Canadian Woman on Banknotes

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Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau, on the Women’s Day –  08 March 2016 – announced that the image of an iconic Canadian woman will appear on the next issue of banknotes, on the very first of the next series of bills expected in 2018.

The Bank of Canada is taking the first step by launching public consultations to select an iconic Canadian woman to be featured on this new bill.  The government and the Bank of Canada did not indicate which denomination would showcase the iconic female Canadian.

Over the next several weeks, up to 15 April 2016, the public can nominate possible female candidates to be the newest face of a banknote, but there are a few stipulations: The individual must be a Canadian citizen who has demonstrated outstanding leadership, achievement in any field, benefiting the people of Canada, or in the service of Canada; the individual cannot be fictional; and the individual must have been deceased for at least 25 years, that is, prior to April 15, 1991.  An Advisory Council comprised of Canadian academic, cultural, and thought leaders will review the submissions and create a short list of qualified candidates for the Bank of Canada to choose from.

Banknotes are cultural touchstones, and are being used to celebrate and reflect the diversity of the Canadian society. With this proposed note, Canadians can honour the achievements of Canadian women and inspire future generations to learn more about the significant contributions women have made to Canada.

In 2011, the Bank of Canada began releasing a new series of polymer bills. In these banknotes, portraits of five former Prime Ministers are featured in the following denominations: $100 (Robert Borden), $50 (William Lyon Mackenzie King), $10 (John A. Macdonald), and $5 (Wilfred Laurier). Queen Elizabeth II appears on the $20 note.

When the new polymer notes were issued, the popular $50 bill featuring five women from Canadian history was replaced by a new polymer depicting a coast guard icebreaker. The old $50 bills were the only ones depicting women other than $20 bills Queen Elizabeth II.

On October 13, 2004, the Bank of Canada unveiled a new $50 banknote on the theme of nation building. For the first time in Canadian history, Canadian women were featured on the note. The bill featured images of the Alberta women known as the Famous 5, as well as the renowned activist Thérèse Casgrain.  The Famous 5 were petitioners in the groundbreaking Persons Case, a case brought before the Supreme Court of Canada in 1927 and later decided by the Judicial Council of Britain’s Privy Council (1929), Canada’s highest court at that time. Led by judge Emily Murphy, the group included Henrietta Muir Edwards, Nellie McClung, Louise Crummy McKinney and Irene Parlby. Together, the five women had many years of active work in various campaigns for women’s rights dating back to the 1880s and 90s.

The Persons Case was a constitutional ruling that established the right of women to be appointed to the Senate.   In 1928, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that women were not ‘persons’ according to the British North America Act and therefore were ineligible for appointment to the Senate. However, the Famous 5 appealed to the Privy Council of England, which in 1929 reversed the Court’s decision. The Persons Case opened the Senate to women. Moreover, the legal recognition of women as ‘persons’ meant that women could no longer be denied rights based on a narrow interpretation of the law.

At the time of their victory, the media dubbed the group the ‘Alberta Five’ as they hailed from the Province of Alberta.  Over time, as the case took on a privileged position in Canadian women’s history, the group became popularly known as the ‘Famous 5.’ They have come to represent an entire generation’s political activism, including an earlier, nationwide campaign for women’s voting rights.

Canadian women, aged 21 and over, obtained the right to vote in the  Federal elections in 1918, more than two years after the women of Manitoba became the first to vote at the provincial level in 1916.  Other Provinces then followed suit.  Saskatchewan on 14 March and Alberta on 19 April 1916 gave voting rights to women. British Columbia approved women’s suffrage on 5 April 1917 and Ontario a week later on 12 April 1917.

The provincial franchise for Nova Scotian women came on 26 April 1918.  New Brunswick  approved women’s suffrage on 17 April 1919. Prince Edward Island (PEI) amended its Election Act to include women on 3 May 1922, and Newfoundland women gained the vote on 13 April 1925. In Nova Scotia, PEI and Newfoundland, the right to stand for provincial office accompanied voting rights, but New Brunswick avoided that radical step until 9 March 1934. In Québec, under the courageous leadership of Thérèse Casgrain, the struggle continued until 25 April 1940, when women finally achieved the provincial counterpart to the federal vote they had been exercising for over 20 years.

Reactions to the Famous 5 have varied widely, but the significance of their contribution to the development of women’s rights in Canada was underscored in 2000 with the dedication of a bronze statue called “Women Are Persons!” by Edmonton artist Barbara Paterson in Ottawa and Calgary (1999). The Famous 5 Foundation was established in 1996.

As on the Women’s Day of 2016, as a testimony to women power in Canada, the country boasts of 26% of elected women members of the House of Commons – 88 women out of a 338 total members.  For the first time the greatest number (15 out of 30) of women have been appointed as Cabinet ministers, 50 per cent of Cabinet. On the very Women’s Day,  three provincial premiers are  women –  Kathleen Wynne of Ontario, Rachel Notley of Alberta and Christy Clark of British Columbia. 

In Canada’s nearly 150 year history, women, with the notable exception of the Queen, have largely been unrepresented on the banknotes.  2018 will usher in real change to a new generation of women who will carry with them constant reminders that they are not only Canada’s future, but a celebrated part of history.

The Stone Age Days of My Life

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When our son had accompanied me  on our trip to India in 2012, we stayed at our ancestral home, inherited by my younger brother (a Syrian Orthodox Christian tradition, also followed by most Christian households in Kerala), wherein the youngest son inherits the ancestral home and along with it the responsibility to look after the aging parents.  This could be because he is the one most likely to outlive the parents as in the olden days marriages were consummated at an early age and the prevalence of deadly diseases with poor healthcare, in some cases the parents outlived their children.

We spent a few days there and our son, prowling around the backyard, was trying to place the tamarind trees, jackfruit trees, breadfruit tree, chicken pen, cow shed etc (almost all of them have disappeared now), based on all the stories I had narrated to him about our growing up days.  He suddenly found a stone, looking more like a ‘Shiva Ling’ as per his perception and knowledge of Hindu mythology.  He imagined that the earlier owners of the property could have been Hindus and they must have left the stone and our family might have stowed it away safely in the backyard.

He called me out and sought my explanation about the origin of this stone.  I explained to him that it was the ‘Aattu Kallu’, a circular base stone with a hole, six inch in diameter and depth, chiselled out to make space to put in soaked rice and lentils to be ground for making batter for Dosa and Idli.  The cylindrical stone applies pressure while being manually churned around in the hole on to the rice and lentils, thus crushing it into a smooth paste.

The kid could not grasp the entire operation as I could make out from his expressions.  The only way to make him understand was to hold a demonstration (experiences in conducting lecture-demonstrations while in the army came handy).  I requested my sister-in-law to soak some rice and lentils overnight for the demonstration scheduled next morning.

Seeing his curiosity, I decided to introduce  a few more items of interest.  Outside the kitchen in the work area, there was the ‘Ammi Kallu’. I took him there to explain as to how the wet-grinding of shredded coconut and spices was done on a two feet by a foot rectangular stone platform with the help of stone cylinder of about six inches diameter and a foot in length.  It is an art to move the stone cylinder over the platform without rotating it.  Rotating the stone cylinder meant less pressure on the material to be ground and hence additional time spent.  My sister-in-law was gracious enough to conduct a demonstration of its utilisation (after she kept aside the Sumeet Mixie), and I conducted the accompanying lecture.

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There is also an interesting cultural association.  The Tamil Brahmin groom inserts the toe ring (metti) on the bride’s toes when the bride places her foot on the ‘Ammi Kallu’.  It is believed that as per the Indian myths that the ‘Ammi Kallu’ is a magical stone, and the coconut and spices ground on its surface is believed to be healthier than the ones done in an electric grinder.

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In the corner of the work area was the ‘Ural’, unused for many years, given way again for the more efficient modern electric mixer grinder.  Ural is again a stone cylinder about two feet tall and two feet in diameter.  On the top surface, similar to the ‘Attu Kallu’, a hole, six inch in diameter and depth, chiselled out to hold rice, or coffee beans.  De-husking of raw or boiled and sun-dried rice was done in the Ural.  Powdering of rice or the coffee beans or spices was also executed here.  It was strictly meant for dry grinding only.  There is a five feet tall baton made of hardwood, with a metallic cover at the base, which is lifted up and pounded on the material inside the hole.  Perfecting the art of not spilling the contents while pounding is developed over time – to start with for any learner, the speed of pounding is a bit slow, but with practice, the speed really picks up.  In my younger days I have seen two ladies doing this in tandem.  Real precision timing and coordination is required for each pounding, else it could spell disaster.  With a small quantity of rice, I did a demonstration, but the contents did spill out.

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According to the Hindu mythology, one day Yashoda,   lost her motherly patience after a few pranks by little Lord Krishna.   To keep him quiet, she tied him to an Ural and went into the kitchen to attend to her chores.  Now alone, Krishna dragged the Ural and passed between two large trees. The Ural got stuck between the trees and with one yank, he succeeded in freeing himself and also in bringing down the trees. The trees were in fact two Gandharvas (male spirits with superb musical skills, husbands of the Apsaras [beautiful, supernatural female beings]), who were transformed into trees by a curse by the sage Narada, with a condition that they would be reincarnated by the touch of Krishna.

Next morning, we did the wet grinding practice; I demonstrated the activity and our son followed it up.  Here again coordination is required to rotate the stone cylinder with one hand and push the material into the hole with the other.  We used to take turns, in teams of two, one doing the cylinder rotation and the other pushing the material.  I explained to our son that the secret behind the well toned arm muscles of his dad and the three uncles were courtesy these stone implements.

Marina’s Canadian Journey

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We got married in 1989 and Marina, my wife was then on the third year of her Pharmacy degree at Gulbarga, Karnataka.  I was then undergoing the Long Gunnery Staff Course (LGSC) for a year at Devlali. She always came over to Devlali, whenever she could manage a few days off, often travelling in trains without reservations. That used to be a monthly affair and I think the entire course knew when she came over as I invariably managed to skip classes on those days.

In those days there were no cell phones and mind you, no (Subscriber Trunk Dialling) STD or long distance dialling facilities too at Devlali. One had to wait for 9 PM as thereafter the rates came down to a quarter, else it was expensive to make a long distance calls then. Whenever I thought I missed her, I used to sit outside the Telephone office, next to the railway station, book a call to the ladies hostel at Gulbarga and wait for the call to materialise. It used to take an hour for sure and the wait many a times seemed much longer, especially with the mosquitoes buzzing into one’s ears; their bites I did not seem to mind too much (created by the almighty, perhaps they too had a right to live), but never their music. At times there was some company.  A Young Officer trying to call up his girl friend/ fiancé or another officer missing his wife who had gone home for a few days, may be for a marriage in the family or to look up her parents.

Marina was the University topper and after completing her B Pharm degree, we got into ‘family’ life and Marina enjoyed the army wife’s life for a few years. Once the initial fun was over after getting too used to the army life, over time she got really fed up with it. She found that the wives of many senior officers real dumb who had no interests other than making a career for their husbands.

One day, she decided that she had had enough and said “What use is my B Pharm Degree, for which I slogged for four years?” That is, after eight years of marriage and Army life, she decided to leave me and move to Delhi and try her hand at a business. The business, a joint venture with another Army lady, did not go the way Marina wanted and hence she applied for immigration to Canada.

After applying for immigration, she left the business to her partner and joined a Pharmacy College in Delhi to teach. The main aim was to get back to the subject proper, which she had not been in touch with for the last eight years. That was when I got posted to Delhi.

She got the books for the licensing exam for a Pharmacist in Canada from her sister who lives in the US. And thus began her battle with the books all over again and I must say she slogged her way out. She got her Canadian Visa as a permanent resident in February 2002 and at that time, coincidentally I was posted overnight to take over command of a Surveillance and Target Acquisition Battery in the field during Opeartion Parakram.

A decision was made – to splinter the family- our son Nikhil, an LKG student, off to my parents in Kerala; our daughter Nidhi Grade 5 student to stay at Delhi with Brigadier GM Sankar, our family friend, until her final examinations in March and then off to Kerala; myself to Rajasthan and Marina to Canada, that too in February when the winter is at its worst in Canada. There was no other option and it had to happen and we simply had to cope.

After the operational deployment, the unit returned to Devlali in November 2002. The children moved in with me and I became a single parent Commanding Officer.  By then I had established myself well in the Battery.  All the officers and soldiers were outstanding individuals with a lot of self-confidence in them.  They understood their tasks pretty well and executed them with finesse.  The unit was indeed a well-oiled machine.  Late Colonel Suresh Babu was the Second-in-Command, who along with the other officers ran the regiment exceptionally well. Our unit was clearly the best outfit in town.

Soon thereafter, I was in for a shock as Nikhil, then in Kindergarten, came back to me speaking only Malayalam as he lived in Kerala for six months.  He had completely forgotten Hindi and English, which he spoke very fluently while at Delhi and his brains were now reformatted in Malayalam.  It took a month and some special effort from me and the unit staff to teach him Hindi and English.

On landing in Canada, Marina worked eight hours a day and studied 10 hours a day and in a year cleared all the licensing exams in one go. A herculean effort. There are two written and a practical examination to be cleared and only about 5% of international pharmacy students clear it.

After two years of her landing in Canada, Marina obtained her license as a pharmacist after completing her studentship (four months) and internship (six months). The children joined her in March 2004. I bid farewell to arms six months later and moved to Canada in September 2004. Thus began the reunion of a splintered family. What began as a stray thought in Marina’s mind had eventually developed into a passionate endeavour resulting in a cataclysmic change for each member of the family. Are we happy today as a family?  Mostly, it’s an emphatic yes. But sometimes we do miss our people, Kerala and above all the Indian Army environs.

At that time I asked Marina as to how she managed to pass all her licensing exams in a year when most people take a minimum of three years and many up to six. She said it was all hard work as she wanted to get me and children as fast as possible to Canada. Being alone in Canada facilitated her to put in those extra hours of hard work. Further, as she was an Army Wife, she was tough and ready to take on all challenges.  She said she was lucky that she never worked as a pharmacist in India and hence did not learn the ‘wrong’ things – hence no unlearning was required prior to learning the Canadian way of pharmacy management. In her view, she started her studies as if she had not even done her B Pharm and hence could clear all the exams in one go.

Helping Teens to Overcome Profanity

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Picking up our son Nikhil one afternoon from school (he was in Grade 12), I noticed that he did not look his normal self.  After driving for a few minutes, I enquired as to what went wrong at school.  A bit surprised with my question and being in no mood to give the answer, he said it was OK.  The answer by itself was evidence enough that it was not all that good.

After a few minutes he came out with the agony he had to face during the group presentation that morning.  Two of the students in the group came unprepared and they had a bad presentation.  He was not feeling good about the entire incident.

There were four students in the group and two of them had really put in a lot of efforts and two had not.  During the lunch break, after the presentation, the boy who had put in a lot of effort literally had the unprepared two on the mat and Nikhil said he did enjoy the show, but did not speak a word.  He added that he wanted to see how silence is golden and also to accept a failure, (even though not due to his fault) with all the humility and also enjoy the way the other student was castigating the other two.

He explained all these with a lot of North American Teen adjectives and propositions which most sons would not throw at their dads.  I listened patiently and did not utter a word.  I was not all happy about the coarseness of the language being used, but decided not to react.  I try and avoid immediate reaction as the children at that stage are never ready to listen and see any logic in what we say and will only help to push up our blood pressure and leave a bad after taste in the mouth.

While having our lunch on reaching home, I said to him that yes, he did not have all that a good day at school and he had been wise enough to accept the failure, but the language he used to explain the same should be avoided as much as possible.  I explained to him that bad language is never a problem solver, but will always end up as a frustration enhancer.

To this he said “Dad, the hormones are kicking in, and as a Teen, I have no control over it”.  My mind went back to the National Defence Academy (NDA) days, where we used the same expressions with our friends to vent out all the frustrations we had after a horrible event or a bad day.

As children grow up, they tend to experiment with inappropriate language and dirty jokes. In most cases, it is an imitation of an adult whom these children have seen at home, in movies, in television shows, or in the community. The need of the hour is to make the children realise the appropriateness of language they use and its impact on the listeners.

Many teens resort to inappropriate language to demonstrate that they d have turned into a matured adult. Parents have to explain to the children that inappropriate language is never an impressive trait and would never fetch any credit, but only disrespect. It is very easy to preach, but when a careless driver cuts you off or when a heavy object falls on your foot, some profanity is sure to slip out of your mouth. As a matured parent, it is one’s duty to acknowledge that one used an inappropriate word and must have avoided it in itself is a good learning for any kid.

Over-bearing and over-controlling of teenagers by the parents results in the children wanting to break the rules and to release the parental pressure. Also to prove that they are ‘cool’ in front of their peers, these children mostly end up using swearwords.

It is the parent’s duty to train their kids in appropriate and correct language use. Some tips which I effectively used are:-

  • Listen, Listen and Listen.  Always make it a point to give a patient listening to your children.  Show keen interest in what they are speaking and provide them with feedbacks.  If you do not listen to your children, please do not expect them to listen to you when they are teens or youths.
  • Never Laugh it Off. Most children would take it as an approval and will ensure a repeat when the child wants to steal the spotlight.
  • Do Not Over-React.   Your over-reaction will only help to reinforce the behaviour. The child is most likely to use it again to gain attention or to irritate you.
  • Do Not Confront. Anything said to an angry person will only upset him further. Hence it is advisable to explain to the kid an alternative to inappropriate language at a calmer time.
  • Watch Your Words.   When at home or while going out with kids, ensure that you use the most dignified language. Always remember that your kid will pick up your one swearword a thousand time faster than a hundred good words you uttered.
  • Beginners Do Not Realise.   Any kid beginning to talk, often does not realise the meaning or inappropriateness of a swearword. Scolding them or punishing them would serve no purpose. It would be prudent to ignore it and generally they do not repeat.
  • Explain to a Grownup. A simple explanation to a middle or high school kid about the inappropriateness of the word would often ensure good results.
  • Punish Only When Needed. Award of a time out, suspension of certain privileges or grounding for profanity will surely reduce the use of swearwords, especially by the teens.
  • Create Expressions. Encourage the teens to develop a collection of effective expressions to use in place of swearwords and apply it to inescapable situations.

Parents got to set examples for the children at home and help them overcome the need to use swearwords.

Reposing Trust

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A few months into the command of our Regiment at Devlali, Maharashtra, I had an interview scheduled in the afternoon with Naik (Corporal) Ranjit Kumar. My interviews with the soldiers were mostly scheduled in the afternoons as I was a single parent, bringing up our two children aged 11 and five as my wife had already migrated to Canada. As a Commanding Officer I interviewed only those soldiers who proceeded on or returned from courses of instruction, posting in/out and those deputed on some important missions.

Ranjith, an accomplished Radio Operator, had been detailed to undergo the Regimental Signal Instructor (RSI) course at Military College of Telecommunication Engineering (MCTE), Mhow. Now, Ranjith was sitting in front of me, at 3 PM, waiting to be spoken to by his Commanding Officer. On speaking with him, I realised that he wanted to attend Long Gunnery Staff Course and getting a good grade at an Army course would enhance his chances of getting selected for the prestigious course.  Hence he had put in a special request to be detailed for the course.

The problem I visualised for a Naik attending such course is that the solders below the rank of a Havildar (Sergeant) are given many additional tasks like area cleaning, sentry duties, etc at most Army Schools except at the School of Artillery. The common saying amongst the soldiers of our Regiment at that time was that at MCTE and Army School of Mechanical Transport (ASMT), the soldier students are issued with a broom along with their books. While doing the Regimental Signal Officers Course at MCTE in 1985, I have witnessed it as one Naik from our Regiment was attending the RSI course at the same time and in the evenings, he was often seen doing mundane tasks.

How to get over this dilemma? I looked at Ranjith for about half a minute and did not utter a word. In effect my mind went blank as I had no solution at hand. I visualised Ranjith spending more time in cleaning the area around and on sentry duties and not getting adequate time to study and do well in the course. I was literally feeling helpless.

Eureka! A brainwave stuck me suddenly and I said “Ranjith, I appoint you as an Acting Lance Haviladar. In case you return from the course with an ‘A’ grading, you can continue wearing the rank, else, on termination of the course, return to the unit as a Naik”. Lance Havildar is an appointment given to a Naik who discharges the duties of a Havildar and in the Indian Army, there is no rank or appointment called Acting Lance Havildar. It was indeed a creation of my mind. The said notional promotion had no effect on his seniority or his pay, but he would wear the rank badge of a Havildar on his eight sleeve. A Havildar in the Regiment of Artillery wears a white dot – depicting a bursting shell – in addition to the standard three stripes of a Havildar. It is known among the Gunners as the three and a half stripes.

I summoned the duty clerk and ordered all documents – course nominal roll, movement order, last ration certificate etc – to be retyped showing Ranjith as a Lance Havildar. I told Ranjith to take all his uniforms to the Regimental tailor and affix the three and a half stripes on them.

After about two months, I got a call from our then Second-in-Command – Late Colonel Suresh Babu – at my home at about 11 AM that Havildar Ranjith has returned from his course not only with an ‘A’ grading, but also has topped the course. I immediately rushed to the office and there I found Havildar Ranjith proudly holding the best student trophy and smiling at me. I called him into my office and complimented him for his achievement. I asked him as to how he achieved such a great result.

Ranjith said that the moment he left my office after the interview, he was determined to top the course, come what may. The Havildar stripes ensured that he did not get any of the mundane duties and hence got much more time to study. He would study till late night everyday and after a few hours of sleep, he would wake up to find the three and a half stripes on the uniform staring at him. This made him leave his bed and resume his studies. He did not ever go out of his living lines, even on weekends and never saw any movie. The only entertainment for him was watching the Television while partaking his meals in the dining hall.

He concluded his narration by saying “How could I ever let down the trust reposed in me by my Commanding Officer? Hence whenever I felt tired, I looked at the three and a half stripes and I was back in action.”

I asked Ranjith as to why he did not request for his two months annual leave at the end of the course as he would be very tired. He said that he wanted to show to everyone what he had achieved and then only would proceed on annual leave.

Ranjith set the trend and many other soldiers of the unit followed suit.  In two years, six soldiers from our unit attended the prestigious Long Gunnery Staff Course.

In order to repose faith in others, whether its your children or your subordinates; you got to have faith and belief in yourself.

PRIDE Parade of Toronto

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Indian Parliament, on 10 March 2016, voted against the introduction of Shashi Thraoor’s  private member’s bill to decriminalise homosexuality.  The Parliament thwarted Thraoor’s  second attempt in three months to introduce the measure. Tharoor said it was ‘religious bigotry’ of the ruling party that had disallowed discussion on his private bill to amend the ‘colonial era’ section 377 of the IPC which criminalises homosexuality, marking ‘a low in the proud annals of Indian democracy.’

Now, Toronto City is all set to celebrate its annual ‘PRIDE Week’ in July 2016.  PRIDE is the acronym for People Recognising Individual Difference Equally.  Toronto’s Pride Week is an arts and culture festival that celebrates diverse sexual and gender identities, and the lives of Toronto’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual, Transgender, Queer and Questioning (LGBTQ) communities. The theme of the 2016 Pride Parade, to be held on July 03, is ‘belonging and inclusion’. Along with the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Finance Minister Bill Morneau, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne (who is openly gay) and Toronto Mayor John Tory are also expected to participate in the festivities.

Since the late 1960s, the LGBTQ community in Canada have seen steady gains in their rights/status. While discrimination against LGBTQ people persists in many places, major strides toward mainstream social acceptance and formal legal equality have nonetheless been made in recent decades.

Canada is internationally regarded as a leader in granting rights to the LGBTQ community. Today, the LGBTQ community have government health care, right to adopt, equality for employment (including military service), and enjoy all rights as applicable to opposite-sex married couples and common-law couples. In 2005, Canada became the fourth country in the world to legalise same-sex marriage.  Thousands of LGBTQ couples, who could not marry in the country where they live, have travelled to Canada seeking a legal marriage.

That was the Canadian side of the story. The Indian Law (Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code [IPC]) is a study in contrast. Unfortunately, it does not guarantee individual choice in matters of sexual preferences, sexuality, and sexual partners. This Section gives the state the authority to even investigate what is happening in your bedroom. It also makes any sex apart from penile-vaginal intercourse between a man and a woman, an illegal act. This severely impacts the LGBTQ community; why, it may also impact married heterosexual couples.

Section 377 of the IPC is a British relic, drafted in 1860 and based on outdated Victorian morals. It has no place in a modern nation like India. It is not even followed by the British today. The British laws now grant equal rights in all aspects to the LGBTQ community and have legalised same sex marriages from 2013.

Section 377 of the IPC is a law that was and can be used to oppress and harass the minority that have different sexual pereferences. The Indian Parliament is reluctant to amend the law. MP Shashi Tharoors’s Private Member’s Bill to decriminalise homosexuality and consensual sex between consenting adults was defeated in Parliament in December 2015. Tharoor’s bill was rejected at the introductory stage itself with 71 ‘Noes’ against 24 ‘yes’. There was one abstention. Tharoor, the lone fighter in this regard, appears to be in no mood of giving up and has promised that he will continue with his fight.

As per Tharoor, Section 377 of the IPC should be amended so that all consensual sex between consenting adults irrespective of gender and sexuality is made legal. It should ensure that forced sex, pedophilia or pederasty is not legalised and is dealt with in a severe manner.

There is an urgent need to amend Section 377 of the IPC as the Constitution of India guarantees Right to Privacy and Dignity under Article 21, Right to Equality under Article 14, and the Right against Discrimination under Article 15. Then why not the right to privacy, dignity and equality and also right against discrimination be guaranteed to LGBTQ people.

Now let us examine as to why there is so much of opposition from the Members of Parliament in making any changes to Section 377 of IPC.

Erotic desire or Kama in Hinduism was deemed as one of the most legitimate pleasures on earth. Premarital sex in Hinduism is frowned upon and extramarital sex is prohibited. Sex was promoted within the context of a loving couple – usually heterosexual. Marriage in Hinduism is said to fulfill three functions: Prajaa, Dharma, and Rati. In marriage, Prajaa is progeny for perpetuation of one’s family, Dharma is fulfillment of responsibilities, and Rati is companionship as friends and mutual pleasure as lovers. There are some references to the ‘Third Gender’ (Trtiya prakrti) in Hindu mythology. The term is loosely defined, referring in general to hetero-sexually dysfunctional men or women, who may be, according to the context, impotent, homosexual or transvestite or even having abnormal genitalia.

Attitude towards homosexuality in Western culture derives from the Biblical teaching on the subject. The Bible claims that homosexuality as a chosen sexual behaviour, is unnatural, sinful, amoral, and against God. Hence, most laws in Western countries, dealing with the LGBTQ community were codified based on it.

“Do not lie with a male as one lies with a woman; it is an abomination.” (Leviticus 18:22)
“Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders.” (1 Corinthians 6:9)

The New York Times is the first major publication to use the word “homosexuality” in 1926. In 1933, when the Nazis came to power in Germany, they rounded up homosexuals and send them to the concentration camps along with Jews. Gay men had to wear a pink triangle on their camp clothes. Switzerland in 1942 became the first country to decriminalise homosexuality, with the age of consent set at 20. In 1954, Mathematical and computer genius Alan Turing, one of the World War II code-breakers, committed suicide by cyanide poisoning, 18 months after being given a choice between two years in prison or libido-reducing hormone treatment for a year as a punishment for homosexuality. Tennis player Billie Jean King in 1961, became the first prominent professional sports-person to come out as a lesbian.

Sexuality is a very complex issue with many theories but very little verifiable evidence. It has been demonstrated by research that everyone is found somewhere along a bell-curve. To one side there are the resolute heterosexuals and on the other side the resolute homosexuals. The vast majority of men and women are found somewhere along the bell curve in the grey area. When deprived of female company some men will engage in homosexual acts, while others will not. Research has proved that women are more likely to experiment with homosexuality than are men.

British-American Neuroscientist. Simon LeVay said “Yes, we have a choice in life, to be ourselves or to conform to someone else’s idea of normality, but being straight, bisexual or gay, or none of these, is a central part of who we are, thanks in part to the DNA we were born with.”

I wish MP Shashi Tharoor all the best in his drive to cleanse the inequalities in our laws.

An Emergency Travel to India

Emergencytraaa

On 03 March 2016, at about 4 PM, I received a telephone call from my friend Jose. He is generally at work at in the evenings and would never called me this time. My question to Jose was “Anything wrong?”  He said “I lost my Dad about an hour ago.” I asked him as to where he was and he said he was back home from his work place. I said that I would be there in the next ten minutes.

Jose hails from my village in Kerala and was my mother’s student in the village high school. The first time I met Jose was after landing in Canada. There was no occasion to meet him in India as I joined Sainik School at the age of nine, then moved on to the National Defence Academy and then 25 years service with the Indian Army. Jose knew my three brothers very well. Jose, being a lawyer, was a colleague of my elder brother at the Kottayam District Court. He until then was of the impression that my mother, his teacher, had three sons and not four.

During my annual visits to Kerala, Jose would always send some gift for his Dad and Mr Abraham would come home on my arrival to pick it up. He would also visit us on my return to hand over some gift for his grandson Kevin in Canada. Hence, it became a ritual for me to meet him during all my Kerala trips.

I reached Jose’s home and obviously he was heartbroken. I consoled him with a few words and in a minute I was off to coordinating his travel to Kerala. I immediately asked for the travel plans. Jose’s son Kevin, a Grade 10 student, was having his semester examinations and the feasibility of him accompanying his Dad was ruled out. Jose’s wife Pauline now had no option other than to stay back and take care of Kevin. Thus it was finalised that only Jose will travel to Kerala for the last rites of his father.

Jose was advised by me to call up his workplace and request for three weeks off. It was granted promptly by his supervisor. I now asked for Jose’s Canadian Passport and got on to the internet to fill up the Indian Visa application online. There is a need to upload a passport size photograph along with the application. I shot a photo of Jose on my Iphone, edited it and uploaded it.

Meanwhile, I requested Pauline to call up two travel agents to arrange the flight tickets. The options for travel zeroed down to travel by Air Canada – Air India via London and by Ethihad via Chicago. The option of a return trip from India through USA to Canada was rejected as one has to pick up the luggage at Chicago, go through the customs and immigration process, move to a different terminal with all the bag and baggage, recheck in with Air Canada, go through security and then board the flight. The rule in North America is that any passenger landing at any North American port has to get the customs and immigration check done there and then only proceed to their destination, even if it is in a different country. Considering all these factors, we finalised the travel by Air Canada – Air India, leaving Toronto at 6 PM on 04 March and bought the tickets.

When applying for an emergency Visa with the Indian Consulate, there is a need to prove the emergency. For that a booked air ticket for the journey to India and a letter from the hospital or local government authorities regarding the demise of a person is required. Now we called up Jose’s cousin in Kerala to obtain a letter from the hospital regarding the demise of Mr Abraham, indicating him as the father of Jose.

The online Visa application, the eticket from the airline, the letter showing the demise of Mr Abraham and a copy of a passport size photo were all printed and we were ready to proceed to the Indian Consulate at Toronto. Meanwhile, I rang up our neighbour and a close family friend Mr Thomas K Thomas for his help with the Visa application. Mr Thomas is our community leader and is well known to the Indian Consulate staff. He did the liaison with them and instructed us to meet Mr Sharma at the reception and he would do the needful. He also advised me to call him in case of any difficulties or delay.

Meanwhile there were many well wishers calling up Jose to express their condolences. They seem not to realise what was going on at the other end and kept the telephone line busy with their sympathetic conversation. Most wanted to know ‘How did he die? Which vehicle hit him? Have they filed an insurance claim? Are you going to Kerala? When are you going?, etc.’ Obviously, everyone wanted to know everything, but hardly anyone offered any assistance. Everyone wanted to be sympathetic rather than being empathetic and helpful at a time of need. In effect they were only tying down the telephone line, the most wanted resource at that time to arrange for Jose’s travel.

On 04 March morning we reached the Indian Consulate at Toronto by 10 AM. We obtained a Postal Order for $119 from the Canada Post Office located at the ground floor of the building. One got to have either a Bank Draft or a Postal Order as the Indian Consulate does not accept cash or debit/credit cards.   We met Mr Sharma at the reception and then handed over the Visa Application at the counter. After half an hour, Jose was called and his Passport with the Visa was handed over. The entire process was real fast and efficient.

We reached Jose’s home by midday. I now contacted our family friend Mr Johnson, who works as a supervisor with Air Canada. He advised me to drop off Jose at the airport by 3:30 PM as he would be off duty by 4 PM.   We drove off to the Toronto airport and were received by Johnson, who in no time completed all the ticketing formalities and checked in the luggage and I saw off Jose at the security gate.

 

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