Friday 30 September 2011

French Feminists Fight to Give 'Mademoiselle' A Miss

French feminists have launched a campaign to abolish the use of "mademoiselle", a term for an unmarried woman still used on official papers which they say demeans and enshrines sexism.

France has no equivalent to the ambiguous "Ms" used in English, and French feminists do not see the need for it. They just don't see why it is deemed necessary immediately to know a woman's marital status and not a man's.

"When opening a bank account, it's impossible to be called 'Madame' if you're unmarried. You will certainly end up as 'Mademoiselle'," Christine wrote on, a forum for the "sexist cliches of daily life."

"It might seem like a detail but it's highly symbolic of inequalities," said Julie Muret, of "Osez le feminisme!" (Dare feminism!), which this week, along with the "Chiennes de Garde" group (Guard dogs), launched a campaign for 'mademoiselle' to be officially abolished.

The use of "mademoiselle" was inscribed in French law in the early 19th century thanks to the Napoleonic Code, but today it no longer has any legal meaning.

While in France letters from the taxwoman will be addressed to "mademoiselle", in Germany the equivalent term "fraulein" faded out in the 1990s, after having been eliminated from official use in 1972.

Laurence Waki, who wrote a book called "Madame or Mademoiselle", says that people who make the distinction are imposing an identity, "either of age, or of marital status. It's unbearable."

"That forces a woman to expose her personal and family situation," while men do not have to, said Muret, noting the often condescending connotation of "mademoiselle."

But for Olivia Cattan, of the "Paroles de Femmes" (Women's words) group, the issue should not be a priority.
"This isn't going to resolve women's problems, the violence, the precariousness," she said.

The campaign is being launched at a time when French feminists are resurgent since former fallen French Socialist leader Dominique Strauss-Kahn was arrested in New York in May for allegedly trying to rape a maid.

The criminal case was thrown out after prosecutors deemed the alleged victim to be unreliable, but several feminist groups are currently defending French writer Tristane Banon, who also accuses Strauss-Kahn of attempted rape.

Strauss-Kahn denies both charges.

"Launching this campaign doesn't stop us talking about discrimination and violence," said Muret.

But opinions differ on the Facebook page of "Osez le feminisme", where a woman called Mireille wrote of the campaign: "This discredits the feminist struggle, it's drowning out important matters."

She would rather see energy spent on changing "the image of women in adverts, music videos, getting equal salaries paid to people with the same qualifications."

Alexandra, 26, wrote that she was "revolted" by the campaign.

"I think that it's very beautiful to be called mademoiselle... It's not degrading, on the contrary, it's a sign of youth," she wrote.

(Source: AFP)

98% Gap in Citizen-Expat Fixed Salary in Qatar

In what indicates the income disparity in Qatar, global consulting firm Hay Group has found a 98% gap between the fixed pay of citizens and expatriates in 2011 and it has been rising steadily.

The consulting firm also said the recent decision to hike salaries of nationals by 60-120% in the government and public sector would not only fuel inflation but also increase the cost of labour and that pay in Qatar was on an average 20% more than what was offered in other Gulf countries.
“On average, there is now a 98% pay gap between the fixed pay of Qatari nationals and non-nationals,” Hay Group said in its annual report.
The report said the differential was 88% in 2010, 64% in 2009 and 27% in 2008.
Hay Group’s annual report on compensation and benefits analyses salary information of 41,000 employees from 117 organisations in Qatar comprising a wide spectrum of industry sectors. Oil and gas and financial sectors are highlighted in the report as those already implementing changes to their reward policies.

The decree (on 60-120% hike in salaries) would have a positive multiplier effect on the economy and demonstrated how the government was investing in its people but more spending and consumption would bring inflation, Harish Bhatia, manager of Reward Information Services at Hay Group, said.

“It will be interesting to see how supply and demand plays out in the labour market which will become more complex as a result,” he said.

Finding that the oil and gas sector pays 100% higher than the market average and financial services also offers above the market average; he said together, these sectors employ 75% of the Qatari nationals in the workforce and employers in these sectors face an immediate increase in payroll costs.

The decree was fuelled by an intention to distribute the wealth of the nation but private sector employers were concerned with how they would be able to compete with the government’s initiatives in attracting nationals into their workforce, Bhatia said.

Employers in the private sector would face a challenge in ensuring Qatari nationals played a part in the exciting phase of development that Qatar was in midst of, he added.

Hay Group expects that the private sector companies would also make some changes to reward packages for non-nationals to manage expectations.

“With higher pay, which will give rise to higher spending and consumption, we would expect the private sector to react. In addition to local market forces, a number of multi-nationals have to remain in-line with their global philosophy of pay equally regardless of nationality,” he said.

From a human resources perspective an across-the-board pay increase was entitlement driven, rather than performance driven, he said, adding “a sudden increase without differentiation based on performance may increase the cost of labour without the corresponding benefit to the organisation.”

On the wider implications of Qatar government’s decision to hike salaries for nationals, Bhatia said “elsewhere in the Gulf region we have seen governments awarding one-off bonus payments or subsidies in recognition of the peoples’ contribution to economic growth and Qatar is looking at a long-term commitment with this decree, which therefore requires long term commitment from organisations.”

(Source: Gulf Times)

Al-Jemail or Ghost Town in Qatar

After seeing the Al-Zubarah fort and town we headed towards Ghost Town aka Al-Jemail, one of the abandoned fishing villages. We saw this village while going to the fort and it is about 600 metres away from the road. The other two abandoned villages along the north coast of Qatar are Al-Khuwair and Al-Areesh. Both are down the road to Al-Zubarah from Al-Jemail. The village’s entrance is indicated by a signboard which says it is a heritage site.

All the three villages were built at the beginning of 19th century and their names have intriguing origins. Al-Areesh comes from the Arabic “areesh,” which means shelter made by date palm fronds, while Al-Kuwair comes from “kuwair,” meaning small seawater canal. These villages were first abandoned in 1937, but daily life resumed in 1945 and continued well into the 1970s when the residents once again abandoned them.

After parking the car near the entrance of the village we walked to the beach. Then we entered Al-Jemail ruins and found a mosque standing still in the middle of a few old fishermen’s houses, mostly in ruins, theirs walls, made of stone and shells, collapsed.
We found Al-Jemail

Walking towards Al-Jemail

Almost nearing...


The mosque at Al-Jemail had a typical plan, fenced by high walls and open to an internal courtyard. We saw a room in the courtyard and Umer and Sajid explained that it was a “mothawaddah,” a separate room for the “wudu” or ablutions.
Near the entrance of the mosque at Al-Jemail

In one corner was a minaret, a circular shaft with a simple rounded top and a small arched door that opened to a narrow spiral staircase. On the top of the minaret, a small room opened to the surroundings with four little windows that were used by the “muezzin” to call people to pray. All of us climbed the minaret using the small staircase and saw the surroundings.
The prayer area of the mosque was split into two spaces: An “iwan,” or outer prayer room consisting of a portico overlooking the courtyard, and an indoor prayer area where the “mehrab” was directed towards the “Kaaba” at Mecca.
Minaret with four small windows

After visiting these villages, we got a clear idea of the traditional Qatari building technique. The thick walls, helped to keep away the heat and keep buildings cool. They were constructed by overlapping raw pieces of coral rock and limestone, joining them with mud mortar and covering them with gypsum-based plaster.


The roof was made of four layers. The first consisted of a series of “danchal” wood poles, often protected by bitumen. The second was a layer of “basgijl,” which were woven bamboo strips. A close net of mangrove branches made the third layer, and the roof was then finished with a layer of compressed mud, which provided protection from the sun during the hot seasons.

Ruins of the village

Ruins of the village

One of the most interesting features of this technique was building epistyles using poles of “danchal” wood held together with a rope. This increased the adherence of the mud mortar and plaster.
Ruins of the village seen from the minaret

Ruins of the mosque seen from the minaret


Then we saw a stone building of a school, stone walls of houses, graffiti on walls and other ruins in the abandoned village.

We had passed lunch time when we left the place and we stopped at Madinat Al-Shamal to buy some snacks and had a stroll at a beautiful park in Madinat Al-Shamal before heading towards Doha.

Thursday 29 September 2011

Al-Zubarah Town

After seeing Al-Zubarah fort, we went to the Al-Zubarah town where excavations by the Department of Antiquities in Qatar were conducted in the 1980s and 2002-2004 uncovering two housing complexes, a section of the perimeter fortifications, a souq area and an industrial complex. 

On the way we saw many camels. The road to the town and the beach was quite bumpy. We had a doubt if Umer’s sedan would make it and yes, we reached the place. First we went to see the beach and we found lots of shells and empty bottles on the shore.  We drove towards the coastline, about 200 meters past the Al-Zubarah fort and entered Al-Zubarah town through the first gate. Then we followed the path until we found the excavated areas.
Then we entered the town. We could see clear evidence of town planning, and three large courtyard houses with walls that screened the inner courtyard from the gaze of visitors, decorative architectural details, and several bathrooms. The remains gave us an impression that the inhabitants enjoyed a high standard of living.
There was a large construction, which has been dubbed by the archaeologists as ‘the palace compound’. This fortified compound mostly housed the ruling elite. It also features decorated gypsum panels and date presses.
We found many evidences of ‘madabes’. These structures were used to produce ‘debis’, a date-based syrup and part of a traditional Gulf diet. The rooms have parallel channels 10 cm deep into the floor which are linked together by a perpendicular canal near the entrance that funnels into an underground pot in the corner. During the process of making ‘debis’, palm fronds were laid on the channels, creating a smooth, flat base. The dates were then put in sacks made of palm leaves and laid on top of each other in piles that could reach two metres high. The weight of the upper sacks thus squashed the dates in the lower sacks and their thick juice ran into the channels of the so-called ‘mudbasa’ and eventually into the sunken collecting pot.

Wednesday 28 September 2011

Al-Zubarah Fort

One weekend we thought of going to Al-Zubarah Fort and Vij asked Umer and Sajid to accompany us. After having breakfast at a south Indian restaurant, we left for Al-Zubarah which is around 105 km from Doha. We went out of Doha along the North road, looking for the signs to Al-Zubarah, which we found after the turn off to Al Khor. Then we took a U-turn and head back a few metres before turning right. Then we followed the road until we got to the fort. 

Al-Zubarah is a ruined and deserted town located in the northwestern coast of Qatar. Al-Zubarah is noted for its old fortress built in 1938 by Sheikh Abdu’llah bin Qasim Al-Thani and restored in 1987 as a museum. It is different from the Murair fort built outside the town of Al-Zubarah. Bani Utbah tribe was settled in Al-Zubarah in the second half of the 18th century. It is this tribe which established the town of Al-Zubarah and its port making it one of the most important port and pearl trading centers in the Persian Gulf in the 18th Century. The tribe also built a fort outside the town and called it Murair.
Al-Zubarah Fort
When we arrived at the place, we expected the caretaker to give us keys so that we can let ourselves into the fort, but there were already some archaeologists who were busy in studying the fort and they saved us from that part of business. We found a cannon in front of the fort, while the Qatari flag fluttered proudly at the top of the fort.
Well under the four-pillared canopy
As we entered the courtyard we saw a deep well under the four-pillared canopy. When we peeped through the metal grid that covers the top of the well, we could see our reflection along with the floating bottles in the water deep below.

We saw eight rooms on the ground floor that are used to display exquisite pottery and archaeological findings from the Al-Zubarah town. These rooms were originally meant to accommodate soldiers in the past.  The rooms had wooden shutters and when we opened them, cool wind gushed in. The ground floor also features ‘iwan’, small porticos overlooking the courtyard through square arcades.
Rectangular tower
Circular tower
At the very first sight, we could make out that Al-Zubarah fort is a typical Arab fort constructed using the traditional Qatari architecture. It is an impressive structure which is square in shape. The walls of the fort were thick and very high. It had three circular towers in three corners and a rectangular tower in the fourth corner. This rectangular tower had machicolations, traditional triangular-based ledges with slits, used to shoot at enemies in case of any attack. The walls not only strengthened the fort but also helped the fort to beat the heat. And it is because of these thick walls, we found the rooms inside the fort so cool! These walls were constructed by joining overlapping raw pieces of coral rocks and limestone with mud mortar and then covering it with gypsum-based plaster. 

The roof is made of four layers. The first consists of a series of ‘danchal’ wood poles, often protected by bitumen. The second is a layer of ‘basgijl’, which are woven bamboo strips. A close net of mangrove branches makes up the third layer, and the roof is then finished with a layer of compressed mud, protecting the buildings from the blazing sun during the hot season. One of the most interesting features of this technique is the building of architraves using poles of ‘danchal’ wood held together with a rope, to increase the adherence of the mud mortar and plaster.
Heading towards internal staircase
Photographs of archaelogical findings on display
Gunfire hole
We also used staircases in the courtyard to reach the second floor and found some rooms tucked inside the corner towers. The walls of these rooms had gunfire holes angled in different directions. Some of them had lizards and some of them had birds' nests. These holes not only allowed light and wind to come in, but also helped soldiers to shoot enemies attacking from all sides. They were not straight, but twisted making it difficult for enemies to fire from the opposite side!
Qatari flag
External staircase and the rickety ladder
Machicolations and gunfire holes
A view of courtyard from the first floor
Maybe the rickety ladder that is still in the towers enabled the soldiers to climb up to the roof and patrol the surrounding area with a clear view.
Umer standing in front of a room
Guys had a good time playing around cannon
Cannon in front of the fort
In front of the fort
It was too windy on that day and it didn’t allow us to spend much time outside the fort. After clicking a few pics near the cannon and the fort, we left for Al-Zubarah town where exacavations by the Department of Antiquities in Qatar have been conducted in the 1980s and 2002-2004.
Old car near the fort

Tuesday 27 September 2011

A Feminist ‘Beyond Repair’!

‘What is in a name? Very much if the wit of man could find it out,’ says a well known saying. But very often we have seen how women change their surnames after their wedding. This issue was raked up by a friend whom I met online after 16 years, thanks to the Facebook.

“You haven’t changed your name?!” pinged one of my classmates the other day.

I was surprised by the question. I asked: “Sorry?”

She replied: “You haven’t changed your surname. It still says ‘Arjunpuri’!”

“What do you mean? Why should I change my surname?” I asked with a small doubt what she wants to know.

“You are married and you should change your surname now. Why are you using your maiden surname?” I could not understand if it was a concern or a complaint. She continued: “You should use your husband’s surname or his name along with yours. If you don’t, it’s bad for him.”

I was completely taken aback and tried to cut her short, but the dentist friend continued, “See, I have changed my surname after the wedding. I’m proud to use my honey’s surname,” she went on insisting. I lost my temper now, I couldn’t take it anymore.

“But I don’t like to change my surname, I’m happy with my name. Even my husband is fine with it. If you have changed it, it’s your wish dear. Don’t insist on me to do what you have done,” I said politely.

“I have changed it in my passport as well. Otherwise it’s difficult to travel with him, visa problem you see. You will know when you travel abroad,” she blurted.

Did she forget I’ve also travelled and I’m not living in India anymore? I wanted to remind her of that, “I never faced any problem, I have travelled with my husband and we have never faced any such problem.” 

“How are they giving the visa to you? Don’t they check for similar surnames? Didn’t the guys in the passport office tell you that you need to change the surname after your wedding?” her questions came up one after another.

“Just to get a visa, you need not change the surname after the wedding. Provide your marriage certificate with your original surname and then who can make any problem anyways?” I wondered, continuing, “A woman has all the rights to retain her surname even after her marriage. You were born in a nice family, your parents have raised you, given you good culture, values, education and what not? You are a dentist, rather say an individual, today because of your parents (I have not forgotten the fact that her father had to sell his ancestral property for her education and her parents are today living in a rented house). They have given you all that can make somebody’s life more beautiful. They have shared your joys and sorrows for nearly 25 years till you got married and still they continue to share all emotions with you. And suddenly a prince charming appears from nowhere and you forget everything about your parents? Forget your surname? Why?”

Thank god, she allowed me to say that much. Even before I could say anything further, her reply popped up (should admire her typing speed though): “Society has put certain rules and it accepts only those who follow them in life… I believe in that and every woman should believe in that…”

“Hello, stop, stop…” I had to check her before she could continue: “My mom hasn’t changed her surname even after 39 years of her marriage. My dad never asked her to do so. He respects her as an individual and she’s free to retain her name intact.”

“But having your husband’s name gets you more respect in society,” she said, making me to feel like screaming at her. “Do you mean to say you are not respected if you use your parents’ surname? That’s an insult. Don’t demean your parents and their surname after the wedding please.”

I think she felt offended. Her next few lines became little too harsh. Her lines said: “I knew you were different, you were a rebel during school days, but I never understood to this extent. From a mere rebel, you have become a feminist beyond repair!”

I had no chance to tell anything further because, immediately she went offline and here I look at myself and wonder am I a feminist beyond repair? It’s been a week since she raked up the issue and I’m thinking all possible reasons behind why I didn’t change my surname.

Yes, quite often women change their surnames post wedding. Some feel that they have entered a new and permanent family and it’s their duty to have their husband’s surname. But I have also seen many women who continue to retain their surnames after the wedding and some women adding husband’s surname along with theirs making the name much longer! But will that sound better? Depends, some names gel very well and some may sound too odd, but again choice is all yours!

Now, there was this classmate who willingly changed her surname soon after the wedding, thanks to the caste system. Coming from a backward class community, she readily accepted the surname of her husband who came from an upper caste (No need to tell that it was a love marriage and they had married against the will and blessings of their parents). I still remember the day when she got wild in a friend’s wedding when she was introduced with her old surname. The very mention of her old surname made her to scream at other friends and she reiterated her new surname which put her of course in the upper caste ladder! So for some, it’s also a matter of convenience and prestige in India.

Another friend of mine told me a few days back that Shariah (Islamic law) gives all rights to women to retain their original surname and they cannot be forced to change it. “In fact, Islam upholds the rights of women like no other religion has ever done, but people are unaware about it and there’s always a wrong conception that Islam suppresses women,” she said. And I wonder why women of other religions in India are forced to change their surnames after wedding. Is it a way of suppressing women’s voice by patriarchal society? But why is it that women also cooperate with men in this act? Do they suffer from identity crisis? Then, I was curious to know how did the use of surname began and realized that the use of a surname is relatively new in history and was adopted in order to legally distinguish two individuals with the same first name. At first, these last names were not passed down to the next generation. The Chinese were among the very first cultures to adopt the use of hereditary surnames about 5000 years ago. In Europe, surnames weren’t used until the 10th or 11th century AD in Venice. Gradually throughout Europe, all nobility and gentry adopted surnames until eventually surnames were used by all Europeans of all classes.

Now, coming back to the point, there was a time when girls were considered to be a burden on the part of parents. There have been many instances of female infanticide and female feticide in India. There were reports in media on female fetuses found in drains or dug from dry wells or even floating in lakes or eaten by dogs. People used to think why to have a daughter, spend on her education when at the end of the day she gets married and goes to another family. There started the discrimination in education and the urge to have a male issue. Gone are the days when parents wanted only baby boys, now most of them want baby girls. They don’t discriminate between boys and girls, they give equal opportunities and good education. They know one day or the other their daughter gets married and goes away from them, but at the end of the day, they feel that she makes them proud by her achievements.

As a girl, what else can I do other than retaining my surname and making my parents proud every time I achieve something in my field? That’s the love and respect I show towards them. My children will have my husband’s surname, they will make us proud of them one day like how we have made our parents proud of us. Even if it means to be labeled as a feminist beyond repair, I don’t care, I’m proud to use and keep my surname intact!

Monday 26 September 2011

Zekreet Fort and Beach

I was new to Doha and used to eagerly wait for weekends when Vij used to take me out. All I used to do is mark places on the map and tell him that we would go here this weekend or there next weekend. And on one such weekend we left for Zekreet. The map said there’s Zekreet Fort near Dukhan on the west coast of Qatar and is 90 km from Doha. Being a History student, my curiosity naturally increased by the very mention of fort and remnants of old settlements.

After lunch, we left Doha and took the road to Dukhan. After leaving the city limits, we soon found ourselves on a virtually empty road, and after 80 km, we took a right turn at the Zekreet junction. We drove through Zekreet, turned left when we reached the limits of the village. Passersby had told us to take a left turn once we find a mosque on the left and Arabic tents on the right side. We reached the mosque and took a left turn and drove towards the sea. We reached the beach which is also called as Ras abruq Beach. The beach was so beautiful. 
Clean waters
Beach was lonely

People busy catching crabs

The water so clear and was not at all crowded. We saw some people busy crab hunting in the clear waters. 
Shallow waters

Rock formation

The rocks on the beach with natural curves gave us an impression of some carving of some great artist. When I and Vij walked inside, we could see crabs running for shelter. They were hidden in the soil and were running helter-skelter as we passed in the waters.

A crab running

Crabs hiding in the soil
I collected some beautiful shells before leaving the beach.

On the way, we stopped to see the village where we found the remains of a small 18th century fort and madabes or date press. The village is around 200 metres away from the shore. The fort had a distinctive layout that allowed seeing the two different phases of construction. Originally, the fort was built as a simple square without any towers in the corners. In the second phase, towers were added at the outer four corners and they were never completed. In fact, the plan looked incomplete and only three-quarters of their plans seemed to have been constructed.
Ruins of the village

On the fort’s coastal side, we found the ruins of ‘madabes’ or date press. These rooms were used to produce ‘debis’, a traditional date-based syrup used as a dressing for rice and fish. The rooms had parallel channels 10 cm deep into the floor that were linked together by a perpendicular canal near the entrance that funnels into an underground pot in the corner. During the process of making ‘debis’, palm fronds were laid on the channels, creating a smooth, flat base. The dates were then put in sacks made of palm leaves and laid on top of each other in piles that could reach two meters high. The weight of the upper sacks often squashed the dates in the lower sacks and their thick juice ran into the channels and eventually into the underground pot. We found one such madabe even at Al-Zubarah town and I will discuss about that in another post.