being brown

Posts tagged “Police

Will Peter go back?

The rather amazing turn of events in international politics serves as a reminder that even if you are saturated with ideas of revolution and political upheaval, so much so you suddenly yearn for stability when there’s been nothing but simply because you have been thinking about it for ever and you are exhausted, it’s still a need, a romantic one, but inevitable never the less. It also tells you that people are more like you than not, something that comes as a surprise because everybody you meet thinks you are crazy. Just shows, it is not that the world is small but YOUR world is small.

The secession of South Sudan is one that has me interested. Sudan has had its share of trouble. Obviously, I am slightly more clued into her Darfur angst than her South Sudan angst, the former having received lots more international deliberation than the latter. Here’s what I knew about South Sudan

  1. There’s been unrest for quite some time now.
  2. it’s been bloody
  3. South Sudan has all the oil
  4. South Sudan has the Christians while Khartoum has the Muslims

Peter told me these things. I haven’t verified them. But I took them to be one version of the reality as seen by a South Sudan student refugee.  Peter was in the students’ hostel I was staying at in Oslo during my 6 month student stint there. I had chosen this one particularly because it was cheaper than the rest. I soon realized that cheap meant a whole lot of fellow immigrant students and refugees as housemates. In fact, the area where I stayed was full of black and brown people of all kinds of nationalities with Pakistani and Indian store owners.

My very first friend was Moufid, an Iraqi who took me under his wing immediately and introduced me to the rest of my housemates. That’s how I first met Peter. He was studying tourism Oslo University. Both Moufid and Peter new better Norwegian than English. I suppose that helped them survive better. Also, the Norwegian government invested in giving their refugee population free language lessons. Apparently, they also taught their refugees how to cook and clean so that they can live independently. That’s what Peter told me as he gave me some channadal cooked like Indian dal with no spices and only salt. We ate that with some bread. And he told me how when he came to Norway, he didn’t know the first thing about cooking. Customarily, his mom and sisters cooked.

Peter had been here for more than 10 years now and had become well adjusted to the Norwegian independent way of life. He had made good friends. Some of his family was also here. He couldn’t go back any time in the near future, he said, because there was an arrest warrant for him in South Sudan. He had participated in anti-establishment activities at home. His eyes welled up when he said he missed home.

It’s been more than three years since I saw Peter last. I wonder if with all that Norwegianising that he has been through, he will ever come back to South Sudan for anything longer than a short term visit. Now that this is a new country, will he take on the difficult task of building the nation? Has the nation lost its refugees forever?


Unknown wars in unknown places

One of the strongest images I have of Egypt (other than the museum and the pyramids and the Valley of the Kings) is the overwhelming presence of the Egyptian police. In white pants and white shirt like Indian naval officers (the only difference was that the shirt was not tucked in but was held by a black belt), these well built, hawk eyed, men were everywhere. On the streets, in the museum, at the railway station, at the pyramids, in the Valley of Kings – everywhere!

We were waiting for a train at Cairo station. The train was to take us to Aswan (where Agatha Christie stayed as she wrote Murder on the Nile). At Aswan we were to board a cruise that sailed on the Nile all the way to Luxor. We had arrived at the platform slightly early, which meant that we had to wait and entertain ourselves as best we could. The station was like any railway station in India (less crowded, of course). A whole lot of people were waiting about for trains; some families, some individuals, no individual women though. The platform was dirty and there were quite a few stalls selling snacks and other knick-knacks. In fact, we felt quite at home.

My father asked one of the policemen about our train and he said it should come in sometime but there were two trains due before ours. Did I mention there were police men to the tune of one for every 100 metres at the platform? In fact the station was so well secure, the car that carried us to the station was stopped for security check and our driver had to tell them who the car belonged to, who we were, where we came from and where we were going. As a family, we look pretty harmless so after a cursory glance at our faces we were allowed to pass.

My sister and I decided to take a walk down the length of the platform seeing that we had quite a bit of time on our hands, to do with as we please. As we walked the length, we realized that a lot of the men that had gathered at the station were in military uniform. With their large rucksacks and their huge metal boots, they looked ready to jump into war. Back at ‘campsite’ (where mum and dad were standing with the luggage), I asked if Egypt was in some kind of war. Mmy father answered in the best way he knew (read longest way). Apparently, Egypt had had/has forced conscription of males in the military until sometime ago. Not sure if the practice continues now and definitely not sure if it will continue after the revolution. Now, forced conscription is one of the things that interest me immensely. The reasons would make for another blog post that I would save for another day.

One of the primary things that interests me about forced conscription is the individual’s own perception of this kind of conscription. And as I watched the young men, some alone, some with their families waiting for a train, the writer in me was building for each one, a story. Sitting atop our luggage, I removed my camera meaning to store this poetic picture for ever. I did not focus on anything in particular but wanted to catch the length of the platform with atleast some of these men with their romantic baggage. And as I held out my camera, I heard my father saying that its against the law to take pictures in public places like the railway station. But I had already clicked and as I clicked, I saw the severe expression of the policeman in the screen of the digital camera staring right at me. He slowly moved forward a couple of steps, raised one arm and shook his finger from side to side, scowling all the time. I meekly put the camera back in the bag and realized that being a girl just saved me some uncomfortable moments. That and the fact that mum, dad and sis exude a certain respectability that the policemen read as ‘good people’. Moreover, my father looked ready to give me up to the policeman, if need be.

Well, in a rather anti-climactic turn of events, the already full military train arrived and the platform turned in to this long film strip of goodbye scenes. As men packed into it like sardines in a tin, Egypt’s military strength left for unknown wars in unknown places for an establishment they may or may not have loved.


The Journalist Menace Just got Worse

(Curiously, this isnt about the Raadia tapes or the Wikileaks.)

Nothing, I repeat, nothing spoils my day more than a crappy piece of journalism. And to read one in the newspapers, early in the morning after my walk is even worse. This morning, after my beautiful jog in the park that made me feel on top of the world yet again, I was confronted with this article in the Bangalore Mirror. The Eunuch Menace Just got Worse. The picture was much larger and the elephantine headline seemed to jump of the paper and have a life of its own. Needlesstosay, my day went downhill after that.

The article was about how a cop, a constable, was attacked by two transvestites/ transsexuals and how the police, who were incensed by this travesty were looking for these ‘eunuchs’ in the ‘eunuch’ part of the city.

I come from Bombay, and we have our share of impoverished transsexuals who accost people at traffic signals. Once, one of them spat at me because I did not give her money. But, I have seen them often when not working/begging. I have seen them at the door of the local train, talking loudly about the price of something or the other, gossiping about ‘that one’ and ‘this one’, much like the other women in that compartment and the men in the compartment next door. They beg for a living because society has made it next to impossible for them to live a dignified life. Remember, society is also the one that says that to give charity to transsexuals and to get their blessings is akin to being blessed by god. With such circumstances, the blame for the ‘menace of eunuchs’ can hardly be laid at the door of the eunuchs.

And yet there are those hijras who have come out of the vicious cycle of humiliation, poverty and violence. I am reminded, instantly, of that Tamil show host Rose. She hosts this talk show called Ippadikku Rose and has a dignified and open attitude towards many social issues. And then there is that hijra who was elected as the mayor of a city in Madhya Pradesh. These are wonderful success stories where transsexuals/ transvestites have come to their own despite all odds. And for each of these success stories, there are atleast a hundred more that are constantly trying and hoping.

To title an article “ The eunuch menace just got worse’ and to go on and report one instance of attack is criminal insensitivity of the highest order and shoddy journalism at the least. If two men were to attack me, abuse me and steal from me, I would hardly expect the Bangalore Mirror to write an article entitled “The Menace of Men Just got Worse”.

Halfway through the article, the author says, “As a cop, he has been trained to deal with anti-social elements, but the attack by the eunuchs came as a shocker.” There is an obvious lack of alertness and preparation by the cop. Understandable, he was going home after a long day and did not expect anything untoward to happen. But one wonders why the ‘attack by the eunuchs came as a shocker’. Would he have been better able to deal with an attack from men/women? Would it have come as less of a shocker?

The writer continues, “Humiliated at one of their colleagues from the state police headquarters falling prey to eunuchs, the Kamakshipalya cops launched a major search operation to track down the offenders.” Why this sudden humiliation at being attacked by eunuchs? What is it about attacks by men that doesn’t hurt people’s pride. Irrespective of who attacks whom, the police should be humiliated for not bringing attackers to book. Unfortunately, the inability to do ones job doesn’t elicit emotions like humiliation.

Further in the article, it is said “Police inspector N H Ramchandraiah said: “I dispatched a few teams in search of the two hijras. They were sent to Magadi Road and in other areas of Basveshwaranagar where most hijras stay. We are still clueless but hope to nab them soon.” One can only imagine what is going on in these places now. Innocent hijras are probably being rounded up beaten and searched at this moment. Talk about humiliation!

Transvestites/ transsexuals are subjected to humiliation at every step of the way. With greater activism on the sexual minority rights front, one hopes that time will change this aspect of their life.  But this highly insensitive article only goes to show that this time is stretching to the horizon.