Friday, February 20, 2009

Kala Ghoda was a grand success!

Thanks to Zubin who inspired the Fight-Back team to do a fab job at Kala Ghoda - the installations were a grand success. Madhu, our core team member is a designer and has a great eye for art. While I have assisted or worked together with art directors in the past as a copywriter, helping with an art installation was absolutely new to me! It pushed me out of my comfort zone and taught me some very valuable lessons!

We spent a few months trying to collaborate with artists who believed in our cause after many meetings and discussions with artists and art galleries in Mumbai, we decided to do it ourselves.

A late night brainstorming session just days before the exhibition resulted in our two concepts - 'The Woman's Labyrinth' (for our Gender Violence Forum) and 'Postcards to Pakistan' (for our burgeoning anti-terrorism movement). Over crumbs of burger buns and cups of coffee... Zubin said, "This is it, let's go ahead, let's do it!"

Madhu's long-forgotten architectural skills (she's a trained architect turned designer) and my (surprising!) organisational skills came in handy while setting up the installations. In one evening both the installations were up!

Other core members of Fight Back were a constant source of support and encouragement, making calls where needed, pitching in with ideas and volunteering throughout the 8 days - Divya, Jessy, Sonali, Harish, Rayomand.

Soon, king and encouraging words pouring in on our Facebook walls, emails and cellphones.
Lakhs of visitors at Kala ghoda appreciated the installations and Fight Back - the movement.

Our online members pitched in as well, by volunteering at Kala Ghoda - Parizaad, Rishita, Rita, Lalita, Sneha and others.

We'll soon update the site with the details about the media coverage. Madhu and Rayo who help out with the site are on a well-deserved holiday!

Would you like us to set up these installations somewhere in other city or another location in Mumbai... drop us a line.

The Indian Taliban strikes again!

The Indian Taliban continues to rear its ugly head - as the publicity hungry Muthalik or these barely-known local goons who recently attack a group of hardworking, successful Indian men AND women. Princess Baatcheet from brings this to our attention. Send us your reactions, post this in your blogs, write about it on facebook notes, this is already on our facebook - FightBack Group - wall react there, forward it your friends .... MAKE A NOISE!!!

A few of my friends and I were just paying our bills and coming out of our regular Friday night watering hole and dinner place in Rest House Road, just off Brigade Road, and most of the women in the company were already standing outside. Some of us outside were smoking, people were happy, there was laughter and jokes, as there were many other people
in the street, all coming out, satiated, in the closing hour of the
various pubs and restaurants around.

Suddenly from up the street a massive SUV comes revving and speeding, hurtling down, and stops in a scream of brakes and swirling dust, millimeters away from this group of 4 women, barely missing one of their legs. A white Audi, imported, still under transfer, with the
registration plate of KA-51 TR-2767. Some millionaire's toy thing, that in the wrong hands can kill.

Naturally the women are in shock. And quickly following the shock comes indignation. These are self made women running their own businesses, managing state responsibilities for global NGO firms, successful doctors. They are not used to being bullied. So they turn around, instead of shrinking back in fear. They protest.

And as soon as they turn around in protest, the car doors are flung open, and a stream of 4-5 rabid men run out towards these women, screaming obscenities in Hindi and Kannada against women in general, fists flailing. Some of us who came in running at the sound of the screaming brakes now stand in the middle in defense of our women, and then blows start raining down. One of the goons make a couple of calls over the cellphone, and in seconds a stream of other equally rabid goondas land up. They gun straight for the women, and everyone – a few well-meaning bystanders, acquaintances who know us from the restaurant, basically everyone who tries to help the women – starts getting thoroughly beaten up.

Women are kicked in the groin, punched in the stomach, slapped across the face, grabbed everywhere, abused constantly. Men are smashed up professionally, blows aimed at livers, groins, kidneys and nose. A friend is hit repeatedly on the head by a stone until he passes out in
a flood of blood.

A plain-clothes policeman (Vittal Kumar) who saunters in late stands by watching and urging people to stop, but doing absolutely nothing else. A 'cheetah' biker cop comes in, with our women pleading him to stop this madness, but he refuses action, saying a police van will come in soon and he cannot do anything. Everyone keeps getting hammered. Relentlessly.

The carnage continues for over 20 minutes.

Finally when the police van does come in it is this vandals who are raging and ranting, claiming to be true "sons of the Kannadiga soil", and we are positioned to be the villainous outsiders, bleeding, outraged. How do the cops believe them, especially seeing the bloody faces of our men and the violated rage of our women, while they carry nary a scratch on their bodies? Don't ask me! Yet, it is us who these goondas urge the newly arrived law-keepers to arrest, and the police
promptly comply, and we are bundled into the van, some still being beaten as we are pushed in. Some blessed relief from pain inside the police van at least, even if we are inside and the real goons outside, driving alongside in their spanking white Audi. The guy who was hit by the stone is taken separately by the women to Mallya hospital.

Inside the police station at Cubbon Park it becomes clear that these goons and the police know each other by their first names. The policeman in charge (Thimmappa) initially refuses to even register any complaint from me, on the purported grounds that I am not fluent in Kannada and I have taken a few drinks (3 Kingfisher pints, to be precise) over the evening. No, it doesn't matter that I didn't have my car and was not driving, and no, it doesn't mater that the complaint
will be written in English. We watch them and the goons exchange smiles and nods with our our bloodied and swelling eyes and realize in our pain-clouded still-in-shock brains the extent of truth in the claim of one of the main goons when he claimed earlier in the evening in virulent aggression: we own this town, this car belongs to an MLA, we will see how you return to this street!!

This was the turning point of the saga, I guess. For we refused to lie down quietly and be victims.

One of our girls, a vintage and proud Bangalorean who is running one of the town's most successful organic farming initiatives, took upon herself to write the complaint, when I was not allowed to write the same. Another Bangalore girl, a state director of a global NGO firm,
wrote the other molestation complaint separately on behalf of all the girls. Some of us called our friends in the media and corporate world. Everyone stepped up. And even when the odds were down and we were out, we did not give up, and as a singular body of violated citizens we
spoke in one voice of courage and indomitable spirit. That voice had no limitation of language, not Kannada, nor English, or Hindi. It was the voice of human spirit that cannot be broken.

And in the face of that spirit, for the first time, we saw the ugly visage of vandalism, hiding behind the thin and inadequate veil of political corrupt power, narrow-vision regionalism and self-serving morality, start to wilt.

We spent 6 hours next day in the police station. The sub-inspector of police who filed our FIR, Ajay R M, seemed a breath of fresh air inasmuch that he did not appear a-priori biased like others, even though the hand of corruption and politico-criminal power backing
these goons was still manifest in many ways: a starched, white-linen power-broker walked in handing over his card to the sub-inspector in support of the goons; the goons got an audience with the Inspector because of this intervention, while we had to interact one level lower
down in the hierarchy; the plains cloth policeman of last night, even though he had arrived far too late in the crime scene, gave a warped statement, passing it off as a "neutral" point of view, repeatedly stressing that we came out of a pub and hence were drinking, positioning this as a 'drunken brawl', while completely forgetting to mention the unprovoked attack against the women and the one-sided vandalism and violence that ensued. I guess one cannot blame the low
ranked police officer – the criminal connections of these goons must be pervasive enough for him to be careful.

Thanks however to the impartial handling of the situation by Ajay, soon the goons were all identified. The lead actor was one Ravi Mallaya (38), a real estate honcho and owner of a small property off Brigade Road which he has converted into a "gaming" (you know what that means, don't you?) adda. The others identified are Mohan Basava (22) of Chamarajapet 12th Cross, R. Vijay Kumar Ramalingaraju (25) and Shivu Rajashekar (20). All are residents of 12th & 13th Cross in Vyalikaval. Their bravado and machismo were by that time evaporated. It was good to see their faces then.

Of course nothing much happened to them, nor did we expect it. They were supposed to be in lock up for at least the weekend till they were produced in court, but we understand that they were quickly released on (anticipatory?) bail. The car, purportedly belonging to an MLA, also does not figure in the FIR, apparently for reasons of "irrelevance to the case".The media also have given us fantastic coverage and support so far, strengthening the cause.

The goons meanwhile, as an after thought, also filed the customary reverse complaint on the morning after we filed our own complaint: the women have apparently scratched the car! (Why did they not file the complaint the same night, considering they came to the Police Station
in the same car? Why was the car allowed to be taken off police custody? Why is the car still irrelevant to the case and not in the FIR? Questions.. questions..).

Is this the end of this saga? Probably not. Are these women, more precious to us as friends and wives than most things in our lives, safe to walk or drive down Brigade Road from now on or are the goonda elements, slighted by this arrest and disgrace, are lying in ambush, waiting, biding their time to cause some of us more grievous harm? We don't know. Is there reason for us to remain apprehensive of future attacks and victimization? Perhaps.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Fight Back at Kala Ghoda

This February, unsuspecting male visitors at the Kala Ghoda Festival will be in for a shocking experience. As they walk through ‘A Woman’s Labyrinth’, they will understand what it means to be a woman in a traditionally parochial society, hesitant to evolve with the changing times.

‘A Woman’s Labyrinth’, is one of the two art installations by Fight-Back - India’s fastest growing movement against Gender Violence and Terrorism - at the Kala Ghoda Festival this year. The second installation is democratic – like the movement itself – and it will take the shape people give it. ‘Post Cards to Pakistan’ is an interactive project that will kick-start at the Festival. It’s an interactive installation that urges people to fill in postcards with their message to anybody in Pakistan; the postcards will be displayed throughout the fest. In the following months, more ‘Postcards to Pakistan’ will be collected from people across the country and later sent to our neighbour.

Fight-Back has emerged as a national platform for passionate Indians across the country, unhappy with Status Quo. It was founded by a team of media professionals – led by Zubin Driver - who believe in making a difference and ‘being the change they want to see’. Since its inception last year, Fight-Back has grown by leaps and bounds. As a result of its consistent and powerful campaigning against Gender Violence, Fight-Back, Say No to Gender Violence was the only initiative chosen to represent India in the Alliance of Youth Movements Summit in New York last year.

More recently, Fight-Back’s new wing No More Terrorism pulled off a phenomenonal event, completely led by volunteers across the country who believed in the cause. On Republic Day, over 1.1 million children from schools across India read their Constitutional Duties – as a first step to reaffirm and rejuvenate the ‘spirit’ of India in the country’s next generation.

With the core team consisting of a bunch of creative media professionals, Fight-Back believes in the power of art to spread its message. Last year, thousands of Music CDs with 16 original rock compositions were given away to young students across 5 different Indian cities.

Fight Back’s art installations at the upcoming Kala Ghoda Festival too aims to change people’s mindsets, spread awareness about two very vital issues – Terrorism and Gender Violence – and kick-start long-term intervention.