#MisogynyAlert: some notes

“Not because #MisogynyAlert is a bad idea. But because it is the brand of feminism that applies on oppressors the same tactics they’ve been applying on women all these years. I’m not sorry to say, that’s not my feminism”.  — #MisogynyAlert by Tharkuri

Ranjani, who blogs at https://feministwords.wordpress.com, critiques the #MisogynyAlert hashtag and it’s execution on twitter. Reading her article [linked above]  will help make what I’ve written below make sense.

Kiran Manral’s Why we need #misogynyalert on Tehelka blogs is a great introduction to the idea.

Personally, I think it is too early to write off the project. I think it is a great idea, but needs definition,  and some sketching of what it wishes to accomplish, and how.

One of the most painful things to watch is people getting bombarded by misogynists, who tend to stick together very well, and not get any support from the larger community. I think a hash-tag is a brilliant idea for getting people to rally together. It has the potential to get people to become more vocal against misogyny, as well as ward off targeting of activists and others by misogynists.

Here are a few things to consider.

  1. What is our approach? Do we want to scare ”them” off or just let them know that misogyny is not ok, or is it something else? Is ridicule of their belief ok? What about swearing at them? Where do we draw the line?
  2. Who are “they”? Does everyone with regressive beliefs about women need flagging, or is it just those who constantly badger others with their beliefs? Should bigger fish with less obvious misogynist beliefs be tackled or is this essentially an anti-harassment hashtag? 
  3. Is there a component of bringing change in “the other” in this? Agreed that some misogynists  are not going to change their views, ever, but does group-flagging them discourage them from examining their views? I say this because I have in the past, and am sure even now, held misogynist beliefs, and the way I changed was being challenged, but in a way that lead me to think, without being ridiculed or making me defensive. The few years i have spent in healthcare challenging people’s beliefs about health, have convinced me that everybody can change their views, if approached correctly. tl;dr – How does this affect the misogynist? What effect do we want?

I am looking forward to hearing from the people behind the idea, and I hope the thoughts above will be taken at face value, because this definitely isn’t a critique of people and their actions.

Note: The reason I am using the possessive pronoun “we” in-spite of having had nothing to do with the seeding of the idea or execution, is that unless users take ownership, social projects never really become social. I am a feminist, and I believe in supporting those who are targeted/bullied, ergo, we.

How sexism hurt me

As a boy, I was taught that  because I was a boy, all I needed to succeed in life was to show up and be smart. Hard work was for the girls. I was taught, by actions and words that men are just smart, and that’s why they rule, and women are stupid and therefore they have to work hard.

I was taught that if I just paid a little attention in class and did my home work most of the time, studied two months before exams, I would always do well.

This cost me a lot. It precipitated my first major depressive episode, and fueled my many failures in academia and personal life. What I believed was true of studies, I internalized to believe to be true of everything else.

I believed that everything from relationships to becoming a good guitar player was about being smart, and clearly I was smart, and any failure in anything I did was because I was not smart enough.

It took me a decade of continuous failure to realize, just a few years back that the problem was not with smartness, but with the absolute lack in effort (not so smart after all, eh?).

Decades of being lied to. This was my punishment for being born male.

But hell with that.

Here’s the deal boys and men. The ONLY way you will get ahead in life is if you put in the donkey hours of work. Hard, repetitive, tough work. The kind your class topper,who was most probably a girl, did. BTW, she wasn’t dumb and making up for it by working hard- she was as brilliant, and moved ahead because all her life she was told she was stupid and that the only way she would achieve anything was by working hard.

Everything, from happiness in life to academic achievement is a result of effort. Not genetic bounty, not chance.

You’ve been lied to. Make this right.

Our basic nature

“It is one of my fundamental beliefs that not only do we inherently posses the potential for compassion but I believe  that the basic or underlying nature of human beings is gentleness. —[Tenzin Gyatso the 14th Dalai Lama]

For most of my life, I have held that man is essentially a base, angry, hurtful animal. Gentleness and kindness are acquired through civilization and practice, and if given a chance every person would do the thing that benefits them the most, even if it hurts others.

The online conversation in India has recently become rape-focused. Triggered by the Delhi gang rape, what was a tsunami of outrage is now a stream that is here to stay. Almost universal in the portrayal of rapists is the use of terminology that indicates that men who rape are reverting to their “real” nature. Forget what this says about men, what does it say about humans in general?

Yet, we do not have difficulty in believing this. This drives us to propose the harshest possible penalties on rapists, and insist that the basis for a rape-free society would be harsher punishments, and longer sentences. I’m even hearing suggestions that minors who commit sexual crimes should be treated as adults.

I would have discarded the Dalai Lama’s belief as religious wishful thinking if not for the evidence he presented. He asks why, if we are evil, does evil hurt?

If we are by nature evil, why does it hurt us so much? Why does good have physical as well as psychological benefits?

Not all “good” behavior has proven benefits, other than feeling good. But many do, and from violence to resentment, there is research to suggest that negative emotions and “bad” behavior can lead to physical effects.

It’s a good question, isn’t it?

Note: I’ve been re-reading “The art of happiness” a book that looks at Buddhist teachings about happiness in life from the point of view of a modern psychiatrist. The author, Howard Cutler is a  psychiatrist who follows His Holiness the Dalai Lama around for years, and catalogs the dialogues he had on topics ranging from romantic love to the nature of suffering. The book is very well written, easy to read and for any dysthymic/depressed person, a must-have. The quote above is from the book.

Petition to ban archaic/unscientific procedures during medical examination for sexual assault

Posting an email sent  by Sana [CEHAT]

Greetings from CEHAT!

As you must be certainly aware, the ‘Delhi Gang Rape Case’ has drawn some attention to the role of health systems in responding to sexual assault and rape. In this light, some of us – CEHAT, Human Rights Watch, and academics from JNU – have drafted a statement on behalf of medical professionals, highlighting some of these problems, and calling for reform in the manner in which sexual assault survivors are responded to by the health system. We hope that it will put pressure on the government to change the way in which they are approaching health responses to sexual violence in the country.

For more information on why the practices mentioned in the petition are
problematic, please refer to:

  1. FAQs on the role of health systems in responding to sexual assault
  2. WHO technical opinion

Please do have a look and endorse if you agree, and also circulate it to any other doctors, medical students or other health professionals you might be in touch with.

Please send in your endorsement in the following format:


to   cehatmumbai@gmail.com with the subject ‘PETITION’. The last date is 19th January.

Medical professionals demand the ban of archaic/unscientific procedures during medical examination for sexual assault

Move from evidence to care!

We, the undersigned medical professionals  , would like to voice our  strong protest at the continued use of the unscientific and inhuman “finger test”, the undue focus on hymenal status, and the overemphasis on genital injuries in cases of rape of women and girls in India. These procedures are still part of the current proformas being used in public hospitals in India and are contrary to the guidelines for medico-legal care of for victims of sexual violence issued by the WHO 2003.

When caring for victims of sexual violence, the overriding priority must always be the health and welfare of the patient.  The provision of medico-legal services thus assumes secondary importance to that of general health care services (i.e. the treatment of injuries, assessment and management of pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections).  Performing a forensic examination without addressing the primary health care needs of patients is negligent . As the WHO recommends, concern for the welfare of  the patient extends to ensuring that patients are able to maintain their dignity after an assault that will have caused them to feel humiliated and degraded.

Although the finger test and related procedures are outdated and have been officially removed, this has not translated into changes in the medico-legal practice . The evidence act also has been amended and clearly states that survivor’s character/past sexual history is not be commented upon.[1] Many doctors, police officials, defense lawyers, and judges use findings about the “laxity” of the vagina, the “elasticity” of the hymen, or “old tears” in the hymen to wrongly conclude that a girl or woman is “habituated to sex This practice should be banned with immediate effect, and all questions that allow such findings to be recorded should be removed from all medical protocols for the examination of victims of rape and sexual assault.

The finger test is legally irrelevant , as the Supreme Court  ruling in 2003 has ruled that finger test results cannot be used against a rape survivor, and that a survivor’s past sexual history is immaterial to the issue of consent at trial .

The finger test and comments on old tear of the hymen have no forensic value , as it predicated on the assumption that an unbroken hymen is evidence that no rape took place. Actually, the hymen is a flexible membrane that only partly covers the vaginal opening. Conversely, a hymen  may have an “old tear” for many reasons unrelated to sex, so examining it provides no evidence for drawing conclusions about “habituation to sexual intercourse”. In fact, only one-third survivors may report any injury. In  any case, whether or not a woman has had any previous sexual experience has no relevance to the issue of content.

The finger test is inhuman and degrading, itself amounts to  sexual assault.  Most doctors and hospitals tend to seek blanket consent for the medical examination. Therefore rape survivors have little information about the actual medical procedure involved.

In addition to the banning of the finger test, there is also an urgent need for a collective proscription on comments on the hymenal status and position as well as on the degree of tears and the overemphasis on evidence collection at the cost of provision of care.  Many countries have operationalised the WHO guidelines of 2003 and made changes in their practice. In India, the results of these methods are routinely used by defense counsel and relied upon by judges in rape trials to unscientifically determine a rape survivor as “habituated to sexual intercourse”.

We also reiterate the dual role that medical professionals should play in their response to sexual assault as health care providers and those who assist in medical evidence collection.  As the WHO guidelines on medico-legal care of victims of sexual assault says, the therapeutic care for rape survivors should be the “overriding” priority when doctors respond. We are concerned that many hospitals and doctors in India do not provide adequate therapeutic care, including access to emergency contraceptives, prophylactic medications, counselling, and information about HIV and other sexually transmittable diseases lack of such care can lead to aggravated health consequences for the survivor
This practice cannot be eradicated until the central government intervenes  and issues a uniform gender sensitive protocol that is made applicable across India, with adequate resources to train and monitor the use of this protocol.

We demand that the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs together with the  Indian Ministry of Health and Family Welfare should:

  1. Ban the finger test and all its variants from all forensic examinations of female survivors, as this are unscientific, inhuman, and degrading practice
    1. Develop and institute in consultation with Indian women’s, children’s, and health rights advocates, doctors, and lawyers, a protocol for the therapeutic treatment and gender-sensitive examination of survivors of sexual violence  , such as those has already used in Mumbai public hospitals and endorsed by several health professionals.
    2. The protocol must comply with the standards and ethics issued by the World Health Organization, including the right to provide or refuse informed consent for medical treatment and examination.
    3. The protocol should emphasis on the need to seek the history of the incident in order to collect only relevant medical evidence  ,  correlate findings with the nature of sexual assault reported, record delay in reporting, and note other activities such as bathing, douching, urinating after the sexual assault that result in loss of body evidence.
    4. The protocol should exclude the following information: size of the vaginal introitus/hymenal opening/number of fingers admitted by the opening; comments on old tears of the hymen; comment on habituation to sexual intercourse; irrelevant obstetric history (such as history of past abortions); findings on women’s built, nutrition, weight and height
    5. The protocol should include clear directions for provision of Emergency Contraception, HIV/STI prophylaxis, treatment for immediate injuries, psycho social support to the survivors and her family, and follow up care  .
  2. Devise special guidelines for the examination of child survivors  of sexual abuse to minimize invasive procedures.  Ensure that any test is only carried out with the fully informed consent of the child, to the extent that is possible, and the informed consent of the child’s parent or guardian, where appropriate.
  3. Instruct doctors not to comment on whether they believe any girl or woman is “habituated to sexual intercourse”.
  4. Instruct all senior police officials to ensure that police requisition letters for forensic examinations do not ask doctors to comment  on whether a rape survivor is “habituated to sexual intercourse .” and/or whether rape has taken place or not
  5. Communicate to trial and appellate court judges that finger test  results and medical opinions about whether a survivor is “habituated to sexual intercourse” are unscientific, degrading, and legally irrelevant, and should not be presented in court proceedings related to sexual offences.
  6. Update all medical jurisprudence textbooks to specifically  exclude the finger test and its variants. Ban the use of medical textbooks that rely on the “finger test” and its variants by defense counsel to badger and humiliate the survivors of rape, sexual assault and child sexual  abuse.  Currently, forensic textbooks prescribe the finger tests and provide details on types of hymen. In their advice on how doctors should make observations in cases of alleged rape, there is a regrettable continuing overemphasis on injuries. Some textbooks teach students that “a health woman cannot be raped’, ‘working class women are muscular and so can offer resistance”, ‘if sexual intercourse is forced, then injuries must be present’, etc.
  7. Introduce a mandatory special curriculum on the dignified  treatment and examination of sexual assault survivors as part of medical education.

Not silence but Verse: Call for poetry against Violence

It’s violence against women (VAW) awareness month, and Prajnya  is calling you to submit poetry

Send us original, powerful, evocative poems in English, Hindi or Tamil
(Haikus or Tankas only!)
on the theme
‘No Violence, No Silence’

Last date for submissions: 10 November 2012

Email us: prajnya.16days@gmail.com

(Download the .pdf version of the call here.)


So, all you poets, write!

Tag at source

Back in the day when pirating music was a big thing, and having large mp3 collections was considered to be geeky, I too had an impressive 40 GB collection. Remember, when I say “back in the day” I am talking about the time when internet was all dial-up and the fastest broadband available to us was 128kbps.

40GB of mp3s is more than you can listen to in a lifetime, and knowing this did not stop me from acquiring this, and much much more. Not all these were downloaded from the net, I, personally preferred ripping cds that friends and relatives and neighbors had. Now, as you can imagine, organizing these MP3s was a bitch. The regular mp3-pirate was expected to know what tools to use and how to keep the library organized. So we used tools like music brain picard, tagmp3, mediamonky and (my favorite) foobar2000. These lovely tools, used correctly would ensure that our mp3s were tagged, categorized and organized in the folder structure of our choice.

But all these tools were useless if you did not follow the golden rule: Tag at source. Once there was a few GBs of untagged stuff on your hard drive, it was next to impossible to make sense of it. And every pirate knew this, that if you dont tag at source, you are going to end up with useless music and since the biggest hard-drives you have was 80GB, that was a lot of dead space.

Funny thing, this rule- expanded as “Sort at source” works for a whole lot of stuff. The ebooks you download, your clothes that need folding/sorting, and generally any task that is recurrent and piles up.

Do it as close to source as possible.

Impossible Choices

“Do the right thing” you were taught as a child, and strive to do so as an adult. But what they didn’t teach you as a child is about impossible choices. Situations that not only have no right choice, but just by their existence change everything.

Life loves playing the “heads I win, tails you lose” game with us.

Next time you are faced with a choice which will mess you up irrespective of whichever way you chose, remember this; impossible choices are life’s way of telling you you are not in control.

What do you do when faced with one of these choices? No idea, so far, i’ve been fucked over by every one of these. I guess you pick up the pieces, learn to be happy where you are and be prepared for the next time.


“What happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object?”

A young priest fresh out of seminary once asked me, when he learned that I was a fan of philosophy and other arcane things. I remember the delight on his face, watching me struggle to come up with an answer. He did not give me one. This is a famous paradox also known as the omnipotence paradox.

Much later, I learned that the correct answer is- such a meeting is not possible, because, by definition, if there is an irresistible force, there cannot be an immovable object. This is a rule in logic.

Life doesn’t give a rats ass about the above rule.

You will face things that simply should not exist, but do. Good things and bad. Forces, events, emotions, people that cannot possibly be, but are. Life’s like that.


All of us have non-negotiables. 11 years ago, fresh out of home, when I went to college, my religious beliefs were non-negotiable.

“There is one God eternally existent in three persons, the Bible is His word and The Brethren ( my church) understand it best”

In a year, the last part eroded away. Then the others did too. After a decade , a bare-bones, qualified version of the original statement of faith persists.

The evidence based practice of modern scientific medicine was the non-negotiable then. No way I was going to be a quack.

Then I started practicing medicine and realized that there was much my training was completely useless for.

Some time along the way, I also picked up a love for the free market economic system. And then, that changed too.

Today, some of my old non-negotiables are back, most are new.

Honesty is not always the best policy, but family always comes first. The definition of family has changed, though.

Here’s what I’m saying: If you are doing it right, you will chip away, brutally, at all the things you were taught or believe are the most important things in your life, and then constantly refine the remaining list.

Most of your non-negotiables are negotiable.

The glorious battle

J oswald chambers zen pencil we were made for the valley

Adapted from the lovely zen pencils cartoon linked below.

Remember that part in the new karate kid movie when Jackie Chan makes Will Smith’s son put on and take off his jacket again and again and again and in the end  it all makes sense because he was teaching him the greater lessons about kung fu? And how in the end he uses this knowledge to win that big amazing glorious event?

Here’s the thing; most of us- we’ll never have that final glorious battle.

We just get to take the jacket off, put it on again, and agin and again till we “get” it. Because character and life and all that grown up stuff is not about how you do in the last glorious battle, it’s about how you do now, today, tomorrow and the day after that, even when there is no glorious battle right at the end.

Inspired by this brilliant-as-ever Zen Pencils comic:Made for the valley