Posted on 29-09-2013
Filed Under (ART) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit Sengupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

Fine art prompted people to imagine differently in Western societies. When royalty patronized paintings, Kings were glorified; the Catholic Church utilized artists to decorate religious buildings. From mid 19th century, master ideators like Claude Monet, Renoir and Degas broke away from stifling French neo-classicism techniques to start the art revolution of Impressionism. This influenced French culture and spread around the world. Later, different schools of art brought disruption. Expressionism in the 20th century was inspired by 19th century’s Vincent van Gogh’s colours and strokes; Cubism, Surrealism, modern art, graphic art to street graffiti followed.

You may not visit art galleries regularly, but you will connect to how art has changed modern living by knowing the history of orukter amphiboles as an illustration of art in daily life. In the 14th century, Italian painter Simone Martini imagined a moving machine, expressing a man-powered carriage with four wheels in a painting even when reigning Catholicism prohibited such esoteric ideas. This was the very first imagination of human mobility with inanimate aid. He named it automobile, from Greek word "auto" meaning self and Latin word "mobils" meaning moving. Artist, inventor and all time genius Leonardo da Vinci did an engineering drawing of a 3-wheeler moving machine in 1478. French military man Nicolas Cugnot, in 1770, put vapour in a prototype steam-powered machine that crawled the Paris streets at 2mph. In 1792 American inventor Oliver Evans made a high-pressure steam engine and dredger he called orukter amphiboles. It moved on both land and water. This name was so difficult that The New York Times resurrected the name automobile in 1897, made it popular, so it’s since stuck. Germans Karl Benz and Gottlieb Daimler experimented with working internal combustion engines around 1886, and in early 1900s, Henry Ford’s Model T was the first design that went into mass-production. So just imagine the influence of art; the most demanding toy for all age groups, the automobile, is the extension of artist Martini’s painting canvas.

In innumerable consumer home visits I’ve observed that about 20% Indians flaunt money on lifestyle aspiration. They keep adding electronic and digital gadgets in their homes, but don’t bother to live artistically with the equipment. A Rs 1 lakh (1200€) flat TV is installed with wires hanging to the set-top-box, video player and power point. Similarly, the digital album’s wire visibly droops to a faraway switch. Fancy wall clocks and expensive lamps lose their elegance with unkempt wiring. When I ask why wires are not concealed in the wall, the answer is more money will be spent, and it’s not necessary. If I suggest spending Rs 75,000 (900€) on the TV and using Rs 25,000 (300€) for decorative work to neatly hide exposed wires, there’s total revolt. Such wire-concealing jobs will not give better visual effect or status-cum-show-off value in product display. Besides, it’s difficult to get odd masonry jobs done, so they’d rather put the entire budget on better quality products. Some say they regularly change equipment, so why waste time in artistic work when no family member or friend notices such neatness? Clearly the art in living style is totally demeaned.

The other day a friend’s wife asked for interior decoration ideas for their new million dollar villa in a sophisticated housing layout. Of course I agreed to design without charging fees, but estimated Rs 50-75 lakhs (60000€ – 90000€) to decorate their 6000 sqft individual home. She revealed she could invest Rs 6- 8 lakhs (7200€ – 9600€) only. Money was not the holdup for this senior professional in a multinational company earning an 8-figure annual salary. Spending Rs 5 crores (600,000€) for lifestyle bragging was enough; they saw no purpose in budgeting for décor. However, when you have money, unless you allocate some of it to live artistically with an aspect that distinguishes you, your mindset can never change. After 12-14 hours at work and travel every day, you need an artistic ambience at home to recharge yourself, to enjoy your life’s dream. Allowing your family to experience artistic taste is a leap in imagination that gets embedded in the subconscious. Even into the future, this brings many intangible benefits to raise the quality of life.

This leap in imagination was what I was searching for when working for a paints company in 2004. In blind tests, this brand’s product quality was as good as the leader’s. In India, wall paints are sold in non-aspirational hardware stores where consumers never visit for decoration purposes; professionals or contractors buy the paints. How could we involve consumers in paints selection so they participate in the celebratory, hygienic, artistic activity of painting their homes? The objective was to make the brand synonymous with decorative art, and rouse people towards artistic living.

In this client’s office one day I saw an old picture of a European hanging in a corner. I discovered he was the founder of paint blends in 1773, the famous “colour maker” who invented Prussian Blue. That immediately sparked off a string of activities. In consumer research, both consumers and professionals were inspired by the idea of home decoration with paints that bore the signature and expertise of the founder of paints. We positioned the brand to invite consumers to “Paint your Imagination” and renamed the decorative paints of Berger brand to Lewis Berger. In the container’s back panel we wrote the founder’s history, illustrating his photo from the office wall picture. The branding symbolically represented a painter’s palette; the container was redesigned to look like a cosmetics box. This authentication of direct descent from the paints inventor together with the branding’s artistic approach made the brand grow seriously in the market.

Nonetheless, it still bothers me that Indian consumers are more conscious of home painting but not of rendering it a piece of art. How we can make artistic influence enter and transport our society to a different level? Only then will people realize that without a creative touch, lifestyle is artless.

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Posted on 22-09-2013
Filed Under (YOUTH) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit Sengupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

Indian higher education develops excellent analytical capability in students, making them logical and effective in passing the different rounds of competitive tests, discussion groups and interviews to bag a great job. In your youth, at home, school and college, the values inculcated in you were to be obedient, respect elders, love and share everything with the family, live harmoniously with neighbours, conscientiously learn what’s taught and reproduce that in examinations to succeed with flying colours.

After confidently clearing all tests, you join the working world. Only to realize that analytics alone gives no results. You are expected to ideate out-of-the-box; are admired for tactical new angles you can bring to kill competitors. Your efficacy is measured in how you ruthlessly, aggressively thrash competition entering your market territory. You also have to beat colleagues in performance to become a leader. You discover that an amorphous entity outside the enterprise, that’s under no one’s control, is what business is entirely dependent on. That’s the customer, whose insights you have to use in drawing up the company’s strategy. Suddenly at work, it’s the “bad student” antics that are treasured, like marketplace fighting, challenging set norms, finding solutions purely through one’s own wits. Many “good student” managers cannot take this total turnaround in mindset and practice. If you’re one of them, you’ll intellectualize your job, engage in heavy analytics. Meanwhile, behind your back, the competition is nibbling away into the market share of your company’s products.

This capitalistic world is akin to Africa’s savanna grassland-cum-forest, home to animals like lions, hippos, wild dogs and hyenas, crocodiles, wild elephants, snakes, among many others. Their attack can chop you, crush you or chomp you up. Survival of the fittest is the name of the game, exactly the way it’s among competitors in the capitalistic marketplace. Here it’s like traversing the savanna where analytics becomes a deadlock impeding a market win. Without becoming a warrior who’s watching every market movement, you’ll be eaten up in this savanna jungle. Conversely, the communist economic culture is like the frozen North Pole. Everything’s very cold and decided by the state; you need nothing more than to protect yourself with heat. Competition barely exists here, so you can happily create heated analytics as the North Pole freezes all other action.

In the savanna, what role does art play to change your total perspective of work and life? Even in today’s Internet era that’s proliferated with pornography, a bold 19th-century extreme close-up painting of the female vulva called “Origin of the World” still has the power to scandalize the world. “L’Origine du Monde” came to Paris’ Musée d’Orsay in1995, after being in private hands for over a century. The museum mounted it behind glass and gave it special security in case it drove offended visitors to become violent. Its creator, Jean Désiré Gustave Courbet, pioneered the Realist movement in French painting. He vociferously guarded his freedom: “When I am dead let this be said of me: He belonged to no school, to no church, to no institution, to no academy, least of all to any régime except the régime of liberty." But Courbet was unable to exhibit this painting because he could have been sent to prison on charges of “affronting public and religious morals.”

The popular Paris Match magazine recently published an article that stirred up a storm. Had Courbet painted his muse in entirety, but severed the top half to avoid public dishonor for her? It’s now revealed she was Irishwoman Joanna Hiffernan, mistress and model of American artist James McNeil Whistler, and that the two artists fell out over her. In 2010 an amateur French art-collector found with an antique dealer what he reckoned to be the top half of L’Origine. He bargained, bought the painting for £1,200 and subjected it to various scientific tests. Earlier this year, the expert on Courbet, Jean Jacques Fernier, confirmed it to be part of the same canvas, authenticating it as L’Origine’s top half. But a controversy still reigns, not everyone is convinced. This new-found top half is now supposedly worth £35 million.

Take another masterpiece, the 500-year-old Renaissance painting Mona Lisa by Leonardo Da Vinci. It’s still steeped in mystery as nobody has discovered who the woman with the alluring smile was. But what’s new is that the National Committee for Cultural Heritage in Italy has found that by magnifying high resolution images of Mona Lisa’s eyes, letters and numbers can be seen. A microscope is required as the human eye cannot view them. Silvano Vinceti, President of the Committee said, “Da Vinci put a special emphasis on the Mona Lisa. We know …in the last years of his life he took the painting with him everywhere …in a secure case. We also know that Da Vinci was very esoteric and used symbols in his work to give out messages.” In the right eye’s black pupil, Leonardo da Vinci wrote LV, possibly his signature. In the left eye are unidentifiable symbols.  This world’s most famous painting was featured in Dan Brown’s bestseller book The Da Vinci Code, which became a film starring Tom Hanks. Brown had suggested that secret messages are hidden in Mona Lisa, a painting Da Vinci started in 1503 and completed just before his 1519 death in France. Mona Lisa was once stolen, twice vandalized; even a tea mug was thrown on it by a Russian woman who was refused French citizenship. That’s how closely the world identifies Mona Lisa as the reference of France today.

So my sub-25 Zapper friends, analytics can definitely land you a boring career where you make good money, but your imagination will be stifled. By bringing creativity into this traditional work, you will keep your mind and business vibrant. Those of you who want a creative arts career, learning from these masters will help you ideate differently. Because they have shown how art can impact and change society, even 5 centuries after they have gone.

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Posted on 15-09-2013
Filed Under (ART) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit Sengupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

Even ten years ago it was difficult to get a new piano in India. Now multiple stores are selling all kinds of Western musical instruments. A music store will show you a high priced Yamaha piano made in Japan, and the same brand made in Korea with a price advantage. It’s for the customer to decide the quality difference. India’s economic reforms have addressed both the means and materials of creative arts: instruments, equipment, paints, brushes are imported from all over the world to indulge the artistic inclinations of the neo-rich.

Parents nowadays drive helter-skelter—taking their children for extra-curricular activities—be it ballet, karate, terracotta sculpting or micro-light aircraft flying. It’s often their big show-off factor. They’d rather not inflict children to what they went through in childhood, the traditional guruji coming home to teach classical music to girls, while boys scampered off with neighbourhood kids to play cricket. These same neo-middle class parents cajole their children to study, study and study. They drive them for post-school coaching in at least two subjects. Parents, mostly the mother, study just as hard vicariously, burning the midnight oil to supply hot, strengthening badam milk to the child in the wee hours. After all, unless children get 90-95 per cent marks by hook or crook, they won’t be eligible for elite colleges these parents coveted but could not enter. Earlier, everyone vied for a government job; that’s now shifted to post graduation in foreign universities. After such an exhausting effort, if the child joins a multinational company, the parents beam in achievement, anticipating a good marriage and big earnings. But, when within a year the child is ready to quit work, there’s utter bewilderment.


‘The office job is too boring. I want a creative arts career.’

I’ve received SOS messages from several friends who’ve reached this devastated state. They ask: ‘Please help! What’s a career in visual arts? Does photography pay? What’s a musician’s earning? TV set design, is that a profession?’ and so on. They know they can’t control their children the way their parents restricted and indoctrinated them during the Licence Raj. My friends plead with me to advise their children to retain the superior job their higher education got them, and pursue artistic work only as an after-hours hobby. Now that’s a tall order. They’re my friends, but I understand their Zap generation children better. These under-25-ers belong to India’s new digi-tech era, they’ve never experienced skimping, they operate in a cyber world where at the click of a mouse they get what they want. Right now, while deciding to take a creative arts option as mainstream, they often get restless because the Internet’s inhuman virtual guidance can get frustrating in providing the next step. When revealing this new interest to parents, they draw a blank, not of incomprehension alone, but of utter helplessness, as it’s never occurred to parents to consider art as a bona fide career-building option.

Art has never been a mainstream focus in our country, either for masterminding knowledge or even in living style. India’s beautiful artistic style of past centuries is neglected as ancient traditional art. There’s been no disruptive art movement here as in Europe that triggered people to ideate differently from the history of classism. In the 20th century, British influence started some Western art painting with sudden spurts of copying Cubism, Surrealism, Impressionism, without focus of purpose or how it translates into India’s culture. In contemporary times, there’s been no transcending the Indian art movement that has swayed the imagination of society.

So my young friends of the Zap generation, if you want to be a painter, writer, photographer, inventor, industrial designer, fashion designer, creative director of advertising or a TV channel’s set designer, you need to know of the struggles and evolution of painting, music, photography, theatre, cinema and architecture that the creators of new art movements in Western Europe went through. They have presented us with a bouquet of creative ideas that have carved the route of human advancement, always as shock-of-the-new. My proposition is not to say that Europe is the only example of art, but here they masterminded art to drive society with a creativity grid in every area. People continuously challenged the benchmark in every domain through art. They won control over nature through creative inventions, art has directed living trends, and creative superiority was established as the reference point of surpassmark that has influenced industries too.

Before the 17th century, Christianity did not allow liberty of art, literature, science or invention. The line of control was imagining God, never beyond. But in the last three centuries, the West has seen incredible artistic upheavals after the Church unfroze freedom of expression. Art has existed through cave paintings, almost 40,800 years ago, even before written language was born. Visual art has colour, symbolic expression, signs of communication and the force of human society. Today, no creative format can ideate without encountering the genesis and revolution of art in multiple media.

Whatever creative direction you want to specialise in, remember that hot bath of art you need to dive into. The only difference in pursuing art as a profession is that you cannot predict your income. If you stretch your creativity to extremes, money will automatically come your way. You have to simultaneously develop your commercial mind. While you architect your artistic ideation to create new distinction, you have to value your commercial compensation. Let’s hope India’s young generation can express a different creative tune to start a movement to establish creative art as a real vocation for certain kinds of people. Enjoy the creative art profession, teach people to appreciate art, and get it recognised as a profession in India. Being artistically imaginative in business or in social life will enormously contribute to our future. Let me continue this subject of art movements in Western society next week.

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Posted on 08-09-2013
Filed Under (ART) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit Sengupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

When people plan on buying a piece of land, it’s normally to make a country house, plant an orchard or grow some crops. Have you heard of a painter who invested in land to grow his imagination for his painting canvas? A hundred and thirty years ago this French artist, looking out of a running train’s window on a journey crossing Normandy County, west of Paris, identified Giverny as the place for an incredible Paradisiacal garden for all time. If you go there you will never forget his exquisite arrangement of nature’s colours.

Control over nature: Unstructured is how this garden was considered compared to typical French formal geometric gardens that started from the 16th century. The specialty of French architected gardens, Jardin à la française, is their demonstration of man’s mastery over nature. All plants are constrained and directed, clipped and stylized symmetrically to impose order over vegetation. Emperor Louis XIV had a landscape architect called André Le Nôtre who designed the grand Gardens of Versailles in the 17th century. It was inspired by 16th century Italian Renaissance garden characterized by laying out patterns at different levels with fountains, cascades and sculptures animating the garden on mythological themes. It sought to represent the Renaissance ideals of harmony and order.

Several new technologies were developed for these stupendous gardens. There was géoplastie, the science of moving large amounts of earth, hydrology for bringing water to irrigate plants and activate fountains, and hydroplasie, the art and science of shaping fountain water to erupt in different shapes. Similar effects were used in fireworks to control fire. Fountains and fireworks were accompanied by music in a design that displayed how the will of man can shape nature, water and fire. French garden designers considered their work a branch of artistic architecture. They constructed the space outside walls of buildings according to the rules of geometry, optics and perspective. Architecture’s dominant role in the garden remained until the English garden concept arrived in Europe in the 18th century. That’s when gardens were inspired not from architecture but from romantic painting.

Village made famous by an artist: The artist who zeroed in on Giverny was so in love with nature that he wanted control over the painting of nature. Normally the painter’s palette has mixed in it the painter’s perspective or imagination of the universe, nature and everything else the mind ejects when a brush of colours touch a canvas. But this painter was an exceptionally different breed. On visiting Louvre Museum, he’d see painters copy from the old masters, but he would instead sit by a window to paint what he saw, with the paints and tools that always accompanied him. At the end of 19th century when the European artistic society went through a mutation between classic and neo idealism in art, he broke all norms and trends. He settled himself to create an incredible garden, and painted multiple large, panoramic canvases which are the symbols of the genesis of Impressionism.

This was Claude Monet, founder of French Impressionist painting and culture. The Impressionist art movement was derived from his painting called Impression, Sunrise (Impression, soleil levant). Monet best expressed the philosophy of Impressionism with his hundreds of landscape paintings. From 1887 onwards, his presence in Giverny attracted several American artists to settle in this small village that’s existed since neolithic times. Archeological finds of this settlement date from Gallo-Roman times, even earlier to 1st and 2nd centuries AD. In 1789 Giverny’s population was 450; by 2008 it had increased to just 550. But the American artists, inspired by Monet’s work, lived and worked in Giverny upto World War I. In fact Madison Gallery in New York held an exhibition called "The Giverny Group" of six American Giverny artists, Frederick Frieseke, Richard Miller, Lawton Parker, Guy Rose, Edmund Greacen and Karl Andersonlike. American painter Theodore Earl Butler even married Monet’s stepdaughter Suzanne Hoschedé in 1892. Prolific American practitioners of Impressionism in the Giverny art colony included Willard Metcalf, Louis Ritter, Theodore Wendel, John Leslie Breck among others.

It’s the American connection of Monet’s Giverny that has been a boon to the Monet Foundation. His son left Claude Monet’s Giverny property to the Académie des Beaux-Arts in 1966. Several American donors have contributed to keep Monet’s home and gardens an exceptional living place where over 400,000 visitors come every year from around the world. Monet lived and painted in Giverny till his death in 1926 although he traveled outside for long spells of painting. He’s interred in the village cemetery. Visiting the infinite space he has created you feel like you are walking on the canvas of the master of Impressionism. His passion of gardening, color and art made him personally design compositions of flowers and water lilies to arouse his creative instincts.

My pilgrimage to Monet in Giverny started in the early 1980s. I’ve found this floral masterpiece interspersed with large trees like weeping willows and poplars, Japanese bridges to be truly inspirational. Last June when I asked my Parisienne friend and colleague Jose and his wife Christiane to join us for a weekend Giverny visit, he hesitatingly admitted his guilt; being an artist and Monet admirer, he’s never gone there. With great enthusiasm he accepted my invitation, saying it will be better to enjoy Giverny with an Indian-origin French artist to get a perspective different from the French. From the non-descript exteriors of the pink brick building in Giverny you can never imagine a magnificent garden museum inside, especially in non-season winter. Now in summer, there was an hour long queue of visitors to enter a very small door to enjoy this hallucinating garden, the living home of a genius.

To forever carry away a flavor of Monet’s Giverny, we bought flower seeds at the museum store there. They are germinating and will soon give us the fragrance of Monet’s art in our garden in India.

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Posted on 01-09-2013
Filed Under (WOMAN) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit Sengupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

Crimes of rape, gang rape, abuse and assault on women are being hotly debated on national TV, generally veering on 3 sets of opinions: that it’s made into a political issue, or its police inefficiency, and lastly it’s the growing rowdy-ism problem in society. Rarely have I heard anyone talk about the practical angle of who’s fuelling it.

Clearly, the mechanical, ritualistic, repetitive item numbers from Bollywood films cannot look so innocent. Repetition of such permissiveness, analogous to the affordable, non-distinctive chowmein selling on urban street corners, makes it become permissible to society. Such a social entry of repetitive item numbers has every potential of resulting in dangerous misdemeanor. The impact audiovisual cinema and TV entertainment have on society is tremendous. Even in the silent film era, American FBI’s J Edgar Hoover managed to expel renowned creative filmmaker Charlie Chaplin for making The Great Dictator. Although the film made fun of Hitler, Hoover accused Chaplin of “anti-Americanism,” saying audiovisual communication can be construed as influential to society, whether the information was good, bad, right, wrong. So let’s not undermine the power of audiovisual media in influencing our billion+ people. Simultaneously, I absolutely cannot support Hoover for banishing a genius like Chaplin whose creativity brought continuous newness in his every film.

I’m not against any form of liberty of creativity of a filmmaker, but we have to differentiate between originality of film making and copycat repetitive versions that exploit women’s self esteem. Sizzlers item numbers are digital industrial reproductions, they have no romance, and are accepted by society. Everyone watches them together unlike the hidden factor of pornography or B/C Grade films. The repetitive item numbers look alike in their lewd exposure of the frontal and backside of a woman’s torso. The uneducated, whether employed or unemployed, receive signals that these girls driving the men are beckoning them. Repetitive item numbers have purportedly become mandatory to catch the public’s eye, pull them into theatres, or dingy, sweat-smelling video shops in small towns and villages, or directly stream onto mobile phones of most of our 900 million users. Somehow Helen’s cabaret numbers in days of yore would fit a storyline; today’s item numbers pop-up with barely any provocation. In general, plenty of boys swivel around a single, generously endowed girl, who shows off her oomph with every possible body revealing movement she makes. Her steamy allure makes the boys go crazy, because she’s the heroine, not a vamp like Helen.

Shouldn’t Bollywood actresses help society by putting a stop to the repetition of the vanilla they are made to perform? The Bollywood concept took birth with India’s economic reforms in 1991 when business doors flung open to foreigners. Liberalization became an adrenaline rush for Indians living abroad as people started talking about possibilities in their motherland. That’s when Bollywood, the make-believe world of song and dance, co-opted the Indian Diaspora. Sitting in the Western world, “desi” children born abroad got a different taste from Western society. They took Bollywood as folkloric effect with diverse entertainment of fantasy and exhilaration. Repetitive item numbers became a basic natural rhythmic ritual.

Take a look at some suggestive lines of popular Hindi songs: “Jungle mein aaj mangal karungi bhooke shero se khelungi mein (I will have fun today with hungry lions in the jungle),” obviously insinuating “with desperate men” in film Agneepath. The film Dabangg has words like, "Amiya se aam hui darling tere liye (I have grown from being little to big just for you).” Dabangg2’s "Mein to tandoori murgi hoon yaar, gatkale saiyya alcohol se” talks of downing a tasty dish with a drink but means, “I’m really tempting, try me out.” In film Tees Maar Khan there’s a direct tease, “Sheila ki jawani, I am too sexy for you mein tere hath na aani (my fresh sensuality should not get into your desirous hands).” While film Rowdy Rathore provokes with, "Pallu ke neeche chupa ke rakha hai uthadu toh hungama ho (I have kept it hidden in the folds of my dress, people will go crazy if I reveal it).”

Such arousing audiovisual training makes the uneducated young boys from tier 3, tier 2, urban to metros take it all very seriously, they feel they are allowed to join in. Time and frustration hang on their hands even as they watch skimpily clad beautiful heroines ready for a collective session with the boys surrounding her. Of course, at the deep-rooted nadir of rape-reason is our cultural disrespect for women. It starts from favoring boys over girls at home. Boys in every strata of society grow up believing it’s their birthright to get what they want. They’ve observed that having power over others means nobody can touch them even if they’ve done something illegal. Rapists emerge when sudden opportunity makes them try to fructify power over others and win their birthright. We call it gang rape, but as boys they just want to exactly become that Bollywood dancer’s pet.

It’s true the media is more prolific nowadays that earlier. They have seriously brought this subject of increasing rape and horrific gang rape to public attention. When you are educated, you take repetitive item numbers as pastime or entertainment, and then forget about it. Such heady stuff is made to attract the masses to jangle box office collections. For them, melodious, gyrating girls are willingness personified because they are exhibiting their sexuality among a gaggle of men. They appear to be driving men as a group, the way they want to.

In conversation with young, educated, professional women, I discovered they’d never go for such films alone, and consider twice before wearing certain clothes. On an evening or night show, they ensure a male friend accompanies them. Rather than risk being the victim of gang rape, these young girls living away from home go with a gang of friends. If this is the city dweller’s plight, can you imagine the vulnerable situation for women in smaller towns or among uneducated people?

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