Loading the content... Loading depends on your connection speed!

Shopping Cart - Rs. 0

Author Archives: Sarah

On Topic: The March Review

Having just crossed the threshold into April, let’s look back at what March had to offer this year.

 

Since the month marks international women’s day on the 8th of March, why not start this blog with some stories on the social achievements for women’s lives that we have seen of late – and yes, there are a few worth mentioning.

On March 9th, the Lok Sabha passed the Maternity Benefits Bill. An amendment of the 1961 Maternity Benefit Act, this has now extended the period of paid maternity leave for mothers after the birth of their first two children from 12 to 26 weeks. On top of that, work environments with more than fifty employees, must now provide work-site crèche facilities for working mothers. Of course, as articles by The Ladies Finger and Hindustan Times rightfully point out, shortcomings are found to remain among this amended bill. Thus, while the ILO-recommended maternity leave time suggests a minimum of 14 weeks, the Maternity Benefits Bill sticks to its previous 12-week maternity leave for mothers after the birth of their third child. And while maternity leave for commissioning mothers is addressed by the bill, mother surrogates remain excluded. Most significant of all, perhaps, is the structural premise of the bill, whose parameters exclude women from the unorganized work sector. This means that the majority of working mothers currently will not benefit from this bill at all. Nonetheless, its gender-neutral language to include fathers for some of the principles laid out does indicate a tentatively changing perception for the significance of creating structural support for parents in the first few months after their children’s births.

Further on the note of births and motherhood, Telenaga’s new budget, announced on March 13th, now includes money-provision schemes for new mothers of Rs. 12,000 for the birth of a baby boy and Rs. 13,000 for the birth of a baby girl, provided that mothers give birth in government hospitals. In addition, so-called ‘KCR Kits’ have now been implemented, named after Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrashekar Rao. Drawing inspiration from other such incentives across Europe and India, including Tamil Nadu’s ‘Amma Kit’, the KCR Kit will provide sixteen vital items to new mothers and their new-born babies, including a cradle, diapers, mosquito nets and hygiene products for mother and child. Both can be seen as a structural incentive to increase birth-rates in institutional settings, in an attempt to further reduce the maternal mortality ratio (MMR) and infant mortality ratio (IMR).

Finally! The tax on sanitary pads has been removed in Delhi – at least for those sanitary napkins that cost below Rs. 20. All those priced higher will see a tax cut from 12.5 to 5 per cent. So although there has been an ongoing and important debate in India surrounding the hygienic and environmental consequences of using sanitary pads, this at least, demonstrates that women’s health and sanitation is regarded a necessity rather than a luxury in Delhi.

Some might argue that this can be seen also in the recent ‘toilet for all’ order, called for by the South Delhi Municipal Council (SDMC). Implemented on April 1st of this year, the policy has called upon all restaurants and hotels in South Delhi to open their washrooms to the public, in the hope that this will facilitate circumstances particularly for women. That the latter are indeed among the most vulnerable when it comes to lack of toiletry access is hardly surprising and was recently demonstrated by the Rohini rape case in Delhi. Two children girls were raped, while urinating in an open space, given that the washrooms in their area – even after continuous complaints by the community – were out of order.

However, the question remains whether this target group is indeed best served by the new sanitary policy; even beyond its obvious geographically isolated response. Thus, while the policy was met with much positive feedback from the South Delhi community, social exclusion does not surpass its implementation. In theory, of course, the toiletry facilities are open ‘for all’, where a maximum charge of Rs. 5 has been imposed in the assumption that people from all economic backgrounds can afford to make use of them. In reality, however, it is feared that many will be denied entry due to hotel and restaurant dress code policies and social-class shaming. This is not unwarranted, given that many restaurant owners are unhappy about these changes, citing increased security problems and chaos as a main reason for their stance against the policy. We are yet to see, therefore, how effective the ‘toilet for all’ order will play out in practice.

Gender and toiletry policies appear to be a popular topic among politicians at the start of this year. Embedded in these, we find Donald Trump’s attempted move in late February, to exclude transgender students from schools’ locker-rooms and bathrooms on the basis of their gender identification. Although this was met with vehement rejection by several courts, on the premise of being unconstitutional, this policy marked only the beginning in a series of discriminatory stances  towards LGBTQ people and their rights in the current US administration this month. One was the US Department of Health and Human Services’ elimination of questions about LGBT people on two recent health surveys. Another was Trump’s revocation of the Fair Pay and Safe Workplace Order, introduced by the Obama administration, and concerned with a series of anti-discrimination policies in workplaces. Now this has been trumped by the administration’s announcement that the 2020 Census would no longer include options of sexual orientation, thus numerically excluding transgender Americans from public spaces and policy evaluations. At least hope sweeps over from Pakistan, where the country is currently preparing for its 6th census, the first to take count of transgender people, albeit as a separate category.

Less hope comes from the current discussion and implementation of so-called ‘anti-Romeo squads’ in Uttar Pradesh. A central part of the BJP’s campaign in the lead-up to recent state elections, Yogi Adiyanath’s stepping into CM office, was soon followed by his dedication to actualize his campaign promises. Particularly prominent in Ghaziabad, these police-formed ‘anti-Romeo squads’ have taken to rounding up young men, particularly outside school and college campuses, under the guise of protecting women from unwanted harassment. In actuality, it is argued, the targeted youngsters are ordinarily partners of these very women, and ‘anti-Romeo squads’, as their name suggests, are more concerned with the moral policing of public spaces, than the protection of women. At a time, when young women living in PG’s are required to stay indoors during the festival of Holi, and are continuously faced with curfews, often exposing them to more rather than less dangers, one cannot help but sigh in frustration at the age-old narrative that women’s ‘beautiful souls’ must be protected at any cost, even, or rather especially, when this serves to infantilize them.

Indeed, this appears particularly curious, given the opposing narrative currently found in legislative politics, where women, sometimes feminazis are dedicated the role of schemers who are seeking revenge from men and former partners, by falsely accusing them of rape. At least this seems to be the metanarrative which underpins the ‘Challenge to Unconstitutional Provisions of Anti-Rape Law’, recently issued as a petition to the Delhi High Court by women’s activist Madhu Kishwar. It’s purpose: to challenge the rape law amendments of 2013, including the persecution of non-penal-vaginal offences and victim testimony as sufficient evidence under the premise that this lends itself to mis- and abuses. Co-signed by a man and a woman currently convicted under these very rape law amendments and argued for by Kapil Sibal – defence lawyer in the Mahmood Farooqi rape case, currently waiting for its appeal – it is difficult not to see the petition as political back-door scheming. One can only hope that the Delhi High Court recognizes this and leaves the case to rest – an outspoken stance against it might be too much to ask…?!

 

Indian-Pakistani, and other, conflicts

March has been marked by an increasing sense of instability with regards to Indian-Pakistani conflicts in several spheres. One of the most obvious spaces where this is played out remains, of course, Kashmir. Following on from previous months, March too has seen a number of deaths among civilians, where notably those among children and minors, continue to cause most protesting response. Two such cases, supposedly caused by stray bullets though this remains contested, have made the headlines this month: that of fifteen-year-old Amir Nazir, killed during a protest in southern Padgampora; and six- or seven-year-old Kaneeza, who was shot in her home in northern Kupwara.

Analysts argue that such incidents continue to be linked to what they regard to have been the ‘tipping point’ in the contemporary conflict between militant rebels and civilian protestors, and army officers in Indian-administered Kashmir: the killing of Burhan Wani, former leader of the Hizbul Mujahideen, in July 2016. Indeed a recent video  released by Wani’s successor, Zakir Rashid Bhat, which calls upon Kashmiri youth to fight for Islam can be seen as a rollover from Wani’s previous recruitment policies. Thus, known for his skilled use of social media, Wani – sometimes referred to as the ‘poster-boy’ of militancy in Kashmir – gained reputation for his ability to recruit youngsters. That this will only fuel fire in ongoing tensions between militants and the Indian army officials can be seen in the latest killing of two militants  and the arrest of twelve youths for their alleged involvement in stone-throwing protests, both occurring in Pulwama district last week.

Another sphere in which Indian-Pakistani relations have been tense, has been with regards to the Indus Waters Treaty of 1960. Following a series of terrorist attacks on India in the summer of 2016, in which the latter accused Pakistan of providing support to ‘infiltrators’, PM Modi had declared that ‘blood and water cannot flow together’ and suspended Permanent Indus Commission (PIC) talks, mandatorily held once in a fiscal, as laid out by the treaty. Together with India’s disputed building of hydroelectric power plants among Pakistani administered Western rivers, including the Kishanganga and Ratle hydroelectric plants, which Pakistan claims violate provisions of the treaty, water relations among the neighbouring states began to deteriorate. The PIC meeting last week, the first since 2015, can therefore be seen as a vital step in reopening dialogue on these issues and a symbolic attempt to smoothen grievances. Nonetheless, India’s pre-emptive declaration that there would be “no compromise” with regards to its full exploitation of treaty terms, and Pakistan’s continuous insistence that India’s planned projects deprive Pakistan of its due water rights under the treaty, may prove to make this difficult in practice. Given that it was World Water day on March 22nd, one can only hope that the two parties of the world’s most successful water treaty translate symbolic gestures into practice swiftly, as ‘water insecurity’ remains to be a dire reality for the daily lives of about 800 million people across the globe, including many of their respective citizens.

However, it should not go unacknowledged that there have been a number of voices, who have called for peaceful resolutions. Not only was it Pakistan, who initiated the current PIC talks earlier this month; Maulana Syed Athar Hussain Dehlavi, chairman of the Islamic body Anjumana Minhaj-e-Rasool, has also urged the Centre in Pakistan to reiterate the latter’s recognition that Jammu and Kashmir are integral parts of India, by passing a resolution and thereby reaffirming the government’s 1994 declaration. So far this has seen little reaction from the latter. However, on a cultural-legislative note, the Hindu Marriage Bill passed in Pakistan on March 11th can be seen as a tentative step towards a reconciliatory gesture.

Meanwhile, such incentives have, unfortunately, not seen much reciprocated attempts by India. Indeed, the recent appointment of Yogi Adityanath as Uttar Pradesh’s chief minister, for example, is feared to ignite Muslim-Hindu political and cultural conflict within the region. A Hindutva hardliner, Adityanath had previously declared that he was in favour of Trump’s highly controversial Musilm immigration ban, a stance he believes India should also take in its fight against terrorism. In the context of such exclusionary narratives, it is perhaps rather unsurprising that March 27th, for example, was marked by the killing of a suspected Pakistani ‘intruder’ who was shot dead by the BSF after crossing the Indian-Pakistani border at Punjab’s Gurdaspur. The identity of the deceased remains unknown, as eventual finding of his body revealed that the 21-year-old male, dressed in a pathani suit, carried no belongings, including an ID card or weapons. While it is not useful to conflate this incident with Adityanath’s earlier remarks or, of course, Trump’s policies in the US, it does illustrate that Indian, like other contemporary politics, appears to find itself amidst a sentiment of national(ist) nervousness, both embedded in, and fostering of, a perceived threat of ‘otherness’.

 

This was clearly illustrated also in Greater Noida last week. Following the incident of a missing 17-year-old boy, who was later found in a drug haze near his house, and who died due to a drug overdose on Monday, racial violence broke out in Greater Noida and continued well into the week. Accused of cannibalism and drug trafficking, Nigerian inhabitants in Greater Noida, most of them students at Sharad University, were attacked last Sunday and Monday night, as large mobs – as many as 1200 other Noida residents on Monday night – blamed them for the death of young Manish. Currently, six FIRs have been filed against suspected persecuters. However, the communal sphere remains tense, as Nigerian students are cautioned not to leave their house, unless escorted by police and the Office of the Dean of the African Group Head of Missions continues to stress that not enough was done by the New Delhi municipality and police to prevent and deter these xenophobic and racial attacks. In particular, the lack of response by PM Modi and UP’s CM Adityanath have caused much disappointment. That the current situation is merely the tip of the iceberg in terms of racialized and nationalist profiling and prejudice in the area, was also demonstrated by mass protests that broke out in Noida last Tuesday, following the tearing and binning of the Indian flag by a Chinese national, employed by the Oppo mobile phone company. Police registered a case against a Chinese employee, Kevin Suhahu, under Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act, 1971, while the company reacted by firing one of its employees, though name and nationality have not been made public.

 

March at Zubaan

March has also been a busy month at Zubaan, much of which was dedicated to internship applications and interviews, and we are excited to welcome eight new interns to the team throughout the year, starting this week! Further, Zubaan’s current e-pub project, which is to release individual essays from some of Zubaan’s published books online, is now well under way. Thank you to all those taking the time to answer our survey! Your responses have now been analysed and the first online releases are set to appear during the summer later this year. Big thanks also go to the anonymous donator in support of our translations project! Last but certainly not least, March at Zubaan was filled with a series of new releases. And here they are: For academics, we have New Intimacies, Old Desires: Law, Culture and Queer Politics in Neoliberal Times (eds. Oishik Sircar and Dipika Jain), as well as A Passionate Life: Writings By and On Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay (eds. Ellen Carol Dubois and Vinay Lal), coming fresh off the printing press. For non-fiction, the new edition of From Cork to Calcutta: My Mother’s Story (by Milty Bose) and Watercolours: A Story from Auschwitz (by Lidia Ostałowska), were both released at the beginning of the month. Enjoy!

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)

Mobile version: Enabled