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Author Archives: Meenal Manolika

On Topic: Recent Reads for Indian Feminists

It's September, with the days of perpetual rain behind us, and we are back with a round-up of recent reads and feminist news:

In the wake of Mahmood Farooqui’s conviction for rape, the internet has been rife with conversation about the 2013 amendments to rape laws in the IPC. The piece on Kafila which started it all, written by J. Devika and Nivedita Menon, explains why the conviction is a landmark verdict in the history of rape cases in India. Both the case and the article have led to several responses including this one by Manisha Sethi, this article in The Bangalore Mirror, and this interview with Flavia Agnes by Natasha Bhardwaj. Manisha Sethi argues that the evidence was not clinching enough to prove an assault without reasonable doubt. Dushyant, in The Bangalore Mirror, goes on to place those who accept the verdict as lying on the extreme end of a spectrum, the other end of which is held by self-proclaimed Men’s Rights Activists. Flavia Agnes says in her interview that forced oral sex is different from brutal gang-rape. All of these pieces shake their textual heads sadly over the ‘harsh’ punishment faced by Farooqui, a talented and popular man. On the other side, Shyamolie Singh's response to the Flavia Agnes interview takes apart the arguments raised one by one, arguing that it shouldn’t be difficult to understand that a lack of consent forms the core of a sexual assault case regardless of the grade of violence inflicted.

On a related note, Brock Turner, the Stanford rape accused, is out after serving only half of his six-month sentence to continue the bright shiny future he was being kept from. For those who forget, Brock Turner was arrested after he was found raping an unconscious woman behind a dumpster near a frat house on campus. He was given a minimal sentence by the judge (a Stanford alumnus himself) because of a lack of previous offences and his ‘potential-filled’ future. In response to the lenient sentence, California passed a bill requiring mandatory prison time for raping an unconscious person. Emily McCarty explains how mandatory minimums disproportionately affect minority communities, while this satirical essay in The Guardian compares the Stanford sexual assault case to a white privilege cake with vanilla frosting on top.

Indian ministers, as always, have found ways to decide what’s best for women — Indian as well as foreign. Rajnath Singh has said that because of ‘social realities’, the law will continue to protect sex within marriage even when the woman is below 18 years of age. Section 375 of the IPC says that sexual activity with a girl below 18 years of age counts as rape except in the case where a girl above 15 years of age is married to the man. The Union Minister for Tourism and Culture Mahesh Sharma has advised foreign tourists visiting India to not wear skirts or venture out late at night for their own safety because “Indian culture is different from Western [culture].” Last year he had also said that “night outs for girls were not a part of Indian culture” and that he would defend India from “encroachment by western culture.” Here’s a Sanitary Panels strip on this.

(As far as sartorial recommendations for women are concerned, there’s no lack of them even in the West from which Mahesh Sharma wants to defend Indian culture. The mayors of many coastal resort-towns in France imposed a ban on the burkini, a full body swimsuit worn by Muslim women. The country’s highest administrative court has since then lifted the restrictions, saying the ban cannot be justified as there is no risk of disruption to public order. Musab Younis in the LRB (London Review of Books) blog writes about the history of France’s obsession with what Muslim women wear and how it is about nothing more than racism, pure and simple.)

Some men in India have been more generous than others. The Bombay High Court allowed women access to the inner sanctum of the Haji Ali Dargah. This article in The Indian Express will answers all your questions about this move. In response to the court’s decision, some women started the ReadyToWait campaign to discourage the judiciary from meddling in their personal relationship with Ayyapa of Sabarimala temple in Kerala. The temple does not allow women between the ages of 10 and 50 access to the core where the idol is placed. According to these women, the law should not interfere with what is written in the shastras. Here’s a response by Priya Menon where she writes that those who are willing to wait should not stop others who are not.

Sushma Swaraj has joined the bandwagon of politicians ‘protecting’ Indian culture by saying, “We do not recognize live-in and homosexual relationships… this is against our ethos” while unveiling a draft law to ban commercial surrogacy. The surrogacy bill, approved by the cabinet to be introduced in Parliament, limits access to surrogacy to couples who have been married for five years at least. Also, only a close relative can offer to be a surrogate. The bill excludes single people, unmarried couples, and homosexual couples. Members of SAMA, a resource group for women and health, offer a detailed analysis of the bill. They highlight the need to pay attention to genuine issues regarding health and compensation faced by surrogate mothers rather than moral policing of parenthood.

Last Friday the radiologists of Indian Radiological Imaging Association (IRIA) went on strike to protest against the Pre-natal Diagnostic Technique Act, which criminalises sex determination of the foetus through ultrasound. Women’s Rights activists organised a press conference where they denounced the protest on the grounds of widespread female foeticide. The protests are supposedly in reaction to the recent conviction of doctors for illegal sex determination in Maharashtra and Haryana.

Coming back to the issue of institutionalised misogyny, St Aloysius college of Mangalore is trending online after an ex-student blogged about a new list of irrational rules outlining a code of behaviour for the female students of the college. The rules forbid interaction with the opposite sex but places the onus on girls. The rules were communicated to them in a closed-doors meeting only for female students. Girls are barred from re-arranging their hair in front of boys and from going outside the campus for lunch among a host of other things. Here’s a blog post by Rashmi Shetty, another alumna of the college, digging up memories of the rampant sexism faced by the female students. Despite severe criticisms on social media, the college administration has defended the new rules.

The best of intentions without proper understanding can sometimes do more harm than good. Chetan Bhagat’s new book is his self-proclaimed attempt at feminism. In an interview for Livemint he betrays his superficial understanding of the term and his lack of research. He goes on to say “it’s not such a complex issue also.” Shinjini Bose in her article for Scroll says:

[Bhagat] is implying that we should be so grateful that a best-selling author of his stature is giving “publicity” to the cause that we should go along with whatever shape he twists it into. Bhagat understands the influence he has as a writer, and seems to feel a sense of responsibility about his role in public conversations. It’s a pity that he chooses to ignore his own limitations and explain them away rather than deal with them in any thoughtful manner.


If you're in Delhi this month, come to the Zubaan Mela for excellent discounts on all of our amazing books! From the 24th of September to the 1st of October, 10 AM to 8 PM daily at our office - for more details, take a look at our event page.

Found In Translation : Stories from India

August is Women in Translation month. The campaign was started in 2014 by the translator and blogger Meytal Radzinski after she discovered the low numbers of women published in translation. Translated books only form three percent of published literature in English markets and only 30% of these works are written by women. As the month comes to an end, we have put together a compilation of some of the most compelling books we have translated. A collection of memoir, fiction, non-fiction and poetry, it offers fascinating stories from god-forsaken villages and chaos filled cities of India. Each of these books, originally published in a regional language, deserves a wider audience especially because these are stories marginalized by the mainstream. The authors— including a political prisoner in Kashmir, the wife of a communist leader in Andhra Pradesh, a domestic worker in Gurgaon, an eighth century Tamil poet and a contemporary one— are all women. Some of them spin beautiful fiction out of lived realities while for some just the honest story of their life leaves us astounded by the limits of our ignorance but all of them provide a new understanding of what it means to be not only a woman but a citizen of India.

10yr-a life less ordinary

A Life Less Ordinary by Baby Halder, translated from Hindi by Urvashi Butalia

Baby Halder had worked as a domestic help for a series of exploitative employers in Gurgaon before she landed, purely by chance, at the home of the retired academic Prabodh Kumar. With his encouragement she read the Bengali books at his home and eventually started writing her life-story. The story of a vanished mother, a murdered sister, marriage at the age of 12 and an abusive husband.  In the words of The New York Times she “recounts her story in plain language without a trace of self-pity”. Sangeeta Pisharoty writes in her review for The Hindu that during a conversation with the author she found it difficult to absorb her methodical narration of her life’s struggles. Halder’s nonchalant narration is evidence of the extent to which violence is intrinsic to the life she had growing up as a dalit woman in Durgapur, West Bengal. Nothing can highlight the importance of what the book stands for more than these direct words of Halder “Many girls back home go through a similar life and yet nobody sees it as any different”. The book became a bestseller which highlights how removed society is from the everyday realities of those who work for us. That Halder was surprised by the response the book received should not come as a surprise to us.

Prisoner No

Prisoner No. 100: An Account of my Days and Nights in an Indian Prison by Anjum Habib, translated from Urdu by Sahba Husain

The book is a passionate and moving account of the five years Anjum Habib, a young woman political activist from Kashmir, spent in jail after she was arrested under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA). In an interview Anjum Habib said “Being a woman and that too from Kashmir makes your life in jail a living hell.” She describes how police officials in Delhi verbally assaulted her saying “You are a separatist leader of the Muslim Khawateen Markaz; we will strip you naked, take snaps and distribute them all over India, defaming you forever.” When she entered the jail premises, she was the only Kashmiri woman; the hostility of the other jail inmates, she said, will remain etched forever in her memory. A review of the book in Kashmir Lit says “To know that it is not fiction, but an exposition of the condition of living, breathing people, makes it profoundly disturbing.” Bashrat Peer, author of Curfewed Nights, has remarked “Everyone interested in Kashmir should read it” and has called it "A brilliant critique of patriarchy in politics, a searing tale of the terrible humiliations visited upon political prisoners, a poignant story of a woman who dedicated her life to political change in Kashmir, a passionate love letter to Kashmir."

Fence

Fence by Ila Arab Mehta, translated from Gujarati by Rita Kothari

The cover of this book by the award winning Gujarati author sketches a girl on a scooty dressed in a burkha. The Indian Express review of the book remarked “The symbolic cover deserves appreciation. Seen through the burkha is only a pair of eyes— apprehensive, circumspect and moving ahead with confidence.” It symbolizes what the protagonist of the novel aims to achieve: mobility on her own terms. Fateema is a young ambitious woman who climbs over the fences of poverty and illiteracy to pursue an education and a job in the big city. Mehta was inspired to write the story when she read a piece by a Muslim woman in a Gujarati magazine on how difficult it was for her to find a house. Her protagonist dreams of buying her own house but in the deeply communalized society of Saurashtra a house can only be on either side of the fence—the Hindu or the Muslim. Fence explores the deep seated communal prejudices that work against Fateema’s arguably ordinary dreams. In the review for Indian Express, S.D Desai finds the book “Heartening, for Gujarati literature is largely unconcerned about the trauma the Muslim community suffers. Gujarati Hindu teachers supporting Fateema in her struggle bring a breath of fresh air, indeed. "

hour past midnightThe Hour Past Midnight by Salma, translated from Tamil by Lakshmi Holmstrom

For many years no one knew that a woman (named Rokkaiah by her in-laws) confined within the four walls of her husband’s home in the rural interiors of Tamil Nadu was the sensational author known as Salma. She wrote secretly in the toilet at night and sent manuscripts to editors through relatives. She started writing because of the anger she felt when she had to stop going outside her home once she attained puberty. Her works include poems, short stories and novels all of them depict the life of women within the conservative Tamil Muslim community. Her poems, which are known for explicit sexual imagery, have received wide critical acclaim. The novel The Hour Past Midnight is based on her childhood in a village near Tiruchi. However, it is not an autobiography but as this review puts it “It is the story of the girl child in the deep South, the story of daughters and sisters and hapless mothers and grandmothers, all caught in an inexorable web of growing up, getting married, bearing children and dying. It is the story of "woman in the set framework", her life’s purpose limited to four walls, the walls slowly rising brick by brick, inexplicably; this is not a story about breaking barriers.”

 Motherwit by Urmila Pawar, translated from Marathi by Veena Deo

motherwit front cover

Pawar identifies herself as a Dalit woman writer, a Buddhist and a feminist and all three identities reveal themselves powerfully in this collection of short stories. The Hindu called them “unashamed and bold stories of the travails of the Indian woman.” Her heroines are clever women from all classes of society in urban and rural Maharashtra. They brave caste oppression, defy insults and are unhesitant in opposing their in-laws while guarding their interests. “These are the women sitting next to you on the Churchgate-Virar fast local, or processing your forms in the Pune municipal offices, or checking into the maternity ward in Pimpri-Chinchwad” says the review at LiveMint remarking that “the women sparkle with agency and complexity that is a delight to read.”  Pawar’s writing is sprinkled with the characteristically coarse Marathi humour (which lends the book the titular wit). Asian Age writes about the translation “Deo meets the challenge by keeping to an earthy, conversational style”. The review at LiveMint recommends “slip her in alongside Mahashweta Devi and Ismat Chugtai and Jhumpa Lahiri and Anjum Hasan and every other writer with the skill to render the minutely personal as piercingly political.”

The Sharp Knife of Memory

The Sharp Knife of Memory by Kondapalli Koteswaramma, translated from Telugu by Sowmya V.B.

Kotasweramma has always been popularly identified as the wife of Kondapalli Sitaramaiah, founder of the Maoist movement in Andhra Pradesh, even though she herself was a core member of the communist movement. Inspired by the Bolsheviks, Koteswaramma took up party life early on in life. She went underground in the forties, living a secret life, running from safe house to safe house. In her own words this struggle paid dividends when her famous husband deserted her after an extramarital affair. She educated herself, got a job, raised her grandchildren, wrote poetry and prose and established herself as a thinking person in her own right. The story of her life spans a century of the independence movement and the communist insurrection in Andhra Pradesh. The stories of her struggle against the odds accompany her deep understanding of the workings of the party and the fragility of the political institution. On its first publication in India, this moving memoir took the Telugu literary world by storm.

 

seventeen

Seventeen by Anita Agnihotri, translated from Bengali by Arunava Sinha

Anita Agnihotri travelled extensively in Orissa and Jharkhand for her work as an IAS officer. Her travels inspired her to document the lives of those who remain in the shadow of India Shining. The characters of her stories and the images they evoke seem real because she works with details to eke out their lives of poverty and injustice. She does not believe in writing from the desk; she meets people and connects with them. She spins her stories around these experiences and as a reviewer puts it, her stories are perfect illustration of how fiction can begin in fact and not be limited by it. Apart from far-flung towns and villages, her stories are also set in metros and international suburbia, documenting the lives of landless peasants, migrant workers, abandoned wives and their companions in struggle. Seventeen is a collection of some of her stories from among more than a 100 of her published works. Apart from far-flung towns and villages her stories are also set in metros and international suburbia. Translated by Arunava Sinha, the book won the 2011 Economist Crossword Book Award for Translation.

swarnalata

Swarnalata by Tilottama Misra, Translated from Assamese by Udayon Misra

Considered one of the finest historical novels in Assamese Swarnalata is set in 19th century Assam when the forces of tradition were being challenged by the concepts of modernity. It takes the reader into the social milieu of the times when issues like widow remarriage and women’s education held centre stage. It traces the story of three Assamese girls, each facing personal struggles which reflect the larger societal truth of the times. Swarna, the daughter of privileged, educated parents cannot escape the biases faced by other women, her friends Lakhi and Tora are respectively a child widow and a convert to Christianity with a mind of her own. These girls are surrounded by revolutionary young men eager to break bondages of tradition. Swarnalata also provides a delectable blend of history and fiction by placing real historical figures like Rabindranath Tagore side by side with fictional characters. Arunava Sinha in his review has said “In capturing the collective aspiration of a people from a part of India whose literature is unjustly under-circulated, Swarnalata becomes a rich panel in the patchwork quilt that is contemporary Indian fiction.”

Andal: The Autobiography of a Goddess

 Andal: The Autobiography of a Goddess, translated from Tamil by Priya Sarukai Chabria, Ravi Shankar

Andal, the eighth century Tamil poet, is the only female saint among the twelve Alvar saints of South India dedicated to the worship of Vishnu. Chabria and Shankar’s elegant translation of the corpus of poetry by Andal cements her status as the Southern corollary to Mirabai. However, as this review says “Her love for Vishnu is about an unequivocal affirmation of women’s sexual agency. Unlike Mira’s Krishna, Andal’s Hari is a full-bodied masculine presence. Like Andal’s wearing of the deity’s garland doesn’t defile it, her carnal longing for his form, while rejecting mere mortal lovers, also does not sully the bhakt-bhagwaan relationship.” This book translates Andal’s Tamil poems into contemporary English idiom, reimagining them as lyric poems keeping the philosophic meanings in the background. About the translation, Sumana Roy in her review for The Scroll said ‘The brilliance of the translators is also easy to see in the way they remain invisible, in the way we meet Andal directly, without the service of middlemen” hailing the Introduction for the book as “a great handbook for future translators on the subject”.

Here are some recommended reads from other parts of the world:

13 Translated Books By Women You Should Read

A Celebratory List of non-fiction books by leading thinkers and writers

An Essay on the Gender Politics of Translation

 

 

 

 

ON TOPIC: Dalit Protests in Gujarat, Trans Rights, Irom Sharmila, and Kashmir

Here’s what we have been reading while being subjected to loud, off-key singing by the devotees of Lord Shiva from the temple next-door (Why? Because it is the holy month of saawan! If you are still unaware of this annual national phenomenon and are curious, read this before going further).

In India:

Recently, a Dalit couple was hacked to death because they owed a shopkeeper Rs. 15. A few weeks ago in Una, Gujarat four Dalit men were flogged, tied to an SUV and paraded for skinning a dead cow. Moreover, the flogging was filmed as a warning to other Dalits. In response, the Dalit community has been protesting in the state like never before. The Sunday before last (31st July), they gathered in large numbers in a rally in Sabarmati. This is a report on the event by Scroll, largely comprised of accounts on social media pf the lack of relevant reporting in the mainstream media. Anandiben Patel has stepped down as the Chief Minister of Gujarat. Here is a list of issues compiled by The Hindu faced by the Gujarat government during her two-year term. Kancha Illaiah writes in the Indian Express about how a cow democracy has come to mean the oppression of Dalits. The underlying ideology of these violent atrocities, he argues, seems to be “skin for skin” punishing Dalits for their very occupation of skinning carcasses.

Meanwhile, two Dalit women have been appointed as priests in this Mangalore temple, and here is an article on how a Maharashtrian village in Beed forced the elected Sarpanch, a Dalit woman who speaks her own mind, out and installed a pliable proxy instead. This is often how upper caste men manipulate mandatory reservations for women and Scheduled Castes.

Jammu and Kashmir Coalition for Civil Society has started the Blindspot campaign in an attempt to raise internationl awareness about the violation of human rights by the Indian state. The use of pellets by the Indian Army has caused injuries to the eyes of more than 300 people in aftermath of Burhan Wani’s funeral.

The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2016 was tabled in the Lok Sabha last week. While it was touted as a bill seeking empowerment of one of the most marginalized communities in India, here is a list of pros and cons you should know about the bill.

Mamata Banerjee, tired of being the last one to speak during inter-state council meetings, has decided to correct the logical fallacy that has led us all to call a state in the east of the country ‘West Bengal’. Rajyasree Sen writes here on why this makes complete sense.

In other, less amusing news, the parliament recently passed the Child Labour Prohibition and Regulation Amendment Act. Vijaylaxmi Balakrishnan examines the connections this has with other recent political developments and why this leaves children above 14 (who can now be legally employed in family businesses) vulnerable by stripping them of the Right to Education. Another example of state-sanctioned apathy faced by marginalized children comes from Assam. The chairperson of the Assam State Commission for Protection of Child Rights is reportedly being pressurized to change her report on the status of 31 tribal girls taken by RSS affiliated organizations to Gujarat and Punjab.

Mahasweta Devi, the Bengali activist and writer, passed away at the age of 90. Urvashi Butalia remembers what discovering her works meant during the early years of the women’s movement in India here.

In Assam, the state with the highest maternal mortality ratio in the country, communities are coming together to prevent maternal health violations. Here is an article by Sarita Santoshini where she writes, ‘The High Court of Delhi expanded right-to-life provisions to include the right to safe motherhood and recognised maternal death as a human rights violation. This landmark decision was the first of its kind globally. However, India spends only 1.4% of its GDP on public health, and the policies under its National Health Mission (NHM), which entitles pregnant women living below the poverty line to several free benefits, are poorly implemented.’

Late in July Irom Sharmila announced that she will end her fast today (9th August). Ita Mehrotra gives us a glimpse of the activist’s sixteen year long struggle here. Mehrotra has also written about how her meeting with Irom Sharmila not only changed her ideas of nationhood but also impacted her daily work as an activist in her contribution The Poet,  Sharmila for Drawing The Line (Zubaan Books, 2015).

Mahmood Farooqui has been sentenced to seven years of imprisonment for sexually assaulting an American research scholar at his home in Delhi. Last week, journalist Rama Lakshmi, acquainted with Farooqui and a friend of the victim, penned a Facebook post (later published on the DailyO, here), powerfully describing the victim’s struggle. She also censured the hypocrisies of the circle of ‘progressive’ friends who tried to convince the victim to withdraw the complaint. This has now become the first case after the 2013 amendment, which recognised forced oral sex as rape, to result in a conviction for this crime.

Over at The Wire, Prem Shankar Jha writes about Arvind Kejriwal’s continuing tussle with the Modi government, as the latter seeks to ‘incapacitate the AAP government in Delhi ever since its humiliating defeat in Delhi in December 2014.’ Jha comments on the BJP government’s increasingly ‘scant respect for the law and the Constitution’, making a case for taking Kejriwal’s warnings seriously.

Two Indians are on the list of the six winners of the 2016 Magsaysay Award. Bezwada Wilson who has been fighting for the abolition of the practice of manual scavenging (here's an extensive interview with the activist) and Carnatic musician TM Krishna a non-conformist who seeks to democratize Carnatic music.

In the world:

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump officially accepted their Presidential nominations at the DNC and the RNC respectively. Notable speeches include two speeches by Michelle Obama. First, her moving speech at the DNC about the greatness of America, where she, a black woman, wakes up in a house built by slaves. The second, her speech from the 2008 election which was plagiarized this year by Melania Trump. Read here Ms Magazine’s take on why the glass-ceiling-shattering by Hillary Clinton is not enough for women in politics.

(On a side note: If you’ve been feeling out of touch with your sense of wonder for the world, check out Bill Clinton discovering balloons.)

While the interminable list of gross things said by Donald Trump now includes this gem on workplace sexual harassment, here’s Barack Obama reminding everyone of his feminist dad status. Here’s a response to this brand of feminism which focuses on familial relationships as the reason for men to be feminists.

Peter Pomerantsev explores here the reasons we ended up in a ‘post-fact’ world where the truth no longer matters. In a world with a digital cascade of information everyone can feel justified to cherry-pick ‘their own truth’— no facts, only interpretations. Perhaps this is how Donald Trump wins the presidential candidacy (even though 78% of the things he says are untrue) and Britain leaves the EU (because of a factually incorrect campaign run on the side of a bus later dismissed as a ‘mistake’).

Iran has put job tests on hold while investigations are carried out on the gender discriminatory vacancies for government jobs.

Nayyeema Ismat writes a genuine account of her frustrating experience of being queer in Pakistan. With the lack of a uniquely local LGBTQ narrative she finds herself shuttling between defending her Sunni Muslim spaces from the orientalising gaze of western feminists, and then using their language to explain female empowerment to her family.


In Culture:

Agents of Ishq conducted the Great Indian Penis Survey in an attempt to start a conversation about men and their very personal relationship with their penises. Here are the results of this first-of-its-kind, extremely non-heteronormative survey, presented in a very witty report.

Finally, if you have plans for a movie we would recommend that you skip Suicide Squad. Here’s a compilation of reviews for the movie. Apparently, ‘the film’s biggest laugh comes at the expense of Batman punching Harley Quinn’s face.’ You can definitely watch Ghostbusters though. As this review says, ‘There’s a thrill in seeing an action-movie team made up not only of women, but of women who fall blissfully outside the narrow definition of the Hollywood hottie.’

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