Friday, March 10, 2023

Book Review: The Hate U Give


Some books stay with you long after you read the last line, shut the book and put it away. THUG is one of them. 

#BlackLivesMatter is merely a hashtag for most of us- the headlines we read, the posts we RT and the videos we share do not capture the reality of what it is to be black in America. A place where a driver can be pulled up, asked to produce his papers, be patted down three time, and then shot because the policeman felt he was dangerous. “A hairbrush is not a gun” chant the activists; yet it on that suspicion that 16 year old Starr Carter’s friend was gunned down and left for dead.

Starr, who was vocal about demanding justice on social media, is struck dumb when she is required to speak up. The book traces her gradual realisation that she has the responsibility to use her voice. She doesn’t feel terribly brave, but her mother tells her “bravery is not the absence of fear. Bravery is being afraid, but doing it anyway.”

Starr is also one of the few blacks in her high school, and is acutely conscious of the fact that there are two Starrs who speak and act quite differently. As she finds her voice to speak for justice, she also goes through the process of discovering who her true friends are, and which of them deserve to remain in her life. Though the reactions of her classmates, the author also explores how non-blacks react to the issue. Many who clain allyship do so on their terms only, and resent it when a black person tries to set the tone of protest.

Why did Starr’s friend take to a life of petty crime- not because he chose to, but because he had no choice. When there is no industry, when blacks aren’t encouraged to learn and aren’t recruited even when they do, do they have too many options to earn? How does it matter if Starr’s friend was a drug peddler or not- does he deserve to be killed on that suspicion? These and many other questions remain after the last page is read.

This is a book all of us need to read. To understand our privilege. And hopefully be more empathetic while demanding justice for the oppressed. 

As always, I am amazed at the maturity and nuance in books which are technically termed YA. 

And, yes, THUG LIFE according to the book stands for "The Hate U Give Little Infants F*&$s Everyone"

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Mansplaining Period Pains to a Woman

[First published in Women’s Web]

“Bad bad periods and weakness from fever. Not a good start to the year. I don’t like it. I would rather die right now. I have missed work two days already. I’m so weak. My immunity is so hampered.”, posted a woman on Twitter. She did not seek advice, or even sympathy. She was just venting. But, of course, a man had to come and give her advice. “Why not make the best of it? Do something you love. Make yourself comfortable then curl up with a book, watch a movie, indulge in your fav non greasy snack or a hot cuppa. Whatever you do, don’t entertain negative thoughts. When you look back, you’ll feel good how you overcame this. Best wishes”. 

His reply gained far more traction than the original post did. Women (and a few men) questioned his expertise, asked him to shut up and/ or employed sarcasm. Yet, he was unrepentant, and chose not to even delete the post, much less apologise for the unsolicited and erroneous advice.

Everything was wrong with the post.
“Why not make the best of it? Do something you love. Make yourself comfortable then curl up with a book, watch a movie, indulge in your fav non greasy snack or a hot cuppa”, is the classic advice you do not give to someone suffering from a mental ill-health. By giving the advice here, the person clearly proved that he doesn’t have even the faintest idea of what period pains are, yet, that didn’t stop him from giving advice. Also, specifying “non-greasy snack” was extremely condescending because it implied that the person is unable to tell the difference between a healthy snack and an unhealthy one. Most importantly, as someone put it, at a time when you are doubled over with period pains, the last thing you can do is to brew yourself a hot cuppa- at the time like that, all you want to do is the basic minimum required to survive.

“Whatever you do, don’t entertain negative thoughts. When you look back, you’ll feel good how you overcame this. Best wishes”, is certainly not something you say to a person who suffers from a recurring physical or mental health issue. You can “feel good” about “overcoming” something that happens once in a lifetime, not something that cripples you for a few days every month. By adding this bit, the person proved he had absolutely no idea what he was talking about. Yet he did.

This was, of course, a classic case of mansplaining. Mansplaining happens is when a man comments on or explains something to a woman in condescending, overconfident, and often inaccurate or oversimplified manner, even if the man knows less about the subject than the woman does. 

Condescending, overconfident, inaccurate, oversimplified. In one 280 character post, the man ticked all the adjectives covered by the word “mansplaining”.

How does one spot a case of mansplaining? Author Kim Goodwin drew up a simple chart which could be used by a man to know when he is mansplaining [ ]

There are four questions that need to be answered to identify potential mansplaining, and this man failed all four: 

  1. Did she ask him to explain? Certainly not. She was just venting, and was not even seeking advice from other women, much less from a man. 
  2. Does he have more relevant experience in the matter? Impossible. She has been having periods every month for well over a decade, while he has not even had one. At best, he might have witnessed a loved one going through period pains.
  3. Would most men with her education and experience already know it? The question is not even applicable in this case, because period pain is something only women (and people who menstruate) experience.
  4. Did he ask if she needed explaining? No. He just jumped in with his unsolicited advice.

Any situation where even one of these questions elicits a “no” is a situation of certainly or highly probably mansplaining. The person should have just shup up, but he didn’t.

You would think that people would universally call out a man who is clearly mansplaining, but that was not the case. 

Many defended him by saying he could be a gynaecologist- “Why make it about gender. Maybe he is a gynaecologist. There are male gynaecologists too.” Yes, indeed there are male gynaecologists, but we know he is not a gynaecologist because a gynaecologist will know that periods occur every month, and he seems to think it is a one-time occurrence.

Many took exception to the fact that women were asking a man to shut up, and attacked the women who called it out. Just a sample (ranging from the barely coherent to the raving lunatic) will suffice- 

“What makes you believe you are an expert? Being feminist is okay, being arrogant feminist is stupid”, was what a medical doctor said. He had clearly forgotten that women get periods every month which certainly makes them greater experts than a man. The other part on feminism is just the general grouse that men have with women who stand up for gender rights.
“That’s pure fascism. You cannot take away the right to expression from someone because you deem him unfit for it”, was another man’s reaction. Apparently giving unsolicited advice on things you know nothing about is merely freedom of expression!

“How can you assume gender? This person may be a gender dyphoric transwoman who identifies as woman. As per wester liberal doctrines, transwoman can have periods, and you are a bigot if you do not acknowledge that.” Yes, trans men (not trans women) could continue to have periods, but I am quite certain that that was a generic rant at ‘liberal feminists’ who mess up orderly society as he knows it.

However, worst of all were the women who defended the man. One such person said, “Most men are very aware of period and women issues nowadays and quite caring/sensitive too. I think its great that this guy is being supportive 👍🏼”. While the intention of the person might well have been to be supportive, he certainly has no knowledge of period pains or how they can cripple a person completely. There are other ways to offer support to a woman suffering from period pains than by offering unsolicited and inaccurate advice. The easiest way, of course, would be for him to lobby for period leave in his workplace and to take over the running of the household on days when the women in his family might be incapacitated, but he refused to reply when people asked him if he did either of those things.

Mansplaining may seem harmless or even mildly amusing to an outsider, but at the core of it is the belief that men know better than women, even on subjects where the woman is an expert. This can get particularly insidious at the workplace where mansplaining is a common way to put women down. It is necessary that the person who is being mansplained to stands up against it, and reminds the mansplainer of her superior knowledge of the subject. It is also necessary that others back up the person being mansplained to, instead of trivialising the issue. Women are expected to smile gently when they are mansplained to- it is time we stopped doing that.

Monday, February 20, 2023

How SMA leaves interfaith couples vulnerable to emotional and physical violence

[First published in Women’s Web]

Actor Swara Bhasker got married to political activist Fahad Zirar Ahmad earlier this month, and after the court marriage, put out an appreciation post on Twitter for the Special Marriage Act, which applies to interfaith marriages.

“Three cheers for the #SpecialMarriageAct (despite notice period etc.) At least it exists and gives love a chance… The right to love, the right to choose your life partner, the right to marry, the right to agency, these should not be a privilege,” Swara Bhasker tweeted, tagging her new husband. 

Soon after, he posted a photograph of the couple dancing outside the Registrar’s Office, and wrote, “Thank you everyone for the love & support. The process was anxious but the result can be read from our faces.”
Reading between the lines, particularly the use of the word “anxious” and the fact that chose to keep it private till after the papers were signed, it was clear that despite being sure of their feelings for each other, they were apprehensive about the process going through without a hitch. If two people who are both moderately famous and reasonably well connected, and where they had the approval of both sets of parents (who also turned up at the Registrar’s Office) were apprehensive about all the things that might go wrong, what hope is there for regular interfaith couples?

Within moments of the news being announced, it was clear that their apprehension was not without basis. Like all inter-faith relationships, this attracted hate from fundamentalists from both religions. One side claimed it was ‘Love Jihad”, and wondered aloud about how to keep Hindu women “safe” from Muslim men. The other side was quick to declare that their religion did not recognise the marriage of a man, unless it is to a woman “of the book” (Muslim, Christian or Jewish). But it did not stop at that. It did not, however, stop at that.

There were many (presumably of the majority faith) who openly spoke about how the couple used their political and social connections to ensure that the notice of the intent to marry was not put up at the Register’s Office for a month as required by law. They hinted that had they been aware of the proposed marriage, they would have done something to prevent it. This is exactly what every interfaith couple fears.

The Special Marriage Act, 1954 (SMA) was enacted to enable people to get married irrespective of the faith or religion followed by either party. Under the provisions of the Act, the couple which intends to get married under the Act will have to give notice to the marriage officer of the district where either party has resided for a period of at least 30 days before the date. This notice of ‘intent” to marriage is written in a book which is open to inspection by the public for a period of 30 days, after which the couple can get married. This provision is commonly interpreted by the marriage officer as putting up the details of the couple on a public notice board, and this not only a gross invasion of privacy, it leaves the couple vulnerable to emotional and physical violence.

The intent behind this provision is to ensure that people have a process whereby they can raise valid objections if either person was previously married and has a spouse still living, or if either is of unsound mind. However, in reality, it is used by family and the larger community to intimidate the couple and force them to break off the relationship. Hate crimes against inter-faith couples are on the rise, and publishing their details, including addresses, makes it much easier for mobs to threaten them. Anecdotally, we hear of cases where details of the intent to marriage is sent to one or both sets of parents- this empowers them with the information required to break up the match.

This provision has been challenged, because it is not applicable in case the couple is getting married under the Hindu or Muslim Personal Law- it is only interfaith couples that either partner would be previously married?
In a landmark judgement, the Allahabad High Court ruled that “the requirement of notice under the Act only arises when couple requests such notice to be published”, and went on to add that “there is no mandatory requirement of open notice under the Act.” However, a similar petition was dismissed by the Supreme Court, and anyone wanting to get married under the SMA continues to suffer an invasion of privacy, and remains vulnerable to potential emotional and physical violence.

While the fact that Swara Bhaskar and Fahad Zirar Ahmad managed to fall in love and get married under SMA has given hope to other inter-faith couples who are under immense pressure from the family, their community and society as a large, their anxiety underscores the vulnerability of inter-faith couples.

While, we watch while Swara Bhaskar, in her words “prep(s) for shehnaii-wala shaadi”, we should also use this to remind ourselves that we should continue to raise our voice against the invasion of privacy of any couple that plans to get married under SMA.

How I Got Over My Imposter Syndrome To Apply For The Orange Flower Awards

[High achieving women often suffer from self-doubt, and this is a good way to remind us that we are good enough. First published in Women’s Web]

A few days ago, I saw an Instagram post announcing the Orange Flower Awards which recognise the power of women’s voices. I read about it with curiosity, but didn’t give it a second thought.

I received an e mail from Women’s Web seeking self-nominations for the Orange Flower Awards, and I ignored it. Yes, I write occasionally, but I didn’t think my work was good enough for me to nominate myself in any of the categories.

A past winner especially tagged me and asked me to look at nominating myself, and I told her that I was not ready yet. “That is up to you”, she said, “but I think you should nominate yourself.”

For the next few hours, I thought of nothing else. Why was I so reluctant to nominate myself for something I was clearly eligible for? We were just talking about nominations, not about whether or not I would win. In any case, wins and losses have never mattered to me as much as participation. When it comes to experiences, my philosophy is that doing something new, giving it my best shot and not succeeding is better than not trying at all. What then explains my extreme reluctance to self-nominate myself for the Orange Flower Awards?

The answer was not hard to fine. I was suffering from Imposter Syndrome. I was holding myself back because I had convinced myself that I was not qualified enough. I had struggled with Imposter syndrome all my life, and just when I thought I had conquered it, it popped up where I least expected it.

What then is Imposter Syndrome?

First described by Suzanne Imes, PhD, and Pauline Rose Clance, PhD, in the 1970s, Impostor Syndrome is a psychological occurrence in which an individual doubts their skills, talents or accomplishments, and has a persistent internalised fear of being exposed as a fraud. People who suffer from imposter syndrome are often high achievers who attribute their accomplishments to luck rather than to ability, and live in constant fear of being “found out”.

Whether we notice it or not, Imposter Syndrome permeates the formal and informal workplace. In almost every office, there are people who never push themselves forward for a prime assignment, despite being eminently suitable for it. I was one of them in the early days of my professional life- even when I wanted a project very badly, I would never ask for it, always hoping that someone else would nominate my name instead. It was only when I found those assignments repeatedly going to people far less qualified than me that I lodged a feeble protest, only to be told that I had been passed up because they didn’t know I was interested. I was told that had I indicated my interest, it would certainly have been given the assignments because I was the most suited for them. Did I learn from any of these experiences? I don’t think so. Though I got a little better at asking for what I wanted, I still struggle to break free from doubting my own self-worth.

Are women more likely to suffer from Imposter Syndrome?

While Imposter Syndrome, unlike what was originally believed, is gender agnostic, more women suffer from it than men. In a much quoted study by KPMG where 750 high performing women executives were polled, it came out that as many as 75% of the women had personally experienced Imposter Syndrome at some point or the other in their career. Further, 85% of them believed that women commonly suffer from Imposter Syndrome, and 74% reported that their male counterparts experience self-doubt much less than they do.

An article in Forbes quoted from an internal study conducted by Hewlett-Packard which said, “Women working at HP applied for a promotion only when they believed they met 100 percent of the qualifications listed for the job. Men were happy to apply when they thought they could meet 60 percent of the job requirements.”

This is a phenomenon that anyone who has been involved in recruitment is familiar with. I had once placed an advertisement which specified that the candidate should have between 3 to 5 years relevant work experience. One female candidate (who I eventually hired) fell short by 3 months, but apologised for that in the cover letter and said she was applying only because she was extremely keen on the job. Almost all the men who applied had far less than 3 years experience (two were even fresh graduates), but didn’t feel the need to explain how other factors might mitigate the lack of experience. As someone who would never dream of applying for anything unless I qualified for it, I was quite surprised by the difference in behaviour between people of the two genders. It was only after understanding how Imposter Syndrome affects women more than men that I could put the experience in its proper context.

One possible reason why women, especially women in male dominated industries, suffer from Imposter Syndrome more than men could be that women are conditioned into believing that it is easier for them because of their gender. From a mythical ‘gender’ quota in management institutes and during placements, to faster promotions, women are told “It is easier for you because you are a girl”. Though none of it is true, it is repeated so often that many women start to believe that they owe more to “luck” than skill, and that they will soon be “found out”. This affects everything from applying for jobs, seeking challenging assignments and accepting a promotion in the existing job.

Imposter Syndrome particularly affects racial, caste, religious or gender minority groups, because there are fewer role models for them to emulate and therefore greater chances of feeling that they do not fit in.

How can one overcome Imposter Syndrome?

The first step in overcoming Imposter Syndrome is accepting that you suffer from it. You need to then take stock of your strengths and weaknesses, and see how they match up to the requirements of the job. You then need to remind yourself that are you good enough for what you are doing, and seek help from others if needed. A good mentor can play a very useful role in helping you recognise your expertise and in identifying the areas where you need to build up your skills. Sometimes, taking on a mentoring role also helps- you end up increasing your own confidence, when you help someone less experienced than you are.

I am glad that the Orange Flower Awards seek self-nomination. High achieving women often suffer from self-doubt, and this is a good way to remind us that we are good enough. My Imposter Syndrome certainly raised its ugly head and tried to convince me that I was inadequate. By filling up the self-nomination form, I have already won the biggest award- the battle with my own self-doubt.

It is time we started reminding ourselves that we are good enough. As the hockey legend Wayne Gretzky said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” Take the shot.

Are women in live-in relationships more vulnerable to violence?

 [First published in Women’s Web]

Trigger warning: This deals with graphic violence against women, domestic violence, murder, and may be triggering for survivors.

Barely three months after we heard about the gruesome murder of Shraddha Walker by her live-in partner, another very similar and equally gruesome incident came to light.

Sahil Gehlot and Nikki Yadav had been in a relationship for over four years. Hours after his engagement to another woman, the two of them had an argument, which ended with Sahil strangling Nikki to death. He then hid her body in the boot of a car and went through his wedding ceremony, before returning to move the body to a freezer. Unlike in the case of Shraddha, a neighbour noticed that Nikki was missing and alerted the police who were then able to track down the perpetrator. Around the same time as Nikki Yadav’s murder, a man Hardik Singh killed his live-in partner Megha Torvi, a 37 year old nurse. Hardik Singh then stuff her body into the bed cavity before escaping from the city.

Why is this happening more in live in relationships?
What could be the reason for this spike crimes by men in live-in relationships towards their female partners? Could it be that neighbours are more vigilant now and the crimes are getting reported early enough, or could it be that men in live-in relationships feel more entitled and that they can do this with impunity to women who are extra vulnerable, because their relationship is not a society sanctioned, legal one? It is most likely a combination of both factors.

In India, circumstances make live-in relationships inherently unstable and stacked against the women. There are several reasons for this.

Firstly, there is a mismatch in expectations in most live-in relationships
Women, in general, enter live-in relationships because they care about the relationship enough to invest in it. Though thoughts of marriage (or other long term commitment) may not be in the immediate horizon, they care enough about the person and the relationship to try to make it work.

This is often not the case with the men who do not seem to see the need to invest emotionally in the relationship. “Why pay for the cow when you can get milk for free” is an expression used by many entitled men to refer to live-in relations, especially the sexual aspect of a relationship. Though a very crude statement, going by the response to that post, it does seem to sum up the attitude of several men. In general, men do not seem to approach a live-in relationship with the same seriousness as women do.

Secondly, society judges women and men quite differently when it comes to live-in relationships
A woman is “marked” if she has been in a live-in relationship, and not only is she under a lot of pressure from her family to formalise the relationship, she knows that she will be subject to immense public scrutiny if the relationship breaks up. This is often a factor in her continuing to invest in the relationship even after she realises it may not be the best relationship for her. Often, she ends up pressurising her partner to formalise the relationship, which further destabilizes it. Men, on the other hand, are not subject to any such pressure.

In case the relationship breaks up, it is held against her, but men are not subject to any such pressure. In fact, even when they are in a relationship, they are often pressured by their family to get into a formal relationship with someone else. Often, families of the male partner hold the fact that the woman is in a live-in relationship against her, and therefore deem her unsuitable to be a wife.

Thirdly, live-in relationships are still not ‘accepted’ by society
Live in relationships haven’t got much social sanction. Neither have any norms developed around how the partners behave in such a relationship, nor are there formal support systems that partners can fall back on if the relationship fails. When the female partner wants to walk out of a relationship, the male partner might be affected emotionally, but he knows that it will not affect him socially in any way.

On the other hand, when the male partner wants to walk out, the female partner knows that it is something that will be held against her forever, so beyond the emotional trauma, there is also the societal reason why she is unwilling to let go. In such a case, the man might convince himself that the only way to “free” himself is by silencing her completely.

Lastly, by getting into a live-in relationship, a woman often ends up distancing herself from her family
This is especially so in case of inter-religious, inter-caste or inter-class relationships which are not acceptable to the family. By insisting on remaining in the relationship, she loses the support system of the family, and this makes her more vulnerable to abuse. If a woman chooses to keep her family in the dark about a relationship which she knows they will not approve of, she ends up putting a distance between herself and people who know her family, thereby leaving herself vulnerable.

What, then, is the solution?
While society tries to blame women for going against the wishes of their family and getting into live-in relationships, that is little more than needless victim blaming. The solution cannot be, as many suggest, that women should stay away from live-in relationships.

The solution is that society as a whole should start normalising live-in relationships. It should be possible for two people to live together, without the expectation that such a relationship will culminate in a wedding. We are gradually coming to accept that marriages last till “death or divorce do us part”. Similarly, as a society we should accept that a live-in relationship could continue as it is, could result in marriage, or could end with the couple breaking up, and that all three are equally acceptable outcomes of a live-in relationship.

Once the stigma of having been in a live-in relationship is removed, it will go a long way in helping women take better decisions on the future of a relationship.

Equally importantly, families should continue to stand by their daughters, even if they do not approve of a relationship. This is the case with live-in relationships, but also the case with any other relationship which society calls “unsuitable”. Not only is a woman more empowered to take decisions when she knows her family is with her, the male partner will also think twice before indulging in violence and abuse when he knows that his partner is not alone.

A couple might be in a live-in relationship out of choice (because they want to live with each other, but do not want to get married), or out of necessity (only heterosexual marriages are legally accepted, or out of other reasons (interfaith couples may fear getting married because the SMA potentially exposes them violence from the public at large). Whatever the reason, it is time live-in relationships were normalised.

Saturday, February 4, 2023

What is the Value of a Tree?

 [Also published in YouthKiAwaaz]

What is the value of a tree? The answer would depend on who you ask the question to. For a timber merchant, the value of the tree is the market price of the usable wood which can be cut into logs, beams and planks. For the owner of an orchard, the value of the tree is the present value of the fruits that the tree will bear in its useful life. For a coppersmith barbet, the banyan tree is its entire Universe- the tree is priceless.

Can we then assign a monetary value to a tree? Yes, we can, by using the concept of “Economic Value”. Economic value is the value that a person places on a good or service based on the benefit they derive from it- it is fundamentally different from the market value of the tree, but gives a more accurate assessment of the actual value that can be placed on the product. The economic values of a tree can, therefore, be calculated by assigning a monetary value to the benefits and services provided by the tree over its potential lifetime.

What are the services provided by a tree over its lifetime?

Trees absorb carbon dioxide and generate oxygen. Trees remove particulate matter from the atmosphere and absorb pollutants. Trees moderate extreme weather conditions like sun, heavy rain and strong winds. The roots of trees hold the soil in place and reduce soil erosion. Trees absorb and store rainwater, which reduces runoff and deposit of sediments in streams, and also helps recharge ground water. Trees provide food and shelter to various species of birds, reptiles, small mammals and insects, and help maintain biodiversity. Additionally, trees also provide spiritual peace and happiness. It is possible to put a market value on most of these services by estimating how much it would cost to seek similar service from other sources.

Containing global carbon emissions and thereby mitigating global warming is arguably the single most important issue the world is facing today. While the world can and must can seek alternate technologies that contain carbon emissions, there is, in George Monbiot’s words ‘a magic machine that sucks carbon out of the air builds itself up and costs very little’ . This magic machine is called a tree. The amount of carbon sequestered by the magic machine is directly proportional to its height and girth, and a market value can be assigned to the carbon sequestering function of the tree. Since trees, when felled, release the sequestered carbon back into the atmosphere, felling a tree negates this value completely.

Every high school student knows that trees produce oxygen and release it into the atmosphere through the process of photosynthesis. Trees also filter out particulate pollutants and gases like carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide, therefore improving air quality. This is of critical importance in a country like India where nearly 100% of the population breathes air of poor air quality. Particularly during winters, when AQI in many cities goes into the ‘hazardous’ range, we employ air filters to keep the air breathable. The cost of installing and running air filters can be a good approximation for the air cleansing functions performed by trees.

Trees control climate by moderating the effects of the sun, rain and wind. Leaves absorb and deflect sunlight from falling on built up surfaces, thereby reducing the creation of heat sinks and keeping it cool in summer. This reduces the need for air conditioning and a monetary value can be assigned to the reduction in use of air conditioners and other devices. Trees also preserve warmth by breaking the path of strong winds. Trees also reduce the force with which rain hits the soil. While both these are hard to quantify monetarily, a value can certainly be estimated.

The roots of trees go deep into the soil and hold the soil in place preventing run offs and decreasing soil erosion. The canopy of trees also intercepts raindrops before they hit the soil, thereby reducing soil compaction and improving the absorptive property of the soil. All this together reduces the probability of flooding and increases recharge of groundwater. With ground water levels going down in India, a monetary value can be assigned to the water saved.

While it is hard to put a monetary value on intangible benefits like increased happiness and maintaining biodiversity, the intangible benefits of both these cannot be ignored.

Trees, therefore, have a market value far in excess of the value of usable timber or the present value of the fruits they will bear during their productive life.

Has the value of a tree ever been calculated?

In 1979, Professor T M Das calculated the value of a tree by taking into account various environmental benefits and services over an active lifespan of 50 years. According to him, the intrinsic value of a tree was $1,96,250, calculated at the market rate that prevailed in 1979. This was further revised to $ 7,09,760 in 2011–12, which at today’s conversion rate will work out to Rs. 5,25,22,240 (5 crore and 25 lakh rupees).

Whenever a new infrastructure project is announced, very little attempt is made to design the project such that trees, particularly old and mature trees are preserved. This is largely because we have choose to look at trees as something that is standing in the way of ‘development’ and which can be easily felled or moved.

If, however, we start looking at each tree as an asset worth five crores, we will certainly find a way to bypass the tree while designing the project. Thousands of trees are felled or moved for each highway project. If a compensation of five crores was to be paid for each of the trees, would any of the projects remain viable?

In response to a query in the Rajya Sabha, the Union Ministry confirmed that over a period of three years (2020 to 2022), environmental clearance has been granted to a number of infrastructure projects which will result in 2.3 million trees being felled or moved. Today, trees are considered a hinderance to development, and are removed at will. If we recognise the true value of the tree, will we still fell them with such disdain?

In his book, ‘Askew- A Short Biography of Bangalore”, author TJS George writes of how when he set about building his dream capital in Bangalore in the 1530s, Kempegowda’s mother gave him just two instructions- “Keregalam kattu, marangalam nedu (Build lakes, plant trees)”. Even 500 years, she recognised the value of a tree. Unfortunately, we now seem to have forgotten that and have already started paying the price.

“When the last tree is cut down, the last fish eaten and the last stream poisoned, you will realise you cannot eat money.”

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Book Review: The Feminine Mystique

 I am surprised I didn’t read this book earlier, but I am also glad I finally read it. The second wave of feminism is one that I actively rejected, because of the negative press it got. For many like me, “I am not a feminist, I believe in equal rights” was a badge we wore with pride. After a lot of meandering and mistakes, I finally understood feminism, and why everyone should be a feminist. So now is perhaps a good time to read the book.

Sometimes when I look pictures from the 1940s, or read about some of the women of that generation, I find it hard to reconcile with the image of the pretty suburban housewife with her perfect waves (or buffoon) standing behind her wicket fence. This book demystifies it. And you realise just how insidious the ‘feminine mystique’ could really be. There is so direct parallel in India- we didn’t have a generation of women who got out of home, and then chose to move back in- but it should serve as a cautionary tale. Every woman should have something to do that occupies her brain completely- whether work or volunteering or the arts is not the point, it should be a full time engagement.

I have two minor gripes, neither of which really takes away from the book, because they are a function of today’s times. Firstly, the chapters are overlong and often repetitive. Yes, she has done an insane amount of work, but better editing would have made it far more accessible. Secondly, and more importantly, the book is only about the privileged white woman, but though it never pretends otherwise, it is not directly spelt out. Many women never have the choice to not work more than one minimum wage job while also keeping home as best as she can.

Apart from these two minor issues, where I disagreed quite virulently with her was on how she “blamed” homosexuality on over protective mothers. Yes, the book was written many decades ago when we didn’t know as much as we now do about homosexuality, but read from todays’ context, it was very jarring.

If you haven’t read the book yet, do. It is an important work in the feminist movement.


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