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Olympic Sexism

14 Aug

Image

I HAD planned to write a post on sexism in the Olympics but Socialist Worker’s Leela Yellesetty did such a great job I thought I’d just point you in her direction.

From the well-reported news that female Japanese soccer players and Australian basketball players flew coach while their male peers got to travel in style in first class on the long haul to London 2012, to the Metro piece that cropped images of male athletes to focus on their butts and abs to highlight the sexism of the frame in photographs of female volleyball players that raced around Twitter, Yellesetty hits the nail on the head.

A particularly cringe-worthy moment at this year’s Games came when NBC sports commentators covering women’s gymnastics asked if they had “seen any diva moments yet.”

That falls on the subtler end of the spectrum. The overt is much worse. Some of it is dressed up in the guise of drumming up more viewership, such as the suggestion that female boxers wear skirts while competing. The idea being, according to the Amateur International Boxing Association, “to help viewers distinguish between male and female boxers.”

The almost pathological need to enforce the femininity of athletes who are specimens of physical strength and athletic prowess was on display in the New York Daily News‘ bizarre article on Olympic athletes who are also “Champion Chefs in the Kitchen” (needless to say, they’re all women).

Far more prevalent and insidious is the continuous attempt to sexualize female athlete’s bodies. According to Feministing.com’s analysis of ESPN’s annual Body Issue, in which nearly half the athletes featured were women, “[O]ver half of the female athletes were shown only as passive eye candy, while virtually all of the men were shown in action shots.” Feministing found that:

– 78 percent of the photos of men depict an active pose, while only 52 percent of women’s photos do.
– 90 percent of the male athletes had at least one active pose in the slideshow.
– 46 percent of female athletes had at least one active pose in the slideshow.

Read the full article here.

To the section on Lolo Jones, I’d add this Reuters blog post, which I’m including for a comparison between the New York Times hit-job on Jones versus male athletes, and this graf which speaks to the editor nerd in me:

Here’s what an editor scanning for sexism might have written on Longman’s draft, next to “Previously, Jones has defended her nude ESPN photograph on artistic grounds”: Not necessary. No male athlete or actor or anybody has to defend taking their shirt off even if they suck at what they do. And beside “she has proclaimed herself to be a 30-year-old virgin”: Implies that she’s not, when only reason to do so is weird investment in truth of virgin-whore paradigm. Or in the margins by “After stumbling four years ago, she is back on her feet, back in the Games. Back in position to be appreciated for her athletic skill, not merely her sex appeal. Back in position to undress her opponents, not herself”: Sounds like commentary from a mean, judgy preacher-dad. Basically says, “Cover yourself up.” Just try to imagine some of Longman’s sentences being printed about a male athlete.

This is slightly tangential, but a couple months ago I read this excellent profile of Indian boxer and Olympic bronze medalist Mary Kom and wanted to share it; please read.

And finally, to end on a humorous note, here’s the inimitable Sajan Venniyoor on Kafila, whose post had me in stitches. The name tells all: Why the Maldivian ski team is good in short bursts (and other reflections on the Olympics). It’s a laugh a minute.

Four on Friday: The Gurudwara Shooting

11 Aug

LAST Sunday we woke up to some tragic news: there had been a shooting at a gurudwara in a Milwaukee suburb; six Sikhs at the temple were killed, one police officer who tried to help was shot several times, and three more were wounded. As the media followed the story, we learned that the shooter, Wade Michael Page, was a US veteran, and the leader of a white supremacist punk rock band. We learned that Sikhs are not Muslims and therefore they had been unfairly targeted (yes, seriously, some journalists actually said this). We learned that white terrorists are different from brown terrorists (though we already knew that). It’s impossible to not turn into a media critic when you read these narratives. So, here are the four things I think you should read about the media coverage of this vile attack.

1. Rinku Sen has a thoughtful piece on Colorlines.com which hits all the right notes, including this bit on CNN’s coverage:

Only CNN attempted continuous coverage yesterday, and I’m grateful that they tried. Yet that coverage was so generally devoid of Sikh voices that it just reminded me how ill-equipped the media are. The “expert” they turned to most often was the sincere but inadequate Eric Marrapodi of CNN’s Belief Blog. He kept saying that Sikhs were not Muslims, but were often mistaken for Muslims and “unfairly targeted.” The first time he said it, I thought, wow, that’s unfortunate phrasing and he’ll stop using it after he realizes or someone points out the implication that Muslims can be “fairly” targeted. But no one ever got a clue. Islamaphobia was never mentioned, much less condemned for the ignorance and violence that it spreads.

Two days later, Foreign Policy carried this piece of media criticism by Rozina Ali. She isn’t too impressed with CNN’s coverage either, and once you read the transcription of an exchange between an interviewee and news anchor Don Lemon you won’t be, either. There were those who didn’t know that Sikhs come from India, not Italy, and others who confused them with Hindus and Muslims. One Fox News broadcaster even asked if there had been any previous instances of “anti-Semitism” against Sikhs in the past. But the wrongheadedness that drove it all was not simple ignorance but the belief that Sikhs were somehow unfairly targeted because their beards and turbans made them look like Muslims. “In other words,” Ali writes sarcastically, “Sikhs were an unfortunate casualty in the war on terrorism — ‘unfairly’ mistaken for a group expected to be involved in the violence.” (Unlike the Joplin, Missouri mosque, which was set on fire the day after the gurudwara shooting — for the second time this month. There was no mistaking the mosque for anything other than a place of worship for Muslims. The New York Times quotes Iranian-American writer Reza Aslan: “If it were a church or a synagogue that had been burned down twice, we’d be shocked by it. The narrative about the mosque burning has a sense of expectation to it.”)

To rub salt in the wound, instead of treating the shooting as “an act of terrorism,” which is how the local police department described it, several news outlets initially spent hours questioning this label. Why? Because terrorism can only be perpetrated by brown people?

2. Tim Wise dealt with this question eloquently in an AlterNet piece that was written in 2001 but could as easily have been written this past week (h/t to Sen for linking to it in her article). Writing after the senseless killing by a high school freshman in Santee, California, Wise says that these shootings always seem to happen in “normal” suburban communities where everyone is flabbergasted that such violence could occur in their neighborhood.

I said this after Columbine and no one listened so I’ll say it again: white people live in an utter state of self-delusion. We think danger is black, brown and poor, and if we can just move far enough away from “those people” in the cities we’ll be safe. If we can just find an “all-American” town, life will be better, because “things like this just don’t happen here.”

Well bullshit on that.

Bullshit on that indeed. The Santana High School shooting was in Santee, about 10 miles away from San Diego, which a casual Google search reveals is 87 percent white. The Columbine High School massacre, in 1999, which took the lives of 12 students and one teacher, also occurred in a town that was (or at least is today) predominantly white, too. Aurora, Colorado, where the Batman theater shooting occurred just a few short weeks before the gurudwara killings, has a mixed population: the town is is 47 percent white, 29 percent Hispanic, and 15 percent black, while Oak Creek, Wisconsin, the site of the latest massacre, is more than 90 percent white.

The shock is compounded when the killer is white, too. Jared Lougher, who killed 6 and injured 13 in last year’s Tucson, Arizona shooting is white. As is James Holmes, who went on the Aurora theater shooting spree. The boys at Columbine High School, as was the student in Santee. Seung-Hui Cho, the 2007 Virginia Tech shooter, is Asian-American. “And yet once again,” writes Wise, “we hear the FBI insist there is no “profile” of a school shooter. Come again? White boy after white boy after white boy, with very few exceptions to that rule (and none in the mass shooting category), decides to use their classmates for target practice, and yet there is no profile? Imagine if all these killers had been black: would we still hesitate to put a racial face on the perpetrators? Doubtful.”

Town after town, mayor after mayor, expresses their utter disbelief that such a thing could happen in their backyards because they all believe that this kind of societal dysfunction only happens somewhere else, to people in communities that don’t look like theirs. And we may have a black president in the White House, but our racial prejudices are very much with us today. I urge you to read the full article.

In the Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf agrees. There hasn’t been the wall-to-wall media coverage of last Sunday’s shooting as there was after the one at the Colorado theater, and perhaps that’s a function of the American public’s inability to relate to the victims. It’s easier to picture one’s friends and relatives in a theater watching Batman at a midnight screening, but not so much at a Sikh temple praying on a Sunday morning.

Yes, part of it is the identity of the victims, but what about the identity of the terrorist?

Attacks like his are disconcerting to some white Americans for a seldom acknowledged reason. Since 9/11, many Americans have conflated terrorism with Muslims; and having done so, they’ve tolerated or supported counterterrorism policies safe in the presumption that people unlike them would bear their brunt. (If Mayor Bloomberg and the NYPD sent officers beyond the boundaries of New York City to secretly spy on evangelical Christian students or Israeli students or students who own handguns the national backlash would be swift, brutal, and decisive. The revelation of secret spying on Muslim American students was mostly defended or ignored.)

In the name of counterterrorism, many Americans have given their assent to indefinite detention, the criminalization of gifts to certain charities, the extrajudicial assassination of American citizens, and a sprawling, opaque homeland security bureaucracy; many have also advocated policies like torture or racial profiling that are not presently part of official anti-terror policy.

3. Juan Cole, of the essential website Informed Comment, hits it on the nail with his pithy post, “Top Ten differences between White Terrorists and Others.”

Among them, that white terrorists are called “gunmen” while terrorists of every other color are terrorists; white terrorists are always troubled loners, whereas non-white terrorists are somehow representative of their larger communities; and the media will interview the weeping family of a white terrorist, while the families of non-white terrorists are almost never asked for a quote.

I’ll add one more to Cole’s list. When the terrorist is white, Rep. Pete King doesn’t convene hearings on the threat of white radicalization.

4. No discussion of these sorts of shootings can be complete without a discussion of the appallingly lax gun regulations in this country. The correlation is so obvious in my mind that I find it difficult to understand how folks, even those from communities affected by these massacres, continue to defend the easy access that everyone, even the mentally ill, even known criminals, can have to legal guns and 6000 rounds of ammunition (something that Dudley Brown, executive director of Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, called “running low”).

Eric Boehlert points out the inadequacy of media coverage on gun control on Media Matters, in which “the telling statistics regarding the massive toll gun violence takes in America each year (30,000 killed; 70,000 wounded) were once again virtually absent from the news coverage. So was the discussion of gun control.”

Mother Jones has created several telling graphs of the roughly 60 mass shootings in the past three decades — in which more than two-thirds of the 137 guns used by the shooters were purchased legally.

And finally, on a related note, Matt Kennard writes on the Investigative Fund blog about the attraction that neo-Nazis feel for the US military, which trains its recruits in the most sophisticated weaponry in the world. These white supremacists, like Page, return stateside to use their skills in a domestic “race war,” and between the easy access to weapons and military training, it is innocents who die in a hail of bullets.

Why I’m Boycotting Saravana Bhavan

28 Oct
Pongal

Pongal

TODAY I start my boycott of Saravana Bhavan. It may be invisible to many New Yorkers, but it has been my favorite South Indian restaurant since my first visit five years ago. I knew Saravana Bhavan before its reincarnation as a wannabe lounge, with its white leather sofas and gleaming new bar. I knew and loved the bright orange and hot pink fabric flowers that brightened up its walls, before those flowers began to droop. I’ve stood outside in the cold on Sunday mornings when it’s always packed, waiting for a table for two. And I’m not going to do it anymore.

There are some places that seem to glory in their inhospitability. The famous chicken and rice stand midtown, where lines stretch down the block. That neighborhood adda where they’ve seen you a million times before but would die before acknowledging it. And then there’s this place, which takes it to the next level.

Often there is no one at the door to greet guests. No problem, just flag down the nearest waiter. The man who’s assigning the seats is curt and abrupt and verging on rude. You’re irritated, but you catch the eye of that nice waiter who knows you, S. (yes, there is one nice waiter there, but he may be the only one), and he takes care of you and you let it go. Often when you bring people there (and you’ve brought A LOT of people there over the years), you’re embarrassed at the poor service and apologize for it: “The service is terrible but the food is good.”

But at some point, you have to stop making excuses for the place. There is no justification for treating customers like cattle, like you’re doing them a favor by taking their order, not noticing when water glasses need to be refilled or the table you’re waiting on has been waiting on YOU for the past 20 minutes to place their order.

I know that the outpost in Curry Hill is part of a sprawling chain that recently opened a new branch on Amsterdam Avenue. Maybe in that establishment they understand courteousness. In this one, they don’t. And it goes all the way up the chain.

Today was the first time that I felt the urge to speak to the manager about an unpleasant experience. I’ve seen him around on plenty of occasions. He was there watching the TV screens they had put up during the cricket world cup earlier this year when India beat Sri Lanka. I watched along with everyone else as I waited, unnecessarily, for a good half hour for a large order that was to have been ready for pick-up when I arrived. I went to this person perhaps naively imagining that someone in the restaurant business would not condone such incivility to a paying customer, to (gasp!) a regular. Instead, I was strongly told off for daring to expect that my companion’s meal and my own would arrive at roughly the same time. What did it matter if my meal arrived 20 minutes before my friend’s and was growing icicles in the interim? (This would never happen at even the humblest udipi in my hometown, Mumbai; those restaurants are models of efficiency.) I should have just eaten it, licketysplit. The waiter was under no obligation to inform me that our main courses would not be arriving together when we ordered together or even when he brought me my dish. I would have to eat my dosa cold, and that was that.

There are some things that are good when cold. Kulfi, chhaas—even revenge—come to mind. A crispy dosa, not so much. So I took myself and my unreasonable demands out of there. For $7.15 or thereabouts, this South Asian restaurant has lost a loyal customer. In the future, I will be taking my business to Pongal, across the street.

TWO years ago The New York Times published an exhaustive list of rules for restaurant staffers by Bruce Buschel. It was clearly meant for fine dining restaurants, where the ethic is much more than just a quick table turnover. I understand that every eatery cannot and will not adhere to this high standardthough I wish more would try. But here are my picks from this list that cost nothing or very little and will contribute a great deal to guests leaving any restaurant happy.

Do not let anyone enter the restaurant without a warm greeting.

When you ask, “How’s everything?” or “How was the meal?” listen to the answer and fix whatever is not right.

Make sure the glasses are clean. Inspect them before placing them on the table.

Never remove a plate full of food without asking what went wrong. Obviously, something went wrong.

Do not bang into chairs or tables when passing by.

—Bring all the appetizers at the same time, or do not bring the appetizers. Same with entrees and desserts. (Ahem.)

Do not disappear.

—Never patronize a guest who has a complaint or suggestion; listen, take it seriously, address it.

I looked carefully for a “Do not yell at guests” point, but I guess some things are so obvious Buschel figured it didn’t need to be said. I, for one, prefer to eat my dosas hot and somewhere else. 

Lazy on the Long Weekend

2 Sep

HELLO everyone! I am taking the day off to start my long weekend off early. It’s Labor Day! So everyone get some sun, sleep in late, and enjoy the last few days of summer.

I’ll leave you with some laughs: God’s blog.

Four on Friday: Hazare Khwaishein Aisi

19 Aug

I HAD not planned to devote an entire post to Kisan Baburao Hazare or Anna (older brother) Hazare, as he is more commonly known, but with his arrest earlier this week (a major misstep by the government) and the subsequent widespread protests in different Indian cities making news in the pages of The New York Times, The Washington Post, and more, there is too much to share.

A rally against corruption which took place in Freedom Park, Bangalore on 9 April 2011. Courtesy Pushkar V.

A rally against corruption which took place in Freedom Park, Bangalore on 9 April 2011. Courtesy Pushkar V.

1. First, Anna Hazare is not a modern-day Gandhi, so please stop comparing them. As A.G. Noorani explains painstakingly in this Frontline article, the father of modern India would not have condoned  satyagraha in a functioning democracy. Patrick French writes eloquently in the UK’s Telegraph (one assumes that a careless editor titled the op-ed):

Now Hazare has cornered the government by raising the pitch of the argument, just two days after India’s 64th independence day. A fast unto death is a touchy subject in India because of the memory of Mahatma Gandhi, who used the tactic against the British. One thing successive viceroys and prime ministers particularly feared was the popular uprising that would quickly follow if he died on their watch. The viceroy Lord Wavell wrote in his diary in 1944 that if Gandhi were to die in prison: “I might go down to the readers of two thousand years hence with the same reputation as Pontius Pilate.” Many in India are calling the present events “the second freedom struggle”, since the government is relying on quasi-colonial laws to maintain order and restrict freedom of protest. There is the obvious irony of Congress being the party that used these techniques against the British. The reality, though, is that Anna Hazare is an imitation of Gandhi, pursuing a different agenda.

Pratap Bhanu Mehta elucidates in The Indian Express:

The morality of fasting unto death for a political cause in a constitutional democracy has always been a tricky issue. There is something deeply coercive about fasting unto death. When it is tied to an unparalleled moral eminence, as it is in the case of Anna Hazare, it amounts to blackmail. There may be circumstances, where the tyranny of government is so oppressive, or the moral cause at stake so vital that some such method of protest is called for. But in a functioning constitutional democracy, not having one’s preferred institutional solution to a problem accepted, does not constitute a sufficient reason for the exercise of such coercive moral power.

Prabhat Patnaik (one of my favorite thinkers and a great teacher) demolishes this notion that Hazare is somehow a modern-day Gandhi in The Telegraph (Calcutta):

To call Anna Hazare the 21st-century Gandhi, as some have started doing, is pure hyperbole, but many would see a similarity in their methods — in particular, in their resorting to fasts to achieve their objectives. This, however, is erroneous. Indeed, the fact that so many people consider Anna Hazare’s method to be similar to Gandhiji’s only indicates how little contemporary India remembers or understands Gandhiji.

Gandhiji undertook 17 fasts in all, of which three were major fasts-unto-death. All these three had the objective of uniting people against violence, rather than extracting specific concessions from the colonial State.

And:

In short, Gandhiji’s fasts-unto-death were never a binary affair, with himself and the colonial State as adversaries, to extract specific concessions. He did not, for instance, go on a fast-unto-death to demand the withdrawal of the salt tax; he launched instead a movement against it. And at no stage did Gandhiji ever consider going on a fast-unto-death to demand India’s independence; instead he launched movement after movement for achieving it. Indeed Gandhiji would have considered a fast-unto-death to enforce a particular demand even upon the colonial State, or to extract a particular concession from it, an act not of non-violence but of violence.

Anna Hazare on 5 April 2011 giving an interview to a TV channel. Courtesy Deepankar Raj

Anna Hazare on 5 April 2011 giving an interview to a TV channel. Courtesy Deepankar Raj

2. The protests around the Jan Lokpal Bill are not equivalent to the Arab Spring. Paul Beckett makes this point convincingly in his Wall Street Journal India Real Time blog post, so I’ll just borrow his words:

While those in the Arab Spring for the most part are pushing for a complete overhaul—a revolution—in how they are governed, those taking to the streets in Delhi are not. Indeed, their demands by the standards of international protests are almost embarrassingly modest and narrow.

And:

Perhaps there is another layer being added now—a broader discussion about the proper relationship between government and civil society. But both sides are playing within fairly well-defined rules and within a system that can tolerate, and gain from, dissent.

3. The Lokpal Bill is troubling and overarching and won’t solve the country’s problems anyway. The first cautious note (well, the first that I heard, anyway) was from Shuddhabrata Sengupta in Kafila, appropriately titled, “At the Risk of Heresy, Why I am not Celebrating with Anna Hazare.” The reigning media view back in early April—when this piece was posted—was one of blind faith in Hazare and his bill. (Thankfully, now the notes of caution are numerous and widespread; though they are seemingly ignored by the swelling crowds outside Tihar Jail.)

Sengupta writes:

The outcome of the ‘Anna Hazare’ phenomenon allows the ruling  Congress to appear gracious (by bending to Anna Hazar’s will) and the BJP to appear pious (by cozying up to the Anna Hazare initiative) and a full spectrum of NGO and  ‘civil society’ worthies to appear, as always, even holier than they already are.

Most importantly, it enables the current ruling elite to have just stage managed its own triumph, by crafting a ‘sensitive’ response (ably deployed by Kapil Sibal) to a television media conjured popular upsurge. Meanwhile, the electronic media, by and large, have played their part by offering us the masquerade of a ‘revolution’ that ends up making the state even more powerful than it was before this so called ‘revolution’ began. Some people in the corridors of power must be delighted at the smoothness and economy with which all this has been achieved. Hosni Mubarak should have taken a few lessons from the Indian ruling class about how to have your cake and eat it too on Tahrir Square.

After all, “Nothing serves power better than the spectacle of resistance.” Bhanu Mehta writes:

But the general premises that underlie the various drafts border on being daft. They amount to an unparalleled concentration of power in one institution that will literally be able to summon any institution and command any kind of police, judicial and investigative power. Power, divided in a democracy, can often be alibi for evading responsibility. But it is also a guarantee that the system is not at the mercy of a few good men. Having concentrated immense power, it then displays extraordinary faith in the virtue of those who will wield this power. Why do we think this institution will be incorruptible? The answer seems to be that the selection mechanism will somehow ensure a superior quality of guardians. Why? Because the selection committee, in addition to the usual virtuous judges, will have, as one draft very reassuringly put it, two of the “most recent Magsaysay Award Winners”. Then there is no sense of jurisdiction and limits. It is not going to look at corruption only. It can even look into “wasteful” expenditure. They can, potentially usurp all policy prerogatives of democratic governments. So many accountability institutions, in the name of accountability, are not distinguishing between policy issues and corruption. They are perpetuating the myth that government can function without any discretionary judgment.

But the demand is premised on an idea that non-elected institutions that do not involve politicians are somehow the only ones that can be trusted. This assumption is false. Institutions of all kinds have succeeded and failed. But the premise of so much accountability discourse is not just contempt of politicians, but contempt of representative democracy.

Adivasis from the Narmada Valley. Courtesy Joe Athialy

Adivasis from the Narmada Valley. Courtesy Joe Athialy

4. Rallying behind the Lokpal Bill is easy, makes us feel better about ourselves, and allows us to absolve ourselves from doing something that can actually make a difference. In yesterday’s New York Times, Open magazine editor Manu Joseph began his “Letter from India” like this:

The best thing about Indian politicians is that they make you feel you are a better person. Not surprisingly, Indians often derive their moral confidence not through the discomfort of examining their own actions, but from regarding themselves as decent folks looted by corrupt, villainous politicians.

This is at the heart of a self-righteous middle-class uprising against political corruption.

In the Hindustan Times, Samar Halarnkar is “not Anna Hazare”:

This is a protest, not a revolution. I sense a lack of emotional proportion and a troubling hypocrisy from a middle class that refuses to get as moved to action by graver things, such as the murder of female children, child labour in homes, hotels and factories, or poverty outside our car windows.

There is excitable talk now of the constitutional right to protest, but this is not something we like to give to Kashmiris, or bother too much when it is snatched from tribals or others on the margins of middle-India’s imagination.

Irom Sharmila. Courtesy Prachatai

Irom Sharmila. Courtesy Prachatai

Both Halarnkar and French compare the vast amounts of media attention given to Hazare with the meager newsprint devoted to Irom Sharmila, the courageous Manipuri woman who has been fasting for more than a decade to protest the Armed Forces Special Powers Act imposed in Manipur and much of the Northeast since 1980. (Click here for an excellent primer by Shoma Chaudhury in Tehelka on Irom Sharmila.)

It is easy, and convenient, and costs nothing to “support” the Lokpal Bill: sign an online petition, join a Facebook group, maybe even go out on the streets to protest corruption. Everybody is anti-corruption, even Bollywood’s beautiful people (except Mahesh Bhatt), after all, and you’re just along for the ride. But try raising the devastating farmer suicides, or the draconian laws in the Northeast, or the rampaging violence in Kashmir, and no one pays much attention. Certainly nothing like the Lokpal phenomenon.

I want to end with words from one of my favorite people, the journalist P. Sainath, who raises uncomfortable questions—his specialty—in this Hindu column:

The 1990s saw marketing whiz kids at the largest English daily in the world steal a term then in vogue among sexually discriminated minorities: PLUs—or People Like Us. Media content would henceforth be for People Like Us. This served advertisers’ needs and also helped shut out unwanted content. As the daily advised its reporters: dying farmers don’t buy newspapers. South Mumbaikars do. So the suicide deaths of a couple of fashion models in that city grabbed more space in days than those of over 40,000 farmers in Maharashtra did in a decade.

February 2011 saw one of the largest rallies staged in Delhi in years. Lakhs of workers from nine central trade unions—including the Congress party’s INTUC—hit the streets to protest against rising food prices and unemployment. This was many times bigger than the very modest numbers at Anna Hazare’s fast and larger than Ramdev’s rollicking ‘yoga camp.’ These were workers and unions not linked to the state. Not market-driven. Not corporate-funded. And expressing clearly the interests and values of their members. In fact, fitting some classic definitions of ‘civil society.’ The rally was covered by the BBC, Reuters and AFP but was mostly invisible in mainstream Indian media except when attacked for creating traffic jams.

Do we only care when something happens to People Like Us? Can we rise above the confinements of class and caste and connect with someone like Irom Sharmila, fighting a quiet, difficult and unglamorous fight that is unlikely to be resolved in a burst of televised drama? If we are looking for traces of Gandhi in modern-day heroes, we could do worse than Sharmila, who “responded to extreme violence with extreme peace.”

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