Looking Back

Here's what else happened while you were reading about JNU

A terror attack, a new chief minister and speculation about the Budget session.

Just a little over two weeks ago, we were debating whether an as yet unidentified object was the first meteorite recorded to have killed a human by its impact in Madurai. Then on February 12, Jawaharlal Nehru University Student Union president Kanhaiya Kumar was arrested on charges of sedition for allegedly chanting slogans in support of Afzal Guru and against India.

The days since have brought one boggling event after another.

Lawyers attacked JNU faculty and journalists twice outside a court house. A BJP MLA from Delhi OP Sharma, who himself assaulted a student at the court said that he had no regrets and called for those chanting slogans against India to be shot. Journalists marched in protest for the first time in almost two decades. Rajnath Singh and BS Bassi claimed that the entire affair was orchestrated or supported by Jama’at ud Da’wah head Hafiz Saeed. Noam Chomsky wrote in support of JNU’s students. The Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case of contempt against the students for their perceived criticism of a judgment of the court. After students named in a chargesheet went on the run, the Delhi police used it as an opportunity to conduct free-range surveillance of anyone contacting any JNU students.

While developments in Chhattisgarh (where the police is hounding out dissidents) and Haryana (where the Jats are violently demanding OBC status) have been alarming enough to get front page coverage, there are other events that would have made it to the headlines in less fraught times.

Here is what you might have missed

Government formations
Two states have been facing a leadership crisis over a month now. Arunachal Pradesh has been in turmoil since December, when 21 MLAs from the ruling Congress party, along with 11 BJP and two independent MLAs voted to impeach the speaker of the Assembly outside the house itself. On January 26, the centre imposed President’s rule in the state and dismissed its chief minister Nabam Tuki. On February 18, the Arunachal Pradesh governor swore in dissident Congress leader Kalikho Pul as the state’s ninth chief minister. Pul has the support of the MLAs who had moved against the speaker. On Monday, the Supreme Court refused to intervene in the formation of the new government.

Jammu and Kashmir has also been without a chief minister since the death of Mufti Mohammed Sayeed on January 7. Sayeed’s daughter Mehbooba Mufti has since been reluctant to assume the post, giving rise to speculation that she was unhappy with the PDP’s current alliance with the BJP. On Sunday, she hinted that she was inclined to continue with the present formation.

Frazzled foreign affairs
A three-day encounter at Pampore near Srinagar finally ended on Monday afternoon. Nine people, including three Army para commandos, one civilian and three terrorists were killed. Jat protestors demanding reservations in Haryana inadvertently blocked Captain Pawan Kumar’s body on its way back home.

India’s relationship with Pakistan continues to be hostile after the attack on Pathankot in January. The Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry had to cancel an exhibition planned in Lahore, even as India delayed a visa approval for Pakistan’s high commissioner Abdul Basit for a three-day visit to Chennai.

High-level Nepal visit
On the international front, Nepal’s new prime minister Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli is visiting India for six days on his first foreign trip since he assumed the post in October. Five months of Madhesi protestors blocking routes between India and Nepal to demand constitutional rights have left relations between the two countries uneasy. While in India, Oli is expected to sign two memorandums of understanding for promises made before the constitutional crisis erupted.

Number crunching
In normal times, the week leading up to any session of Parliament, and particularly the Budget session, is full of speculation on the debates and laws to be introduced. This time, very little has been said about it at all.

Despite the BJP’s efforts to hold talks with the opposition to build consensus before proceedings begin, the session is likely to be dominated by opposition protests over the centre’s handling of the protests about Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula’s suicide at Hyderabad University, JNU and terror attacks. For its part, the government is likely to attempt to push through the GST and real estate bills.

Reform of educational institutions
Perhaps the height of incredulousness during the JNU protests was reached when a conference chaired by education minister Smriti Irani announced that all centrally funded universities would be obliged to fly 30-kg flags from 207-foot tall flag poles to promote nationalism. What slipped past in that furore was that the conference of 46 central university vice chancellors was convened to suggest reforms to tackle institutional discrimination in the light of Rohith Vemula’s suicide.

Apart from calling for all universities to appoint anti-discrimination officers, the conference was silent on the recommendations of the Sukhadeo Thorat Committee that was the first to ever study caste-based discrimination in higher education. It instead recommended new courses of study, professional counselling and steps to increase enrolment.

National Herald hearings
After the Supreme Court refused to quash the National Herald case against various Congress luminaries including Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi, a trial court in Delhi on Friday granted Sam Pitroda bail. The case relates to accusations of cheating and misappropriation of funds in a deal involving the now-defunct National Herald newspaper. In compliance with the apex court’s order, it exempted the Gandhis, Motilal Vora and other accused from personally appearing in court. It also kept documents from central ministries in a sealed cover until petitioner Subramanian Swamy is able to prove their relevance to the case.

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.