No Reporterglück

Journalists often have something they call Reporterglück, which translates into reporter’s luck.

Something like when a tram was stuck forever in Hamburg – and my former Chief Editor, Wolfgang Büchner, was inside and able to email a picture of people in the dimly lit wagon to us, so we could sent in on the wire (here).

But sometimes reporter are not lucky at all. Like I was today. Here’s the story.

There is a village in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh called Ramnagar, in the District of Mainpuri. A man who is accused of raping a women in Delhi in his taxi, booked via Uber, grew up in this place.

Indian newspapers reported that everyone in the village knew that the man was roaming around, harassing and raping women, but no one did anything, except of telling the women to stay indoors when he was visiting. (here)

It was also written that a women who claims was raped by him had to leave college and was married off because of the crime against her. Another of his victims apparently wanted to report him to the police, but they told her not to file the case. (here)

In a frenzy, I decided I had to go there. So I looked it up on googlemaps, (and was pleased to see a river close to the place pointed out, as I had seen a river bank in one of the video interviews with the parents of the accused), booked a cab, roped in an interpreter, and off we went.

According to google, it would take us 3 hours and 49 minutes to get there. According to the taxi company, it would take 5 hours. It took us 8 hours.

When we reached the pin on my map, it was pouring. We hopped from one tea stall to the other, where villagers were waiting for a spell in the rain, but only got vague answers. Finally we made out a direction, and continued on the ever narrowing road, between fields full of blooming mustard, cow chips, and hay stacks.

After asking around at more tea stalls, and families gathering on the veranda next to their buffalos, and women at a school, and a man with a tractor, we found Ramnagar. But there, no one knew the man we were looking for.

It dawned on us we were in the wrong place. “Is there another Ramnagar?” we asked. “Many,” we learned.

One, we were told, was close to Chhachha, where we drove next. There we heart it should be more like towards Fatepur. Or back to where we came from?

By that time, my colleague in Delhi had figured out that the Ramnagar we were looking for falls under the Elaau police station. So we called the officers up, and were directed somewhere.

Which turned out to be false again.

Even though we had started at 7.30 am, it had gotten dark by the time we were sent from one point to the other – just to locate the police station. Let alone the village.

So we called it a day.

Needless to say googlemaps failed again when we tried to get to our hotel in Agra. It gave the wrong place, and navigated us in such a back lane, that the car grounded and could move neither forwards nor backwards.

Let’s see what tomorrow has in store for us.

One place, two worlds

In the midst of nowhere in Rajasthan, somewhere behind Alwar, lies one of the sought-after Heritage Hotels. A fort from the 14th century had been transformed into a palace for royal experience. Every stone there exudes luxury. Or, in the words of the hotel’s PR guys,it is  a “monastic spaces to detox you from the world”.

So I sat on my balconies, one of them being in a bastion with only shooting-slits to see the barren land outside, I swam in the pool, ate regional delicacies in AC cool rooms, listened to Rajasthani folk music in the lush gardens, and watched the stars from the rooftops.

The scene changed immediately when I stepped out from the fort early the next morning and wandered through the fields. Water buffalos dozed next to one-story huts built from bricks, women cooked in the open spaces before them, or washed clothes at the hand pump, men were sitting or sleeping on charpoys, kids ran  between heaps of dried cowshit and stacks.

When I came to a field where women were cutting buffalo fodder, they put their sickles aside, came over and started questioning me relentlessly. Curious, they wanted to know what I had stored away in my bag, and took one strange item after the other out.

They tried the fan, the earplugs, the cream (which they thought was whitening), the lip balm (but were disappointed when it didn’t colour their lips red), the pen, the lighter – and laughed a lot. When one put on my sunglasses, she removed her scarf, and straightened her hair, before I was allowed to click a picture.

Hand in hand, them carrying heavy loads on their scrawny bodies, we finally walked over to the village, where a plastic chair was organised from somewhere, and I was placed next to a group of men for some talk. As my Hindi is very limited, I excused myself pretty soon, and started climbing the hill (which was the original idea for the morning walk).

While coming down, I was greeted by more than 40 kids – called together from every nook and corner of the village, I suppose. They not only ran after me, but also shoved me, pawed and groped me, and even made some sexual comments. None of them being older than twelve (and looking like nine), I guess.

When it all became too wild, I walked off, but they followed me. Until a villager, who’s buffalo was scared of the mob and threatened to tear the rope it was leashed with or even the pole that hold it, intervened with all his authority and told them to get lost.

Nearly two years in India – and beleaguered by children for the first time.

Helpless women at night

helpless women

I could have been…

at the finishing line, still in pretty high spirits

at the finishing line, still in pretty high spirits

I could have come second, if only I had cleared all the obstacles! Today the organisers of the Devil’s Circuit published the ranking, and it turned out that only eight women managed the parcour, as compared to 133 men. A huge round of applause for these eight!

But the biggest group in this list are the ones who didn’t manage or dared to do all climbs, jums, swings, crawls, swims etc.  Me being somewhere among them…

Jaipur Literature Festival, Amartya Sen

welcome painting

Nobel laureate Amartya Sen opened this year’s (once more gorgeous) Jaipur Literature Festival. And even though the Harvard economist’s words sometimes were hard to understand due to his sluggish pronunciation (he is 80 years old, after all), his thoughts were as sharp as arrows.

In his keynote, titled “A Wish a Day for a Week”, he presented the imagined dialogue between himself and a kind of fairy, called “the goddess of medium things”.

His seven wishes for India included a revival of humanities at school, like classical music and dance as well as languages like Sanscrit and Greece – because nowadays the Youth primarily is interested in science and technology, “as the society is getting more and more business oriented”, he said.

Other hopes included a strong right-wing secular party that doesn’t rely on communal politics, and a stronger concentration of the parties on the left on the poor and downtrodden. Rather than agitate for cheaper amenities for the Middle Class like power, water, fuel and fertilizer, the left-wing parties should be more responsive for the needs of the poor people, Mr Sen argued.

He continued: India is now capable of sending a cryogenic rocket into space and calls itself part of the “elite club”, but half of the population still defecates in the open, children aren’t vaccinated, nowhere else life so many undernourished children, and not everybody has access to healthcare.

Some things, Mr Sen, admitted, have been achieved. Since independence there hasn’t been a famine, polio is now eradicated, the recent typhoon evacuation was so successful the predicted disaster didn’t happen, and some states provide good education. But more needs to be done, he said.

Mr Sen also lashed out about the re-criminalization of homosexual behaviour, and got a lot of applause for that. The Supreme Court “criminalised a totally private behaviour”, he criticised.

“Society needs to engage more in helping women”, he went on. The male-female ration is especially bad in the North and West, and much better in the South and East – so a lot could be learnt even within India, he concluded.

Amartya Sen and John Makinson

In his conversation with John Makinson, chairman of Penguin Random House, Mr Sen added: “To worship GDP growth as a reward in itself … is a big mistake.” The social dimensions of political issues should get more attention, he thinks.

On rapes, he argued they get more attention in the newspapers than for example trafficking, “because they happen to the very rich; most of them happen to Dalit women, but they do happen to the rich as well”.

He again lashed out on the subsidies the politicians put in place which are “for the economic betterment of themselves”. “The electricity is so subsidised in India, I have to switch off the AC every time I come to a hotel room – paid for by the people of India.”

On the new Aam Aadmi Party, he said, he was “inclined to cheer”. “It was wonderful that a party could appeal to the grievances that have gripped the country and sense that we need something different.” But it is problematic that they are in the office and do the wrong things,, says Mr Sen. “When they now cut the electricity bills, the hotel temperature will sink from 17°C to 14°C.”

His advise would be, “they have to think much more clearly about what they want”. Are the aam aadmi the ones that need cheaper power or the ones that don’t have power and water connection at all, he asked his audience.

How Bollywood influences Indian society

I had a very interesting interview today with an Indian film critic, Suparna Sharma. Unfortunately I could only put one of her quotes into my dpa story. As this didn’t do justice to her elaborate thoughts, I decided to publish the rest here. Enjoy.

There is no doubt that lead female characters in Bollywood films are mostly pretty props to delight not just the men, but increasingly to cater to women as well. They have perfect skins, gorgeous hair, lavish designer clothes, concave stomachs and the silouete of apsaras (celestial nymphs). They are perfect creatures for product placement.

And this hasn’t changed for a 100 years. But neither has the male character(s). We still have the angry young man, the eternal lover, the superman, with the same, age-old compulsions.

As a society, as a culture, we are today almost anti-nuance, anti-intellectual, as you see in the debate about sexual harassment, rape etc. Kill the rapists is the general reaction. We seek retribution, not justice. And that’s exactly what Indian cinema has portrayed for years. This hasn’t changed on ground, and is unlikely to change in cimena.

In two landmark rape films – Insaaf ka Tarazoo (the man who was a rapist in that film is now a politician, Raj Babbar), and Ankush – the rapists are killed, and in one the raped woman commits suicide. It’s this narrative, the linking of a woman’s and her family’s honour with her body that needs to change – not just in cinema, but on the gound as well.

Today a lot of responsibility for the treatment of women is pegged on cinema. People assume that it will somehow have an impact on how men act – that reasoning is screwed.

This strange link – man sees item number/sexy female on screen and this titilates him and thus he may go out and rape – doesn’t just reduce men to unthinking criminal imbeciles and reduces rape merely to a physical, sexual act, but also questions the woman’r right to show her body the way she wants to, to wear what she wants.

It’s an extension of the old patriarchal argument that women must not be seen – that they are things that tempt men and are thus best kept in burqas, purdahs, ghunghats, squarely placing the responsibility on the woman for the man’s criminal act.

In Bollywood movies, women unquestionable get shitty roles, without real jobs. And that won’t change for a while, I don’t see it happening for years to come. There is an audience responsibility as well: People love stories of complicated relationships and love triangles. If they keep on watching them, this is what they will get.

Cinema, after all, is a mass medium, it is made to entertain. Even if films are portraying women as CEOs of big companies, the ground situation is not going to change.

Street Art from Colombia in Delhi

Colombian Street Artist Stinkfish

Advertisement pushing the boundaries

condom ad

In an archconservative country where the word “sex” is hardly ever uttered, the biggest Englisch newspaper runs a condom ad on the front page.

Is someone fighting for more liberalism here or does the “Times of India” do everything as long as enough money is involved?

A visit to the widows of Vrindavan

Night Encounter

I respect women

The tourist industry also got hurt badly by the international news – here’s a desperate move by one tour agency in front of Qutub Minar.

When I rode my bicycle home at around midnight, a young couple on a motorcycle took notice of me. After they overtook me, they slowed down and waited till I had catched up.

Then the young woman – in her early twenties, with a muslim headscarf and  beautiful make-up – shouted at me: “It’s not safe in Delhi!” When I replied that I do feel safe (despite me being more cautious when I see groups of men in the streets, I have to admit), she said: “No, it really isn’t.” Then she advised: “You should go home.”

That is exactly what I fear: The whole media coverage of rapes and the discussion about women’s safety in India is not leading to a safer environment where men rape less women and get conscious of the misogynic society, but to an environment where women hardly dare to go out of the house alone, let alone at night.

Only yesterday I heard of an employer who lost most of his women employees because they sometimes had to work long hours. Now when he is having a job interview, he explains that under no circumstances do they have to stay longer in the office than 5pm – otherwise they won’t take up the job.

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