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On Topic: The May Review

The month of May witnessed several historic judgements and events, from Soni Sori’s Award for Human Rights Defenders at Risk to the stay on Vedanta’s Sterlite Copper smelter in Tuticorin. On Topic reviews some of the news that prompted progressive conversations about gender, women and the marginalised.

Legal Judgements (India)

  • The Delhi High Court passed a judgement to regularize Kashmiri migrant teachers, who came to Delhi in 1990-93 to escape communal violence in their homeland. These teachers have been noted to work without the benefits allowed to regular teachers, such as pension, and for less than full pay. The judgement recommends that all Kashmiri migrant teachers be recognised as 'regular' teachers from the date of their appointment, and be paid the differential amounts they are entitled to.

  • The Guwahati High Court has directed a committee to study and report on the challenges faced by the transgender community in the state, and make recommendations that the state of Assam can implement for the community’s welfare. The state has been directed to examine and implement these suggestions in 6 months. Read this judgement here.

  • The Madras High Court has directed authorities to allow a child’s birth certificate to have no named father. Mathumitha Ramesh, mother of Tavishi Perara, separated from her husband by mutual consent. Tavishi was born in April 2017, through intrauterine fertility treatment. Initially, Tavishi’s birth certificate named a sperm donor as her father. After repeated appeals to the high court by Mathumitha, and separate affidavits from both her ex-husband and sperm donor, the high court directed authorities to not demand the father’s name. Tavishi is likely to be India’s first child without a father. The judgement will be passed on 11 June.

Events

  • May 2018 saw protests against Vedanta once again. Sterlite plants set up in Tuticorin, where it was observed that environmental rules regarding pollution regulation were not being followed, resulting in gas leaks that caused fatalities. Despite on and off protests in the region for 20 years, it only recently came to national attention, when Vedanta proposed to expand the plant. When protesters took to the streets, police opened fire without warning. Nine protesters were killed, with several others critically injured, in this brutal attack by the police. The Tamil Nadu government has ordered that the plant be shut permanently.

    Vedanta has a long history of violating environment protection rules. The Dongria Kondh’s struggle against bauxite mining resulted in the government shutting down Vedanta’s bauxite mining plant in 2016. 2016 also saw writers and activists protesting Vedanta’s sponsorship of the Jaipur Literary Festival in London.

  • Tribal activist Soni Sori received the 2018 Award for Human Rights Defenders at Risk. Soni Sori has been leading protests against sexual violence and alleged fake encounters in conflict zones in Chhattisgarh and other regions of central India. She has also defended educational institutions from Maoist groups. In 2016, she was the victim of an acid attack by unidentified persons. Soni Sori is one of five recipients of the award, established by Front Line Defenders, an Ireland-based human rights organisation.

  • May saw the celebration of IDAHOBIT 2018, the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia. In an organised campaign by POV Mumbai, people of different genders and sexualities shared their stories and experiences as part of a series called 'Life Only'.

Popular Culture

  • Recently released movie India Never Again Nirbhaya, based on the events of the Delhi 2012 gangrape, has come to the fore for its questionable poster. This article on The Ladies Finger brings to question the tendency of male writers and directors to fetishize gendered violence.

  • May 11 saw the release of Alia Bhatt starrer Raazi, which is based on Harinder Sikka’s novel, Calling Sehmat. The story follows Sehmat, an Indian spy who is married off to a Pakistani to obtain information. The movie has been lauded for its actors' performances, as well as its portrayal of women. Several reviews have commended the movie for not succumbing to the typical ‘war-is-sacred’ ideology, by maintaining the female protagonist’s personality, and not allowing for the typical patriotic sense of duty that is often depicted on screen. Here are some reviews (spoilers)!

World

  • Loujain al-Hathloul, a well-known activist for driving rights for women in Saudi Arabia, was arrested in early May, according to a report by Amnesty International. Weeks before the removal of the ban on women driving, an organised campaign to defame and discredit several activists for the cause has been observed. Despite the historical move to remove the ban on driving, the crackdown on dissenters is telling of a problem that is much more deeply rooted.

    Since reports of the removal of the ban on driving, men have taken to tweeting about their displeasure with the decision. Saudi women reclaimed the Twitter hashtag that translates to “you won’t drive”, by posting pictures of their future cars.

  • On 25 May, a referendum was passed to remove the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution of Ireland which disallows abortion unless the pregnant woman is in mortal danger. However, in 2012, Savita Halappanavar was refused an abortion, as doctors determined that her life was not in danger, despite foreseeing that she would miscarry. Her death was catalytic in the pro-choice protests. Five years later, Ireland has repealed the Eighth in a historical referendum, with a 66% majority, now allowing women to terminate their pregnancies.

  • Kashmir Women’s Movement was launched in London, in response to “the unprecedented state terrorism perpetrated by the Indian forces on women and youth in the occupied territory.” The organisation aims to bring international attention to the human rights violations being committed in occupied Kashmir by the Indian armed forces.

  • Pakistan’s Parliament has passed a new law, the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, guaranteeing basic rights to transgender citizens and outlawing discrimination in the workplace. The law allows citizens to express their gender identity, which is defined by the law as, "a person's innermost and individual sense of self as male, female or a blend of both, or neither; that can correspond or not to the sex assigned at birth,” and have it recognised in all legal documents, certificates and identity cards.

    Meanwhile, the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment of India has submitted the proposal for amendments to the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2016. The recommendations were drafted in December, 2017, nine of which have been finalised, including a revised definition of ‘transgender’. The 2016 bill received criticism from activists, and it remains to be seen whether these changes will be implemented progressively.

Sports

  • After the decision of the Indian Olympic Association to replace sarees with trousers as the official attire for women athletes during the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games, athletes have recommended that sarees be removed during the opening ceremony of the Asian Games as well. Representatives of the IOA have confirmed that the saree will not be part of the opening ceremony.

  • Sjoerd Marijne, who was assigned as coach to the Indian national men’s hockey team before the Commonwealth Games, has returned to the Indian national women’s team, following reports of disagreements between the men’s team and Marijne after a disappointing performance. In an interview for The Indian Express, he spoke about being glad to work with the women’s team again. Ironically, the interview is titled ‘Important that women get a voice, says Sjoerd Marijne’.

    The women’s national hockey team made it to the finals of the Asian Champions Trophy as defending champions, but lost to South Korea.

Gender-based Violence

  • After widespread protests against several cases of child rape across the country, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh has cleared the way for a women’s safety division in the Home Ministry. Following the rape and murder of a minor girl in Kathua, the Centre has also the Criminal Law Ordinance, 2018, which provides for death penalty to rapists of girls under the age of 12, and proposes a national registry for sexual offenders.

    Several feminists have criticised the proposal, since the creation of such a registry, in the fashion of the United States, has been reported to have done more harm than good. The registry requires detailed descriptions of assault, which is not only insensitive to the plight of the victim, but also puts them at risk of being identified and further harmed. It also undermines an individual’s right to privacy, criminal or not. Such a registry is bound to lead to situations where certain groups are targeted for the purpose of being controlled. If such a registry were to be created, reports of sexual assault would also inevitably decrease, since perpetrators of such violence tend to be members of the family or somehow known to the victim. This reluctance to file a complaint would only increase, and thereby, violence will remain unchecked.

    The proposed death penalty has also received mixed reactions. Studies suggest that the death penalty does not deter perpetrators, and instead increases the likelihood of the victim being murdered, to ensure that they are not able to testify. It is even less likely that the victim would report the crime when the perpetrator is a member of their family, if the death penalty is implemented.

  • UN experts have called on the Indian government to protect journalist Rana Ayyub, who has been receiving death threats. Ayyub, author of Gujarat Files: Anatomy of a Cover Up, has been on the receiving end of a social media smear campaign. She wrote for The New York Times, detailing the attacks that were made against her. Experts recalled Gauri Lankesh, who received death threats before ultimately being murdered. It has been noted by the UN that the current government has not attempted to resolve the hostility against dissenting journalists and media people.

  • Asian College of Journalism defended its faculty member, Sadanand Menon, who has been accused of sexual assault by a student, by claiming that the college is being targeted because they are liberal. Menon appeared in Raya Sarkar’s List, but has recently come under more flak, after activists demanded that he be investigated. Amidst claims about attacks against the college, The Caravan published a series of articles about the matter. In one piece in this series, V Geetha writes about the structures that protect ‘important’, intellectual men, arguing that these systems “consider the minds of these men to be of greater value than the bodies of those women.”

  • On May 27, three transgendered persons were assaulted in Thane by workers of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, which is led by Raj Thackeray. The attack was reportedly prompted by the victims’ involvement in robbery and prostitution. Contrary to this claim, the police have declared the three were only begging. The incident sparked protests in Mumbai, organised by queer collective LABIA, which works with lesbians, bisexuals and trans persons, demanding stringent laws to protect the rights of transgendered people.

May at Zubaan

  • Manjima Bhattachrajya’s Mannequin: Working Women in India’s Glamour Industry was launched at an event organised by Jagori and Zubaan, on the 1st of May, at the India International Centre Annexe, Delhi, and has been receiving  some  great  reviews. We also released The Empty Room by Sadia Abbas this last month — on sale on our webstore!

  • The Indie Comix Fest, held for the first time in Delhi, saw Drawing the Line contributors Vidyun Sabhaney Ita Mehrotra as organiser and panelist, respectively. Zubaanis Ishani, Meghna and Sukruti also attended the event, speaking about Zubaan’s work in publishing graphic books as an independent, non-mainstream publisher.

  • Applications for the Zubaan-Sasakawa Peace Foundation Grants closed on 15th May. Selected candidates should expect to  hear back by the 15th of June!

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