G C Lichtenberg: “It is as if our languages were confounded: when we want a thought, they bring us a word; when we ask for a word, they give us a dash; and when we expect a dash, there comes a piece of bawdy.”

Shel Silverstein : “Talked my head off Worked my tail off Cried my eyes out Walked my feet off Sang my heart out So you see, There’s really not much left of me.” ~

Martin Amis: “Gogol is funny, Tolstoy in his merciless clarity is funny, and Dostoyevsky, funnily enough, is very funny indeed; moreover, the final generation of Russian literature, before it was destroyed by Lenin and Stalin, remained emphatically comic — Bunin, Bely, Bulgakov, Zamyatin. The novel is comic because life is comic (until the inevitable tragedy of the fifth act);...”

Werner Herzog: “We are surrounded by worn-out, banal, useless and exhausted images, limping and dragging themselves behind the rest of our cultural evolution.”

John Gray: "Unlike Schopenhauer, who lamented the human lot, Leopardi believed that the best response to life is laughter. What fascinated Schopenhauer, along with many later writers, was Leopardi’s insistence that illusion is necessary to human happiness."

Justin E.H. Smith: “One should of course take seriously serious efforts to improve society. But when these efforts fail, in whole or in part, it is only humor that offers redemption. So far, human expectations have always been strained, and have always come, give or take a bit, to nothing. In this respect reality itself has the form of a joke, and humor the force of truth.”

विलास सारंग: "… . . 1000 नंतर ज्या प्रकारची संस्कृती रुढ झाली , त्यामध्ये साधारणत्व विश्वात्मकता हे गुण प्राय: लुप्त झाले...आपली संस्कृती अकाली विश्वात्मक साधारणतेला मुकली आहे."

Friday, December 28, 2007

Where is Suttee in the Barchart?

This post is in memory of graceful Ms. Benazir Bhutto.

I hope her death will marginalise extremists in Pakistan the way Mahatma Gandhi's death marginalised Hindu extremists in India for 40 years.


Cherie Blair has brought up the subject of widows and “suttee — a widow burning herself alive on her husband’s funeral pyre” in The Mourning After : NYT December 18, 2007.

“…The centuries-old practice of suttee — a widow burning herself alive on her husband’s funeral pyre — has all but vanished. But the few cases of self-immolation that do occur are a reminder of how bleak the future is for many widows…

…In rural areas of Nepal and India, widows may still be expected to shave their heads, sleep on the floor and hide from men for the rest of their lives.

In Afghanistan, where two million women have lost their husbands in decades of fighting, widows are prevented from working and have no way to provide for their children. In Tanzania, among other countries, the legal system makes it difficult for widows to inherit their husband’s property...

…In India alone, there are estimated to be some 30 million widows struggling to bring up children. Across the developing world, there may be as many as 100 million in a perilous state. Conflict, ethnic cleansing and AIDS are increasing these numbers by the day and creating younger widows. In countries where disease or conflict are most rife, half of all women can be impoverished widows…”

Suttee in New York Times in 2007?

Not surprising.

This year Times of India published two reports on the subject of suttee in July 2007:

“The entire community will be held accountable for any incidence of sati under new amendments being brought into the Commission of Sati (Prevention) Act, 1987, which were cleared by a Group of Ministers on Friday.

The proposed changes seek to make the law act as a strong deterrent to the crime while protecting unwilling women who are forced into the funeral pyre. Under the amendments, proposed by the ministry for women and child development (WCD), the act of coercing a woman to commit sati has been made a non-bailable offence. Imprisonment under the law has been increased to a minimum of three years, going up to 10 years, and the fine has been enhanced from Rs 10,000 to Rs 50,000…”

And

“Devils among us- The latest amendment to the commission of Sati Prevention Act proves, yet again, that social evils are very difficult to eradicate.”

Frontline January 4, 2008 said: "There has been an escalation of all forms of violence against women in India in the past two decades...The violence against women takes many forms. They are killed in the womb; they are traded for sex and labour...Domestic and marital abuse is made more possible when women have fewer options for escape out of such oppressive relationships because of lack of assets or economic security in the form of gainful occupations... " (See barchart at the end of this post)

Suttee is just another form of violence against women. Indeed, it was.

“…particularly in Bengal, suttee was sordid and cruel…in nine cases out of ten, the woman in Bengal went to the flames in fear and horror…she was usually tied to the corpse, often already putrid; men stood by with poles to push her back in case the bonds should burn through and victim, scorched and maimed, should struggle free…”

(Source- The Men Who Ruled India by Philip Mason, 1953)

Have you read anything more barbaric than the above in entire human history?

But it was glorified in our culture quite a lot.

Vinayak Janardan Kirtane विनायक जनार्दन कीर्तने wrote a book “Elder Madhavrao’s Death थोरले माधवराव यांचा मृत्यु “ in 1861. It was staged in 1862. It was the first independent, literary and published Marathi play.

It had a scene of Madhavrao’s wife Ramabai रमाबाई going suttee on his funeral pyre.

A woman going suttee was considered almost a goddess. To create publicity stunt, theatre company who was staging the play started bringing few ladies from the audience on to the stage to worship Ramabai.

Soon the scene became so popular that it alone would last for a couple of hours! People forgot that the actor who was playing Ramabai was a male – Vishnu Vatave विष्णु वाटवे! They took home suttee’s prashad (like flowers, wheat/rice grains, vermillion/ turmeric etc.) from the stage!

(btw- This may sound familiar to those who know Hindi film "Jai Santoshi Maa" (1975) which used to convert cinema halls into temples.)

(Source- D G Godse द ग गोडसे, “नांगी असलेले फुलपाखरू Stinger Possessing Butterfly” 1989)

I wonder what Lord William Bentinck (1774-1839), who was responsible for banning the practice of suttee सती in 1829, would have made of this? After all he was the first Governor-General who was prepared to take the risk of provoking a general cry of religion in danger.

Even sensible and rational writer Vasudev Krishna Bhave वासुदेव कृष्ण भावे seemingly justified suttee in his classic "Maharashtra During Peshwa-times पेशवेकालीन महाराष्ट्र"(1936).

Not all widows landed up on funeral pyre.

They fought all odds to play significant roles in India's recent history upto 1829:

Jijabai (Shivaji's mother), Radhabai Bhat (wife/mother of Peshwa), Gopikabai Bhat (wife/mother of Peshwa), Ahilyabai Holkar, Kittur Rani Chennamma ...

Artist: James Thurber The New Yorker 12 February 1949


Causes of Death among rural women aged 15-44 in Maharashtra, 1996

6 comments:

Chetan said...

I first read suttee as suttee (holiday) in the headline and thought it would be a fun piece. It however turned out to be a very sombre read.

I am not surprised however by Bhave's justification. Over the years I have met many otherwise rational people justifying casteism 'rationally.'

That bit about the suttee scene in Kirtane's play was very interesting. I don't know whether it deserves condemnation though. Not just because of the time period of the play (man being a product of his times and such like) but also because I did rather that fantasies of people be played out in an art form than in real life. As unfortunate as it is, I did rather see people worship a suttee on stage than in real life. In a society where something is banned and the society has not caught up with the sensibilities of the law makers, I think such outlets for projection of fantasies can prove to be a positive thing. An imperfect analogy might be the fact that researchers have seen decline in rapes since pornography has become mainstream.

Regarding the Frontline observation about statistics pointing towards escalation of violence against women, I think it has to do with the fact that due to increased education levels and changing sensibilities, violence against women is being reported more than it was in the previous years. For instance, earlier wife beating might have not drawn any ire and would have been considered 'normal' whereas now it will be increasingly frowned upon by the society and the victim may feel comfortable reporting it since there is no longer a fear of societal ostracisation owing to such reporting. The same may be the case with rapes. Today there is greater understanding that the rape victim 'didn't ask for it.' I am saying this not to undermine the fact that violence against women in prevalent in our society but to underscore the fact that such increase in statistic might be a welcome change as it might be a catalyst to reducing such violence because of the approbation it draws.

As a silver lining I like to take heart inSteven Pinker feels is the most optimistic trend of our times: decline in violence. (Do read that entire thread. It offers some interesting insights.)

In 16th century Paris, a popular form of entertainment was cat-burning, in which a cat was hoisted on a stage and was slowly lowered into a fire. According to the historian Norman Davies, "the spectators, including kings and queens, shrieked with laughter as the animals, howling with pain, were singed, roasted, and finally carbonized."

As horrific as present-day events are, such sadism would be unthinkable today in most of the world. This is just one example of the most important and under appreciated trend in the history of our species: the decline of violence. Cruelty as popular entertainment, human sacrifice to indulge superstition, slavery as a labor-saving device, genocide for convenience, torture and mutilation as routine forms of punishment, execution for trivial crimes and misdemeanors, assassination as a means of political succession, pogroms as an outlet for frustration, and homicide as the major means of conflict resolution—all were unexceptionable features of life for most of human history. Yet today they are statistically rare in the West, less common elsewhere than they used to be, and widely condemned when they do occur.

Most people, sickened by the headlines and the bloody history of the twentieth century, find this claim incredible. Yet as far as I know, every systematic attempt to document the prevalence of violence over centuries and millennia (and, for that matter, the past fifty years), particularly in the West, has shown that the overall trend is downward (though of course with many zigzags). The most thorough is James Payne’s The History of Force; other studies include Lawrence Keeley’s War Before Civilization, Martin Daly & Margo Wilson’s Homicide, Donald Horowitz’s The Deadly Ethnic Riot, Robert Wright’s Nonzero, Peter Singer’s The Expanding Circle, Stephen Leblanc’s Constant Battles, and surveys of the ethnographic and archeological record by Bruce Knauft and Philip Walker.

Anyone who doubts this by pointing to residues of force in America (capital punishment in Texas, Abu Ghraib, sex slavery in immigrant groups, and so on) misses two key points. One is that statistically, the prevalence of these practices is almost certainly a tiny fraction of what it was in centuries past. The other is that these practices are, to varying degrees, hidden, illegal, condemned, or at the very least (as in the case of capital punishment) intensely controversial. In the past, they were no big deal. Even the mass murders of the twentieth century in Europe, China, and the Soviet Union probably killed a smaller proportion of the population than a typical hunter-gatherer feud or biblical conquest. The world’s population has exploded, and wars and killings are scrutinized and documented, so we are more aware of violence, even when it may be statistically less extensive.

What went right? No one knows, possibly because we have been asking the wrong question—"Why is there war?" instead of “Why is there peace?" There have been some suggestions, all unproven. Perhaps the gradual perfecting of a democratic Leviathan—"a common power to keep [men] in awe"—has removed the incentive to do it to them before they do it to us. Payne suggests that it’s because for many people, life has become longer and less awful—when pain, tragedy, and early death are expected features of one’s own life, one feels fewer compunctions about inflicting them on others. Wright points to technologies that enhance networks of reciprocity and trade, which make other people more valuable alive than dead. Singer attributes it to the inexorable logic of the golden rule: the more one knows and thinks, the harder it is to privilege one’s own interests over those of other sentient beings. Perhaps this is amplified by cosmopolitanism, in which history, journalism, memoir, and realistic fiction make the inner lives of other people, and the contingent nature of one’s own station, more palpable—the feeling that "there but for fortune go I."

My optimism lies in the hope that the decline of force over the centuries is a real phenomenon, that is the product of systematic forces that will continue to operate, and that we can identify those forces and perhaps concentrate and bottle them.

aniruddha g. kulkarni said...

Chetan,

Many thanks. Rarely I have learnt from a single mail as much as I learnt from yours.

Today couldn't have been funny. I am disturbed by Benazir's death. It's very ironic the post is about violence against women.

I didn't like her politics the way I didn't of Indira Gandhi and Rajeev Gandhi. But all three of them made me cry in the end. All my mothers!

Yes, we indeed are products of our time but some things are eternal.

I am particularly ashamed of the way we treated women and the Dalits after the great Buddha had walked upon our earth.

Yes, violence may have declined -surely compared to the most violent 20th century-but we should ask how does it level against the enlightenment we claim.

mangesh said...

I read each of your post and the comments, especially by Chetan, with interest. I don't feel that I have wasted a single moment. However I strongly recommend you to write such blog in Marathi for the people who love Marathi also.It's my request, since most of your topics in the blogs have been emerged from Marathi literature.
Mangesh Nabar

mangesh said...

Some more thoughts on umtimely death of Benezir Bhutto. No doubt her as well as Pakistan's policies towards India, are meaningless. They have all along kept a hatred about Hindu India, I repeat Hindu India.It's their base and without which they just can't live! So, they will go on that path. Vinaasha kaale vipareet buddhee.
Mangesh Nabar

Nikheel Shaligram said...

Even those of us sharply critical of Benazir Bhutto’s behaviour and policies - both while she was in office and more recently - are stunned and angered by her death. Indignation and fear stalk the country once again.
An odd coexistence of military despotism and anarchy created the conditions leading to her assassination in Rawalpindi yesterday. In the past, military rule was designed to preserve order - and did so for a few years. No longer. Today it creates disorder and promotes lawlessness. How else can one explain the sacking of the chief justice and eight other judges of the country’s supreme court for attempting to hold the government’s intelligence agencies and the police accountable to courts of law? Their replacements lack the backbone to do anything, let alone conduct a proper inquest into the misdeeds of the agencies to uncover the truth behind the carefully organised killing of a major political leader.
How can Pakistan today be anything but a conflagration of despair? It is assumed that the killers were jihadi fanatics. This may well be true, but were they acting on their own?
Benazir, according to those close to her, had been tempted to boycott the fake elections, but she lacked the political courage to defy Washington. She had plenty of physical courage, and refused to be cowed by threats from local opponents. She had been addressing an election rally in Liaquat Bagh. This is a popular space named after the country’s first prime minister, Liaquat Ali Khan, who was killed by an assassin in 1953. The killer, Said Akbar, was immediately shot dead on the orders of a police officer involved in the plot. Not far from here, there once stood a colonial structure where nationalists were imprisoned. This was Rawalpindi jail. It was here that Benazir’s father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, was hanged in April 1979. The military tyrant responsible for his judicial murder made sure the site of the tragedy was destroyed as well.
Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s death poisoned relations between his Pakistan People’s party and the army. Party activists, particularly in the province of Sind, were brutally tortured, humiliated and, sometimes, disappeared or killed.
Pakistan’s turbulent history, a result of continuous military rule and unpopular global alliances, confronts the ruling elite now with serious choices. They appear to have no positive aims. The overwhelming majority of the country disapproves of the government’s foreign policy. They are angered by its lack of a serious domestic policy except for further enriching a callous and greedy elite that includes a swollen, parasitic military. Now they watch helplessly as politicians are shot dead in front of them.
Benazir had survived the bomb blast yesterday but was felled by bullets fired at her car. The assassins, mindful of their failure in Karachi a month ago, had taken out a double insurance this time. They wanted her dead. It is impossible for even a rigged election to take place now. It will have to be postponed, and the military high command is no doubt contemplating another dose of army rule if the situation gets worse, which could easily happen.
What has happened is a multilayered tragedy. It’s a tragedy for a country on a road to more disasters. Torrents and foaming cataracts lie ahead. And it is a personal tragedy. The house of Bhutto has lost another member. Father, two sons and now a daughter have all died unnatural deaths.
I first met Benazir at her father’s house in Karachi when she was a fun-loving teenager, and later at Oxford. She was not a natural politician and had always wanted to be a diplomat, but history and personal tragedy pushed in the other direction. Her father’s death transformed her. She had become a new person, determined to take on the military dictator of that time. She had moved to a tiny flat in London, where we would endlessly discuss the future of the country. She would agree that land reforms, mass education programmes, a health service and an independent foreign policy were positive constructive aims and crucial if the country was to be saved from the vultures in and out of uniform. Her constituency was the poor, and she was proud of the fact.
She changed again after becoming prime minister. In the early days, we would argue and in response to my numerous complaints - all she would say was that the world had changed. She couldn’t be on the “wrong side” of history. And so, like many others, she made her peace with Washington. It was this that finally led to the deal with Musharraf and her return home after more than a decade in exile. On a number of occasions she told me that she did not fear death. It was one of the dangers of playing politics in Pakistan.
It is difficult to imagine any good coming out of this tragedy, but there is one possibility. Pakistan desperately needs a political party that can speak for the social needs of a bulk of the people. The People’s party founded by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was built by the activists of the only popular mass movement the country has known: students, peasants and workers who fought for three months in 1968-69 to topple the country’s first military dictator. They saw it as their party, and that feeling persists in some parts of the country to this day, despite everything.
Benazir’s horrific death should give her colleagues pause for reflection. To be dependent on a person or a family may be necessary at certain times, but it is a structural weakness, not a strength for a political organisation. The People’s party needs to be refounded as a modern and democratic organisation, open to honest debate and discussion, defending social and human rights, uniting the many disparate groups and individuals in Pakistan desperate for any halfway decent alternative, and coming forward with concrete proposals to stabilise occupied and war-torn Afghanistan. This can and should be done. The Bhutto family should not be asked for any more sacrifices.

aniruddha g. kulkarni said...

Mangesh,

I will try Mangesh.

But I have always believed WHAT you think & act are more important than HOW you express them (Read Ramdas's quote on the right.)

I even envisage a bilingual newspaper. So why not blog.

This blog now gets hits from Pakistan, Europe, US and many other countries. So for the time being I intend to keep primary language as English with dosage of Marathi whenever necessary.

Also, as I explained earlier, I wish to take great writers who wrote only in Marathi to the world. They deserve more recognition by younger generation. That is my life's mission.