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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)

On Topic: War and Pieces

It’s nearly time to bring out your boots as October marks the beginning of autumn, with a slight chance of war on the horizon. Delhi is in high alert as a result of alleged surgical strikes on terrorist camps conducted by the Indian army across the Line of Control, while Pakistan’s government and media continue to deny that these surgical strikes even occurred.

Surprisingly, Indian political parties and media outlets have been united on the issue, nearly unanimously taking pro military-action stances – so much so that it appears that the country is in favour of an impending war against Pakistan. Some voices of reason, thankfully, still exist: prominent South Asian women journalists as well as people from both nations have spoken out against an outright war.

The threat of war has taken up so much screen time that it’s easy to forget that something is still rotten in the state of Kashmir. Parts of Kashmir are still under curfew, and the Kashmir Reader was forced to stop publication for disturbing the 'public tranquility'Kashmiri journalists are protesting this #mediagag.

The unlawful arrest and the subsequent detention of the human rights defender Khurram Parvez of Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Societies (JKCCS) has raised many concerns on the human rights narrative in Kashmir.

 

Meanwhile at Central University in Haryana, two teachers – Snehsata and Manoj Kumar – put together a play on ‘Draupadi’, the iconic short story by Bengali writer and activist Mahasweta Devi, which portrayed the injustices faced by Adivasi women. The two teachers are now facing backlash from the ABVP, who protested the performance, claiming that the play insulted the Indian Army.

In the national capital, the Delhi police are branching out and attempting to set up a proper cyber crime unit to help solve cases faster. Earlier this year, over 150 personnel from police stations across the city received a week long training on cybercrime and currently the cyber cell team of Delhi Police has 40 personnels.

The #PinjraTod (‘Break The Cage’) movement escalates in Delhi as LSR women recently face repeated instances of sexual harassment outside college gates and paying guest accommodations. In response to complaints made by the students at hostels and paying guest accommodations, PG owners and landlords have, rather than increasing security, resorted to imposing restrictions on women.

This is no recent phenomenon but merely the continuation of a long-standing tradition of victim blaming. In fact the call of ‘Pinjra Tod’ began in 2015 by a student’s collective (under the same name). Pinjra Tod have organised several marches for safety of women and the right to public space, demanded accountability from concerned universities, as well as safe, affordable and non gender discriminatory accommodation for women. The campaign has received support and sympathy from those across the border despite the turbulent times of the current political scenario.

Meanwhile, issues of gender inequality concerning college campuses persist across the country and the world. College-going girls in Tamil Nadu face regressive college rules that pose a threat to their mental health and career, while many universities in the US still fail to acknowledge the seriousness of the issue of campus safety and gender based violence. Emma Watson, the UN Women Ambassador, addressed the issue in her speech at the UN.

Nearly 6 million women all over Poland gathered to protest the Polish government’s plans to ban abortion and succeeded, a huge relief for women everywhere because you should never have to apologise for getting an abortion.

On the other side of the planet, Japanese politicians are heading in the right direction with the Kyushu Yamaguchi Work Life Promotion Campaign, where male governors wear ‘pregnancy’ vests to simulate the experience of a woman in the seventh month of her pregnancy. The campaign hopes to encourage Japanese men to help out at home (Japanese women do five times the housework that their husbands do) and engage men in the equal pay conversation.

 

During the PBST festival, Uma Tanuku and Anupama Chandra released their documentary The Books We Made, which attempts to trace the legacy of Urvashi Butalia and Ritu Menon’s work in feminist publishing. You can watch the trailer here.

This month’s On Topic would not be complete without mentioning the much talked about film Pink. Despite its relatively optimistic ending and Amitabh Bachchan’s male saviour complex (which is hard to ignore), Pink does an excellent job of portraying the modern working woman and nails the message that ‘No means No’. However, as a review on The Wire has mentioned, the film does not explore all the nuances of consent and the fact that while “men have to learn to take No”, “women also have to learn to say No.”

Parched arrived in Indian theatres a week after Pink, and has a similar focus on women. Yet unlike Pink, which was a courtroom drama, Parched is a female buddy film (that is reminiscent of Pan Nalin’s Angry Indian Goddesses) and received mixed reviews.

In spite of the progress made on the big screen, behind the scenes the film and television industry holds some ugly truths. Sonam Kapoor, in a rather candid essay, opens up about her experiences with body shaming and unrealistic beauty standards in the Bollywood industry.

Meanwhile, Tannishtha Chatterjee, the star of Parched, spoke out against her experience of bullying based on her dark skin on prime time television. The repeated jokes at the cost of her skin is very telling of the pervasive reality of class and caste discrimination and marginalisation. Not only are they ridiculed for their status, they are routinely ignored. Read this interesting piece of on the erasure of Dalit wisdom and this piece on what it means to be a Dalit woman.

 

In the world of books, the much coveted identity of the Italian author Elena Ferrante (pen name) has been outed by Claudio Gatti on New York Review of Books’ website. The disclosure of her identity has been cause for much discussion, her anonymity some argue is part and parcel of her artistic endeavours, and fans of the author fear she may never write again. As Dayna Tortorici writes in n+1: "It’s difficult to read a man’s attempt to “out” a writer who has said she would stop writing if she were ever identified as anything but an attempt to make her stop writing."

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.’

ON TOPIC: Kashmir Protests, Castile and Sterling, Legislation, Trans Rights and Sex Work

A lot has happened and a lot has been written since we wrote last. Here is what we have been reading:

Burhan Muzaffar Wani, the Hizbul Mujahideen commander, was killed in an encounter on July 8. As thousands of mourners began to gather for his funeral in South Kashmir, the Indian State opened fire on the protestors, leading to the death of 18 people so far, apart from hundreds who have been injured. In addition, hospitals were raided, minors, disabled and terminally ill people were harassed, and ambulances were attacked. As severe militarization and human rights violations intensify in Kashmir, Ipsita Chakravarty and Rayan Naqsh discuss what oppression, death, mourning and memorializing the dead means in the Valley, after more than two decades of state-sanctioned impunity to the Indian Army.

It might also be appropriate to remember how insidiously the oppression has entered homes and villages in Kashmir. Sindhuja Parthasarathy’s photo essay on widows and ‘half-widows’ of Dardpora village in Kashmir looks at how unexplained ‘disappearances’ have result in social and economic isolation of different generations of women in the Kashmir Valley.

The murders of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, two black men, by the American police within a gap of two days, have sparked powerful and emotionally charged outrage across the country. Doreen St. Félix in this article talks about the two kinds of summers experienced in America: one of picnics, walks and spontaneous trips, and the other of such killings which become public spectacles. Roxane Gay talks about the murder of Alton Sterling and what it says about the universality of the American justice system.

[Back home, Mahesh Shantaram documents testimonies of palpable fear of racism faced by people from Africa in the urban village of Soladevanahalli, Bangalore, in this photo essay.]

Women and the Law

Nausheen Yousuf discusses the current, multi-sided campaign to ban the triple talaq system, drawing on her experience of litigating on behalf of Muslim women. She attempts to unravel the myths and misconceptions around the triple talaq system and how women negotiate the complex web of institutions and government/religious bodies. You can read the full article here.

Germany passed a historic law redefining both rape and consent. Both physical and verbal cues from the victim will now affect the decision making process. The law is being seen as a consequence of widespread outrage after several women alleged sexual assault on New Year’s Eve in Cologne. Read the BBC report here.

Back home, early in July, a young 21-year-old woman from Salem district committed suicide after finding her face digitally superimposed on the semi-nude body of another woman. In a similar case last October, a 15-year-old girl from Bengaluru committed suicide. Ashwaq Masoodi in this article discusses how cyber stalking and bullying figures within the Indian Penal Code and the Information Technology Act, 2000.

A draft Anti-Trafficking Bill was introduced in the Parliament by Ministry of Women and Child Development and has evoked criticism from several quarters. Geetika Mantri in this article argues that the Bill is incomplete and ambiguous and how it fails to address several issues that it claims for itself.

In this article, Mona Mishra discusses the Bill vis-à-vis the debate between the anti-trafficking campaigners and campaigners fighting for the rights of sex works. Mishra talks about how ‘work’ is conceptualized both socially as well as legally and how sex work often lies outside it, thereby denying basic human rights to its practitioners.

In a similar context, Smarika Kumar discusses the underlying moral judgement and ‘fear of recreational sex’ in legal and social opinions on sex work. She talks about this in the context of the Ministry of Home Affairs seeking to ban 240 websites offering female escort services:

“All this in effect implies that sexual material in human expression, which can only be surmised in 19th century Victorian vocabulary such as  “lascivious” and “prurient” tends to deprave and corrupt persons and when published or transmitted in “electronic form” must be punished quite severely. But why in electronic form, and why on the Internet? Or, what is different about sexual expression on the internet that it is sought to be so specifically curbed by Section 67?”

To move beyond legislations, an insightful article by Ei Cherry Aung discusses the need to do more to protect the rights of women who migrate from rural Myanmar to the urban centres in order to work as housemaids. Read it here.

Trans Lives and Rights

Arvind Narrain analyzes the implications of India’s abstinence from voting to establish the first Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) in the UN Human Rights Council. In this interview, Narrain talks about how in a larger sense, Indian Government’s abstinences reflects its larger apathy towards the LGBT community.

The Wire published a powerful conversation with activist Raina Roy where she talks about her personal and political journey as a trans-woman and her arrival at Samabhabana, a group committed to work for intersectional positions within gender, caste, class, disability and age. You can read the full account here.

Here is an interview with Qamar Naseem, a member of the advisory council of Trans Action Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. He talks about trans rights, sexual violence and torture against transgender people in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Federally Administered Tribal Areas, and whether their situation as changed after the government issued them National Identification Cards in 2012. Violence against trans people has been on the rise in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, in spite of criticism from several groups, including a fatwa by Ittehad-e-Ummat Pakistan.

Meanwhile, in India, Debaditya Bhattacharya discusses the Central Government’s recent attempt to delimit the meaning of the term ‘third gender’ as given by a Supreme Court Bench on April 15, 2014 as an attack on individual freedom to decide one’s sexual identity:

“Given the degree of emphasis in the judgment on processes of self-assignation of gender, the Centre’s call to empirically ‘delimit’ the exact number of beneficiaries of a third gender legislation is no less than an attack on civil rights. The same freedom that the NALSA judgment attests as an individual right is what the state appropriates for itself by reserving the authority to determine who to recognise as third gender and who not to. Going by the text and spirit of the Radhakrishnan judgment, this is an assault on the fundamental right to freedom of expression as including self-identifications of gender. Such illegal usurpation of an individual civil right by the government underscores an attempt to reduce a progressive ruling to a debate about definitions.”

Here is a powerful account of growing up with a variety of gender based labels and the continuous sense of alienation that they produce.

Ruth Padawer discusses how gender boundaries for women continue to be policed in the world of Sports in order to arrive at the ‘right’ type of female body.

Women, Media and Politics

Arundhati Roy’s interview for Elle Magazine has stirred up some interesting responses, to say the least. In the interview, she discusses her literary art, life and political opinions, making some rather problematic statements in the process. Apart from several other problems that surface in what she says, Mishka Wazar discusses what it means to call yourself a ‘black woman’ and claim that experience for yourself (which Arundhati Roy does at the outset of the interview). You can read the response here.

This fascinating article narrates the history of the Hindi soap, from 1980s Doordarshan to the present, looking at how intersections and alliances of caste, religion and neo-liberalism affect the representation of women on Hindi Television.

Here is an entertaining as well as frustrating account of a woman’s experience at working in a feminist magazine.

J Devika reminisces about Kamala Das and her legacy of women’s political participation, poetry and an ‘affective community’, a few days after her birth anniversary. You can read the full article here.

Caste, Protest and Appropriation

P.S. Jaya painted herself black everyday for 150 days and roamed Kochi’s streets to protest the institutional murder of Rohith Vemula. The idea was to make the community face its own prejudices. The responses, however, have ranged from support to outright rejection.

Here is a response by Archana Bidargaddi and Prabhu Venkat to this instance of ‘artivism’, as Jaya calls it, arguing that the protest is not only an attempt to appropriate the everyday experience of a Dalit woman, but also rests on outdated theories of castes and races.

On Topic: Imagery of lynching, sexist liberals, free speech, Orlando shooting

The long summer is upon us, and as we wait for respite from the blistering heat, here is what we have been reading in June.

From home:

According to current Indian medical textbooks, one of the methods employed to determine the rape of a woman is the two-finger test. The two-finger test is deeply patriarchal, invasive and insensitive to rape victims since it is often used to determine a woman’s sexual history in order to decide if her claims are true or otherwise. However, the good news is that a new edition has scrapped the use of this test as reported here.

Nirantar has put together an anthology of writing by Muslim women titled Kalam-e-Niswan. The anthology comprises of wide range of selections from Urdu magazines, and can be accessed here.

Nagaraj Manjule, the director of the critically acclaimed Sairat, has been accused of abuse by his ex wife. Deepika Sarma wonders why we overlook the sexism of liberals in her insightful piece in The Ladies Finger. In a similar vein, Advaita Kala’s article looks at a recent attempt to exonerate Tarun Tejpal, and argues that we must call out the underlying patriarchy of those who claim to represent the liberal cause.

Vqueeram Aditya Sahai writes about his experiences with crossdressing here.

Along with the freedom of speech, there is an urgent need to uphold artistic and creative freedoms, argues Gautam Bhatia in his commentary on the recent attempt to censor and stall the release of Udta Punjab. Bhatia argues that the Censor Board and the Cinematograph Act cannot be the arbiter of what people should be allowed to watch or take pleasure in.

As a follow up to our previous post, which looked at different responses to the JLF sponsored by Vedanta, Omair Ahmad in this article wonders, given the time in which we live, about how safe or radical literary/cultural fests are, and the ethical dilemma faced by writers who participate in such spaces endorsed by corporates and big business houses.

This report gives an account of at the recent protests against outside Manipur Bhawan in the capital.

In the end of May, Rana Ayyub released her self-published book, The Gujarat Files: Anatomy of a Cover Up. The book is a product of eight months of undercover research, and has been read as an unfinished work. You can read an excerpt here.

There is a narrative behind that piece of fish you are eating— a narrative that involves industrialized deep-sea fishing, the precarious livelihoods of fisherfolk, and dietary fads that celebrate seafood. In this account a former captain of a conservation vessel explains why he made a difficult but ethical choice of giving up seafood.

The soon to be pulled down Lohapul or the Old Iron Bridge over the Yamuna river is a site of neglect and decay. Yet, Sreedeep’s lens provides us glimpses of those who inhabit and eke a living in this rusting, dilapidated space in this photo essay.

Long reads:

In this fascinating essay, Megha Anwar excavates the genealogy of lynching by analyzing a series of photographs of lynched subjects. Her compelling argument is that there can be no lynching without spectators, and that these photographs were taken as trophies, souvenirs, or self-congratulatory markers of evidence. She provides a way of seeing images of violence and argues that repetitive, violent imagery does not result in desensitizing the reader. In stead the affective states aroused by such imagery is contingent upon the social context and the politics of the viewer

The camera at lynching sites was not therefore a neutral apparatus objectively recording what transpired. It was an actor in the catastrophe, one that normalised and prolonged the agony of the victim: the mob would often stop their torture in order to have their pictures taken with the battered, torn and quartered bodies of their prey writhing in the background.

Anwar finds a pattern in the lynching photograph— the fact that subjects are lynched in twos. In her essay she goes onto delineate the reason for this pairing, and twinning and the kind of impact it has on the viewer:

Lynching in twos, then, does not just terminate lives but marks the banishment of dangerous liaisons. To be murdered as a twosome is to be punished not simply for a tangible crime, but for forging a bond that ties us unacceptably to another. It converts the very holding of an outlawed affinity – between soldiers, or among racially/communally demarcated men and women, or even a parent and a child – into a punishable offence.

In this interview Lawrence Liang, legal researcher at the Alternative Law Forum reflects on sedition and hate speech laws in India and the United States. He argues that provocative speech of any sort cannot be classified as seditious unless it can be proved that such speech has resulted in violence and material damage.

To my mind one of the credibility tests for determining whether the threat of violence is imminent would be to understand the context of the speech, the status of the speaker and the addressee of the speech. If for example a prominent political leader made a formal speech to his armed cadre threatening to harm another community, one could reasonably assume that the nexus between the speech and the possibility imminent lawless action is very high. But if you were to compare this formal speech with say the Facebook status posted by a 21-year-old girl in Maharashtra after Bal Thackeray’s death, which observed that the state had shut down out of fear and not out of respect, one could also reasonably conclude that there is no real nexus that could be established between the speech and any possibility of violence.

And away:

Recently, Brock Turner a former star swimmer at Stanford University was sentenced to six months imprisonment and probation for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman in January 2015. While this light sentence has been criticized, Turner’s father has chillingly dismissed his son’s deed as ‘20 minutes of action’ as outlined in this report. Opposition to the judge who handed down the lenient sentence grows daily as indicated here. The victim has written an account of what she was subjected to and its aftermath in her impact statement, which can be accessed here.

The shooting at Pulse, a gay club in Orlando has raised questions not only about the easy accessibility of guns in the United States but also the underlying homophobia that resulted in the massacre. This editorial in The Guardian calls it a hate crime driven by a deep-seated abhorrence for sexual diversity. Omar Mateen who carried out the shooting has avowed allegiance to ISIS and has been seen as self-radicalised. Praveen Swami perceptively analyzes the psychology of lone wolf attackers in this article. However, it is also necessary to look at Indian responses to the massacre, and most of them have condemned the loss of lives, rather than acknowledging the queer identities of those who perished. In his critique, Rohan Venkataramakrishnan notes that while such gestures of solidarity are necessary they do not transform the lives of queer subjects in the country. He argues that a concerted effort towards striking down section 377 of the Indian Penal code would be an empowering response to the Orlando shooting.

On Topic: literary fests, India's racism, Pinjra Tod and public apologies

News from home:

The controversy surrounding Vedanta’s sponsorship of the London edition of the Jaipur Literary Festival continues; the primary issue being the funding of a literary space (considered by many to be a free space) by a mining conglomerate with a chequered human rights record. Here is an open letter signed by writers, academics and others addressed to the speakers - to reconsider their participation and even consider a boycott. Several writers have expressed their reasons for participating in the event, despite knowledge of the sponsor, as have other public intellectuals who have emphasized the necessity to make visible the transgressions of Vedanta through a boycott, and to interrogate the public legitimacy the company has gained by sponsoring, endowing literary and cultural festivals.

Recently Masonda Ketada Olivier, a French tutor from Congo, was beaten to death in the capital, in what was obviously a racist attack. In a similar instance of violence in February, a Tanzanian girl was beaten, stripped and paraded naked by a mob in Bangalore. African envoys condemned these acts of racism and xenophobia by boycotting their participation in the government-organized Africa Day celebrations, as documented in this report. But they have taken back their objections after the Indian government was forced to do some damage control. Also, from the archives Joshua Muyiwa, a Nigerian-Indian journalist writes on experiencing racism in Bangalore.

Here is V Geetha’s response to Jayalalithaa’s victory in the recent assembly elections in Tamil Nadu:

Jayalalithaa’s victory is not as conclusive as it might appear. She has perfected a style of populism that is fundamentally cynical — and relies on what might win favour both in a political and “moral” sense. The cynicism is apparent in the much praised PDS handouts. The quality of the rice that is given free is invariably poor, there is a dearth of goods, especially cooking fuel, pulses, and it is never quite clear whether these are unavailable or have been diverted into the shadow economy. It is also evident in the freebies, which are procured at unbelievably low prices and are sold and resold by the recipients — the charmed circle of the party faithful affords an efficient patron-client setup that manages these transactions.

The Supreme Court has upheld the constitutional validity of criminal defamation in a recent ruling. Gautam Bhatia in his incisive response writes about why this sets a dangerous legal precedent for freedom of speech. Here is an excerpt:

In general, criminal defamation is disproportionate because it uses the criminal law to prosecute a wrong that is purely private in nature. A private wrong is one that is purely between the offender and her victim, and has no implications for the society at large. For example, if I fail to control my dog, and it bites you, then you may sue me for compensation in a civil court. Society, the state, and the criminal law have nothing to do with it. However, if I murder a person, then it is not just about one individual taking the life of another, but has ramifications for public peace, order and security. This is why murder is a criminal offence, involves a term in jail, and is prosecuted by the state.

 This article provides a feminist reading of the ruling, and looks at how criminalizing defamation would adversely impact women who want to speak up about sexual violence and harassment.

As a follow-up to Jisha’s story, here is an insightful commentary by J Devika about how the welfarist policies in Kerala have failed its marginal citizens. She writes of how the social exclusion faced by marginal subjects— lower caste, Dalit women, and the urban poor—is not assuaged by education or employment.

Finally, there's good news for the activists and supporters of the Pinjra Tod, a student activist group that has been contesting discriminatory rules faced by women in hostel accommodations provided by Delhi colleges. The Delhi commission for Women (DCW) has sent a notice to 23 registered universities in Delhi asking them to explain restrictions on mobility of female students. Members of Pinjra Tod react to the notice in this interview  on The Ladies Finger.

Justin Trudeau offered a formal apology in the Canadian parliament for the Komagata Maru incident that took place in 1914. Komagata Maru, a Japanese steamship carrying mostly Sikh immigrants was turned away from Canadian shores in 1914, due to fears of an impending “Hindu invasion”. Pramod Nayar, in this excellent article , looks at similar instances in the past, and delves into the ethics of formal, public apology, which is often used as a means to assuage collective guilt.

Revelation and recognition, therefore, are clearly the first stages in the offering of a public apology, as David Boyd has proposed. What is revealed, however, is what is already part of the historical record. But it is the admission of wrong-doing or culpability that characterises this particular revelation within the framework of the public apology. The country recognises its culpability in the act/event. However, we also recognise that such an admission must be read only as an admission of regret and not as either justification or defence. The public apology cannot, then, ever be offered in the sense of justifications or defence: it is assumed that a nation apologises because its actions which may have been justified or defensible then, are not so now. This is an interesting conundrum because a nation’s actions, which might be necessary or justified at their historical moment in that nation’s political views, may have to be apologised for at some point in the future. The public apology is therefore a communicative act that stretches from past to the future.

 

Meanwhile, away from home:

A saddening report on the death of a Pakistani transgender activist, caused by delay in treatment after being shot multiple times.

Elena Ferrante, probably the most famous and critically acclaimed of contemporary writers speaks about the Neapolitan quartet in this email interview with Nicola Lagioia, featured in The New Yorker. The entire correspondence will be published in Ferrante’s forthcoming book. And Elena Ferrante’s real identity remains a secret, still. Here is an except:

One learned very early to have the greatest concentration amid the greatest disruption. The idea that every “I” is largely made up of others and by the others wasn’t theoretical; it was a reality. To be alive meant to collide continually with the existence of others and to be collided with, the results being at times good-natured, at others aggressive, then again good-natured. The dead were brought into quarrels; people weren’t content to attack and insult the living—they naturally abused aunts, cousins, grandparents, and great-grandparents who were no longer in the world.

The word 'Dalit' will remain in Californian school textbooks, as will the history of caste discrimination, as per a recent verdict. This report provides us with a trajectory of the debate, and also tells us about what is at stake in these troubling efforts to whitewash certain unpalatable truths about India’s history. Here's a piece on why the verdict is a victory.

Thomas Pogge, a philosophy professor at Yale stands accused of sexually harassing a former student. Read this Buzzfeed essay on the ongoing investigation into Pogge’s behaviour.

 

Here’s news that should cheer you up:

This is a gem of a conversation among three leading Indian women poets, Meena Alexander, Priya Sarukkai Chabria (who has been published by Zubaan) and Arundhathi Subramaniam.

Ranjani Pandit has a singular vocation— that of catching unfaithful partners. In this piece she writes about her experience as a private eye, and being called a ‘love detective’.

 

On Topic: student politics, workers' protests, cyberspace misogyny, Ambedkar's legacy

And we're back!

Here’s what we have been reading:

We must begin with what has been termed the ‘Indian spring’—the student protests that began with slapping sedition charges on a few students from the Jawaharlal Nehru University. This has been seen as an attack on the autonomy of the university, indicative of a general sense of intolerance toward dissent and a spirit of enquiry that is the foundation of all education institutions. Not only have the students of JNU viewed as freeloaders being educated at the expense of the taxpayer, but also they have been publicly delegitimized as ‘immoral’. Amidst the cacophony, Janaki Nair, in this essay offers a rational and lucid analysis of the role of the public university in the current time:

“The perceived illegitimacy of “politics on the campus” is aimed not against the various shades of the Left, which, till recently, stood dangerously isolated and endangered in the surge towards the dominance of market forces, but against at least two strands of politics which have, at least in a university like JNU, been uniquely and visibly allied. These are the Ambedkarite forces and the feminists. Not only has the public university, for the first time in post-Independence history, enabled the participation of the widest range of its citizens in higher education, it has given them the resources to think their social worlds anew, in an institutional space that permits and encourages new structures and relationships”

…the university is being pushed away from being a full-blooded and lively institution, which encourages critical thinking, if necessary, of the state, and dreaming of new worlds, to being a mechanism for training people to fit the world they know and receive."

Here is a brilliant discussion among Saikat Majumdar, Arunava Sinha, Gita Hariharan and Anjum Hasan on the recent attacks on writers, and the general milieu of intolerance festering in the public sphere.

Towards the end of April Bangalore witnessed unprecedented protests by garment factory workers against changes to EPF norms. T.M Veeraraghav spotlights the disparities that undergird a city like Bangalore in his piece for The Hindu:

“These factories exist in clusters and hence workers in garment manufacturing units could mobilise themselves instantly. There are an estimated 5,00,000 people working in garment factories in the city. Predominantly women (estimated to be around 85 per cent) and for them, usually with salaries of around Rs. 6,500 a month, the few hundred rupees they save as PF is the only social security.”

…. “It is important to address the difference in the way PF is looked at by those surging with a booming corporate economy and workers, like those in garment factories — PF is not the only saving mechanism for the young manager or techie, for many it’s just a mandatory contribution that one has to make.”

Chandan Gowda, in his response, reads the protests as a challenge to the idea Bangalore being the ‘Silicon Valley of India’, and in a sense, argues that this is a means for garment workers to make their claims to the city visible:

“But these workers, and those involved in manual or non-glamorous work, are invisible in the dominant imaginations of Bangalore. If the pleasures of anonymity in urban areas are celebrated, the pain of invisibility there is less talked about.”

“The garment factory workers' protest was a confident and dignified announcement of their presence in Bangalore: they are a sizable workforce; their work matters to the city's economy; they could not be taken for granted; they need to be respected.”

Delta Meghwal a 17-year-old artist pursuing a degree in teaching was raped and consequently murdered by her physical training teacher. This report looks at attempts to pass of her rape as consensual sex. Sharanya Manivannan, in her article, questions the mainstream media’s silence about Delta’s death.

We found an older post from last year, and we think it must be read. Zenisha Gonsalves’ account of the treatment meted out to women by Indian female gynaecologists is perhaps the first step towards sensitizing medical students, and practicing doctors about the ethical codes they must practice with every patient. Conservatism, morality lessons and outright shaming of women goes against this code of civil, responsible behaviour. The best part is that the piece ends with a crowd-sourced list of progressive gynecologists across Indian cities. A much needed database indeed!

This longish essay in The Guardian looks at the rise of the doctor-writer, and how such autobiographical medical narratives are therapeutic to doctor and patient alike.

Monobina Gupta writes on the inherent sexism that undergirds news reporting in India. Kate Middleton’s so called ‘Marilyn moment’ made it to the front page of one of India’s well-known newspapers, and here is Gupta’s critique of such invasive reportage.

What happens when the pillars of access and anonymity that buttress cyberspace are used to perpetuate and air highly misogynist opinions? Stephen Marche offers a nuanced commentary on The Red Pill, an online community hosted by Reddit, which acts as a virtual space where ‘men can be men’:

“In the hours upon hours I spent wandering this online neighbourhood, I saw mostly feral boys wandering the digital ruins of exploded masculinity, howling their misery, concocting vast nonsense about women, and craving the tiniest crumb of self-confidence and fellow-feeling. The discussion threads are a mixed bag of rage and curiosity: screeds against feminists, advice on how to masturbate less, theories on why women fantasize about rape, descriptions of arguments with girlfriends, guides to going up to strangers on the street, and, most of all, workout schedules and diet regimes.”

Finally, R.K. Pachari has been fired from TERI, as reported here.

Mohammed Junaid writes on Rollie Mukherjee’s images of Kashmir.

On the occasion of Ambedkar’s 125th birth anniversary, Ananya Vajpeyi looks at the attempts to appropriate his ideas both by the Hindu wing and the left. She looks at the afterlife of Ambedkar in our time and his increased visibility in the public sphere. In her analysis she poses crucial questions about the possibility of an alternative political philosophy:

“The novelty and the idealism of these mass (student) protests were clear for all to see; but as a participant in many of these events in Delhi, I can testify that they were also marked by uncertainty and a lack of direction: Who is leading this inchoate Indian Spring? Does it have a clear agenda? Will it develop into a real political alternative in the future? Can a student-led movement, which is by definition transient (like students who enter and pass through the university), acquire a staying power of its own, or will it be subsumed under the banners of existing political parties and held hostage to their failures and limitations?”

Tired of all male panels? The Ladies Finger spots a recent one for you. But here is an alternative.

How image driven is the publishing industry? To what extent does an author’s size determine whether she will be published? This article looks at the unacknowledged nexus between physical appearance and the chances of being published.

Meanwhile, solidarity pours in for the continuing the hunger strike by students of Jawaharlal Nehru University . Here is a report on professors showing solidarity by undertaking a one day fast.

The gruesome rape and murder of a young Dalit law student Jisha, has been ignored by the mainstream press. The Ladies Finger offers a roundup of the case.

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