Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Dear Christian Choate

Dear Christian Choate
It’s been two years since you left this world in 2009. You were mercilessly smothered to death at an age when life is an abode of merriment and desires. Your mirth was stolen away by the murk of the three foot high dog cage in which you were ensnared by your own father and stepmother. When life is a canvas of vivid colors, you remained unseen in the darkness. At 13, when children your age aspire of accomplishments in academics, sports, and creative arts, you dreamt of getting out of your cage into the lap of nature. Christian, what you wanted was a normal life and cherished memories of your innocent childhood, but what you actually got was brutal abuse. You were ruthlessly beaten by your father, confined to the cage, sometimes deprived of food and water as if you were a wild beast on a rampant. A day before your death, your callous and apathetic father thrashed you heartlessly. While you lay unconscious, he locked your feeble body back into the cage as if you were a dead lotus in the lake. The next day when you lay asleep, peacefully caressed by the pristine wings of the guardian angel, your abusive father buried your mortal body in a shallow grave, covered it in concrete and then fled away from the crime scene.  It is still uncertain as to why your custody was given to your allegedly abusive father who already had a criminal record of charges, including battery, auto theft, and harassment. 

It is doleful to learn that your pediatrician, a mandatory reporter of child abuse did not report either to the child protection services or law enforcement agencies even though you informed him of your plight. Surprisingly, no one in your community ever witnessed or suspected abuse and called the hotline number for child abuse and neglect that every state has. The role of your biological mother in this whole episode remains inconclusive. However, your case has underscored some steaming questions, such as why weren’t you allowed to meet your biological mother even though you expressed the desire to meet her? Why was your custody given to your abusive father even though you could have been better off at a foster care or with an adopted family? Did Department of Child Services (DCS) not find any evidence of abuse in your trailer home even though they visited your family more than a dozen times starting in 1999? Was DCS ineffective in substantiating charges of abuse and neglect even though they had previous charges of physical abuse against your father and charges of unsanitary conditions and medical neglect against your stepmother? There is still no concrete and clear evidence as to why this all happened to you? Why you were always depressed and wanted to die? Why did your family abandon you even though, what you begged them for, was to be ‘liked’? 

Christian, what happened to you is like a widespread disease that infests on healthy ontogeny of a child, and is commonly known as child abuse. Almost 5 children die everyday of child abuse. Neglect is the most common form of child abuse that devours 59% of children. Almost 11% of children suffer physical abuse, 7.6% fall prey to sexual abuse, and 4.2% suffer emotional abuse. This statistics may disturb you further, but there is light at the end of the tunnel. Child abuse if substantiated can be prosecuted and the abuser(s) can be held guilty under law. I am hoping that your abusers face the music given their acrimonious behavior towards you. Also, barbaric act like child abuse is not just a family’s problem, but an issue requiring community intervention. People should be made aware of child abuse reporting procedures through community wide campaigns. Education and awareness about recognizing signs of abuse, or reporting suspects should be a major part of such campaigns. In addition, healthy parenting through free trainings and seminars should be made available. Open communication between parents and children about child abuse, including sexual abuse can be a source of reassurance and building trust. It can also prevent such offenses that are sometimes committed by caregivers, such as relatives, fictive kins, or other people that innocent children may trust. Much action needs to be taken at the legal and criminal justice system level. Law enforcement agencies must be better equipped to handle child abuse cases, which often are diverse and complex in nature. Child abuse is a crime and law enforcement officers thus must be proactive in their investigations.  

Christian, as you lay peaceful and calm in the ambrosial home, I pray to god that your sojourn on this earth is not wasted, and that your abusers pay through their nose for the cruel affliction they put you through. May your soul rest in peace!

Copyright (c) 2010 - present Dharbarkha.blogspot
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Sunday, June 26, 2011

Female Infanticide: A Decimating Horror in the Land of God

Over centuries in India, the female manifestation of divinity has been venerated and glorified as ‘Devi,’ the invincible and omnipotent that has both creative and destructive powers. She, the divine mother is worshipped in many forms, such as ‘Durga,’ (the creator), ‘Lakshmi,’ ‘Parvati,’ ‘Saraswati,’ (the preserver), and ‘Kali,’ (the destroyer).  The Hindu mythology is an epic of her celestial gallantry, beauty, and artistry that kindles the eternal life that every Hindu desires.  It is said that without her the male manifestation of the supreme is incomplete. She is revered in faith, invoked with prayers and fasting, and implored for blessings and forgiveness. But if this is the devoutness for ‘Devi,’ the feminine figure of adherence, then why does so much abhorrence still exist for infant girls in India? Why is that ‘she,’ the goddess is adorned in every Hindu temple, but ‘she,’ the female infant is slaughtered through violent means? Can devotion for god contradict with the principles of life? Or has religion become a gimmick of greater good? 

Sadly, discussion on female infanticide and feticide has remained a mute argument despite substantial picketing against it. There are spoken and unspoken stories of the 50 million girls that have gone ‘missing’ on account of female infanticide and feticide over the past century in India. CBS news reported that in 2006, upto 10 million female fetuses had undergone selective abortion since 1976 in India. UNICEF reports that India has been experiencing a decline in child sex ratio. Based on the 1991 census, there were 947 girls per 1000 boys, a figure that had fallen to 927 girls per 1000 boys ten years later. The census as latest as 2011 reveals that for every 1000 boys, 914 girls are born. Today India’s population has hit 1.21 billion, but the country has been impuissant in ending sex-selective abortions. The figures indicate the widened gender imbalance that India has been experiencing in every decade since its independence. 

Some horrific incidents of female infanticide in rural areas include mother killing the newborn through poisonous potion, especially if she has already bore a daughter in the past. Other incidents include killing the fetus while it is still in gestation after the sex has been confirmed through an illegal prenatal diagnostic test. Sometimes it is the in-laws that pressurize the daughter-in-law to sacrifice her unborn through a forceful abortion, as happened with Dr. Mitu Khurana (http://mitukhurana.wordpress.com). However, most distressing is the fact that such decimating evil is not just a conservative call in rural areas, but an oblivious practice among educated urban Indians too. Gender discrimination in India accounts mainly due to male patriarchy in society. Cultural mores like dowry, ignorance, and perspectives, such as sons as the sole bread winners, or sons as the superior ascendants are some other significant contributors to the heinous crime of female infanticide and feticide. Girls rarely are seen as propitious investment in the long term and, thus are discouraged and deprived from education and gaining independence. In the given scenario, attitudes towards infanticide become more permissive and less sinful. 

Over the years, the Indian government has enacted anti-feticide laws and stipulations to prevent decreasing sex ratio though these efforts do not seem as rigorous. In addition, it is important to reform attitudes, which is a long drawn process of social change. Much action needs to be uprooted at individual and institutional level (private & public), including the corporate sector. Indian youth whose voices have the power to plead should be encouraged in societal change. As ideologues, the youth can educate and empower besides initiating radical changes at the policy level. For starters, spreading the word may be an action in its foundation. Also, the Indian Medical Association should undertake uncompromising and punitive action against those health centers or professionals that practice illegal abortions. Perhaps media can act as a goliath in discouraging negative messages and encouraging positive messages of parenting a girl child and the corporate sector can fund such powerful campaigns. In addition, state governments need to establish stringent statutes against corruption, which is one of the main causes of unreported infanticide and feticide cases. The Indian Diaspora abroad can also get involved in many ways. 

A mindful way to end this post would be to remember a verse from the ‘Guru Granth Sahib,’ a pious religious scripture that says “of woman are we born, of woman conceived; to woman engaged, to woman married. Woman are befriended, by woman is the civilization continued. When woman dies, woman is sought for. It is by woman that the entire social order is maintained. Then why call her evil of whom great men are born?” 

Copyright (c) 2010 - present Dharbarkha.blogspot
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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Women, Violence and Danger

A recent news item in the Reuters (factbox: The world's most dangerous countries for women), is a tumultuous testimony of the onslaught against women that still exists in many parts of the world. It is a lamenting yet noteworthy issue that despite a sociopolitical voyage for gender equality, women’s rueful plight remains a dreary discussion. Some of the countries that rank the highest in this predicament are Afghanistan, Congo, Pakistan, India, and Somalia. The brutality against women in these countries includes illiteracy and economic discrimination, forced marriages including child marriages, sexual violence and female genital mutilation, honor killings, domestic servitude besides human trafficking. The report suggests that 1 in 11 women in Afghanistan die of childbirth, while 57% of pregnant Congolese women are anemic. Also, 87% of women in Afghanistan are illiterate, while a mere 7.5% women hold parliamentary seats in Somalia, the horn of Africa. Moreover, 40 innocent Congolese women are raped everyday, while 95% of Somalian girls and women are put through genital mutilation. Not far beyond in the race, a 1000 Pakistani girls and women face honor killings, while 50 million infant girls are missing on account of infanticide and feticide in the religiously devout India. Many women in these countries experience physical assault and battery, unfortunately as customary to rustic traditions and the predominant culture of male monarchy. The above statistics may appear antediluvian, but it is a fresh perspective on the existing, and ever exacerbating indignation against women.

What may seem even more depressing is the bitter truth that majority of population in these nations is either unaware of such violent and life threatening tribulations, or perhaps is least bothered until the fire engulfs their own turf. Many times, the victims of these crimes are forced to bear abuse repeatedly and are intimated if they urge to take an action against it. Other times, victims’ emotional vulnerability becomes a vantage point to keep them in a state of denial like a sitting duck for the perpetrators. Also, the fact that some of these countries are an ongoing war zone, and lack a central government system, or are partially ruled by the militia, further extinct the possibilities for social change and investment in women empowerment. Moreover, the influence of theocratic law in some of these countries makes economic reforms preposterous. In addition, incessant absolute poverty and high levels of corruption are some other depriving factors for change. For instance, in India, where women’s economic participation and educating the girl child is on the rise, the country’s social systems appear unsuccessful in impeding female feticide. More importantly, social issues like education, women’s rights, and child marriages are rarely significant as far as political manifestation is concerned. Mostly theses issues appear like a small figurine in the electoral campaigns that often turn gray with time. So, if this is the feat of change, then we sure are in for a failure!

Copyright (c) 2010 - present Dharbarkha.blogspot
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Saturday, June 18, 2011

From Stonewall to Same Sex Marriages

In the history of American Gay Rights movement, Stonewall is and shall always be a legend in the pursuit for equal rights. The Stonewall uprising that took place for three endless days in the summer of 1969 in Greenwich village, New York was a protest for pride, and the beginning of a social revolution. At the time when civil rights and the feminist movement were gaining ground, the Stonewall revolt became the keystone for gay liberation and marked the dawn of ‘gay power.’ This year in June, the Stonewall revolution shall celebrate its 42nd anniversary and would once again remind us of the unconstitutional harassment and discrimination against the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT) community. Over four score years later, achieving equality for and full social acceptance of LGBT still remains an unforgettable dream. Many LGBTs, in the recent past, have been open and assertive about their sexual orientation through the support of advocacy and human rights groups. In the past, opinion polls have also shown a change of attitude and perceptions in many Americans, which led to the legalization of civil unions in many states in the U.S. However, civil unions and same-sex marriages are still restricted and are not deemed as an acceptable equal right. Although civil unions provide privileges to same-sex couples as heterosexual couples are entitled to in a marriage, yet civil unions are a compromise over marriage that thus rejects same sex couples’ identity, relationship status, and their civil rights.  

As of now, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, and New Hampshire are the five states that legalize same-sex marriages though other U.S. states delimit such rights as degenerative and iniquitous. New York, being the home to gay rights movement currently awaits the decision to legalize gay marriages as a preeminent part of diversity. Issues on LGBT rights and same-sex marriages, however, have been an incessant debate at both federal and state legislative levels with a partisan divide among the Democrats, the Independents, and the Republicans. In addition, the gender and generation gap in the society, the mores of marriage, and the conventional dictates of religion are some additional deterrents to same-sex marriages. The question that thus arises is if the LGBTs would continue to live and die with their minority status? Or would they have to silently suffocate in a democracy that despite being emancipated has forgotten the ideals of equality and freedom? Other overwhelming challenges include if our society is too patriarchal, intolerant, and deep rooted that it cannot accept change? Or if sharing happiness, love, relationship, and intimacy too is a privilege? Finally, who among us decides if the society is too permissive of attitudes about sexuality? And if the religion edifies us to discriminate when it actually teaches us to love and accept differences.

Copyright (c) 2010 - present Dharbarkha.blogspot
Photo Courtesy:  Barkha Dhar

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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Elder Assault in Institutions: A Caveat Against Caregiving

Elder assault, even though a heinous crime, continues to be unreported and underreported in many parts of the world, including the United States. The debilitating conditions that accompany old age make elders vulnerable to an infirm and senile life that sometimes requires institutional placement. Many institutions, however, are profit centered businesses that care the least for elders’ incapacitation, their wishes and their privileges. Verbal aggression, isolation, and physical assault are some of the common forms of elder maltreatment by institutional caregivers. These offenses are rarely reported by the victim due to embarrassment and fear of the perpetrator.  Moreover, institutions, such as many nursing homes either lack trained caregivers or sometimes employ first-line staff on lower wages and without adequate professional training for cost savings.  Having a lower quality of care thus directly affects the residents and puts them at a higher risk for elder abuse. Physical assault in nursing homes, such as hitting, shoving food forcefully, administering psychotropic medications, restraints or involuntary confinement are far more deleterious for elders suffering with dementia or physical or mental disabilities. These severe impairments sometimes become a vantage point for many forms of abuse by institutional caregivers. 

Also, some institutions have rigid schedules, which more often appear like a ‘boot camp’ that elder residents need to follow against their will. Such practices quite often tend to infantilize the elderly thus harming their respect, dignity, and self-determination. Many elder residents are unaware of their rights and privileges as a nursing home resident. However, those who are aware of such benefits often restrain from taking action against malpractice. Moreover, even though the administration and management of these institutions is aware of elder abuse and misconduct, it rarely takes any action against it. Elder assault is a crime based on ageist attitude in the society and is hardly attended as a crucial issue even at the legislative level. Hence, understanding that physical frailty on account of old age is a normal and natural process of life and we all have to endure it at some point is consequential. Much responsibility also lies on family caregivers in terms of choosing the best alternatives for institutional placement though elders’ home is their safest haven. In addition, nursing home administration and management can reassess their hiring practices to appoint and retain the best talent, including rigorous and mandatory background checks of their employees, and regular service delivery and quality improvements. Finally, as bloggers, we can be spokesperson for campaigns against elder abuse and bolster the cause at local or state levels.

Copyright (c) 2010 - present Dharbarkha.blogspot
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