Tag Archive: sex


Jeans or Sari? In the cities the growing use of Western Style dress is a hot topic for debate

I have just spent a busy 24 hours in Bangalore accompanying one of students who may be getting surgery to straighten her spine.  As I had other jobs to do, we took one of her teachers with us so that they wouldn’t be alone.  It was a bit hectic, we had to rush around the city in rickshaws, meeting the doctor, getting an x-ray, going to a hospital to sort out the post-op care.  Both the teacher and the student were only visiting Bangalore for the second time,  and it was clear they preferred small town or village India to big city in India.  What was particularly interesting was their commentaries and chatting about the amount of girls and young women they saw in Jeans or western style dress.  There was a big discussion about Sari v Jeans and Sari definitely came out top in their eyes. This lead to a few long conversations about the role of women in India and it certainly was sobering and the question of fashion soon seemed to become irrelevant.

Back in March 2010, the Economist ran a striking cover story about what it called ‘Gendercide‘ responding the famous Indian Economist Amartya Sen claim that 100million baby girls have been killed through sex-selective abortions.  Because of a variety of factors, the dowry system, traditional prejudices, need for physical labour, inheritance law, girls are clearly seen as less preferable to boys. As well as this ancient preference for a son, there is a modern desire for smaller families and cheap and widespread availability of ultrasound technology. This combined factors has led to a dramatic rise in sex selective abortions.

Unlike China, India’s democratic roots  and civil service have set up an impressive infrastructure for elections and also data gathering, particularly through the 10-year census.  The data is seen as reliable and detailed.  It also very revealing.    Currently in India the sex ratio according to 2011 census is 914 women per 1,000 men. It was 927 women per 1,000 men in 2001. According to The World Factbook this is the third most distorted sex ratio in the world after China and Armenia and it seems to be growing.   The census data also reveals how cultural prejudices affect this.  In both rural and urban India the Sikh community has the most distorted ratio (895  girls per 1000 boys).  This is followed by Hindus (935),  Muslim and Jains (940),   Buddhist (955).  It is only the Christian community that has more girls than boys (1009), but indications suggest that even that may be dropping.

Obviously the effects of this ‘gendercide’ could be profound on the community.  In Northern States in India where the practice of sex selective abortion and also infanticide seems most common, they are already having to ‘import’ brides from other states.  Son preference is most prevalent in an arc of countries from East Asia through South Asia to the Middle East and North Africa – however it seems highest in Asia. In fact it is only South Korea that seems to have recovered it sex ratio to from that equivalent to India in 1990 to approaching a more normal level today. The economic rise of South Korea, the only country to go from being an aid recipient to an aid donor in one generation, is well known. But is a change of culture that is leading to girls to be valued more.

This is another reason why education is so important, and the work being done here in Manvi so impressive.  But there is still a lot to do, the Jesuits here have set up an impressive network of womens groups in the villages, such as the Devadasis pictured on the right.  They value education more and will encourage the girls to go to school.  But still there are deep problems.  In a dramatic incident last week our social workers who have been developing a malnutrition programme had to rush a seriously malnourished baby girl to hospital.  There is a lot of confusion around the case, they suspect food provided for her had been sold on, that the child may have HIV, and that the grandmother seemed to be blocking any effort to help her survive. From the (foriegn) social workers perspective, the family seemed happy to let her die.  There is no proof to any of this, but it would not be a surprise in a culture where the difference between a boy and a girl can have a big effect in the lives of the poor. What is needed is faithful presence and the slow continuous work of changing hearts and minds.  The British Governments arm for development (DFID) are offering large amounts of funding targeted at getting girls into and keeping them in education. It is called the Girls Education Challenge, and in a new departure funds that would usually go into government budgets and be wasted due to corruption are now being offered to the private sector.  The Jesuits who already educate over 9,000 girls in Karnataka state, with over two thirds of them being from low caste and vulnerable backgrounds are well placed to use this funding to expand their educational work.  In fact that was my other business in Bangalore.

Temple Prostitutes


Picture courtesy of Rachel Robichaux – the necklace is a symbol of their being ‘wedded’ to a Goddess

96 Girls in our school come from the Devadasi community.  Their mothers were dedicated or ‘married’ to the Hindu Godess Yellamma at a young age.  They are not allowed to marry a mortal but ones they reach puberty they are bound to give service to the temple.  It is ancient tradition that requires them to serve the temple with song, music or dance but most of them are effectively temple prostitutes. Higher caste men come and have sex with them for as little as 20 rupees (25pence or 40cents).  This ‘dedication’ was outlawed in Karnataka in 1982, and in all of India in 1988, but as one of the Jesuits puts it ‘ it still flourishes under the carpet,’.  With their mothers having children from multiple fathers, the girls can easily be abandoned and without intervention they follow the same pattern of life of their mothers. Sometimes higher castes will ensure a girl goes into devadasi service instead of the family paying debts that are owed. It is effectively a form of child trafficking and child bonded labour.

The girls are often brought to the school here by concerned neighbours who request for admission on their behalf.  The devadasi girls stay in the Hostel here during the school year  which removes them from the toxic environment of prostitution at home. Interestingly the Jesuits claim that they are among the higher achieving students.  When we discussed why this was – whether they are more intelligent or more motivated – the consensus was that they had a burning desire to escape the life that they have seen their mothers having.  The Jesuits and staff treat these girls with great sensitivity, their identity as devedasi is not known by most of the teachers and other students. This anonymity is ensured at parents meetings or evenings as the Jesuits ask for only one parent to come for all the families.

Older Devadasi woman begging outside a temple dedicated to Yellama. Photo courtesy of Julia Cumes

This is a striking case of how education brings liberation and social transformation.  The help provided to the Devadasi community is not just restricted to education.  One of the cruel facts of Devadasi life is as the women age quickly they become less sexually desirable and are abandoned.  The Jesuits have been encouraging the founding of womens-cooperatives, realising that on a village level it is the women who are more likely to use small loans wisely and who vlaue education more.  One such group in a nearby village is constituted of Devadasis who have turned away from prostitution. A very impressive group, led by strong women, well organised, with support they have  built 26 houses and have become a strong influence in the community. I remember visiting them in the community in 2006 and being impressed by their bold spirit.  I have since learned that they have become influential on the local political level. In fact officials were outbidding each other at the last elections to secure their votes.  Political corruption of course is endemic!

If you would like to know more about this tradition – I have discovered a very informative short film called saving the Devadasi by American Campaigner Julia Cumes. Below is a short trailer – if you wish to see the whole film click on this link.


Storytelling is a hugely important activity.  Stories shape the way we think about the world.  When we are growing up it is often the coded messages in stories that imprint on us ideas of good and evil, heroism, what is harmful.  So the greatest storytellers are very influential.  In the past we would sit round fires – as the darkness fell all around – and listen to our grans / uncles or whoever bewitch us by weaving words together and creating images in our mind.  At least then we could interrupt our storytellers – asking them questions – reacting with gasps, groans or laughter to their tales. Nowadays we are much more passive in front of the greatest storyteller of them all – TV and the Cinema .  I sometimes think that this passivity is not necessarily a healthy thing. Being critically engaged with the stories we consume is very important as they can have a tremendous power as we form our opinions, or how we see and understand the world. Storyteller can try and inspire, to build people up,  to give us hope – or they can make us cynical, world-weary, apathetic.  These are tremendous powers.

George Martin – Tolkien for the Jaded Generation?

This is why novelist George R R Martin was voted in Time Magazine as one of the most influential people of the year.  I am currently on the third book of his ‘Song of Fire and Ice‘ series.  It is very enjoyable reading – complex, imaginative,  at times breathtaking, with fantastic character development and constant unseen twists and turns.  Now that HBO is televising it I am sure the books will go stratospheric. However it always worth observing how a book affects you. More precisely – what are the lingering moods  a book leaves you with (a la St Ignatius). And from my – subjective point of view – SoFiA is pretty desolating stuff. Martin’s world is basically cynical, bleak and depressing.  He has been described as Tolkien for the jaded generation.

More and more he is being marketed as the American ‘Tolkien’….  unfairly in my opinion.  Tolkien a committed Catholic would be shocked at the vulgarity of Martins writing and in my opinion the disturbing portrayals of  sex and violence.  Sure it;s different age – but there is a deeper point here.  There is a fascinating, little known, correspondence between Tolkien and English Jesuit Fr Robert Murray.  Fr Murray, a close friend,  was asked to proofread the manuscript of  Lord of the Rings.  His letter reacting to the unpublished manuscript has an intriguing phrase in it – Murray claimed the book left him with a strong sense of a positive compatibility with the order of Grace.

Tolkien in reply said ‘the  Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision.’   George R R Martin, a lapsed Catholic, says he is an agnostic or an atheist (make up your mind!) but remains fascinated by spirituality and religion.  He is certainly not anti-Catholic (like Phillip Pulman), neither I think secular like (J.K.Rowling).   There is a quite a bit of religion in the books – but it is not edifying stuff.

Tolkien in 1916, wearing his British Army unif...

Tolkien – Somme Veteran

Lets take the violence for instance – frequently cruel and sadistic in ASOFaI – the violence is less graphic in Tolkien. Yet curiously Tolkien fought in the battle of the Somme.  The closest George Martin (like myself) would have come to battle is through a video game. Tolkien has seen terrible – dehumanising suffering first hand, and like my own grandfather (who fought in Burma) he won’t talk about it. But his work – somehow is redemptive, is noble, it has hope. It is true that Martins female characters are much more realistic than anything in Tolkien…. and as a whole Martin’s characters are more morally complex. But maybe that is less about realism but more about the cynicism of our age.  The sex scenes (missing from Tolkien) are almost all brutal and degrading in ASofaI.  There is something of  ‘the teenage geek in a dark room on a diet of porn’ about the sex scenes. And HBO are rubbing their hands with glee. This isn’t a healthy portrayal of sexuality. The world isn’t like this…..

Is Martin a genius? Yes.

Are his books fantastic ? with reservations Yes.

Is he the American Tolkien – No. In many ways he gets close.  It is clear that he admires him greatly, but there is nothing about the ‘order of grace’ in his books.   Maybe he holds a mirror up to our generation – and parts of what is reflected back should cause us concern.  He doesn’t quite slip into the nihilism of Tarantino – but at times gets very close.

Am I biased?  Obviously!!