|HER WORLD||Sunday, June 29, 2003, Chandigarh, India|
Saag mathe da
A number of articles have been published with statistics to portray that women in Delhi face a more hostile environment than anywhere else in the country. It is indeed a slap on the kind of culture evolved by us and the efficacy of governance in the country.
Why were so many enactments passed to protect the rights of women concerning marital discords, property disputes, and parity in wages for the working women and finally the debate on the reservation issue for them? The fact that independent India needed such laws are in itself a contradiction of the historical claims of equality and respect for our women.
Despite a number of post-Independence laws to protect the interest of our women, they still face the ignominy of being labelled as the inferior sex and suffer indignity. Instances of continued discrimination have resulted in their demand for 33 per cent reservation in the Parliament, which unfortunately, has still not seen the light of the day.
It is a strange coincidence that unlike in Delhi, the number of working women is far more in other places like Bombay, Bangalore or Pune. On the other hand, the percentage of literacy, level of wealth, strength of middle and upper middle class population and number of policemen and their vehicles are much more in Delhi than at any other place. Despite all these, the crimes against women are highest here!
Over the years, Delhi itself has generated and nurtured a crime-friendly environment by default, which has altered the psyche and the attitude of people in general. There is a need to reflect on the reasons that provide breeding grounds for such misadventures.
The first and the most appalling reason is the prevalent indiscipline, defiance of established authority and near-absence of the norms of good social conduct. Admittedly, the entire country suffers general indiscipline today (thanks to the inept handling of the young and the impressionable by those who have sat on the pedestal of power but have failed to inspire the nation by personal example). In Delhi, the indiscipline that one notices is of a different kind punctuated by volatile anger, intolerance, defiance and impertinence and is manifested in the rancorous utterances and intolerant attitude towards other fellow beings.
People in day-to-day dealings rarely demonstrate traits of basic civic sense with qualities like forbearance, restraint, compassion, affability and benevolence. Strangely, incidents of indiscipline here do not even invoke any remorse. An all-pervasive aggressive indiscipline that differentiates Delhi from the rest of the country makes it an ideal incubator to hatch all kinds of crimes. Women are an easy target for male vandalism.
Factors responsible for influencing the growth of such dispositions in Delhi can be traced to the early days after Independence. At that time, Delhi did have an orderly way of life under the ‘no-nonsense’ governance of the colonial Raj and breathed in the air of the nostalgic heritage of the Mughals. Independence, in its wake, upset the quietness of an unpolluted civil life and brought about an ill-conceived against the rule of law. The leaders, in the euphoria of self-rule, failed to harness and mould the spirit of Satyagraha or civil disobedience and unwittingly helped in eroding the conception of ‘national discipline’ for good governance in independent India. Delhi assimilated this failure more than any other place being the seat of power and the hub centre of all political activity. Encouraging the people to interpret freedom as license to do any thing created large vote banks. The first seeds of the kind of aggressive indiscipline we are talking about, were regretfully sown by us some 50 years ago.
The present state of aggressive indiscipline has also some deep roots in the psyche of the majority of people who came to Delhi after the aftermath of partition and had to bear the stigma of being unwanted. However, it was due to their perseverance that they succeeded in carving out a place for themselves and gradually were able to control the bulk of business and the wealth. However, the hurt of being unwelcome was vented out through contemptuous and at times acrimonious attitude towards others with a jealous tendency to show off the riches. Such a reaction, perhaps, was justified for the initial settlers but slowly became the bane of successive generations. The money with them grew soon, leaving the younger generation to look at it as the ultimate bargaining instrument for getting something to which they were not entitled. It is also for this reason that unlike other big cities, the money is the deciding factor for the vulgar indulgence in clothes, food and even accessories fitted in the cars!
The have-nots accepted the power of the easy money and bent the rules to allow odd favours encouraging gradual ingress of corruption. It needs no explanation that money generated through clandestine transactions tends to make the recipients secretive and destroys mutual respect for each other. In Delhi, the number of such instances grew as a result of over-centralisation of power. The genesis for the people’s intemperate, unconcerned and at times abrasive disposition lies here. Against this backdrop, the insensitivity of the male dominated society to show respect to a woman was a logical outcome. No wonder that cases of ill-treatment or molestation of women rarely invoke concerted public resentment...leaving the trauma to be suffered by the unfortunate victim!
The lust for wealth and the zeal to ape any thing foreign became the yardstick for belonging to the higher ladder of the society. Healthy interaction of both the sexes in the West was misinterpreted as free mixing and taken as a sign of being modern and progressive. Adherence to the values of middle class restraints were considered old fashioned. For the young and the neo-rich spoilt, not having an affair was a sign of being backward and therefore company of the fair sex was obtained at any cost...all norms and any amount of money could be sacrificed for this sake. To an ordinary person in the street, such wily distortions projected a belief that money could buy anything and, over the years, seriously damaged the growth of healthy respect for the women. By the same token, such a material outlook also created the detestable desire in the young to somehow possess articles of good and modern living at the time of stepping into independent life. The price of this hunger has been paid by innumerable incidents of divorce, wife beating, bride burning and a hellish life for many. Ironically, the numbers of such crimes have also been the highest in Delhi.
Again, unlike other metros or big cities, Delhi does not have a separate identity of culture, language, traditions, customs, and even dress. Being host to a variety of people from all parts of the country and the world, it has failed to give the people a distinct social philosophy and order to regulate their lives. On the contrary, for the reasons given above a bohemian cult has been cultivated on the edifice of power, money with could-not-care less attitude and a fast life. The despicable power of the purse is a force to reckon with here and is exhibited in the general attitude of the lawless society nesting in the National Capital, Delhi. Many a times their behavioural pattern is seen in reckless driving with blaring music, abrupt cutting and crossing of the lanes, impatient honking at red light or in congested traffic where there is no need, forcing to park the car right up to the doors of a shop, chasing and making obscene passes at fellow women drivers.
The effect of such demonstrative behaviour has had its toll in defining the perception and attitudes of a large number of those who do not have the advantage of money but at the same time have grown with attributes like disregard for the basic values of good social conduct and civic sense. An impression and perhaps a belief that people can get away with any thing is a strong motivating factor to tempt the less privileged to indulge in a lifestyle sans social control and restrictions. Apart from the thrill of breaking the law on minor matters, the more daring would venture to indulge in bigger crimes. Similarly, suppressed frustration from the failure to win the response of the fair sex gets easily demonstrated either through unprintable vocal phrases or even physical assault on the unsuspecting woman. Otherwise how can one explain the vulgar, indecent and crude expressions and sketches written or etched on the walls of any public utility, lifts or even historical monuments? How can one ignore the perverted brushings women silently suffer every day in the State or private buses or in crowded places?
In Delhi, a major contribution to perpetuate crimes against women paradoxically comes from the women themselves. In the absence of a well-defined social structure and the identity of traditional culture it is unfortunate to watch young girls from well to do families going out in unorthodox and provocative outfits. They can be seen showing thumbs to single motorists for a lift even where buses or ‘specials’ are available to them; they can also be seen bunking classes and adventuring into a cinema hall in the afternoons or a fast food joint in the company of rich car or motorcycle borne jazzy clothed boys in jeans and costly sun glasses with a cigarette in hand. "It is my life" would be the reaction of an average girl who would retort by telling how conservative and out of times you are! Terrace or garden parties are not very uncommon where a small drink or beer is just about right. The nucleus of a permissive society where ‘not-more-than-this’ relationship determines the initial indulgence, lies here. Most of the crimes in this segment of society are the aftermath of natural jealousy, frustration or at times to cover up the exposure of deceit.
Parents who cry foul when something happens are equally to blame since they choose to close their eyes when the girls go out of the houses in outfits almost inviting trouble or when they pass off the misadventure of their boys as childish errands. It is one thing to say that the men should exercise restraint but an entirely different thing to presume all men to be the disciplined lot. (The disciplined are no threat anyway!) The fear is from the undisciplined and the pervert and who can prevent them from doing the undesirable? and while it does not justify the wrong, the fact to be considered is that if someone dares to bare as a matter of personal liberty, she should be ale to accept the consequences too. Instinctively, the human male, unless checked by the society will accost a human female. The ways to woo, however, will differ depending upon the male’s sense for the basic value. No one can, not even stringent laws, can guarantee this, more so an insensitive society!
Traces of such a ‘way of life’ do not remain confined to only to rich, educated and the well-to-do sections of the urban population in Delhi. It encourages others to ape the same in varying degrees. As a result, even the less enterprising and bold fall into the trap either due to innocence or the inability to suppress the temptation of an occasional fling. The consequences and the gravity of these encounters also depend on the extent of the distortions in the general perception and the attitude of the young, lack of education and erosion of respect for the parental authority.
Tragically, in a society surviving with loose knots of cultural heritage and discipline, uncontrolled urge to fall for cheap temptations and base thrills would naturally overshadow and erode the virtues of self-control, caution, restraint, and discretion.
Saag mathe da
THE family is all set for the dinner, but every eye is glued to the small screen. Glossy images are flashing — of social workers clad in gorgeous silk sarees being honoured, images of women pilots and Army officers climbing new heights in male-dominated fields are flashed. Here comes another gripping image of successful female corporate magnets and administrators. It is so gratifying, so heartening, indeed, to see women rubbing shoulders with men in all walks of life.
"Where is the woman in the street in the sheen and glamour presented to us?" I ask myself. Suddenly my attention is diverted when my daughter Radhika asks for another helping of saag and butter. I lovingly pour a ladleful of saag on her plate and then put a blob of home-made butter on it. Her eyes become starry and dimples deepen in her cheeks. Instantly my son Abhay, too, asks for another helping but eyes his sister’s plate and grumbles, as usual, that I have given more to her. The bully that he is, he forcibly takes some from her plate. She howls and stops eating in protest. I have to cajole her to resume eating. Amidst their exchange of allegations and counter-allegations I travel back in time.
A small house in a Punjab village comes before my eyes. Our old granny with a thick silver crop on her head...how well-versed she was in cooking. She made such delicious saag that its aroma and taste still linger in my mouth. Whenever she cooked this dish she used to hum "Sag mathe da bhag dendi putran noo, dal koi na haal dendi dhian noo..." (saag, the fortune of the family I give to my sons, the accursed daal I give to my daughters...). I enjoyed singing the rhyme along with her hardly without knowing what it meant.
Time ticked by, seasons changed and I grew up along with my two brothers. How vividly I remember the day when I came back from school and asked for another helping of saag and butter. My granny refused sternly, "this is for your brothers." Her words still ring in my ears. She hummed her favourite rhyme "saag mathe da bhag..." This time I didn’t join her in her singing. Instead, with tearful eyes I looked towards my mother. Ah! she too looked sideways. "Listen a few things are meant for the ‘males’ of the family. You are a grown-up girl. Understand life now," granny said stiffly, giving me a forbidding look. To me it was like a bolt from the blue. I felt shattered. The bitter truth of a girl’s real status in the Indian society dawned upon me that day. Deprivation and discrimination at every step of life, that is the lot of the wretched one.
The small screen is still displaying
glamorous images...pleasing to the eye but deceptive in nature.
Sugar-coated bitter reality. All this hype generated by the government
and media is futile. The fate of the woman on the street remains
unchanged. One who is threatened annihilation even before her birth and
is denied her due if she survives. Innocent childhood is wasted in
tending to younger siblings and household chores. She has no say in
choosing her life partner nor in limiting the number of children. She
dare not say ‘no’ to her ‘lords’ demands. Childbirth after
childbirth swallows her up or the demon of dowry extinguishes her life.
The lines sung by my granny speak of a deep-rooted malady that has
sapped the very roots of our so-called civilised society.
Malka Pukhraj’s memoirs offer a gainful insight into the life and times of the ‘singing ladies’ who began their careers in the first quarter of the 20th century,
writes Nirupama Dutt.
BORN to a family of peasants in the Jammu village of Hamirpur, her education in Urdu and Persian was begun by an ambitious mother when she was only three. Next came her training in music and dance. And at nine, this child prodigy had already been appointed a singer in the court of Jammu and Kashmir’s Maharaja Hari Singh. Such was the quick rise to fame and glory of none other than Malka Pukhraj. Malka, who always chose to spell her name the Dogri way instead of the more classical Mallika, belonged to the clan of the grand singing ladies who began their careers in the first quarter of the 20th century.
Her famous contemporaries were the inimitable Begum Akhtar and Noorjehan and before them were some famous singers like Gauhar Jaan, Jaddan Bai and Kamla Jharia. The greatest contribution of these singers was to enrich ghazal singing. Yet they were born to times when the popular word for them was tawaif or ‘courtesan.’ For those were times when women were divided into two worlds— the domestic and the public. The domestic women were married, they bore children and lived in what can be termed ‘respectability’. The public women, on the other hand, were allowed the freedom to nurture their talent, work as entertainers, often in the keep of rich princes or landlords. Yet, they were outside the gamut of respectability. The sad story of Umrao Jaan Ada, a 19th century Lucknow courtesan, is a familiar one as it has been told eloquently in literature and on celluloid. However, artistes like Begum Akhtar and Malka Pukhraj rose above their station to make happy marriages as their times saw the rise of the radio and cinema. Music gained the respectability denied to it earlier and these ladies had exceptional talent.
Malka, whose ghazals and pahari songs have been famous on both sides of the Indo-Pak border, is loved most for the soulful singing of Hafiz Jalandhari’s poem Abhi to Main Jawan Hoon. Sung with intensity in her husky sonorous voice it is one of the evergreen songs. Malka moved to Lahore when she was 18 and has lived there ever since. When she came to Chandigarh in the eighties for a concert there were cries for this song which she sang wonderfully. Accompanying her was her beautiful daughter Tahira, a lawyer by profession, who accompanied her mother in the singing of yet another melodious number Lo phir Basant aayi.
The present times are seeing a lot of research and documentation in the area of women’s studies into the lives of these early women artistes who had to or were forced to choose a life which deprived them of marriage and home. Not all the ‘signing ladies’ attained the fame that came the way of artistes like Malka Pukhraj. Many are hesitant to talk of their beginnings for those were times when there was something sinful about being a singer. Here, I recall that Surinder Kaur, the famous Punjabi singer born to a Sikh Khatri family, had told me in the course of an interview how she and her sister, Parkash Kaur, used to practise with the doors and windows tightly closed so that their singing could not be heard outside. Recently, Kali for Women, a feminist publishing house, published an English translation from Urdu of the very candid memoirs of Malka. It is a valuable account into the times gone by and also the most authentic account of how the woman artiste was able to break the barriers around her and realise her full potential as an artiste and a woman.
What is most interesting is that rarely did these women choose their vocation; an ambitious parent or guardian made the choice for them. Such was the case with Malka. Although Malka’s mother was of peasant origin and had made a bad marriage with a Pathan who ran a gambling den in Jammu, she had dreams for her child. As Malka recalls, "I turned three. Mother wanted to begin my education . She wanted me to master all the skills the world had to offer and to become famous." Fame did come to Malka but not without rigorous training. Those days there were no play schools and kindergartens for children in Jammu and Kashmir. So her education was entrusted to a distant cousin of her mother’s who had a paan shop. "I began to hang around the shop from eight in the morning to noon, and then from two in the afternoon till the evening. After a year or two, by the age of five or six, I was able to read the most difficult of books in Urdu." Next came training in music and then in Kathak from Usdtad Mamman Khan in Delhi. The artiste captures in fine detail the mood and nuances of those times.
So, at the age of nine on the eve of the coronation of Maharaja Hari Singh, father of Karan Singh, Malka was initiated into the court. So besotted was the Maharaja by Malka’s rustic charm and talent that for nine years she remained the singer of the court and the temple; and also a companion to the Maharaja. Palace intrigue, according to Malka, made her parents take the decision to leave Jammu and set up Malka as a mehfil singer and performer in Lahore. This led to complete estrangement with the Maharaja, whom Malka confesses to having loved deeply. She was never given audience with him again and Malka touches on the rumour that she had tried to poison the Maharaja. The Malka lore has it that she got Hafiz Jalandhari specially to write the ghazal with the couplet: Kya chor hain ki ham ko durban tumhara roke, keh do ki yeh jaane pehchaane aadmi hain. But after moving from Lahore, she never got to see the Maharaja who had showered riches on her and broken tradition to have a Muslim girl sing bhajan at the temple.
Malka’s greatest battle was that against her own family and the control of her mother. Syed Shabbir Hussain Shah, a government official in Pakistan, loved her to distraction, but her mother would not hear of losing the goose who laid golden eggs. Malka herself took the decision to stop singing at mehfils when a man tried to assault her and she had to elope to marry. The mother still tried to get her back and resorted to hitting her. That was not to be.
When one met Malka at Chandigarh in the eighties she was a respectable grandmother, who sang still, embroidered tapestries and said, "I live on the Mall Road. Just ask people for the house that has peacocks. That’s where I live." Her story in her own words is a valuable addition to the histories of women who have struggled against all odds to establish their identity. Women’s history will not be complete without the account of the women who were considered ‘sinful’ even when they had committed no sin. Here is one who has dared to speak out.