#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.

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.

Fixing the healthcare mess; Satyameva Jayate or showmanship?

Dear fellow Doctor; from your Facebook posts, emails to me and tweets, it is obvious to me that the Satyamev Jayate episode on corruption in healthcare worried you deeply. some of you were happy that such an exposé happened, but most of you were worried that there was over-dramatization and untruth in the presentation, and that this would lead to doctors loosing respect in the sights of their patients. As it is, India is known for its violence towards healthcare personnel, it is only fair that you feel that people would use this show as an excuse to attack more doctors.

I too, felt that many of the things Mr. Amir Khan said were unbelievable, some of them were clearly exaggerations and one-sided and I wondered about the truth behind the cases he presented.

But before we jump into another analysis of how Amir Khan got his medicine wrong, let’s look at a few other things.

Here is a list of some of the recent healthcare related scams and exposes that happened independent of Mr. Khan
  1. Senior Professors of prestigious institutions caught following orders from Pharma companies about drug safety reports to the DCGCI.
  2. AMRI, Kolkata hospital fire – revealed bad infrastructure, collusion of top doctors in hushing up things, lack of training and preparation in dealing with emergencies.
  3. Female infanticide – Millions of female babies are being aborted. A phenomenon Involving parents, Radiologists, Gynecologists.
  4. IMA protesting against nurses strike even as they support doctor’s strikes. This, in-spite of the horrendous working conditions and pay of nurses.
  5. MCI’s dissolution – It was so corrupt, that even a corrupt government had to agree.
  6. Surrogate mother industry - poor women being exploited, paid, but not as much as promised, not following international norms in number of pregnancies.
  7. Harvesting of ova- recent report shows how this is probably harming young girls without their knowledge.
  8. NRHM scam for which 22 doctors were suspended – INR6000 Crores is thought to have been stolen.
  9. Hysterectomy epidemic. – Need I explain?
  10. Illegal clinical trials and deaths from them.
  11. Reports of patients being affected from drug trials and not being compensated.
  12. The AYUSH report – No standardization, AYUSH doctors prescribing non AYUSH medication.

There are more, of course.

Let’s now look at the main points raised by Amir Khan in his program; not specific cases, because he is not a doctor and is not qualified to make judgment calls on treatments given to patients. Let us just look at the basic complaints patients had.

  • There is lack of communication between doctors and patients. They don’t feel like they are part of the decision-making process about their own disease.
  • There is a lot of bad handling of deaths, accidental deaths etc. News not being shared, defensiveness, etc.
  • Actions of many or some doctors is leading to a wide-spread distrust or doctors, more so because if you go to 2-3 doctors for the same problem, they often suggest different treatments
  • Issues with improper consent taking and explaining of need for surgeries and other procedures.
  • Lack of information about what a hospital is licensed to do, what training doctors have, and the fear that people without sufficient training are treating them.
  • Referral fees, cuts and other forms of bribes paid to doctors affecting medical judgment.
  • Money being a major deciding factor in issuing medical college licenses and other kinds of licensees.
  • Bad policing by medical bodies leading to un-checked unethical and bad medical practices.
  • Too much power held by private players who don’t care about medicine, just profit.
  • For the government, healthcare spending seems to be low priority.
  • Poor get differential treatment.

Is any of this fabricated or unreal?

They are real; you and I know this.

We are poor communicators, busy as hell, running between wards and OPD or from one clinic to other, often we just cannot find the time to sit down and explain things to each patient. There is also the problem that what we think is communication might not be what the patient wants, and our training does not really help or prepare us to communicate better.

All of you have heard stories, of patients being admitted into the ICU for what turned out to be gastritis, and probably seen patients who have had two cholecystectomies and appendixes removed from both sides of the body. This happens, a lot, and it is a frustration we all share.

How can we reconcile with the fact that an unknown, but very large part of healthcare practice in India has a less than ideal or even acceptable level of quality and that the system is designed not for the patient, but for the professional?

While we mull on that, here are some things he got wrong, in brief.

  1. Using branded expensive drugs and not cheap generics – Not all drugs have generics, not all generics are tested, and in many instances there is significant difference in quality. There is also the patient’s expectation to use standard medicines. Much as I hate them, I can trust the quality of medicine made by a large pharma company, how do I trust a generic?
  2. Healthcare as a business is not necessarily evil, and the solutions that were put forward, including making everything government run is simply out of touch with reality. Your neighborhood green grocer is a businessman; this does not mean he will sell you poisoned vegetables if it gives him better profits. Businesses can be run ethically, and markets have great power of self-regulation.
  3. Doctors have a right to livelihood. Just because we are doctors, to expect sacrificial living is ridiculous. If indeed, as Amir Khan suggests, we are the smartest of the lot, then we deserve proportionate incomes.
  4. Doctors control only a part of the healthcare system; costs of drugs are for most parts out of our control, as are institutional costs. Blaming doctors for high cost of drugs comes from not understanding the basics.
  5. Doctors have an exalted position, but this kind of a mess could not have been created without collusion and involvement of regulators, businesses, government, other members of the medical team, and the market. Blaming just us is myopic.
  6. “Most doctors in India need to get their licenses revoked” is an unforgivably careless and unsubstantiated claim. While I don’t want an apology from him, Mr. Khan should know that it only displays his ignorance.
  7. “Will not see a doctor in India” What about Devi Shetty? Again, a very careless thing to say, but hey, it’s his choice. There are people who don’t want to vaccinate their kids, some people even say this on TV, but that is their choice, their life.

Back to the show.

Most of the reactions against the show hinged on one of the cases discussed in which there was ambiguity about the process. In this clamor to prove that Amir Khan got his medicine wrong, we forgot and ignored the other stuff, the stuff that I listed above.

Dr. R Srivatsan, Senior Fellow at Anveshi Research Centre for Women’s Studies wrote this in an email when this episode came out:

I think when a critique is mounted against you, it is important to look close and hard at yourself and the community you belong to. Where there is smoke, there is bound to be a fire you don’t want!  Most often people don’t have the time to bother to criticize you — except when you cause a great deal of pain.  Criticism is an opportunity, a possible door to transform a process — it has to be nurtured, not snuffed out with hurt defensiveness.

Could we benefit from such a show? Can we use this time to weed out or at least distance ourselves from those whose practices all of us find distasteful?

Doctors are at a particular advantage here; it doesn’t matter how famous Amir khan is, it doesn’t matter how widely his message reaches, people still need doctors. Maybe we can use this as an opportunity to make things better.

Let’s agree to this:

  1. People who were on the show are real people; I think it is safe to assume that they were speaking their truth. Even if one of them was not, there were others who were. They don’t need to speak untruth because there is no lack of bad diagnoses being handed out. We need to live with the fact that there are unscrupulous doctors, and we all know people who fit the bill.  Protesting this fact is only helping them.
  2. Amir Khan is an actor.  He runs a reality TV show. He is not a scientist, has no background in public administration, and the show is not a journal nor a scientific exposition. There will be things wrong with the show. He will get facts wrong. Have you met people who spend their Sunday morning reading out the Journal of Industrial Biochemistry to their families? Didn’t think so. Facts are often boring, Mr. Khan will try to make them attractive and sometimes, the real face will get buried under the make-up.
  3. No silly excuses. Some of you made what is possibly the silliest of excuses, ever. “Everybody is doing it, why target Doctors?” SILLY. I’m going to let you figure out why.

We work long hours, the pay isn’t amazing, the system is corrupt, without cutbacks and the pharma parties, life would be tough. We want that to change, we want to practice great medicine and have a life.  We want pays that are proportionate to our effort and attainment, we would like to be respected and acknowledged for the good work we do.

How is cursing Amir Khan helping us achieve any of that? What will help? I think we know some of the answers, not all of them. What are they? Lets talk.

Blogger and friend Vidyut Kale gets a take-down notice for exposing corruption

Update: Legal voices on Twitter have pointed out that the legal notice that Vidyut received is stupid, as Vidyut is the author, not an intermediary, and the IT bill applies only to intermediaries. This means, that she does not have to take down her content, but the lawyers can make her ISP block her website if she does not, yes, without a court hearing. In short, the IT bill is evil, but has not legally been used against her yet. It has been used, but it was a stupid, uninformed illegal use.

A blogger and dear friend Vidyut Kale had written a post about the raid on the Belvedere yacht party, where she also exposed a history of financial misdoings by Lt Col (retd) Gautam Dutta. She has received a take down notice for her article being defamatory. The IT Rules are so arbitrary that she has no chance to defend herself against the takedown, because no explanation or even verification of the premise of the take down notice being correct is required. Anyone getting the takedown notice is legally required to take their content down within 36 hours or they lose protections as intermediaries.

While she is also the author, her position as the owner of the blog makes her vulnerable to these threats if her blog is to survive. She has no experience of fighting court cases, and can’t afford a lawyer, while the persons sending her the notice have a large law firm at their command. It is not defamation if her content is provable through RTI documents, but to prove it, she will have to violate the IT Rules, lose protection and fight several years in court – to save a post that exposes corruption in sailing on technicalities lawyers can exploit for people with the money to throw, while bloggers can be victimized out of any serious truth seeking by the simple virtue of not having enough money.

She is the same blogger that blogged to draw attention to the Keenan and Reuben murders when mainstream media had reported the story and let it go. Her efforts led to large-scale media attention that helped the poor families get attention to their case and prevent the killers from going scot-free. This can be verified by searching for Keenan and Reuben, and her blog – aamjanata.com is one of the top results. Two posts she did compiling news coverage was extensively refered to by others covering the case. She raised questions that were important to not be ignored.

She has also reported on and followed the case of Naina Singh’s dowry death, where the police were refusing to file an FIR. She created a group of people to support Naina’s mother as well as found local lawyers (Delhi) who would help her approach courts to get directions for filing an FIR. The FIR was filed five months after Naina Singh’s death.

She has blogged extensively on issues of national interest, freedom of speech and human rights.

In reporting stories from the RTI documents related to sailing scams she was again covering an area that is not big enough for mainstream media, but an important leak of money as well as integrity for the country. Not to mention the illegal practices around sailing making it a security risk through norms of “looking the other way”.

VIdyut, who is a housewife and has little income is at serious risk of being attacked by a team of seasoned lawyers with money to burn. for daring expose corrupt practices. This is a very concerning sign for freedom of speech and whistle blowing in our country. Any media attention highlighting her situation and precarious situation of smaller content producers in India like bloggers, independent artists, cartoonists, etc and the role played by the IT Rules will go a long way in protecting their rights and drawing attention to their victimization.

MP P Rajeeve is moving a motion in the Rajya Sabha for the IT Rules to be annulled for being unconstitutional, but without appropriate attention, it may not happen or may be too late for many like her.

I have known Vidyut now for some two years, initially drawn to the fire in her writings and tweets, and then getting to know her as a dear and dependable friend. It saddens me that the IT bill is striking so close to home, and I hope sincerely for Vidyut’s sake and for the sake of the freedom of expression in general that the IT bill gets annulled and this case gets the treatment it deserves.

Imagine if you had to tear down your house just because your neighbour alleged that it was irritating him. Yes, it is that bad, no court needs to convict Vidyut for her to take down the content, and if the lawyer is not satisfied by that, her blog. All it takes is to register a case and send a notice to her ISP.

Thanks to helpful lawyers we know now that the IT bill’s invocation against Vidyut was an error or a threat tactic by Mr. Gupta’s Lawyers, but the sword of the IT bill still hangs on her head, if she does not comply with the notice, they can easily get the ISP to block her site, no case nothing needed. I hope, of course that this does not happen, and at lease one of the swords hanging over her head is removed by the end of the day today.

Spread this message –  email it to your friends, post it on Facebook,  the IT bill needs to go, and if it doesnt, our freedom will.

Anand Philip

The cinema situation : A symposium on the struggle for a genuine approach

The success formula- Shyam Benegal on Hindi Cinema and the challenges of New cinema

The cinema situation : A symposium on the struggle for a genuine approach

In 1977 there was a symposium examining “THE CINEMA SITUATION”. The symposium was attended by some greats of Indian Cinema like Mani Kaul,  Kumar Shahani, Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Shyam Benegal etc.

I discovered a quote from Shyam Benegal’s essay on tumblr via Dhrupad and was hooked. I discovered that the quote was from a longer essay on the formulaic nature of Hindi cinema and the problems new cinema was facing and some solutions. I have a 1400 word long excerpt from that essay, which you can read in full at the above link. But before we jump into Shyam Benegal and his lovely essay, here is the symposium’s topic defined.

The problem

India’s film industry has manufactured and peddled over many decades a distinctly unique commodity to a wide and unsuspecting audience. Based primarily on fantasy, it has mocked at every value in a richly diverse culture. Mock heroism, mock sex, mock dancing,mock singing, mock religion, mock revolution — the lot. In its end product, it has shown the degree of degradation to which a transparently synthetic approach can lead. Its influence on society has been startling — in dress, styles of living, methods of working and,most shatteringly, in the dreams and aspirations of a deprived people. The bizarre world of the screen is the world to reach for. Unfortunately, this commodity faced no challenge of any stature until the arrival of the new Bengali film under Satyajit Ray. His Pather Panchali showed that films could be made with little finance, and no stars, and with integrity. Since then, there has been a gentle struggling, a push here, an upsurge there, a raising of more authentic voices, the slow birth of an indigenous cinema. But, it is beset with problems. Finance, distribution and, infinitely more serious, that of communicating in a medium which is not mock fantasy any more. For, the audience has come to regard the film as synonymous with a particular breed of song, dance, vulgarity, burlesque, violence, crudity, escape, often under the mush of misleading progressive situations — rich man poor girl, rigid father growing son, erring husband devoted wife, etc. Is it ready, even in small measure, to receive a new experience from a familiar medium? If not, then how can the struggling new cinema survive and break through an obvious initial rejection.

The success formula Shyam Benegal

The success formula by Shyam bengal

THE Hindi film business ,in India consists largely of working out the equations to make commercially successful films and then to work out a strategy of publicity and distribution to fake in the largest profits possible—a vast, speculative activity that begins with formulating and analysing the success of any one or more films running at any given time in terms of what makes them tick, which usually means the right mix of ‘ingredients’ such as stars, songs, and music, the plot innovations and a generous helping of what are known as production values such as enormously expensive sets and property, lavish public relations’ devices like parties replete with cabaret items in five star hotel suites.

There are storywriters who will produce on call’ several plot lines lifted from successful films, mainly from Bombay and Hollywood as well as from popular western writers like James Hadley Chase to produce a biryani of a film all ready to be hogged by the film-going public for 50 weeks or more in cinemas all over the country. There is a huge demand for well-known stars to act in these films and for music directors to turn out their lilting songs, and for dancers to give new, sexy turns to’ their cabaret items.

The directors who direct them are recipients of paeans of praise for their originality. The producers are the happiest with their success and end up signing up more and bigger stars for their next ventures as distributors willingly take even greater risks by committing larger sums of money for each territory. The pattern of business points to an industry that is happily and profitably stewing in its own juice.

There are several kinds of success formulae. Each one is specifically categorised, such as social drama (meaning poor boy/rich girl or vice versa), family drama (lost child, suffering widow, large doses of amnesia), action movie (good man-turned-bad dacoit-turned-good man), historical (now not much in vogue) or mythological (generous helpings of sex relating to gods and goddesses). In each category, the need is for the biggest star or stars. If you can afford it, you would have all of them together. The music director is chosen according to the size of his contribution to the latest hit songs (do I hear a resemblance between his tunes and the top-of-the-pop in London?). Similarly, the ace writers. Writers, of course, do not really write. They sit in posh hotel suites and narrate scenes for the next day’s shooting.

It is an expensive and serious business. Very expensive. And films flop. Despite or, perhaps, because of this, the Indian film industry ticks. Flop is a relative term. Very few films are known to fail altogether. The only thing that might happen to a film is that it may recover its cost over a longer period of time

Shyam Bengal in his Office

Shyam Benegal 2010

The serious problems that beset the industry are the highly inflated rates paid to the marquee names in the film—the stars, the music directors and, recently, the music directors. There are stars who sign up for as many as 50 films at a time. Logically, it would take him or her about ten years or more of work every day to complete so many films, but they are signed up nevertheless. Similarly with music directors. The chances are that a lot of money spent on such films will prove to be irrecoverable because the films are not likely to see the light of day. And whatever is spent in signing up to start the film will be lost forever. This constitutes an enormous waste. Then,again, there is the matter of dates.

It costs a lot of money to set up a shooting schedule. In this situation, if a star cannot give dates the entire expense in mounting the schedule is lost. The stars themselves under these conditions tend to develop an inflated sense of their own importance. They feel
no obligation to keep to their schedules, nor do they feel the slightest compunction to break appointments—a bit like successful politicians. They appear to follow no normal set of rules.

Again, there is a reason for this behavior. Most producers have no money to begin with. They trade on the names of stars, music directors and writers to raise money. The stars are generally very insecure, never sure that any of their films ar going to be completed. They cannot possibly take the risk of signing just one of two films. if the films do not get off the ground and get stuck mid way they are out of jobs. Nothing is worse than an actor without a job.

The distributors who market films have defined their films as those meant: (a) for the masses, (b) for the classes, (c) art films that will attract no audiences. The films that are likely to be the biggest successes are the ones made for the ‘masses’. They could be defined as films that are utterly naive in their story content, with non-existent character development and two dimensional emotional and intellectual attitudes.

Films that will fetch the highest price are the ones that have the largest number of stars, a storyline replete with what are now essentials — thrills and chills, rape scenes, dance numbers and cabarets, choreographed fights and comedy. (There are specialists who are known as ‘thrill masters’ apart from ‘fight masters’ and ‘dance master’. Soon one expects there will be ‘rape masters’) Brilliant colours and sharp cutting is a must.

…….xxx…………

He goes on to talk about the costs incurred by producers in a typical film and establishes the reason why the films are shot they way they are.  Then he moves on into the need for a sustaining structure for alternate cinema

…….xxx……..

If we are serious about developing an alternate cinema, the FFC would have to develop a distribution circuit that is able to compete for audiences with the regular so called commercial films. In addition to this the cost liability for the production would have to be borne

Censorship

A more insidious development in films has been caused by outside factors. Paternalistic and straight-laced censorship has made film producers increasingly irresponsible. As we all know, authority of a certain kind often creates an irresponsible attitude in those who are under it—they expect to be corrected rather than correct themselves. This has become so acute, that many films only attempt to push in directions in which the censor board is likely to be heavy-handed, only to check out how far they can go. Often, the only innovation in a film comes in the techniques to project ‘soft’ pornography or violence that would catch the censors napping. This has led to the making of films which encourage ugly social attitudes, particularly between men and women. They are done with such crudity that one wonders whether those who see such films come unscathed out of them.

As is well known that with cinema, particularly when it happens to be the only entertainment medium, life starts to imitate film. We have only to look at those parts of the country where film is the only entertainment, medium to see that this is true. The way boys regard girls, the way they dress themselves, the kind of music they enjoy most, the speech they use—and with the new-rich—the kind of interiors they have, replicas of film sets.

Yet. with all this, a different kind of film also runs. Audiences will see films that reflect social realities. All that it requires is the kind of distribution which the commercial industry provides. The movement has already started. What is needed is the infra-structure that will make it self-generating.

Indian film or, more particularly, the Hindi film, from its very origin has developed its formats’ from the existing theatrical forms. The songs, The dances, the main plot and its comic parody, have all been absorbed by the cinema. If the alternate cinema has to grow, it cannot ignore these factors^ An extension of these forms is needed rather than unfamiliar ones and a far truer depiction of social realities. Only then will it be able to seriously compete for audiences. Short of this, the new cinema will be guilty of producing films for the sake of a small cineaste elite