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On a cold February night in 1991, a group of soldiers and officers of the Indian Army pushed their way into two villages in Kashmir, seeking out militants assumed to be hiding there. They pulled the men out of their homes and subjected many to torture, and the women to rape. According to village accounts, as many as 31 women were raped.
Twenty-one years later, in 2012, the rape and murder of a young medical student in Delhi galvanized a protest movement so widespread and deep that it reached all corners of the world. In Kashmir, a group of young women, all in their twenties, were inspired to re-open the Kunan-Poshpora case, to revisit their history and to look at what had happened to the survivors of the 1991 mass rape. Through personal accounts of their journey, this book examines questions of justice, of stigma, of the responsibility of the state, and of the long-term impact of trauma.
This endearing, witty, self-deprecating memoir documents the life of one of the leading feminists of the contemporary Indian women's movement. Vina Mazumdar, one of the key researchers and writers of the landmark report of the Committee on the Status of Women in India, Towards Equality, here documents her early life, her gradual politicization in a household of liberal, educated Bengalis, and her involvement in women's issues and the women's movement.
Brought up to be outspoken and frank, Vinadi, as she is affectionately known, began by becoming involved in university-led politics in Bihar. Marriage and a young family did not prevent her from pursuing her studies and her career, in the teeth of considerable opposition from relatives but with constant support from her mother. On her return to India, Vinadi first moved into the field of education, and then, with her involvement in the research and writing of Towards Equality, was catapulted into the women's movement. An activist and institution builder, Vinadi set up the Centre for Women's Development Studies in Delhi, one of the leading research and outreach institutions for women in the country. In this rare memoir, Vinadi provides a rich history of the contemporary women's movement in India.
From the heart of a well-known family of Hyderabad to life in a single room with the barest of necessities, Shaukat Kaifi's memoir of her life with the renowned poet Kaifi Azmi speaks of love and commitment. A marriage of over a half a century, a life steeped in poetry and progressive politics, continuing involvement with the Indian People's Theatre Association, the Progressive Writers Association, Prithvi Theatre... all of these and more inform this beautifully told tale of love. Shaukat Kaifi's writing details life in a communist commune, a long career in theatre and film and a life spent bringing up her two children, cinematographer Baba Azmi and actor Shabana Azmi. Nasreen Rehman's deft and fluent translation brings this luminous memoir alive with warmth and empathy. "To say that this is a lovely book would be an understatement. It is an enchanting recollection of the life of a hugely talented and sensitive human being, shared with a great poet." -- Amartya Sen.
This essay puts forward a series of accounts centred around the different manifestations of sexual violence in the lives of Dalit women. Unlike in the legal world, in these accounts lines between methods of assault and degrees of injury emerge blurred, and many of them remain unreported or have otherwise not been disclosed by the survivors.
Exposing the vulnerability of Dalit women to both gender-based exploitation and caste-based violence, the essay investigates the threats that follow the women into their homes, their workplace, and the streets. It also looks at the ways in which the survivors’ voice is silenced, time and again, by the authority of the ruling caste. Covering the many different structures that enable and even perpetuate such violence, the essay focuses in particular on the jogini system that legitimises prostitution even as it creates a circle of exploitation and social discrimination. This leads to an analysis not only of the incidents and functions of sexual violence, but also of the consequences that have to be borne by the survivors alone.
The authors explore different kinds of exploitative structures to identify ways in which they hamper women's claims over their bodily integrity, dignity and privacy. They show how the upper-caste discourse of a Dalit woman's sexual availability, along with the impunity for sexual crimes committed against them, is dangerous on multiple levels. It is the study of the contributing factors to this discourse, coupled with the functions and social effects of this particular kind of sexual violence, that the essay concerns itself with.
The Sexual Violence and Impunity in South Asia research project (coordinated by Zubaan and supported by the International Development Research Centre) brings together, for the first time in the region, a vast body of knowledge on this important – yet silenced – subject. Six country volumes (one each on Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and two on India, as well as two standalone volumes) comprising over fifty research papers and two book-length studies, detail the histories of sexual violence and look at the systemic, institutional, societal, individual and community structures that work together to perpetuate impunity for perpetrators.
In this remarkable and wide-ranging study, activist and historian V. Geetha unpacks the meanings of impunity in relation to sexual violence in the context of South Asia. The State’s misuse of its own laws against its citizens is only one aspect of the edifice of impunity; its less-understood resilience comes from its consistent denial of the recognition of suffering on the part of victims, and its refusal to allow them the dignity of pain, grief and loss.
Time and again, in South Asia, the State has worked to mediate public memory, to manipulate forgetting, particularly in relation to its own acts of commission. It has done this by refusing to take responsibility, not only for its acts but also for the pain such acts have caused. It has done this by denying suffering the eloquence, the words, the expression that it deserves and papering over the hurt of people with routine government procedures.
The author argues that the State and its citizens must work together to accord social recognition to the suffering of victims and survivors of sexual violence, and thereby join in what she calls ‘a shared humanity’. While this may or may not produce legal victories, the acknowledgment that the suffering of our fellow citizens is our collective responsibility is an essential first step towards securing justice. It is this, that in a fundamental sense, challenges and illuminates the contours and details of State impunity and positions impunity as not merely a legal or political conundrum, but as resolute refusal on the part of State personnel to be part of a shared humanity.
Written by Farida Abdulla, this essay is a personal account of her experience in Kashmir—before, during and after the enforcement of centralized government rule over the area. Born and brought up in Kashmir, she reflects on the seething resentment of people treated like more border territory than citizens of the country.
Through the essay Adulla looks at ‘what’ instead of ‘why’; she does not delve into the historical context of the rule, but focuses on the effects of such a rule on the local population. By narrating two incidents strongly embedded in her mind, she attempts to show the complexity of the situation, and the pain and confusion of the people living there. Trapped between the government- sanctioned armed forces and the ideological militant resistors, Kashmiri people are often unable to distinguish between the two groups, and are in constant fear for their lives.
She raises questions about security and autonomy, especially in the case of women. While the struggle of women in India has been a long and arduous one, their status becomes even more unstable in a region fraught with suppression and violence. Female voices are either lost in the larger masculine struggle, or are subsumed in the singular narrative of rape and sexual abuse. Abdulla hopes for a safe space for people divided by religion and gender to resolve their conflicts and live in peace and dignity.
'Call Me Confused, Please' requests one of the stories in this insightful and engaging collection from women of South Asian origin living in North America. 'Made in the USA?' wonders another.
Through poems, short stories and scholarly pieces, writers who are in their twenties, thirties and forties share what it is to live and grow up in a country that is your home and yet alien to you. They touch upon issues of culture, belonging, romance, body, race, ethnicity and the notion of 'home'. Moving beyond the idea of ABCDs (America-Born Confused Desi) and the 'identity crisis', the writers grapple with the richness of their diverse inheritances to produce a more nuanced understanding of self.
"Diverse voices challenge social binaries - of race, sexuality, nationality - to showcase the many facets of brown-ness." - Bandana Purkayastha, University of Connecticut
The Sexual Violence and Impunity in South Asia research project (coordinated by Zubaan and supported by the International Development Research Centre) brings together, for the first time in the region, a vast body of knowledge on this important – yet silenced – subject. Six country volumes (one each on Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and two on India) comprising over fifty research papers and two book-length studies detail the histories of sexual violence and look at the systemic, institutional, societal, individual and community structures that work together to perpetuate impunity for perpetrators.
The essays in this volume focus on Nepal, which though not directly colonized, has not remained immune from the influence of colonialism in its neighbourhood. In addition to home-grown feudal patriarchal structures, the writers in this volume clearly demonstrate that it is the larger colonial and post-colonial context of the subcontinent that has enabled the structuring of inequalities and power relations in ways that today allow for widespread sexual violence and impunity in the country – through legal systems, medical regimes and social institutions.
The period after the 1990 democratic movement, the subsequent political transformation in the aftermath of the Maoist insurgency and the writing of the new constitution, has seen an increase in public discussion about sexual violence. The State has brought in a slew of legislation and action plans to address this problem. And yet, impunity for perpetrators remains intact and justice elusive. What are the structures that enable such impunity? What can be done to radically transform these? How must States understand the search for justice for victims and survivors of sexual violence? The essays in this volume attempt to trace a history of sexual violence in Nepal, look at the responses of women’s groups and society at large, and suggest how this serious and wide-ranging problem may be addressed.
The narrative of Chhattisgarh's indigenous population is one of violence, displacement, and as this essay will explore, several cases of sexual assault. The authors trace sexual violence and repression at the hands of the police, the Salwa Judum, and the state and central governments, all of which have enjoyed a great degree of impunity in the region.
The conflict between the state and the left-wing insurgent groups has created an environment of fear, and with it a number of impediments to the documentation of sexual violence in the affected areas. It is in this vein that the essay traces the stories of Soni Sori and Meena Xalxo as two out of many cases of torture and extrajudicial murder, most of which do not emerge into the dominant narrative. The essay also analyses the circumstances and effects of migration on the people that did manage to flee the conflict-ridden zones, as well as those who were forced to move to the Judum camps where living conditions were abysmal.
Guneet Ahuja and Parijata Bhardwaj are lawyers who have fought for the implementation of adivasi rights, and this piece relies on sources both 'official' and oral, which when taken together are telling of the extent of violence occurring in the region. The essay is a detailed analysis of what happens when authorities dismiss human lives as mere impediments to development, and state forces reject a distinction between civilians and warring groups. It concludes with a call to end excessive military campaigns against the state's own people and engage with the cause of the Maoist struggle, and, very significantly, to provide reparations and fundamental rights to those who have suffered for many, many long years.
Hansa Wadkar (born Ratan Bhalchandra) was one of Maharashtra's best known stage and screen personalities. By the time she was married to a much older family friend and impressario when she was just 15 she had already starred in nine or ten movies and was becoming a name in the film world. Supporting her family on her earnings, her brother sick with malaria, and both parents having taken to drink, life was not easy for the young woman. But Hansa was not only beautiful and immensely talented, she was tough, willful, capricious and headstrong.
Her autobiography, published in 1970, created a sensation for its frankness and directness.
It was later made into a film, Bhumika, by the well-known director Shyam Benegal and starred Smita Patil in the title role
Shardaben's autobiography, originally written in Gujarati and published in 1938, describes the life of an Indian woman at the turn of the twentieth century. She describes her childhood, and her innermost feelings and emotions. Despite considerable opposition from society, in 1902, Shardaben and her sister became the first women graduates in Gujarat. This marked the beginning of her lifelong commitment to the cause of women's education. Here, she documents both that and the political and social changes that were sweeping over India. For over half a century, she and her husband interacted and worked in close association with many important political leaders and literary figures of India.
Purnima Bhatt is a Professor of History, Anthropology and Interdisciplinary Studies at Hood College, U.S.A. Her publications include Scholar's Guide to Washington, D.C., African Studies and Sharadabehn Mehta: Una Mujer Exceptional en al India de su Tiempo.
Svati Joshi is Professor of English Literature at Miranda House College, Delhi University.
Part memoir, part oral testimony, part eyewitness account, Binodini's The Maharaja's Household provides a unique and engrossingly intimate view of life in the erstwhile royal household of Manipur in northeast India. It brings to life stories of kingdoms long vanished, and is an important addition to the untold histories of the British Raj.
Maharaj Kumari Binodini Devi, who wrote under the single name of Binodini, published The Maharaja's Household as a series of essays between 2002 and 2007 for an avid newspaper reading public in Manipur. Already celebrated across the state for her award-winning novel, short stories, and film scripts, Binodini entranced her readers anew with her stories of royal life, told from a woman's point of view and informed by a deep empathy for the common people in her father's gilded circle.
Elephan hunts, polo matches and Hindu temple performances form the backdrop for palace intrigues, colonial rule and White Rajahs. With gentle humour, piquant obersavations and heartfelt nostalgia, Binodini evokes a lifestyle and era that is now lost. Her book paints a portrait of the household of a king that only a princess - his daughter - could have written.
With the Indo-Naga peace negotiations going into their twentieth year and no concrete resolution in sight, the area stands witness to many dying hopes. In this chapter, Dolly Kikon takes an insider's view to re-contextualise incidents of violence in the conflict-ridden terrain of Nagaland. The essay is a product of on-field research and experiences as it analyses the social and legal consequences of sexual violence that exist in the area. It is a singular analysis of Naga society, in that it tracks the different spaces that a survivor of such violence must operate in as it delves into the power relations that characterise each one. It is in this context that the story of one such survivor, called Beth, emerges. Beth's account speaks about the emergence of a culture of impunity that is embedded in the social relationships of Naga society. By locating violence inside the home, the essay investigates these relationships as well as the processes through which such impunity has become an obstacle for women's rights and justice. The area of focus is the Naga woman and her experiences of occupying a space that is fraught with conflict and sexual abuse. This figure is studied as an often-neglected survivor of cultural violence, whose voice is constantly suppressed by the masculine gaze, be it of the insurgent elements or the state armed forces. The essay is replete with real-life experiences and accounts, as it studies the forms of masculinity and suppression that have become pervasive in conflict zones where over the years violence has become naturalised beyond belief.
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Feminist artists have always been bold, original and outspoken, and The Elephant in the Room honours this legacy by offering up a delightfully thought-provoking, myth-busting visual feast. Across its pages, sixteen comic artists from India and Germany explore how women see the world and themselves, taking apart and repurposing ideas of identity, power and love; sex, family, and bodies.
Confronting the elephant with humour and passion, these graphic artists insistently draw the awkward and the difficult. As feminist art has always done, this book reminds us that the personal is the political. Exploring taboos, exploding myths, raising awkward questions and posing visionary answers, each story shines a light on the 'elephant in the room' –what does it mean to be a woman?
For more than ten years now Irom Sharmila, a young woman from Manipur, has been on hunger strike, demanding the removal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, a draconian law that allows the army unfettered powers in areas that are considered politically sensitive or disturbed. Taken into custody and released every twelve months by the State for attempting suicide (considered illegal in India) Sharmila is being force fed to keep her alive. Her unique battle for peace in her strife torn homeland, has become a powerful symbol for all those engaged in fighting for peace in the northeast of India. As she fulfils her chosen role in this movement, Sharmila sometimes longs for all those things that young women treasure love, freedom, the sheer joy of living a free life, even simple things like being able to drink water, to brush her teeth. This small compilation of twelve of her poems in her native language Meiteilon and in English translation, provides a moving account of the underbelly of one woman's lone struggle for peace.
All proceeds from the sale of this book will go towards supporting Sharmila's campaign.
With independence, India experienced a dramatic social rupture but also a recuperation of political autonomy and a new sense of optimism that promised opportunities. The country became a crucible for experimentation in modern and utopian architecture with new buildings, cities and museums giving public face to the nation. Indian architects and architectural projects claimed international attention, and a generation of women entered professions such as architecture and design that had previously been closed to them. They emerged as a pronounced political force, and important patrons of art, architecture and public space.
The mid-19th and 20th centuries saw a significant increase in women acting as arbiters of taste and shapers of the built environment. The emerging groups of female designers and female patrons were enabled by new norms for women.
The essays in this volume address these developments, posing the important question : did, and do, women produce art and architecture that reflect a feminine perspective ? How did women, otherwise invisible and denied attention in the public sphere, gain voice? The writers look at these questions through both the political frame of gender as well as through family lineage and dynastic connections, and their importance in women's patronage of the arts.
This unique autobiography by veteran BBC and Associated Press journalist Sabita Goswami documents the extraordinary, single-handed fight of an ordinary woman in the heart of Assam, against family and social obstacles, to establish herself emotionally and professionally.
An unbiased and ruthless no-holds-barred account of turbulent contemporary Assam in particular and the Northeast in general, the book covers more than three decades of events in this volatile region and insightful analyses of its complex social and political history. The racy and strong narrative, recounted simply and with rare passion, makes this book a compelling read.
"Crafted with skill and full of lyrical prose, the best thing about this memoir is its honesty, as the author doesn't flinch from telling the truth." -- Abdullah Khan, Earthen Lamp Journal
A many-layered work of historical reportage, Watercolours draws on the real life story of Dina Gottliebova-Babbitt (1923-2009), a Czech-American artist of Jewish ancestry, who was a prisoner at Auschwitz, and whose story came to light in the late nineties. It was at this time that Gottliebova attempted once more to recover the art she had created in the concentration camp, and which had become the property of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum. The dispute escalated into an international scandal, with the American Department of State and the Polish government becoming involved.
Here, journalist Lidia Ostalowska reconstructs Gottliebova’s time in the camp, while looking also at broader issues of historical memory, trauma, racism and the relationship between the torturer and the victim. In Gottliebova’s case, SS Doctor Josef Mengele took a special interest in her talent, commissioning her to paint portraits (the watercolours of the title) of Roma prisoners. Mengele himself is one of the many characters in this narrative.
Ostalowska draws on hundreds of studies and accounts of the hell of the camps, and tells the story of one woman’s incarceration and her battle for survival, bringing in many other supporting lives. Before she worked for Mengele, Gottliebova had decorated the children’s barracks at Auschwitz with of the Disney film, Snow White and The Seven Dwarves. After the war, she worked as an animator for Warner Brothers and married Walt Disney animator Art Babbitt, the man behind many of the world’s best-known cartoon characters including Goofy and Dumbo. Gottlibova (under the name Dina Babbitt) lived in the California until her death in 2009 at the age of 86.
Sheba Chhachhi's piece offers an alternative to the visual landscape of Kashmir which, in the popular imagination of people today, is occupied by the ravages of war and countless martyred men. By placing itself as an invitation into a private space that is rarely, if ever, breached by dominant media discourses, this photo-essay highlights the absences in the pictures of carnage that are used to fuel propaganda on both sides of the conflict.
The piece – comprising of a critical essay and a series of personal testimonies which are interspersed with photographs – seeks to bring human figures back into the landscape and give voice to those whose lives have been obscured in the din of a prolonged war. It makes space for the individual in a history of representation that is populated with recurring tropes and warring stereotypes which, Chhachhi argues, depersonalise the Valley and its conflicts. In her work, women are no longer silent victims, they emerge as textured human beings, not only with voices with which to speak, but also with eyes that are wide open. The testimonies have been taken over a period of six years and reflect varying positions, and the interviewees are students and professionals, Muslims and Pandits, teenagers and the aged.
The photographs are extracted from a larger work which was initially presented as a photo-installation by Sheba Chhachhi and Sonia Jabbar. The photo-essay as a whole captures the life and times of women during conflict, including during the attempted implementation of the burqa diktat in the Valley. These individuated women stand out in the frames as they look back at the viewer in more ways than one.
Please note that the photographs contained in this essay have been directly scanned from the printed book due to the non-availability of the originals.
Priya Sarukkai Chabria and Ravi Shankar’s elegant new translations of eighth-century Tamil poet and founding saint Andal, cements her status as the South Indian corollary to Mirabai.
In this one volume is her entire corpus, composed before she apocryphally merged with the idol of her chosen god as a young teenager, leaving behind the still popular song of congregational worship, the Thiruppavai, a collection of thirty pasuram (stanzas) sung for Lord Tirumal (Vishnu) and the much less frequently translated and rapturously erotic Nacchiyar Thirumoli.
Chabria and Shankar employ a radical new method of revitalizing classical verse by shifting it into a contemporary poetic idiom in another language. Some of the hymns are translated collaboratively, others by one or another of the translators, and others separately by each. This kaleidoscopic approach allows the reader multiple perspectives on the rich sonic and philosophical complexity of Andal’s classical Tamil.
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