Issue 9


Catan is just what you want to get your hands on and spend your Sundays playing. It’s a strategy life-size board game that is simple enough that an adolescent can play yet complicated enough that an adult takes a long time to master. Through Settlers of Catan, world domination is indeed becoming a sport! Players spend hours engaging in trading, hoarding, building roads and capturing trade.

It can also be a fun and educative way to improve one’s risk management and resource allocation skills. The only requirement is having three or more people who are willing to spare a minimum of two hours for it. The quality of the board is durable and the game pieces come with stained wood. The only drawback though is that the road pieces as well as the house game pieces are small enough so they need to be kept safely. Apart from that, the game play is novel and each game in itself seems different every time one plays as the strategies have to accordingly evolve and adapt with each board.

In case one gets bored with the Settlers of Catan, they have enough expansion boards that one can purchase to make the game different and more exciting. Klaus Teuber indeed did a wonderful job by creating a game that is engaging, easy to pick up, and rewarding enough to keep people playing for a long time post purchase. Still wondering what to do this Sunday? Our vote is play Catan!

Issue 9

The Way We Were – Gossip (Or Lack Thereof) In A Pandemic

As I join yet another Zoom call with my college friends, my mind rushes through the events of the day, trying to recollect something, anything important enough to share with them. After the perfunctory “how are you” and the daily mourning ritual for the loss of “the best days of our lives”, we fall into the routine hunt for interesting things to say. While I do enjoy listening to how many times my friend’s neighbour’s dog peed on the staircase, it doesn’t really count as riveting news. Looking back, I realise most of my interactions with people through the pandemic have a key element missing. At the risk of sounding like a nosy aunty from your neighbourhood – Where is the gossip? 

Human beings are social creatures – in most social settings, we require gossip of some sort to sustain us. Popular culture has done its job in stereotyping gossip as the domain of teenage girls or middle-aged women, but in reality, gossip exists in almost every social circle, regardless of age or sex. Most of the toxicity associated with gossip is also largely a construct of popular media. People of all sections of society engage in gossip, and some historians term it as a sign of evolution. Gossip doesn’t just refer to the especially scandalous affairs taken from the rumour mill – it can involve information about places, people or events that people share with each other. Whether it’s new colleagues discussing who was seen flirting with the boss, or classmates bonding over their mutual dislike for a particular professor, or teachers pointing out the different quirks of students to each other – gossip is integral to the human experience.

In the list of things that people missed out on due to the pandemic, gossip definitely ranks high. Cooped up inside our houses for the better part of a year, most of us have witnessed a deficiency in the amount of gossip we get from people. It is not merely the content of gossip that one misses. Admittedly, hearing about the latest new couple around town, or the cops breaking up a party nearby is a sorely missed feeling. What one also misses, however, is the experience of getting gossip itself. Bumping into a fellow student at the campus mess, grabbing a cup of coffee and talking about the highlights of your day – these are all experiences that one took for granted in the pre-pandemic days. These conversations were ringed with an air of spontaneity that one simply cannot replicate through virtual interactions. Even though in the last few years technology has made virtual interactions seamless through texting apps and video calls, there are still certain feelings that one cannot experience online. 

Gossip needs an atmosphere to thrive in. As cliched as the high school movies’ depiction of gossip spreading like wildfire is, it does have some truth to it. Oftentimes, gossip is a result of unprompted discussions, chance encounters and unplanned meetings. Every interaction that happens online has an air of deliberation to it. Although social media has made staying connected through the pandemic much easier, it has also highlighted the difference between online and offline communication. The casual intimacy of impromptu meetings, sitting together in silence, passing a friend in the hallway and stopping to wave at them – the virtual world is unable to recreate these. The experience of sharing gossip during the pandemic, therefore, is restricted to exclamation points, emojis and the occasional high-pitched screaming voice note. Not to mention, considering that the rest of the world has also been restricted to their houses, there is hardly any “gossip-worthy” information. 

For gossip to spread, it first needs to exist. Because of the lockdown, people are no longer going outside to parties or even having a mundane day at the office. The physical isolation has ensured that the only scandalous thing that happens is when someone notices another not wearing a mask. While people have resorted to other forms of entertainment like making dalgona coffee or baking banana bread in quarantine, the void that gossip has left is still felt quite strongly. 

The Coronavirus pandemic has brought about major changes in the lives that we lead, in what is now fondly known as the ‘new normal’. The actual ‘normalcy’ of the new normal remains contested since at every turn we’re faced with new ways to behave, new issues to deal with and new forms of interaction to adapt to. In this milieu of major social as well as political shifts, we often miss the little things the most. The lack of gossip is just one of those shifts in our lives that serve to remind us of the way we used to be. 

By relegating people to their houses and human interactions to phone screens the pandemic has fundamentally changed our relationship with other people. It has set a fear in us against strangers and even against people of our own community due to the virus. When we lament the loss of time with our friends or the monotonous routine that we’re stuck in at home, we’re also lamenting the deeper loss of a sense of connection with people. Gossip is but one of the consequences of a virtual existence that is both connected as well as disconnected. 

Akanksha Mishra is a second-year political science and media studies student at Ashoka University. 

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noderivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis).

Issue 9

WhatsApp With India’s Travel Plan?

Share the pain

April 1 2020. Within days of India’s first national lockdown, my WhatsApp pinged an ‘RT Action Group’ invite. 

Soity Banerjee, travel journalist and long term lead at Outlook India’s Responsible Tourism Initiative, quickly brought together a pan-India group of hundred members on Whatsapp.  Most were tour operators, running or selling a multi-terrain niche travel business in India, with some attention to responsible travel. A few other invitees were from sectors travel people work with such as craft, heritage, artist collectives, social media influencers, conservation specialists and rural NGOs. Many were e-meeting each other for the first time. The Whatsapp group call was to, “please share any good ideas being tested to help small travel businesses and individuals: for the protection of communities & for the future (when the travellers come back and they will!).”

 After a pandemic announcement that made human touch life-threateningly infectious, this call tried to put a human touch back into this community – one that was not new to handling delays or crises with a smile. This time though, the travel vehicle had braked the hardest, with an all India STOP sign staring it in the face. 

Posts across April on the group tried to reverse that car in spirit, in two ways. All useful media links that eased our uncertainty were shared immediately. I tuned in, perhaps for the first time, to the immediacy of the business side of travel – stranded visitors were trying to head home through cancelled flights, inter-state borders, airports and trains were shutting overnight, varying quarantine and international travel advisories were being meted out. Whether you were a hotel in a mountain valley or a rural retreat, expenses had been hit hard and a hibernation mode had only just begun.

The group shared information from as far as Costa Rica, on how a particular Responsible Tourism initiative put out timely FAQs, using prepaid reservations to pay staff salaries in the short term and let the travellers who had paid know about it. Without displaying any panic, posts on the group also conveyed the stark scale of human and material resource crunch in their own region, both rural and urban.

Secondly, the group displayed an ‘all hands on deck’ energy to aid the people that travellers and tourists meet, but often forget. Singers, artists, camp hands, drivers, cooks, front desk managers, tour escorts were all people currently out of work. The response of the group was specifically to laud and encourage field effort and support them in their time of financial need. 

In the national capital, alongside several initiatives, the team running the popular Café Lota New Delhi ran a free community kitchen for migrants trying to leave Delhi and Gurgaon. On her Instagram, travel influencers like Lakshmi Sharath forefronted ten calls of help, every day. These initiatives were both spontaneous and coordinated, often which ordinary citizens could contribute to.

Building on the NGO Anahad Foundation’s idea to pay 300 statewide rural folk artists for daily live performances on YouTube, the Rajasthan state government started a similar scheme for artistes to upload phone performances from home and earn a one-time Rs 2500 grant.

Within days, Soity led her team in circulating an RT Covid 19 Action Plan document with immediate relief measures, travel-related initiatives and future plans, including perspectives on what post-Corona travel might look like. By now, hotel chains too had begun sharing CoVid 19 protocols and practices.

India’s Ministry of Tourism, in a reply to a Lok Sabha question, confirmed only in December 2020 that foreign tourist arrivals were down 97% from April to December 2020, compared to 2019. But within the first few days of April, the Responsible Tourism community grasped the toll this absence would take and stepped up to support the vulnerable through April itself. 

Adapt and act?

Could a scramble for survival lay the ground for another model of tourism to thrive?

 By May 1, posts began wondering aloud.  Would a tourist now fearful of human contact choose to detour to uncongested spaces? The viral success of Facebook groups like View from my window was reflecting a worldwide human longing to turn to an uncongested view, if not towards nature itself. Webinar meetups with community members from Ladakh to Lakshadweep spoke honestly of rethinking resilience. Meanwhile, the World Economic Forum Forecast was beeping, ‘it could take 10 months for the industry to recover’.

The United Nations World Tourism Organisation, primed with promoting responsible and sustainable tourism, circulated a document Supporting jobs and economies through Covid 19. A World Bank blog post pointed indirectly to the outer circle of managed nature tourism when it suggested, ‘Restoring degraded forestlands and landscapes could create many jobs over the short term while also generating net benefits worth hundreds of billions of dollars from watershed protection, better crop yields, and forest products. In Ethiopia, for instance, the Humbo Assisted Natural Regeneration Project increased local incomes and helped restore 2,700 hectares of biodiverse native forest, boosting carbon sequestration benefits. More tree cover also reduced local drought vulnerability.’

Despite no ‘industry package’ by the Central Government for the travel sector, by mid-September, this RT Action Group had completed a feedback loop and submitted a recommendation to the Ministry of Tourism on its draft National Tourism Policy 2020. By New Year 2020, there was an uptick in self-driven holiday numbers, and for the first time the all India Stop signal was perhaps now on yellow. But was there any evidence that an Indian tourist, fresh from worry and work from home, had hit pause on older ways of travel?

P.S. It will be a year soon since this WhatsApp group came to be. I now habitually check its notification pings. As a media academic, I marvel at how fake-news-free a WhatsApp group can be. When I think of this year I think of the time when nature’s breathing space for species other than humans became too visible, the ongoing loss of human life became too acute, and the claustrophobia of the home-stuck too real. In these times one is reminded not of luxury travel, but of the fact that travel itself has been an unexamined luxury. And now to travel responsibly – luxury or not?

Tisha Srivastav teaches media studies at Ashoka University.

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noderivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis).

Issue 9

Personal Lives and Private Bodies: The State’s Vested Interest in Heteronormativity

According to the Indian government, there is a uniform model of what a marriage is allowed to look like, and any deviance from this standard is not to be permitted. On the 25th of February, 2021, India’s Central government argued in the Delhi High Court that granting same sex marriage the same rights as heterosexual marriages would be against the Indian ethos, and disturb the “delicate balance of personal laws in the country”. The argument went on to describe the Indian family unit as one consisting  of the biologically born man as “husband”, the biologically born woman as “wife” and the children born out of the union between the two. 

In a poignant scene in Greta Gerwig’s 2019 adaptation of Little Women, Amy is seen telling Laurie that marriage is an economic proposition for women; classical sociologists like E. E. Evans-Pritchard would agree. In the Nuer communities that Evans-Pritchard studied, marriage was a means to consolidate power across families, clans and tribes. Women were exchanged for cattle and other pre-decided gifts which could be returned in the event of a divorce (1951:128). The Central government isn’t wrong when they say that love isn’t part of the equation when it comes to marriage. But the petition is not about classical sociology or kinship structures, it is instead the less-than-radical claim that if heterosexual couples can have their relationships recognized in a court of law, all couples should be accorded the same legality, if they so choose. 

It is unsurprising that Nation-States feel obliged to regulate interpersonal relationships. A State needs citizens over whom to exert power in order to legitimize its own authority. The “Indian family unit” invoked by the government is a necessary model by which social reproduction can take place (Federici 2019). The biological production of children through the union of a husband and a wife will lead to them being raised into systems of citizenry where they unquestioningly abide by the rules of the State. Rules which dictate what kinds of authority cannot be challenged. 

In patriarchal societies, this tends to be the hierarchical power of men. The man performs his role within the structure of marriage in a position of authority over the woman. Titles such as “Head of the family” are easier to attribute when there is a singular man in power. Having more than one man or woman in an affinal relationship destabilizes simplistic divisions of labour and influence. If one’s role and position within a family cannot be determined simply by virtue of the gender they were assigned at birth, patriarchy quickly begins to lose its sheen. When this family structure is undermined, the Indian State, which is deep-rooted in ideas of patriarchy, can also be challenged. 

Another concern put forward by the government was that same-sex marriage was a Western idea that could not be feasibly translated into the Indian context. Apart from being factually incorrect (Advocate Awasthi, who represents the petitioners, was quoted saying that Hindu religious texts contain numerous references to non-binary figures and their conjugal rights), this is not a novel response to LGBTQ+ rights and their representation in the media. In response to Deepa Mehta’s 1996 movie, “Fire”, the then Minister of Culture described lesbianism as a “pseudo‐feminist trend from the West and no part of Indian womanhood”. The RSS added that the “ultra‐westernized elite resort to “explicit lesbianism and perversities to disintegrate the family à la western society,” all while failing to accept “male superiority as a natural course of things” (Dave 2011).

In 1998, peaceful protesters gathered in New Delhi to oppose the RSS’ violence in theatres that screened “Fire”. One particular poster caught the imagination of the nation. A woman confidently held up a sign that said “Indian and Lesbian”. The contention was not with the words Indian nor lesbian, but rather, the little “and” in between the two. It defied the binary of ‘us’ and ‘them’, of ‘Indian’ and ‘Western’, it presented an opportunity to be equally, and fully both. It put members of the community in a position of incommensurability, enabling the question of “What is now possible?”

Image source: AnthroSource- American Anthropological Association

In pursuit of their goal of a Hindu Rashtra, majoritarian organizations such as the RSS have long relied on “queering the other” to further their claims. This is done in order to harbour sentiments of fear and animosity towards these communities. “Muslims, Christians, and Westerners are oversexed; the Congress Party and secularists are eunuchs” (Bacchetta 1999:155). Playing on feelings of safety in familiarity and conformity, labelling your opposition as sexual deviants results in distrust and suspicion of them. These are sentiments that prove invaluable for groups trying to consolidate a vote bank on the basis of a hitherto marginal belief system. The State draws a distinction between the “docile citizen” (typically male bodies, through which traditional masculinity can be performed) and “victims of modern culture” (Alter 1993:57). By codifying which bodies are allowed to interact, and how—the body of the citizen, itself, becomes a theatre of political ideology. 

Rithika Abraham is an alumnus of Ashoka University’s class of 2020, with an Undergraduate degree in Sociology and Anthropology. She is interested in questions of migration, and how people interact with economic institutions around them. In her spare time, she enjoys watching bad romantic comedies, five minute crafts, and has recently taken to baking her own bread, and naturally dyeing fabric.

The author would like to thank her classmates, Mimi Healy and Tarini Monga, for access to the readings and archival sources required for this article.

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noderivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis).

Issue 9

Novak Djokovic: The Controversial Champion

Novak Djokovic is a champion. He shows up to every match and does his best to reach every ball, and more often than not responds with scathing groundshots which have slowly built him the resume of being the greatest defensive player in the history of the men’s game.

Novak Djokovic is a warrior. In the recently-concluded Australian Open, he played with a meniscus tear in his last four matches. It started off as a 2mm tear. A post-tournament MRI showed it had been exacerbated by a factor of 13. He doesn’t bow in the face of adversity — he never has.

Novak Djokovic is a mental monster. There runs a joke in tennis circles — on the ATP tour, the most popular players are Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and whoever is playing against Novak. He grew up against the backdrop of violence in Yugoslavia and still fought his way right to the top of the game. His defiance in the moments that matter is unparalleled.

Novak Djokovic is an entertainer. He is a funny man, nicknamed the ‘Djoker’, who in his younger days used to do impressions of contemporaries such as Nadal, Maria Sharapova and even his former coach Boris Becker. 

Novak Djokovic should be everyone’s favourite player. So why isn’t he? 

In literary circles, the idea of the ‘death of the author’ is a popular one, which asks for an artist to be removed from the art itself. Critics of this theory ask an important question, and one which is quite easily implemented in Djokovic’s example too: if his tennis is the art, can we ‘kill’ the artist? Is it honest to try and appreciate his tennis while turning a blind eye towards his character, especially since his tennis is such an important part of who he is? Especially when it is so problematic, especially when he is such a strong personality, and especially when impressionable young tennis fans are quite likely to look up to him as an inspiration?

It is difficult for a person to be anything close to perfect, and even more unfair for other people to expect them to be. That said, it often feels like Djokovic does his best to veer away from that definition — it is fair to say 2020 was a real challenge for his PR team. A short summary: denying the prevalence of the coronavirus in his native Serbia and then questioning its very existence; promotion of pseudoscientific methods to his 8 million followers on Instagram in collaboration with an alternative lifestyle ‘guru’; his silence following his father’s attack ad hominem upon Roger Federer; the disastrous establishment of the PTPA as an alternative to the ATP council at a time when unity was of the highest importance; and of course, the cataclysmic Adria Tour, held at the pandemic’s peak in the presence of capacity crowds which neatly seemed to wrap all of these up within one very convenient gift box. To add insult to injury was his gaffe at the US Open, where he infamously defaulted his quarterfinal match by smacking a ball in frustration, straight towards the throat of a line-judge. While that was certainly nothing more than an instance of misfortune, it very much felt like the straw to break this particular camel’s back. 

At his career’s end, there is a strong chance Novak Djokovic will statistically be the greatest male tennis player to ever have lived. He is likely to have the most Grand Slam titles, most weeks as world number one, most ATP Masters titles, and the list is unlikely to end there. His critics can’t rely on him underperforming within the sport himself: he is simply too good. His serve is going from strength to strength, with age he has taught himself how to win points quicker, and his athleticism, speed and flexibility remain demi-godly. Unfortunately for him, being considered the G.O.A.T (that old, eternally provocative buzzword) of any sport does not objectively depend solely on numbers and facts, as counterintuitive as it sounds. 

Tennis can be cruel: the players on court are individuals, and are therefore perceived as such, more than in any team sport. By virtue of the contest they have made their own, they demand to be considered human, whether they like it or not. It will be Novak Djokovic, the person, sparring against Rafael Nadal. Our favourite players aren’t solely dictated by how they play and how much they win. Certainly, that has an impact, but so does who they are and how we perceive them. For all his positives, which one cannot begin to downplay, this will be Novak Djokovic’s ultimate struggle for the rest of his career. 

Sadly, odds are that it is too late for his perception to shift in the eyes of the tennis fraternity, and he will always be the ATP tour’s pantomime villain. It is an uphill battle. Djokovic is successful, but like any human would, he wants to be liked, and be considered a role model for budding tennis players across the world. However, this is a cautionary tale, and it’s true that these aren’t easy questions to contend with, but Djokovic’s promotion of his dangerous personal views mean that they can no longer be personal because of the wide-reaching influence they can have. In the public sphere, can Novak be anyone’s hero? Should he be? 

Novak Djokovic is a dangerous man to idolize, and a dilemma within himself. Everyone should want to be him, but nobody should. The border is too smudged for there to be a clear line down the middle — the Venn diagram of Djokovic the tennis star and the person has to be considered one circle, as it sadly must be for those who come under the critical eye of the public. It is the legacy he must live with.

Kartikay Dutta is a prospective English major. He loves watching, talking and writing about sports, and also reading fantasy novels whenever he finds time in between assignments.

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noderivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis).

Issue 9

Evaluating the Implications of Privatization in India’s COVID-19 Inoculation Drive

Though India’s vaccination drive began in mid-January, the distribution of vaccines among target populations has effectively been slower than anticipated. Contemplating the introduction of the private sector in vaccination distributions turned into concrete action in late February, with a formal announcement that private hospitals would be allowed to administer the vaccines at the price of Rs. 250. The introduction of private players in the mammoth task of inoculating the Indian population has gathered advocates as well as critics. How will privatizing vaccine distribution affect the healthcare sector – and what precedent does this move set for the future of medical programs in the country?

Privatization of vaccine distribution provides several solutions to the government’s woes at the surface. The production and distribution of vaccines can scale up monumentally faster in the presence of privatising channels. This move also brings about immense benefits by its way of immediately reducing the sole burden of vaccine distribution on governmental bodies as well as the healthcare sector. This can compensate for shortages faced in public healthcare and provide a relatively lower overall cost of vaccination to citizens since the vaccine is now being mass produced. 

However, it is important to evaluate how privatization can adversely affect the long term growth and function of the public healthcare sector in India. Firstly, opening up private channels for vaccine distribution creates an opportunity for frivolous vaccine candidates to gain entry into the market, partake in false advertisement and compromise public trust in vaccine science. This can lead to the persistence of the burden of risk and pressure in the healthcare sector, completely negating the positive effects of vaccination drives. Secondly, it is crucial to note that with the private sector involved, the market is essentially what is determining the production and distribution of vaccines. For instance, Adar Poonawala had stated last year that the Serum Institute of India will be shifting resources from the production of other vaccines to free up capacity for the production of a COVID-19 vaccine. This can lead to a coexistence of shortages of high demand essential vaccines and a glut of low demand new vaccines in circulation. In essence, by large scale privatisation of vaccine distribution, the government will be surrendering a crucial public health responsibility to a capitalist market where companies are competing for larger market shares and higher profits possibly at the expense of public health priorities. 

Though the government has pushed for ‘Atmanirbharta’ or self-reliance to enable Indian firms to become major global players, there should also be a more careful consideration of self reliance in the public sector. India must begin addressing the shortages that plague the country’s public healthcare system and revitalise the capabilities of the public sector in vaccine production and vaccine technology. 80% of the Indian government’s vaccination needs are met by private firms in India and abroad. This has increased the prices by up to 250% as compared to the public sector, pushing India’s vaccination budget up 7 times in just 5 years. Moreover, the government also must be cognizant of the notion that the privatization of vaccines propagates.

While larger accessibility and reach has been cited as a popular reason to support private vaccine distribution, ideally public health systems should be meeting these standards themselves. Though the vaccine is being offered at a relatively low price, it must be questioned as to why it is not being administered by the government at a nominal rate that suits the interests of all sections of society. These questions call for a critique of public health systems in India, and demand an evaluation pertaining to how they can be improved. 

Moreover, the push for privatizing vaccine distribution must be carefully analyzed in terms of how it fits into the larger picture of vaccine development and distribution. Given that the coronavirus has mutated repeatedly already,  R&D units and vaccine production and distribution agencies are critically attached to one another. R&D facilities must continuously identify new strains and develop updated vaccines for them, and vaccine production and distribution must follow through. In a situation where private players are allowed to develop vaccines, as well as produce and distribute them, several questionable effects can emerge. 

Firstly, private sector activities are also often dictated by the aims of conserving patents and intellectual property rights along with profit making. This could affect how private firms choose to invest in R&D, as well as cherry picking between vaccine candidates. Secondly, in a situation where there is a possibility that established vaccines may become ineffective due to mutating strains, the incentives for private distributions cannot be predicted. The cause of private interest in vaccine production and distribution is profit-driven. How these firms react in response to mutating strains will depend on the value of the product in question – the vaccine. While the government can pay these firms for their services in case of any losses, it will represent a government expenditure that could have been avoided.

Moreover, since the vaccine would become a product under a private distribution set-up, it is also important to consider how private companies will react to any misinformation about viable vaccine candidates – and whether such events would affect their distribution among the masses. Instances of widespread misinformation pertaining to vaccine candidates’ safety in the face of reliable scientific evidence could provide private firms with enough reason to reduce or cease their distribution in the face of public mistrust. Navigating such situations will be complicated – with public health interests bearing the brunt of it all. Such gaps will be less likely to emerge in a system where the government will be involved at each step. 

While privatisation of vaccine production and distribution might help curb the spread of the virus, increase reach of vaccination drives and lessen the heavy burden on the healthcare system in the short run, it is crucial in the long run to empower the public sector for it to become cost effective and dependable. The bid for privatizing vaccinations needs to be approached with care – by the government, as well as the private companies involved in the same, for any misstep could have grave consequences for the future of medical treatments and private interventions in India.

Anjana Ramesh is an Economics and Finance student at Ashoka University.

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noderivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis).

Issue 9

Caste (In)Justice: Inadequacies in Addressing Gender and Caste Violence

On February 17, three minor Dalit girls were found lying unconscious in their family farm in Unnao district of Uttar Pradesh. Two of them died by the time they were taken to the local hospital while the third girl luckily survived the ordeal. The family alleged that the girls were found tied up in the fields; the forensic report revealed traces of poisoning and the police claimed that the motive behind the crime was revenge by the accused for facing rejection of his unwarranted advances towards one of the girls. Several activists and journalists foregrounded the Dalit identity of the girls as being crucial to understanding the nature of the crime as was the case with the Hathras rape incident and the Unnao rape incident previously. This narrative of caste-based violence received immense backlash from the state. On the face of it, the February 17th incident did seem like one of plain vengeance. However, the shame of rejection stemming from the difference in the caste identities should not be ruled out as an integral cause of this crime.

Law, as a tool of governance, has attempted to legislate against the patriarchal and caste structure that has existed since thousands of years. However, the law and its machinery do not exist in a vacuum.  The law is brought to life by the human hand that upholds and implements it. If the human hand continues to be governed and conditioned by these structures of patriarchy and caste, then it is impossible for the law to be effectively applied in letter and spirit. How can such a law ever be just and fair?

From police authorities who investigate caste and gender crimes to the state governments that sanction such investigations and the judiciary responsible for adjudication – the positions of power and authority in all of these systems are over-represented by the upper caste heterosexual men. As the direct beneficiaries of a patriarchal, casteist polity, men in such positions of power operate with deep rooted biases that tend to maintain the status-quo of their privilege and dominance. Legal authorities deliberately refuse to label crimes like the Unnao incident as caste violence and instead look to other explanations that are blind to the intersection of gender, sexuality and caste. As a result, violence against marginalized genders and caste is not simply afflicted through crimes in the society but also through the passivity of the legal mechanism. 

While we have dedicated legislations like the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 for protection of Dalits and Constitutionally mandated reservations for representation of Dalits, we cannot mitigate systemic caste and gender violence without proper implementation of such laws. It is imperative that there is space created for marginalized voices to appear in local panchayats, police, judiciary and state governments. It is only when Dalits are adequately represented in the public sphere, the role of the caste identities in gender crimes will find space in public discourse of justice.

It is no secret that crimes against women in the country have been rising consistently over the years, especially towards scheduled castes (SCs) and scheduled tribes (STs) (Crime in India Volume I, NCRB 2019). The burden of honour and shame placed upon women’s bodies and sexualities becomes the very reason for the violence against them. In this, the Dalit woman, who is the most vulnerable and silenced member of the society, is further condemned to an inevitable fate of violence by the upper caste men. From crimes of kidnapping, murder to sexual abuse and rape – dominant castes, with the aid of state impunity, exert their caste hegemony over Dalits in the society. 

In cases like the Unnao poisoning incident, we dwell upon the particularities of facts to recreate timelines, motives and scene of crime to ensure that the accused is proven guilty without a doubt. The State and the society make unequivocal calls to clear the collective conscience of the society and speed up the process of justice. Yet, there is never a discussion on the collective guilt of asserting the dominant caste privilege. The intent of the accused is broken down to its finest point while the audacity of the accused is never questioned. As the patriarchal and caste structure stands unwaveringly strong, no Dalit woman ever gets to live or die in a just manner. 

The question of the hour then is what we, as privileged individuals who condemn the inadequacy of the legal mechanism, make out of such horrendous incidents. For decades and especially after the Nirbhaya rape incident, we have been amplifying the need for more inclusive laws instead of stricter punishments against sexual violence. We demand for gender neutral laws, inclusion of marital rape and acknowledgment of rape in communal violence. We also point out the paternalistic and moralistic views of such laws and the lawmakers. We even recognize the intersection of gendered violence with caste. But we don’t go as far as to acknowledge that caste encompasses gender in the Indian context. One’s caste is assigned even before their birth with no possibility of deviation from the norm. Whereas, genders that deviate from the heteronormative impositions have managed to create some space for themselves through their ongoing struggles. The apathy towards such caste and gender complexities necessitate that Dalit woman and Dalit queer folx be at the forefront of our conversations on legal reforms. For inclusive justice to initiate, our fight against the violent structure of patriarchy cannot be won without speaking of the violent caste structure in the same breath.  

Shreyashi works as an Assistant Manager at CSGS. She is trained as a lawyer with litigation experience on issues of gender violence. Prior to joining the Centre, she studied as a Young India Fellow. She continues to volunteer with Just Justice, a Teach for India initiative to increase legal literacy among the underprivileged communities. Alongside other things at the CSGS, she is enthusiastic to focus on the questions raised by the entanglements of law with gender and sexuality. Most of her free time is spent running after her mischievous pup, Orwell.

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noderivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis).

Issue 9

Dating From A Distance

“I was going back home for the mid-semester break in March 2020 in our college shuttle and had the usual daydreaming to my playlist planned for the ride. Once the journey started, I noticed the person sitting next to me tapping their feet and lip-syncing to all the songs I was listening to. I couldn’t help but start a conversation. Even though it has been almost a year since we have physically seen each other, we have been together for 8 months.”  

Dating has been one of the ways in which individuals satisfy their need to form personal connections with others. It can usually start with anyone from their seventh-grade desk partner, college classmate or their Bumble match. While the concept of dating began with the ‘gentleman caller’ in the 20th century, with men having to follow proper protocol to pursue the woman they desire, the aim of dating and wanting to establish a long-term relationship, either bound by marriage or other types of commitment, hasn’t transformed as much. 

This human condition of craving connection did not change even when the pandemic struck. Now confined to four walls, physical interactions limited only between family or with oneself, there is no doubt that individuals are experiencing extreme loneliness. How has the world of dating adapted to these circumstances?

1. RIP Meet cutes

One majorly fantasised aspect of dating is the ‘meet-cute’ that represents the start of an attraction between two individuals who later delve into a relationship. Rom-coms have encouraged these heart-throb fantasies of two hands that happen to reach out to the same book in the library or the intense eye-contact between two characters bumping into each other in the corridor. They feel heart-warming because they play on the aspect of ‘fate’ that gets two individuals together for the first time, resulting in a bond. 

With COVID-19, this fantasy surrounding ‘fate’ is crushed, as the only meet-cutes that are acceptable are ‘accidentally’ sliding into someone’s zoom chat. While dating apps were considered the last resort to finding a relationship since they defied the idea of ‘fate’, they have now showcased a massive increase in users during lockdown with individuals hoping to find their potential someone. In fact, these apps were one of the crucial means through which individuals were able to meet new people, in order to deal with the increased loneliness caused by physical isolation.

2. What is even ‘casual’ anymore?

Dating apps were treated as the last resort to find ‘love’ also because they were stereotyped to form superficial connections based on physical attributes hence, those who enrolled on such apps were viewed as aiming to be a part of the ‘hookup culture’. In contradiction to this, a study conducted in Switzerland found that those who swiped right were actually more likely to settle down in stable relationships than those who met by chance. 

Hookup culture implies engaging in casual sex, one-night stands that do not require one to be bound by emotional intimacy and commitment. However, thriving on physical attraction, and many still choosing to avoid meeting, what does it mean to be ‘casual’ in times of lockdown with the fear of catching an infection? 

3. The ‘jaana’ before the ‘dekha

With hookups out of the way, dating apps have now attracted a wider audience that wished for something ‘serious’ bound by commitment. However, if one is aware of the inability to physically meet the individual, why enrol on such apps in the first place?

While the ‘health benefits’ of flirting are a given, it is observed that ‘the physical’ is now kept aside with phrases like “when the pandemic is over” and individuals are strengthening their emotional connections, becoming more vulnerable than usual. With texting being the main source of communication, hiding behind our phones allows us to be more vulnerable easily, especially during times of distress and uncertainty. 

In addition to this, the fear of rejection also seems to have reduced when it comes to ‘shooting your shot’. While making the first move is equally terrifying, since there is pressure to be interesting enough for the individual to reply, public embarrassment of assuming one’s sexuality and availability can be avoided on such apps. We now have the upper hand since a match indicates that there exists a certain level of attraction between the two individuals and establishes compatibility. 

Finally, texting was usually treated as a stepping stone to actually going out on a date with an individual. However, with no such goal visible due to current circumstances, phone calls and Zoom Dates have become the norm, where the ‘physical’ seems to have taken a back seat. 

In contrast to this, pre-COVID, the butterflies for the physical attraction were a prerequisite for strong emotional bonds, and ‘tumhe jo maine dekha’ was before the ‘tumhe toh maine jaana’. Has physical attraction and proximity receded in importance when it comes to relationships? 

4. One-night stands—but make them emotional

Speaking of emotional connections, an interesting concept while not formally addressed was brought to light in conversation with various dating app users from the college-going age group, which is termed as ‘emotional one-night stands’. Here, individuals have begun to match with people only to share their share of struggles and deep insecurities for the night and un-match with them the next morning.

No doubt the pandemic has been a source of immense distress and anxiety, and this is just one of the mechanisms people have adapted to in order to cope since it is often said to be easier to talk to strangers than to peers and family. 

5. The Zoom Date

Previously, the notion of going out on a date didn’t just involve eating out in a restaurant, there were other underlying routines behind it that made it an encompassing experience. You would start with actually having a date, planning logistics, informing friends, deciding outfits and constructing white lies for parents. It’s about being nervous to see them for the first time, awkward pauses, reading their body language, judging and responding to it and just praying you don’t have spinach stuck in your teeth. An important means to reduce nervousness has always been discovering points of commonality, and eating together and sharing the same food that creates a common experience unique to the two individuals, thereby allowing for a starting point in the conversation. Now, the point of commonality has shifted to the pandemic, a common experience for all, with its varying repercussions for many. 

While dating apps have adapted to the technologically dependent world with video calls, does the Zoom date capture the whole experience? 

In conclusion, while the ambiguity of dating cannot be replicated online, it has produced certain new experiences that are different from before, allowing people to be more vulnerable with the other person and going at a slower pace. Exchanging your phone numbers and informing the other that you are “deleting the app” is now the new form of showcasing commitment. 

P.S, you can now always blame your internet connection in case you end up with a bad date. 

 Harshita Bedi is a student at Ashoka University pursuing her Psychology major. In her free time, you would find Harshita catching up on her sleep.

Picture Credits: Verywell / Alison Czinkota

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noderivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis).

Issue 9

Encounters with the Black Cloud

The black cloud never fails to rain on my parade. Shrouding and guiding my hesitant, shaky hands and beating chest, it starts to sink deep.  Slowly sinking in, it taunts, “Are you sure you are not making a fool of yourself again?” Usually, it would work to dispel the cloud with some faltering rationale, but the boxes on the screen appear too jarring. I convince myself that everyone is just mocking how inarticulate my stutters are, how wonky my nose is, and how I do not deserve to be here in this call, at all. 

Pressing the tempting red button and exiting the call, I run leaps and bounds inside my head – rehearsing and flagellating what I could have – no, should have said. I could have worded it differently, perhaps used a different inflexion, or maybe just not tried talking at all. I can practically imagine disappointed faces showing up in my brain over and over again. The cloud grows bigger and laughs at the ruminating spiral that encompasses me. Faltering words and a growing pulse, it derives pleasure from my fear of embarrassment.

I take a few breaths to focus on something around me, and my mind starts to gravitate towards the question, “How did I end up here?” 

Everything felt fairly regular before the pandemic – the hesitance and rumination persisted, but they were not persistently spiral. I used to fuss over and stutter about my words, but those around me seemed to give nods of comprehension. Compassion made me fairly more relaxed about self-expression. Quickened heartbeats found ways to soothe themselves, ways to cope, without looming black clouds. Even when I worried about tone, pitch, words, and most of all, embarrassment, the thoughts stuck but got easily replaced. Perhaps it was the pace at which I was dealing with life. 

This pace came to a halt when they announced the lockdown. Initially, it felt like a huge relief for a person like me who was avoidant of social interaction. Having to not interact with others and feel the every-day pangs of overthinking that came with this interaction felt freeing. However, shifting to online modes of communication – some that I thought I could handle due to the possibility of engineering replies and responses carefully, actually became a cause for more concern. 

Text messaging fails to convey tone, and so, an “ok” seems scarier than an “okay”, and a full-stop feels like you are on a battlefield, being attacked by passive-aggressive weapons. I would spend hours agonizing over whether my friends actually did feel upset with me or that I was worrying once again. Extremely concerned, I would shoot them a, “Hey, are you upset with me?” daily, and then progressively feel more worried whether asking them over and over again annoyed them further.  It felt like I was stuck in a loop. Worry about friends being annoyed, then try to message them, worry about annoying friends with messages to ask them if they were annoyed, and restlessly repeat!

The slumber that the world was in also projects this idea that you must be ever-available to reply every second throughout the day. This expectation often makes conversations more pressure-filled. It becomes energy-reducing to reply and guilt-inducing to not. Even having conversations with people on video calls was hard. Where there existed tone, there existed near to no non-verbal cues that could signal to me whether or not what I said made any sense. Zoom made me feel more seen than I wanted to, hyper-aware of what I looked like on-screen, and ever on guard to not end up doing anything embarrassing. In a lecture filled with a hundred people or so, it felt daunting to even speak up in class. I could picture professors thinking about how incompetent I was in my scrambled answers. The few times I did, the black cloud refused to leave me alone, insisting that I continued to embody embarrassment. Everything slowly became more and more draining, furthering alienation. 

In such a  circumstance, I wonder, am I the only one? It certainly does seem so when everyone else is seemingly coping fine. The promise of the world opening up again feels even more daunting now. Nagging me, yet again, the cloud says, “Haven’t you forgotten how to interact socially altogether? If everything opens up, you’ll just embarrass yourself further.” 

The fear of going back into the world again, with my frazzled and anxious self feels very real. I wonder if being in the middle of a classroom with a hundred distracted kids would help me realize that no one is focusing on me, or if it would get too overwhelming to feel eyes on me. One is already scary, over-complicating what physical conversation takes for granted, but the other holds within its grasp the overwhelming nature of unpredictability and in-person embarrassment. 

Oh, decisions, decisions.

Deeksha Puri is a first-year prospective psychology major at Ashoka University.

Picture Credits: Artwork on “Depression” by Ajgiel

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noderivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis).

Issue 9

Under the Precipice Rolls the Sea

A writer tries to write. The wind rages and waves ring out. ‘Under the Precipice Rolls the Sea’ is my first foray into filmmaking, and it was a long winding path that brought me here.

This short was my film school, made with the help of the internet, and a lot of helpful people on the internet— all of whom are really a saving grace when shooting as a two person crew! I had pretty much never touched a camera before, and ended up working with a lot of makeshift equipment I put together at home. Shuttling between work and endless articles, swallowing some Chaucer and Putnam and squeezing in the twentieth video on exposure and lighting: it’s a project during which I’ve learnt a lot about what I can do, and what I can’t (and when it’s okay to ask for help).

At times it can get daunting, especially when you’re walking the tightrope with one too many hats on and everything around seems ready to crumble at the slightest threat of a wind. ‘Under the Precipice’ came about as a project I started fleshing out for an anthology called “Refractions”. It was put together by a couple of us who met on online film communities and decided to create something in the midst of the pandemic when everything was a stagnating mess. In part, a commitment to this was what kept me going through all the little and big problems, not least of which were sudden re-impositions of the lockdown in my city and covid scares which brought production to a halt more times than my sanity could handle.

When you’re working with a zero budget project, you have to rely on a lot of things outside of your control to capture a frame that tells the story you want it to tell, how you want it to. It’s certainly challenging, but rather than being constraints, they draw the line for what options you have at your disposal and narrow down the things you have to focus on. Having a simple plot without dialogue or a moving camera was logistically helpful but it also enabled me to come up with something that was minimal but made narrative sense. The silences and still frames became a means to organically channel the feeling of isolation. It’s a style of working that has suited me well as I’m trying to chart out my future projects taking one strand of a narrative and tracing its meandering ways to weave together something of my own.  

It’s funny because film was, you could say, the last medium of art I got acquainted with. Of course, I grew up watching all the Khans and Kapoors and the 2010 Christopher Nolan film Inception— but I engaged with whatever I consumed merely as a manner of routine, like dropping by the grocery store on the weekend to buy a packet of soup. Going to the theatre mostly meant getting to eat the very best cheap cheese popcorn (in the days when there was no INOX, that is), or celebrating the end of a round of exams. These multitudes of odysseys and dramas were all just there, something dispensable and detachable. The world of films was distant, populated with stars whose names I never could remember, woods with roots reaching out to our towns, shooting up like hot springs in sparse screens. I didn’t feel any significant connection to anything I watched—until my high school years where I encountered new kinds of films which opened up a way of experience I hadn’t quite known before. Thinking through them, talking about them, I have been centered and sent whirling in a hundred different directions, till my head spins with the sights I’ve seen and I regurgitate a ten thousand frames to catch the light.

I have always liked working with my hands, but growing up came at the cost of time and there’s  less space for picking something up and making it your own. The dancing, the singing, the painting, it all stops as math and science tutoring stand sentinel upon the hours of day…and suddenly you’re too old to pick it up again. But I read by night, gorging upon every word till I could wield their power enough to write. And it was writing that ultimately brought me closer to film, bringing it down to the earth so I could move about in these worlds and theorize existence through them, warming up to newer, more expansive forms. As an impressionable teenager, after I watched my first Bergman, I didn’t know how to breathe, wobbly-legged thoughts swum around and collapsed in my head— I now have three pieces on that film.

A still from the film

It was a step closer but there’s more to go. Beyond the glitter of Bollywood and the sterility of Hollywood, the likes of Chantal Akerman and Cecilia Condit opened up for me what a woman could do with a camera, how static frames could twist one’s heart and digital media could morph into something beautiful, something horrifying and something palpable. They grounded filmmaking for me. For the longest time I’d thought that filmmakers could only be those who grow up with a camera, as I did with books, or those who could spare a small fortune to go to film school. The experimental, the avant garde, whatever you call it, laid out a path from fathoming to creating, finding the ability to show another what I see.

The world of big budget productions is alienating, one of constant power tussles and clashing egos. The kindness of others (most of them strangers) helped realize my vision, not the vain chasing down of copyright licenses from companies for whom we fall through the cracks down the bylanes of institutional apathy. In the meantime, while everyone’s busy arguing over whether Marvel is “cinema” and coming up with new ways of gatekeeping accessibility to art, I hope independent creators can find a place to thrive and create expansively.  

When they are not busy crocheting to radio broadcasts from the quaint little town of Night Vale, Tanisha A writes about films and playing the local recluse.

Picture Credits: Poster of the film designed by artist Ameya Menon

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noderivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis).