Lucknow, synonymous with adab (etiquette), ada (style), tehzeeb (courtesy) and mohabbat (love) is in a state of mourning. Prominent citizens of the city marched through its streets on May 30 with the "body" of what they called a comatose tehzeeb. Five incidents of brutality against women within a month have shocked Lucknow and opened a debate on the reasons for the erosion of values among the youth. The incidents themselves vie with one another in cruelty.
Monica Singh, a fashion technology student in Delhi, was returning home from a multiplex in Gomti Nagar with her boy friend Ankur Sharma when a youth on a motorcycle threw acid on her, burning her face and parts of her body. The police later found out that it was an act of revenge by Sharma himself as he thought Monica was having an affair with somebody else. Earlier, another "lover" threw acid on the face of a girl who had rebuffed him in public. On June 9, a girl was stabbed by some youths for refusing their advances. The boys tried to molest her as she lay on the ground bleeding from the stab wounds. A few days before this incident, another girl was publicly teased and abused by some men. When her father, a teacher, mustered the courage to lodge a complaint at a police station, he was advised to "keep his daughter under check". The shaken teacher kept quiet. In another incident, three young men dragged a minor inside their car in Ashiana Nagar area and gangraped her throughout the night.
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|CONFLICT: Tehzeeb march (left); the new dress code |
These incidents, says Nawab Jafar Mir Abdullah, descendent of the last nawab of Avadh Wajid Ali Shah, reflect a sub-culture among the youth which has instant gratification as its mantra, right from food to expressions of love. The situation, he says, is made worse by insensitivity on the part of the public and government. Offering another explanation for violence against women, psychoanalyst Harjeet Singh says "it is human tendency to follow attitudes and things that fascinate". Elaborating on the "fascinating" things that are shaping a decadent "attitude", he says pornographic websites, free expression of love on tv and movie screens, sexually explicit pictures in magazines and ads and bare-all sex icons fuel the passion of the youth.
Some think that Lucknow is witnessing a sexual revolution. Wamiq Khan of Friend's India, an organisation that introduced fashion shows in Lucknow, says the young nouveau riche have suddenly become "more adventurous". It is not uncommon to see young women strolling in Hazratganj and trans-Gomti areas wearing low-waisted jeans, crop tops and mini skirts. A number of dating and, some allege, even "mating", venues have cropped up in the city in recent months.
The gradual decline of the old Nawabi culture of Lucknow started right after Partition when a large number of refugees settled in the city and introduced new values and lifestyles. A lot of people from rural areas also migrated to the city and contributed to the decline of old manners. With the gradual criminalisation of politics, many dons and uncouth contractors became legislators and made Lucknow their base. College campuses became the training ground for the gun-wielding minions hired by these politicians. These goons fear none and girls are easy targets for them. The new class of rich and powerful people settled mostly in the newly developed trans-Gomti areas which have all the amenities of a modern city like discotheques, fast food joints, multiplexes and five star hotels. The openness and new lifestyle seen in these areas have dazzled the youth. Old Nawabi Lucknow still retains a lot of the old ethos.
Senior sp Navneet Sikera's suggestion that parents should teach the children shaleenta (sobriety) in dress and behaviour has angered many women's groups which say he is trying to impose a dress code on girls. Says Roop Rekha Verma, former vice-chancellor of Lucknow University and general secretary of Saajhi Duniya, a women's outfit: "About 90 per cent of the victims of sexual violence are simple women who cover themselves properly. Hi-fashion girls are harassed less because they belong to influential families and have the capacity to hit back." But many, like Ghazanfar Agha, a poet and member of the erstwhile royal family, think guardians are at fault. "Parents spend huge amounts of money on the education of their children but have no time for them. A child without parental control feels free to do anything," says Agha. Sikera seems to head the moral police of the city and frequently conducts drives against sexual harassment and indecency and liquor consumption in public places.
The new order is fast replacing the old in Lucknow and tehzeeb is sadly becoming an outdated word in what was once its home.