I’ve recently been using Google Maps street view for the mundane purpose of scouting out property locations. Thankfully, there are people out there with far more imagination than me who have built The Secret Door, a lovely little project that makes use of street view to transport you anywhere, instantly. Virtually, anyway. Click below to try.
The Secret Door is presented by Safestyle UK
(Hawk-eyed observers will note that this is a clever piece of marketing for…a doors and windows company.)
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: Technology
When an app becomes your wingman…
Following on from my previous post discussing the rape of a young medical student in Delhi, and the realities of living in India, I’ve been doing a little more reading. This is an articulate, perceptive piece from Indian academic Randana Das on the LSE blog on India’s problematic attitudes towards women and sex.
So, where does the rot lie? Indeed, it lies woven into our long standing encounters with the roles ascribed to ‘decency’ and shame, corruption, legal systems in need of reform, our persistent encounters with right-wing persecution of minorities and a long litany of other such.
It is time for sex, sexual touching, in/appropriateness of conduct and protection to be discussed in the living room. It is time to look very closely (and swiftly) into our preventive measures (we have few) against sexual crimes.
To comprehend how a young woman cannot board a bus in Delhi without fearing for her safety, it is worth getting to grips with the day-to-day realities of living in India’s capital. As she has not been named, I use the Bengali word sikara to refer to the victim. She was raped in Southwest Delhi, an area where I briefly lived in 2009 and have visited almost annually since childhood.
Crime and class
One unhappy idea to emerge from the debate around the crime comes from Arundhati Roy. Namely that the sikara’s middle-class status is what has fuelled media and public outrage against rape. Unfortunately this is probably true, given that no other rape in Delhi has been given this level of coverage, despite the fact that a woman is raped every 14 hours in the capital. Probably more, in fact, since those statistics stem from officialdom, and not all rapes will go reported as Liberal Conspiracy points out.
Though it may not seem apparent at first, India’s attitude towards class is as important to this story as its attitudes towards women.
With a map and some context, it is worth noting that the sikara was attacked in one of the wealthiest parts of Delhi.
The blue pin shows Munirka, the area of Delhi where the sikara, a young medical student, boarded the bus where she would be raped. About seven minutes’ drive away is RK Puram, shown by the pink pin, where I lived in my grandparents’ house for three months in 2009. Taking a charter bus – not a public bus - west for the sub-city of Darka, the sikara’s route would have taken her past the end of my road.
This area of Delhi is not a slum. Southwest Delhi is one of the wealthier areas in the capital, in part due to its government accommodation now being sold off to the super-rich anxious for proximity to the city’s few green spots. It is perhaps one of the reasons why the crime drew this level of media attention in India. If you think these incidents are uncommon in India more widely, a quick scan of Google will tell you otherwise.
Life in Delhi
Shanti Niketan, the area of RK Puram in which I lived and which the charter bus would have driven through, is mostly occupied by steel, rubber and sugar magnates. One of them had even funded a children’s playground at the end of the street. To the Western eye, the area is nothing special, sitting as it does on the increasingly busy Rao Tula Ram Marg highway. Compared to the rest of Delhi, however, it’s basically Chelsea.
My grandparents’ house was one of the few remaining government houses in Shanti Niketan, with the rest sold off and demolished either by the aforementioned magnates, or builders looking to capitalise on the growing demand for property in Delhi. It consisted of a front bungalow, a larger back bungalow, a garden and the servants’ quarters. Tenants occupied the front house, I was in the back. The drive was fronted by a large, red gate, which was sometimes guarded – not unusual in an area occupied by diplomats.
Although I had come to Delhi to explore the capital and travel onwards into Rajasthan, it transpired that I was rarely allowed outside that red gate, and never unaccompanied by a servant.
With the Indian media usually coy on class and existence of servants, it is hard for me to say whether servants are finally becoming obsolete in modern India. I assume not, given my family has no family friends in India who do not have servants.
In my case, we employed two regular household servants. Bharathi, the cook, and Nalin, the driver. To both, it was unthinkable I should ever venture outside the house without either one of them. They cooked whatever I asked for, made my bed, and brought me my tea. It wasn’t a dynamic I was particularly comfortable with, but it is a dynamic that upholds much of the current class structure in India.
Autonomy in Delhi
Delhi is not an easy city for ramblers, with dust paths for pavements and human and bovine faeces littered about the place. Ostensibly for this reason, I was never permitted out of the house on foot, and was instead driven anywhere I wanted to go by Nalin, under the instructions of my parents (who were 5,000 miles away).
I took the opportunity to escape whenever I could, much to Nalin’s consternation. It was only after a long lecture over the phone that my mother managed to impress on me, if not quite the actual danger of the city, her fears of said dangers, imagined or otherwise. “It isn’t you I don’t trust,” she would say. “It’s all the other goondas.”
In short, I spent many months in Delhi holed up in a dark, crumbling house, permitted out only with a chaperon and – in stark contrast to London – never just to ramble. Do women in India get to just…wander about without purpose? I certainly never did. Driven by the desperation in my eyes one morning, Nalin walked me to the end of our road in Shanti Niketan to the children’s playground built by one of our industrialist neighbours. It was the only spot of green within walking distance, and once I had exhausted its circumference, Nalin asked me in perplexed Bengali why I wanted to go and just…walk about.
Nalin’s fear was justified in constant, subtle ways every time I visited India, despite its surface layer of modernity. The women-only carriage on the brand new Delhi metro. The male catcalls at any woman who revealed a shoulder, or legs. And there was my own half-forgotten assault, which took place ten years earlier.
India’s endemic rape culture
Maybe it’s strange that I was insistent on roaming Delhi alone, given that I’ve been subjected to sexual harassment. Perhaps my mind’s just glossed over it. My experience is not comparable to the sikara’s, but like many sikaras in India, I failed to report the incident to the police. Nor did I tell my parents.
I was 14 at the time, on holiday in Goa with my parents and maternal grandparents. We had taken a boat for the day from Baina beach to a nearby islet known locally as Bat Island. My parents and grandparents went off to explore the rockier side of the island with one of the boat crew; I was left by the shore to go snorkelling with a local instructor. At no point were my family more than 1km away from me, if that. Having come directly from Baina, I was in nothing more than a swimming costume and life jacket.
I struggle with the details beyond this. I don’t remember the instructor’s name, or his face, or where on earth I would have put my glasses.
I have a dim recollection of swimming out with a snorkel mask, guided by the instructor alongside me. It was a long, slow moment before I realised he was gripping, rather than guiding me, by the arm and holding me fast in the water. Another before I realised where his other hand was. Even then, I hadn’t particularly grasped what was going on. Everything seemed infinitely slow, before I began to thrash. After about a minute, he let go.
I feel that I got off lightly. It has taken me a long time to realise what might have happened. Nothing has dawned more slowly, or more awfully. Such is the strength of my acceptance that this is simply how India is.
Perhaps this is why I initially avoided reading about the sikara‘s story. I managed to avoid it for about a week after it first broke. Something in me baulks at UK media coverage of India at the best of times, perhaps it’s a difficulty with watching your peers coldly analyse something so close.
To help me fill out some of the geographical details of this post (like where, exactly, the sikara’s bus stop actually was), I skimmed UK and Indian media coverage of events. I know – of course I know – that news reporting necessitates a flat, unemotional tone. But at best, UK coverage sounds bystanderish. At its worst, it seems to have brought forth the nation’s most irritating neuroses about its relationship with India. If anyone can point me towards any sensible commentary, please link it in the comments. This emotive piece from Tavleen Singh, who also lives in Southwest Delhi, is worth a read.
Flat coverage and a strange aversion to detail (it took me hours of searching to establish the whereabouts of said bus stop) made it difficult for me to build up a picture of events in my mind. Which exact cinema did the sikara visit? What was she watching, and who, exactly, was her male companion? What of his fate? But in the flat, newsy blandness, there are some details that stick in my mind with startling clarity. The sikara‘s youth. How she was raped for almost an hour. A metal pole.
For all the calls for a policy/legislative overhaul, I don’t see the culture changing any time soon. Despite being born and brought up in the UK, where I take liberal values for granted, it is a considerable mental effort to imagine an India where I could wander without a servant escort. This is a country where sikaras who look to the police for help are often raped for a second time from the police themselves. Where a rich man who, on the slightest suspicion his servants have stolen from him, can order the police to beat them up. And where millions of sikaras have been ignored over the years, simply because they are from a lower class, or caste.
Filed under: Internet
A surprisingly profound piece on being banned from accessing the internet, from former Anonymous hacker Jake Davis*. I found it a thoughtful articulation of the mindset of the generation that wasn’t quite born with internet access from day one, and still appreciates the offline experience.
*On Davis’ arrest, I said (quite thoughtlessly) that he looked like Neo. Apparently this became a thing.
I don’t normally discuss films here, but it’s pleasing to see the debate around online pornography move away from scientific theories and speculative headlines to thoughtful considerations of its real-life impact.
Shame follows Michael Fassbender (sometimes we follow a little too much of him) playing a lonely sex addict in Manhatten, unable to form romantic connections and getting off on his impersonal encounters with prostitutes and porn. In an interview with Salon, Shame’s director Steve McQueen says the film is firmly rooted in the dilemmas of 2011:
We’re making a film about now. It’s not a costume drama, it’s not something that happened 40 or 50 years ago. It’s about now, and for me — I don’t care what anyone says — I think cinema has a responsibility. You’ve got HBO and AMC doing whatever they’re doing, but cinema has another way of doing things, which can actually be closer to how we live today than any nine-part series on television. Absolutely. We can do that, and people are interested in seeing that and having a conversation about it.
What happens when you make a film about now is that it does have an aspect of social commentary because it’s urgent, there’s an immediacy about it. Particularly about the Internet, about pornography on the Internet, and about how that affects us, how we navigate this maze of sexual content that’s all about us.
When I came out of the cinema, my immediate thought was to wonder what several young male friends of mine would think if they watched Shame, given their attachment to online porn. Simply put (and this is simplifying hugely), Fassbender’s sex addiction and the ready availability of porn and prostitutes essentially destroy his ability to relate to women in the context of a relationship. Sex is shown without tenderness, and when offered the opportunity of a meaningful connection, Fassbender’s character can’t get it up. Instead, he gets off on a series of rough, brief encounters, some of which directly recreate scenes from pornography.
I wouldn’t like to give you the impression that online porn is the main focus of the film – it actually plays a relatively small role. McQueen weaves it into the fabric of daily existence, perhaps as the average porn viewer does, and it is this which is so clever. Much of the initial porn debate focussed on how graphic content – readily available online and less easily regulated than paid-for porn – might encourage rape. Many studies concluded that porn was “harmless” in this respect, which is probably true, but few stats focus on the impact on everyday relationships – something McQueen attempts to address. This prescient piece in the Guardian from 2003 is a good companion piece to Shame on the relationship of sex addiction and porn. ”Pornography does damage,” says one psychologist, “because it encourages people to make their home in shallow relationships.” It’s a subject where it’s all too easy to get all Daily Mail and prudish. Light viewing it is not, but Shame is a thought-provoking, subtle and overdue look at the cause and effect of sex addiction in the online age.
An experiment with Storify, showing quite an interesting little spat between Labour peer John Prescott and the Sun over this credit card story. Unusually (perhaps even for the first time), the Twitter exchange directly led Prescott to refer the paper to the PCC.