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Tag Archives: LGBTQIA

On Topic: The Pride and Pitfalls of Feminism in June

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.

- The 8th Pune Pride and the 10th Chennai Pride added their powerful and diverse voices in favour of the petition against Section 377.

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.

- The LGBT+ residents and allies of the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya refused to be silenced by violent opposition and celebrated what could be the first-ever Pride in a refugee camp.

- Istanbul, Turkey had a similarly revolutionary Pride as hundreds of people defied a state-sanctioned ban, violence and arrests, to participate for the fourth year in a row.

- 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.

 

Eid Mubarak!

These incredible Iftars in the past month celebrated Ramzan in unique ways, while fighting homophobia and Islamophobia.

- The Queer Muslim Project hosted a queer interfaith iftar in Delhi. Check out this video of the event.

- SANGRAM and Nazariya, a queer Muslim collective, hosted a women only Dawat-e-Iftar in Maharashtra to empower Muslim women. Over 200 women read the namaz and partook in the Iftar feast.

- 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.

 

Desi News

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.

 

Videsi News

Have the protests inspired you? Are you prepared for news of the world? It’s not all bad, we promise.

- After months of campaigning, the women of Saudi Arabia have won the right to drive! Watch this celebratory Beatles’ song cover and this epic rap by Saudi women artists for feminist joy.

- European Islamophobia continues to infringe on Muslim women’s cultural rights as the Dutch parliament banned wearing burqa and niqab in public to ‘de-islamize’ The Netherlands.

- 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.

- Dalit culture gained mainstream attention this month with Pa Ranjith’s Kaala.

- 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!

On Topic: The 2018 Review (January-April)

It's been a while since the last On Topic post, and a lot has happened. The #MeToo movement has spread to the world of literature, the Hindi film and music industries, university spaces, religious and cult figures, and, overseas, has resulted in the Time’s Up initiative, a means to provide legal recourse for victims of sexual harassment in Hollywood. Back home, the Kathua and Unnao rape cases shook the country, with protests being organised in multiple cities, and dialogue focussing on rape as a political tool of power, and State impunity. We review all of this (and more) beginning from the start of the year till April.

January began with many deliberating the future of the #MeToo movement (founded by civil rights activist Tarana Burke after a conversation with a 13-year-old girl about the sexual violence she had experienced). In October 2017, the hashtag was picked up on Twitter, initially without knowledge of its origins, by the Hollywood actress Alyssa Milano who asked for survivors of sexual harassment or assault to reply to her tweet with '#MeToo'. From then, it became a global sensation with the movement’s slogan of “empowerment through empathy” extending from Hollywood to academic spaces, where a list of sexual predators in Indian academia was published by Raya Sarkar, a law student at University of California at Davis, creating a storm of debate within feminist circles in the country. Ever since Sarkar’s list, incidents of harassment have been reported, and heavily protested against, in university spaces. In March 2018 Atul Kumar Johri, a professor at the School of Life Sciences in Jawaharlal Nehru University, was accused of harassing eight female students who lodged an FIR against him. Johri denied the charges, arguing that the allegations emerged after he sent mails of compulsory attendance to these students who were not coming regularly to the department lab.

News reports on incidents of sexual assault against women have been pouring in, with some receiving a lot of public attention. The abduction, rape, and murder of an 8-year-old girl1 in a temple in Kathua, a district in Jammu and Kashmir, with the intention to threaten the Bakarwal community, a Muslim minority in a Hindu dominated Kathua region, brought up debates around rape as a political weapon. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, when addressing the incidents, chose to flatten and depoliticise the narrative. The fact that this incident, which happened in January, only came to public eye in April reflected the communal tensions, initially ignored, which were at the heart of the incident. Also in April, the 18 year old woman who was raped by BJP MLA Kuldeep Singh Sengar in his house in Unnao in 2017 (at which time she was a minor) tried to immolate herself, despairing at the lack of justice, in front of the UP’s Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s house. The two cases spurred protests all over the country over the State's support of the perpetrators and the consequent disinterest in meting out justice.

What counts as sexual harassment and assault is an issue that hovered over even the victims of the #MeToo movement, an example of which was observed in filmmaker Mahmood Farooqui’s case. Farooqui was convicted of rape and sentenced a seven-year jail term in August 2016. However, the Supreme Court, in January, rejected the Special Leave Petition (SLP) made by the victim and acquitted Farooqui, the reasons for which were that the accused and accuser were known to each other, and that the victim’s ‘feeble no’ might have meant a ‘yes’. Urvashi Butalia spoke to the victim, Christine Marrewa Karwoski2  about her struggles after the acquittal. In April, self-proclaimed godman Asaram Bapu was sentenced with life imprisonment till death by the Jodhpur Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe court for the rape of a 16-year-old Dalit girl. The other two accused received 20-year jail terms each.

The #MeToo movement brought out the rampant harassment in the world of literature too. Junot Diaz, a Pulitzer prize-winning author and creative writing professor at MIT, was recently accused of harassment by a community of women writers and has now been suspended from his position as a chairperson of the Pulitzer board. Diaz penned an article for the New Yorker, detailing his experience of sexual abuse as a child, days before the allegations against him made rounds. The Indian poetry community, in the wake of the movement and the list created by Sarkar, created a list of sexual predators in the community post allegations of harassment against Shamir Reuben, a renowned spoken word poet and head of content at Kommune, a Mumbai based arts collective.

The Time’s Up campaign, inspired by the #MeToo movement, and which marked the beginning of 2018, started as an initiative to provide a more concrete corollary to the social media movement. Hollywood actors like Meryl Streep, Natalie Portman, and Emma Watson, and activists like Rosa Clemente, Calina Lawrence, and Saru Jayarama, who are all part of this campaign that provides legal recourse to victims of sexual harassment in Hollywood and blue-collar workplaces, wore black at the 75th Golden Globes Award this January as a way to spread awareness. Tarana Burke, who accompanied Michelle Williams at the award show, wrote during the same time about the consequences of a movement like #MeToo, and her concerns that the conversation generated shouldn't be limited to the hashtag, but also extend to what happens afterwards.

The usage of public platforms like the Golden Globes award function by the Time’s Up activists stands in contrast with Bollywood’s (non)treatment of the misogyny, sexism, nepotism, 'casting couch', or even the normalized ridiculing of gender identities through cross-dressing. The Malayalam film industry isn’t far off either, illustrated by the outrage received by the actress Parvathy for speaking about sexism in the industry.

Incidents of harassment and assault against women are glossed over not just through humour or non-addressal in Bollywood but also by invoking damaging images of 'honorable' women, like in the case of the film Padmaavat, who would choose (a 'heroic') death over the spectre of sexual assault by the Muslim 'other'. The portrayal of this necessarily evil Muslim 'other' and the invisibilisation of caste (where are the Dalit women?) rings synonymous with the present state's treatment of these issues and the vision it carries for the 'nation'. Contrasting with the protests around the ‘incorrect’ representation of an honourable Rajput woman that preceded the release of the film, was the February release of Marvel’s Black Panther, whose strong female cast of characters smashed mainstream (white) stereotypes of black female characters. The film's screenwriters were also accused of straight-washing the character of Okoye  played by Danai Gurira, who in an early clip from the film was seen flirting with a queer character, Ayo played by Florence Kasumba. It is not just women characters but the increasing number of female directors and screenwriters who are changing the way sci-fi and comics, so often mistakenly considered and written solely for male interest (and gaze), are written.

The year so far has been littered with the loss of iconic people across the world who, through their lives and work, contributed immensely to the conversations around feminism and gender. In February Bollywood lost one such actor, Sridevi, who was considered a feminist trailblazer and inspired many for the kind of roles she did, for leading films without male co-stars, and demanding equal pay at a time when it was rare in Indian cinema. Naomi Parker Fraley, the woman that inspired the iconic 1940s image of Rosie the Riveter (but who for most of her life wasn’t regarded as the icon’s original inspiration) died in January, aged 97. Rajni Tilak, a Dalit rights activist and leading feminist academic who published path-breaking books like Padchaap (Marching Steps) and Hawa si Bechain Yuvtiya (Restless Women), and who advocated for the inclusion of Dalit women’s work in literary canon, died on 30th March, aged 59.

In the wake of awareness generated by social media movements and metro city pride walks comes an incident of homophobia from Kolkata, where ten students in the 9th standard at Kamala Girls High School were made to sign a written admission for allegedly "indulging in homosexuality", in March. The L in the LGBTQIA+ community is often misrepresented through hyper-sexualization and stigmatised through incidents like the above, but the #LforLove photo project is trying to bust myths by documenting the daily lives of lesbian couples, presenting the many sides of each relationship. If you want to read more about the community and are wondering where to go, the Agents of Ishq have you covered with these excellent book recommendations. Or you could check out what some of us have been reading: Are You My Mother? by Alison Bechdel, the Binti series by Nnedi Okorafor, Caliban and the Witch: Virtual Work in a Real World by Ursula Huws and Colin Leys, Headstrong: 52 Women Who Changed Science... and The World by Rachel Swaby, or Women Contesting Culture: Changing Frames of Gender Politics in India by Paromita Chakravarti and Kavita Panjabi (eds). The Zubaan book club recommends Erotic Stories for Punjabi Women by Balli Kaur Jaswal.

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1. Section 23 of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) law lays down the procedure for the media to report cases of sexual offences against child victims and Section 228A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) deals with disclosure of identity of victims of such offences. The penal law provides for jail term of two years with a fine. The identity of the victim of the Kathua rape case was disclosed by media houses despite the law because of their ignorance and misconception that they could name her because she was dead. The Delhi High Court directed the media houses found guilty to pay a compensation of Rs 10 lakh to the Jammu and Kashmir Victim Compensation Fund.

2. In the interview with Urvashi Butalia Christine Marrewa Karwoski reveals her decision to make her identity public because she feels she hasn't done any wrong or shameful and so hiding her name is not an option for her.

 

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