Spare the gun, don’t spoil the child

By Uma Sudhir
“I was very disturbed seeing the visuals.”
My journalist-friend Narayanan who had just seen a report that I had filed, called to say from Delhi. The report had shown school students, visibly excited, holding weapons, even aiming one at A K Khan, police commissioner of Hyderabad, as part of an exercise to familiarise gen-next with weapons used by the police force.

“What is the police trying to do?” he asked, sounding truly exasperated. “Is this what we want our children to take a fancy to? Guns?!!”

To provoke such a reaction had precisely been the reason why I had chosen the videoclippings of school boys, hardly in their teens, looking thrilled at a chance to hold the ultimate toys, real guns. That too, an array of weapons, being offered virtually on a platter by the police, who were willingly answering questions, encouraging and engaging the boys on what each of the weapons was capable of doing.

This was an exercise being conducted in police station limits across Andhra Pradesh as part of weeklong celebrations leading up to the observation of the annual police commemoration day on 21st October. Only that this year, they became images that disturbed and raised questions.

Because in a zilla parishad school in a village in Khammam district, a loaded carbine being carried by a AP Special Police constable became part of the weaponry being shown to the children. The enthusiastic policeman apparently got carried away and was trying to show the children, how the weapon is loaded and fired, when accidentally, one round fired and five bullets went off. Two children were killed and three were injured.

Aravinda Rao, the state DGP said it was “stupid”, misplaced enthusiasm on the part of the constable. That a loaded gun is never meant to be part of such a show.

No doubt it was an accident that led to the tragic loss of young lives. I even feel sorry for the constable whose sense of regret must be making life really difficult for him.

But what about the larger question. Why should weapons that kill be shown to children as prized possessions? If the intention of the PR or familiarisation exercise (call it what you may) was to reach out to the public, earn respect for the state police and inspire and motivate youngsters to join the force, I am not so sure this is the best way to do it.

The fantasy of holding a gun as a trophy, as the ultimate means to evoke fear and give a false sense of machoism, to establish power equations, cannot be the reason why a young man would want to join the police force. Don’t we want the policeman to be someone who is respected rather than feared? Someone who will use non-violent options available under the law to ensure citizens rights are protected.

Today’s child is already growing up in an environment where it has become a big challenge for parents and teachers to expose and impress the child with role models that help him understand that verbal and physical threat and violence are not the best ways to either vent anger or resolve conflict.

As the mother of a seven-year-old, I share the deep concern of several parents that even television content like cartoons and videogames, purportedly meant for children, have an overload of violence and destruction that tends to desensitise a child and have a deep impact on impressionable young minds.

“Even the sweet-looking Tom and Jerry is so violent. And videogames are full of machine guns and fast-moving vehicles that are always crashing into each other. And my son is addicted to all of it,” confesses the mother of a 8-year-old. It is the same story everywhere.

Last month we were at the Andhra Pradesh karate championship at Hyderabad’s Lal Bahadur stadium. The competition was in two categories. A duel between two and a solo exhibition event, that looks almost like a martial dance. A father was egging on his 6-year-old daughter who was fighting her opponent. “Face pe maar, mooh pe maar. Bola na, zor se maar mooh pe.”

I am sure martial art teaches you many, many positive things. It keeps you fit and self-confident. That is why we had enrolled our daughter. But may be because I am ignorant, I don’t have the stomach for violence or simply just don’t have the spirit of a sportsperson. Suddenly I was not at all sure I would want my daughter to do this. To hurt an opponent and feel like a victor.

I am scared to think what we are doing to our youngsters. I was recently speaking to some teenage school boys from a prestigious institution of Hyderabad. The boys were telling me what is considered `cool’. Cigarette, hookah, fancy cars, latest gizmos.

“We have late night racing on our vehicles on the roads of Jubilee Hills. Sometimes there are accidents and fights break out too. That is why we have to keep a weapon, to ward off the other gang,” one of them told me, very matter of fact.

I was shocked, he was amused.

“I can show you where and how we get a weapon,” he boasted. I found out later that it was not an empty boast. It was life on the fast lane. Time to wake up and do a reality check, at least for the sake of our children.
Could we start with the police please.

MFIs under pressure

By T S Sudhir

The Andhra Pradesh High court on Friday granted interim relief to Microfinance institutions saying pending registration, they could carry on business. But instead of gloating, MFIs, under pressure after 45 reported deaths due to harassment by MFI representatives, promised to atone by restructuring loans wherever necessary.


(video of the story aired on NDTV)

No gun-ning for children

By Uma Sudhir

After the tragic death of two children in Khammam district when a police constable accidentally fired his loaded weapon at school students, the Andhra Pradesh police will critically review the safety loopholes in public weapons display exercises. 

(video of the story aired on NDTV 24×7)

`Keeping’ with the times?

“We should have been in the UAE,” Sudhir had grinned as he read out a news item earlier this week to me and our young daughter that said the Supreme Court in UAE had ruled that a man could `discipline’ his wife and young children by beating provided he does not leave a mark on their body.
We joked about it, dismissing it, perhaps with a subconscious feeling of reassurance that this could happen only in `those Gulf countries’. In a relatively progressively inclined society like India, no chance.

Thursday afternoon I was wondering if our feeling of supreme confidence about the judicial protection women would get in India was misplaced. In what to me seems a controversial decision, the Supreme Court of India has tried to spell out in what situations and under what circumstances a woman living with a man, without being legally married to him, would qualify for maintenance and protection.

Those inclined to look at the silver lining could say that at least now it has been spelt out about what kind of a live-in relationship would qualify to be considered in the nature of marriage. The court lays down four conditions.

The couple must have `voluntarily cohabited’, must appear to society as being `akin to spouses’ for a significant period of time, and be qualified to marry both in terms of legal age and being single.

What’s more, there should be proof in the form of evidence. So legal eagles say it is a wake-up call to women in vulnerable situations to start collecting evidence that they could need at some time to seek legal protection.

The apex court has also said that merely spending weekends together or a one-night stand would not make it a domestic relationship. So if work or other reasons keep the couple in different cities over the week and they only meet over the weekend, that would not be seen in the nature of a marriage.

So no rights or responsibilities for those who slog through the week to have time together over the weekend. You could rue or celebrate the decision, depending on your perspective.

“That men have extra marital relationships is a reality. Can you imagine the pandemonium and social turmoil society would be thrown into if mistresses and keeps were given the rights and sanctity of a wife or a long-standing live-in partner? What would happen to the man and the family?” asks a friend who fancies himself as a social realist.

But I wonder if our presumption about the power equation that a woman labelled as a `mistress’ or a `keep’ enjoys vis-a-vis the man is not pre-conditioned by our social and cultural bias. And that is why it bothers me when the apex court spells out that “If a man has a ‘keep’ whom he maintains financially and uses mainly for sexual purpose and or as a servant, it would not, in our opinion be a relationship in the nature of marriage.”

Is there a subjective moral judgement there?

Feminists would say the use of the language, the reference to a woman as a `keep’, who is `maintained financially’ and `used’ mainly for sexual purpose smacks of commodification of a woman, turning her into a sexual object. An interpretation that narrows and looks through coloured glasses the many shades that a live-in relationship, sexual or even platonic, could have.

To me, the woman who is financially dependent and gets `used’ for sexual purpose or as a servant is precisely the person who would need protection under the law. What an irony that she should be excluded.

If the judiciary is only inclined to protect a woman who is financially independent, liberated in many ways, who has consciously chosen not to be legally wedded, then the law doesn’t seem to be for the one who presumably needs it most.

The apex court has, in the case that was being argued, ruled that Patchaiammal, who claimed to have married Velusamy and is said to have lived 14 years with him, will not be entitled to the maintenance of 500 rupees that the Madras High Court and a matrimonial court had granted her.

That’s because Velusamy had challenged the two court orders on the ground that he was already married to one Laxmi and Patchaiammal was not married to him though he lived with her for some time. And since Laxmi was not given a chance to be heard, the directions passed by the lower court was ruled as erroneous and the matter would go back to the matrimonial court to examine whether Laxmi was the legally wedded wife of Velusamy.

So the court has interpreted section 125 of CrPC relating to maintenance, and said that besides a legally-wedded wife, dependent parents and children alone are entitled to maintenance from a man.

What’s interesting is that the Protection Against Domestic Violence Act of 2005 had expanded the scope of maintenance by using the expression ‘domestic relationship’ to include not only the relationship of marriage but also a relationship ‘in the nature of marriage’. Parliament did not use the expression `live-in relationship’.

The Supreme Court admits that it is conscious that the view it is taking would exclude many women who have had a live-in relationship from protection under the 2005 domestic violence Act. But it has said that since the expression has not been defined in the Act, the court thinks it is necessary to authoritatively interpret what qualifies to be called a relationship in the nature of marriage.

Optimists can rejoice that for the first time, the scope of alimony has been extended to include `palimony’, which means a long-term pal who is not a legal spouse can also be entitled to maintenance.

A reflection of the new dynamics of social relationships in the country. Is the law in keeping with the times?

Will you heed Ramu’s warning?

By T S Sudhir

“In this film, there are no songs, no comedy, no family functions, no great clothes, no good locations, no exotic sets. All elements which conventional, commercial, formula films have, they are not there. After that if you want to see it, it is your call.”

Any other person doing such shoddy marketing for a film would have been guillotined. But then this is Ramgopal Varma aka Ramuji aka RGV. And when it is RGV, there are no rules. And if there are, they are meant to be flouted.

However, usually, in Varma’s kingdom, also called `Factory’, the mercurial producer-director makes his own rules.
Like he did when he did not get the rights to use the title `Sholay‘. RGV went ahead and named it `Ramgopal Varma ki Aag’. Indeed when it comes to being streetsmart, RGV is more Gopal than Ram.
Again with `Rakht Charitra‘. This will be the first Hindi and Telugu film to be released in two parts. The first part on 22nd October and the second on 19th November. RGV says that is because “the sheer drama and content the story possesses, is so incredibly rich and of such high magnitude that it is not possible to do justice to it in a film which is lesser than 4 to 5 hours.”
`Rakht Charitra‘, like many of Ramu’s earlier films, is a biographical movie, based on the rivalry between Paritala Ravi, a gangster politician from Andhra Pradesh’s Rayalaseema region and Suri, who had sworn revenge against him. Ravi, who was made a minister by N T Rama Rao, was killed in January 2005, allegedly by Suri’s men.
As the name suggests, it is a violent tale of revenge, with the film posters quoting the Mahabharata : “Revenge is the purest emotion.” My friend Madhavan Narayanan wonders if that is Ramu’s way of telling that he is going to inflict some on the audience.
Madhavan is not alone to harbour such fears. Especially after Ramu’s train of superflops like `Rann’, `Darling’, `Naach‘ and `RGV ki Aag’.

I sometimes wonder if there are a Ram aur Shyam within RGV. Because when you hear Ramu speak with such eloquence on cinema, you would wonder why this brilliant student of the art form lapses into periods when he fails in virtually every subject. Almost as if his films have been `fixed’.

That Ramu is extremely intelligent and sharp, is visible in films like `Shiva’, `Satya’ and `Company‘. Even a `Rangeela‘. A certain honesty of purpose can be seen in the trademark Varma camerawork that captured a range of emotions and moods.
But his 20-20 like penchant for producing a film almost every other month cost his creativity dear. Yes he did make a `Sarkaar’ but that was like a once-in-a-blue moon ODI half century. An out-of-form Varma was more in the news for his silly tweet and blog battles with the likes of Karan Johar. And of course, the tour of the Taj post 26/11 with the Deshmukhs, chief minister dad and actor son.
Given Ramu’s penchant to make films on real people and real events, it was assumed he was doing a recce for his next venture. Varma overnight turned into a hate figure, with TV news channels circling him in slow-mo, almost as if he had plotted the carnage with Kasav and gang. No wonder RGV calls the media “the biggest factionists”.
`Rakht Charitra’ gives Ramu 13 hours in three languages to redeem himself. In fact, in many ways, life has come full circle for this celebrated filmmaker. Ramu, a Hyderabad and Vijayawada boy, started his career with Telugu films in 1989. He returns to his janmabhoomi to spin a story of betrayal and revenge.
For the sake of his fans, one hopes Ramu is in top form in `Rakht Charitra’. It wouldn’t look nice if they meted out the same treatment they did to `Ram Gopal Varma ki Aag‘, which since 2007 has remained the sole benchmark for any rank bad film.
If `Rakht Charitra‘ turns out to be a bloody red dud, betrayal and revenge would acquire new meanings then.
Alternately, Shatrughan Sinha, who plays NTR in the film, will have to say “Ramu, Khaamosh”.

In the line of fire

By Uma Sudhir

Andhra Pradesh’s DGP Aravinda Rao minced no words when he called the constable’s act `stupid’. But what a price the two families in Khammam have paid for the `stupidity’ of the policeman, ironically in a week the state police observes to remember its own, who died in the line of fire, while doing their duty.

(video of my story aired on NDTV 24×7)