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July 15, 2004, Imphal (Manipur): An amazing scene unfolds in front of Kangla Fort, the headquarters of the Assam Rifles, a unit of the Indian army. Soldiers and officers watch aghast as twelve women, all in their sixties and seventies, position themselves in front of the gates and then, one by one, strip themselves naked. The imas, the mothers of Manipur, are in a cold fury, protesting the custodial rape and murder, by the army, of Thangjam Manorama, a 32-year-old woman suspected of being a militant. The women hold aloft banners and shout, ‘Indian Army Rape Us’, ‘Take Our Flesh’. Never has this happened before: the army is appalled. Very soon, news of the protest goes viral. People around the country are shocked. Can this be possible? A naked protest in India by mothers?
In this unusual book, journalist Teresa Rehman tells the story of these twelve women, the momentous decision they took, and how they carried it out with precision and care. In doing so she connects the reader to the broader history of conflict-torn Manipur and the courage and resistance of its people, in particular its women.
Often cited as the most militarised zone in the world, the Kashmiri landscape is full of contradictory narratives. This essay intervenes in this crossfire of accounts in order to investigate the voices of survivors of sexual violence in the region.
This essay illustrates how sexual violence in the context of Kashmir takes on another layer of meaning as a deliberate strategy employed by the armed forces. It targets both women and men and has a bearing on their daily lives that are subsumed under the shadow of militancy. The events of Kunan Poshpora and Shopian, then, are only a few out of many incidents which speak volumes about the lack of accountability and the culture of silence in the terrain.
As a researcher and activist, Sahba Husain looks at the turning points in the narrative of sexual violence in the region and its emergence out of the margins. Much of the analysis in the essay also stems from personal accounts of survivors who have different allegiances and religious backgrounds, which has affected them differently and has allowed the author to delve deeper into their varied experiences. The aftermath of sexual violence and the challenges it poses in a patriarchal society, especially in the anxiety-ridden conflict zone, broaden the scope of engagement with the very notion of this kind of violence. The essay examines these concerns, as it initiates a move towards a more inclusive and incisive way of thinking about impunity and silenced narratives in the Valley.
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.
Radhaben Garva lives in a small village in Kutch. She’s an artist who has for long years documented the rural women’s movement in her area and beyond in her paintings.
These unique pictures—more than 200 of them—tell stories of the involvement of women from her village, and from the Kutch Mahila Vikas Sangathan, the NGO she works with, in campaigns for women’s rights, for economic empowerment, for resistance to globalizing corporations.
In one sequence of pictures, Radhaben receives a phone call inviting her to a meeting abroad, and she paints the entire journey from village to town to airport to the international destination and her first ride in an elevator. In another, she depicts the Chipko movement, in a third, the fragmentation of fields and farming activity as a result of globalization.
This unusual and beautiful document provides that rare thing, a political perspective from below and a vibrant portrait of the rural women’s movement in India.
Following the 1971 Bangladesh War, the Bangladesh government publicly designated the thousands of women raped by the Pakistani military and their local collaborators as birangonas, ("brave women”). Nayanika Mookherjee demonstrates that while this celebration of birangonas as heroes keeps them in the public memory, they exist in the public consciousness as what Mookherjee calls a spectral wound. Dominant representations of birangonas as dehumanized victims with disheveled hair, a vacant look, and rejected by their communities create this wound, the effects of which flatten the diversity of their experiences through which birangonas have lived with the violence of wartime rape. In critically examining the pervasiveness of the birangona construction, Mookherjee opens the possibility for a more politico-economic, ethical, and nuanced inquiry into the sexuality of war.
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.
This volume focuses on Bangladesh, a nation born in 1971, in a birth that was as marked by bloodshed as it was by sexual violence. The history of widespread sexual violence, and incidents of sexual slavery, as well as the absence of accountability for the perpetrators, is by now well known. The essays here address the structural dynamics of impunity at the individual and societal levels, looking not only at the conditions that go into its creation, but also the elements that fuel it. They ask what helps it to become so embedded and point to its human, global and national costs. Together they explore the ways in which the women’s movement and feminist practice have worked to demand accountability and recognition for the victims and survivors of sexual violence, challenging the impunities embedded in the patriarchal structures of Bangladeshi society. In doing so, they bear witness to the continuing efforts of women’s groups in Bangladesh to give this crucial issue the attention that it deserves, for without that, justice for victims and survivors, will remain elusive.
A moving memoir by one of the most highly respected and important authors from India’s Northeast.
Temsula Ao was born in 1945 in the Assamese town of Jorhat. Her happy childhood with her five siblings was cut tragically short with the deaths of both their parents. Desperately poor, emotionally scarred, lonely and often hungry, the young Temsula made up for her lack of resources with courage and determination.
From these unpromising beginnings, Ao went on to build a distinguished teaching career, serving as Director of the Northeast Zone Cultural Centre, and finally Dean of the School of Humanities and Education, North- Eastern Hill University, Shillong.
Temsula Ao describes the book as “an attempt to exorcise my own personal ghosts from a fractured childhood that was ripped apart by a series of tragedies... [it] is about love and what it is like to be deprived of it.”
For her readers, Ao’s memoir gives not only an insight into her role as a leading figure in the Northeast, but is also a moving account of a writerly life.
The dark legacies of Partition have cast a long shadow on the lives of the people of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The borders that were drawn in 1947, and redrawn in 1971, divided not only nations and histories but also families and friends.
The essays in this volume explore new ground in Partition research, looking into areas such as art, literature, mirgation, and notions of ‘foreignness’ and ‘belonging’. It brings focus to hitherto unaddressed areas of Partition, just as the northeast and Ladakh.
Contributors include: Sanjb Baruah | Sarah Ghani | Vishwajyoti Ghosh | Sanjeev Jain | Sukeshi Kamra | Rita Kothari | Kavita Panjabi | Prajna Paramita Parasher | Tarun K. Saint | Alok Sarin | Amiya Sen | Jhuma Sen | Jyotirmaya Sharma | Siddiq Wahid | Andrew Whitehead
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.
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
In the last 15 years, queer movements in many parts of the world have helped secure the rights of queer people. These moments have been accompanied by the brutal rise of crony capitalism, the violent consequences of the ‘war on terror’, the hyper-juridification of politics, the financialization/managerialization of social movements and the medicalization of non-heteronormative identities/practices. How do we critically read the celebratory global proliferation of queer rights in these neoliberal times?
This volume responds to the complicated moment in the history of queer struggles by analysing laws, state policies and cultures of activism, to show how new intimacies between queer sexuality and neoliberalism that celebrate modernity and the birth of the liberated sexual citizen, are in fact, reproducing the old colonial desire of civilizing the native. By paying particular attention to the problematics of race, religion and class, this volume engages in a rigorous, self-reflexive critique of global queer politics and its engagements, confrontations, and negotiations with modernity and its investments in liberalism, legalism and militarism, with the objective of queering the ethics of our queer politics.
In Queer Activism in India, Naisargi N. Dave examines the formation of lesbian communities in India from the 1980s to the early 2000s. Based on ethnographic research conducted with activist organizations in Delhi, a body of letters written by lesbian women, and research with lesbian communities and queer activist groups across the country, Dave studies the everyday practices that constitute queer activism in India.
Dave argues that activism is an ethical practice comprising critique, inven- tion, and relational practice. She investigates the relationship between the ethics of activism and the existing social norms and conditions from which activism emerges. Through her analysis of different networks and institutions, Dave documents how activism oscillates between the potential for new social arrangements and the questions that arise once the activists’ goals have been achieved. Queer Activism in India addresses a relevant and timely phenomenon and makes an important contribution to the anthropology of queer communi- ties, social movements, affect, and ethics.
“The exciting aspect of this book is how Dave draws on the everyday practices of queer activism, in particular lesbian activism in India, to expose the deeply considered and ethical positions that they take. . . . Dave’s book marks a significant contribution to the archive of queer scholarship generally, but more importantly to making visible a postcolonial perspective in this scholarship.” — Ratna Kapur, Journal of Anthropological Research
“A beautifully written ethnography, offering a passionately detailed ethnographic perspective on queer politics, feminism, and social movements in India.” — Kamala Visweswaran, author of Un/common Cultures: Racism and the Rearticulation of Cultural Difference
“Dave’s book, with its anecdotes, observations, and rich endnotes, will no doubt add to our understanding of urban lesbian activism while compelling us to reflect about methods and ethics in the age of “affect.”” — Shohini Ghosh, Journal of Asian Studies
"Gulabi Gang! Gulabi Gang!
Watch out, here we come!
Don't try and step out of line
for the Gulabi Gang will win!"
Donning pink saris and holding sticks in their hands, the Gulabi Gang is a threat to every policeman who refuses to file a report on violence against a dalit, every husband who beats up his wife, and every goon who grabs land that does not belong to him. In this recounted autobiographical account, Sampat Pal, the founder and leader of the Gulabi Gang, looks back to trace her journey as a young girl of twelve, forced into child marriage, who later goes on to become the leader of the most feared group of women vigilantes in the country. Her rebellious instinct, fervour for justice and her desire to free women from their everyday oppression led her to organize the women in and around her village in Uttar Pradesh into a gang.
Conflicted Democracies and Gendered Violence elucidates the centrality of political and foundational violence in the governance of conflicted democracies in the postcolony, calling attention to the urgent need for transformation. Spectacular and quotidian gendered and sexualized violence by states and collectives holds in place fraught and unjust histories and relations between elites and subalterns, majoritarian subjects and non-dominant “Others.” At the intersections of nationalist and decolonial confrontations, such violence regularizes states of emergency and exception. Through oral history, archival, and legal research undertaken over three years, this interdisciplinary work underscores the need for transitional and transformative justice mechanisms in conflicted democracies to address protracted conflict (focusing on their internal dimensions) and social upheaval. India serves as a case in point, exemplified by ongoing and recent conflicts in Jammu and Kashmir and Punjab and episodic social upheavals in Gujarat (in 2002) and Odisha (in 2008). Victim-survivor narratives of counter-memory, historical records, and legal analyses of formative cases detail the depth and texture of social suffering and illustrate the inadequacy and inhumanity of official responses to events of extraordinary violence. Expanding on methods in justice and accountability and espousing the right to heal, scholars and practitioners raise critical questions regarding the state, civil society, and diverse institutions, and the most elemental of constituents: victim-survivors.
“A very important feature of Conflicted Democracies and Gendered Violence: The Right to Heal is that it shows the ubiquity of sexual violence that is not simply concomitant to other forms of violence but is a weapon that is part and parcel of the weaponry in the hands of the state and of transnational militant movements. What are the mechanisms through which violence is continuously sustained within democracies? This exemplary book helps us ask that question without the plethora of evasions that often allow democratic states to deflect that question to some other concern—national security, national honor or the necessity of pragmatism in view of the enormity of new forms of warfare. I am so grateful for this book and for the courage of scholar-activists and the victim-survivors who have put the results of years of hard labor on these questions before us.”
Veena Das, Krieger-Eisenhower Professor of Anthropology, John Hopkins University
“The monograph provides an incisive, comparative, and contextual framework for grappling with some of the most challenging issues of our time—gender and sexual violence in conflict. The document makes a compelling case for the development of effective national accountability mechanisms for political democracies to address conflict-based issues and grave social violence. The monograph underlines the pressing need to place victims-survivors at the center of owning knowledge and defining remedy. This monumental work stands to impact scholarship, policy, and advocacy for addressing gender-based and sexualized violence in conflicted democracies.”
Navanethem Pillay, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, 2008-2014
The first full-length autobiography in Bengali, Amar Jiban (My Life) was written in the early nineteenth century by an upper-caste rural housewife named Rashundari Debi. Published in 1868 when she was 88 years old, the book is a fascinating snapshot of life for women in the nineteenth century. Debi, who gave birth to eleven children—her first was born when she was 18-years-old, the last when she was forty-one—ruminates on her very individual understanding of bhakti as well as the new times that were unfolding around her.
Offering a translation of major sections of this remarkable autobiography, Words to Win is a portrait of a woman who wants to compose a life of her own, wishes to present it in the public sphere, and eventually accomplishes just that. The words, in the end, win out. First published in 1999, the book is a must-read for anyone interested in nineteenth-century Indian history. The classic text is reissued here in a new paperback format.
"Sarkar's dissection of the text - the autobiography of an upper-caste East Bengali widow from a family of landlords, who teaches herself to read and write in secrecy as it's a taboo to do so - yields a cracking yarn of social history." -- Pothik Ghosh, Outlook
When Revathi’s powerful memoir, The Truth About Me, first appeared in 2011, it caused a sensation. Readers learned of Revathi’s childhood unease with her male body; her escape from her birth family to a house of hijras (the South Asian generic term for transgender people), and her eventual transition to being the woman she always she knew was. This new book charts her remarkable journey from relative obscurity to becoming India’s leading spokesperson for transgender rights and an inspiration to thousands.
Revathi describes her life, her work in the NGO Sangama, which works with people across a spectrum of gender identities and sexual orientations, and how she rose from office assistant to director in the organization. Today she is an independent activist, theatre person, actor and writer, and works for the rights of transgender persons.
In the second part of the book, Revathi offers the reader insight into one of the least talked about experiences on the gender trajectory, that of being trans men. Calling several female-to-male trans persons her sons, Revathi puts before us their moving, passionate and sometimes tragic stories of marginalisation, courage, resistance and triumph.
An unforgettable book, A Life in Trans Activism will leave the reader questioning the ‘safe’ and ‘comfortable’ binaries of male/female that so many of us take for granted.
This story of extraordinary courage and survival is now available in a brand new paperback edition as part of the Zubaan Classics series to celebrate Zubaan's 10th anniversary.
This is the story of Baby Halder, a young woman working as a domestic in a home in Delhi. Hurriedly married off at the age of twelve, a mother by the time she was fourteen, Baby writes movingly and evocatively of her life as a young girl, and later as a young woman. The long absences of her father, the hardships faced by her mother, and her decision to walk out of her marriage, leaving Baby and her sister to manage the household, were the realities that shaped Baby's early life.When marriage came, Baby, still a child, yearned to play and study, but was burdened with the responsibility of being wife and mother while facing considerable violence from her husband. Escape finally came many years later, by which time the still young Baby was a mother of three, and she fled to the city in the hope of finding a job. Working in Delhi as a domestic help, Baby was lucky enough to come across an employer who encouraged her to read -- which she did voraciously -- and then to write. The story of Baby's life is a lesson in courage and survival.
Since it was first published in Hindi, this book has become a bestseller, receiving accolades from some of the best-known writers and critics in India and elsewhere. It has also been translated into other Indian languages.
Baby Halder is a writer and a domestic worker who lives and works in a home near Delhi. She is now working on her second book.
Urvashi Butalia is a publisher and writer whose work includes the award-winning oral history of Partition, The Other Side of Silence: Voices from the Partition of India.
Two prominent protests in Manipur by women in recent years, one an individual one and the other a collective one, have brought to national attention the brutalities committed by the armed forces on ordinary citizens under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act.
This essay highlights what those protests mean for peace in Manipur, and how women have played a critical role in exposing the impunity with which human rights are violated under the exceptional circumstances created by the AFSPA. It also questions the unethical nature of militarization and the patriarchal nature of the State.
Broadly containing two segments, it gives a background to Irom Sharmila’s protests and her reasons for choosing hunger strike as her method of protest. The discourse of conscience and Satyagraha that Sharmila evokes is brought out through interviews. This is followed by an analysis of the 2004 public disrobing by the Meira Paibis, in protest against the rape and murder of a young woman by the personnel of the Assam Rifles.
The essay shows the inversions brought about by both protests via a comparison between Irom Sharmila’s prolonged hunger strike against an exceptionally violent law, and the Indian Army Rape Us protests by the Meira Paibis. Both challenge the division between the public and the private, holding the state publicly accountable for atrocities committed in private. Food and clothing, one a biological necessity and the other an important social norm, are given up by the protestors. According to Mehrotra, this shows the power of the human body generally, and the female body particularly, to formulate and transmit subversive messages. She finds that underlying the protests is a common thread of rebuilding Manipur out of all the chaos.
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.
1943: As the British Empire draws to a close, the state of Bengal is just emerging from the grip of famine. Exploited mercilessly by feudal landlords, landless peasants rise in protest and launch a movement in 1946 to retain two-thirds of the grain they harvest - Tebhaga.
More than 50,000 women participated in this movement: one whose history and tragic end - in the crossfire between state violence and revolutionary armed struggle - became a legend in its time. Yet in the written history of Tebhaga, the full-fledged women's movement that they forged has never featured.
In this authoritative study, based on interviews and women's memories, Kavita Panjabi sets the balance right with rare sensitivity and grace. Using critical insights garnered from oral history and memory studies, Panjabi raises questions that neither social history nor left historiography ask. In doing so, she claims the past for a feminist vision of radical social change. This account of the transformation of the struggle is unique in feminist scholarship movements.
Imelda Connor is a classic Irish lass—a fiery, red-headed beauty, quick to anger and fiercely protective of her younger siblings. Growing up on a small farm in the rolling hills of County Cork, she thinks she has her life completely mapped out. But Imelda soon finds that life doesn’t always go according to plan.
Everything is turned upside-down when Imelda moves to England and happens to meet a dashing Bengali man named Shu Bose. Shu is captivated by Imelda’s natural beauty and charm, and the two embark on a whirlwind romance. At the age of eighteen, in the spring of 1932, Imelda boards a ship bound for Calcutta—and a very different life to the one she had always imagined.
Milty Bose’s writing transports readers back to pre-Independence India, to London between the wars, and to the genteel life of bhadralok Bengali high society. From Cork to Calcutta tells the true story of Bose’s parents, their eccentric and unforgettable family, the trauma of loss, and the triumph of one woman’s remarkable spirit.
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