#deathforchildrapists : A Former Believer’s Apologia by Tara Kaushal

April 2018: This is the viral open letter I wrote to those rejoicing about the amendment to POCSO that proposes the capital punishment for rapists of children under 12.


Dear everyone celebrating #deathforchildrapists ,

I know your heart is in the right place. This POCSO amendment is the best news you’ve heard all year! Finally someone’s doing something! Something’s gotta give! These rapes have got to stop! Our kids need to feel safe again! Three cheers!

I feel you. A few years ago, fresh out of college, with whatever little time I’d invested in thinking about it, I would’ve agreed with you. I remember chatting with friends about the many arguments pro the death penalty—why should evil people live on on taxpayers’ money; get it over with; long prison sentences don’t compensate for some crimes; it serves as a deterrent; etc. I believed in retributive justice, same as you. It feels great, an outlet for collective anger and adrenalin, like a popped pimple, phew! But then, I started studying about it.

Of course, there are ethical and moral arguments against the death penalty, but let’s talk about whether it plays a constructive role in society at all.

The biggest defence one hears is that it acts as a deterrent—people will not commit crime for fear of death. “There is not the slightest credible statistical evidence that capital punishment reduces the rate of homicide,” writes John J Donohue III, PhD, a law professor at Stanford University. Social scientists across the world, the UN, Amnesty International, all agree.

In fact, it is proven that it is not the extent of punishment for crime but the surety of receiving said punishment that prevents crime. The Indian culture of victim silence coupled with our laughable law enforcement allows perpetrators of sexual violence to operate with impunity. One of the rapists I studied, with no police complaints against him for the 20-plus rapes he confessed to, told me to go ahead and use his real name. “Mujhe kya hona hai?” What will ever happen to me, he asked.

Further in the Captain Obvious vein, is the fact that the Indian police is incompetent at best, actively deceitful and corrupt at worst. Let’s take the cases of the murders of Aarushi Talwar and Pradyuman Thakur of Ryan International School. These are not isolated cases—there are many unpublicised instances where the police has fabricated and fictionalised cases against scapegoats. Us CSI-watching people don’t know the half of it. (And even countries with more sophisticated detection and enforcement systems than ours are admitting to retrospective mistakes.)

The police’s negligence and corruption weighs most heavily on those least able to withstand it. It is the disempowered—men from lower castes, minority religions, poverty and illiteracy—that receive a disproportionate number of death sentences. Without legal representation, the penalty is applied with arbitrariness and after long delays.

Death to the innocent is an irrevocable mistake. The desire for closure through death, for retribution, for blood that the victims’ families are baying for are understandable but barbaric nonetheless. (What did the Father of the Nation say about an eye for an eye? Anyway.) If those accused are innocent, it is infinitely worse…

Let me anticipate a bit of the backlash to this letter. Yes, I feel as bad about the rape of children as the next person (not those who took out rallies in support of the rapists of the Kathua child, but, you know, most people). In fact, I’m a little more invested than the average armchair activist—my first book, which I have been researching for since 2013, is about rape in India. Hence proved: I am neither heartless nor headless. So when I and other activists strongly condemn the death penalty, in general, and especially for the rapists of children, we have our reasons. In a system so flawed, so fallible, the death penalty must be scrapped entirely, not have its scope widened. Do we want to be like China or follow the rest of the developed world?

There’s a rather misguided article doing the rounds about how sexual harassment must not be graded, that one act is as bad as the next. That’s bullshit. There is no doubt that the rape of a child is worse than the rape of an adult person, but it is certainly better than the rape and murder of a child. But, using an ‘in for a penny, in for a pound’ principle, rapists will now murder the child if both have the potential to get them the death penalty anyway. This way, without a living eyewitness, they may just have the chance to get away! The death penalty for child rapists will lead to an increase in child rape plus murder. Mark my words.

You know what else it will lead to? Less reporting. Because it’s easier to report rape when it was perpetuated by a stranger, when there was violence. As you may know, stranger rape, violent rape is the exception, not the rule. Will a child be able to identify his/her grandparent or uncle or aunt as the perpetrator if s/he knows this will send the person to the gallows? Will the parents take things forward? Will a judge? It may also lead to even fewer convictions. Think about it.

So, those of you reading my letter, educated, rational citizens of India… Please, think. Please, oppose this amendment. Let’s not settle for tokenism. Let’s not get distracted from the failings of the government to protect its weakest citizens. Let’s not forget that changing laws is the easiest thing to do.

Let’s expect well-thought-out laws and better enforcement. Let’s start with catching these men and putting them behind bars for life. (It is punishment enough; trust me, Indian jails are hell on earth.) Meanwhile, let’s work towards a culture where such impulses aren’t seeded in the first place.

Tara* Kaushal

This letter appeared on Pass the Mic, the blog of Why Indian Men Rape in April 2018.

You, Me & Us: Dating & Drama in Modern India by Tara Kaushal

December 2017: Kristen Roupenian’s viral short story ‘Cat Person’ in The New Yorker—about a short relationship that is constructed via texting and ends with bad sex at the end of an awkward first date—addresses issues of sex, gender, power and consent in present-day American dating. I go on an exploration of the complex paradigms of love, dating, sex and marriage in new-age India.

The central theme of ‘Cat Person’, IMHO, is expectations—how they differ from person to person, and from reality. In the beginning, one sees Margot’s burgeoning hope, an "incipient crush" developing on Robert, a man whose character she is guesstimating around their texts. On their date, he is colder than she expects him to be. Midway through their drunk sub-par sexual fumbling she turns, feels "her revulsion turned to self-disgust and a humiliation"; he, on the other hand, flush with post-coital closeness "started talking about his feelings for her". In the end, he is shocked at being rejected and abuses her when she doesn’t respond to his texts a month after the incident.

In India today, the idea of an ‘ideal man/woman’, and worlds of love, dating, sex and marriage are fraught with a whole host of different expectations from varied schools of thought and influence. On the one hand, we still have child and arranged marriages (although I am told that the latter is not as it used to be). Then there’s love—the ‘aankhon hi aankhon mein ishaara ho gaya’ variety, the ‘Friends’ variety, the online dating variety, the list goes on. Then there’s and the ‘self arranged’ brigade. Plus there’s Tinder and texting. Add Bollywood, global culture, the internet and porn to the mix, and there you have an incredibly complex and confusing gender dynamic.

The Ideal Man/Woman

First, consider the expectations each person/gender has for themselves and is seeking from the other (in a heteronormal scenario). By and large, I have found that women, newly exposed to liberal ideas and education, have more expectations than their foremothers did—whether to wear jeans, to work or to expand their worlds in other ways. Within their cultural milieus, they seek liberal husbands and hope for more egalitarian marriages than their parents had a mere generation ago. This is causing pre- and marital strife as many males, like all privileged parties, would like to retain the systems that favoured them—pre-conceived notions of ‘a good wife’, subjugation through the ideas of virginity and honour, the packed tiffin boxes, the lack of domestic and childrearing load, the control, etc.

This is true across classes. In a poor household I recently studied, all five brothers had barely studied till the 10th grade; the four sisters were all postgraduates. Trapped in their home and allowed out only occasionally with a male guardian, the women kept themselves busy doing correspondence degrees—in secret, until they needed permission to attend exams, when all would be revealed to and accepted by the family males. What did they plan to do with this education? “Sapne bahut hai. Bus, dekho, shaadi kahan hoti hai…” said one. As much as the sisters loved them, I sensed that they hoped for men better than their brothers. Tellingly, one of their sisters-in-laws had left because: “Woh padhi-likhi thi, usne job bhi kiya tha. Shaadi ke baad ghar pe baithke unka man nahi laga.”

Not that women are entirely done with the pre-existing paradigms either. Many still enjoy jealous boyfriends, and want older husbands who earn more than they do—cognitive dissonance sometimes seen even in the most examined of feminists. As we’re all negotiating who we are and what we want for ourselves and from others, things can be confusing!

The Meeting of Cultures

A close friend was telling me about someone who was going to marry a woman he had met through parents. “Ewww,” I said, displaying the disdain for arranged marriages I carry as a result of being the child of an inter-religious love marriage. My parents met on a road when the dog my father was walking jumped on my mother. They went on dates and kind-of lived together before they married four years later, despite religion-based familial differences.

I had several issues—one, arranged marriage presumes that all those from similar backgrounds come out similar; two, the social pre-approval perpetuates a conservative cultural cycle; three, there is the matter of consent and agency; and then there is the decision-making over chai-samosas as one had seen in the movies… “Those last two points are rubbish,” said this friend, who had lived with, then married a man her parents had introduced her to, “you know it’s not a forced or instant decision anymore. They’ve even travelled abroad to a festival together.” So then arranged marriage setups are now family-approved long-term dating?

Or maybe not. A friend went for a few dates with a family-introduced man, only to have him communicate, via the parents, that he would like to date for a couple of years before he made a decision. A couple of years? My friend and her family thought this meeting of the arranged and dating cultures was unacceptable, so that was that. A divorced family friend gave up trying to find himself a match on “Invariably, by the third date, the women would bring up if/when we would get married… I was seeing it more as longer-term dating with intension.”

And the varieties of love. I sat chatting with the fiancée of one of my father’s country cousins at a relative’s wedding. “So, how did you meet?” It was at a daytime disco in New Delhi, when she’d borrowed his mobile to call her home. The next day he called and asked for her. “I love you,” were the first words he said, à la some filmy hero. They’ve been together ever since.

While some of us in urban India date and mate at will with wanton Western abandon like the characters of ‘Cat Person’, the newspapers are bursting with stories of vengeful jilted lovers in small towns, unable to accept that women are seeing futures for themselves beyond the men who covet them. Desperate men flock to Tinder in the hopes of meeting some wild women, asking for pictures of ‘vagine’ and ‘bobs’. Not that the consensual dating-mating is simple either—what do I really know about this person? How much does texting count? Sex on the first date or on the third? What if it’s bad sex? Just casual or is there something here…? Are we a couple? The ‘L’ word? How does one break up?

As these styles of relationships with their unique protocols meet in blaze of cultural chaos, we are bound to fumble in our interpersonal dealings. The trick is to be kind, empathetic and simply polite, and communicate the in best way possible.

This article was commissioned by Mumbai Mirror in December 2017.

Drive, Survive by Tara Kaushal

March 2013: What does the way we drive say about us?

A long time ago, I read one of these firang’s-first-time-in-India travel books, where he said that, when Indians want to go somewhere, they just point their cars in the direction and drive, side-of-road, traffic signals, etc, be damned. Not fair, we’re not that bad, I thought, but on second thought…

I've had a driving license from Noida, in the much maligned UP, since I was 18. I remember taking a proper test, driving alone around a veritable obstacle course, and passing. Ten years later, when I wanted to get one in Mumbai as my old one had expired, I was told that, no matter where else in India I have my license from, or for how long I've had it, in Maharashtra, I have to be a learner for a month first. Which I think is ridiculous; even Australia lets you get a license for merely possessing an Indian one! But a few friends said the possible justification is that Maharashtra has better driving than the rest of India, the state wants to maintain its standard of road safety, which is apparently higher than the rest of the country. “In Rajasthan, I know a blind person who has a license,” one said.

A couple of weeks ago, I went for my driving test in Andheri, to go from learner to full-license-holder. As I stood in line to get tested, someone came to me and asked whether I wanted to jump the line, for Rs 200. “Yahan sab kuch bribe se chalta hai,” he said. Well, apparently not necessarily bribe, but inefficiency se. When my turn finally came, I was put in to a driving school car, you know the ones where the instructor has pedals in the passenger seat... The ‘passenger’ drove for me in first gear, even when I protested that I could drive, no problem! I 'drove', straight, for a distance the width of a Mumbai building. “Chalo, aap pass ho gaye,” he said, stopping the car to let me off. And, a few days ago, my brand new and spanking smart card license arrived home.

My experience was not unique. Ami Mane, 24, was similarly co-driven down a road, but at least she was made to demonstrate reversing. Another friend who, daunted by the chaos of the system, went through a tout, never even went for the ‘test’, thought he did go to be fingerprinted and photographed. So when the newspapers point out that an accident-causing driver was a juvenile/without a license, forgive me for thinking: what a farce.

Driving lessons home collage all.jpg

Cut to my driving test in Australia last year. Since I didn’t have a valid Indian license, I had to start from scratch. While other states have it easier, Australian Capital Territory (ACT) has the strictest driving license laws. Before being allowed to even take the multiple-choice theory test, driving license hopefuls have to attend a weekend-long workshop, the fees of which includes three attempts at the objective test. After passing this test, we would have to be learners for between six months and two years, and would not be allowed to drive unless we had zero blood alcohol and a full-license-holder in the car. After passing a driving test, we’d hold provisional licenses for three years, and only then would we get full licenses. Phew!

As I sat mugging up my manual in the run-up to the weekend, I wondered what this workshop was going to be about. What happened was this: in the two days of coaching, the instructor rarely mentioned the words ‘fine’ or ‘punishment’ to our class of 20. Instead, we were taught the reasons behind the rules. We were shown and discussed videos of driving accidents caused by speeding drivers; made to challenge our concentration through a card game to demonstrate why talking on the phone would make one a worse driver; and made to walk lines in glasses that simulated being drunk. (Interestingly, Australia doesn’t use the work ‘drunk’ driving/driver, but ‘drink’ driving/driver, subtly driving home the point that your blood alcohol level is what matters, even though you may not be or feel drunk. It also has graphic and no-nonsense ad campaigns for safe driving: ‘People DIE on ACT Roads’, different from our funny ones: ‘Safety on Roads, Safe Tea at Home’.)

This was not what I expected, and some point during the workshop I had an epiphany. You see, I carry the baggage of the way we are taught to follow rules in India, with the carrot and stick approach, where the emphasis is on the punishment for getting caught. The ‘why/why not’ is not about the reasons for doing/not doing certain things or following/not following the law, but about doing them when convenient and escaping the eyes of the law. Notice how, several years after the seatbelt law was passed, many cab drivers will put theirs on only when they enter Mumbai from the Mumbai-Pune Expressway.

Sociologically, we are considered a collectivist society as opposed the West’s individualistic one, which is why we lay such a misguided emphasis on preserving ‘culture’. Scratch the surface, and beneath the mass hysteria at Ganesh Chaturthi (transformed into a public celebration by Tilak to unite and promote nationalism in Maharashtrian Hindus), the idealising of the joint family system and of the long suffering Mother India figure, and there emerges a picture of a people who each believes that s/he comes first, with the deep-seated hypocrisy and disdain for governance of the individualist in a mismanaged collectivist society. So we double park to run in to a store or to touch-and-go at a temple; see red lights as out to personally inconvenience our day; dodge traffic cops down one-ways; and tail ambulances and cavalcades when possible to travel home in the fast lane…

There are manifold challenges with this approach of and to the law. First, the most basic lesson of good teaching: encouraging parroting and promoting punishment as opposed to explaining reasons will leave any lesson unlearnt. And, for a pushy, me-first race like Indians, that will only mean following the law until one doesn’t get caught, making the government seem autocratic and dictatorial. This approach also puts undue pressure on policing—and with the ability to bribe policemen for the smallest offences to the BMW hit-and-run deaths, where’s the fear of that? A ‘because I say so’ Chinese-government-type attitude will (and does) not work on the Indian psyche, and certainly not when law enforcement is suspect, lax and distrusted.

As the country rages against the fraudulent education imparted by the IIPMs, may I suggest that the government work at systematically and systemically educating Indians that road rules are for a reason—and for their personal as well as others' good. And us, with the fire in our bellies to challenge authority: let’s save our energy to change the system in spheres that really matter.

An edited version of this column appeared in Governance Now in March 2013.

Interview: Guru Swarup Srivastava by Tara Kaushal

July 2011: Controversy-ridden art-investor Guru Swarup Srivastava, the man behind the headline-grabbing 100-Husains-for-100-crores deal in 2004, says the investment came first, the appreciation for art, second. I interview him on the recent death of MF Husain.

Walking in to self-made industrialist Guru Swarup Srivastava's Andheri, Mumbai, home is an experience in itself. This stunning, art-filled home comes across as a shrine to his aesthetic sense—but wait, he says he doesn't have one! Here, over a chatty evening, he talks about art investment, dispels the myths surrounding India's biggest art deal and reminisces about Husain. And, in his castle, this businessman from Agra and IIT Delhi patiently awaits the credit due for his contribution to the Indian art world...

Tell me about your interest in art. How did it start?

I had some money to invest in 2004, and was looking for a high-investment-high-return product. I considered land—but at a maximum of a lakh a square foot, it didn't hold a candle to art, at 20 lakhs a square foot.

I decided to test the waters and I bought assorted artworks for 50 lakhs—including Husain and Nikhil Chaganlal. The exhibition of these works, in the corridors of Standard Chartered bank, was a commercial success, and I decided this was the way to go.

When I started, I had no interest in art in the creative sense. I even told Husain up front: "I understand the colour of money, not the colours of paints and canvases!" Of course, since my business interest in art developed, I have begun appreciating it, and the artworks I have at home are soothing and thought provoking. I realise this is an unusual order of doing things...

But why did you choose only Husain? Why not the others?

Around this time, CitiBank in Dubai bought a Husain for 1.5 crores. I thought: I have a hundred crores to invest, what if I can convince Husain to sell me works for a crore each? Also, when I bumped in to Husain at The Ashoka in Delhi, I asked him why he didn't show as much in India as he did abroad. He said, “India mein paisa nahi hai.” I feel strongly about Indian talent having to seek appreciation and money abroad, and this became something I had to prove.

So how did the deal go down with Husain?

When I met him at his beloved restaurant Gallops at the Mahalaxmi Race Course on the 31st of August 2004, Husain was doubtful whether the deal in crores would go through. “It's all talk in India,” he said. But three days later, I handed him a banker's cheque. Once his son Owais told him it was for a crore, not a lakh, he simply said, “Kya karna hai? We'll talk after some time.”

We signed the deal—one hundred six-feet-by-four-feet Husains, plus 11 complementary ones after the deal was done—for one hundred crores. It was breaking news the next day.

The Earth is beautiful, with mankind and art and culture, and I believe India is the centre of it all. We agreed that Our Planet Called Earth would be a nice theme and name for the series. Husain had 25 works ready on the subject, and I bought them right then.

Then things went wrong with India's biggest art deal.

Legally, yes. With Husain, no.

I am fighting a legal battle with the CBI and NAFED (National Agricultural Federation of India) in the Bombay High Court, and the paintings are part of what we're tussling over. Contrary to popular belief though, the works are not confiscated by NAFED—they are in a locker at the IndusInd Bank in Andheri, that both parties must operate jointly. The way I see it, the Rs 12,000 per month I pay as locker fee is a great way to ensure the works are safe!

There have been several advantages to the controversy surrounding this deal...


Well, for one, the works are safe. Plus, during the court proceedings, the 25 works have been authenticated by an independent panel of professors from the JJ College of Art, appointed by the NAFED, CBI and me. The authenticity of the works can never be questioned again.

However, I would say that the biggest gain is not a personal one. Art in India has dormant business potential. And since the 100-crore deal hit the headlines in 2004, there has been a sea-change in the way people look at art. Like Husain who never clarified rumours, I have often chosen to let controversy and adverse publicity simmer in the media—at an enormous personal cost—to retain attention on the investment potential of Indian art. Today, art is corporatised and is considered an asset on balance sheets. Thieves in Hindi movies steal paintings. Banks have started art funds, with people expecting returns from art. There are more job opportunities in the creative fields. Artists are getting recognition and money, and those who aren't yet, are hopeful still... I feel I have done my duty towards the art community and the country.

I am curious—how were things still okay with Husain once the deal stalled?

From day one, the association was meant to be an ongoing one. Husain would create more works in this series, and I would pay him as and when I picked them up.

I had planned to pay Husain for the rest of the paintings by selling the first 25. But legal complications meant that, when Husain called me in 2008 saying the paintings were ready in London and Paris, and to pick them up at the agreed price, my funds were not ready. He understood.

Husain and I both realised the magnitude of this undertaking from the start, and acknowledged that one of us may not be around to see it to conclusion. In a heart-to-heart we had in Dubai in 2005, he said, “Mere ko kuch ho jaye toh bacchon ka dhyan rakhana,” referring to his children, including his son Shamshad, already in his 70s! It is a promise I intend to keep, even though he's gone.

From a business point of view, has his death made a difference to your investment?

Husain was lucky to have his genius rewarded with glamour, glory and gold during his lifetime, and our record-breaking deal took both of us to dizzying heights. Like Picasso, his prolificness only maintained and accelerated the stature of and demand for his work.

In 2007, the 25 works I own were valued at 50 crores. Of course, there is frenzied interest in the master after his death, something that Husain himself anticipated. He even told me which of the paintings I own—one of the Sheikh of Dubai's father—would be particularly valuable upon his death! I do not want to be opportunistic and sell the paintings immediately, but yes, art has certainly proved to be a good investment.

So what do you intend to do with the paintings once the legal issue is resolved? There was talk of a museum?

Husain drew up the blueprint of what was to be called the Maqbool-Swarup Museum. While he was keen to have in near Kamla Nehru Park in Juhu, Mumbai, we didn't get the municipal corporation's approval. I was inclined to have it built in Agra, near the Taj. But the idea is on hold right now; I am not sure what I will do with the works.

This experience must have been trying. What have you learnt?

Patience. From Husain, I have learnt to handle the adverse publicity with grace—demarcating the right from the wrong, ignoring what's not relevant and accepting the rest.

But I am happy that there are people who experience and live the advantages of this change in attitude, this new focus on art and its investment value. A few years ago, a man came up and thanked me on a flight. An old painting in his collection, bought for a few thousands, was sold for 20 lakhs, enough to fund his son's education abroad. I savour that memory as testament to the change I helped bring about.        

Future plans?

I will continue to invest in art, looking for newer ways to keep it in public consciousness. On Husain's birth anniversary, the 17th of September, I intend to launch a TV show art auction, the first of its kind in the world. Longer-term, I am working on a software that will quantify the selection criteria of artists and their works, helping systematise investment in art.

Finally, what are your memories of MF Husain, the person?

Husain was a family man, who missed his country intensely when he was, sadly, exiled during the last few years of his life. I felt that his creativity energised him spiritually, like meditative exercises, giving him wisdom, spiritual strength and a long life.

One of the most glaring disconnects between the media's projection and the truth was on the subject of Husain's fascination for Madhuri Dixit. While realms of gossip filled the newspapers, Husain's own reason was touchingly child-like. Having lost his mother at an early age, he simply believed that the actress resembled his mother at a certain angle—her left-hand side, to be precise...  

An edited version of this interview appeared in Andpersand in July 2011.

Pubicity by Tara Kaushal

July 2006: The Founder and Sole Official Member of the Stop Pissing in My Face Society has her say…

Okay, here’s the thing. I hate being flashed. I hate having to see men expose themselves to me. Every woman does. It violates a very basic right—the right to choose. I choose to live in India, to see the sights I see. Cows on the road and the filth on the streets I can live with: I accept what I cannot change.

I hate being flashed. I do not want to accept it. Unfortunately, I get flashed everyday. You, as men, get flashed everyday. You don’t see it that way, I know. But isn’t it true? You see penises in public all the time. It’s what we’ve learnt to see and accept as pissing. It’s bad enough when men flash as an actual active act of aggression. When it’s seen as routine and harmless—I don’t know whether it’s worse!

Unfortunately, the average Indian man thinks nothing of whipping his thingie out in the middle of the day and street and laying claim to the closest wall/shrub/tree/drain/breeze. Put that thing damn thing away and find a loo! Standing, squatting, whatever their personal preferences, while some men seem aware of the wrongness of their actions, and make a pretence of embarrassment about their public ablutions, most seem absolutely nonchalant, and even find time to hold conversations with others while they relieve themselves in public. Why? Is there no shame in making our not-so-beautiful country smelly too? Much like women Down South who paint their faces with turmeric paste (yellow is a not-too-healthy human colour, but anything’s better than black, you see), Mother India is painted urine-yellow and has really bad body odour.

Why do we live in the biggest toilet in the world? There are better ways in which we can contribute to the smells and sights of our country.

What is it about Indian men that makes it okay for them to relieve themselves wherever they choose to? Why is it acceptable? It started as a necessity—we were a poor nation and were backward, and had no toilets. Now, we are wealthy and progressive. Yes, there are people who live in the slums, who do not have access to toilets. As much as it’s unfortunate, it’s acceptable. But what about those men who step out from their spanking Mercedes, spotless shoes and all, who have ready access to urinals, or at least know enough to be aware that in all probability there’s one around close enough and it won’t kill them to wait. And those cyclists, peons in offices, who know they’ll get there eventually, if not soon. What about them?

Also, while we’re at it, why men and not women? Apart from the obvious of course. It’s not acceptable. Or safe. For a poor little woman to relieve her bursting bladder on the street would mean curiosity, if not rape. So then, we come back to the inequality of the sexes. I think, being allowed to piss anywhere, at will and leisure, is the first sociological step to making Indian men the patriarchal MCPs that they tend to be. After all, little boys are taught that they never need have any control, never need have any respect for general and personal space. And that they are entitled to impose their bodily fluids and penises on the world at large. And that little girls are not allowed to do any of that.

As a mother or a father, I hope you don’t pull your son’s pants down and allow him to piss on the street. I hope you don’t teach him that this is okay and acceptable. Because it’s not.

I must admit, I rather enjoy my role of Founder and Sole Official Member of the Stop Pissing in My Face Society. Though in its infancy, this society has had several achievements. So far, there are four little boys in and around Colaba, and one in Bandra, who, I am sure, will never piss again. Never. Not on a wall, not in public, never. And there is one middle-class mother who has been told that, since she believes that her son is ‘only a baccha’ and that his urine is really harmless, should dr*nk it. And then there’s the Flick-Lungi-Up-Piss South Indian man who will always remember the time he couldn’t aim away from his feet because his willy was tucked away between his legs in shame. I hope you join my little society here and help make the country a slightly paler shade of yellow. Yell at/mock/shame/embarrass the next man you see who just couldn’t hold it.

We see signs telling us not to spit in public everywhere. Are we too embarrassed to address this way more offensive and in-your-face social custom? The police, that is so active in its drive against couples and their ‘public indecency/obscenity’—doesn’t it think that the Public Display of Penises is obscene?

The general public has come up with some rather ingenious ways to deal with the smell and the nuisance. From the subtle god-tiles on boundary walls (no one will piss on those!), to the direct ‘Yahan mootna mana hai’, to the classic ‘Dekho, dekho ghaddha moot raha hai’, there are things that work! These measures are just not enough though.

Really, there is a reason the penis is part of the pubic region, and not the pub-l-ic region. I wish more men would learn to keep it that way.

An edited version of this article appeared in Man’s World in July 2006.

I’m a little less militant (more empathetic?) now, and have mixed feelings about The Pissing Tanker that made its way around Mumbai in 2014.