We had four new attendees along with whom it summed up to a total of nineteen members for the 23rd monthly meet up of Chennai Freethinkers in April. The discussions were on assorted topics ranging from caste- based oppressions to child rapes to prostitution. Sruthisagar Yamunan started the discussion by mentioning the recent cosmological event that kicked off irrational reactions from gullible superstitious folk: the lunar eclipse! Yes, it was the partial lunar eclipse that came to pass on the 25th event of April, the first lunar eclipse of the year. We were despondent to note that even “educated” people seemed to be falling under the vicious grip of superstitions relating to eclipses which convinced them that it was inauspicious and ‘perilous’ to eat during the eclipse. The discussion gradually phased forth into the topic of casteism – Sruthisagar described the sad plight of Dalits in certain areas near Madurai where the so called ‘upper caste’ perpetrated atrocities on them. Ganesh spoke of the insensitive comments by the so called ‘upper caste’ about the improving access to education to the Dalits.
Sanjay talked about the effect of violence on children. He opined that children who suffered corporal punishment and verbal abuse often take it out on others especially with women. He differentiated the behavior of children raised in a chauvinistic environment with those raised in an otherwise ‘good’ environment. But not everyone was convinced that it was just the undesirable behavior of family members that made people violent. Sanjay then asserted that ‘not everyone gets an opportunity’ to learn things from the faults of their family members since the exposure of most children is limited to the village / town school where such behaviors are often condoned.
Ganesh requested the new members to introduce themselves. Subramanya Padillaya, a third year student of a B. Tech program at The Indian Institute of Technology- Madras, was born and raised in a orthodox family in Karnataka. Subramanya quoted his cousin’s advice to him on learning the Vedas and chants, “Learn them, understanding every part of it”. He sarcastically resumed, saying “I took his advice seriously and thus became a skeptic and agnostic eventually. To understand nature and natural phenomena, he took up science as his passion and also developed a fervor for philosophy and functional psychology. “I finally stumbled upon Chennai Freethinkers’ Facebook forum, as I started searching for online Freethought forums.” he added. Karthick, a journalist became agnostic and found that compared to atheists agnostics aren’t that easily victimized by religious trolls. He too reached Chennai Freethinkers on Facebook while attempting to find an online Freethought community with members who also met up physically.
SK and GR are freethinkers who were introduced to the group by Vaishnavi. Since they were not very much aware of the activities and the usual topics of discussions at Nirmukta, they chose to be observers. Sanjay then recommenced the topic saying, “Now, let’s get back to discussing domestic violence and its impact on the young generation”. Madhavan avowed that children should be provided with a safe family environment which would give them confidence in dealing with gender issues. He also felt that boys must be raised to understand that gender discrimination is intolerable.
Madhavan’s stern remark on the up-bringing of children with respect to the rising crime against women routed to a discussion on rape culture in India. Poonguntan added oil to the furious fire, stating, “It’s not just a random increase in crime rate; we should take into consideration that reporting rates have also increased. Crimes against women went unreported since the victim, or the victim’s family unfortunately believed that it might detrimentally publicize the crime and eventually take away their dignity.”
After the group gathered back from a break, Vaishnavi talked about a savage practice in some parts of rural Afghanistan where male children were sent by their parents as dance- boys, dressed up in women’s attires, to clubs in the vicinity. The kids, yes KIDS, were made to dance on a platform similar to that of pole dance and the customers, being testosterone filled psychopaths chose their own ‘best performer’ to accompany them in their private rooms for a little dance and a lot of ‘sexual pleasure’ or more appropriately brutal child rape. It was even more infuriating to know that the parents of those KIDS considered this a lucrative business. Returning to the topic of rape culture, with regard to victim blaming, Vasudev wondered what kind of a ‘provocative’ apparel a five year old girl could probably wear to invite a rape. Rajavel talked about pedophiles and sexual oppressors/ psychopaths.
The argument on prostitution was kick started by Shyamala. It was a heated debate with fairly equal members on both the sides: pro decriminalizing prostitution and against decriminalizing prostitution. Shiva Shankar suggested that legalizing, or at the least, decriminalizing prostitution might help reduce the rape incidents all around the country which was not accepted by many members. While Olga made a strong stance that objectifying a person, allowing ‘trade’ of a person’s body isn’t freedom of choice. Balaji refuted Olga’s argument. Shiva Shankar added more saying, these people who come forward/ are forced to share their sexual pleasure in exchange for money must be ensured the rights every other citizen enjoys, so that there is no violence setting in the scene. The debate went on with Sai arguing, “When it is their right that they are forced to sell, how could they be ensured basic human rights?”
Venkat found it astounding as Shiva Shankar asserted that it could be a person’s freedom of choice to ‘sell’ one’s own body. Karthick interrupted saying, “The most the government can do is to ensure that they have a good access to health services and make sure that they have a complete medical check up on a regular basis.” Sai Sanjay was flabbergasted as to what would determine the price of a human’s body once it is ‘allowed’ to be sold as a product in the open market. Balaji tried to relate the situation to the freedom of choice a person gets in donating blood and body parts. Olga rebutted him by drawing the difference between donating one’s kidney on a covenant that lets the kidney be removed from her/ his cadaver once (s)he’s biologically dead and donating (mostly SELLING) one’s kidney while he’s alive.
The session then had to be wrapped up and the members eventually found three hours too less. Chennai freethinkers then set out of the confined air- conditioned space to blend in the vastness of the universe but continued their discussions and arguments gathered in clusters at the proximity of the Hotel.
(The heated discussion on prostitution was continued in our Facebook group).