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Author Archives: aishwarya_zubaan

On Topic: October and the Weinstein Effect

October has been an eventful month with several protests and movements taking Indian social media by a storm, bringing many important conversations about sexual harassment to the forefront. These conversations have been long overdue in the larger scheme of things, and it's imperative that they continue. So we would like to take this 'On Topic' to review everything that happened this month related to sexual harassment.

It seemed to begin with the Harvey Weinstein allegations, with multiple female actors and employees accusing the Hollywood film producer of sexual harassment and assault. A decade-worth of allegations against him surfaced, bringing to light a conspiracy of silence that allowed sexual harassment to go unchecked. In India, parallels are visible between Weinstein and powerful Indian men like RK Pachauri, who benefitted from collective complicity and murky work practices.

Another man compared to Weinstein was Khodu Irani, the owner of High Spirits, a popular club and performance venue in Pune. Several allegations of sexual harassment were made against him and social media was flooded with accounts of him groping, making lewd comments and sending inappropriate messages to patrons and employees. As people admitted to their own role in propagating his behaviour, a conversation was started about how certain cultural and media spaces, such as the club, accept and promote toxic behaviours.

Another outcome of the media attention paid to the Weinstein allegations was the #MeToo campaign started by Hollywood actress Alyssa Milano, where she encouraged women who had ever faced sexual harassment to come forward on social media. In India too, the movement gained a lot of momentum. The campaign promised a safe space for women and others to share their experiences with sexual harassment, with unwavering support and solidarity, with people admitting to having abused someone or being complicit in abuse before. With the emergence of the hashtag #HimToo, the conversation turned to pinpointing men who had gotten away with abusive behaviour, much like Weinstein had for all these years.

The #MeToo campaign also brought to surface offline whisper networks that women usually use to keep themselves and each other safe. One such network was created online through the Google spreadsheet titled “Shitty Media Men”, and was circulated among women journalists in New York, with allegations ranging from flirting to physical and sexual violence. In India, a similar list of names of alleged sexual harassers in Indian academia was published on Facebook by law student Raya Sarkar, along with a Google spreadsheet. Here too, the aim was to warn women and students about these men, by creating an online whisper network. But while the American spreadsheet was met with some support after being put on Buzzfeed and made public, the Indian list became a topic of contention among the Indian feminist community. Several prominent Indian feminists condemned the list for naming and shaming seemingly innocent men and not following due-process, in a statement on Kafila and their own writing. They, in turn, were critiqued for supporting the men on the list, most of whom were their colleagues and acquaintances.

The varied responses to the list have highlighted a schism in the Indian feminist movement, with a majority of established feminists on one side, and a new growing generation of feminists on the other, questioning the idea of a single feminist narrative in the country. Events in the past month have shown how sites like Facebook and Twitter have become an alternate avenue for feminist protest, especially for those who might not have access to the more traditional forms of protest within the Indian feminist community.

In dissecting the intention behind and validity of Raya Sarkar’s list, feminist conversations have neglected the well-being of survivors within an already inefficient system that fails to curb sexual harassment in educational spaces. Due process rarely provides justice, as is evident to some in the recent Farooqui judgement. In many ways the men named in the list are being rewritten as left liberal heroes and/or victims of a vicious attack. The conversation, this time even within the movement, is being shifted away from the issue itself towards questioning the intentions and trustworthiness of victims and protesters.

Meanwhile, after several setbacks in sexual harassment law in September, a recent Supreme Court verdict has shifted the age of consent within marriage from 15 years to 18 years, thus criminalizing all forms of child sexual abuse, even if the minor is married to the abuser. As a reminder, marital rape of women above the age of 18 continues to be legally and socially acceptable in the country.

October at Zubaan

Zubaan celebrated its ‘Cultures of Peace’ festival on 14th October at the Asian Confluence in Shillong. We also organized events in collaboration with TISS Guwahati on 12th and 13th October. Our E-essays project released two sets of essays this month – on the Nation and Women’s Writing/Literature. This month our feminist fiction book club discussed Women Without Men: A Novel of Modern Iran by Shahrnush Parsipur. Next month we will be discussing Hav by Jan Morris.

P.S. We will be launching Centrepiece, our new anthology of writing and art by women in the Northeast, on the 10th of November at Dzukou in Hauz Khas market. Join us!

On Topic: The September Review

September has been an eventful month, from Gauri Lankesh’s murder, to the setbacks in the countries harassment laws, to the police brutality faced by BHU student protesters. Most of the month was pretty awful, making us truly wish we could sleep through it all. But now September is over, and it's time to wake up. Here are the highlights of the good, but mostly bad things that happened this month.

Law and Society

September began with the death of prominent journalist and social worker Gauri Lankesh, who was shot dead near her home in Bangalore. Gauri Lankesh was known for her secular politics and criticism of the right-wing nationalism. Her death raised questions about the freedom of press, and led to protests in several cities across the country. This coincides with the United Nations reporting increasing harassment and violence towards human rights activists in 29 countries, including India. Meanwhile the debate over the fate of 40,000 Rohingya Muslims seeking asylum in India still continues. The centre had moved to deport the refugees citing ties to terrorism, facing heavy criticism from the United Nations Human Rights Council. Now another PIL seeking shelter and a petition supporting the centre’s claims have been filed in the Supreme Court, and will be heard in October. This article provides an interesting legal perspective on the issue. India’s sexual harassment and rape law has also taken a step back with the recent judgement on Mahmood Farooqui’s rape case. Not only was Farooqui acquitted by the Delhi High Court, but its judgement thoroughly dilutes the importance of consent through statements like ‘no could mean yes’. Similarly, the Punjab and Haryana High Court has granted bail to three men convicted of gang rape while blaming the victim’s mind-set and a culture of sexual experimentation.

Education

Protests broke out at Banaras Hindu University after the molestation of a female student outside her hostel. The incident turned ugly when the protestors were baton charged by local police, causing widespread outrage. Several student organizations in Delhi also protested the violence against BHU students. As the VC and state officials continue to trivialize the incident, inquiries are being made into the people responsible for the violence. Meanwhile, Jawaharlal Nehru University has dissolved its 18 year old Gender Sensitisation Committee Against Sexual Harassment (GSCASH), and replaced it with an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC), facing heavy criticism from students, faculty, and independent women’s groups. The new ICC will have lesser faculty and student representatives, and have more nominated than elected members. On a positive note, Dr. Menaka Guruswamy is now the first Indian female Rhodes Scholar to have her oil portrait hung in the Rhodes House at Oxford. This should have happened a long time ago, but the first portrait of a woman Rhodes Scholar was hung only in 2015, even though women have been receiving Rhodes scholarships for the past 40 years.

Cinema

The Malayalam movie ‘Sexy Durga’ has been denied clearance by the Information and Broadcasting Ministry for a screening at the upcoming Mumbai Film Festival. The film deals with the violence and misogyny faced by women every day, and has received acclaim at international film festivals. But the ministry thinks that the film’s name might hurt religious sentiments. Seeing this as the government’s attempt to censor film festivals, an online petition has been started to allow the film to be aired. A new biopic has been announced by Viacom18 Motion Pictures on the life of Mithali Raj, the captain of the Indian women’s cricket team. Mithali hopes it will encourage more young girls to take up sports.

Sports

September has been very good for badminton player P V Sindhu, the first Indian woman to win an Olympic silver medal. She became the first Indian player to win the Korea Open Super Series title, and has now been nominated by the Sports Ministry for the Padma Bhushan award. India won 40 medals at the Asian indoor games held in Turkmenistan this month. P.U. Chitra won gold in 1500m women’s race after being excluded from the London World Championships for being ‘unfit’ by the Athletics Federation of India (AFI). Deeborah Herold from Andaman and Nicobar islands won three silver medals in track cycling sports. Other notable victories include Purnima Hembram winning gold at the pentathlon event, Sanjivani Jadhav winning silver in women’s 3000m race, and Neena Varakil winning bronze in women’s long jump.

In International News

While the NFL and NBA protests against racial discrimination and police brutality in USA have been at the forefront of international news, the WNBA’s protests spanning over a year have not received much coverage. More protests are expected at the WNBA Finals starting on Sunday.

Saudi Arabia has passed a law “allowing” women to drive from June 2018. Whether the law is actually enacting, and translates into real empowerment is yet to be seen.

September at Zubaan

We were interviewed by Artistik License! Find it here. The seventh edition of Zubaan’s ‘Cultures of Peace’ festival celebrating Northeast India is underway; this month we held a panel discussion on ‘Queer Identities in the Northeast’ in collaboration with The Delhi University Queer Collective (DUQC) and the Gender Studies Cell at St. Stephens College. Panelists Diti Lekha Sharma, Pavel Sagolsem and Dona Marwein spoke with Gertrude Lamare and video and written coverage of the event is up. The next ‘Cultures of Peace’ event will take place on 14th October at the Asian Confluence in Shillong. We are also organizing events at TISS Guwahati on 12th and 13th October. Keep an eye on our Facebook page for more details. Our E-essays project released three sets of essays this month – on violence against women, health, and trauma. This month our book club discussed a TV show for the first time – “The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl” by Issa Rae. In our next meeting we will be discussing “Women Without Men: A Novel of Modern Iran” by Shahrnush Parsipur.

5 #Reasonstoread Dear Mrs. Naidu: Reprint Edition

We’re delighted to announce the reprint of Dear Mrs. Naidu (2014) from our Young Zubaan collection! Written by the brilliant Mathangi Subramanian, this children’s novel has received acclaim as an innovative tale about complex issues. Here are our top five favourite things about the book, that’ll make any reader fall in love with it.

Dear Mrs Naidu coverDear Mrs. Naidu is an Indian epistolary children’s novel in English, which makes it a rare work of fiction. Epistolary novels can be narrated through newspaper clippings, notes or diary entries. In this case, the story is narrated entirely in letters, from the 12-year-old Sarojini to the Indian freedom fighter Sarojini Naidu. Drawing parallels between the struggles of the two Sarojinis, the book tells us much more about Sarojini Naidu than our history books ever did!

Set in the slums of Bangalore, the novel delves into the lives and relationships of people from marginalized communities. With well-rounded multidimensional characters, the book shows that inequality is not just about being rich and poor, or going to a better school. It talks about the Right to Education Act, simplifying it enough to be understood by children, and yet showing the obstacles in making quality education accessible to all children.

“Deepti is a fighter… Like Amma, like Vimala Madam, like you Mrs Naidu.”

With a single mother resiliently protecting her daughter and community, two young girls fighting for their right to quality education, and a successful human rights lawyer using her privilege to help the community, this book has no dearth of strong female characters. Likening them to Sarojini Naidu shows that women (and girls) can be strong and powerful.

These are just some of the things that make Dear Mrs Naidu an exceptional read, for kids and adults alike. But don’t just take our word for it! You can hear all about it from Sarojini, in her latest letter to Mrs. Naidu.


Dear Mrs. Naidu,

I just found out that during your lifetime, you wrote a lot of letters. You wrote to family, friends, freedom fighters – even famous people. After you died passed on stopped writing, all of your letters were published in a book. Now, if people want to get to know you, they can read about you in your own words.

Guess what? My letters were published too! This is something else we have in common, besides or first names.

The only letters I’ve ever written have been to you, and the only story I have so far is how I fought to change my school so I could keep Amir as my best friend. It’s a story you already know because even though you never once wrote back to me, you helped me figure out what to do along the way.

Here is why other people like my story: it’s about friendship, but it’s also about growing up. It’s about becoming a fighter, even if you are only a twelve-year-old girl who lives in a house without a proper roof and goes to a school without a proper compound. It’s about making friends with people you never thought you’d be friends with – like dead passed on former freedom fighters, or girls who live at construction sites, or Aunties who make so much noise that sometimes it’s hard to hear when they actually make sense. (Which is more of the time than you would think, Mrs. Naidu.)

Lots of kids are reading my our letters. Lots of grownups are too. Some of them want to learn about the Right to Education Act, or about what it’s like to grow up in a slum, or about what it’s like to be a twelve-year-old girl. But most of them are reading our letters because they like a really good story.

Our story is a really good story, Mrs. Naidu. You know why?

Because it’s a story about changing the world.

All the Best,

Sarojini

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