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Monthly Archives: February 2017

ON TOPIC: We're Back!

While most parts of the world – with the exception of Pakistan  – are indulging in the whirl of capitalist expenditure on lavish romance during the month of February, members of India’s government have taken up deliberation about a socialist venture into the Indian marriage tradition. The proposed marriage bill, introduced by MP Ranjeet Ranjan, and currently under discussion by the Lok Sabha, states that families spending over Rs 5 lakh on a wedding, should contribute 10 per cent to a government welfare fund to facilitate marriages of girls from families of lower income.  Read here for a discussion of the pros and cons.

 

While this debate may appear merely to scrape at the surface of many women’s continuous social threats when entering into this sacred of bonds, it is not alone in its contribution to the debate on the intersection between economic and social security in women’s lives. An article  by Sharanya Gopinathan, on The Ladies Finger, has recently revealed that helplines in Bhopal, operated by the One Stop Crisis Centre and the Madhya Pradesh Public Health and Family Welfare Department, reported a spike in domestic violence calls after demonetisation policies were implemented by the Indian government in November. Accordingly, the number of calls received following the weeks of the government’s decision more than doubled compared to previous average numbers, as increasing women faced violence at the hands of their partners in money-related disputes.

 

Meanwhile, New Delhi Police is striving towards an “image-makeover” by employing women public facilitation officers across twenty police stations. Dressed in civilian clothes and trained in communication skills, the aim of this new policy is to smoothen the grievance mechanism at New Delhi’s Police Stations, where it is claimed that Duty Officers often have their hands full with other duties, which delays such processes. That there is, indeed, a need for a more rapid grievance mechanism across the country, is illustrated time again. Most recently this was seen in the rape and murder case of a 17-Year-Old Dalit Girl in Tamil Nadu by her former boyfriend and his friends, after refusing to abort their six-week-old foetus. The family of the girl, who filed a complaint that their daughter had been kidnapped, was instead polished off with a missing-persons-complaint, and faced abuse by police officials, who claimed that her parents did not know how to raise a girl.

However, it is widely accepted that this incident – along with many others – was the result of an active act of discrimination  against the ‘lower’ caste girl and her family, rather than a failure of the grievance mechanism’s potential per se. As such, the New Delhi Police policy to employ women public facilitation officers is largely viewed a charade. In its public institutionalization of feminine gender stereotypes, it is argued, the police performs an image of care and empathy, which glosses over underlying social issues that currently inform the problematic grievance mechanism. These, in turn, remain unaddressed.

 

But maybe we should set the gloom aside for a moment, and allow some celebration at the opening for more women employees in Delhi’s police sector, perhaps one of the most traditionally male-dominated public spheres? The continuous debate in Nagaland on the 33 per cent reservation for women in the civic bodies’ election would certainly incline one to do so. After the outbreak of protest and violence  in its opposition, which led to the suspension of state elections on February 1st, this was followed by demands that the constitution be amended to avoid the implementation of the quota, which is seen as a threat to customary local laws. Many feminists, including Zubaan, have taken issue with the matter, by signing Kafila’s online petition in support of Naga Mother’s Association and other peace-seeking bodies. Nonetheless, it remains uncertain in which direction the dispute will move, particularly now that T. R. Zeliang has decided to resign  from office, following Nagaland Tribal Action Comittee and Naga People’s Front (NPF) demands to do so.

 

In a more positive light, the Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI), the youth arm of CPI-M, has adopted a resolution  demanding the right to education, jobs and social equality for the members of the LGBT community. Adopted during the tenth DYFI national conference in Kerala earlier this month, the group has called for an abolition of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, and a budgetary provision set aside for members of the LGBT community to finance their education. With more than half of registered transgender people illiterate, and almost a third of them belonging to scheduled castes and tribes, the DYFI’s petition demands that they be allocated equal rights and resources as other vulnerable groups in India’s society. At a time, where Manobi Bandhopadhyay is taking office as the principle of Krishnagar Women’s College, West Bengal, making her the first transgender college principle of India, this has caused some incentive for hope in the struggle for equal treatment of people from the LGBT community. However, more needs to be done, if this is to become a collective, rather than individual success story, say activists.

 

In Kashmir, a recent encounter  among security forces and militants in Frisal, a village in Kulgam district, south Kashmir, caused for much unrest, after one civilian was killed in the incident  on February 12th. A second civilian death followed due to violent protests which emerged in the valley as a result, and at least twenty-one others were injured as police forces used bullets, pellets and tear gas shells in their attempt to disperse the crowd. On Monday (13th), a third civilian was reported to have succumbed to his injuries, though this has been contested by officials, who filed an information report against alleged rumours of more civilian deaths and who have warned that ‘false updates’ on social media can intensify military action. After confrontations  had stalled during the winter months, the encounter in Frisal is only one among a rising number of similar encounters, which have gained momentum since the beginning of the year. Given the lack of dialogue among militants, civilians and security forces in the region, there is increasing fear that these encounters mark the beginning of a revival in the conflict’s escalation.

 

While little of the ongoing unrest in Kashmir is contemporarily sensed in Delhi, the recent ‘anti-nationalist witch-hunt’  at Jodhpur University - widely condemned across Delhi's academic landscape - was a reminder that this country is, at the very least culturally, at war with its neighbour to the West. As is seldom the case, neither side is a sole fighter in such battles, and so even the invitation of Indian authors and editors to Pakistan’s literature festivals is considered an ‘anti-national’ act according to Pakistan’s security forces, as Urvashi Butalia reports from her visit to the Karachi Literature Festival earlier this month.

 

On the note of literature, here is what we’ve been reading at Zubaan:

Caught between fiction and non-fiction, there is The Lonely City: Adventures into the Art of Being Alone, by Olivia Laing and A Brief History of Seven Killings, by Marlon James. Related to the topic of crime, murder and thrill, Shweta is currently reading The Torment of Others by Val McDermid. “This book,” she says, “is about people with warped minds who commit the most bone-chilling crimes. It’s brutal, gory, suspenseful and engrossing. My first by the author but it is certainly not going to be my last.” In the meantime, some of us have revisited some classics – The Outsider by Albert Camus, Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, and, an all-time favourite, Dykes to Watch Out For by Alison Bechdel. We've also just discovered (along with everyone else on the internet) our new favourite tumblr, Custom Cuts. Aside from that, most of us are in the midst of reading Chinela Okparanta’s Under the Udala Trees, in preparation for Zubaan’s next book club meeting on March 5th, at 5pm in the Zubaan Office. Please come along and join us if you can!

 

 

Book launch for Lady Driver: Stories of Women Behind the Wheel

Lady Driver event invitation (Eng)

“Thousands of years ago, the invention of the wheel radically changed the lives of ordinary people.”

As the wheel of time rolls on into a new year, so too the wheels of the printing press keep turning as new tales are spun. Some of these are reproduced in Zubaan’s latest release, Lady Driver: Stories of Women Behind the Wheel. This book tells the story of twelve women who prove just how radically a reinvention of the wheel can change the lives of ordinary people even today.

Featuring slices of these stories, Lady Driver takes us on a journey through the various ups and downs of women’s lives on the margin of Indian society. In their tales of hope and desperation, freedom and oppression, dignity and empowerment, Poonam and her mother Savitri, Hemlata, Rabbunisha, Sakshi, Khushi, Prachi, Sunita, Suman, Shanno, Suneeta, Geeta and Lalita lead us through their struggles and transformative experiences as drivers-trainees of the ‘Women on Wheels’ programme by the Azad Foundation.

Once I got the opportunity to enrol for training, life took some major and beautiful turns. Here, I got a new perspective, new skills, new self-confidence and new friends. … Today I feel free, happy and empowered. All this has come my way due to the training I got from Azad. I learnt a lot there, especially self-defence techniques which gradually helped me overcome my fear. Now I can go anywhere, talk to anyone without any fear. My outlook on life has changed. I have come to know what a professional way of working is. I have realized the value of labour, income and rights. I take my own decisions regarding my life and profession. I do not look for someone to come to my help, neither do I care for anyone. I have acquired the skill of living life on my terms. – Prachi

Azad introduced me to my own strength. – Suman

The truth is that the fire within us was ignited by these trainings and turned into energy. Not everyone is lucky enough to have this kind of training and this kind of solidarity. – Rabbunisha

‘Women on Wheels’ was established in 2008. A collaborating institutional model which involves Azad Foundation, Jagori and Sakha Consulting Wings, the programme trains women across Delhi, Jaipur, Indore and Kolkata to become professional taxi and chauffeur drivers. Beyond that, it aims to provide women with mechanisms to gain control over their own lives. Including mediating and self-defence classes, legal advice and courses in financial literacy, ‘Women on Wheels’ has become an important project in offering resource-poor women a passage into a more sustainable livelihood in a rapidly modernizing urban space.

 

Training with Azad, I have learnt not only to drive a car but also to steer my life. – Work: The Essence of Life, by Sunita Thakur

People ask me why I chose this vocation. Earlier, I did not know what to say. I could not find a way out. Something had to be done to survive. If I had not taken up driving I would not have been able to stand on my feet so quickly, and my troubles would have continued. That is why I learnt this skill. It brings me money and respect. And above all I have earned a name; I have my own identity. We women usually derive our identities from our fathers or husbands, as if we do not have a name or existence. Now I am identified as a driver, Shanno driver, a capable human being, a single mother who dreams of moving far ahead, for myself and for my children. That’s me, Shanno.

Delving into their stories, we encounter the tales of mothers, wives, daughters, sisters and daughters-in-law, who struggle to find their identities among conflicting social roles and fight for their freedom to choice. We are reminded, while reading, of the courage it takes to grab the wheel with both hands and tentatively navigate along the bumpy road of change, where tires slowly grind the rocks laid in their way.

 

Please join us for the book launch of Lady Driver at the Oxford Bookstore; we would love to see you there!

Lady Driver event invitation (Hin)

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