Thursday, July 16, 2020

Paradise for wildlife created on a private land in India

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2 Tigers enjoying in water hole at Ranthambore Tiger Reserve | Source: Wildness.in via Flickr

Amidst the horror filled reports and anecdotes making it to the news bulletin in 2020, a wonderful story of altruism emerges from Rajasthan, India. Complete lockdowns followed by nations might have brought down our productivity and economy but it gave nature a chance to heal from the torments it faced due to us humans. However, Aditya and Poonam Singh, a couple from Rajasthan lent the environment a helping hand in speeding up the process of bringing biodiversity back to life.

The couple moved to Sawai Madhopur, a city in Rajasthan near Ranthambore Tiger reserve, in 1998. It was his passionate love for nature that made Aditya quit his prestigious Civil services job, give up the comfortable city life of New Delhi and shift to Rajasthan. In fact, his wife, Poonam was the one who suggested they move since both of them fell in love with Ranthambore when they first visited the National Park. “My first sighting was a tigress with three cubs on a hill. It was magical. At the end of the trip, I just asked him if we can move to Ranthambore. He wanted it too and within months we moved” says an ecstatic Poonam Singh.

After moving, they started a tourist resort as a means of earning their daily bread. Gradually, Mr. Aditya started purchasing the barren agricultural fields around Ranthambore Tiger reserve (RTR), an area known as Bhadlav (now Bhadlao). These fields would often be visited by predators like tigers, had no access to good roads or electricity, and were not being used extensively for farming. Due to such dangerous circumstances Mr. Singh got  fields at a cheap price from the owners who wanted to sell and move out.

Mr Singh left these plots of land for a long time to the mercy of nature and they soon grew into plush mini forests with two natural water holes. He also constructed a few artificial water holes for the animals visiting the area during summer heat. “I just bought this and did nothing to it except removing the invasive species. We allowed the land to recover and now after 20 years it has become a lush green patch of forest which is frequently visited by all kinds of animals, including tigers, leopards and wild boars, throughout the year,” says Singh.

These mini forests provide shelter and protection to those sub-adult tigers which are driven towards the edges of Ranthambore Tiger Reserve. Additionally, the couple is also working towards building a homestay for tourists which will be powered by renewable energy sources like solar and wind power. Mr. Singh’s beautiful story of their 40 acres huge sanctuary was shared to the public by The World Economic Forum via twitter and his efforts were highly lauded by millions of people.

The once barren fields which are now lush green forest have seen tremendous growth in commercial value. Mr Singh is regularly approached by suiters for sales or joint development of this area however he has never entertained these proposals. He says..  “Money was never the consideration. It is just about my love for nature and wildlife” Such unselfish acts are indeed rare in today’s times. Aditya and Poonam Singh are indeed a prime example of late Mahatma Gandhi’s saying ‘Be the change you wish to see in the world’.

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October 23, 2020 3:57 PM

Male gaze, their female guardians and sports-wear

In Helen Cixous’ essay, ‘The Laugh of Medusa’, she urges women to redefine what their body means to them, not just physically but also socially, emotionally and politically. This could happen by re-writing about your body in a way you deem  fit, the expression you identify with and separating it from how your body has been written about by men. The expression could be how you view your body separate from the patriarchal lense.

It is no secret that a woman’s body is subject to critique. While clothing for men is just a tool to cover themselves as per the surrounding environment, clothing for women isa social and political narrative that dictates their life or as we affectionately call it ‘culturally appropriate’.

The clothing style could vary. It could be a woman covered head to toe in a Burqa, it could be a woman who decides to wear sports-wear in a park or it could be jeans and a top. Everything is critically evaluated by men and by women who work towards protecting the male gaze.

The male gaze is a heterosexual way of looking at female bodies that sexualises these bodies into an object. It is a gaze that runs on the self-affirmative notion that the bodies of women, and what they do with it, is directly linked to how they  appear in front of a man.

In a recent incident in Bangalore, India, popular Indian actress Samyuktha Hegde was abused and threatened by senior political leader of the congress party, Kavitha Reddy,  for wearing sports-wear, in Bangalore’s Agara Lake park. She was exercising with her friend.

Kavitha Reddy initially claimed she was in indecent attire and went onto morally police and then later abused the actress and her friend.  A supposedly progressive political leader gets uncomfortable by what women are wearing. It breaks into an argument and a fight where the politician is supported by five to six men. Later on, the police appear to be appeasing the politician instead of the women who were harassed. Although she did apologise, her apology came after her video went viral, and as a protection for her own political reputation.

To look at Samyuktha Hegde’s clothing as a threat is to view her clothing as an act of obscenity therefore bullying her identity and sense of agency and reducing her to sexual object, who, by putting her in public, apparently gives the men present a right to look at her? Nevermind that she was there to workout like everyone else, her actions were confused as to how men look at her. In the video posted by the actress, the politician is surrounded by men who are championing her on. The politician choses to side with the patriarchal figures in shaming these women. Asking to protect from the male gaze is a far stretch but punishing women for the male gaze is where we should draw a line.

What roles does Kavitha Reddy play? She is the guardian of the male gaze. We find her in our mothers, in our grandmothers, in aunties and sometimes our friends. She understands a woman’s body as an object that is there to be looked at by men. She gets angry at women for wearing certain kinds of clothing but she is not angry at men for looking. The agency in this case always belongs to men.

When Cixous asks women to re-define their identity, she urges us to strangle the moral police that comes alive in such instances. It is the moral police that shames women for wearing clothes that don’t flatter their bodies or clothes that do flatter them. She urges us to reflect upon the source of such vigilance. Do we shame other women because we believe in what we are saying or our identity is partially (or  wholly) shaped by the male gaze?

Whether we chose to wear a burqa, or a dress, or variations of the new type clothing produced everyday, the crux of the matter is that it should not worry anyone apart from the one wearing it. The identity of a woman, sexual or otherwise, has to be redefined to be separated from the men and their gaze. We have to draw a line otherwise people in power will continue to abuse their power and preserve patriarchy and male gaze.

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