Saturday, July 14, 2012

Gender, Privacy and Ethics

Long back, I had blogged about why, when it came to procreation, people are seduced by technology to sally forth into uncharted moral and legal waters, instead of simply accepting the morally and legally acceptable solution called adoption.

We are now finding a similar set of dilemmas coming into focus thanks to the Pinki Pramanik case - that of the concept of gender and its intersection (or shall we say, collision?) with rights to privacy and our sense of right and wrong (ethics and morality). Here, too, a simple solution exists.

Pinki Pramanik thinks she is a lady. That should be enough for the rest of us to treat her as one. If our law allows ladies to be exempt from being punished for rape, that is a defect of our law - and anyone consistently claiming to be a lady should be allowed the benefit of such a law.

If our culture can tolerate, and indeed assign roles (however peripheral) to transgenders or cross-dressers in our culture, and give them the right to proudly say that they are hijras, and even give Shikandi (who thought she was a lady), the right to be treated in battle as a lady in the Mahabharata, there is no reason why, when it comes to a case like Pinki, she should be harassed and humiliated.  She should be treated as a person with due solicitousness - just as we treat the differently-abled in society.

If it is proved that Pinki has committed violence, she should definitely be punished for it. But, here again, the allegation is a private criminal complaint, and the only person who has the right (locus standi)  to prosecute Pinki for the offence alleged is her partner who alleges the violence. Hopefully, the decision will go though without the taint of the controversy about Pinki's gender clouding the decision, because that is really a non-issue. (In fact, just as I get ready to post this entry that has been a few days in the draft stage, comes the news that Pinki's partner has admitted to have been spurred to make the rape and masculinity charges by a person who was engaged in a bitter property dispute with Pinki). Whatever is the truth, what becomes clear is that Pinki's suffering was unnecessary and avoidable. She has fallen victim to the general intolerance of ambiguity in our Society. Everything has to be right or wrong; black or white - no space for grey!

In sports, at the international level, the case of Caster Semenya has brought out the difficulty of "proving" gender. Instead of learning lessons from that episode, we are going headlong into committing the same mistake, forgetting that mandated gender testing is an affront to the target's right to privacy and human rights.

On a slightly different note, Bidhan Barua's case - of his right to undergo gender-altering surgeries - has also got its fair share of headlines. Here too, the simple  solution as I see it, is to allow people like Bidhan do what he/she wants - like we do not raise eyebrows for cases of Botox shots for eliminating wrinkles and crow's feet.

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