Are You Complicit?

Complicit has been adjudged the word of the year, as it is the most searched for word online at The article is an interesting read and gives a comprehensive overview of some of key events of the year 2017.

After the 2015’s unbelievable word of year and the depressing post-truth in 2016, I find myself quite enamored with complicit.

Complicit according to means “choosing to be involved in an illegal or questionable act, especially with others; having partnership or involvement in wrongdoing.” That means I can safely exclude me you and most others. So why would I ask if you (or I) were complicit? I mean we have not chosen to be involved in any illegal act have we?

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines complicit as “helping to commit a crime or do wrong in some way.”

Choosing is an act of commission but in some way is a more loose/vague phrase and may include an act of omission as well. And that is what complicity is all about – omission or as elaborates: “Or, put simply, it means being, at some level, responsible for something . . . even if indirectly.”

And therein lies the strength and beauty of the word – in its connotation. Simply looking the other way could make you complicit. It is a word that that ropes in everyone standing on the sidelines, it points fingers, grabs us by the collar and demands to know: Why are you silent? Why are you COMPLICIT?

Complicit brings to the fore what we have always been taught since school: “Forget not that the grossest crime is to compromise with injustice and wrong. Remember the eternal law: you must give, if you want to get.” Subhas Chandra Bose

Yet like all lessons this too needed to be brushed up and reiterated. And we need to be shaken out from our stupor, our chalta hai attitude and speak out. We are a certified argumentative lot so why don’t we speak out more?

It is time that we stood up and be counted. Be that ‘faceless’ society in whose name today honor killings and other atrocities against women continue to be committed. It is time to stop blaming the victim and call out the real perpetrators – her parents for being responsible for dowry deaths and bride burning.

It is time to call them out, shift them from the victim category and lump them along with the killers. Why are only in-laws being booked? Why not the parents too? The in-laws can demand, deprive, torture and murder the bride only because her parents are complicit. If they weren’t, then they would have taken her away at the first instance of threat and injustice. With an assured safe house, no girl would feel the need to commit suicide or strangle her own daughter.

But unfortunately, not many parents do that, do they? Once she is married, their responsibility ends. They have done their duty, fed her clothed her, educated her, gotten her married and sent her off with due pomp and ceremony to her real home, her paradise on earth. They are more than happy and relieved to be free of their burden and more than ready to reap the benefits of their good karma.

Wait. What if there is trouble in paradise?

Well what could they do? They were poor, old, incapable and bechare. They didn’t make the rules the society did and if everyone could follow the rules so could she. It was now time for her to pay her parents back for their sacrifice, do her duty, be the ‘good girl’ and shoulder her own burden. Silently.

Besides, if it was her destiny to be an educated, qualified six-figure earning 21st century slave, what could her parents do except shed unhappy tears, keep fasts and pray?

Fiction? No. Just the unpleasant, painful, disturbing reality of many a woman in India. One that we prefer to look away from, blame her and think of other safer comfortable things. But like Luvvie Ajayi says in her amazing TED talkLet’s get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

While skydiving she realized that “comfort is overrated. Because being quiet is comfortable. Keeping things the way they’ve been is comfortable. And all comfort has done is maintain the status quo. So we’ve got to get comfortable with being uncomfortable by speaking these hard truths when they’re necessary.” Like she says, “And in a world that wants us to whisper, I choose to yell.”

As do I. If aging infirm parents can sue their sons and the government mobilized to enact a law that makes it a legal obligation for children and heirs to provide better and safe living conditions for them why can’t similar provisions be made for daughters trapped in unhappy marriages?

Well, why are you so silent?

Are you ready to call a spade a spade or if you like fairy tales, call the naked emperor naked?

Are you going to speak up? Stop existing in isolation? Take sides? Make a difference, and leave the world a little bit better than it was?

 Or would you prefer to be complicit?

 Your choice, their lives.



WPS: Before, When There was Nothing

Screen Shot 2017-10-17 at 7.45.15 pm

Image from Google Maps

Before, When There was Nothing

Words 152

  “Mother!” Shvetaketu was aghast. “What are you doing with him?”

“Isn’t it obvious?” Her face was still flushed with passion.

“Mother, whose son am I?”

“Mine.” She straightened and smiled at him affectionately.

“I demand you tell me.” He roared.

“Hush! It’s a free world. I can do what I like, with whom I like.”

“I shall rewrite the marriage laws.” Shvetaketu declared. “From now on you can go to other men only with your husband’s permission.”

“You will still not know whose son you are.” She twinkled.

“But of course your husband’s. He owns you like his fields and any crop that comes out of you is his.”

“I am not a field!”

“So be it. From now on you will be allowed only four husbands, the Moon, Gandharva Vishvavasu, Agnideva and finally your husband.”

Is that why when husbands no longer want their wives she is passed on to fire?


A/N: In Hindu mythology, Gandharva Vishvavasu is a celestial being skilled in the art of music and Agnideva is the god of Fire. This piece is inspired by Devdutt Patnaik’s book 7 Secrets of the Goddess, which describes the origin of this Vedic wedding ritual. Until now I wasn’t aware that I have four husbands. Did any of you (wedded according to Vedic customs) know it?

Written for What Pegman Saw – a story in 150 words or less.  Thanks to J Hardy Carroll for hosting the challenge and Google Maps for the photo prompt. To read the other stories inspired by this prompt click here.

Thank you for reading. I dithered quite a bit over the title – could you help me? Do you think it would have been better if I had titled it The Evolution of Civilization?








The Evolution of Civilization

Bride Burning – A Case in Point

Perhaps some of you have read the flash fiction I posted last week – The Murderer. Two days ago there was an article in the newspaper, which reflects my ‘fictional’ piece.

And again my question – is it enough to just book the in-laws?

Are the parents not to be blamed too?

From the details available, Devi’s husband asked her to bring Rs 50,000 from her father but she refused.

Presumably Devi discussed the issue with her parents and possibly they couldn’t afford the money or just refused the demand for dowry – as they should. But this wasn’t the first time he had demanded dowry in the 8 years they had been married. And he used to frequently beat her for dowry.

Since the father was supposed to shell out the money, one can safely presume the parents were in the know about their daughter’s plight.

But did they do anything?


They sent her back.

Again and again.

Because that was her home.

Not the one where she was born.

But where she was wedded and bedded – worse gave birth to a daughter.

But that was her kismet and her destiny. And it was up to her make her life heaven or hell.

It was all her responsibility.

Her parents had done their duty and gained the highest degree of good karma by doing kanyadaan. Now they could look forward to their reserved seats in heaven.

While their daughter Devi (which rather ironically means goddess) lived in hell.

Upset at being denied the money, last Saturday, the drunken husband tied Devi to the cot and set it on fire.

When his 6-year-old daughter began crying, he threw her on the burning cot as well.

Drunk as he was, I am willing to bet, he would have never thrown his son into the pyre.

Or that things would have reached this stage at all.

As expected, an FIR has been filed against the husband and in-laws by Devi’s parents. They have accused her in-laws of harassing and torturing poor Devi for dowry for the past eight years.

That bring me back to my original question – aren’t the parents equally culpable?

Why did the parents not insist that Devi leave her in-laws house?

Why should Devi’s parents reap the benefits of her death?

Yes the benefits.

A case will be filed, the ‘culprits’ put in jail and compensation paid to parents for ‘their’ loss.

A win-win situation for parents:

  • Sympathy from the society
  • Media limelight
  • Monetary compensation from the state
  • No more sleepless nights that she would land up battered, bruised, unasked and unwanted.

What more could beleaguered parents of daughters ask for?

This state of affairs is inexplicable, incomprehensible, reprehensible, unconscionable and inexcusable.

This must change and soon.

The mechanism to penalize in-laws has been in place for decades but cases of bride burning continue to be reported.

But what about the thousands (if not lakhs) of women who don’t have the ‘luxury’ of death and have no place to call their own?

Don’t sons continue to live with their parents after their marriage under the same roof?

Why can’t daughters too do the same, if they so wish without fear of societal backlash?

Why shouldn’t parents be penalized for not taking a preemptive step to ensure their daughter’s well being?

Why is the woman who is forced to leave the safety and comfort of their own homes, give up their own names in order to ‘build’ the home of another have no place to call her own?

Why does a society not have a mechanism in place for the safety and well being of women?




The Misconception

“Sia!” Lalit couldn’t believe his eyes. But it was her.

“Arent you going to let me in?”

“Sorry.” He held the door wide open.

Sia’s pencil heels clicked ominously on the marble floor as she swished past him.

Lalit stared after her. Something wasn’t quite right. Why had Sia sought him out after so many years? Frowning, he followed her in.

“It’s been a long time.” He waved her to a seat. “Twenty years right?”

“Nineteen years.” Her voice was crisp and curt.

“What would you like to have?” he asked automatically.

“Nothing, thanks. I haven’t come here to renew our acquaintance.”

“Acquaintance?” Lalit looked at her. “Was that what we were Sia – acquaintances?

“Call it what you will.” She shrugged coldly. “It doesn’t matter.”

Irritation overcame Lalit. “I wonder at your gall. You barge into my home after 19 years and you don’t even have the courtesy to be polite.” He looked up and down openly assessing her. “If your sartorial splendor is any indication you have clearly gone up,” his lips curled, “way up on the social ladder. Didn’t you learn social norms on the way?”

“You mean hypocritical norms? I leave that to people like you.” She looked back at him unflinchingly.

“Look who’s talking!” He was quick to retort rather bitterly. “You were the one who strung me along and then dumped me for greener pastures.” He felt a perverse pleasure as she flushed.

Sia narrowed her eyes. “I didn’t marry money if that’s what you are trying to hint at.” The flush was of anger not shame. “I am a successful business enterprenuer if you please. Not that it’s any of your business,” she completed disdainfully.

“I don’t understand.” Lalit shook his head bewildered. “What is your problem? Why are you bitter? And why come here, that too after so many years? This is not a social call is it? So let’s get it over with shall we?” He got up and went to the bar. He poured himself a shot of whiskey. As an afterthought, he turned to her, “Drink?”

The briefest of hesitations, before she nodded, “Vodka, if you have. With soda.”

Lalit was taken aback. Sia certainly had changed. The girl he had known was a giggly, chatterbox quite full of herself. She had also been very straitlaced and prudish. They had had their first lover’s tiff because she had smelt alcohol on his breath.

“Sure.” He handed her drink and raised his. “Cheers.”

She took a big gulp without responding or allowing him to clink his glass to her.

Irritation faded and now curiosity was almost killing him.

“So,” he said a bit facetiously, “what can I do for you?”

Sia stared into her drink which was almost half finished.

“Sia.” He prompted. “You know, I do have other things to do beside sit here and entertain you? In fact,” he looked at his watch, “I have a dinner date for which I must be leaving soon.”

“I know,” she said abruptly.

“You know?” Lalit was surprised. “How come? Have you been following me by any chance?” He settled back comfortably in his seat, “A bit late in the day to be jealous Sia.”

She threw him a withering glance. She put down her glass. “What I want from you,” she said carefully, “is to cancel your dinner date and promise never to see that girl again.”

Lalit was stunned. This was totally unexpected. What business was it of hers? What cheek. Anger bubbled up within him. “And why the hell should I do what you want me to do? You dump me at the altar, vanish without a word of explanation and now you coolly walk in and demand that I reschedule my life as per your wishes.” He hadn’t raised his voice but the fury was very much evident in his tone and taut stance.

She sat silent, watchful.

Taking the moral high ground, Lalit continued to vent, ticking off one by one on his finger, “I am of age, I don’t have an irate wife in the background and my date is of age too.” He note of challenge in his voice. “Perhaps a bit young for me but what right have you to interfere in my personal business?”

“A bit young?” Finally the icy control snapped and her voice rose to a crescendo. “She is barely 18 years of age and you are 50! It’s…it’s disgusting.”

If looks could kill, he would have been ash by now. But somehow it just served to just put his back up. “You mistake, I am barely 45, you are the one who turned 50 this year.” He laughed mirthlessly. “How could you forget your pet peeve? You were 5 years older to me.”

He got up to make another drink for himself and brought her one too. “Isnt it ironic, back then you refused me because you were older to me and now you pop up from nowhere just because the girl I am dating is younger than me? You amaze me Sia. What possessed you to believe that I would let you be dictated by you?”

For old times’ sake. It was clearly written on her face. But it was gone in a flash. She bared her teeth. “What I am wondering is how a decent guy could stoop so low as to trap an innocent…”

“So you do think I am decent? By the way, what is your interest in Riya? Is she your daughter by any chance?” He tapped his chin. “But Riya told me that she was an orphan. Poor thing I feel quite sorry for her, such a tragic, lonely childhood.” He looked at Sia. “The orphanage she was in,” he shook his head, “it’s criminal, some of the things that go on there.” He deliberately left it hanging.

Sia paled and her cheek bones stood out in sharp relief. Suddenly she looked old, very old and defeated.

Lalit felt a twinge of guilt but he stamped it down ruthlessly. He drained his glass. “Amazing how our past comes back to haunt us isnt it? This is poetic justice. You refused to marry me on some flimsy ground and now fate has handed me your daughter on a platter.” He laughed. “It would serve you right if I let your hubby dear on to the secret,” he gloated. “Bet the poor guy is completely in the dark about this dirty little secret of yours.”

“You would lose the bet,” she said evenly. “I don’t have a husband.”

He looked at her blankly. “But you don’t deny Riya being your daughter,” he said slowly. His eyes hardened as anger flared within him. “You have such double standards. If you are so concerned about Riya why didn’t you adopt her? You could have saved her so much agony and trauma. Let me tell you Sia, I am thousand times a better option than that orphanage.”

“Leave her alone God dammit.” Sia shot to her feet.

“I will not.” He grabbed her by the shoulders, “Sia please stop this act at once. Where was all your maternal instincts when you dumped her in the orphanage like an unwanted piece of garbage? And be practical for God’s sake!” He thrust her away. “You cannot go around warning the whole world to stay away from your daughter can you?”

“Not the whole world! Just you.” The words were wrenched out of her.

Lalit froze. “Just me? Why me? Just because I had a crush on you, which you by the way rejected, very cruelly,” his lips thinned, “almost pushed me over the edge -,” he paused. “Is that why? You think I am doing this to take revenge on you?” he was shocked. “But…but I didn’t even know she was your daughter.” He looked her up and down. “Actually even I cant believe it of you – Sia and a child out of wedlock. And to think I always thought of you as pure as your namesake.” He sneered. “No doubt you rejected me, but I respected you Sia. What happened to your so called engraved-in-stone morals and principles Sia? Or were you just waiting for me to leave?”

“I don’t know what you mean.” She sat down again. He took the seat beside her.

“Come on Sia,” he said leaning forward, “no doubt I was a fool back then but I am old enough to know better now. I can put two and two together.”

“If you can put two and two together, you would be the first one to back off!” Her eyes were glittering fiercely and her fists were clenched tightly.

Lalit stood up. “I have heard enough. It’s time for me to get ready. Please.” He politely indicated the door.

But Sia didn’t budge from her seat. “Not unless you call Riya and cancel the date.”

“Oh God Sia,” groaned Lalit, “Let’s drop this shall we? Rest assured I have no romantic interest in the girl.” He confessed wearily. “It’s her birthday, she was upset, so I offered, that’s it nothing more.”

“It could become something more.” Sia was wooden. “She has a huge crush on you.”

Lalit dragged a hand through his hair. “Fine, I will cancel the dinner. On one condition.”

Sia looked at him with trepidation.

“You go and tell her that you are her mother.”

“No!” Sia’s voice echoed around the room.

Lalit stared in surprise. “But why? She is clearly lonely. You obviously care for her…”

“I don’t care for her.” Sia interrupted him. “I don’t care where she goes, what she does, so long as she stays away from you and your family.”

“Hey! Wait a minute. What the hell do you mean, ‘me and my family’? What the hell is wrong with you? I don’t like to boast but let me remind you if my family had not stood beside yours when your father had the accident, you guys would have been out on the streets. If Dad had not given you the job…”

“Shut up.” Sia burst out. “I don’t want to talk to you anymore. Just stay away from Riya and that is my last warning to you.”

Lalit crossed his arms. “Otherwise what will you do?”

Sia glared at him impotently.

Lalit jerked his head towards the door. “Do what you want to do. Nothing, I mean nothing, is stop me from going on that date with Riya. And thanks for telling me that she has a crush on me. This time I will have my way with her.” He said rather crudely.

Thwack! Sia’s palm cracked against his cheek. Lalit stared at her shocked.

“Nothing will stop you is it? Nothing?” She was panting hard. She glared at him through bloodshot eyes. “Not even if I tell you Riya is your sister? Half-sister to be precise.”

The End

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