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Author Archives: aiswarya jayamohan

On Topic: Feminist News from July and August

Ah, July. The first solar eclipse in Cancer in nearly a decade. Ah, August. Mars was in retrograde in Aquarius. Okay, we’re not quite sure what either of these could mean for the intersectional feminist agenda—so we’re just going to focus on the news. Here you’ll find some of the most significant developments in politics, health, education, culture, entertainment, and sports from the past two months that ought to be on your radar.
— Aiswarya J + Sarvar K 

Government and Politics

- After a four-day hearing that concluded on 14th July, the Supreme Court of India reserved its judgement on the challenges levelled by around thirty-five individual petitioners against the constitutional validity of Section 377. It is likely that the Court will rule on the matter by early October. Though the Centre will not intervene in the bench’s final decision, there is much hostility towards any further legislation on marriage and inheritance rights. You can find a small snapshot of the Court sessions here, focusing on our hero, Advocate Menaka Guruswamy.

- The completed draft of the contentious National Register of Citizens (essentially a list of every ‘legal’ resident in Assam) was released on 30th July. Over 20,000 transgender people have been left out of this register due to either a lack of documentation listing their correct gender category, or discrepancies between pre- and post-transition identification documents.

- Also on 30th July, the Minister for Women and Child Development, Maneka Gandhi, apologised for her insensitive (and frankly embarrassing) behaviour during an earlier Lok Sabha debate where she referred to trans people as ‘the other ones’ and ‘TGs’ with a baffled laugh. Gandhi tweeted that she had ‘not [been] aware of the official terminology of the transgender community,’ despite being a Cabinet Minister responsible for the protection of this very community.

- An amended version of the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill was approved by the Centre on 1st August, almost exactly one year after the Bill was first introduced in the Lok Sabha. While discrimination against transgender people is now a criminal act that can lead to imprisonment of up to two years, the Bill is conspicuously silent on the issue of ensuring access to civil liberties, such as rights to marriage and reservation.

- The Delhi High Court decriminalised begging in a landmark judgment on 8th August, declaring all arrests made in this regard to be ‘unconstitutional.’ The Court held that beggars could not be punished as their presence was symptomatic of the larger fact ‘that the state has not managed to provide [food, shelter, health] to all its citizens.’

- Centre-appointed independent director of the Reserve Bank of India and RSS acolyte S. Gurumurthy recently suggested that there could be a link between the devastating floods in Kerala and the Supreme Court’s decision to allow women into Kerala’s Sabarimala temple, where entry has historically been restricted to men (and senior citizens of all genders). While Guruswamy continues his humble public service, we’re better off looking at how Odisha is helping out despite its own recent floods, what Chennai entrepreneurs are doing to help dislocated Keralites, and how you can contribute a hot meal to someone in need.

- India’s social justice community was in for a rude awakening during the morning hours of 28th August with multiple police raids, nine detained and searched, and five held in custody. Human rights activists, lawyers, and academics—both Dalits and non-Dalits—across the country were subjected to intense police scrutiny without search warrants in relation to the caste-based violence that broke out at Bhima Koregaon in Pune. The Centre seems keen to prosecute Varava Rao, Sudha Bharadwaj, Varun Gonsalves, Arun Ferreira, and Gautam Navlakha as ‘urban Maoists’ (sorry, what?) responsible for inciting conflict. Court proceedings under the ethically-dubious Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act are ongoing. Happy Independence Month, or something.

Outside the subcontinent:

- The government of Hungary, in a devastating blow to local education and human rights, announced on 14th August that the state would stop funding university-level degrees related to gender studies. You can find more context for this ridiculous, transphobic, and anti-feminist decision here.

- However, the month of August also saw Germany and Austria set to introduce a ‘third gender’ option in official documents for those identifying neither as male nor female, in a major win for non-binary rights in Europe.

Health and Safety

- The Indian government’s country-wide restriction on factory production of oxytocin will come into effect on 1st  September in an attempt to curb the misuse of this hormone in the dairy industry. However, health activists are concerned that the Centre’s crackdown on access to oxytocin— a natural hormone that helps induce labour contractions and lactation in an expecting parent—may have an adverse impact on the maternal mortality rate.

- In an ongoing case regarding a national ban on khafzthe ritual cutting of a small portion of the clitoral hood of an infant, understood as a Type I category of female genital mutilation as per WHO guidelines—the Supreme Court has deemed the act unconstitutional, in that it interferes with rights to life and liberty. However, the Dawoodi Bohra Women’s Religious Freedom organisation have since mobilised in protest of the Court’s position, claiming that khafz is a safe act of circumcision that ought to be protected as a religious practice.

- Indian folks who menstruate, rejoice! After a year-long, uh, period of implementation, sanitary products have been exempted from the Goods and Service Tax effective 27th July 2018. However, there may be an unintended consequence to this decision—one economist suggests that the burden of cost placed on manufacturers as a result of this exemption may lead to fewer sanitary products being produced overall.

- The Indian Christian Women’s Movement conducted a two-day convention in Pune on 12th and 13th August where, among other topics, the issue of child sex abuse in the Church was discussed. Later in the same month, Pope Francis would visit Ireland—the first papal visit to the country in nearly four decades—and ask its Catholic population ‘forgiveness’ for the Church’s participation in the orchestration and cover-up of systemic child sex abuse.

- The Indian Institute for Human Settlements, in collaboration with volunteer organisation Green the Red, conducted a walk on 15th August in Bangalore to help raise awareness regarding environmentally-friendly menstrual practices. Get involved!

- A recent article explores the excellent Nishulk Beti Vahini Bus initiative (Free Bus for Girls) begun in 2016 by a couple in Rajasthan to help boost female school enrolment and attendance. Dr Rameshwar Prasad Yadav and his wife, Tarawati, explain that their bus now allows girls from villages to travel to their school and back, without fear of either the natural elements or sexual harassment.

Education

- Tokyo Medical University, one of Japan’s foremost medical schools, admitted to manipulating entrance exam scores for over a decade to disadvantage female candidates and allow more men to become doctors. There are talks of reparations, but no one seems to know where to even begin.

- In happier news, 96-year-old Karthiyani Amma was the oldest candidate at the Kerala State Literacy Mission Exam conducted on 5th August 2018. Kerala, which is one of the most literate states in the country, had launched this programme on Republic Day this year to restore 100% literacy. Of the 40,000 candidates that appeared, 29,500—more than half—were women. Karthiyani Amma, who got full marks in reading, silenced the debate on ageism to prove it really is never too late!

Arts and Culture

- Nagaland author Easterine Kire has won the Sahitya Akademi Award for children’s literature, Sahitya Bal Puraskar 2018, for her book, Son of the Thundercloud. The book is a product of the author’s endeavor to preserve Naga oral traditions, and draws on folklore to tell the story of a woman whose husband and sons have been killed by a tiger. The award was announced on 29th June. Previously, Kire won the Hindu Literature Prize, 2015 for our When the River Sleeps, which you can find here along with the rest of her Zubaan titles.

- The fourth edition of India’s first-of-its-kind Gender Bender Festival was held in Bangalore from 22nd to 26th August. The festival brings together an intriguing mix of artists from across the country who tackle gender issues with their practice in a bid for inclusivity. Body-shaming, domestic work unacknowledged as labour, trans activism in Manipur, and how domestic space shapes gender roles were just a few of the themes highlighted at the art festival. Zubaan’s own Urvashi Butalia was present as a jury member. Ita Mehrotra from our Drawing the Line collection also attended the festival.

- Lakmé Fashion Week’s runway this year saw ‘gender neutral’ collections, by designer labels Bloni, The Pot Plant, Anam, and Bobo Calcutta. While the garments were androgynous—fluid drapes, psychedelic colours, easy to mix ensembles—the fashion industry still has a long way to go, so far as hiring non-binary models is concerned. Although intended to “protest gender-based discrimination,” the collections lose credibility, for the bodies they were showcased on couldn’t have been more conventional for the fashion industry: angular faces, lean and muscled bodies, spotless skin. Take a look at the collections here and decide for yourselves.

Entertainment

- Coke Studio’s Season 11 began with a song of, for, and by women, called ‘Main Irada’. Described on their official YouTube channel as ‘an iconic women’s anthem with a powerful message,’ the song seems to express hope for a new and reformed Pakistan under newly-elected Prime Minister Imran Khan. The show’s lineup this time features more women artists, including singers from Pakistani diaspora (Krewella, the US-based electronic dance music duo) and from the transgender community.  A composition like ‘Main Irada’, though long overdue from this popular Pakistani music franchise, augurs well for feminism in the country. Written by Haniya Aslam and Bilal Sami, every verse is a celebration of womanhood, culminating in the chorus, ‘Main irada main Kaavish hoon, main hoon jazba, main khwahish hoon, Main hoon naon main sahil hoon, Himmat hoon main Aurat hoon, Taaqat hoon main aurat hoon’ (I am the expectation and its fulfillments, I am energy and I am aspiration, I am a boat and I am the sail, I am courage, I am a woman, I am strength, I am a woman).

- Agents of Ishq—a mixed-media collaborative project focused on bringing sex-positivity to India—and Nirantar—a Delhi-based NGO—released a gorgeous, funny, and informative music video about consensual sex and romance titled Love in the Garden of Consent.’ Want more information? We got you.

- Legendary soul and blues singer and civil rights activist Aretha Franklin, the voice of the feminist anthem Respect,’ passed away on 16th August. Her body was laid at the Museum of African-American History for fans to pay homage, starting on 28th August. It is part of a week of mourning and celebration in her hometown of Detroit. Rest in power, Aretha.

Avital Ronnell (a literature professor at NYU) and Asia Argento (an actress and #MeToo activist who was a crucial part of the New Yorker’s investigation into human manifestation of garbage, Harvey Weinstein) have both been accused of sexual harassment in the past month. If you’re unsure about the future of #MeToo—don’t be. Read this thread on power, hypocrisy, and the continued need for protest by civil rights activist Tarana Burke, one of the movement’s original founders.

- Hollywood star Scarlett Johansson received intense criticism after news was made public that she would be playing the lead role of notorious American gangster Dante ‘Tex’ Gill in an upcoming biopic. Johansson later released an official statement confirming that she would not appear in the film, acknowledging that, as a cisgender actress, she should never have agreed to portray a trans man.

- A similar discussion of transgender visibility in the film industry is long overdue in India. Recent Malayalam hit, Njan Marykutty, featured cisgender male actor Jayasurya in the titular role of Marykutty, a trans woman aspiring to join the police. While the movie’s depiction of Marykutty has been described as rather progressive, the casting does unfortunately perpetuate the unemployability of trans actors and actresses in mainstream Indian cinema, and peddles the harmful narrative that trans women are simply cis men in drag.

Sports

August has been a fantastic month for feminist sporting enthusiasts in the county. The Indian women’s contingent at the ongoing Asian Games 2018 being held in Jakarta (from 18th August to 2nd September) continues to deliver enthralling performances and secure breakthrough wins in never-won-before categories for India. With two days left to the finale (at the time of writing), they have raised our medal tally to 54 by contributing 20 medals: 3 of 11 gold, 9 of 20 silver, and 8 of 23 bronze.

- Vinesh Phogat, a firebrand of the Phogat family, led the charge on day 2, defeated Japan’s Yukie Irie 6–2 to become the first Indian woman wrestler to win gold at the Asian Games, India’s second at this year’s games. Rahi Sarnobat, the 27-year-old shooter from Kolhapur, won the tie-breaker against Thailand’s Napaswan Yangpaiboon in Women’s 25m pistol to go down in history as the first Indian woman shooter to win gold at the Asian Games. In another landmark win, Swapna Burman, born with six toes on each foot,  became the first ever Indian woman heptathlete to win gold at the Asiad, pushing through the pain of ill fitting shoes to cross the 6000 mark. Meanwhile, the women’s relay team has won its fifth consecutive gold since the 2002 Games as our Hockey team secures a spot in the final with their eyes set firm on gold.

- Athletics saw inspiring victories as well. Hima Das bagged a silver in women’s 400m track at the Asian Games, clocking 50.59 seconds—her second national record after the qualifiers. In July, the 18-year-old athlete from Assam had finished first at  IAAF World Under-20 Championship in Finland, becoming the first Indian woman athlete to win gold in a world level track event.

- Sprinter Dutee Chand of Odisha won silver in women’s 100m. This is not only a remarkable sporting feat but also a step forward for gender inclusivity in India, considering she had been banned in 2014 for failing a hyperandrogenism test. Chand fought through the trauma of gender discrimination that almost cost her her career and has emerged the second-fastest woman in Asia, shutting down critics and prejudiced officials in the Athletics Federation who had failed to support her in the run up to the Games.

- More silver medals in athletics poured in on 27th August. Veteran long-distance runner Sudha Singh finished at 9 minutes and 40.03 seconds in the 3000m steeplechase to seize her second Asian Games medal. She had won gold in 2010, the year the event was introduced. Neena Varakil of Kerala placed second with a best jump of 6.52m in the fourth attempt.

- In badminton, PV Sindhu entered the pages of history as the first Indian shuttler to reach the finals, where she lost to Chinese Taipei player Tai Tzu Ying—albeit not without a tough fight.

- The women’s compound archery event saw India and Korea in close competition until the third round, when Korea secured a lead of three points 55–58, with Muskan Kirar, Madhumita Kumari, and Jyothi Surekha Vennam to winning silver. Meanwhile, the Indian women’s kabaddi team also placed second in a close match with Iran, who won gold in a historic win.

- Contrary to how the media likes to tell it, no one really ‘settles’ for bronze—they work hard for it and we are very proud of our winners! Ankita Raina in lawn tennis grabbed the third bronze medal in women’s singles tennis for the country, while Roshibina Naorem won bronze in Wushu, India’s first in the event at this year’s games. Other bronze medallists include Saina Nehwal in women’s badminton singles, Dipika Pallikal (a self-made sportswoman first and a cricketer’s wife much later. Media houses, listen up!) and Joshna Chinappa in women’s squash singles, and Divya Kakran in women’s freestyle wrestling (68kg). Our mixed bridge team of 6 with three women players—Himani Khandelwal, Hima Deora, and Kiran Nadar—also clinched bronze.

In international news, the French Tennis Federation is considering banning Serena Williams, the world’s greatest tennis player, from further French Open tournaments if she refuses to follow a recently-implemented dress code. The code appears to have been formulated in reaction to Williams’ debut of her full-length black catsuit at the 2018 French Open, which she wears for health reasons—and its resemblance to the Wakandan fashion of Marvel’s Black Panther. The timing of the Federation’s announcement has rightly been criticized by some as a case of misogynoir.

Zubaan

July and August at Zubaan HQ have been a whirlwind of activity. We’ve released brand-new books, hosted great events, consumed an inordinate amount of South Indian sweets, and we’re showing no signs of stopping.

- New books! Do you like speculative fiction, short stories about spaceships and psychics, and subverting the traditional linearity of storytelling? Of course you do. Check out your new favourite book, Ambiguity Machines and Other Stories by Vandana Singh. If you’re searching for something a little more quiet, but just as dazzling, look no further than Mahuldiha Days by Anita Agnihotri. Here, you’ll find the forests of Odisha transformed into a mesmerising dreamscape where the personal and the political are never too far apart. In the mood for some serious non-fiction? Get Indian Feminisms, edited by Poonam Kathuria and Abha Bhaiya, and explore the post-1980s feminist movement in India through a fascinating collection of essays and oral histories.

- The Zubaan trust/NGO has been hard at work on our Stepping Stones and Body of Evidence projects targeting sexual violence on impunity in the country. A meeting of theatre activists and women’s groups was convened in Chandigarh this July, discussing theatre as a platform for initiating dialogue. Our Fragrance of Peace project held a writing workshop for the recipients of the Sasakawa-Zubaan writing grant in Guwahati this August. More will be coming up on both these projects later this year.

- Remember to mark 16th to 23rd September on your calendars, because it’s the Zubaan Mela, and you’re invited! Come to our office at Shahpur Jat and get everything off our shelves with discounts going up to 70%. Support independent feminist publishing! Bring your friends, family, co-workers, a bitter childhood nemesis, etc.

- Our recent release Mannequin: Working Women in India’s Fashion Industry by Manjima Bhattacharjya is set to be launched in Mumbai next month. If you have ever wondered what goes on behind the glamour scene, or what the relationship between fashion and feminism can be, this is the book for you!

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