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Friday, January 23, 2009

“It’s written, no?”

4 Golden Globes, 11 Bafta nominations and 10 Oscar nominations later, India is rejoicing! As TV screens beamed an ecstatic cast and crew of Slumdog Millionaire, I knew I had to get to the nearest cinema hall… as soon as possible. So with my leg in a plaster, I limped to the silver screen… more to whet my curiosity than to watch the film. I guess that’s how films gross huge returns during the first weekend of their release. In Slumdog’s case, the hype was well-deserved. And I have to admit that as we groped to our seats in the dark, I was a feeling a little taller than usual- with pride for the recognition of Indian artistes.

After all, the cast of the film is Indian or of Indian origin. It’s been shot in aamchi Mumbai. The star music composer is Indian. So is the story… but the treatment of the film isn’t. It was made with a Western audience in mind…with ONLY a Western audience in mind. Why so? After all, a rags-to-riches story has always had universal appeal. But Mumbai’s slums and their filth, her local trains and the sea of people that flow through them, her poor children and their destinies… are unfortunately, a very integral part of the Indian consciousness. The looking lens of the director and his team is so conspicuously foreign! To put it plainly, it’s a film by the goraas, for the goraas. (It is, in fact, a British film).

But I won’t hold it against them. Though the film failed to move me in the soul-wrenching scenes, put there with an intention to shock, the spirit of the film is magnificent. It’s about a young boy who got damn lucky. Destiny had willed him to get there… but not before showing him the worst in life. The directorial ingenuity and technical brilliance shine in some well-executed shots that I have never seen before. (Watch the movie to find out, I am not going to play spoilsport). Rahman’s music is so Rahman-like that it’s difficult to tell who’s catching up with whom-the story or the background score.

On the acting front, one clear negative is Anil Kapoor. He’s a great actor and though he has a strong part to play, one regrets not seeing the Anil Kapoor of the nineties who could convince audiences with one scene. Positives: A big hats-off to whoever conceived the character of Jamaal’s (the protagonist) elder brother Salim. I have not seen a more complex character essayed in a long time. If anyone wants to know the meaning of “a character with grey shades”, please observe Salim- the protector, the friend…but also the rogue, the heart-breaker… and the street-smart.

Dev Patel, Freida Pinto, Irrfan Khan, Mahesh Manjrekar…all do justice to their roles. But the film belongs to its child actors…HANDS DOWN!! They lift the film onto their tiny shoulders and place it on a pedestal higher than most adult actors can ever hope to reach.

Now, we wait for February 22… when destiny opens its cards on the fate of the film. Maybe it’s written, no?

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Friday, March 21, 2008

The day I almost drowned

What I did last weekend is something everyone must try at least once in their lifetime. For those with weak hearts and even weaker stomachs, I promise you, there must be less dangerous alternatives. But it's a thing to be done- to set a part of yourself free, to take a risk, to appreciate the force of nature, to brag about having done it or simply put... just for the sake of the experience!


Yes, I went white water rafting last weekend. It might sound banal at first- I mean, so many people we know or who others know have done it before. They all came back saying they loved it. It looked fun, adventurous. Wasn't too far from Delhi- so what the heck, was worth giving a shot!


Lucky to get a double off on a weekend, like normal people do, my friends and I were bent on making the most of it. The Ganga at Rishikesh was to host us on our mission. After checking into our lovely hotel at Muni ki Reti, unsuspecting visitors like us headed straight for Shivpuri, the base camp from where our rafting trip was to start. We were told we would be joining a rafting trip that had already set off from Marine Drive- a stretch of the river some kilometres away. So we played in the sand, next to a largely serene-looking aquamarine Ganga... waiting for our ride to come. And that's where we were wrong- it was not meant to be a ride at all. It required superb skills and courage to match.


As soon as our rafts got there, life jackets and helmets were strapped onto us. We were given our paddles and quickly told basic directions on how to row. And off we were...into the unknown (quite literally!).


As it was just the start of our mission, enthusiasm was high, our shoulders were working faster and the raft was moving forward. And there we saw the first rapid approach! Water lashing fiercely, each wave struggling to make space for itself and in the process, setting off a thick battle of foam. "Paddle harder," yelled our instructor and we put in all the strength we could. The raft tossed and turned, like a roller coaster ride on water and we thoroughly enjoyed it. I, for one, was having a gala time, relishing the adrenaline rush...wanting more.


Then the second, then the third. "This is fun!" I was passing high fives in air to Aparna and Avantika (my partners in crime) and we were on a roll.


Then came the fourth rapid- Club House. We saw the raft in front of us, being thrown around like a piece of paper. And I looked straight at the water. I could see a huge, really huge wave building up right in front of me. In the next few milliseconds, before I could react, I had been sucked right in! There was water all around me and suddenly, the sky disappeared!


I realised I had fallen into the water. There was no time to be scared. The life jacket was firmly in place and as soon as I had fallen in, the life jacket started pushing me up. But I then realised I hadn't reached the surface. Everything around me was still blue-green. I raised my hands and felt something above me. I was stuck under the raft!!


I then remembered what Avantika had told us that very morning. She had spoken of a little boy who died because as a raft turned upside down in the Andamans, the poor boy's life jacket kept pushing him up and the upturned raft kept pushing him down. He got stuck in the water and drowned... just below the suface. (It's amazing how I could think so clearly in that situation.) I raised my hands again, the raft was still there. I must have panicked for a second because as I opened my mouth to express shock, the water went right in- through my mouth, then my nose. Thankfully, that little swimming I had learnt and conveniently forgotten came back to me.... quite surprisingly. I shut my mouth and tried hard to remember what my swimming coach had said. "When in a tough spot in the water, just calmly exhale." Tried that, didn't work. Because I hadn't had the time or realisation to inhale while falling off. My mind was thinking again, the waters around me had calmed down slightly. I didn't care, I was choking.


And all this had taken just about 10 seconds. No breakthrough yet. Then my mind did the scariest thing... only that it seems scary in retrospect. At that moment and in that condition, the thought hit me quite casually, calmly. I remember thinking, "Oh! So is this the way I am going to die?' A second of acceptance. And then... "Okay, so I just have to wait for a few seconds to pass out, for everything to go black."


Meanwhile, I must have been moving. Because at that very second, my hand touched a rope and I heaved myself up from under the raft! It was a big loud breath, that of a person come back to life. Before I knew it, I was pulled out amidst cries of "Don't worry, you are okay!"; and dropped in the raft. For the next few seconds, every breath I took, I uttered a tired 'Mamma'. I even remember thinking how a child thinks first of its mother. What a strong bond that must be!


My life jacket was unfastened, and as the spinning in my head slowed down, I saw concerned faces looking down at me. I explained very clearly to them, "I was stuck under the raft, I couldn't breathe."

I then managed to raise my head and I saw that even the raft ahead of us had stopped. Terrified faces were staring at me. A firang professional kayaker had stopped too. He was asking me if I was okay. As I caught my breath, I must have smiled, as all tense faces around me relaxed. Some of them flashed thumbs up signs at me. Aparna was talking, asking me, telling me... I am not sure all of it registered in my head. But I realised those 12 seconds were long enough to have left everyone worried. And the truth is- I was completely shaken up!

The trip was far from over. And my fellow rafters couldn't believe it when they saw me being pulled back into the raft a second time, from the rapid that followed Club House. I had gone berserk when I fell into the rapid again, expecting the worst and holding on to the instructor who had jumped in to ensure everyone was safe after more than half the raft had emptied out. Here, I felt the real force of nature, of what I was talking about in the first paragraph. The water throws you around you like you don't matter; waves, a few feet high, rush to drown you and all you can do is wait for the rapid to get over so that you can be helped back into your place in the raft. I decided not to paddle in the rapids for the rest of the trip, fearing I would make a hat trick.

Of course, I realised the irony of the situation much later, as locals we met after rafting asked us how many of us fell in the water. So that was the point of it all! Falling in the rapid, taking fear head on, respecting the skills and strength of character of those who do it for a living...

For the 2-3 days that followed, I couldn't get that near-drowning experience out of my mind. Now, I am slowly learning to live with it. A friend said it would bring a radical change in the way I look at life, especially after knocking at the doors of death and then running away like a naughty child when the doors were opened. Well, that hasn't happened yet. But yes, it has opened up new avenues of thinking for me- like how I'll try snorkeling next or assisted sky-diving. Of course, I have vowed to continue going on more weekend trips. And now I also know the meaning of 'death by drowning'. Or shamelessly feeling that I understand 'water films' better than most others ...like when I was watching 'A Perfect Storm' last night.

Will I do it again? Hmm... tough one to answer. Maybe a year from now, I'll have accumulated enough courage again. Or maybe I'll let it remain a once-in-a-lifetime experience...
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Monday, March 10, 2008

Written a few days ago- an attempt to revive my blog

"You Marathis!" Yes, that's what people call us now...especially after Sena's former youth leader and now MNS chief launched his recent tirade against 'outsiders' in Mumbai. The violence was unwarranted, deaths of two innocent men in Nashik...shameful! Much has already been written about Raj and his ways. So how was the experience for a Maharashtrian, watching the happenings from a distance? From a state where she could easily be deemed an 'outsider'?
Working in 'bhaiyya' land, living in a multi-cultural Delhi... and as a journalist, deeply missing the coverage in Maharashtra. Luckily, DTH allowed the viewing of Marathi channels, continuously beaming Raj's war of words. An absolute entertainment! If, even for a moment, we could keep Raj's deeds aside, we would see in him an excellent orator. The ideas, the tone, the face...much like his Uncle whose public appearances have been legendary for the Sena's electoral fortunes. And the ease with which those daring phrases flowed, the face not flinching for a moment...in fact, the sarcasm intentional.
So is the above praise a show of support for the taandav Raj launched in one of India's most developed states? Hell no... not in a hundred years! In fact, apart from MNS goons and some misguided youngsters, I am certain no well-meaning Maharashtrian would have hurt even a fly. A senior at work said- it's not the mentality of an ordinary Maharashtrian to indulge in hooliganism, Maharashtrians are content leading their own little lives- and I, who was brought up in an ordinary middle class Maharashtrian family, had to agree.
When Raj claims that jobs in Maharashtra belong only to the Maharashtrian youth; he is not only making a politically volatile statement but also threatening the validity of a part of the Constitution. But the Marathi manoos is not devoid of political opinion. And he is certainly not devoid of a strong sense of his cultural identity. So when mediapersons rushed to get the view of the common (Marathi) man, surprisingly, many seemed to be on Raj's side...not for the vandalism, but for the debate that had ensued.
It's at these times I shy away from being a journalist- a mere observer- because the sentiments being tossed in public are part of my personal identity. In vain, I try to explain why Raj's dramatic claims touch a familiar chord somewhere in a Marathi mind. Born and brought up in Pune, I never had to speak Hindi... not with the Marwadi grocer, unknown rickshaw wala (auto wala for the people up here) or my Gujarati neighbours. I spoke in English with my friends, most of whom were non-Maharashtrian, as was expected in my convent English-medium school. Hindi was limited to mugging dull poems for exams and Bollywood films.
So my first few months in the national capital must have been quite amusing to whoever spoke to me in Hindi about anything under the sun. From being unable to string together a single Hindi sentence without stammering, my Hindi has improved to haggling quite comfortably with the ready-to-fleece-you auto wallahs and behold, doing simple lives with our sister Hindi channels. So surprise surprise... when I went back to Pune last year! No matter where I went, people spoke to me in Hindi!!! The Marwadi grocer, the unknown rickshaw wallah, the employees at my favourite Udipi restaurant and the assistants at the never-needed malls in Pune. Some of them were Maharashtrian, as I later found out from their conversations with colleagues. And I was left trying to absorb a city that was no longer the Pune I knew. Imagine my relief when Pune's only commercial radio station had RJs speaking to us in Marathi... at least, 70% of the times.
The changing face of Pune- I call it cultural erosion, and people call me xenophobic. Let them. Punekars take pride in their language and culture and it's disappointing to see it fade out like that. Especially after the year I spent studying in Chennai. I have never seen a people so fiercely possessive of their language, a defining feature of their culture. And contrary to what the ignorant have to say about 'Madrasis', I had an excellent time... because I attempted to learn their mother tongue. My half-baked Tamil opened several doors for me... and I earned many friends there- the grocer, the Kollywood-crazy rickshaw walla, the Annas at the local restaurant and even the frowning big moustached policemen.
We are not talking about violent anti-Hindi riots here, like the one Tamil Nadu saw in the late sixties. In fact, that should be the last thing on the mind of a mature democracy. And nothing or no one can make native Indians leave from Maharshtra's cities or abandon their respective languages. But let the unique cultural fabric of each city be preserved, not by force but by habit.
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Wednesday, July 05, 2006

It's 'Krrish'man!

Getting back to doing what I love…. thrashing movies!!! I love watching movies…any language, any genre and I also love to hate them…especially the ones that suck royally!

Though yesterday was a nice surprise…

I spent the worst part of the day roaming around in the North Campus of Delhi University…looking for an enquiry office. There were various kinds of offices, each more futile than the other. Rude people behind the desks…one of them smoking a beedi and chewing tobacco and speaking the Delhi-style Hindi all at the same time. I couldn’t understand a word of what he said. I was just worried a jet of the tobacco spit would hit my face as he attempted to be generously arrogant.

Anyway, on my way back home in the Metro [yippee…it’s so cool!!] I thought I should get back to my good ol’ pastime…watching a movie. And I had the supreme privilege [hehe] of watching India’s latest superhero in action…Krrish!

First thing I didn’t like was the Rs. 140 I shelled out for watching a film I had absolutely no expectations from. All news and entertainment channels have been raving about this one…even I remember working on it briefly when the movie had just hit the screens. But let’s get real…I thought. A sequel to Koi Mil Gayaa?? …A film that should have been categorised as a strictly ‘children’s film’. Hrithik Roshan has good acting potential. But Rakesh Roshan wasn’t fair to his son’s talent in that one. He really made him overact to the point of making me almost pull out my hair in desperation. We have to seriously do something about our stereotypical depiction of mentally retarded/ill/handicapped [whatever the term is…Sorry, I’m not sure] children. It’s despicable of us to portray them like this in mass media.

Anyway, the movie resembled ET. Kids of this generation must have liked it but for those of us who were born in the late seventies and eighties, the original ET was the big thing…a childhood fascination come alive [on screen]. Even the special effects in Koi Mil Gayaa were not that effective but I must admit…better than in most other Hindi movies.

But then in 2006, you see… “Is it a bird…a man…No, it’s (desi) Superman!!” Krrish starts with Hrithik Jr. and grandma Rekha in the pristine hills of some remote village in the North. Grandma is trying to save her little boy [with supernatural powers courtesy Jadoo] from the big bad world. Super boy grows up to be Super man, free like the wind and strong like the mountain rock. Then comes his ladylove Priyanka Chopra and woos him out of the safe cocoon of high mountains to congested high-rise buildings of Singapore. And then trouble begins…

Things I like about the movie

Hrithik is back to being a mature actor…very little overacting…by Indian standards. And I congratulate him for the immense training he must have gone through to execute those action sequences with panache. The highlights of the film are, without doubt, the action scenes and special effects! I was pleasantly surprised to see that at least for once, great action sequences were not a monopoly of Hollywood flicks. It’s not that such scenes haven’t been attempted in Hindi films before but they have all ended up looking sadly amateurish and fake. Except one tiny scene, everything looks almost perfect to the T. Rakesh Roshan has spent a fortune…and he has spent it WELL! Kudos to action director Tony Ching Siu-Tung and special effects guys Mark Kolbe and Craig Mumma. Also kudos to stunt doubles, if any.

Beware: This film is not for people who despise Shaolin-style action…I love intelligent films but I’m also a big fan of action films… the Bruce Lee types as well as the Hollywood ones. For those who like action films…please don’t see a cheap version pirated version at home…besides piracy being a crime, you also won’t enjoy the film because of its poor quality. Though find a cheaper cinema hall…Rs. 140 was a tad too much…

Things the film could have done without

Melodrama melodrama melodrama…!!! Fine, the plot had to have a personal angle blah blah but more action scenes next time, please!

And not so much make-up on Rekha’s face, for God’s sake…NO!

Priyanka could have done a little more than be chirpy…she’s gorgeous and she was the turning point of the film…the story starts because of her effect on Hrithik…when are we going to ever give our actresses substantial roles? She did have one or two inspiring scenes there though.

Terrible music…there was nothing foot tapping or melodious about it! And if there’s anything that spoils the mood of the action sequences is the background score. Observe Western/Eastern action flicks…the music creates the mood of the scene to a great extent.

In conclusion, the film is worth a watch…though the romance dominates a part of the plot, it’s a welcome change from the mushy films we are churning out these days…especially those Karan Johar kinds…

Happy Cine-going!

[Info from
http://www.krrishthemovie.com/]
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Thursday, June 29, 2006

Getting back to business

It’s been a long time since I posted anything on the blog- my very own space. After much persuasion [almost coercion] by my friend Ashish, I decided to revive this space…for my own good. I may be busy with my new job [yipppeee!] but one of my professors said, “Always keep writing.” I now understand the value of his advice. It’s absolutely critical for a journalist to keep writing, even if (s)he works for a TV channel. When we don’t do certain things often enough, we forget how to do them skillfully…and writing is a classic example! I wouldn’t be able to bear ‘not being able to write’…because writing has always been my first love!

I would also like to issue a caveat: I am writing after almost three months and so, it may not be too impressive. Kindly bear with me…

Well, after more than a month of exposure to the real life ‘newsroom’, the rhythm is finally beginning to set in. It’s an exciting atmosphere…watching news break all the time, people running all over the place just before a show is about to air, people yelling at you…asking you to hurry up- the deadlines are slightly crazier- and the fast pace which keeps you alive.

Yes, but television is not glamorous…not at all!My relatives and friends have been asking me, “So, when are we going to see you on TV?” This is one question I have begun to despise. First of all, it’s a long uphill climb for a fresher…and I am right at the bottom [by the way, I feel there’s no better place to start!]. And TV journalism is not about being on TV…it’s much more than that! It’s talent and sheer hard work. Recent films have been portraying journalism in not-a-very-pleasant light…I wish those who criticise journalists could hold their tongues before trying to be journalists themselves…just for a week maybe.In that respect, the
Asian College of Journalism has prepared our minds well, at least my mind, for the profession of a journalist. There’s a lot to be learnt everyday and I guess it’ll be the best part about the job for years to come.

Things Politicians Say

To get to the main topic of this post, I have been observing how certain politicians respond to questions that ‘question’ their inaction.Take the farmers’ suicides in Vidarbha for example: In an interview with Karan Thapar for Devil’s Advocate, Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar didn’t seem too fazed by the fact that farmers were jumping to their death because of their failed crops and indebtedness. He thought it was nothing out of the ordinary. And this considering that just in the last 2-3 days, eight farmers committed suicide in Maharashtra. And PM Manmohan Singh has taken it upon himself to ensure that the relief packages prepared but not yet implemented, are introduced on a war footing. After intially refusing to accompany the PM, Pawar finally decided to go on the tour...not without controversy though.

What was Sharad Pawar waiting for? And how can he show an apathetic attitude towards farmers’ suicides? Okay, let’s consider farmers’ suicides as "normal": Does it mean Pawar can justify his inaction, just because suicides have been happening for a long time? For God’s sake, these are people’s lives we are talking about!!

Then comes Rajasthan’s leading lady,
Vasundhara Raje. When Rupashree Nanda asked her why there was caste-based discrimination in the distribution of water, Raje gave a fearfully similar response.

Just because caste discrimination is rampant in India and has existed for centuries, citing it as some sort of an excuse is just not right! Ideally, a politician, especially a Chief Minister must know what's going on in his/her state. But we all know it's not practically possible. A polite, "Thankyou for bringing the problem to our notice. We'll look into it," would have probably been more appropriate. Why did she have to get so defensive? Was she already aware of the problem? There's no way of finding that out and it would be unfair on my part to make that allegation.

But my stand continues to remain firm: Just because something has been happening for a long time doesn't make it right!

Comments are welcome...
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Tuesday, March 14, 2006

A meaningful ‘war’

It was back in the first term at the ACJ that we were preparing our website on ‘Violence against Women’. I was working on a section called ‘Violence against Sex Workers’. To understand this complex reality, my friends and I had gone to the Indian Community Welfare Organisation, a group that works to spread HIV/AIDS awareness among sex workers. That was the first time I spoke to sex workers and got a harsh yet clear idea of their lives. Sunday [12th of March] was the second time.

I saw a play organized by SANGRAM [an NGO based in Sangli district in Maharashtra] at the Alliance Française in Chennai. Sangram works with sex workers and their children. It was once again an overwhelming experience…an interaction I thoroughly enjoyed.

The actors are none other than sex workers and their children who play themselves. The stories are all real…and so are their feelings. They played out a day from their lives: the lover of a prostitute who promises to marry her, the humiliation suffered by sex workers’ children in school, the harassment by the police, false assurances by local politicians and so on.

The play also shows the complexity of the relationship between the prostitute and her lover [the maalak]. It portrays how sex workers act as support systems for each other and how ‘normal’ their lives are. And of course, the viewer rejoices in the little celebrations the sex workers have every now and then.

The effort was mighty impressive considering that they performed in Hindi when none of them could speak the language until about two years ago. Some of the protagonists are illiterate, making it even more difficult for them to learn a new language. But they surmounted this obstacle, like they have surmounted every other in the course of their lives.

In the Q&A session, I was more than happy to ask them questions in Marathi. And they were just elated to hear someone speak their mother tongue in a not-so-Hindi-friendly Chennai! Their confidence and courage could put anyone to shame. They were eager to speak and share their experiences with a hope to change people’s perception of them. They succeeded when newspapers in Sangli like Pudhari and Lokmat, which had written objectionable stories about them, changed their reports to positive and inspiring ones.

I would like to write more about them and the immense strength of their characters but this one is a must-see for everybody. They perform next in Mumbai and Bangalore.

Watch out for news about a meaningful ‘war’…a Sangram that is changing their lives and our perceptions.

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Saturday, March 11, 2006

Feels great to be back!

Hi all!
It feels great to be back to blogdom! I have been quite busy all this while trying my best to be at least half a journalist. Our daily news shows are over and we'll have only special reports now.
A big thanks to all who have been visiting my blog while I was gone. Hope I can post more interesting stuff on my blog...
As I haven't had time to write much, I am posting my Politics assignment for now. It's about the Shah Bano case of 1985 and the debate over the Uniform Civil Code. I'd like to mention that it's only an attempt at understanding politics. All comments and suggestions are welcome...

It’s International Women’s Day on the 8th of March…a day celebrated by the United Nations to honour ordinary women who made a difference. And yet, all is not well. Like last year, Imrana and Gudiya lent faces to the horrible treatment meted out to women even in this age. Their life stories have brought back into focus the debate over the legitimacy of Muslim Personal Law and the demand for a Uniform Civil Code [UCC].

It all started in April 1985 when the Supreme Court gave Shah Bano, a Muslim divorcee, the right to maintenance for life. The judgment had entered stormy waters by challenging the Shariat that governs the personal life of a Muslim. And there emerged the demand for a more just personal law i.e. the UCC.

What could have been a chance for women to break away from the patriarchal domination over their lives became political warfare. The communal tone of the judgment and the reporting of the incident sparked hatred and insecurity between Hindus and Muslims. Political parties feasted on this disharmony to get back at each other and the issue of gender justice became only a disguise for mindless plotting.

For sometime now, the UCC has been on the agenda of the BJP and other right wing groups. In a debate at IIT-Kanpur in 2005, lawyer and BJP leader Arun Jaitley argued that even eminent members of the Constituent Assembly aimed at the final goal of a UCC. His party colleague and Rajasthan CM Vasundara Raje supported the demand asking for equal rights for women. They oppose the validity of triple talaq and polygamy.

Such views have emerged from a perception, natural or deliberate, that Islamic personal law is regressive. But, it’s important to remember that practices such as polygamy are as prevalent among Hindus as among Muslims. In fact, Muslim law grants more equal property rights to women than Hindu law. Also, the concept of a UCC contradicts, in principle, Article 25 of the Indian Constitution. Every person in secular India can profess, practise and propagate any religion of his/her choice. So how can the State impose a common law on everyone without a national consensus?

In the same debate, Mani Shankar Aiyar, a Congress member, questioned Jaitley as to why he hadn’t, in his six years as Union Law Minister, even tabled a bill for the BJP’s vehement demand for a UCC.

A debate between political parties is still digestible. We should worry when religious groups become fanatical in supporting or opposing the UCC. Muslim groups are strictly against the imposition of any kind. Muslims are constantly told how they need ‘protection’, with the recently constituted Ministry for Minorities being one such message. There has been enough violence against the community in the recent years. They feel ‘Islam is in danger’. And many are ready to do almost anything to protect what they think is the sanctity of their religion.

It would be wrong to think that most Hindus would support a UCC. First of all, their personal laws are already governed by the Hindu Code. In addition, there is diversity within the religion itself with marriage and family customs being different in different parts of the country. Would the Hindus from Tamil Nadu agree to compromise in favour of a marriage custom of Haryana?

When the Government is questioned about the cruel treatment to a Muslim woman, it chooses to stay out of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board’s way. They insist ‘the reform must come from within’. Such a reform is not likely to come about easily enough. Dr. Vibhuti Patel points out how reform has become a conflict between community authority and individual rights with each pulling at the other in the opposite direction.

It is in this scenario that Asghar Ali Engineer suggests ‘legal pluralism’ as a solution. Every religion must try to change regressive practices in their own religion to make it more humane toward women. Imposition in a pluralist country like India would not be without its share of communal violence. Even in a ‘modern’ country like France, the State’s version of secularism [forced uniformity] hasn’t gone down well with its immigrant population.

If things are to improve, religion in India will have to depart from communal interests and actually start working for gender justice. In 1985, Shah Bano had asked for the Supreme Court judgment to be withdrawn. She feared communal carnage against her community.

How many more Shah Banos will India see before it can promise its women citizens the right to an honourable life?