Monday, March 21, 2016

'Mere paas moo hai'

Vartanama, Mar '16
By Pawan Dhall

Photo credit: Pawan Dhall
“Why isn’t the milk curdling well these days?” My mother has no satisfactory explanation in response to my complaint made the nth time in the last couple of months. We try to figure out what could have gone wrong. It is the same brand of milk that gave delicious results till last year. Firm-textured curd – no, actually dahi sounds better – with just a thin layer of sinful fat! It has been my comfort food since childhood, either to be had plain, as a raita, with paranthas or rice, or as a dessert (mixed with sugar, gur, shakkar and even sugar free powder). So much so that I can wear the tag of dahi chor with mischievous pride!

Ponnayā – an identity makeover movement in Sri Lanka

Insight, Mar '16
Damith Chandimal believes in reclaiming ‘Ponnayā’, a derogatory term for feminine men and homosexuals in Sinhalese, as a self-reaffirming identity, not just in relation to one’s sexuality but also in questioning ethnic, religious and caste rigidities. Excerpts follow from an article he wrote recently (with editorial support from Kenneth Gunasekera): Giving up Sinhala Identity and Proudly Embracing Ponnayā as a Self-identity.

What does it mean exactly to give up an ethnic identity? Is it possible to erase one’s ethnic identity? Though it may not be possible to erase one’s ethnic roots, giving up identity could be a political decision and a political statement. Furthermore one does not have a singular identity, but multiple identities, all of which are socially constructed. It is easier to define ourselves within frameworks of these existing identities, especially within identities that are assigned at birth such as gender, ethnicity, caste, and so on. But deviating from, refusing to accept assigned identities, or even criticizing these identities is usually punished, stigmatized and discriminated against in our societies.

Buddhist monks clash with military and police officers at a protest held in
front of Homagama Court against the arrest of Gnanasero Thero, General
Secretary of Bodu Balu Sena, an extremist Buddhist organization.
Photo credit: Eshan Fernando 

Decoding consent

Happenings, Mar '16
Cracking the consent conundrum was the focus of a panel discussion organized by Civilian Welfare Foundation, Kinky Collective and Varta Trust last month in Kolkata. Pompi Banerjee reports

Kolkata, February 20, 2016: Nearly 30% out of 71 people felt that the age of sexual consent in India should be 15 years. Almost 25% agreed that long-term intimate partners need not explicitly seek verbal consent every time they wanted to have sex with each other, another 30% were undecided. Among those who clearly disagreed with this statement, there were far more women than men. Not saying no or not resisting advances implies consent for sex – only 54% of the audience disagreed with this statement. Consent for sex can be withdrawn at any point of time – 79% agreed, but 21% did not or were undecided, which was equally worrying!

Photo credit: Arunabha Hazra

When the mind disassembles

My Story, Mar '16
Dementia is the focus of Pallav Bonerjee’s next in a series of personal narratives on psychology, people and destiny

Many of you will have encountered this nebulous term called ‘dementia’. Unfortunately, it is becoming a rather familiar term these days. Dementia is a collection of symptoms essentially as a result of a chronic degenerative disease of the brain. These symptoms can include disturbances in memory (short-term memory), orientation and comprehension, calculation, learning capacity, language, thinking and judgement. There is currently a great deal of academic and clinical interest (both national and international) in trying to find a cure for this disorder, which mostly affects the elderly (typically, post 65 years of age).

Graphic credit: Pallav Bonerjee, Prosenjit Pal

The most common cause of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease, which was first discovered in 1906. Since then we have had over a 100 years to identify a cure and we haven’t been able to reach there yet. Just to give you a picture of the magnitude of its impact, currently around 35 lakh people in India have Alzheimer’s dementia. It is estimated that this number will double in the next 15 years. According to the February 2016 issue of TIME Magazine, “Globally, nearly 50 million people are living with dementia, most of which is caused by Alzheimer’s and in the absence of effective drugs and other interventions, this number is expected to double every 20 years”. Now, that is not a pretty picture.

Star quest: Fire and hope

Clickhappy! Star Quest, Mar '16
By Pawan Dhall

Star of the month: Jacinta Kerketta on a visit to St. Augustine's
College, Manoharpur where she completed her intermediate
studies (all photographs courtesy Jacinta Kerketta)
The third (October 2013) and fourth (November 2013) issues of Varta carried a column called Star Quest, a series of photo-stories of individuals who may not be public figures like politicians, artistes, social activists or media persons, but have in their own way contributed to social equity and empowerment around gender, sexuality and related issues. For a variety of reasons, including priority given to other interview and photography based columns, Star Quest was discontinued. With the October 2015 issue of Varta, we revived the column to continue sharing innumerable untold stories twinkling with inspiration!

The contribution of the ‘stars’ we zoom in on may be in an intimate arena – among friends and neighbours, their local community, a village or slum school, their own work place and so on. It may not have attracted any media attention, yet the importance of their efforts cannot be underscored enough. Varta is happy to bring to light such hidden ‘stars’ and focus on endeavours that generate hope for a better present and future.