crumbles, there is a higher probability of the value system of the next generation going for a toss.

The Silence of the Lambs

In many of the issues brought out above, are we ourselves not responsible for the mess that we are in? The silence of our intellectuals, the self-centredness and public apathy of the middle class which more or less upholds values in society and the mute surrender of the common man – are these not some of the factors which have enabled this situation to have come about?

Many years back, I vaguely recall having read a satirical story in Hindi, written by a well known humourist in the language, Hari Shankar Parsai. A herd of lambs is made to believe that few wily foxes alone can solve all their problems. Pretty soon, foxes get voted in. One fine day, a ruling comes that to save the ruling foxes, some sheep should voluntarily surrender to be sacrificed each day so the patriotic fervour is kept alive and the nation is run effectively!

I am not a political science buff. Thus, I am not qualified to say if democracy as a model of governance is failing us. But one of its enabling factors is the presence of conscious leaders who are not shameless and still have traces of humility, empathy, decency and a concern for genuine overall good.

With No Malice towards Anyone  

Educated youth who have no means of earning a living, will they not have a raw anger simmering within them? Will the poorer lot not take a jaundiced view of grand government schemes the benefits of which do not reach them?

Perhaps there is a feeling of helplessness within them. Perhaps they have dollops of patience.  May be they realize that they are too small to bring about any change and feel it is better to accept things as they are and continue wallowing in misery and self-pity, blaming God for all their troubles.

But is a meek acceptance of murkier developments in the world around us a better approach? Can we not dissipate the seething anger within by at least saying what we find to be reproachable? Can we not break our silence of the lambs and speak up?

With Whom Does the Buck Stop?!

Are we ourselves not a part of the problem? Why have we, reasonably educated and rather wise people, decided to outsource our thinking processes and have instead opted to become zombies?!

Do we not keep patronizing companies even we know they have been cheating in the past? Are we not the ones who get swayed by propaganda and cast a vote for a particular party or a particular leader? Do we ever boycott a media outlet which acts as a mouth piece of those in power?

If we are addicted to, say, WhatsApp or Facebook, can we really blame their inventors for the issues that we face? Don’t we find it convenient to remain in touch with our friends and family members through these platforms?

When we notice a female being harassed, are we not likely to look the other way? Is the onus of ‘adjusting’ not always put on the female? Can we take a pause before we make a victim the facilitator of a crime?

Overall, by remaining a mute spectator and witness to acts of corruption, misinformation, lies and half-truths, do we not become accomplices to such misdeeds?

It is not wise to altogether point a finger at others only. A knife kind of a tool is given to us. Let us use it to prepare a juicy dish and not to hurt someone. The choice of usage is with us.

Our endeavour therefore should be to stand up, be courageous and outspoken. This alone can get us counted. Even if there is one sane voice amongst all the noise and din, it would resonate with other like-minded individuals out there.

Our salute needs to reach out not only to those who are already raising their voices but also to the decision makers who might eventually get around to listening to us.

Some Silver Linings

All this is not to say that there are no silver linings in the dark clouds hovering above us. As P G Wodehouse puts it, even when the air is pregnant with V or W-shaped depressions, there are always silver linings on the clouds. We shall do well never to repine, never to despair, but to work upon our own selves and on others in our sphere of influence. It is good to remember that, no matter how dark the skies may be, the sun is shining somewhere and will eventually come smiling through.

There are business houses which keep following good values and ethics in their day to day operations. There are leaders who respond well to challenges like social disharmony and stalking pandemics with a dash of human values. They treat dissent as a valuable input for their decision making processes. We also have very few social media and gig economy barons who are being forced by their own employees to either shape up or ship out.

Lawmakers and pressure groups in USA are already reported to be thinking of ways to bring in a wide-ranging overhaul of ethics, laws, the likes of which have not been seen since the post-Watergate era.

Perhaps, eminent legal eagles in India can also take a leaf out of the USA experience. As a country, we had experienced suppression of dissent even during the 1970s, when an emergency was declared. Can some more constitutional safeguards be brought in so that a popular mandate does not give the executive the right to ride rough shod over other arms of the government, thereby increasing the probability of the country being taken in a direction which is not the same as what our founding fathers had envisioned?

Above all, it is the man on the street, busy keeping his body and soul together, eking out a living for his family and even helping others in distress. When the scales from his eyes fall and he wakes up to a life threatening situation at hand, he reacts. The farmers in India are already showing their resolve following the strategy of peaceful protests and civic disobedience used by Mahatma Gandhi many decades ago.

Then we have lone wolf professional bodies. World Without Corruption in Belgium gives businesses a voice in fighting corrupt practices. The Conscious Enterprises Network in UK speaks of conscious leaders leading their enterprises in a holistic value-based manner in all spheres of human enterprise. The Center for Business Ethics & Compliance in Russia is focused on best practices in the realm of ethics and compliance.

Likewise, in India, Spandan Foundation is passionate about human values in organizations and even plans to set up a centre dedicated to the cause. Shakti Leadership highlights the importance of using feminine traits like empathy and compassion in decision making and assists individuals and organizations in their quest for conscious evolution. The Association for Democratic Reforms keeps relevant political issues alive and kicking in public eye.

I am sure there are many others scattered over other continents. Their attempt is to bring like-minded people together and keep the embers of a pious fire aglow, focused on values and ethics.

The Mighty Churning

The society is always in a flux. These days, it appears to be undergoing a mightier churning which reminds one of the episode of Samudra Manthan (The Churning of the Sea) in Indian scriptures. The churning throws up poison as well as the nectar which grants immortality. Those who believe in following the path of righteousness end up securing the latter.

It is easy to see that we have a leadership crisis on our hands. Since a situation also produces a leader, one hopes that more and more conscious leaders keep emerging, nudging us in the right direction.

Admittedly, the silver linings appear to be like a pale parabola of joy, to borrow an expression from P G Wodehouse. This will remain so till the time a bevy of conscious leaders – whether in business or in politics – do not appear on the scene and convert this into a shimmering parabola of bliss.

The solution is not to keep sweeping issues like hunger, poverty, economic non-inclusion and prejudicial animosity under the carpet. Nor is it to raise the existing walls, whether political, commercial, attitudinal or religious. It lies instead in a truly global view based on the concept of Vasudhaiva Kutumbukam: The World is One Family.

Being a born optimist who believes in having a chin-up attitude, I do hope that some of these tectonic shifts can at least get retarded, if not altogether reversed, in the years to come.

(Related Posts:

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2020/06/17/why-the-wren-is-a-patriot-and-not-a-nationalist-guest-post-by-prof-badri-raina

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2020/11/23/jeeves-and-the-social-media-challenge

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2016/09/23/bertie-jeeves-and-the-internet-of-things

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2014/12/08/bertie-social-media-and-blogging-blues

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2018/01/10/jeeves-seeks-a-placement)

 

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ashokbhatia

Sweden is famous for its fetish with gender equality. So it came as no surprise recently when the male train drivers there started wearing skirts to work. Faced with high temperatures, the guys had actually asked for permission to wear shorts. The same was promptly denied – because the dress code permits only trousers and skirts! By doing so, however, the male train drivers possibly revived a fashion invented long time back by the Greeks, Egyptians and Romans!

Ask a psycho-analyst and he is likely to dismiss the news rather calmly. Most behavioral studies establish that our personalities area1 1 (14b) made up of masculine as well as feminine traits. So, what is new, he might well ask. Ask a spiritual guru from India and he is sure to point out the relevance of the concept of ardha-nareeshwara – a combination of the Purusha and the Prakriti – propounding the unified nature…

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Yet another International Women’s Day might have passed on, but issues about the objectification of women in Bollywood movies remain.

ashokbhatia

Sixteen Shades of the Bollywood Eve

(Continued from Part 1)

  • ·         The Avenger

She is the one with a resilient spirit. She takes up an issue and brings it to a logical conclusion.movies nadira

Nadira started this trend in Hunterwaali(The Lady with a Whip) way back in 1935. Several others followed.Hema Malini played a role with negative shades in Laal Patthar(Red Stone, 1971). Rekha extracted a revenge in Khoon Bhari Maang (The Blood-filled Hair Parting, 1988). In Insaaf Ka Tarazu(Scale of Justice, 1980), Zeenat Amaan took a serial rapist to court. Mirch Masala(Spices, 1987) depicted a fiery Smita Patil who resists the amorous advances of a village headman. Zakhmi Aurat(Wounded Woman, 1988), had Dimple Kapadia avenging her rape by means of castrating the perpetrators of the crime.

Damini(Lightning, 1993) raised the issues involved in bringing a rapist to justice. In Bandit…

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ashokbhatia

Recently, a friend asked me what I thought of Katrina Kaif’s character in the just released Dhoom-3movies katrina(The Blast-3, 2013). Even at the risk of offending some of you, I confess I found it full of chutzpah and oomph but, alas, hollow otherwise. From this perspective, the script of Dhoom-2 perhaps etched the characters played by Aishwarya Rai and Bipasha Basu in somewhat greater detail.

This led me to think of the kaleidoscope of movies churned out by Bollywood and the wide spectrum of roles written for and played by women. It is also interesting to see how their roles have evolved over the past few decades, much in tune with two inter-related trends in the Indian society – a deeply patriotic fervor giving way to the rise of consumerism, and the outlook changing from a society-centric one to an individual-centric one. The first one has to do with…

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Dear Damini,

Sadly, you are gone. But don’t you worry. Each spark out of the fire which was lit to consign your mortal remains to flames carries a luminous glow which would keep us introspective and acting upon the deficiencies in our system for a long time to come.

The Accused Are Bound to Suffer

You are lucky to have escaped a tormented and difficult life. Had you survived, life would not have been hunky dory. Media would not have left you in peace. Your relatives would have repeatedly questioned you as to why you had to stay away from home so late at night, indirectly blaming you for the brutal ordeal you had to undergo. Repeated visits to hospitals would have become tortuous after some time.

Not so for the accused. For a few moments of vicarious pleasure and sadistic revenge, they would atone throughout their remaining lives. Given the pressure which has got built up, the system would ensure that they receive the harshest punishment possible, that too possibly within a fraction of the time it normally takes to get a conviction announced.

The Hope You Have Generated

You have left behind a definite hope that our system would change for the better. Once the initial anguish and revulsion has subsided, meaningful action will get taken to ensure that India becomes a safer place for women in the days to come. The judiciary is awake, and so is the legislature. There is a realization that tightening laws alone will not help. The primary challenge lies in their interpretation and delivery, in ensuring that justice is swift and is also perceived to be inevitable. This involves not only sensitizing all arms of our republic better but also ensuring that there are more women occupying senior positions in the hierarchy.

Changes We Can Expect

From a heavenly perch, your soul must be watching in amazement the kind of contradictions our multi-layered society keeps coming up with. Politicians of all hues have decided to use your case as another scoring point with their eyes firmly fixed on their vote banks. But that is precisely what will ensure that we get tougher laws in the days to come.

Those responsible for enforcing the laws are presently claiming that they are under-staffed, under-paid and over-worked. Sheer public pressure will ensure that suitable changes happen over a period of time. As to our abysmally poor conviction rates – close to 25% in rape cases – your case is set to raise the bar. Our leaders are also coming forward to forego a part of their security staff, which would mean better per capita availability of police personnel for the common citizen.

Our self-anointed guardians of religious values and the great Indian tradition have not so far thought it fit to make an appeal to reform the gender-bias inherent in our society. There is no call as yet to reinterpret our scriptures to make them more progressive in their thought, in tune with the times. Our spiritual masters are yet to react to the underlying malaise in our society which does not provide a level playing field to females – whether before or after birth. Slowly and steadily, these changes would also come about.

Our advertising honchos believe that they cannot survive without using sexual innuendo in the ads they create. But brands which persist with obnoxious campaigns will eventually suffer in the market place. Our movie makers think that they can get the box office registers tingling only by putting in raunchy item songs, lewd lyrics and coarse dialogues. Admittedly, movies that one can watch with the entire family at home can be counted on finger tips. But, come to think of it, there is no dearth of such movies as well. To quote only a few of recent origin: ‘Chak De, India’, ‘Well Done, Abba’, ‘Do Dooni Chaar’ and ‘Ferrari Ki Sawari’, besides a host of others which have steered clear of pandering to the front rows in a theater.

You can readily see through the argument that provocative dresses and influence of ads and movies are responsible for the gender bias prevalent in our society. If the males shed their chauvinism a wee bit, and instead develop an inner resilience, these external factors would hardly make a difference. This can only be done through a sustained campaign directed at parents and bringing in an education system which places greater emphasis on moral aspects of life.

Business, even though it sustains itself on resources pooled in from the society, is too busy to bother about ensuring an absence of harassment at work or even in transit to and from the place of work. Often one sees a makeshift crèche coming up only when a buyer’s inspection is to take place in a manufacturing establishment. But progressive companies which take care of gender issues do end up attracting better talent.

The Rising Female Power

Economies the world over may not be in the pink of health. But the pink collar brigade has already made its presence felt in so many spheres of our lives. Right from the armed forces to civil engineering, from banking to pharmaceuticals, from medicine to management, from space exploration to music and fine arts – look at any field of expertise and you would find the finer of our species leading the pack. Until two decades back, women were found only in the jobs of receptionists, stenographers and laboratory technicians. Now, they hold sway over executive and managerial positions as well.

According to Grant Thornton’s International Business Report, percentage of Indian women in senior management roles had gone up from 9% in 2011 to 14% in 2012. Globally, however, the percentage has remained unchanged at about 21%. Global average of women chief executives rose from 8% to 9%; in India, it has gone up from 1% in 2011 to 10% in 2012! As per the same report, globally, less than 10% of businesses have female CEOs, with women largely employed in HR and finance functions.

You may be aware that for some time now, EU has been planning to introduce a law that would impose penalties on companies that do not allocate 40% of the seats on their boards to women. It has met with opposition from Britain and other countries and stands blocked, as of now. But the day is not far off when this will eventually get done.

The Real Challenges

The most difficult change is going to be that of our patriarchy oriented value system. The next would be to ensure that delivery of justice is swift and inevitable. Above all, we need to ensure that the pressure of public opinion is sustained; that your case does not fade from the collective public memory for a long time to come.

Rest in Peace

Rest assured that positive changes will come about. The pace and the contours of the change may not exactly delight us. But your supreme sacrifice will not go in vain!

(Related Posts:

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2013/05/01/the-anguish-of-a-soul

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2015/03/11/to-nirbhaya-the-fearless-a-daughter-of-india)

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