Monday, 30 June 2014

NGOs of the mind

Shiv Vishvanathan in The Hindu

The NGO as an expression of voluntarism is a Janus-faced entity and it is this double-edged nature that puts it in a perpetual state of suspicion. The recent Intelligence Bureau report on NGOs against development has to be reread as a part of a new text of suspicion

Jairam Ramesh, the former Union Minister of Environment, once playfully, in fact factiously, commented that the word ‘Intelligence Bureau’ (IB) is an oxymoron. He was warning us that often, instead of collecting information, the IB projects the current fears of the state. It plays out the current politics of anxiety about security and development. What intrigues one is that such suspicion now acquires numeracy. The IB estimates non-governmental organisation (NGO) resistance as negatively impacting GDP by two to three per cent. Seen as a mirror inversion of a Human Development Report, the report becomes surreal. One wonders what the IB will estimate as the price of a dead myth or an extinct waterfall. One is not asking for the source of the estimate or its methodology but the idea itself conveys a false sense of objectivity about the acts of intelligence gathering.
One must also recognise that the NGO as an expression of voluntarism is a Janus-faced entity. At one level, it acts as an extension counter of the state, engaging in acts of humanitarian and social work. At another level, it is a political and cognitive entity challenging development paradigms and arguing issues of governance and democracy. This double-edged nature of the NGO puts it in a perpetual state of suspicion. Yet, we have to recognise that civic epistemologies and civil society creativity are crucial for democracy.
Text of suspicion

The recent IB report has to be reread as a part of a new text of suspicion. It combines issues of environment and defence, internal and external security, and security and sustainability to create a new monster, a threat called “NGOs against development.” The report focusses more on the initiation and delay of projects rather than the suffering caused by these projects through acts of displacement. Development is a benign act of the sovereign state. The NGO and social movements are seen as over-obsessed with acts of suffering. In that sense, it is an upstream rather than a downstream critique of the NGO. The delay becomes the act of sedition and it is these delays that contribute negatively to GDP.
The NGO is then read as a surrogate ploy for the alien or outsider. Behind each NGO is a foreign national or a grant-giving agency. The foreign hand, once legendary in the era of the Cold War, now returns not as CIA but as grant-giving agency. The language of human rights becomes a veneer for a new opposition to the state and serves as a cover for such disruptive activity. In fact, anti-development becomes the label for a network of conspiracies between the local NGO and foreign agencies to keep India in a state of underdevelopment.
Before one responds to the details of the report, one must confess that NGOs are not angelic groups. Many have become institutions which have turned seriatim protest into a career. One creates a trajectory from Bhopal to Narmada to GM foods oblivious of one’s last battles. Many of these groups have advocated transparency and responsibility but failed to apply it to themselves. If the report is a demand for self-reflexivity, one can sympathise with it, but when it clubs NGOs into one bundle and treats them as seditious, it threatens civil society as a space of freedom, dissent and creativity. Once one realises that development has created more refugees than the wars we have fought, one senses that development is more problematic than the IB report can imagine it to be.
‘Anti-development’ label

The report creates anti-development as problematic and especially turns Greenpeace into a monster. One must admit that it is easy to caricature Greenpeace. The organisation’s style is theatric, which often upsets the stuffed-shirt state, used to a sense of dignity. But Greenpeace raises critical issues, confronts the silences of development with a melodramatic, even overstated, eloquence, which is effective and attention-grabbing. It is seen as people-centric rather than government-centric and this focus is regarded as unpardonable. Because it amplifies marginal voices, it is seen as disruptive and yet as a critic said, “If Greenpeace did not exist it would have been invented. It is an early warning system on development and peace issues.” But the real sore point is not the Greenpeace style but the set of issues Greenpeace and other NGOs have raised.
The fourfold resistance of NGOs focusses on nuclear energy, coal-fired plants, genetically modified organisms (GMO) and anti-extractive activities in the northeast. All four are seen as attempts to protect livelihoods, local freedom and obtain fairness. The IB argues that because of this, India has become vulnerable in international forums, unable to voice its usual pieties of peace and development.
The report observes that international agencies earlier used “caste discrimination, human rights and big dams as items to discredit India.” These same forums have graduated to new embarrassments around growth retarding campaigns such as the anti-bauxite, anti-coal, anti-nuclear, anti-GM issues. It is their style and focus that make them so devastating. The IB reads each NGO as a pressure group which creates a specific scenario. It sets an agenda, creates debates in the media, lobbies diplomats and governments generally seeking to create a network of embarrassments. The keywords used are camouflage words, their democratic content hiding a malign intent, a strategy of disruption and delay, restricting development in key sectors. Each NGO is backed by foreign funds, each infiltrates a local group, commandeers a local issue to embarrass and delay the development projects of the regime.
These arguments seem reasonable, the scenario believable till one examines the array of people cited. It is the roll call of the best and brightest in the country. They include S.P. Udayakumar, Suman Sahai, Kavita Kuruganti, Admiral Ramdas, Paranjoy GuhaThakurta, Aruna Rodrigues, Surendra Gadekar. Because they criticise the development project in its specificities, they do not become anti-national. In fact this report should become an early warning system for civil society to gear itself for battles. Whether it is the Congress or the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), it is clear that development without jitters is a priority. Dissent becomes an activity frowned upon. In fact, one must recognise there is an NGO in all of us. One must also recognise that the well-being of the nation requires that the demand of the nation not be confused with the imperatives of the nation-state. Nations can allow for diversity, while nation-states seek uniformity and official diktats.
Ethics of intervention, memory

The activists listed link the ethics of invention and the ethics of memory. Tradition and change are linked not through sentimentality but through ideas of livelihood and empowerment. It is not only a rights discourse, it is a battle for survival arguing that the development discourse cannot be indifferent to voice, livelihoods and its roots in community. Riding roughshod over democracy is not a criteria of development. Delay is not the only criteria of evaluation. Time as plurality, history, myth, an ethic of memory, as a guarantee against obsolescence and triage are also relevant criteria. Delay speaks the language of growth without an articulate idea of responsibility and it is on this point that the IB report errs in its witch-hunt against “anti-development”. The politics of delay needs an aetiology, a discourse on causes. Delay is an intermediate stage in the development process. Delay comes because the government fails to talk to people about the location of a project, its implication for livelihoods and life in a locality. When people discover that the black box of national interest has trumped local empowerment they have to resort to politics desperately. What is often dismissed as sedition is mainly a crisis of empowerment, a failure of dialogue. A development that begins with diktats is bound to be delayed. The presence of a foreign hand often becomes a pretext for ignoring local voice and local issues.
The IB report emphasises that these NGOs are a threat to the national, economic security of India. But their understanding of security is restricted. It has no sense of seed security, or forest cover, no sense of trusteeship of the future. What is seen as sedition is often an attempt to combine an ecological sense of sustainability with a classical idea of security. In fact the IB’s sense of security allows for paranoia but not pluralism. A critical response has to deconstruct the categories of its official discourse, the 19th century suspicions that it stirs, and still show that civil society is adding a life-giving content to these categories. Suffering and sensitivity to suffering have to be a part of such measures and these the NGOs manage to do. The other issue the NGOs attempt to raise is the debate around choice of technologies and this the nation-state and its experts resent. A refusal to debate options for the future threatens the future and such stubbornness bordering on illiteracy cannot be conflated with security.
NGO transparency

To create the climate for such a debate, the NGOs have to spring clean their bureaucracies, show that foreign grants do not colour local issues. Second, they have to account for grants and any sub-grants they might make. The trajectory must be transparent to prevent suspicions clouding a crucial debate. Third, they have to demonstrate to the rest of the society that beyond protest, they are seeking to create new epistemologies of knowledge which adds to the quality of livelihood and thus reveal that obsolescence and displacement are not inevitable for the margins. One has to see this report as an anticipation of things to come, a symptom of a society that has become sceptical of some NGO battles. Dissent in these circumstances is going to demand both a heroic inventiveness and a quiet patience.
In reading such a document one has to be careful of labelling it a Modi ploy. It is as much a Manmohan Singh complaint. He was fed up with NGOs opposing nuclear energy. The politics of regimes might be different but their paranoias are the same — security being threatened by local groups. Both would love a discourse which subsumes sustainability under security. Moreover, suspicion and paranoia need a scapegoat. The funder abroad as invisible hand, the Greenpeace as the more visible hand become easy candidates. One cannot deny that foreign groups might help stir the political pot. Their behaviour often warrants suspicion. The challenge before these NGOs is to create a public space where three things are clear. First, they have to create systems of audit which are both rule bound, time bound and transparent. Foreign funds are not cornucopia to be showered on all and sundry like confetti. Second, one has to communicate the vitality and the life-giving nature of the issues. It cannot be left to the experts and the bureaucrats of the state. Third, one needs an ethic of responsibility which includes professionalism as ascetic lifestyle, a precision of articulation which carries greater conviction. The battle of competing rhetoric will not do. It is a challenge to create a public space around the silences of the state and include the margins of the nation. One needs a space which allows for dissent and debate, which is both cathartic and constructive and which incorporates the future as a constituency. It is not defensiveness that we need but a confidence to experiment, to debate, to create alternatives, The state could be afraid of the foreign hand but what states often found even more alien is the process of empowerment, the attempt to create a different democracy.
The IB report is right in emphasising the critical nature of the four issues. But what is equally critical is the synergy of democracy that NGOs need to create around these issues. Each struggle has to be a fable for the future. To do less would make the report more real and true over time. Civil society has to make sure that this IB report does not become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

No Second Wife Please - We're Indian Muslim women

Jyoti Punwani in the Hindu

Will the Muslim personal law make polygamy illegal?

When the Bhartiya Mahila Muslim Andolan started working on codifying Muslim personal law, they weren’t sure whether to ban polygamy, or make it conditional. Senior lawyers pointed out that despite bigamy being an offence, Hindu men continued to take a second wife. These women didn’t enjoy the status of a wife, whereas even the fourth wife of a Muslim man had that status.
But the final draft of the new ‘Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act’, released in Mumbai on June 18, makes polygamy illegal. How come? “That’s what Muslim women wanted,” says Noorjehan Safia Niaz, co-founder of the BMMA. “We played the Devil’s Advocate with them, asking them wasn’t a second wife necessary if the first couldn’t conceive, for example. Their reply always was: ‘No. No second wife. No woman should have to share her husband with another woman.’”
Of the seven years taken to arrive at this draft, two were spent talking to Muslim women, most of them poor, uneducated and living in ghettos. It was these women who were desperate for a change, urging the BMMA to “quickly change the law, get us justice.”
But the middle class, supposed to be the pioneer for reform, left Noorjehan disillusioned. A US-returned Muslim in Hyderabad baulked at the BMMA’s proposal to make 18 and 21 the minimum age of marriage for women and men respectively. “It should be 18 for both,” she suggested. Muslim male lawyers in Karnataka saw nothing wrong in a 13-year-old getting married as long as she had attained puberty. But in the bylanes of Bhopal, uneducated Muslim women suggested 21 and 25 instead. “Our daughters graduate at 21,” they pointed out.
“Middle class Muslims kept saying: ‘Don’t tamper too much with the shariat.’ They have well-off families and education to fall back on; the unjust decisions of qazis don’t affect them much,’’ explains Noorjehan. What kept the BMMA going was the response of poor women.
Consultations with these women were held across 10 states where the BMMA has been working, training paralegal workers as arbitrators and providing legal aid. Men would attend their public meetings, and a few would invariably object to their attire (“you are wearing a sari, you haven’t covered your head, you aren’t wearing a burqa — so you aren’t Muslim”), or to their lack of qualifications (“you are not aalims”). One man in Ranchi who objected vociferously to everything, later told Noorjehan, “I agree with everything you say, but if I don’t object, I can’t face my jamaat.” The BMMA took a decision not to consult the All India Personal Law Board and the religious organisations. “They have shown they don’t want change.”
The starting point of this long process was the condition of poor Muslim women, victims of the unIslamic and unjust decisions of maulanas and qazis. The Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act 1937 has no specific provisions to be followed, leaving every qazi free to rule as per their understanding of the Sharia. The Dissolution of Muslim Marriages Act 1939 lays down grounds on which a woman can approach the court, but few can afford to do so.
Because of this, reformists such as the late Asghar Ali Engineer campaigned for years for the need to codify Muslim personal Law as per Quranic injunctions, which grant women more rights than any other religion does. All Islamic countries have put in place modern personal laws. But in India, the move has always been resisted on three grounds: 1. The Sharia can’t be touched; it is divine. 2. It will be impossible to decide which of the four schools of Islamic jurisprudence should be followed in codification. 3. This will be the first step towards enacting a Uniform Civil Code (UCC).
As Engineer never tired of explaining, the Sharia is based on the Quran, it is not the Quran. In India, the Shariat Act was drafted and enacted by the British. The BMMA worked with Engineer on its draft, choosing to base it on the Quran itself. The draft contains verses from the Quran to back its provisions.  
Thus, to decide the minimum age of marriage, the Quranic injunction of ‘maturity’ of the spouses was interpreted as emotional maturity in addition to physical. “Besides, in Islam, marriage is a contract, and a contract can only be between two adults,” says Noorjehan.
The draft makes many common practices illegal, including underage marriage; unilateral, oral and instant talaq; making the woman give up her mehr (dower) and halala, the practice by which you remarry your divorced wife only after she consummates her marriage with another man and is then divorced by him. “This has no mention in the Quran, it’s become a prostitution racket in places like Lucknow,” says Noorjehan.  
Is this the right time to release this draft, given the new government’s emphasis on the UCC? “We oppose the UCC. But we also want to know, when will the right time come to get justice for women? Twenty years back, we were asked to wait as the Babri Masjid was demolished, the community was under attack. Aren’t women part of the community? Ten years back we were told the Gujarat pogrom had taken place. Can these leaders give us a guarantee that 10 years later, there will be a really secular government, and the community won’t be under attack? Secondly, who decides this hierarchy of issues? Let’s tackle all issues: discrimination, security and also women’s rights. Besides, how many of these leaders have worked on these other issues at the grassroots level? It is groups like us who have done so, tried to get the Sachar Committee recommendations implemented and also campaigned against Modi.”
Noorjehan knows it will take the efforts of many groups to get the government to accept the draft. “Let the community debate our draft first. At any rate, for us, the process was as important as the result.”

Saturday, 28 June 2014

The difference between Gordon Brown and Tony Blair

Gordon Brown is back, and may be the man to save the union

He was reviled after he lost the 2010 election, but the former PM is now reframing the Scottish independence debate
Gordon Brown smiling
‘Gordon Brown retains a standing in Scotland which he never really had in England. He is seen as a national heavyweight.' Photograph: David Moir/Reuters
Tony Blair was on the front page of the Financial Times this week, as the paper brought word of the former prime minister's plan to open an office in "the increasingly assertive oil-rich emirate" of Abu Dhabi. The FT explained that Blair is expanding his portfolio of business and other interests in the Middle East, which already includes a contract to advise Mubadala, one of Abu Dhabi's mighty sovereign wealth funds.
A few hours later, Blair's successor, Gordon Brown, came to London to advance some business of his own. Brown was in the capital to attend a series of unpaid meetings in cramped rooms, pressing the case for Scotland to remain part of the UK. He was rewarded with a cup of canteen coffee.
The contrast between Britain's last two prime ministers could hardly be sharper. They were always unalike, but now they inhabit different worlds. Blair has morphed into Adam Lang, the permatanned, globetrotting ex-statesman-for-hire at the centre of Robert Harris's novel The Ghost. Brown refuses the pension owed to him as a former prime minister. The jacket of his latest book, My Scotland, Our Britain, discloses that any profits will be given to charity. When he wrote recently for the Guardian, he declined the (admittedly modest) fee. As far as anyone can tell, he lives with his family at home in North Queensferry on his MP's salary. By his actions, he declares himself the unBlair – a man determined not to profit from his public position.
So while Blair has the sleek glow of the expensively dressed elite, Brown pitches up in a suit whose years of heavy-duty service are visible: there's a tiny hole in his sleeve. But the difference goes deeper. While Blair is unembarrassed, eager to sound off about the future of the Middle East – when others might have held back, given how things turned out in Iraq – Brown has proved more reticent. After his defeat in 2010, he allowed the coalition and its allies to trash his reputation, to pretend it was Brown's profligacy, rather than a global financial crash, that had ballooned the deficit. Privately, he told friends there was no point trying to defend himself, as people were in no mood to listen. Defeated leaders like him have to "go through a period when they're reviled, that's just the way it is".
He still holds to that vow of silence, more or less, on UK-wide politics, letting Labour's new generation have the battlefield to themselves. But in recent months he has broken his own golden rule and stormed back into the public square, to play his part in a contest he says differs from normal politics because its outcome could be irreversible. His fellow Scots are about to vote on independence, and he wants them to say no.
He is campaigning vigorously, speaking in Aberdeen today on the contested question of North Sea oil, packing out halls and addressing rallies day after day. "He's now a key part of the conversation," reports the Guardian's Scotland correspondent Severin Carrell. So omnipresent has Brown become that observers describe him as the most prominent, commanding Labour figure in the campaign, stirring the faithful in a way that Alistair Darling – who leads the cross-party Better Together group – cannot.
Much of this is down to the well-worn observation that Brown retains a standing in Scotland he never really had in England. North of the border he is seen as a national heavyweight, the last of a leadership class that included the late Donald Dewar, John Smith and Robin Cook, and is therefore automatically granted a hearing. But there's more to it than that.
Whatever Brown's flaws – and even his closest friends cannot pretend he was temperamentally suited to the top job – few doubt his analytical gifts. The reason he remained in command of Labour strategy for so long was his knack for understanding and framing a political argument. With the Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu, he understands that every battle is won before it's fought. It's won by choosing the ground on which it will be fought. And this is the key contribution Brown is making to the no campaign.
He diagnosed a key error in the way the argument had been framed. It had become Scotland v Britain, with Alex Salmond and the Scottish National party arguing for Scotland and everyone else championing Britain. That, says Brown, might be fine if the entire UK electorate had a vote on 18 September. But they don't. Only Scots vote in this referendum, which means this has to be framed as a choice for Scots: which Scotland will flourish, one that retains its political ties to the other three nations of these islands or one that severs those links?
It's such a simple point, it seems extraordinary anyone had to make it. But Brown is right. When David Cameron delivered his big speech on the topic in February, not only did he do it in London, he rested his case on why the union had been good for Britain. That answered the wrong question. Given the electorate involved, the only question that matters is: is the union good for Scotland? Framed like this, every issue looks different. Take the vexed business of currency. Brown reckons George Osborne walked straight into a nationalist trap when he declared that an independent Scotland would not be allowed to keep the pound: it was London at war with Edinburgh, Britain bullying Scotland.
The right way to argue it, says Brown, is to ask what's best for Scotland: to use the currency of a country you've just left and whose rules you no longer have any say over or to retain your seat at the table, with some control over your own money. The former would be a "semi-colonial relationship", says Brown, Scotland using a currency shaped by officials in faraway London. Framed like that, it's suddenly Brown who's putting Scottish interests first and, oddly, Salmond who's left defending a supine relationship to London.
The way Brown describes it, the union is no longer an imperial hangover that represses Scotland but a neat set-up for distinct and proud nations to club together, sharing resources and pooling risks. That arrangement has served Scotland rather well: why on earth would you throw it all away?
The nationalists have an answer, of course they do. But Brown's version makes it a much harder question. Now other no campaigners are following his lead, adopting the frame he constructed. On the ground, among Labour's core vote, it seems to be working; some detect a stalling in momentum for Yes. They all laughed when Brown accidentally claimed to have saved the world. But, who knows, he might just save the union.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Cricket - Let's hear it for the unorthodox spinner

V Ramnarayan in Cricinfo

Sonny Ramadhin troubled England with his variations in 1950 but lost his edge on the next tour, and later confessed to having chucked during his career  © PA Photos

Back in the 1960s, my college team had a "legspinner" - for want of a better description - PS Ramesh, who bowled legbreaks, offbreaks and straight ones, all with identical actions and no obvious change of grip. We played all our cricket on matting, and while Ramesh bamboozled most batsmen at that level, we did not find out how he would have fared on turf, as the selectors never fancied him beyond college cricket. These days he would probably have been taken much more seriously, and have played representative cricket, for his armoury certainly included the carrom ball, if not the doosra.
More than a decade earlier, West Indian crowds had first chanted the calypso about "those little pals of mine", Ramadhin and Valentine when the spin twins decimated England at Lord's to earn West Indies their first Test win in England. Bespectacled, nerdy-looking Alf Valentine was an orthodox left-arm spinner, but short and squat Sonny Ramadhin had a whole box of tricks that batsmen found hard to unravel. Bowling in long sleeves, he made the ball go this way or that at will, giving no hint of the deviation with his action. 
Ramadhin's spirit was broken seven years later, when Peter May (285 not out) and Colin Cowdrey (154) put on 411 for the fourth wicket in the second innings of the first Test at Edgbaston. While May counterattacked, Cowdrey showed he was a master of pad-play in an ultra-defensive display of attrition. Ramadhin never recovered.
Cowdrey's padathon probably played a role in the introduction of the new lbw rule that enabled the umpire to rule a batsman out to balls pitching outside the off stump if he offered no stroke and the umpire believed the ball would have gone on to hit the stumps. In 1999, Ramadhin sensationally confessed in the wake of widespread arguments over the legality of the doosra that he threw the odd ball in his time.
Were he playing today, Cowdrey could not have got away with the generous forward thrust of his leg in front of his bat to demolish the Ajantha Mendises and Sunil Narines of world cricket, considering umpires are ever so willing to give lbw decisions, unlike their 20th-century counterparts, many of whom had their hands firmly in their pockets except when the batsman was palpably in front - while playing fully back!
Perhaps the first freak spinner in Test cricket history was Australia's Jack Iverson, who gripped the ball between thumb and middle finger and bowled a bewildering array of offspin, legspin and googlies. The mystery of his bowling was, however, short-lived. He barely lasted five Tests.
I had the pleasure of watching a mystery spinner at close quarters. My Hyderabad team-mate, the left-arm spinner Mumtaz Hussain bowled Osmania University to a Rohinton Baria Trophy triumph in 1966-67. No batsman at that level had an answer to his wiles, as he sent down orthodox left-arm spin, the chinaman and the googly with no perceptible difference in the action. His prize scalp of the tournament was Sunil Gavaskar, who says in his autobiographical book Sunny Days:
"Their (Osmania's) left-arm spinner Mumtaz Hussain, the hero of the tournament, proved deadly with his disguised chinaman and regular orthodox spin. In the second innings, Ramesh Nagdev and I were going strong after Naik's cheap dismissal. But Nagdev was not able to fathom Mumtaz Hussain's spin when he bowled the chinaman. I thought I knew, so in a purely psychological move I called out loud to Nagdev at the non-striker's end: 'Don't worry, Ramesh, I know when he bowls that one.' When Mumtaz heard this, he smiled mysteriously and tossed the ball up to me for the next few deliveries. I came down the wicket, but managed to hit only one four while the others went straight to the fielder. Mumtaz tossed up the last ball of the over slightly outside the off-stump. Too late I realized that he had bowled a googly and was stranded down the track, to be easily stumped."
Mumtaz was tragically converted to an orthodox spinner in first-class cricket, and though he had a very respectable career, he was never again the wonder bowler of his youth - at least not until he unfurled his magical wares again in his last two Ranji Trophy matches. Legspinner BS Chandrasekhar was luckier. In a land notorious for coaches who would try to fit every spinner into a single mould, it was a miracle that allowed him to continue to deliver lightning-quick missiles all his life, with no concession to orthodoxy.
A story similar to Gavaskar's, but probably apocryphal, involves Geoffrey Boycott and legspinner John Gleeson, who posed quite a few problems for English batsmen during the 1970-71 series in Australia. When one of his batting partners told him he was now able to distinguish Gleeson's googly from his legbreak, Sir Geoffrey allegedly whispered to him, "Don't tell anyone. I could always read him."
V Ramnarayan is an author, translator and teacher. He bowled offspin for Hyderabad and South Zone in the 1970s

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

On Sri Lankan cricket test win -The pearl and the bank clerk

Jarrod Kimber in Cricinfo

Sri Lanka's GDP ranking in 2013 was 112, the UK were 21. They have a very small population compared to the other subcontinent cricket nations. Transparency International ranks them as the 91st least-corrupt nation on earth. They have only one really big modern city. Their cricket is mismanaged by selfish inept politicians. The team is signed off by the government. They don't always pay their cricketers.
But this year they have beaten the world. And now they've beaten England with men who have lost their houses in tsunamis, been shot at by terrorists, competition winners and a tubby man who works at a bank.
Sri Lanka is a special place.
At the Sampath Bank headquarters in Colombo there is a round-faced man smiling happily wearing a polo shirt with the bank's logo on it. He is being felicitated. He is a finger-spinning maestro. He is a World T20 winner. And this man, Rangana Herath, is also an employee at the bank.
Not in a ceremonial way. Not just to beef up their cricket team. But Herath works at the bank. Doing things that people do in banks. He probably has his own coffee mug there. When Herath sees the Sri Lanka cricket schedule, one of his first calls is to his bank manager. To ask for leave to travel to the tour.
Herath worked there when he made his comeback to Test cricket in 2009. Herath worked there this while he took more Test wickets than any other bowler in 2012. Herath worked there even while he was ranked the second-best Test bowler on earth.
Twenty-four days before his felicitation, Herath took 1-23 in four overs. Sri Lanka won the World T20 that day.
Sri Lanka Cricket is currently in debt. An exact amount is unknown. It was at one stage supposed to be US$70m. That is to pay for new stadiums that replaced the old stadiums that were in some cases not that old. This led them to not pay their players.
According to Forbes, MS Dhoni was worth US$30m last year. He captained the side that Sri Lanka beat in the World T20 final. In sport, money does buy wins. Internationally, less so. But Sri Lanka are playing cricket off the field in a way that the other countries haven't done for decades. Their support staff is understaffed, undertrained, and at times seemingly not able to do their own research. They rely on the touring journalists for a lot that cricket board staff would usually do. They are comically unprofessional.
This is the first Test series that Sri Lanka had sent players over early to properly acclimatise before the tour. Herath and Shaminda Eranga both came over. It was a step towards professionalism in a sport that has been professional for years.
North of Colombo there is a town called Chilaw. There is an ancient Hindu temple in Chilaw that was once visited by Gandhi. Every year they have the Munneswaram festival. It was once famous for pearls. And they have a first-class cricket team the Chilaw Marians Cricket Club.
Shaminda Eranga comes from Chilaw.
Like many in Sri Lanka, the cricketers from Chilaw are largely invisible inside the system. There are Test-quality cricketers playing on the streets of the Hikkaduwa right now that will never play with a hard cricket ball in their life.
Eranga was not playing first-class cricket. He was not in the system. He shouldn't have made it at all. But like his seam-bowling partner Nuwan Pradeep, he made his way to a fast-bowling competition. He bowled fast. But five guys bowled faster. Somehow the sixth-fastest bowler in that completion was picked for Chilaw Marians Cricket Club. Five years later he would clean bowl Brad Haddin with his second ball in international cricket.
Eranga is the closest thing Chilaw has produced to a pearl in a very long time.
Sri Lanka played gritty, tough, bits-and-pieces cricket that mostly was just keeping them in touch of England, nothing more. They just refused to be beaten. They just refused to go away
Herath has been in Test cricket since 1999. He invented a carom ball. He disappeared back into first-class cricket and the bank, and was in club cricket in England when he was picked for his comeback.
There are no billboards in Sri Lanka with his face on them. He's not famous like Kumar, Mahela, Lasith or Angelo. Even Ajantha Mendis is sponsored by chicken sausages. Herath may be a Test bowler with over 200 wickets who has carried a poor attack for years, but he's just a really good player, not a star or legend.
Against Stuart Broad, Herath had bowled around the wicket with a low arm action. Broad takes a big step forward when he defends spinners. Herath bowled the ball exactly from the right angle, with the right amount of turn, to ensure that Broad would miss one.
Against James Anderson, he bowled over the wicket with a high arm action. Anderson gets right over the ball when it's full, and can dangle his bat when it's slightly shorter. Herath was trying to find either of these two dismissals.
Broad missed his, Anderson survived.
Eranga spent most of the first innings not getting anywhere. There was some swing, but not enough. He bowled a great line and length to Sam Robson, but couldn't get the edge. England just moved further and further away with the game. Even the second new ball did nothing for him. Sri Lanka were all but gone. But then they got the wicket of Ian Bell. It was Eranga's wicket. He added Moeen Ali's wicket to it. The next morning he had Chris Jordan and Anderson as well. They were still behind, but they were within some kind of touch.
In the second innings, Eranga bowled the worst he had in the series. At Lord's he was the pick of the bowling, in the first innings at Headingley he inspired the comeback. But when his team really needed him to help win the game in this innings, he couldn't get it right. He lost his line and length. He didn't make people play. He was too short. The only time he looked good was when he just tried to knock Joe Root's mouth off. That didn't work either. Then when he took a wicket, that of Jordan, he also overstepped.
Eranga's first 23.4 overs were just not great.
It was probably mostly luck that he received the last over. Dhammika Prasad had bowled the second last over. Herath could not outfox Anderson. Pradeep looked spent. And Angelo Mathews had lost his first innings magic.
Eranga was just the man who was left.
Sri Lanka feel like they don't get the credit they deserve. They feel that when they win, it is Yuvraj's (or whoever else that game) fault. Or the home conditions helped them. Or the other team was just useless. On Monday at Headingley, they started one of the great comebacks in modern Test cricket. Their captain played one of the great knocks of modern Test cricket. They were on the verge of their first ever series win in England. Their first major series win outside Asia for almost 20 years.
And the next day the cricket world talked about the other captain who had a shocker.
Before the tour they lost their coach to the opposition. While here they have been accused of breaking the spirit of cricket. Their spinner was accused of breaking the laws of cricket. Their bowlers were pop gun and a glorified county attack. Their batmen were suspect against the moving and short ball. They would be bombed by the short ball. They were sent in to be annihilated here. They felt under siege.
At Lord's it got even worse when Broad and Anderson attacked them with the ball, and the English players, lead by the extremely mouthy Root, came at them very hard. Pradeep was almost beheaded. After that they were upset by Cook's comments about Sachithra Senanayake's action. And England had dominated them for eight straight days of cricket.
They were sick and tired of being plucky cheerful losers. They wanted a win. They saw one. And they became very vocal. Root's ears will be ringing from his entire innings. Broad's unscheduled toilet break 20 minutes into his innings probably got more of the same.

The penultimate ball of the Test flies off James Anderson's bat, England v Sri Lanka, 2nd Investec Test, Headingley, 5th day, June 24, 2014
The decisive moment, James Anderson's 55th ball faced © Getty Images 
This is not the strongest team Sri Lanka have brought to England. They've had Murali, Dilshan, Jayasuriya and Vaas to bring before. This team has two all-time greats, one potential great, and the second-best spinner they have ever had.
It also has Nuwan Pradeep and his bowling average of 72.78. It has Dimuth Karunaratne, who is immune to going out early, or making runs from his starts. Lahiru Thirimanne, who stopped believing runs existed. And Prasanna Jayawardene, who looked a spent force with bat and gloves.
Mahela Jayawardene never made a hundred. Herath never took a five-for. Nuwan Kulasekera was dropped after the first Test. But people kept stepping up. They had batted an entire fifth day to save an overseas Test only once before. But they all chipped in and did it with one of the worst batsmen in world cricket somehow surviving. Their bowling could never compete with England's, so their fielders took many more of their chances. Their middle order slipped up in the third innings at Headingley, so their tail made runs.
It was gritty, tough, bits-and-pieces cricket that mostly was just keeping them in touch of England, nothing more. They just refused to be beaten. They just refused to go away. They didn't smile, or play nice. They clawed and screamed.
On paper this Sri Lanka should never beat England. They should have been outgunned in almost every way. In preparation. Financial. Backroom. Coaching. Facilities. And even in the players who were involved. Virtually every single thing about England should have been better than Sri Lanka.
Anderson was playing for England by the time he was 21. He's the embodiment of a professional cricketer. You can see his face on the back of buses in London. He has won games with the ball all round the world. He's saved games with the bat. Today he faced 54 balls with the knowledge that any mistake and his team would lose a Test, a series, become a joke. Yet he played almost every ball well. Stoically. Until Sri Lanka very nearly gave up.
On the 55th ball, a world-class professional sportsman was bounced by the sixth-fastest bowler from the North Western Province and caught by a chubby slow guy from Kurunegala.
The pearl and the bank clerk. Sri Lanka is a special place.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

What makes a slut? The only rule, it seems, is being female

It's a warning more than a word: a reminder to women to adhere to sexual norms or be punished
Being called promiscuous is sometimes just a way to excuse the behavior of others. Photograph: Josh Reynolds / AP

Sandra Fluke heard it when she talked about insurance coverage for birth control. Sara Brown from Boston told me she was first called it at a pool party in the fifth grade because she was wearing a bikini. Courtney Caldwell in Dallas said she was tagged with it after being sexually assaulted as a freshman in high school.
Many women I asked even said that it was not having sex that inspired a young man to start rumors that they were one.
And this is what is so confounding about the word "slut": it's arguably the most ubiquitous slur used against women, and yet it's nearly impossible to define.
The one thing we do know about "slut" is that it's the last thing a woman should want to be. Society is so concerned over women and girls' potential for promiscuity that we create dress codesschool curriculaeven legislation around protecting women'ssupposed purity. Conservative columnists opine that women having sex is tantamount to a "mental health crisis", and magazine stories wonder if we're raising a generation of "prosti-tots".
Leora Tanenbaum, the author of SLUT! Growing Up Female with a Bad Reputation, told me that "a 'slut' is a girl or woman who deviates from norms of femininity. The 'slut' is not necessarily sexually active – she just doesn't follow the gender script."
This nebulous, unquantifiable quality of the slur is what makes it so distressing – there's no way to disprove something that has no conclusive boundaries to begin with. And because it's meant to be more of an identity than a label, it's a term not easily shaken off. "Slut" sticks to a person in a way that "asshole" never will.
So what makes you a slut? It seems the the only hard and fast rule is that you have to be a woman.
Men, of course, are immune – absent, really – from the frenzy of concern. For instance, a new study out of the University of Michigan showed that teen girls who "sext" are called sluts while boys who do the same remain free-from judgement. In another example, the American Medical Association breathlessly released a study in 2006 with the headline "Sex and Intoxication More Common Among Women on Spring Break", intended to warn women about their "risky" behavior while on break – but there was nothing about the men the majority of these young women would supposedly be having all this drunken sex with.
As always, women are sluts and men are, well, men.
For those who haven't had the pleasure of being called promiscuous, it may be hard to understand just how profound an impact it can have. Women's value and morality are closely – though wrongly – tied to their sexuality. So "slut" (or any of its variations) is an accusation with power behind it.
When multiple attackers videotaped themselves brutally raping an unconscious teen girl in California, for example – stopping to take dance breaks and find new objects to penetrate the young woman with – the first trial resulted in a hung jury because the defense argued she was promiscuous. "The things she wanted done were done", argued one lawyer. Another asked the jury: "Why was her vagina and anus completely shaved? Sex! She's a sexual person!"
The accusation doesn't have to be that explicit to have real power. Cherice Moralez –raped by her 49 year-old teacher when she was just 14 – was called "older than her chronological age" by the judge in the trial – a more diplomatic way of saying she had it coming. Her attacker was sentenced to 30 days in jail. Moralez later took her own life.
Multiple girls have taken their own lives of late after being "slut-shamed" – an indication that the slur shows little sign of waning in the damage it does personally.
Tanenbaum, whose forthcoming book is I Am Not a Slut: Slut-Shaming in the Age of the Internet, said that many of the girls she interviewed "had intentionally embraced the 'slut' label as a badge of honor to advertise their sexual empowerment."
But, she added, "they ended up losing control of the label when their peers turned it against them".
Broader efforts to "reclaim" the word – via marches like SlutWalks, for instance – have largely failed. While the anti-rape protests that spread across the country a few years ago were popular in terms of attendance and media coverage, and I was an early supporter, many women felt the word "slut" was irredeemable - especially women of color, for whom racist stereotypes about their supposed innate promiscuity always presented a unique danger.
The "slut" idea hurts women politically as well. A safe contraceptive and a cancer vaccinewere both held up for years because of fears they would make women "slutty", and anti-choice legislators and activists insist that that abortion providers are in the "business" of promiscuity – and use that accusation as a way to defund critical health care providers like Planned Parenthood.
So, what's a "slut", then? It's any of us, and all of us – especially those of us who step out of line in some way real or imaginary. It has little to do with the number of our sexual partners, or the way we dress or flirt, or if we take birth control or not.
It's a warning more than a word – a reminder to women that we must adhere to the narrow standards of femininity and sexuality set out for us, or be punished accordingly. And in that way, the real meaning of "slut" is terrifyingly clear.