Thursday, January 31, 2013


This month American's marked the 40th anniversary of a landmark Supreme Court ruling which commonly goes by the name Roe V. Wade. This Supreme Court ruling was a cornerstone in the evolution of America and legalized the much-stigmatized act of a medical abortion across the nation. Thus saving lives of those who sought these services in the shadows. Twenty years ago a minor adjustment was made to that ruling. The court gave individual states the legal right to impose regulations as long as they didn't cause an "undue burden" on woman's abortion rights. That opened the floodgates, and since then states with conservative or Republican administrations have been trying to limit abortion rights of women to the best of their ability. The rationale to do so has ranged from the religious, moral, political to the downright absurd. As a result women have suffered yet again, whose consent or approval was largely ignored, as their innards became the property of the state.

Recently Republican Gov. Rick Perry signed a bill into law, which went into effect on February 6th, 2012. The law will force Texas women to undergo an ultrasound, hear a detailed description of the fetus and then wait a full 24 hours before receiving abortion care. Mandatory sonogram bills have since been introduced in 14 states. Arizona, Louisiana and Texas have already enacted ultrasound laws. The Texas law -- which is one of the most extreme, requires doctors to tell a woman the size of her fetus' limbs and organs, even if she does not want to know. The law also forces physicians to make an image of the fetus and the sound of its heartbeat made available to a woman before she can undergo the procedure. Perry, who made the bill an emergency measure, said that the law will "ensure that every Texas woman seeking an abortion has all the facts about the life she is carrying and understands the devastating impact of such a life-changing decision."

Two weeks after the Texas law was passed Carolyn Jones, a journalist, went into a clinic for an abortion. Pregnant with her second child, Jones was told by her doctor that he was worried about the shape of her baby's head. After two sonograms a specialist's office revealed a problem that was preventing her son's brain, spine and legs from developing correctly. The specialist warned that if the child made it to term, he would suffer greatly and need a lifetime of care. Jones and her husband decided they would abort their child. It was an extremely traumatic decision for them to arrive at. Her trauma was elevated to an inhuman level when she had to go through a third mandated sonogram because of the Taxas law. She had to hear the heart beat of her unborn child yet again and listen to a mandated script by the administering doctor, describe the fetus in detail. Jones is still traumatized by that experience so much that she has launched media campaign showing how this law violates a woman's right to chose with a gross invasion of her privacy.

Abortion has always been a contentious issue in America. Despite the progress made by various feminist and women's rights groups over decades, it still dominates the political and social debate like a lightening rod. To a large extent there has been a level of consensus on all sides, when it comes to pregnancies caused by incest or rape. Recently in New Mexico, a Republican "woman" lawmaker Cathrynn Brown, introduced a bill that will force rape victims to carry their pregnancies to term during their sexual assault trials or face charges of "tampering with evidence" which carries a three year prison term. Tampering with evidence shall include procuring or facilitating an abortion, or compelling or coercing another to obtain an abortion, of a fetus that is the result of criminal sexual penetration or incest with the intent to destroy evidence of the crime.

Today in America, four states, Arkansas, Mississippi and North and South Dakota have only one legal abortion clinic. Eight states outlaw abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Louisiana has no exception for rape or incest victims and no law prevents rapists from demanding visitation rights. And eight states have mandatory ultrasound laws much like Texas. One factor that unifies all these states is that they are overwhelmingly Republican. So much for progress, in the "land of the free".

In Morocco a year ago, a 16-year-old committed suicide after a law forced her to marry her rapist. Her parents and a judge had pushed through her marriage to save her family's "honor". The incident sparked an outcry forcing the government this month to change a draconian law that allows rapists avoid charges if they marry their victims.

On December 17, 2012, the barbaric rape and murder of a young woman in the capital city of India ignited a nation to its core and sent shock waves across the globe. The debate that followed exposed the depraved nature of Indian society and the people who rule over them. It brought into daylight the criminal nature of its political class, which includes many alleged rapists, it exposed the ineffectual, understaffed and impotent police force and last but not least revealed the true nature of a culture that has lost its social bearings. The horrific incident that took place in New Delhi held a mirror to a nation that needs serious self examining. Since this incident, there have been many that have followed and many more went unreported. Exposing further a scourge that faces a people, whose deities and leaders, present and past are women

The incessant desire to only have male children and using illegal sonograms to abort girl children has lead to a lopsided sex ratio that has had a dire impact on Indian society. The lack of a free social space outside of marriage, where men and women can interact in a healthy manner, has led to a perversion that Bollywood and the internet feed and exploit, causing women to fear for their safety after 7 PM in most parts of the nation. Whether the December 17th incident, which still manages to stay alive in the media, will actually bring forth any meaningful change, is a daunting question that lingers over India like a dense New Delhi fog.

Whether life begins at conception or at birth is a matter of opinion. Whether women have equal status in society is based on geography and circumstance. In most cases, women certainly do not make equal pay for equal work. What is evident though across the globe, is that for a great many women, things are as worse as they have ever been. From acid attacks and honor killings, to rape, date rape and gender discrimination, women in this day and age, in all societies, still face an uphill task. While there is a universal realization that there is a need for change, progress most often is incremental and sometimes comes at a heavy cost. The assumed threat that men fearfully face from a woman's freedom - social, sexual and economic - is immense, and varies from culture to culture and nation to nation. Even though at the heart of the abortion debate, lies the freedom of a woman to choose, it is often wrapped in a moral or religious veil only to inflict guilt and deprivation, a means of taking away the shame from men and placing it on the women. There is no law on this planet that legislates what men can do or not do with their body. But there are a plethora of them when it comes to women.

This week in America there was a ban lifted on women serving in the armed forces. From here on women will be allowed to enter a battlefield with no strings attached. They will be allowed to do the killing, which for a long time has been only a man's prerogative. So now women can both give life and take life if they chose, but only with a gun. Still rape looms large over the American armed forces like a disease with no cure. And through out history rape has also been used as a weapon of choice by marauding armies. Maybe with women being involved things might be different.

Equality does not necessarily mean that women have to do everything that men can do. Equality means for women to have the unequivocal freedom in every way to decide what they want to do with their lives. But there is no doubt that the participation of women in every sphere of life creates a balance, that is so desperately needed if our planet and our species is to survive.

There is a perception that in the urban landscape of much of the world, women are on an equal footing. While this may be true for more and more women, draconian laws do affect them in their personal space. From menstrual pain, birthing pain to menopause, there is no question women have it harder than men. The reasoning behind making it even harder for them can only stem from a desire to dominate and feel power over.

As a father of two girls, I always tell my children they are no different in any respect and there is nothing they can't do, as long as they set their eyes on the prize. There is no doubt that there are challenges only they will face just because they have a vagina instead of a penis. But then again I am delighted by the fact that they will always have a nurturing quality that will give hope to this world, when all hope is gone.

I am currently making a documentary film about a man who built the first Thermo-Nuclear Weapon or the Hydrogen Bomb. In the many interviews we have done of scientists who were engaged in building these weapons of total annihilation, one question always arose. How is it that humanity has not blown itself to oblivion considering the number of nuclear weapons we have lying around the planet. Is it pure chance, good planning, deterrence or a miracle? An interesting and unorthodox answer came from an octogenarian worldly wise scientist.

He said "Because there are women in this world".

It is what it is.