Over the past two weeks, I was in the US doing some concerts, including a sellout at Carnegie Hall that I’m very proud of. I boarded the plane back to Delhi on a real high from the successful shows and also the joys of having been there for Obama’s inauguration. But then, on the flight home to India, I read the papers and found out about the attacks in Mangalore and the subsequent move to ban women from pubs, and I found myself spiralling from a place of joy into utter despair.
It’s baffling to even try to argue with a mindset so bereft of logic. How is attacking women done in the name of their protection? What gives anyone the ability to morally police a section of society and go against their fundamental, human rights?
And which tradition, exactly, is it they want to rewind to? Do we take all of today’s “culture” with us as we move backwards, or is it only women and their freedoms they want to change? Perhaps it would be traditional enough if I abandoned the blouse British rule imposed on me, and walked around India bare-breasted? What if I were to share myself simultaneously between five husbands, like one of the most respected women in our mythology? Would this make me a paradigm of feminine virtue and Indian culture in their eyes?
It always annoys me when people speak of tradition as something static and frozen in time. Culture has always evolved. I may sometimes wish for an age before e-mail and constant text messaging, but it doesn’t mean I can remove technology from the world.
As a classical Indian musician, of course I have great respect for tradition and culture. People should always look back on the wisdom of the past and carry their heritage forward. But, they also have a responsibility to look at their customs with a critical eye and enhance tradition for future generations.
A five-year-old girl was raped in Delhi the same week as this attack. A woman in labour was turned away from multiple hospitals because of her shabby appearance. Where is all this “protection” they speak of? Instead of giving due attention to these atrocious incidents and ones like it, we’re forced to take up the mantle on behalf of ridiculous infringements to our own freedom. What a waste of time!
This Talibanesque limitation on our right to choose how to live our lives is truly frightening. The proposed ban on dancing called to mind their ban on music. (And by the way, what is traditional in India if not to express ourselves through dance?) If they can stop us from entering a place of leisure, what’s so different from a ban on entering a place of work? Is protesting against short skirts really so different from insisting on a veil?
We are so quick to glorify our progress, and yet have to deal with simple and basic infringements of human rights on a constant basis, whether for gender, caste or income level. When will this insanity end?