Posted on 29-12-2013
Filed Under (TRENDS) by Shombit

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

Ten years ago I recommended the idea of spiraling trend for a big company to build the attitude of their employees in this direction. Today’s social reality is that spiraling trend has incredibly taken shape with the mobile phone. So to quicken the pace of business, any company that’s investing in desktop computers is already old fashioned with a top down mentality. Tomorrow’s spiraling trend is a handheld device that serves every personal, social and business need.

The other day, I watched a 2-year-old snatch away her mother’s mobile phone. She then pressed some buttons and confidently held forth in non-understandable baby language for at least 25 minutes before someone could disentangle her from her full engagement with the mobile phone game. She imitated her mother, father and others she’s obviously seen with all types of voice intonations, hand gestures, laughter, acquiescence, nodding her head, heavy disagreement, cajoling, reprimand, all the while walking back and forth with the left hand holding the phone stuck to her ear. There was nobody on the other side of the line. Her expression of talking like an adult and preference for this handheld device over toys and other colourful items children are normally attracted to, impressed upon me that today’s tech-born generation is thoroughly embroiled in the "mobility" trend. With technology amazingly becoming a companion even at this tender age, access to everything through a mobile device is taken for granted by such children. At no other time in history has the human hand and fingers been so occupied on an all-time basis. The ingenious connect between the mobile device maker and the software writer has created this previously unstated human need.

Mobility mania has triggered the spiraling trend of non-stop societal movement. People travel huge distances mentally when talking to friends, relatives and business associates. The result is that physical travel has become an obvious trend. Women traditionally spend more on ornamentation, but the mobile phone has become the central adornment for both sexes. The more you align with the mobility trend, more efficiently can you simplify all kinds of jobs. Take the case of a field sales job where a 12th class pass salesman travels from retail to retail. If he can instantly give a report on the availability of his own company’s products in the stores, requisition for replenishment, take photographs on the visibility of his products and those of competition, it would enormously facilitate business. Such devices and customized software, so very essential for enhancing business, are available nowadays. They provide the bottom-up perspective with which to assess realtime information for instant analysis and market feedback. Companies can also track the salesmen’s movements at any given time with the GPS system in the mobile phone. Young men from small towns and the city’s periphery are on the lookout for such tech-savvy jobs because they are extremely familiar with the mobile phone, 800 million of which already exist in the country today.

Unfortunately, most companies, even the education system and the bureaucracy believe desktop computing is the right investment as that becomes a physical company asset. If companies continue to provide desktop computers to such new generation salesmen, they will miss out on speed and accuracy as the 12th pass salesman has limited patience and computer expression at the end of a harrowing day in the market. So like the archaic desktop, the company may soon be overtaken by the spiraling trend and become a part of history. When adopting such new technology, India becomes in tune with current foreign trend influence. Look at how the Government of Delhi got formed. The common man’s opinion was taken through the internet and sms messages, aside of course from face-to-face meetings with the electorate. This is establishing increased transparency and accountability. But our education system makes human intelligence get stuck into learning by rote. Students study just to get the right number to pass exams. Global education systems are different and changing. In the US, students are given a problem to solve. The difference in Europe is that students are asked to find a problem and then find a solution to that problem. Western systems have advanced the human science domain by establishing capabilities in a grid. Art, culture, economics, social science, lifestyle, invention among other systems can all be put in the forward movement of the spiraling trend grid while the performance can also be measured.

Future trends indicate that women’s issues are getting raised by many educated, urban women coming forward to fight causes such as literacy, female feticide, victimization by in-laws, trafficking girls, police rape of female plaintiffs, child marriage, child prostitution, sati, sexual harassment, and other gender-related injustices. But the lot of rural women is still to be uncovered. I was in Madhya Pradesh recently, post the legislative assembly elections. A candidate who was making door-to-door visits in his constituency was narrating that women were the biggest opponent to the idea of providing toilet facilities at home for people in small towns and villages. They supposedly would have been the beneficiaries. What I discovered was that for women, going to the fields and water well for their daily washing of clothes and personal toilet and bath is the only time they experience release from bondage. They can leave the house without answering a hundred questions. It’s the only time they can socialize freely, chat, share their concerns and happy moments with other women. With home toilet facilities they would be totally confined and be at the beck and call or mercy of their husbands and in-laws.

So the perspective of what’s good and convenient for rural women cannot be decided by urban women or by politicians who want to do good. We may say the country is changing for the better, but as soon as we enter rural areas the spiraling trend gets left behind. I do hope a few years down the line the spiraling trend will impact rural people’s attitude towards change.

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Posted on 22-12-2013
Filed Under (POLITICS) by Shombit

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

Anaesthesia does not happen only in the operation theatre. Outside the OT, there’s permanent anaesthesia people can get into from which they don’t wake up. It could affect at the political, societal or individual level. For example, the resolve to return to Delhi’s electorate for an answer on whether without a clear majority a political party should form the Government has upset the mind-balance of other parties who’ve never considered such a move. Political power is also anesthesia.  Now let recount individual opulence aneasthesia with two women, not of high aristocratic stock, but who married into aristocracy. They got so engulfed in that anaesthetic living style, they became insensitive.

Farah: The daughter of Sohrab Diba, a middle class man and Captain in the Imperial Iranian Army, found herself catapulted into deep pomp and pleasure to wear the 2500-year-old crown of Iranian royalty. At age 9 Farah Diba lost her father, at 21 while studying architecture in Paris, her stunning beauty transported her into the royal arms of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, Shah of Iran. She married His Imperial Highness on 21 December 1959. The seed of anaesthesia was sown. In 1969 the title of Shahbanu (Empress) was created for her.

The Iranian imperial family was overthrown and legally abolished by the Ayatollah Khomeini led 1979 Iranian Revolution. But she continues to consider herself Shahbanu till today. In her 20-year life with the Shah, he went to other women but she did not bother as she was too busy being part of royal society. The Shah’s two previous wives bore him no son.

In a French television interview, I heard her admit to spending an anxious first month of marriage when she did not conceive. Without bearing a son, her royal status will be short-lived. The second month found her pregnant and slipping further into anesthesia. After 34 years of being deposed, she still maintains her family was ill treated at home and by other countries that refused them shelter in exile. She’s forgotten that her despot husband had formed a secret security agency called SAVAK that imprisoned over 100,000 political prisoners opposed to the monarchy, and inhumanly tortured them, as per a 1976 Amnesty Report.

Farah Diba claims her son Reza who crowned himself Shah of Iran in exile is the country’s only legitimate ruler. She fails to mention that Reza Shah, her father-in-law, was an army colonel who seized power in a coup in 1921, deposed the reigning Shah and crowned himself King. So in reality her pomp and pelf was a deception and ill gotten, not from royalty that lives with tradition over generations.

Nadine: From factory worker to Baroness is another step into anaesthesia. Nadine Lhopitallier, a school dropout from a basic middle class French family, got a job in an automobile factory. Looking for more money, she became a painter’s model and used his high society connections to enter films in 1952. She changed her name to Nadine Tallier. In 1962 her dream came true; she became not just a billionaire’s choice, but crossed the threshold into European aristocracy. Lhopitallier to Tallier was shortening of letters, much like an artist’s signature. But Tallier to Madame Baronne Nadine de Rothschild was total displacement in family and social status.

Name, power, money are three essentials she consciously sought, and achieved them all in marriage to Baron Edmond de Rothschild. Reminiscing her 40-year marriage, Nadine proudly explains in a TV show that a family cannot have 2 stars; the husband is the only star. To avoid divorce, the wife has to be submissive. She knew he was a womanizer, but she takes full credit for having done everything to keep her marriage by giving him space. She speculates that she’s perhaps a sophisticated seductress because she always attracts billionaires: “You cannot choose a rich man, he makes the choice. My husband asked me to marry him. I would never have married a plumber!” Not being an aristocrat by birth she says she’s not quite right for the Baron, but her hunger to marry into power, opulence, the title of Baroness, live in sophisticated society and surroundings, and travel around the world made her put on her calculated charms.

Even as a widow the last 10 years, she wallows in the glory of opulence. She’s opened a finishing school in Geneva and where she counsels independent women professionals and dependent housewives to, “Listen to your husband, remember he is the boss.” She is aware feminists will oppose her, but this was her remedy to reduce the increasing number of divorces in the country. In her words, “When you decide on your man, accept him in every situation. You may hear ungainly stories about him, face many problems, but take no action, nor ask any question. Just try to be beautiful always; other than that, don’t do anything.” According to her women have two characters, the image they portray and what is real, and it is upto women to keep the secret and never tell the truth.

In her recent book called “The men of my life” she frankly admits she’d never have penned it if her husband were alive. Considers herself a representative of aristocratic society, she does not care when, being a worker’s daughter, people chide her for saying she will never marry a plumber. She openly tells women to numb their life the way she has done, go after money, power and name, be submissive and a slave to keep the rich, society husband. She says money is a powerful ladder, you can do everything with; become a writer, social worker, a society philosopher or a thought leader. She has written many books to run the children’s homes that she supports. “A Baron can buy or sell anything,” says the Baroness, “I have done something good so our marriage went so well.” This is the opulence of anaesthesia, at the same time with feet firmly on the ground!

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Posted on 15-12-2013
Filed Under (POLITICS) by Shombit

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

“Sweep corruption away” is the intent of the broom (jhaadu) symbol political party. Various well wishers commenting online on their website said that “backward” (I’ve always hated this word because it’s against human dignity) classes, the poor and housewives will certainly identify with the broom representation. The respect that all these people deserve and have been denied is what the broom expects to restore.

Actually my livelihood journey started with a broom too. Jumping from a refugee colony outside Kolkata I landed with no better a status in France in 1973. I had no money, spoke no French language, but was fired by an ardent desire to turn into a Parisian artist. Towards that end a sweeper’s job in a Paris lithography studio was a silver lining start for me because I was spending time among famous artists. Initially I would sweep away the visible dirt in the middle of the floor. One day my employer Jacques Gourdon told me something in French which at that time I could not understand. So he took the broom and brush and showed me how I should first clean the corners. I later caught on that cleaning corners is critical and the most important skill to pick up for the job because that’s where sedimentation collects. If you don’t meticulously attack the difficult-to-reach areas to extract congealed dirt hidden there, the broad visible clean surfaces would just be a superficial lie.

This past experience of mine connected me very well to the “Jhaadu strategy.” I extracted two meanings from it: (1) Dignity for the millions in our country whose livelihood comes from the broom (2) Jhaadu to clean unwanted corruption and political drama that gives nothing to the common person. I must say that as a sweeper in Paris, nobody disturbed my dignity while I was executing my job. I was taught the skill of sweeping and I tried to perform to the best of my ability. Unfortunately in our country, poor, literate or illiterate people, whether or not they use brooms at work, are not only cheated with low wages, they also get no dignity in their living and working environment.

India’s extreme heterogeneous population who have been dominated and demoralized for 200 years by British colonial rule do not connect to the country’s political grain. In China, we had Mao Zedong who was a Marx and Lenin follower, but he brought in a new political perspective with the Cultural Revolution. He understood that in China’s cultural setting if everyone is not placed at one level, nothing can fall in order, The Cultural Revolution, extremely relevant to their country, was the innovative political dimension he designed and implemented. Whatever may have been his negative aspects, Mao injected a certain discipline in China that’s helped in economic upliftment. Disciplined Chinese Communism has been a political style that’s represented millions of poor people.

The Communist Party in India has tried to be poor friendly. However, their politics appear “imported” as they are not properly tailored to the common man’s needs nor have they been able to politically drive the nation’s economic requirement. In West Bengal, their big program was to distribute small pieces of land to the deserving masses. However, modernization has since changed the agrarian economy, preventing small farmers from earning a livelihood from such miniscule land holdings. Kerala, the other Communist bastion, saw a large exodus to the Gulf States for jobs. How many poor people can understand or connect to the Communists when they take up causes like anti-nuclear energy? Gandhiji tried to represent the poor, introduced secularism, but unfortunately his image is translated like that of a prophet. After all these past efforts to get close to the masses, when you look at this new party’s Jhaadu symbol, it undoubtedly relates and connects to 70-80% poor people in our country.

As in drawing up business strategy by extrapolating from customer insights, an interesting new trend the Jhaadu party started in the Delhi State elections is creating 70 constituency-specific election manifestoes. After about 20 meetings in each constituency, volunteers took away thousands of suggestions, analyzed them, and then drafted a customized agenda for the betterment of each constituency. The common points made up the party’s Delhi-level manifesto. Knowing the customers’ needs and desires is a surefire win in business. If applied with the same rigour in politics, the results can be tremendous.

Can a political party formed on the foundation of cleaning up society’s ills sustain the immense pressures of its detractors? If its leaders can uphold their avowed principles, manifesto and objective, India will see the masses actually taking part in real politics instead of merely casting votes as routine election activity. But from the media to different political parties, the Jhaadu party is being disgracefully provoked of having developed cold feet and being gutless to govern with outside support. As of now they have not capitulated, they are sticking to their guns of representing the masses and being anticorruption. However, if accusations from detractors make them and their ideology susceptible, they will become like all the others the common man has suffered since Independence. Hope that will not happen.

When a broom sweeps on the surface, like I first did in my sweeper’s job in Paris, it can polish society’s hard rhinoceros hide. But it’s the corners, like my employer taught me, that we need to get the dirt out of to really clean. Similarly society’s rhino hide can take the beating of natural calamities like tsunamis and earthquakes; manmade catastrophes of wars, piracy and robbery are also inflicted on unsuspecting people. But scratching below that rhino hide you’ll find the living matter that feels and bleeds. In that living mass of flesh there is illiteracy, neglect and discrimination that the same “backward” classes, the poor and housewives experience all the time. It’s mainly for the vulnerable in society that the broom is most familiar, aside from its purported purpose here of cleaning up society’s dirt.

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Posted on 08-12-2013
Filed Under (TRENDS) by Shombit

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

“Respect and save women” is the battle cry I’ve been advocating to fight heinous sex crimes against women. A Government commissioned study where 9500 sex workers were interviewed in 31 Indian states, found over 35% sex workers entering prostitution between ages 12 to 18, a crime arising from deception, poverty, ignorance and violence inflicted on women.

France is now criminalizing buyers of sex. Since my last week’s column, the National Assembly, lower house of parliament, on 4 December 2013 voted to make prostitution purchase a crime fined with Euros 1500, doubled if repeated. Customers have to attend a training course on prostitution and if websites hosted abroad contravene the French law, ISPs must block access to their service. At the same time this law will "decriminalise the prostitute" by annulling a "passive soliciting" offence introduced by a previous conservative administration. This bill is expected to pass the French Senate next June and become law after that.

The profile of sex workers in France has drastically changed. Twenty years ago 20% were foreigners, today 90% are trafficked into France from Eastern Europe, Africa, South America and China, mostly by prostitution rings. Last year, 51 human-trafficking networks were closed and 572 pimps arrested in France. “I don’t want a society in which women have a price,” said Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, French Minister for Women’s Rights. She said women working the streets are “bought and sold, swapped, detained, raped and tortured, deceived, trafficked, despoiled. It’s a system that generates $40 billion a year, benefitting mainly those who are trafficking people and drugs.” She hopes the new law will protect these women subjected to violence as it decriminalises soliciting and offers them help and an exit route.

But in practice, will this anti-prostitution law be counterproductive, driving the murky business further underground? A sex worker’s advocacy group called STRASS believes it will “force the whores to hide themselves even more.” A group of 60 celebrities and 343 “Salauds” men have denounced it, a philosopher has called it a "declaration of hatred of male sexuality." Down-to-earth opposition came from Médécins du Monde, an international organization of doctors who work very effectively in developing countries. In France they conduct over 18,000 interviews every year to check the health and welfare of sex workers. Their comment is that penalizing the prostitutes’ clients in Sweden, the law that France has imitated, forced sex workers “into places that are more out of the way, more exposed to violence and more dangerous.” In this situation a sex worker is less able to negotiate a fee, or have personal safety, and it’s more difficult for medical and social workers to reach them. If victimized, the sex worker is less likely to report to the police.

The French were known for their libertine tolerant approach towards prostitution. Under Napoleon, filles de joie were operating legally and brothels were inspected for health standards. In 1946, the French started outlawing brothels. This time round, according to a CSA poll, 79% men, 58% women, and most sex workers are against this law, but it’s the feminists who are most divided about it. As per daily paper Le Monde, four or five distinct currents have appeared. The prohibitionists want to forbid prostitution and consider everyone involved to be criminal. The abolitionists like the Minister of Women’s Rights, want to abolish prostitution but not treat the sex workers as criminals. The libertarians argue that the state cannot interfere with a woman’s right to do whatever she wants with her own body. The rule-makers take a similar position but want that some necessary regulation to be there. Le Monde points out contradictions when it comes to other feminist issues. For example influential intellectual Elisabeth Badinter defends women’s right to sell their sexual services, but opposes Muslim women’s right to wear the veil if they want to. On the other hand Merteuil of STRASS says her organization is “pro-sex, pro-porn, pro-whores, and for the freedom to wear the veil.”

If we turn to India, current laws on prostitution are quite ambiguous. It is neither legal nor illegal according to the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act (PITA) 1986. It is tolerated when sex workers practice it within 200 yards of a public place. However, sex workers are not protected under normal workers laws, not entitled to minimum wage benefits, compensation for injury or other benefits, but have the right to rescue and rehabilitation. India’s Ministry of Human Resource and Development survey reveals that prostitution is increasing, uneducated rural girls are mostly forced into it, 60% belong to Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes or Backward Classes and two thirds of prostitute families live below the poverty line. Even children of sex workers become victims of sexual abuse.

But the flesh trade is booming in places you would not connect it to. According to an NDTV report, it’s impossible to find hotel space in Pondicherry, the spiritual haven, because of its spellbinding dance bars. At a cost of Rs 250-300, in small rooms holding upto 300 high-spirited men, as the live band builds up crecendo, this is what you can witness: “From a small door, women enter wearing shawls around them. On local music called gaana paatu (Tamil version of Bollywood’s item number), the women do a dance and once in a while take off the shawl around them.” Every night hotels earn upto Rs 1.5 lakh with about 3 illegal nude dance shows. City NGOs say the women trafficked are from neighbouring states and held against their will by the highly organised sex trade.

Prostitution in France and India certainly has different and varying hues, nuances and attitudes, but undoubtedly, its degradation of women. Except for call girls and escort girls who choose to sell their bodies or live the high life with temporary partners, the majority of sex workers experience the humiliation of being dominated, hunted, harassed, beaten up and perversely violated upon.

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Posted on 01-12-2013
Filed Under (BUSINESS) by Shombit

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

Is prostitution a victimless crime as it’s consensual and disturbs no one? Arguments for and against are rife. In fact in most of Europe, South America, Australia, large parts Africa among other places, prostitution is legal. In India, brothels and pimping is illegal while prostitution is not regulated.

France’s ruling Socialist Party recently tabled a bill that makes a man a criminal if he pays for sex. That’s created a huge flare-up. The sex buyer can be fined 1,500 Euros, on repeat offence he pays double. A dissenting group led by writer Frederic Beigbeder, calling themselves "343 Salauds" (Dirty Swines), have signed a petition saying, "Touche pas a ma Pute!" (Hands off my Tart!), which Causeur (Chatterer) magazine has published. They object to Government interference in desire and pleasure: "We love freedom, literature and intimacy. When the state starts taking charge of our private parts, all three are in danger. In opposition to the sexually correct, we intend to live as adults." The words “sexually correct” are a take-off on what many believe is current French obsession of being “politically correct.”

What’s outraged the French is that this petition drew a parallel on two very important causes the progressive left had fought for and won, anti-racism and abortion. Indignation is against swindling the anti-racist slogan, "Touche pas a mon Pote!" (Hands off my Pal) coined in1984. A French NGO named SOS Racisme, created by persons close to Socialist Party and left movements, stood for brotherhood and against racial discrimination through this phrase on a yellow hand symbol. So they consider "Touche pas a ma Pute!" demeans their work, alleging the signatories are right-wing reactionaries guarding their macho privileges.

The "343 Salauds" refers to 343 Salopes (Sluts) manifesto that Existentialist philosopher and writer Simone de Beauvoir had led for women’s rights in 1971. She’d collected signatures from 343 renowned women who falsely declared they had abortions when abortion was illegal. The culmination of this movement was France legalizing abortion in 1975 (see my article Anne Zelensky, one of the original 343 Salopes, says, "When it comes to prostitution, no-one is free: not the prostitute and not the client." Anne-Cecile Mailfert of Osez le Feminisme (Dare to be Feminist) organisation disagrees with the Salauds: "They are 343 dominant males who want to protect their position and continue to use money for access to women’s bodies."

Interestingly, actress Catherine Deneuve who was among those 1971 Salopes signatories, is today opposing this bill along with 60 celebrities including crooner Charles Aznavour: "Without supporting or promoting prostitution, we reject the penalization of those who prostitute themselves and those who buy their services, and we ask for a real debate without ideological prejudice." Catherine Deneuve had shot into stardom when she shockingly played a prostitute who found satisfaction in clandestine sex only, in Luis Bunuel’s cult film "Belle de Jour" (see my article

One of the bill’s perpetrators, Maud Olivier, defends it as, "getting rid the consequence of unequal and archaic relationships between men and women." The bill aims to decriminalize France’s estimated 40,000 sex workers because it will override a 2003 law that bans them soliciting for custom publicly. This kind of law where buying sex is a crime already exists in Sweden since 1998. Men have to be careful on the street where police are on the watch with video cameras. Notices are then sent to their homes saying report to the police station. It seems if the wife opens the notice, she angrily confronts the police officer on the phone, to which she’s given the answer, “Please ask your husband why, Madame.” In 10 years only 648 men were actually convicted and fined, but Swedish authority Anna Skarhed says, "The important thing is to get people talking about it, society needs to ask: is this something we want?"

Switzerland has started a unique “sex drive-in” solution outside Zurich to prevent their 100 odd sex workers, of 1200 officially registered, from working the streets. They hope to stop human trafficking cases, forced prostitution and serious forms of abuse. The sex drive-in is open only to clients with cars. Forty to sixty sex workers can work from the nine garages every day. This idea was inspired by Cologne in Germany which opened a sex trade reserved zone in 2001. Cologne authorities claim street prostitution has disappeared from downtown, no violent acts are reported, nor can pimps and drug dealers operate among sex workers who are now getting health prevention plans too.

In contrast, look at India’s monstrous, reprehensible figures: 3 million sex workers, of whom 1.2 million are below age 18 as per government estimates quoted by Bloomberg News. National Human Rights Commission reports India’s average child prostitute recruitment age has dropped to 9-12 year-olds. Statistics say the country’s sex trafficking industry is worth $4 billion, the world’s highest. India carries out almost 40% of the world’s female sterilizations, a woman is raped on average every 21 minutes, a third of all women are illiterate, in terms of sheer numbers, surely the status of our women is the worst globally?

The French debate on whether sex buying customers should walk into a rat trap is controversial, the latest poll has 68% against it. NGOs helping sex workers say their business will dive deeper underground making them vulnerable to exploitation by foreign gangs as almost 90% sex workers there are of foreign origin. Said Tim Leicester of NGO Medecins du Monde, "They will be forced to continue to hide themselves… even if they are not risking arrest, their clients are. And their survival depends on their clients." Criminalizing clients will drive up Internet-based prostitution. The real question that Causeur magazine and the 343 Salauds are asking is whether the human sex drive is stronger, or the bizarre law? The bacterial way that illegal drug trafficking infiltrates deeper and faster, will criminalizing sex purchase make people psychologically hanker for it more?

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