Tuesday, 25 September 2018

Typhoon Trami: Taiwan on guard as storm builds to super typhoon strength

Taiwan is preparing for the impact of Typhoon Trami, which could be among the strongest storms of the year by the time it hits the island later this week.

As of Monday morning, the storm was still building in strength in the western Pacific near the Philippines and due to reach super typhoon size before the end of the day.

It's expected to hit Taiwan Friday or Saturday at a strength equivalent to a Category 4 or 5 hurricane with winds of up to 270 kilometers per hour (168 mph).

"Trami is currently strengthening and looks to be a super typhoon within the next 12 hours," CNN meteorologist Michael Guy said. "The storm is forecast to continue to move towards the west-northwest and take a turn towards the north -- the timing of the turn is still uncertain since that is a few days out."

Current forecasts suggest the typhoon will affect northern and central Taiwan, as well as Japan's Ryukyu Islands.

Trami's arrival in the western Pacific comes around a week after Super Typhoon Mangkhut wreaked devastation across the northern Philippines and slammed into Hong Kong and southern China.

More than 100 people were killed by the storm in the Philippines, while trees were downed and windows smashed across Hong Kong, as the city struggled to cope with its strongest storm on record, despite huge amounts of money being spent to make it largely typhoon proof.

(Source: CNN)

Sex offenders’ registry in India launched with 4.4 lakh entries

The first-of-its-kind national sex offenders’ registry launched on Thursday has names and details of some 4.4 lakh people convicted for various sexual offences across the country.

The database is for those convicted for sexual offences 2005 onwards. It includes name, address, photograph and fingerprint details of the convict. A Home Ministry statement said the database would not compromise any individual’s privacy.

Protests against rape cases. File  

Following suit
India became the ninth country in the world to have a National Database on Sexual Offenders (NDSO), accessible only to law enforcement agencies for the purpose of “investigation and monitoring”. The proposal to set up a registry was mooted by the UPA government after the 2012 Nirbhaya gangrape case in New Delhi.

The database will be maintained by the National Crime Records Bureau, that will also track whether the State police were updating the records on time. The database will include offenders convicted under charges of rape, gang rape, Protection of Children from Sexual Offenders Act (POCSO) and eve teasing.

While launching the database, Union Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi expressed concern over sexual assaults in children’s shelter homes and increasing incidents of NRI grooms abandoning their brides.

The Minister asked the police force to keep a close watch on such crimes and the arrest of culprits.

She also raised the issue of States not responding to a letter sent by her ministry for procurement specially-designed forensic kits that would help in tamper-proof collection of evidence leading to better conviction in such crimes.

Responding to Ms. Gandhi, Joint Secretary of the Home Ministry Punya Salila Srivastava said as many as 79 lakh rape kits were in the process of procurement and distribution across the country.

“In Muzaffarpur in Bihar, the head of a shelter home allegedly sexually assaulted several children, but he was not arrested immediately. There was a tunnel from the shelter home to his residence. That means the crimes must have taken place in his residence. I appeal to all DGPs to keep a close eye on all shelter homes,” she said.

Home Minister Rajnath Singh, who was present, launched another portal, cybercrime.gov.in, that will receive complaints from citizens on objectionable online content related to child pornography, child sexual abuse material, and sexually explicit material such as rape and gang rape.

Track complaints
“This will not only aid the victims/complainants but also help the civil society organisations and responsible citizens to anonymously report such complaints …The complaints registered through this portal will be handled by police authorities of respective State/UTs. There are other features, such as a victim or complainant can track his/her report by opting for ‘report and track’ option using his/her mobile number,” the statement said.

(Source: The Hindu)

From Bollywood to the great Indian middle class: Why does caste continue to be erased

Prodded by a Marathi friend, I finally watched Sairat while studiously avoiding Dhadak which, as I understand from reviews, elided the question of caste as neatly as the gyrating of hips integral to every Bollywood song and dance routine. It was quite bemusing to note that some people actually expected nuanced social commentary from a Karan Johar-produced, star kid launch vehicle.

Even though I have little patience for naach gaana, I thoroughly enjoyed Sairat, a thought-provoking movie which is subversive in a very smart way. Aside from putting caste front and centre of the plot, the characters and its punch-in-the-gut ending are radical elements that are woven seamlessly into its narrative including the strong, outspoken female lead who doesn’t need to be saved, the disabled friend who, in my opinion, had the most touching scene in this three-hour intelligent drama fest, and the non-glorification of poverty. Radical because in mainstream movies these aspects are rarely portrayed in a thoughtful manner without degenerating into tokenism or a crude attempt to grab awards and critical acclaim.

The movie got me thinking about this curious fact that while mainstream Bollywood has often featured love stories highlighting the Hindu-Muslim divide, caste has rarely got the same treatment. The former has featured A-listers in films such as Raanjhanaa, Gadar, Veer Zara, Ishqiya, Bombay, Jodha Akbar, My Name is Khan, Ek Tha Tiger. Now, religion may not have been critical to the plot in all of those movies but the fact that such movies exist without anyone batting an eyelid, especially those with happy endings in a world where love jihad is apparently a real problem, could be a minor cause for pop culture celebration.


No such love is given to caste though. Aside from a few arthouse movies like Ankur and a Saif Ali Khan hamming about reservations in Aarakshan, Bollywood has rarely bothered with the caste question, preferring to ignore it just like it evades plausible character arcs and logical plots.

Convenient Caste-Blindness
One of the reasons I could think of for this wilful oversight is that people find it easy to acknowledge religious differences unlike caste which is an issue that most middle and upper class Indians would rather sweep under the carpet and purport to be blind to it while practising it in several insidious ways. This myth of a post-caste society is propagated by even supposedly progressive intellectuals like Shashi Tharoor.

One need only dip the smallest toe in any online discussion on caste to realise that bhakt and urban naxal epithets aside, people get supremely touchy when accused of being casteist. The othering of Muslims is acceptable, even encouraged but caste throws a spanner in the works of a united Hindu front (Project Akhand Bharat these days) and indirectly proves that Hinduism is less a religion and more a system of segregation.

Even for millennials who like to think of themselves as socially liberal proved in part by their token Muslim and Dalit friend, consumption of content generated by “woke” outlets like Humans of Hindutva and AIB, and championing of #MeToo on social media, get defensive on the subject of caste privilege and their complicity in it, willful or not. It is why they can get away with condemning the Dalit protests after the violence in Bhima Koregaon and pass it off as ‘riots’. For them, caste annihilation has already happened in the cities – the Indian version of “I don’t see colour”. Can we then expect any better from our movies that have only recently started to feature gay men as more than a crude, deplorable, effeminate joke?

Poverty and Tribal People Don’t Sell
Then there’s the fact that caste is dehumanising in so many ways and most people avoid grappling with its implications, forget engaging with it sensitively. Bollywood would rather show poverty in a palatable manner in its poor-rich love stories. But caste demands acknowledgement of its inherent ugliness and gratuitous violence – an indictment of our society’s gross inequalities and hypocrisies.

Deepak in Masaan works in cremation ghats, Parshya in Sairat is from the fishing community, they don’t live in cutesy, idyllic homes where the dirt and poverty of their slums or villages is noble and incidental, hovering sheepishly in the background. Their work, their locations, their communities are integral to who they are and how it shapes them. Bollywood understands that ugly doesn’t translate well on big screens in multiplexes, unless one is gunning for Oscars glory which likes its occasional, apposite dosage of poverty porn.

Mainstream representation of adivasis and tribal groups from North-East India is even worse. Since they look different and are perceived as “backward”, they are subjected to the worst kinds of stereotyping (if featured at all), relegated to blink-and-miss roles, and their voices and cultures blatantly appropriated without much backlash from mainstream media and mainland liberals. This is why a Priyanka Chopra can gleefully play Mary Kom and a Shahid Kapoor has no compunctions accepting the role of Dingko Singh.


Bollywood is savarna-dominated – the characters are mostly savarnas, the mass audience may be filled with DBAs but the elites that it caters to are savarnas. In a certain sense, Bollywood is merely a heightened, diegetic reflection of our society. It is why our movies rarely reflect caste realities, why we have such uninformed, antipathetic discourses on reservations, and why endogamy in this country is so normalised that no one even talks about it. Somehow we have brought into the narrative favoured by Hindutva ideologues that caste doesn’t matter at the same time as our obsession with the neo-liberal shibboleth of individual excellence against all odds has reached a fever pitch. How can then, we ask, caste be a differentiator?

For Bollywood, it’s much easier to do a rich girl-poor boy narrative and show how love conquers all, or at least peddle that liberal fantasy in the case of Hindu-Muslim couples. But even in modern day India’s silver screen, love is subservient to caste barriers and so, caste continues to be erased and invisibilised.

(Source: FII)

The Brett Kavanaugh case shows we still blame women for the sins of men

From Anita Hill to the victims of Cosby and Weinstein, women are disbelieved, powerful men excused. When will we learn? asks Rebecca Solnit, the author of Men Explain Things to Me, and The Mother of All Questions, in The Guardian. Read on: 

We have been here before. We have been here over and over in an endless, Groundhog Day loop about how rape and sexual abuse happen: offering the same explanations, hearing the same kind of stories from wave after wave of survivors, hearing the same excuses and refusals to comprehend from people who are not so sure that women are endowed with inalienable rights and matter as much as men – or, categorically, have as much credibility. We are, with the case of Brett Kavanaugh, Donald Trump’s nominee for the US supreme court, who has been accused of sexual assault, revisiting ground worn down from years of pacing. Kavanaugh denies Christine Blasey Ford’s allegation that he forcibly held her down and assaulted her when both were at high school. We have only the accounts of the participants, and these, it seems, will always contradict each other. The allegation and the denial put us back in a familiar scenario.

The last five years have been an exhaustive and exhausting crash course in how abusers and rapists (and attempted rapists) and their victims behave, and how they are perceived and treated, but the learning curve of the wilfully oblivious resembles the period at the end of this sentence.

 We know that there is virtually nothing that a straight white man can do to discredit himself
We know why victims don’t report rapes. We know that a minority of rapes are reported; and of those, a small percentage result in arrests; and of those arrests, a small percentage result in prosecutions. Only a very small percentage result in convictions and sentences. We know that the woman who accused the basketball player Kobe Bryant of rape years ago received death threats and extensive character assassination, as did some of Judge Roy Moore’s accusers, one of whom had her house burned down after she spoke up.

 Illustration: Matt Kenyon
We know that women have been portrayed, ever since Eve offered Adam an apple, as temptresses, more responsible for men’s acts than men themselves are, and that various religions still inculcate this view, and in recent times various judges and journalists have acceded to it, even blaming female children for “seducing” their adult abuser.

We know that we – well, some of us – are just beginning to emerge from an era of women being routinely discredited, shamed, blamed, and disbelieved when they speak up about sexual assault. We are, of course, seeing it again with Professor Ford. Her credibility and character were being preemptively attacked even before we knew who she was; she was promptly doxxed when the Washington Post revealed her identity. We know why the more than 60 women who say Bill Cosby sexually assaulted them, from the 1960s through recent years, mostly didn’t speak up before 2014, and how those who did were disbelieved and punished while Cosby’s career sailed on. We know why Harvey Weinstein’s alleged victims didn’t speak up, and how a whole apparatus existed – of threats, lawyers, spies – to keep them silent. We know that the teenage victims of the gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar who spoke up were, for the most part, not believed by the school, by the police or even by their parents. We know that a groundswell of feminism made it possible for many women to be heard for the first time, starting last October with the cataclysm of testimony we call #MeToo. Why should we now expect an ordinary schoolgirl to have succeeded where Olympic athletes and Hollywood actors failed to get a hearing or justice?

We have seen this all before. We saw it 27 years ago with the discrediting and harassment of Anita Hill. Hill was called “a little bit nutty and a little bit slutty” for testifying against the supreme court nominee Clarence Thomas, and that one of the ways she was smeared was as a fantasist: “Do you think it a possibility that Professor Hill imagined or fantasised Judge Thomas saying those things she has charged him with?” said Senator Arlen Specter. “Her story’s too contrived. It’s so slick it doesn’t compute,” said Senator Orrin Hatch, blaming her for being coherent, as he would have undoubtedly done for being incoherent, and then he offered some truly loopy reasons why he thought she fabricated her reluctantly told tale. Some of the same people – notably Hatch – are now gearing up to attack Ford.

We know that the worst things that happen to us can be among the most indelible, so the argument that the accuser can’t possibly remember events from the early 1980s doesn’t hold up. In the late 1990s, I knew a Marine lieutenant colonel who was haunted by the civilian he had, under direct orders from a general, shot during the Korean war more than 40 years before, in circumstances he described in detail to me. A few years ago, a woman in her 60s, moved by the feminist conversation we’re having now, wrote to me in detail of her rape in the 1960s – the first time she had unpacked the trauma she couldn’t escape.

I asked David J Morris, the Marine corps veteran and author of The Evil Hours, a powerful book on PTSD, about trauma and memory, and he replied: “Most men have no idea how truly traumatic sexual assault is. The science on the subject is pretty clear: according to the New England Journal of Medicine, rape is about four times more likely to result in diagnosable PTSD than combat. Think about that for a moment – being raped is four times more psychologically disturbing than going off to a war and being shot at and blown up. And because there are currently no enduring cultural narratives that allow women to look upon their survival as somehow heroic or honorable, the potential for enduring damage is even greater. A traumatic event like the one Christine Blasey Ford is alleging fractures the self, destroys one’s sense of time and place in the universe and generally changes a person completely. It is literally an encounter with death. To suggest that she wouldn’t remember it flies in the face of reason. No sane person would suggest that someone wouldn’t remember the time they were in an airplane crash. From a neuroscientific standpoint, being raped is more traumatic than war, not to mention plane crashes.” Ford reports fearing she might be killed in the conflict.

We know that as a society we hold people responsible for “youthful indiscretions”. The same Republican politicians who have been trying to dismiss an allegation of sexual assault against Kavanaugh as boys-will-be-boys stuff support a president who, in 1989, placed full-page ads in four newspapers calling for the death penalty for the five non-white boys – two of them 15, one 14 – falsely convicted of the 1989 Central Park jogger rape and beating. (Donald Trump even asserted they were guilty in 2016, long after their exoneration.) We treat many juveniles accused of crimes as adults, sentence some to life without parole, and saddle them with felony convictions and/or put them on registers of sex offenders for life. We do not excuse them for being drunk or high. The infamous Stanford rapist Brock Turner was 19 when he was arrested for felony sexual assault, banned from the Stanford campus, and given a six-month sentence and a lifetime on the sex offenders registry.

We know that too many men are full of empathy – for perpetrators, not victims – when stories such as Kavanaugh’s emerge, and that apparently they cannot imagine what it is like to be a woman who has been assaulted, because they’ve never tried. We know that Kavanaugh is not facing punishment for a crime, just consideration of whether he deserves not only a reward but power over the lives of all Americans. This week in the Atlantic, the writer Caitlin Flanagan told of her own near-rape. It was an exceptional story – in that the perpetrator approached her to apologise wholeheartedly when they were both still young. Her story was about an incident in the late 1970s that she remembers with painful clarity – and she says that she believes Professor Ford. I believe in redemption and forgiveness – as things that must come after atonement and transformation.

We know who lies about rape, routinely, regularly: rapists. Criminals tend to deny their crimes. Which doesn’t mean everyone accused is guilty, only that claiming innocence is a habit of the innocent and guilty alike, so it doesn’t tell us much. We know that, on the other hand, false rape accusations are extremely rare (and that they are often lurid stories about recent events, not about a fumbling attempt decades ago). We know this witness was reluctant to come forward and that she was essentially forced out by the journalists pursuing her after details of her letter emerged. We know multiple people vouch that she told the story long before Kavanaugh’s nomination.

We know there is virtually nothing a straight white man can do to discredit himself, especially if he has elevated status. We routinely see plagiarists, domestic violence perpetrators, liars, thieves, inappropriate masturbators, gropers, and incompetent men put forward as reliable sources and respectable citizens. Ken Starr took sexual assault very seriously when he let the Whitewater investigation into Bill Clinton veer over into Clinton’s sexual misconduct. Yet he overlooked sexual assault when, as president of Baylor University, he was responsible for protecting female students. In 2016 the university fired him after an independent report showed a “fundamental failure” to respond to student sexual assault allegations. Now, on Kavanaugh, Starr is treated as a credible source. He told a news site: “I’ve known him since 1994. I’ve worked alongside him – this is so wildly out of character.”

We’ve heard men testify like this before – for example, in 2011, Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s pal Bernard-Henri Lévy asserted, “the Strauss-Kahn I know, who has been my friend for 20 years and who will remain my friend, bears no resemblance to this monster” his victim described. Other women came forward to report being sexually assaulted by the monster Lévy had not met. We have been here before.

We are going to go there again, when the case goes to a Senate hearing. Let us proceed to that drama with what we have learned.

Mom’s illustrations perfectly capture the ‘crazy parenting roller coaster’

Helen Weston’s irreverent drawings get real about motherhood.

As the mother of a 4-year-old girl, Helene Weston is all too familiar with the trials and tribulations of parenting.

When she’s not working her part-time marketing job at a children’s clothing company, the British mom enjoys illustrating her everyday parenting experiences.

“I’ve always loved drawing and painting, so on my days off work I try to ignore all the housework that needs doing and be creative,” she told HuffPost.

Weston, who lives in Falmouth, Cornwall, used to draw mainly animals, but joked that she shifted gears after welcoming her “own human pet.”

“My first ‘mum-themed’ drawing was one of me in my PJs looking absolutely knackered,” she explained. “I hoped that other mums could relate.”

Weston shares her motherhood illustrations on her website and social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram, where she’s amassed nearly 7,000 followers.

“The response has been amazing so I’m really chuffed!” said the mom. “I absolutely love doing them, and it’s great that other people enjoy them.”

As she’s gained a following, Weston has received many positive messages from fellow parents.

“Some say that my little illustrations have entertained them whilst doing the 3 a.m. feed, which is brilliant to hear!” she said.

“I just hope my illustrations make them realize that they’re not alone on this crazy parenting rollercoaster, that parenting is bloody hard and that it’s OK to admit it,” the mom added. “And also if your kids drive you batshit crazy and you hate Play-Doh, that’s fine too!”

Keep scrolling and check out Weston’s Instagram for more relatable parenting illustrations.

(Source: HuffPo)

Monday, 24 September 2018

This town in Greece is draped in thousands of spider webs

It sounds like a something out of a horror movie: A town covered in thousands of webs, each crawling with hordes of spiders.

But for residents of a town in Greece, it's a spooky reality.

In recent days, the webs have draped plants, trees and boats along the lagoon in Aitoliko, a town of canals that's otherwise known as Greece's "Little Venice."

Giannis Giannakopoulos noticed the "veil of webs" earlier this week and captured the spider creations with his camera.

"It's natural for this area to have insects, no one is especially worried," he told CNN. "But I have never seen any spider webs this big in my life."

The phenomenon is rare, although the webs have appeared before in other parts of the country.

According to arachnologist Maria Chatzaki, they're always from the same type of spider: the Tetragnatha genus, a tiny critter no longer than 2 centimeters, or 0.7 inches.

Chatzaki told CNN the webs often turn into sheet-like covers that are home to thousands of spiders living underneath.

Greek biologist Fotis Pergantis, president of the Messolonghi National Lagoon Park, said there's a simple explanation.

Behind the phenomenon, Pergantis said, are the spiders' favorite snacks: gnats.

Small mosquito-like insects with a lifespan of two to three days, gnats use most of their existence to reproduce. They thrive in hot, humid temperatures and continue to reproduce during that time.

And since temperatures in Aitoliko lately have been ideal for gnats, Pergantis said there has been a whole lot of reproduction going on.

"When these temperatures last long enough, we can see a second, third and fourth generation of the gnats and end up with large amounts of their populations," he said.

With the growth of the gnat population, the spiders also thrive and multiply.

"It's the simple prey-predator phenomenon," Pergantis said. "It's the ecosystem's natural reactions and once the temperatures begin to drop and the gnat populations die out, the spider populations will decrease as well."

Neither the gnats nor these spiders are dangerous to humans. But Aitoliko residents will need to do a lot of dusting.

(Source: CNN)

Mosquitoes are eating plastic and spreading it to new food chains

Mosquito larvae that grow up in water contaminated with plastic accumulate the litter in their bodies – and some of it remains there even after the larvae emerge as adult flies. The mosquitoes may exacerbate the problem of plastic contamination when they are eaten by animals living on land.

Plastic pollution is ubiquitous in the environment, particularly in water. Birds, fish and other animals living around aquatic systems can ingest small plastic pieces by accident. These microplastics, with a diameter under 5 millimetres, pose a huge threat to the health of marine and freshwater ecosystems as they enter the food web.

Plastic is now on their menu Roger Eritja / Alamy
But their impact may be spread by animals with a lifecycle that involves living both in water and on land. Many insects, such as mosquitoes and dragonflies, spend their juvenile stages in water but move to land once they become adults. Amanda Callaghan at the University of Reading, UK, and her colleagues suspected these organisms could be vehicles that transport plastics into uncontaminated environments.

Plastic diet
To test their idea, Callaghan’s team fed 150 aquatic mosquito larvae with a mixture of food and microplastic beads of different sizes. They examined 15 individuals selected at random while the animals were still in the larval stage, and they looked at another 15 individuals when the animals had turned into flying adult mosquitoes.

The team found microplastics in all 30 individuals. On average, a larva contained over 3000 2-micrometre-wide beads. As the animals matured they gradually stopped consuming microplastics and excreted most of them. Even so, Callaghan still counted about 40 beads on average in adults.

She says the work suggests a new pathway for the dispersal of plastic. For instance, mosquitoes might act as a vector for transferring aquatic microplastics into the guts of the birds and bats that eat insects. “Any organism that feeds on terrestrial life phases of freshwater insects could be impacted by microplastics found in aquatic ecosystems,” she says.

(Source: NS)

Republicans in Texas apologize for campaign ad likening a Hindu deity to the GOP elephant

To attract Indian-American voters, a Republican party group in suburban Houston released a campaign ad with an image of Ganesha, the elephant-headed Hindu deity.

Published in the India Herald newspaper and sponsored by the Fort Bend County Republican Party, the ad played on the animal symbols for the Democratic and Republican parties. It read: "Would you worship a donkey or an elephant? The choice is yours."

The India Herald, a Texas news outlet, published this ad by the Fort Bend County Republicans.
The ad was published on September 12, a day before the start of Ganesh Chaturthi, a 10-day Hindu festival which celebrates the birth of Ganesha.

Now, after a backlash from Hindu-Americans who said the ad was inappropriate, the Fort Bend Republicans have issued an apology, saying they never intended to offend anyone.

'Despicable and offensive'
"While we appreciate the Fort Bend County GOP's attempt to reach out to Hindus on an important Hindu festival, its ad — equating Hindus' veneration of the Lord Ganesha with choosing a political party based on its animal symbol — is problematic and offensive," said Rishi Bhutada, a board member with the Hindu American Foundation, in a statement this week.

"Using religious imagery in order to explicitly appeal for political support should best be avoided by any political party."

Sri Preston Kulkarni, an Indian-American and the Democratic nominee for Texas' 22nd Congressional District, shared the ad on Twitter and Facebook while condemning its choice of words.

"Asking Hindu-Americans if they would rather vote for a donkey or an elephant by comparing Ganesha, a religious figure, to a political party is highly inappropriate," Kulkarni tweeted.

On Facebook, Kulkarni said the ad implied Hindu-Americans should vote for the Republican party because its symbol is an elephant. He asked for the party to retract the ad and apologize to the community.

Ilhan Omar, a Somali-American candidate for the US House of Representatives from Minnesota's Fifth District, followed Preston Kulkarni's tweet with her own, calling the ad "despicable and offensive."

'We offer our sincerest apologies'
Nearly 20% of the population in Fort Bend County is Asian-American.

In a statement obtained by CNN, the county's Republican Party chairman says their main objective was to celebrate and knowledge the Hindu holiday.

"The ad was not meant to disparage Hindu customs or traditions in any way," said the chairman, Jacey Jetton.

"This ad was created with input from those of Hindu faith so that we could properly pay respect to the sacred festival. This highlights the difficulty in outreach that can be positive for one group but not for another in the same community," Jetton added. "We offer our sincerest apologies to anyone that was offended by the ad. Obviously, that was not the intent."

(Source: CNN)

Mary Kom loses 2 kg in 4 hours to participate in 48 kg category boxing

When it comes to achieving the impossible, true determination to ace your goal is the sole requirement and Mary Kom is living proof of the same. Her passion for boxing was once again seen when the five-time world champion lost 2kg in just 4 hours right before she was to participate in the just-concluded Silesian Open Boxing Tournament – where she picked up her third gold of the year.

“We landed in Poland at round 3-3:30 in the morning and the general weigh-in was at around 7:30am. I was a couple of kilograms above 48kg, the category I compete in, at that point,” she said. “So, I had roughly four hours to shed that or I would have been disqualified for being over-weight at the time of general weigh-in. But I did skipping for an hour at a stretch and just like that, I was ready.”

“Thankfully, the flight we traveled in was nearly empty so I could sleep with my legs outstretched, ensuring that I was not stiff on landing there. Otherwise, I don’t know how I would have been able to compete,” she added.

She was the only boxer from India to win the gold at the tournament in Poland. “I am never satisfied with how I perform, I am always looking to work out new strategies. I am obsessive but not overtly aggressive. I like to conserve in about. I always like to study my opponents and then dismantle them bit by bit,” she said.

If you ask her husband, Onler, whom she considers her rock, she “is hyperactive, always looking for something to do.”

“She cannot sit idle even after coming from a long journey. Something is dusty, it needs to be cleaned right away, she does it herself, or else she would find something in kitchen. She gets her happiness in all this, that’s how she unwinds,” said Onler.

So, it is not surprising that she is busy preparing for the upcoming world championship in two months in Delhi. “I can only say that I will do my best, I never guarantee medals and I won’t do it now either. In a contact sport, it’s foolish to make big statements because actually you never know,” she said.

(Source: Indian Women Blog

Mahatma Gandhi’s little-known love affair with a married, progressive woman in Lahore

Gandhi’s biographer Ramchandra Guha tells ThePrint about an unexplored chapter of the great man’s life, featuring a platonic love tie. Read on: 

Mahatma Gandhi is the acknowledged star of the decades-long freedom struggle that led to Indian Independence in 1947. But in the midst of this wide and dramatic landscape of events, it is incredible that Gandhi was unafraid to explore his feelings for an older, married, “very independent-minded” woman who lived in Lahore, said Ramachandra Guha in an interview with ThePrint.

The historian has just published the extraordinary story of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, in a book simply called ‘Gandhi: The Years That Changed the World, 1914 to 1948’ — the time he returned from South Africa to his assassination.

Guha also talks about Gandhi’s experiments with both love and brahmacharya, or the struggle to remain celibate.

In a searing account that seeks to excavate the great man’s experiments with sex and celibacy, Guha talks about how and why he decided to sleep naked with Manu, his much younger grand-niece.

This, of course, is a familiar story to Indians, even though it is not much talked-about.

But for the first time, Guha has explored a platonic love tie between Gandhi and Sarala Devi Chaudhurani, a progressive, middle-aged woman who lived in Lahore with her husband. Gandhi was married too, of course, to Kasturba.

Truly enchanted
Gandhi was “utterly charmed” by Sarala Devi. She was the daughter of Rabindranath Tagore’s sister, and was very accomplished. She was a poet; she sang at nationalist gatherings, and she sang beautifully. Gandhi had heard her singing.

So when he went to Lahore in 1919 — her husband was in jail at the time — and they met, they got on famously. This was unusual at the time, but as Guha says, “she had great charisma, and was very independent-minded”.

Sarala Devi married a widower quite late in life, which was an unusual act in itself.

“He was charmed, besotted…they got along famously. They were truly enchanted by each other,” Guha says about the Mahatma and Sarala Devi. “But there was no sexual consummation.”

Sarala Devi and Gandhi exchanged letters after he returned to Gujarat. In one letter, she wrote to him, asking why he hadn’t written. “There’s only the bathroom to receive my sobs,” she said.

Guha pointed out that “this happens in many marriages, after 15-20 years, (although) it happened less then…”

He went on to add that as a biographer of Gandhi, he wanted to pen down all the aspects of his personality, warts and all. He admitted that previous biographers hadn’t talked about Sarala Devi Chaudhurani in the same breath as the Mahatma.

Finally, C. Rajagopalachari told Gandhi to call it off, which he did. “He had to choose between furthering this romantic attachment or furthering the freedom struggle,” Guha said.

Asked what Kasturba Gandhi had to say, Guha admitted that nobody really knew.

“It was a moment of great intense passion. It was a moment of crisis in the marriage too. It was a very human story,” Guha added.

Experiments with Manu
As for the Mahatma’s experiments in brahmacharya with Manu, his grand-niece, Guha said he accepted he found the whole affair rather strange. As Gandhi slept naked with her, in an attempt to discover whether or not he was still sexually aroused, Hindu-Muslim riots exploded around them in Noakhali, Bengal.

One of the reasons for the sexual experimentation was because Gandhi felt, according to Guha, that the violence was somehow his fault. “The violence is happening because I am not pure,” Guha quoted Gandhi as saying.

“It was very strange. That is why in my book I have a chapter called ‘The Strangest Experiment.’ The most painstanking biographer of Gandhi cannot get a handle (on what Gandhi did),” Guha said.

“He was alone, lonely, without a guide.” So many of his loved ones had died, including Kasturba and C.F. Andrews, the historian added, seeking to understand and explain the mind of the Mahatma.

Manu Gandhi also becomes a subject of interest in the book. Guha points out that Pyare Lal, Gandhi’s closest confidante and aide, had expressed an interest to marry Manu, but that she had rejected him.

She called the Mahatma “Ma Bapu”. There is a short exploration of her own sexuality as well, although Manu is very clear that she looks at Bapu like her own mother, and to that extent is willing to go to the ends of the earth with him.

Guha reiterated that he included these explorations of Gandhi’s sexuality in his book because he “didn’t want to suppress” any of the complex facets of the Mahatma’s personality.

“The reader can make his own judgement,” Guha added.

Sunday, 23 September 2018

The sexual lives of rural Indian women

Women in villages of Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh talk to Lounge about navigating sexual desire and seeking pleasure amidst prejudices of gender, caste and class

The first time S had sex was with her husband, she was 17, her husband 25. They were dairy farmers in Maharashtra’s Sangli district. They had two children in the first five years of marriage. The sex was fine. Not great, but at least she was getting it. Then the husband started drinking, and drinking more. The relationship weakened, and the frequency of sex waned. He was inebriated most of the time, and hardly in the mood. S wanted love, but she also wanted sex.

She told him her body was “burning with desire”. He said, “Have some shame. You have two children now. Who is putting these thoughts in your head? Koi yaar hai kya? (Do you have a lover?).” She stopped asking. She continued working on their field, raising the children, tending the cattle, and selling milk. Her husband grew unwell.

Photo: Shutterstock. (All photographs have been used for representational purposes only)
A relative of her husband’s started helping out: taking the husband to the hospital, buying medicines, even paying the bills occasionally. S felt a growing attraction to him. He was married as well. They fell in love. Sex happened. With her husband, sex had seemed like a task. Now it was different. “It was just like in the movies,” she says, thinking back to the affair (S was 33 at the time; she is 36 now). “We removed all our clothes. We looked at each other’s bodies. We spent 2-3 hours in bed every time we did it. It wasn’t like performing a job. It felt like sex.”

She could tell him what she wanted in bed. He told her what he wanted. The villagers saw them giggling together; sometimes they were caught walking too close to one another. People started talking. But the husband was bedridden. The village knew he couldn’t perform sexually. No one said anything. The gossip stopped—as if granting tacit approval to her need for physical satisfaction. S’s husband died two years ago. She is now in a relationship with a different man, 14 years her junior.

“When we talk about the stomach’s craving for food, why do we pretend there is no shareer ki bhook (physical desire)?” says S. “You need someone who can satisfy you mentally and physically. A woman’s life is not only about working in the fields, inside the house, eating two meals, and then at the end of the day lying down like a log of wood. Mujhe zaroorat hai abhi…kya karun? (I have needs too. What am I to do?) Sex is also an important part of our lives. It invigorates the mind, invigorates life. Even if some of us live in denial.”

Sex, sexuality, desire, sexual needs—particularly those of women—are not topics that make for easy conversation in a country that seems to believe in sexually regulating one half of its population more than the other. Yet behind the closed doors of homes in the heart of our rural idyll lie undiscovered stories of female desire.

This is backed by the Union government’s National Family Health Survey (NFHS-4), published in December. The survey has a number of findings. Compared to urban women, rural women have sex earlier in life (urban women begin having sex almost two years later than rural women); the frequency of sex is higher; and they have more sexual partners in their lifetime.

While the number of women we met for this story is hardly representative of how rural women navigate desire, we found, repeatedly amongst the women we talked to, a discernible openness around sexuality, and the acceptance of desire as a basic need.

Photo: Shutterstock

Brinjals and belans
In the village of Charan, a few miles from S’s home, a group of women sit together, laughing about a recent incident. An unmarried woman, in her late 20s, was sexually aroused, but didn’t want to “commit a sin” by sleeping with a man. She tried to pleasure herself by inserting a stone pestle used to ground spices into her vagina. She confided in a neighbour, who immediately told others. “Usay araam mila, magar gaon hansta raha (She felt better, but the village ridiculed her),” says P, a 32-year-old farmer. The ladies have a host of ribald anecdotes. Another woman inserted a long green brinjal in her vagina, the stem broke off with the vegetable still inside her. She had to be taken to hospital. The whole village came to know of it.

But in this group, sympathies lie firmly with the women. “Ichchha aayi toh kya karey koi? Itni takleef hoti hai (What is one to do when overcome with desire? It’s so frustrating)”, says 43-year-old A. A says the women of the village have age-old solutions to deal with ardour. One solution involves massaging the vaginal area with coconut oil to “cool it off”.

Conversations around ichchha (desire) are so normalized in these villages that people discuss what someone did, rather than why they did it. All of the following instances occurred in Maharashtra, in the past year. There is a story of a woman who left her husband because he worked at night, and expected her to make love during the day. Another woman left her husband because “he wanted too much sex and too often”. Another did not like her husband asking for anything other than peno-vaginal sex, so she publicly rebuked him, in front of her parents. In another case, a woman who had come to help her sister with childbirth, slept with her brother-in-law and became pregnant. The brother-in-law, the people of this village say, was a “nice man” because he married her too.

“It is very deeply understood in rural areas that sex is a basic need,” says Archana Dwivedi, director of Delhi-based non-profit Nirantar: A Centre for Gender and Education. “From wherever they are getting or providing it, no one makes a big deal about it. Tell me one village where extramarital relations, or relationship with the jeeja (sister’s husband), devar (brother-in-law), sasur (father-in-law), aren’t rampant? Of course these relations could be both forced and consensual.”

Nirantar conducted a workshop for three years, beginning 2005-06, where they brought together four organizations and tried to explore how rural women in north India perceive sexuality. One of their findings was that rural women are much more open about sexuality than urban women, despite differences across caste, class and religion. In one workshop, a group of rural women were asked to list sexual acts. Some 64 acts were listed, including fisting, inserting the penis in the armpit, or even something as simple as playing with the hair.

In another workshop, one woman said, “If I want to eat four rotis, and in my house I can only get three, I obviously have to go to the neighbour for the fourth.” In another, a woman said, “Parday mai hi zarda banta hai (It is behind the veil that the real action happens).”

In Kokrud village in Sangli district, 36-year-old B has earned a reputation among the other women in her village for being gutsy. They call her “bohot daring”. B lives in a joint family. Her husband, 11 years older than her, migrated to Mumbai within a month of their marriage. He visited twice a year, for four-five days at a time. While the husband was away in Mumbai, his nephew, the same age as B, tried to force himself on her. She resisted. But the next time he tried it, she let him. Soon she was enjoying the sex. The nephew tried new things—things that felt unnatural with her husband. “My husband used to turn me upside down, make me watch dirty movies, make me do dirty things using my mouth. I thought he was an animal,” says B. Her husband is no more, but she still lives with his family, who know about her relationship with the nephew. They have been together for six years. The nephew is married now.

“In such situations, families think it is better if the woman gets involved with a man in the household,” says Sangita Ananda Bhingardeve, who works with Sangram, a health and human rights NGO based in Sangli. “Ghar ki baat ghar mai hi rahegi (The matter will stay in the house). Even if they have kids, the kids will have the same bloodline.”

Photo: Alamy
Songs of separation
Male migration to the cities means the woman bears the sole responsibility for both family and domestic work. The desire and longing of the women left behind in the villages have long been a subject of both cinema and folk songs. A song in Muzaffar Ali’s Gaman (1978), “Aap ki yaad ati rahi raat bhar (All night, I kept longing for you…)”, is a tender expression of longing and desire of a couple living apart due to migration.

A folk song from eastern Uttar Pradesh goes like this: Ser gohunva baras din khaiban, baras din khaiban, Piya ke jaye na debayin ho Rakhaiben ankhiyan ke hajuravan, Piya ke jaye na debayin ho (One seer of wheat I will eat for one year, but I will not allow my husband to go. I will keep him before my eyes and will not let him go).

Yet while the husband is away, the loneliness of the bhabhi (sister-in-law), as several folk songs indicate, is sometimes addressed by the devar, the husband’s brother (typically younger). The newly-married woman turns to the devar for companionship. An academic paper, published in 2002, by Delhi University historian Charu Gupta established one reason why this might be: the wife chooses the devar because he is the only one in the household with whom she does not have a subservient relationship.

Researchers have even found that village life, in some settings, allows for freedom from boundaries and definitions concerning sexuality. Maya Sharma, a Vadodara-based feminist activist, found two women living together in a village. The people of the village referred to the couple as a miya-biwi-ki-jodi (husband and wife couple).

“There are very indirect and nuanced ways of expressing desire,” says Sharma, who says she found several such cases during her field work in Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh. “Just them living together is an expression of affirmation through silence, without upsetting social structures. And I wouldn’t say people there don’t know exactly what is happening.”

Women who might be called lesbians in urban settings because they are thick friends, pass off as “pakki saheliyan” in a rural setting. In instances where two women live together, some even admit, though not openly, to having physical relations.

While such associations in rural India are often ignored or forgiven, there are cases where too many people find out, or when certain lines are crossed. Punishment can then turn harsher than it would be in a city. Penalties include age-old forms of rural justice: parading women naked, or exiling them from their village.

A group of six women sitting outside Kokrud village in Sangli district recall an incident from about seven months ago. In the village of Islampur, in Ratnagiri district, a widow was banned from entering her village.

“Her mistake could not be accepted at all, not by the men in the family,” says Y, a tailor working in Kokrud. It had been years since her husband died. When her belly became slightly protuberant, people started asking questions. Initially, she told people that she had a gaanth (knot) in her stomach and later stopped going out of the house. To keep the matter under wraps, she gave away her newborn to an orphanage.

Yet, the village did come to know of it. When the devar found out, he approached the panchayat. The panchayat asked her to pay a fine of ₹20,000. That wasn’t the end of it. The devar insisted the woman should never set foot in the village again. The woman now lives with relatives in a nearby village; her teenage daughters live with her in-laws.

Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint
A hierarchy of desire
It is inevitable that in a hierarchical society like India, the way sexuality is expressed by women is also dependent on the caste, religion, and class they belong to.

A great deal of Dalit literature points to how upper-caste men have for centuries exercised a sexual “right” over Dalit women when male members of these women’s families are in their employ. Yet only some of these relationships find high caste sanction. For example, an upper-caste married man can have a physical relationship with a Dalit woman, but an unmarried upper-caste man cannot, because he could potentially marry her.

Ketan Mehta’s 1987 Hindi film Mirch Masala, featuring Smita Patil and Naseeruddin Shah, vividly portrays the assumption of sexual availability of a low-caste woman for an upper-caste man. It also depicts the casualness with which village women talk about sex outside marriage. Throughout the film, Sonbai, a married woman played by Patil, asserts her sexual autonomy by refusing to succumb to a powerful male figure’s sexual demands, while the village women try to convince her to give in.

Yet, in a strange way, lower-caste women often have greater sexual agency than upper-caste women in the villages. Dalit women are forced by circumstance and occupation to be more mobile. They encounter more men on an everyday basis while working, and so the chances of them getting into relationships, physical or otherwise, are higher.

“Being a Dalit woman, their sexuality is not as controlled and restricted as upper-caste women,” says Purnima Gupta, a senior fellow at Nirantar. “You will see in villages that it is the upper-caste women who wear ghoonghat (veil). Their men will always be around when you talk to them. Just like patriarchy, caste also decides a woman’s sexual freedom. Upper castes control a woman’s sexuality because they want to keep the bloodline pure,” says Gupta.

Dirty talk
Hunger and sexual desire are universal, visceral, primal. Perhaps this is why hunger has long been used as a metaphor for sex across cultures. These villages in the heart of India are no exception.

In Banda district in the Bundelkhand area of Uttar Pradesh (UP), the wedding season is in May-July and January-February. While marriage is the bride and groom’s big day, it is also a day for the village women to vent their frustrations with men, the enforcement of sexual regulation, and married life in general.

A few years ago men became so resentful that they went to the Khap panchayat trying to ban these songs. Women sing about coveting lower-caste men and imagine them as their grooms. That upsets men, because they think their women are questioning their virility.
- Prem Chowdhry, gender researcher

On the day of a marriage, a tent is set up and women gather to perform behlaul. Behlaul happens in the bridegroom’s house after the baraat (groom’s party) has left. Two women sit back to back. Other women come and touch their breasts and other body parts; sometimes gesturing with a rolling pin (belan). An older woman acts as husband while a younger one plays the wife. “Tambuaaa taan tanay gori/Tambuaa taan tanay gori (the tent has been set, girl),” they sing. The role-playing goes on for about an hour, and the discussion can veer from subjects like pubic hair to the first night of marriage to detailed accounts of sex.

“The rural openness around sexuality is reflected in the songs they sing,” says Prem Chowdhry, a Haryana-based gender researcher and the author of Contentious Marriages, Eloping Couples: Gender, Caste And Patriarchy In Northern India. “A few years ago men became so resentful that they went to the Khap panchayat trying to ban these songs. Women sing about coveting lower-caste men and imagine them as their grooms. That upsets men, because they think their women are questioning their virility.”

By the early 20th century, pulp fiction, semi-pornographic sex manuals, romances in colloquial Hindi, and Braj songs and poems were widely available in UP. Even today in markets in UP, you will easily find raunchy books, playing cards with images of sexual positions and naked women, and bioscopes with such photographs inserted between pictures of the Taj Mahal or Qutb Minar.

While women might have been reluctant to access such material out of fear of being seen, mobile phones have made things easier. Pornography is now downloaded online, or purchased from a kirana store (by men).

With hardly any access to sex education, navigating desire is a fraught enterprise. A lot of the women this reporter met spoke about watching porn after marriage mostly because their husbands wanted them to watch it along with them—as a way to legitimize desire. They watch desi porn, which they find easier to relate to and learn from.

Thirty-year-old M, from a small village on the border of UP and Madhya Pradesh, says women often don’t know exactly what they want in the early years of their sexual maturity. She was 17 when she got married, and got divorced after seven years. The sex was bad because there was often no consent, and also because she didn’t know her body too well. Now in her second marriage, she knows what she wants. “I don’t find anything ajeeb (strange) when two people are in bed,” she says. “Everyone has their own way to get pleasure. Unfortunately, when it comes to sex, women are mostly left unsatisfied. Men come, they do it and leave. But if we know what our body wants, we can ask for it as well. But only if we know.”

There is a 34 year-old woman in Mangle village in Sangli district who has made a wooden object, which looks a little like a rolling pin, but is thicker towards the edges. For several others, the fantasies involve men and not inanimate objects.

In a study conducted by Nirantar as part of the sexuality workshop, adolescent girls shared a colourful range of fantasies. One said she wanted to wear only her underclothes and fire bullets from a gun. Some girls simply wanted to cut their hair and walk around holding hands with male friends.

Then there is S. Her arms hurt from milking the cows everyday. Sometimes even the walk from the field to her home seems too long and lonely. Her clan doesn’t allow widows to remarry. But for her, to desire and to be desired are things she doesn’t need societal approval for. She says if she keeps worrying ki log kya kahenge (what will people say), who will worry about her? Two decades after the first time she had sex, it’s not the man alone who calls the shots in the bedroom. Sex is never over till S too has had an orgasm.

(Source: Live Mint)

India's singing village, where everyone has their melody

Curious whistles and chirrups echo through the jungle around Kongthong, a remote Indian village, but this is no birdsong. It's people calling out to each other in music -- an extraordinary tradition that may even be unique.

Here in the lush, rolling hills of the northeastern state of Meghalaya, mothers from Kongthong and a few other local villages compose a special melody for each child.

Everyone in the village, inhabited by the Khasi people, will then address the person with this individual little tune -- and for a lifetime. They have conventional "real" names too, but they are rarely used.

To walk along the main road in this village of wooden huts with corrugated tin roofs, perched on a ridge miles from anywhere, is to walk through a symphony of hoots and toots.

On one side a mother calls out to her son to come home for supper, elsewhere children play and at the other end friends mess about -- all in an unusual, musical language of their own.

"The composition of the melody comes from the bottom of my heart," mother-of-three Pyndaplin Shabong told AFP.

"It expresses my joy and love for my baby," the 31-year-old said, her youngest daughter, two and a half years old, on her knee.

"But if my son has done something wrong, if I'm angry with him, he broke my heart, at that moment I will call him by his actual name," rather than singing lovingly, said Rothell Khongsit, a community leader.

Harmony with nature
Kongthong has long been cut off from the rest of the world, several hours of tough trek from the nearest town. Electricity arrived only in 2000, and the dirt road in 2013.

Days are spent foraging in the jungle for broom grass -- the main source of revenue -- leaving the village all but deserted, except for a few kids.

To call out to each other while in the forest, the villagers would use a long version lasting around 30 seconds of each other's musical "name", inspired by the sounds of nature all around.

"We are living in far-flung villages, we are surrounded by the dense forest, by the hills. So we are in touch with nature, we are in touch with all the gracious living things that God has created," says Khongsit.

"Creatures have their own identity. The birds, so many animals, they have ways of calling each other."

The custom is known as "jingrwai lawbei", meaning "song of the clan's first woman", a reference to the Khasi people's mythical original mother.

And unusually for India, this is a matrilineal society. Property and land are passed down from mother to daughter, while a husband moves in with his wife and takes her name.

"We consider the mother the goddess of the family. A mother looks after a family, after the inheritance we get from our ancestors," Khongsit said.

Modern world
But according to anthropologist Tiplut Nongbri, a professor at Jamia Millia Islamia university in Delhi, it is something of a "disguised patriarchy".

Women "don't have decision-making powers. Traditionally, they can't take part in politics, the rules are very clearly demarcated between male and female," she told AFP.

"Taking care of the children, that's the women's responsibility. Statecraft and all that is (a) male function."

The origin of "jingrwai lawbei" isn't known, but locals think it is as old as the village, which has existed for as long as five centuries.

The tradition's days may be numbered, though, as the modern world creeps into Kongthong in the shape of televisions and mobile phones.

Some of the newer melodic names are inspired by Bollywood songs.

And youngsters are increasingly going off singing out their friends' melodic names, preferring instead to phone them.

(Source: The Peninsula)

Why schools in the US are banning yoga

Mindfulness programs have become popular on K–12 campuses, but in some parts of the country concerns about religious intrusion keep the trend at bay.

In certain parts of the United States, it’s getting more and more likely that rather than a game of dodgeball in gym class or a round of Heads-up, Seven-up as a break between lessons, students will instead find themselves doing downward-facing dog. The internet is saturated with yoga-based lesson plans, teacher-training courses, and “mindful” music playlists designed for schools, while programs for certified yoga instructors who want to bring their practice onto campus have also gained popularity.

While up-to-date data on the prevalence of school-based yoga is hard to come by, a 2015 survey led by the New York University psychologist Bethany Butzer identified three dozen programs in the United States that reach 940 schools and more than 5,400 instructors. School-based yoga programs, Butzer and her co-authors concluded, are “acceptable and feasible to implement.” The researchers also predicted that such programs would grow in popularity.

The trend, however, seems to have been accompanied by an uptick in vocal pushback against the idea. In 2016, an elementary school in Cobb County, Georgia, became the subject of heated controversy after introducing a yoga program. Parents’ objections to the yoga classes—on the grounds that they promoted a non-Christian belief system—were vociferous enough to compel the district to significantly curtail the program, removing the “namaste” greeting and the coloring-book exercises involving mandalas. A few years before that, a group of parents sued a San Diego County school district on the grounds that its yoga program promoted Eastern religions and disadvantaged children who opted out. While a judge ruled in favor of the district, the controversy resurfaced two years ago amid concerns that the program was a poor use of public funds in already strapped schools. Meanwhile, just last month the Alabama Board of Education’s long-standing ban on yoga caused some ballyhoo after a document listing it as one of the activities prohibited in “gym class” was recirculated, grabbing the attention of a Hindu activist.

Proponents tend to cite studies underscoring the benefits of mindfulness-based therapies such as yoga for kids’ development. A 2009 study published in the Journal of Child and Family Studies, for example, found that mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, which teaches children how to divorce themselves from harmful thoughts or emotions, was linked to reduced anxiety and increased attention levels. Other studies suggest that “mindful movement” such as yoga helps to enhance kids’ executive functions—skills such as working memory, attentional control, and cognitive flexibility. Some studies have gone as far as concluding that yoga has a positive effect on students’ academic performance or engagement, particularly among students who’ve struggled with traumatic experiences such as poverty and struggle with self-regulation as a result. After all, decades of research have shown that it’s hard for a child who hasn’t learned how to respond to stress to do well in school.

Elementary-school students hold their position during a yoga class in Encinitas, California, whose school district was the subject of a lawsuit seeking to ban the program.GREGORY BULL / AP
But some observers question the research on yoga’s benefits. Amy Wax, a University of Pennsylvania law professor who specializes in social-welfare policy, in a 2016 Atlantic story criticized some existing studies on yoga and mindfulness as being of “low quality and dubious rigor.” Julia Belluz, a senior health correspondent for Vox, has noted that despite a drastic increase in recent decades in the number of studies on yoga, the research tends to rely on small numbers of participants and imperfect comparisons, among other limitations. And some parents argue that yoga’s potential benefits aren’t enough to justify the spending at a time when public schools already struggle with limited funding.

The most vocal opponents tend to cite yoga’s Hindu and Buddhist roots, arguing that the line between those origins and secular practices is often blurry. Yoga encompasses all kinds of approaches and techniques, some more spiritual than others, but those roots often filter into even the most innocuous of mindful-movement routines. Religious influences are, arguably, even baked into elements as simple as “om” chants, poses with Sanskrit names, and, as the controversy in Georgia attests, collective “namaste” greetings.

In the Cobb County case, some parents felt that the school was using a double standard in allowing yoga classes yet banning other forms of religious practice in schools. “No prayer in schools. Some don’t even say the Pledge [of Allegiance], yet they’re pushing ideology on our students,” one mother, Susan Jaramillo, told a journalist for the area’s NBC affiliate. “Some of those things are religious practices that we don’t want our children doing in our schools.” Yet the school’s principal, who did end up apologizing for and revising the yoga curriculum, argued that much of the parents’ criticism rested on false assumptions about the program—a parent cited by The Washington Post worried, for instance, that the school was promoting a “Far East mystical religion with crystals and chants to be practiced under the guise of stress release meditation.”

In reality, school-based yoga typically focuses on physical exercise or on relaxation and mindfulness. Some schools integrate it via in-classroom lessons that have kids engage in a few exercises at their desk during short breaks throughout the day. Other schools adopt yoga as an in- or after-school elective, while some incorporate it into regular PE classes.

“Many original forms of yoga are practiced in a religious or spiritual manner,” acknowledges Marlynn Wei, a psychiatrist, therapist, and certified yoga teacher who’s written about yoga’s educational uses. Still, religion-infused yoga often pursues the same ends as its secular counterpart: For example, they both emphasize being in the present. By removing yoga’s more superficial aspects (such as Sanskrit words and symbols), yoga can still have mindfulness and be appreciated for its benefits beyond physical exercise, Wei says.

“The minute you put Sanskrit into a curriculum … some parents are going to freak out,” agrees Jai Sugrim, a yoga instructor who’s taught in schools.

Adoption of these programs has been uneven across the United States—yoga in schools is far more common in some regions than in others. Programs are, according to Butzer’s 2015 survey, based primarily in big cities on the coasts, such as Los Angeles and New York City. Areas known for their New Age–y enclaves—such as Colorado and the Northwest U.S.—account for many of the programs, too. Where they’re all but unheard of, Butzer’s data suggests, is in America’s heartland.

Big cities and liberal strongholds generally tend to be vanguards when it comes to implementing “progressive education” policies, such as the movement to replace zero-tolerance discipline with conflict resolution or the movement to eliminate homework. What’s more, much of the research on school-based yoga focuses on its benefits for “urban youth,” a high percentage of whom contend with trauma such as poverty, community violence, and exposure to drug abuse that takes a toll on their ability to manage stress. It’s easy to take this stuff for granted in areas such as parts of the West Coast and the mid-Atlantic, where, according to a 2016 survey, one in five people practices yoga. But in a state like Alabama, where school-based yoga has long been banned and where according to that same survey just 10 percent of the population has taken a class, it’s conceivable that many might see yoga as bizarre and inappropriate in a school setting. Notably, the same survey found that many people who hadn’t tried yoga before perceived it to be exclusive to young women or those who are already flexible, athletic, or spiritual.

Ironically, proponents argue that the value of yoga in schools is its inclusiveness —its promise to help boys who don’t know how to contain their outbursts, students with physical disabilities, children who struggle with obesity, and teens who lack direction. Perhaps the biggest obstacle faced by school-based yoga comes down to the fact that everyone has his or her own way of thinking about it. Religious versus secular, meditation versus exercise, exclusive versus inclusive—it’s little wonder that two people might see the same kid doing a warrior pose through completely different lenses.

(Source: The Atlantic)

The taste of broken promises

Some beautiful 'Words Unspoken'

"Your first love is
the love of your life
walks in
and makes it forgettable."

"You're not
the man I love, anymore.
you're just
a man I used to know."

"I minimise the bad.
I blow the good
out of proportions.
And that's how
I keep myself from
letting go.
By fooling my heart
into believeing that you were
something more
than the coward
that you actually are."

"I never
wanted to stop
having firsts
with you,
lasts were
more your thing."

"I wasn't yours to have
and you,
weren't mone to lose.
But you,
had me anyway
and I,
lost you all the same."

"What I once love,
what made you special,
is a thing of the past.
You were the face of sunny days
and wild flowers
breaking through concrete
and other unlikely places.
you are nothing more than
the feel of open wounds,
knots stuck down my throat
and the taste of
broken promises."

6 Indian films that tackle mainstream cinema’s casteism

As the recent social media commentary on the trailer of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s magnum opus film Padmavati shows, like our lives, our films are seeped in structures of caste. Caste informs the composition of the film industry; the themes of the films; the names, mannerisms and treatment of characters in the film.

So while Bhansali’s film trailer seems to find nothing problematic about its leads mouthing supremely casteist dialogues that cement upper-caste pride, it is part of a structure. An industry structure dominated by those who have never seen or experienced marginalization owing to their caste, and hence are oblivious to how perpetuating existing caste-dynamics can make life difficult for real and everyday people who do not enjoy such caste privilege.

And yet some films stand out for doing things differently: for acknowledging caste, for portraying its twisted ordering-logic, for giving voice to the experience of those caste groups who have been silenced and looked through, and for challenging the trappings of the trope of Dalit, Bahujan and Adivasis as victims.

The following is a list of films which have done exactly that:

1. Fandry (Marathi)

Nagraj Manjule’s 2014 film stands out for giving us a non-dominant caste protagonist who is interested in carving out his own identity and space. Far from being a mute object of study, Jabya is a character who thought, felt and resisted. Come as he did from a family of pig-catchers, he recognised the forced work which was handed down to him generation after generation, by the village economy (and villagers) as oppressive. Jabya wanted to study and do well in school.

But as the forces of caste start straining these hopes and aspirations Jabya has for himself, they also drive home the near-fixity of his caste identity as even the upper-caste girl he is ardently in love with sees him as nothing but a source of entertainment.

2. Sairat (Marathi)

This Marathi blockbuster was also directed by Manjule. Many read this film as a continuation of the journey of Fandry’s male, lower-caste protagonist i.e. as a story which traces what happens to a Jabya once he crosses the threshold from adolescence into adulthood.

While the fact that the film barely mentions caste and also brings in the element of class—as protagonist Parshya falls in love and elopes with the upper-caste Maratha daughter of a wealthy, local politician—was seen by some as a dilution of Majule’s anti-caste stance in his film narrative, others commented on how the film showed the workings of caste without ever having to use the word ‘caste’.

3. Madras (Tamil)

Similar to Majule’s work, Pa Ranjith’s films succeed in showing the every-day working of caste even while it throws light on the superstructure of the caste system. The narrative of this particular film has at its centre a power struggle between two political factions. As this piece says:

“Two warring factions of a political party are desperately trying to establish their supremacy by taking control of an insignificant building wall at a housing board apartment complex. The wall previously displayed the picture of the two powerful leaders together, but with their split, there is a huge tussle as to who owns the wall.”

Most mainstream reviews of the film in fact missed the film’s engagement with questions of caste, but through little details and snippets about the lives of its Dalit protagonists, the film succeeded in telling a story from a point-of-view that is close to non-existent in cinema.

4. Kabali (Tamil)

As one of our older pieces outlines, “Kabali is an action-packed movie with Malaysian gang wars as its backdrop. Malaysia has a sizeable Tamil population. Kabali, played by Rajinikanth, is a common tree plantation worker who rises to the top fighting for workers’ rights. But Kabali’s leadership is challenged for his working class background and low-caste status.”

As Rajesh Rajamani observes in this piece, the film undoes the trope of the oppressed community as a prop, and it humanizes them.

5. Court (Marathi)

This Marathi film by Chaitanya Tamhane chronicles the court battle a Dalit protest singer has to endure, as he is accused of driving a sewage-cleaner to suicide. While many applauded the film for being a clever satire on the crippling helplessness the legal and state machinery imposes on the disadvantaged citizen, the film has also been criticised for showing elements of a Brahmin-saviour complex as it merely shows the legal machinery populated by upper castes without critiquing such disproportionate representation.

6. Masaan (Hindi)

Like Manjule’s film, this Hindi film also has as one of its central plot devices an inter-caste romance. The female, upper-caste lead Shaalu falls in love with Deepak, who is from the Dom community: a community which “tends funeral pyres on the banks of the Ganga”. When Shaalu finds out about Deepak’s lower-caste location, it comes as a shock and yet she comes around and promises Deepak that she will stay with him. The film has been criticized however, for it resolves this plot complication a little too neatly and this seems to be in deference to accepted caste notions and related notions of love.

(Source: FII)