#India – Dr Soonawala rape case in Mumbai shows how elite privilege works #Vaw


http://sunday-guardian.com/administrator/iupload/rape-case-final_1371904787.jpg

Illustration by Megha Roy Talukdar | Dev Kabir Malik Design

Police conduct, elite reaction and the manner in which this story was reported illustrate how hard it is for a poor woman to accuse a privileged man of rape in India, writes Richa Kaul Padte
Richa Kaul Padte  22nd Jun 2013
There are many stories within this story, often manufactured, and almost entirely contradictory. Perhaps then we should begin with the story that has been told the least: the story of a 26 year old woman who was allegedly raped by her general practitioner Dr. Rustom Soonawala on 17 May at 6pm at his clinic in Mumbai. The narrative begins clearly enough: on leaving the clinic, she told her husband what had happened. At 10.30 pm the same day, an FIR under Section 376 – rape – was registered at the Khar Police Station. The following morning, two police constables accompanied the survivor and her husband to Soonawala’s residence at Dadar Parsi Colony, where she identified the doctor as her rapist. Here, however, is where the story begins to splinter.

The constables sent the couple back to Khar, and told Soonawala that he must accompany them to the police station. Choosing to travel in his own car (questions around why an immediate arrest wasn’t made or why an accused rapist is permitted his own transportation remain unanswered), Dr. Soonawala revved up his engine with a police constable in the front seat and another in the back, along with two of his sisters. Here is precisely where all coherent narratives disintegrate, because over an hour later, the police officers returned to the station, saying that Soonawala had absconded. One account says that one officer had to leave the car to let a patient inside, and the other got out to prevent Soonawala from escaping. Another suggests that there was only ever one constable involved, who was lured out of the car on the pretext that everyone was getting out — before the car sped away. Any police account, however, raises several burning questions: why was the licence plate of the car not recorded? (‘We forgot,’ say the police) Why was the control room not telephoned with a description of the car to be halted at the next signal? (‘We didn’t think of it,’ they say).

On 11 June, over two weeks after the FIR had been lodged, the still-absconding doctor and accused rapist was granted anticipatory bail. And the shock-horror-anger following last year’s Delhi gang rape was nowhere to be seen.

Speaking at a public meeting organised by the Aam Aadmi Party on 18 June in Mumbai, Justice Suresh Hospet said, ‘This reminds me of what the first CPI Chief Minister of Kerala said: If in a court of law there is a rich, well-dressed, suited and booted person standing on one side, against an ill-clad, starving poor man on the other side, the court has an inherent tendency to lean in favour of the former against the latter. This is exactly what is happening today. It is the rich against the poor.’ As a member of the upstanding Bombay Parsi community, which has always held a position of social and cultural privilege dating back to British Imperialism, Soonawala’s respectability was vouched for from all sides. From a lawyer-community with personal ties to the doctor to medical professionals (‘if this can happen to him it can happen to us’: a perverse twist in the logic of vulnerability that normally exists between doctor and patient, says Sujatha Gothoskar from the feminist collective Forum Against the Oppression of Women) to the wider Parsi community, efforts to clear the doctor’s name were aggressive and multi-pronged.

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The crux of the issue here lies not in Soonawala’s guilt or lack thereof, but in the fact that the law was prevented from taking its own course – singularly because of the social and economic standing of the accused.

Activists who had worked with Soonawala to strengthen laws against hawkers alleged that the case was fabricated by the hawker community in an act of vengeance. But the survivor is no hawker. She is a quiet, soft-spoken wife of a tailor from Orissa, with little money and no one to speak for her. In an unprecedented movement of support for a man accused of a crime that recently made every second Indian a feminist, over 300 people attended the first hearing for anticipatory bail in the Mumbai’s Sessions Court, where the victim was heckled from all sides. How does a judiciary rule in the face of such overwhelming, ‘respectable’ support?

he Order issued by the Mumbai High Court judge on 11 June was a regressive about-turn from the strides made by the Ordinance that resulted from the Justice Verma Committee Report. ‘Facts’ like ‘why didn’t she scream?’ and the 5 hour ‘lapse in time’ it took the survivor of a physical, sexual and mental assault to reach the police station took precedence over forensic evidence of semen on the examination table; an appointment book listing only the survivor’s name for the day; and clear police negligence in locating an absconding Soonawala. Other ‘facts’ cited were that the survivor was unsure about the extent of penetration, and that a forensic report dated 20 days after the incident found no traces of male DNA on her vaginal smear —factors that have been dismissed by the Supreme Court in several rape cases where the survivor is accustomed to sexual intercourse. In a note on the subject Justice Hospet writes, ‘In most…rape cases, there is the victim and the accused — and it happens in a closed room, and there are no eye witnesses.’ It comes down to what the judiciary believes. But as the evidence shows, this ‘belief’ does not exist free of classism and privilege. Aam Aadmi Party members Anjali Damania and Preeti Sharma Menon ask, ‘What if the case was reversed? What if a tailor raped a Parsi lady doctor? Would we say that he should get anticipatory bail? No, we’d say, “Arrest him and put him in jail immediately.”‘

Says Sujatha Gothoskar, ‘What [supporters of Soonawala] don’t seem to understand is that this sets such a dangerous precedent with much wider implications than the case itself…Whether you believe her or the doctor, let the law take its own course; let him be arrested.’ The crux of the issue here lies not in Soonawala’s guilt or lack thereof, but in the fact that the law was prevented from taking its own course – singularly because of the social and economic standing of the accused. Now being heard in the Supreme Court, if the current ruling is not overturned, will the Soonawala case be the new litmus test for rape cases of the future? Fast track for poor rapists, bail for the wealthy? The more support in court, harassment of the survivor and reportage from an uncritical media, the better the chance for acquittal?

If the public and media conscience and consciousness were so righteously raised by the aftermath of the Delhi gang rape, the Soonawala case shows the falseness and elitism of that consciousness to begin with. When it’s the tailor, the plumber, the masked villain in the night, the country (as represented by social media, at least) is up in arms against this ‘dishonouring’ and violent act against its women. When the culprit is ‘one of us’, the silence is chilling.

 

#India – Film debut at 92 #Sundayreading


Mirror tracks the making of the first 15-minute documentary on Mumbai‘s landmark Dadar Parsi Colony

Reema Gehi
Posted On Sunday, March 10, 2013 at 10:23:27 AM
Joshi envisioned an agiary within the neighbourhood so that its Parsi residents wouldn’t have to tread too far to offer their prayers
Dogwalker Rohinton Unwalla with chicken-loving boxer Max and actor Boman Irani‘s Golden Retriever Laila
BPP Trustee and architect Jimmy Mistry is interviewed by Anand Kulkarni (in white), while sound engineer Rohan Puntambekar and cinematographer Kuldeep Mamania look on

Max and Rohinton Unwalla see no reason for public display of affection to be tagged as nuisance. In one quick swoop, love meets devotion when Max’s candy tongue flutters across Unwalla’s face, before finally enveloping his nose as the two take a breather after their morning walk on the steps of Building no. 782 at Dadar Parsi Colony.

Unwalla, better known around the lanes that wrap the iconic Five Gardens as Ronny Uncle, meets Max, the boxer, Maxie the Lhasa and Laila the Golden Retriever each morning at 7 am after a quick brun-maska-chai breakfast with his old colleagues from Godrej.

Since he retired in 1999, the 65-year-old has become an indispensable cog in the wheel of this neighbourhood’s survival, walking the residents’ pets and shacking up with them in his ground floor flat when their owners are on holiday.

Ronny Uncle has made it to the star credits of a 15-minute documentary, the first to trace the 92-year-old story of Dadar Parsi Colony, directed by Anand Kulkarni.

The young filmmaker plans to release it on March 21 which the community celebrates as Navroze or new year. It is late evening; the sun threatening to shut shop any minute.

We are on a terrace overlooking half the metropolis. The trinity of writerdirector- editor Kulkarni, cinematographer Kuldeep Mamania and sound engineer Rohan Puntambekar are ready for their first shot of the day.

Architect and trustee of the Bombay Parsi Panchayat Jimmy Mistry, who until now has only corresponded with Kulkarni over email, is expected to arrive at his palatial residence Della Towers — the only 22-storey building in a cluster of 250 buildings in the Maharashtriandominated middle-class neighbourhood of Dadar that houses 10,000 members of the Zoroastrian faith, making it the largest Zoroastrian enclave in the world.

The colony was conceived in 1921 by a young civil engineer named Mancherji Joshi, and inaugurated by celebrated merchantphilantropist Sir Jamshedjee Jeejeebhoy.

Kulkarni, who has spent every day of the last three months roaming its leafy bylanes was struck by the thought of capturing it on film whole researching a movie on the contribution of Mumbai’s Parsis.

Zareen Engineer was one of the first residents Kulkarni would meet, and later realise was Mancherji Joshi’s granddaughter.

“Anand excitedly asked me all sorts of questions about how it all started,” laughs Engineer, at her spacious home overlooking the Five Gardens. “It’s possible that I have repeated that story a 100 times, but I didn’t mind sharing it once more for the film.”

Sooni Davar, her elder sister, who has dropped in for a yoga session, says the legacy has built it own odd fallacy. “Because he built the colony, they think we must be millionaires. He was a middle-class man, and died one. He paid his rent faithfully until the end.”

A different colonisation

It was the early 1920s, and Joshi was a civil engineer posted with the Improvement Trust (equivalent of the BMC). Parsi pockets of Fort and Grant Road were undergoing redevelopment, leading to widespread displacement.

Joshi discussed his plan for a piece of land in the suburbs to build homes for the underprivileged and middle-class residents.

Architect Mervanji Framji Surveyor and civil engineer Jehangir Engineer helped Joshi plan the colony.

With funds from wealthy members of the community and the Bombay Parsi Panchayat, a plot was purchased in Dadar. “But before the buildings, he created 14 gardens in the colony, which we work hard to maintain,” says Engineer, founder of the Mancherji Edulji Joshi Residents’ Association.

“Those who say sparrows and parrots have left in the city, should visit the colony,” she says with pride about the green lung that houses trees as old as 80 years.

The wide roads that wind through the area — Lady Jehangir Road, Jam-e- Jamshed Road and Dinshaw Master Road — have all been named after philanthropists who helped fund them.

Engineer says Joshi envisioned a gymkhana, the Dadar Madrasa, a library, the Palamkote hall to host religious ceremonies and an agiary, all within the neighbourhood. It was dedication enough for the residents to create the casket of his statue that’s now a city landmark, while he was alive. All these feature in Kulkarni’s film.

The support staff

Rana Chakraborty
When the 250-building colony was conceived, it had no fence, just a simple rule — no building could stand higher than two storeys 

Kulkarni scripted the film while spending his Sundays at the Gymkhana. “Everyone seems to know everyone. They keep waving at each other.” The three-member team says they wouldn’t have managed to complete a film that’s cost them Rs 4 lakh without the help of random pedestrians like those at the Five Gardens, who asked if they could help, and Hemal Ghoshal, resident and secretary of Mount Pleasant building, who offered her home to store equipment.

Shernaaz Engineer, the editor of Jame- Jamshed, a weekly community newspaper, put in an announcement, requesting old residents to share print and video footage they may have.

“That worked,” says Kulkarni, “We even had a 48-year-old Parsi lady call in to check if she could ‘act’!” It’s possibly this camaraderie that businesswoman and philanthropist Padma Shri Anu Aga refers to in the film, when she says of the neighbourhood she grew up in: “There’s scope for lasting friendships because of the way the colony and structure was built.”

When Joshi conceived the colony, it had no fence, just a simple rule – no building could stand higher than two storeys, and a 15-feet open space between buildings was mandatory.

Saving the Oasis

It’s this very oasis that the residents are battling to save. The residents’ association has opposed the BMC’s plan to build a concrete-granite gazebo inside a children’s park, which they believe will reduce the Grade II B heritage garden’s size and mar the greenery.

It was by the time that Kulkarni was into the third draft of the script that he learnt of the residents’ tenacious fight with the builder lobby that’s keen to modernise the area through the redevelopment model that pertains to old cessed properties in the island city. “I feel part of their voice and struggle. I hope the film makes a difference.”

►►►  Because he built the colony, they think we must be millionaires. He was a middle-class man, and died one, paying the rent faithfully until the end

–  Sooni Davar (on grandfather Mancherji Joshi) with sister Zareen Engineer

 

One fateful push- Dec 6


 – ‘Ek dhakka aur do ” Toppled many of our  smug assumptions

Bachi Karkaria 06 December 2012,TOI

 It`s still called ‘December 6’. America’s ‘9/11’ hadn`t yet changed the way we label momentous events, so no one talks of ‘6/12’, but it was arguably the first since ‘August 15’ or ‘June 26’ to make a date with calendar immortality. Sixteen years before 26/11, we had sat transfixed to the TV screen, and felt the clammy hand of future history. Trishul-brandishing kar sevaks smashing those domes to the hysterical chorus of instigation marked the triumph of Hindutva, which had rolled forth with L K Advani`s Toyota-turned-rath-turned juggernaut. It had crushed all the bleating opponents in its path – indignant `pseudo-secularists` and fearful minorities alike. Parsi me, a mere molecularity, what would i know of majority resurgence and its embarrassing cousin, betrayal?
Yet, far away, the reverberating crash of those totemic domes was felt in a Bombay still to become Mumbai, still foolishly cosmopolitan, still hopelessly obsessed with being the city of gold for all those willing to work hard at bettering their lives, regardless of caste, creed and class of birth. Indeed, we, so ostensibly far removed in space, time and mojo from that allegedly modern epic unfolding in Ayodhya, we felt it harder than many places closer to it, on all these counts.

We were hit by a not-known-before intensity of communal riots. More portentously, we became the country`s first urban killing field of RDX. And under that macabre pile-up of bodies and rubble, died the raison d`etre of Bombay. We still await the resurrection. That`s if anyone still hopes for it. Or even wants it.

To watch the fall of the Babri domes was to witness an iconic moment. Then, a more pedestrian thought bludgeoned our consciousness. The children were in a school in the predominantly Muslim Mazgaon area. We rushed to bring them home. But it was only a precautionary measure. Who would have thought how ferociously Ayodhya`s tidal wave would break on a seemingly communalism-neutral Bombay?

Coming from a Calcutta, which shut down fully during Durga Puja, i had been dismissive of this city where business shutters weren`t downed during the parallel Ganeshotsav. It was evident that the preferred Poojas were the nubile Bedi and Bhatt. Who would have imagined the communal insanity, which killed 900 people, and wasn`t tamed till January 5, 1993?

And who could have ever visualised the surreal image of Bombay`s power towers literally brought to their knees the following March 12, when 13 serial blasts shook the city, claiming 250 unsuspecting lives and injuring 700 within minutes.

As a journalist reporting on both, the riots and the blasts, it was a ghoulishly exciting time. Two cameos have stayed with me. That of a dazed greybeard clutching on to his caged parrot as he stood beneath the dusty oil painting of a Parsi worthy in the Dadar Parsi Colony`s Palamkot Hall; the wizened Muslim was among the petrified inmates of the nearby Muslim slum who had swarmed through its placid gates. And the equally incongruous image of three delicate tea-cups hanging intact from a kitchen rack in a Worli building blown apart in the blast.

As a human being, it was shaming. So many of our assumptions about Bombay were shattered along with those faraway domes. People i had known closely turned out to be unmitigated bigots just under their sophisticated skin. Hindu-Muslim couples found themselves socially split apart. And i still can`t forget how it utterly broke my proud friend Habiba Miranda when her grown-up boys requested her to let them take down the calligraphed blessing which had hung above their front door forever; they didn`t want to attract the attention of the vengeful mobs breaking into Bombay`s most exclusive buildings. Wealth, for the first time, was not a cordon sanitaire.

 

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