Is this the Angle to the Clinton-Lewinsky Saga That Feminists Turned A Blind Eye to?

I started reading this book at bedtime, and after the first chapter, I couldn’t put it down. I had to stay up and finish it, just to find out if the Clinton-Lewinsky theme that I perceived in the first chapter, played out through the rest of the book. And for me, it did!

This is ‘The Penelopiad,’ one of Atwood’s lesser read books, and in it she retells the story of Homer’s famous epic, ‘The Odyssey.’ It’s a thin book, a fast read, and even if you are not familiar with Homer’s version it’s OK, because Atwood sticks to the original storyline. The story is about Odysseus, the King of Ithaca, and his wife Penelope. When Penelope’s beautiful cousin Helen of Troy is abducted, Odysseus goes off to fight in the Trojan war and returns home to Penelope after 20 years, and many adventures. And while he plays the field, making as many love conquests as war victories, Penelope remains loyal to him despite overtures from male suitors, who actually are more interested in the wealth and power she had hold over, than in her. Odysseus is unhappy about these suitors when he returns, and he kills them, as well as Penelope’s twelve maids-in-waiting by hanging them.

However, where Homer’s version is through the eyes of a male narrator and explored within a patriarchal context, Atwood’s version (not surprisingly), is through the eyes of a female narrator (Penelope’s eyes after she’s dead), and explored within a feminist context. And this is what makes it really interesting. This is the same story, yet the questions asked and the conclusions reached by a female narrator give this epic a whole different twist.

What for me was most fascinating was the Clinton-Lewinsky twist. It is true, that the lure of mythologies is that they provide a philosophical framework in which we can eternally recognize patterns of human behavior, responses and relationships. Yet, as I read on to the end, I did wonder, if Atwood was inspired by the Clinton-Lewinsky account in her reading of The Odysseus. Below I share some of these specific excerpts from the book. You decide! (more…)

#Women Politicians Molested While Campaigning for Upcoming #Elections in #India

I think what is bothersome is how most female politicians in India take this kind of sexual molestation by men in public venues into their stride. It comes with the job attitude! If the women in the position of power and politics don’t kick up a huge storm over this, is it any surprise they are not out there speaking for the common women’s rights? A slap? That’s enough? Is it any surprise that as people’s representatives these women often function like they know that this is a country for men, by men, and of men, and they are here only to serve men?


March 30, 2014

nagmaPolitics and government are often touted as venues for the empowerment of women in India.  But the fact is that female politicians are subject to the same kind of harassment and sexual molestations in public spaces, like women in India are on a daily basis, even as they campaign for the upcoming elections in April 2014.

Politician Nagma, despite a strong ring of bodyguards, has been groped on numerous occasions, sometimes by male politicians and sometimes by men in public gatherings.  Last week Nagma responded by publicly slapping one man who grabbed at her.  Some female politicians don’t get out of their cars because they fear being molested.  Others clear wide spaces and speak only from a raised platform.

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Is #India’s Supreme Court Decision to Ban #Gay #Rights More #Political than #Ethical?

photo by Ramesh Lalwani

It is puzzling why India’s Supreme Court today upheld Sect 377 of the Indian Penal code which criminalizes homosexuality.  After all the Supreme Court should be the only authority that should be able to decide on laws/issues relating to individual’s human rights. But it has turned this task over to the government!  But more puzzling is that the same court, indeed the same Judge, Justice Singhvi, in 2012 observed that traditionally homosexuality was not an offense (legal or social) in India before the British decided to impose a new law in India in 1860 criminalizing it. [see this].  So Justice Singhivi’s ruling actually is contrary to his earlier line of reasoning. This is why I think this decision was made under political pressure! And now after all the public uproar politicians and the government are scrambling to distance themselves from the ruling! Reminds me of the government move to push for the bill to allow criminals in government!

Indeed while researching for my book Sex and PowerI was amazed at the normalcy with which both homosexuality and homosexual acts between individuals (regardless of their sexuality), was treated in ancient India.  It is depicted on temples walls, in art, in poetry and literature.  In fact, the Kama Sutras, that are indeed the world’s first research based anthologies on love-making had entire chapters dedicated to various positions of lesbian love-making!

So the intolerance towards homosexuality in India is that much more surprising.  It has no religious, cultural or historical basis! Yet, I remember in high school attending the wedding of an under-age classmate (she was 17), whose parents thought marriage to a man at such a tender age would perhaps “cure” her of her natural inclinations toward girls. I remember our classmates giggling as they tried to get a glimpse of the ‘groom’ and nudging and asking each other if it was “a boy or a girl?”

Indian author, Vikram Seth, whose ‘A Suitable Boy,’ was an internationally best-selling book  has only recently (in his 50s!) talked more openly about his homosexuality.  His mother, Leila Seth, who was also a Judge in India, and is a rare example of  how she has supported her son in being himself,  explained why this was so.  She said because  “It was a criminal offence then. I worried for him. I thought he is a young man and somebody could misuse it… I remember reading a book called The Well of Loneliness about two lesbians and I remember it moved me…I read it at 17 and I thought how lonely a person must be if you can’t share his love with other people.”  

And Leila Seth is not alone.  In the photo above from a gay pride parade in Delhi, a Punjabi grandmother proudly holds a banner declaring her love and pride in her gay grandson.  She doesn’t just tolerate him! She loves him and embraces him for everything that he is — including his homosexuality!  In fact I got to see this grandmother, whose name is Rani Sharma with her grandson Sambhav (who I think is standing behind her in this photo, when he was younger) speaking out passionately on NDTV, very angry with this ruling.  [Watch her and Virkram Seth speak out in a TV interview here] This photo above is among my top 10 favorite pictures on The 50 Million Missing’s flickr group.  It is one of those pictures that stays in my head as a snap-shot of what Indians can become! And I want to thank Ramesh Lalwani for sharing it with us, as indeed all the other marvelous photos he has sent to The 50 Million Missing Campaign on flickr.

Indian Freedom Fighters: This is Not the Free India We Dreamt Of!

Yesterday I read this article in the newspaper where men in their late 80s and 90s, who had fought for India’s freedom from British rule in the 1940s, talked about how they felt Democratic India had eventually turned out.  It was heart-breaking.

Three years ago, I had met a group of elderly men, who similarly in their youth had been a part of India’s struggle for freedom in various ways.  Many had sacrificed college to do so.  It was shameful for me as a ‘born free’ Indian to hear (more…)

Tell @WomenDeliver to Apologize to the #Suryanelli #Gang #Rape Victim!

There are Indian feminists who are saying, Women Deliver made an apology. And that’s it? How can they get away with this? There is a global feminist hierarchy. Can the feminist in India do with a rape victim what this global feminist group did with an Indian rape victim and get away with just a statement?


kurien_defiant2_338x225In May 2013, the U.S. based women’s organization, Women Deliver, had invited Indian politician J. S. Kurien, a man implicated in of the one highest profile gang-rape / sex trafficking cases (the Suryanelli case) of a teenage girl in India, to speak at their 2013 conference on women’s reproductive empowerment!

A 16-year-old school girl in the town of  Suryanelli was kidnapped, held hostage for 40 days, during which she was raped by the 42 men she had been ‘sold’ to.  When she was finally found, she was so battered and had lost so much blood the doctors said, a few more days and she’d be dead! To read the full story click here.

Kurien was one of the accused in this case.  He was identified by face by the victim but never arrested.  The government continued to protect him just as they continue to protect other rapists in…

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