June has been an eventful month for feminism. With Pride Month and Ramzan, we have had much to celebrate. However, it has been a month of struggles for many, particularly for marginalised communities across the world. A month like this requires some serious feminist reflection.
June is International Pride Month! Happy Pride!
Desi Pride Month has been intense, to say the least. Here are some highlights:
- In a tragedy that highlights the urgent need to address the issues of the Indian LGBT+ community, a lesbian couple in Ahmedabad were forced to commit suicide along with a child because of the constant policing of their desires. The media coverage of the case reveals the stigma of being queer in a heteronormative society. However, Shamini Kothari's obituary for the couple creates a safe space for their story. It is a reflection of her organization QueerAbad’s goal of creating queer intersectional spaces – which they did, during Ahmedabad's first queer pride parade held in February this year.
- Things might have taken a turn for the better for some LGBT+ folks, like Lalit Salve, a cop from Maharashtra who has resumed work after his sex reassignment operation. Such acceptance at work and home is an important step toward the inclusion of trans people.
- However, the marginalisation of the trans community continues, as is apparent in a Kerala High Court verdict that simultaneously recognised and undermined the agency of a 25-year-old trans woman. The court refused a petition by the woman’s mother to allow her into the mother’s sole custody. This verdict went against her right to self-identification because the court ordered a ‘medical/ psychological examination’ to affirm her gender identity, which is in direct opposition to the NALSA judgement of 2014.
- In what might be a crucially influential step, the Indian Psychiatric Society has voiced its support for the decriminalisation of homosexuality, and declassified it as a mental illness. This development came mere days before the Supreme Court began hearing the petition against Section 377, on 9th July. This will hopefully have a positive influence on the court’s verdict.
Videsi Pride month has been just as eventful.
- The LGBT+ community of the Kingdom of Eswatini (erstwhile Swaziland) celebrated their first ever Pride in Mbabane, their capital city. The march was an act of rebellion against the colonial anti-sodomy law that bans homosexuality; and their homophobic monarch who had referred to homosexuality as satanic.
- In keeping with the institutional change back home, the World Health Organization has finally declassified being trans as a mental disorder known as ‘gender incongruence’, thus recognizing trans persons’ right to self-identification.
These incredible Iftars in the past month celebrated Ramzan in unique ways, while fighting homophobia and Islamophobia.
- The Manakameshwar Temple in Lucknow hosted Iftar for over 500 Muslim attendees to advocate for communal harmony. Such initiatives could keep a check on majoritarian impulses and maintain the diversity of cultural traditions of minority communities.
Social media hit some dismal lows and a couple of highs this June.
- Mass hysteria over false Whatsapp forwards, coupled with systemic discrimination against the nomadic tribal community of Nath Panthi Davari Gosavi lead to another misled and violent attack, the lynching of five tribal men in Dhule.
- Right-wing Twitter trolls added their toxicity to the unpleasant mix. Sushma Swaraj was attacked with misogynistic, divisive tweets because she helped an interfaith couple who had complained about the harassment they faced via Twitter get their passports.
- Swaraj was not the only female politician threatened with rape and death this month. Priyanka Chaturvedi’s 10-year old daughter was threatened with rape on Twitter by another Right-wing troll who was recently arrested under POCSO.
- The proposed amendments to the Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act, 1986 may be a step forward in addressing the desperate need to take legal measures to combat trolling and misogyny on the Internet and other digital platforms.
- Amidst all this on-line bigotry, POV Mumbai hosted a three-day digital security workshop with LGBT+ organizations, titled #QueeringTheInterwebs. It created a queer safe space on Twitter. Follow these links for detailed, informative threads about each day of the workshop: Day 1 / Day 2 / Day 3.
Social media can be terrible. But we have news – which can always be worse.
- In an attempt to eliminate manual scavenging, the government has released another arguably flawed report that puts the number of manual scavengers in India at 53,236. This figure invisibilises a large number of manual scavengers. However, it marks a four-fold increase from the 13,000 manual scavengers in 2017, who were promised Rs 40,000 one-time compensation, among other benefits, under the The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013.
- Such flawed reports, that try to invisibilise the rampant sexism and casteism in India, might have contributed to the now controversial Thompson-Reuters poll that declared India to be the most dangerous country for women. The report was rejected by the National Commission for Women and has received mixed reviews from academics and experts, who have questioned it based on its qualitative methodology, the scale of its comparison, and the subjective definitions of safety. However, feminists mostly agree on the point that India indeed is an unsafe country, and we need to fix what is wrong rather than defending it.
- This argument becomes particularly pertinent in the context of the gang-rape of five activists in Jharkhand, mere days before the poll was released. The enormity of the crime has been overshadowed by the political tensions between the State and tribes from the conflicted region.
- In keeping with the fascist pattern of criticising anything that criticises the State, a report on Kashmir published by the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR), was rejected by the State and its opinion-markers. The report comes in the wake of consistent coverage of the human rights violations in Kashmir by the Kashmiri media and NGOs.
- The protest by Anganwadi workers in Srinagar is a testament to the failure of State mechanisms in Kashmir. The salaries of Anganwadi workers in Srinagar have not been processed for over five months now, which is making the demanding job unsustainable for women.
- When completely disillusioned by the State, this poignant Kerala High Court verdict that declares the depiction of breast-feeding on the cover of Malayalam magazine, Grihalakshmi to be inoffensive gives us hope that the State apparatus can be feminist sometimes.
- However, when the State is being overtly oppressive, we take inspiration from people’s protests. When the Maharashtra government decided to set up the ‘globe’s largest oil refinery’ in Konkan, without any consideration for the rights of the villagers who would be dislocated by the mega-project, thousands marched against this encroachment on their homeland in Ratnagiri last month.
- Another similarly important yet overlooked protest was organised by the Aravali Nirman Majdoor Suraksha Sangh, in Udaipur. Over 1,500 people, particularly adivasi women, demanded their right to fair wage, children’s scholarship and maternity benefits under the Building And Other Construction Workers Act, 1996.
Have the protests inspired you? Are you prepared for news of the world? It’s not all bad, we promise.
- Norway also banned the burqa and niqab in schools and universities, in keeping with the homogenizing tendencies of many other European nations that state ‘equal opportunity and growth’ as a reason to reduce cultural diversity.
- In another dismaying rift between feminist theory and activism, around fifty prominent scholars (including Judith Butler and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak) have signed a letter that calls the investigation of the allegation of sexual harassment against fellow academic Avital Ronell by a male student ‘unfair’. They ask for the investigation to favour Professor Ronell, based on her ‘reputation’. This age-old argument has been used repeatedly to protect those in power from allegations of sexual harassment.
- The BBC has shattered the glass ceiling this World Cup season with Vicky Sparks becoming the first woman to commentate for a World Cup game. However, the inclusion of women on panels of football pundits and commentators has threatened sexist male commentators like Jason Cundy, who complained that women have a voice that is 'too high' to narrate football drama.
Film and pop-culture
Do you ‘identify as tired’, as Hannah Gadsby does in Nanette, her fiercely personal and explosively political Netflix special that has been all the rage this past month? Here’s some fun film-talk to make you feel better.
- But not everyone has recognised the powerful promise of Dalit culture. There has been widespread outrage about the erasure of caste issues that form the crux of Sairat, from its Bollywood remake Dhadak.
- The Malayalam film industry has been in ‘feminist flux’ for the past month with actor Dileep, who was arrested for masterminding the kidnapping and gang-rape of a Malayali actress in 2017, being reinstated to the Association of Malayalam Movie Artistes (AMMA). Authors and actresses like K.R Meera and Rima Kallingal have spoken out against the AMMA. Four actresses who are a part of The Women and Cinema Collective have quit the association in protest.
June at Zubaan
That wasn't all fun, and we're sorry – it's been an eventful month. Zubaan has got these fresh-off-the-press books to help you get new and nuanced insights into the problematic complexity of our society.
- Suniti Namjoshi offers a virtuoso display of how the building blocks of a fable can be used in a variety of ways in Foxy Aesop: On The Edge. It’s witty and satirical, and the protagonist Sprite is a comical figure. But at the end, her central question is one of great urgency. Let Deepanjana Pal’s review persuade you further to acquire the literary masterpiece that is Foxy Aesop.
- Rajib Nandi and Ratna M Sudarshan’s edited volume of essays Voices and Values: The Politics of Feminist Evaluation offers critical insight into why it is necessary to bring feminist perspectives to evaluating the impact of grassroots level development programmes.
- Our sister imprint Young Zubaan has a cool new Instagram page (and an even cooler new book)!
- Introduce your favorite kids to our favorite kids: sisters Anjali and Pooja from Ariana Abadian-Heifetz and Pia Alize Hazarika’s Spreading your Wings. They have a lot of questions about the changes their bodies have begun going through and they’ve enlisted their friends, their myth-busting didi (she’s a doctor!) and their mothers in their search for answers. Join the adventure to find out what they learn!