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On Topic: The September Review

September has been an eventful month, from Gauri Lankesh’s murder, to the setbacks in the countries harassment laws, to the police brutality faced by BHU student protesters. Most of the month was pretty awful, making us truly wish we could sleep through it all. But now September is over, and it's time to wake up. Here are the highlights of the good, but mostly bad things that happened this month.

Law and Society

September began with the death of prominent journalist and social worker Gauri Lankesh, who was shot dead near her home in Bangalore. Gauri Lankesh was known for her secular politics and criticism of the right-wing nationalism. Her death raised questions about the freedom of press, and led to protests in several cities across the country. This coincides with the United Nations reporting increasing harassment and violence towards human rights activists in 29 countries, including India. Meanwhile the debate over the fate of 40,000 Rohingya Muslims seeking asylum in India still continues. The centre had moved to deport the refugees citing ties to terrorism, facing heavy criticism from the United Nations Human Rights Council. Now another PIL seeking shelter and a petition supporting the centre’s claims have been filed in the Supreme Court, and will be heard in October. This article provides an interesting legal perspective on the issue. India’s sexual harassment and rape law has also taken a step back with the recent judgement on Mahmood Farooqui’s rape case. Not only was Farooqui acquitted by the Delhi High Court, but its judgement thoroughly dilutes the importance of consent through statements like ‘no could mean yes’. Similarly, the Punjab and Haryana High Court has granted bail to three men convicted of gang rape while blaming the victim’s mind-set and a culture of sexual experimentation.

Education

Protests broke out at Banaras Hindu University after the molestation of a female student outside her hostel. The incident turned ugly when the protestors were baton charged by local police, causing widespread outrage. Several student organizations in Delhi also protested the violence against BHU students. As the VC and state officials continue to trivialize the incident, inquiries are being made into the people responsible for the violence. Meanwhile, Jawaharlal Nehru University has dissolved its 18 year old Gender Sensitisation Committee Against Sexual Harassment (GSCASH), and replaced it with an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC), facing heavy criticism from students, faculty, and independent women’s groups. The new ICC will have lesser faculty and student representatives, and have more nominated than elected members. On a positive note, Dr. Menaka Guruswamy is now the first Indian female Rhodes Scholar to have her oil portrait hung in the Rhodes House at Oxford. This should have happened a long time ago, but the first portrait of a woman Rhodes Scholar was hung only in 2015, even though women have been receiving Rhodes scholarships for the past 40 years.

Cinema

The Malayalam movie ‘Sexy Durga’ has been denied clearance by the Information and Broadcasting Ministry for a screening at the upcoming Mumbai Film Festival. The film deals with the violence and misogyny faced by women every day, and has received acclaim at international film festivals. But the ministry thinks that the film’s name might hurt religious sentiments. Seeing this as the government’s attempt to censor film festivals, an online petition has been started to allow the film to be aired. A new biopic has been announced by Viacom18 Motion Pictures on the life of Mithali Raj, the captain of the Indian women’s cricket team. Mithali hopes it will encourage more young girls to take up sports.

Sports

September has been very good for badminton player P V Sindhu, the first Indian woman to win an Olympic silver medal. She became the first Indian player to win the Korea Open Super Series title, and has now been nominated by the Sports Ministry for the Padma Bhushan award. India won 40 medals at the Asian indoor games held in Turkmenistan this month. P.U. Chitra won gold in 1500m women’s race after being excluded from the London World Championships for being ‘unfit’ by the Athletics Federation of India (AFI). Deeborah Herold from Andaman and Nicobar islands won three silver medals in track cycling sports. Other notable victories include Purnima Hembram winning gold at the pentathlon event, Sanjivani Jadhav winning silver in women’s 3000m race, and Neena Varakil winning bronze in women’s long jump.

In International News

While the NFL and NBA protests against racial discrimination and police brutality in USA have been at the forefront of international news, the WNBA’s protests spanning over a year have not received much coverage. More protests are expected at the WNBA Finals starting on Sunday.

Saudi Arabia has passed a law “allowing” women to drive from June 2018. Whether the law is actually enacting, and translates into real empowerment is yet to be seen.

September at Zubaan

We were interviewed by Artistik License! Find it here. The seventh edition of Zubaan’s ‘Cultures of Peace’ festival celebrating Northeast India is underway; this month we held a panel discussion on ‘Queer Identities in the Northeast’ in collaboration with The Delhi University Queer Collective (DUQC) and the Gender Studies Cell at St. Stephens College. Panelists Diti Lekha Sharma, Pavel Sagolsem and Dona Marwein spoke with Gertrude Lamare and video and written coverage of the event is up. The next ‘Cultures of Peace’ event will take place on 14th October at the Asian Confluence in Shillong. We are also organizing events at TISS Guwahati on 12th and 13th October. Keep an eye on our Facebook page for more details. Our E-essays project released three sets of essays this month – on violence against women, health, and trauma. This month our book club discussed a TV show for the first time – “The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl” by Issa Rae. In our next meeting we will be discussing “Women Without Men: A Novel of Modern Iran” by Shahrnush Parsipur.

On Topic: The August Review

From protests by Anganwadi workers in Delhi over low wages, conversations around the draft surrogacy bill, celebrating #WomeninTranslation Month to PV Sindhu’s success at the 2017 BWF Championships, On Topic reviews major events and conversations around gender and women in India in August.

Activism and Advocacy

- August saw the continuation of protests by the Delhi State Anganwadi Workers and Helpers Union (DSAWHU) over demands of a pay hike and the implementation of an agreement which was signed between the workers and Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal in July 2015 but has not yet been put into action. Surprisingly the incredible show of strength of thousands of workers drew little visibility. In Delhi alone, the union is a collective of twenty-two thousand women; growing numbers of women participating in the dharna led to the closure of increasing numbers of Anganwadi centres. The union called off the protest after fifty two days when a Gazette notification on the increase in honorarium was issued. Though they have achieved a victory, it is important to critically examine the government's stance that these workers are ‘voluntary’ workers and therefore they are paid only an honorarium, considering that they perform some of the most important services at the frontline level.

- The Supreme Court in its landmark verdict on 22nd August ruled that the practice of triple talaq is void and illegal, with the five-judge bench setting aside triple talaq by a 3-2 majority.  It has been a long haul for the campaigners: since it was first set up in 2007, the Muslim women’s rights group Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA) have been fighting to get rid of triple talaq. Unfortunately, a close reading of the ruling reveals that the court has missed a historic opportunity to render an informed, clearly reasoned and potentially landmark decision on women’s rights. Instead, the 395-page rambling and unwieldy decision offers little sound jurisprudential grounds to advance women’s rights, and women remain framed within a protectionist discourse to be recuperated through male or state protection. The onus is now on Parliament to format a bill and see to it that a law comes into effect. The next six sessions of Parliament before the country goes in for the next General Election are ones to watch and pressure the government into acting in favour of gender equality.

- Students of Hindu College, University of Delhi organized a series of protests at the college's administrative block for over two weeks in August against the discriminatory hostel fees for the girls’ hostel, which was constructed 117 years after the college was founded. The matter was taken up by Pinjra Tod, an autonomous women’s movement operating at the university, who intimated the matter to the Delhi Commission for Women, which later summoned the principal and asked the college to address the discriminatory nature of regulations and fee structure that was made binding on women. A report from 29th August indicates that the University Grants Commission (UGC) has told the Delhi Commission for Women that Hindu College authorities have to resolve on their own the issue of charging of higher fee at the girls’ hostel.

Employment and Livelihood

- The Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), a think tank, observed that in the first four months of 2017, while jobs for men in India increased by 0.9 million, 2.4 million women fell off the employment map. The trend for this year points to a continuing story of Indian women increasingly clocking out of the workplace. The logical link that education should lead to jobs is broken in India. Ongoing research suggests a complex web of constraints that keep women away from the workplace with the chief among these is the issue of women’s agency. Social norms about appropriate behaviour for women and the enforcement of these norms by parents, in-laws and husbands dictates their ability to seek employment.

Google’s Internet Saathi programme, in partnership with Tata Trust, has been present in over 100,000 Indian villages with the aim to help rural women go online. The programme will now be rolled out in Bihar and Haryana. Google’s own research has also shown that women who were exposed to the programme have seen improvements to their socio-economic conditions, compared to villages where the Internet Saathi programme was not launched. Sapna Chadha, the marketing head, in a previous interview clarified that it is Google's mission to reduce India' s digital gender gap, which is one of the worst digital gender gaps anywhere in the world—this in a country with the second largest internet population.

Gender, Sexuality and Reproductive Rights

- Calling the draft surrogacy bill ‘narrow’, the parliamentary committee has recommended allowing live-in couples, divorced women and widows to use surrogates, adding that a surrogate should not have to belong to the parent’s family. The original bill wanted to do away with commercial surrogacy and instead base it on ‘altruism’, with the surrogate having to be a close relative of the married couple in question. The committee has said in its report that this cannot work in a patriarchal structure. The surrogate is likely to be coerced and will get nothing out of this arrangement, while everyone else will benefit, reinforcing the idea that a woman’s body is not her own. However, the compensated surrogacy model offered as an alternative by the committee is not without problems. The report describes this compensation as the “the lost wages for the duration of pregnancy, medical screening and psychological counselling of surrogate; child care support or psychological counselling for surrogate mother’s own child/ children, dietary supplements and medication, maternity clothing and post delivery care”. Considering that surrogate mothers are mostly from socio-economically marginalised communities and are part of the informal labour force, the calculation of compensation based on loss of wages does not assure fair conditions of employment.

- This August, the Supreme Court ruled that Indians have a constitutional right to privacy, a verdict that could have wide-reaching implications on broader civil rights issues, including homosexuality. At least three of the five separate but concurring judgments that made up the Supreme Court’s privacy ruling—the four-judge judgment authored by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud on behalf of the Chief Justice, Justice R.K. Agarwal, himself and Justice Nazeer, and the judgment of Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul—explicitly tackled the implications of privacy as a fundamental right on Section 377, or the sexual orientation of a citizen. In dealing with the legal definition of ‘privacy’, it also delved rather extensively into how a flawed interpretation was applied to the Naz Foundation case in 2013. The Supreme Court in no uncertain words said: “The rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender population cannot be construed as ‘so called’ rights. The expression ‘so called’ seems to suggest that the exercise of a liberty in the garb of a right that is illusory. This is an inappropriate construction of the privacy based on the claims of the LGBT population.”

The Indian Association for Women’s Studies (IAWS) held a national convention in August to discuss the significance and contributions of Women’s Studies centres over the last three decades and talk about how the attempts to dilute these centres could be stopped. This convention was prompted by a UGC notice expressing uncertainty about continued funding for 163 women’s studies centres and schools across the country. In 2003, there was an attempt to rename the centres in different universities as women and family studies centres which would have moved focus away from that of gender equality and the questioning of patriarchal gender roles. However, since the convention, in a recent PTI report, the UGC secretary stated that "There is no such proposal to cut or stop support to women study centres being funded by the UGC.”

Documentaries, Literature and Paintings

- Launched in 2014, the observation of August as Women in Translation Month or #WITMonth in online literary spaces is a response to the lesser attention received by works by women in translation. In 2016, The Guardian reported that only 26% of English translations in the US-UK market are female-authored books. Last year, we published a list of some of Zubaan’s translated books on our blog. This year we decided to go a bit further by highlighting some of the novels, short stories and memoirs recently translated from Indian languages to English, across publishers. We hope you find your next book to read from this list!

- Print and TV journalist Nupur Basu’s 2017 documentary Velvet Revolution produced by the International Association for Women in Radio and Television is a moving depiction of female journalists in conflict and war zones. The documentary goes beyond factual data and percentages to understand what ails and helps these journalists’ progress on the field through interviews with female journalists across geographies. After a recent screening, in a conversation with The Hindu, Nupur Basu detailed the different ways conflict plays out for a female journalist, from having to use spouses as unpaid male bodyguards, being trolled, caste discrimination to being attacked.

- Indian-origin UK artist Kanwal Dhaliwal has created a series of paintings in oils and acrylics, titled 'The Partition' to show the suffering of women who were victims of the Partition. Dhaliwal, who taught art at a school in Chamba for seven years before moving to the UK, says that his works have been influenced by the writings of Saadat Hasan Manto and Ishtiaq Ahmed. Some of the paintings from this collection can be viewed here.

Sports

- In what was the longest match of the Badminton World Championships, which lasted for 110 minutes, PV Sindhu faced Japan’s Nozomi Okuhura to bag the silver medal. It is a historic occasion since for the first time India bags two medals at the championship with Saina Nehwal winning a bronze medal after losing her semifinal.

-Of the seventeen Arjuna Awards given this year, only five have been conferred on female sportspersons: Jyothi Surekha Vennam for archery, Khushbir Kaur for athletics, Prashanthi Singh for basketball, Harmanpreet Kaur for cricket and Oinam Bembem Devi for football. The award, however, has not been without controversies over the years, from Milkha Singh turning down a belated Arjuna Award for lifetime contribution,  to the controversial point system adopted in 2002 that was later dropped, and to Bobby Aloysius quitting after she was rejected thrice despite her sporting credentials. This year too, despite them being the federation and Tamil Nadu government’s official entry for the award, the Arjuna Award evades basketball player Anitha Pauldurai yet again. Vidya Pillai, a snooker player who has won numerous national and international titles is yet to win an Arjuna Award despite having filed applications for five years now.

August at Zubaan

Our e-Essays project has been making individual essays available in e-formats for a reasonable fee. This month, we released collections curated to the themes of religion & conflict, state crimes & impunity, and legislation.

Translations and bibliodiversity have been talked about much this last month, with LiveMint featuring a conversation between six publishing 'thought leaders' (including head-Zubaani Urvashi) on "the Indian translation story."

#ThrowbackThursdays on our blog this month brought back a 2015 title, our first graphic anthology of stories: Drawing the Line: Indian Women Fight Back. We also have back in print this month: Do You Remember Kunan Poshpora? (Batool et al, 2016), Dear Mrs. Naidu (Mathangi Subramanian, 2015), Tales in Colour (Kunzang Choden, 2009).

Our monthly feminist book club will next be discussing Issa Rae's web-series The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl on 17 September, 11 AM. If you’d like to join, shoot us  an email (contact@zubaanbooks.com).

That’s it for August, but On Topic will be back next month with more conversations, news and stories!

On Topic: The July Review

From protests against the 12% GST imposed on sanitary napkins, conversations around menstrual leave policy, the much-awaited release of Lipstick Under My Burkha to the Indian team’s success at the Women’s Cricket World Cup, On Topic reviews major events and conversations around gender and women in India in July.

Activism and Advocacy

- July saw protests in different parts of the country against the 12% GST imposed on sanitary napkins. Students of the University of Kerala sent sanitary napkins with 'Bleed without fear, bleed without tax’ to the Union Finance Minister. Government officials, however, stated that their decision was driven by a desire to protect local manufacturers and avoid an inverted tax structure. This has also opened up critical conversations around the patriarchal beliefs underlying reproductive health concerns, as well as the environmental effects of sanitary napkins as compared to other menstrual hygiene products like cloth and menstrual cups.

-  #PropertyForHer is a campaign that is fighting for securing land and property rights for women in South Asia. The campaign was initiated by Kamla Bhasin after a conversation with journalist Radhika Bordia revealed that the latter couldn’t find one woman in Delhi who was ready to say that she hadn’t received her share of her family property on camera. In the past month, the campaign has started important conversations around women’s property rights and one must view them against statistics around female land ownership. In 2002, only 51% of surveyed widows inherited land from their deceased husbands and even as recently as 2010-11, the agricultural census shows that only 12.69% of rural women have ‘operational holdings’. The campaign not only appeals to those who view female land ownership from a gender equality lens but also those who view it from an instrumental lens with some posters having captions such as “If women have property, children have security”.

- Protests continued in Odisha against the liberalised liquor policy. Earlier this year, hundreds of women demanded the closure of liquor shops. These activists are largely wives of daily wage workers, marginal farmers and village artisans who spend a substantial amount of their income on liquor. July saw the indefinite dharna by the women of Shreepura village, demanding the removal of a liquor distillery in their village, reach its fiftieth day with the administration not yielding to their demands. This lack of response from the state machinery is particularly worrisome as it has been proven in numerous community studies that alcohol abuse results in physical, emotional and economic violence with the women in the family often being the recipients of such violence.

Employment and Livelihood

- Private sector Yes Bank has received $150 million funding from the US government and Wells Fargo to increase lending to support women entrepreneurs and small and medium-sized enterprises in India. Yes Bank has stated that the facility will support financing women entrepreneurs in India, to drive future economic growth and job creation.

-Mumbai based digital media company, Culture Machine is offering 'menstrual leaveto female staff as part of its official policy and called on authorities to pass legislation on giving all working women the option of taking the first day of their period off through this video.  However, this move by Culture Machine and Gazoop has not been without criticism, with some arguing that such policies threaten to undermine women’s long-standing battle to discourage the notion that their natural cycle makes them weak or in any way less able. This debate has been ongoing for the last few years since several East Asian countries introduced them as a move to greater gender equality. While these op-ed pieces also share some of these criticisms, they also follow the historical roots of this policy. For example in Japan, when menstrual leave was enforced a little after WWII, "It represented their ability to speak openly about their bodies and to gain social recognition for their role as workers." The question is if ample paid sick leave for all can achieve the same goals as the menstrual leave?

Movies and Photography

-Shahria Sharmin has been chosen by Magnum photographer Susan Meiselas as her juror’s pick in this year’s Magnum Awards, for her images of hijra communities in Bangladesh and India. Her images are deeply personal portraits and she aims to continue her documentation in the hopes that her work can help hijras to “find a breathing space in a claustrophobic society.”

-Lipstick Under My Burkha has made its debut in India after months of wrangling with the censor board of India. Directed by Alankitra Shrivastav, the movie tells the story of four women grappling with their sexual desires, with society's regressive approach towards female sexuality  one of the dominant themes of the film. You can read our intern Zoya’s review here.

Gender, Sexuality and Reproductive Rights

- Reproductive Health Matters’ (RHM) latest issue on disability and sexuality was co-produced by CREA and one can read the entire publication for free here. For this themed issue, RHM brings together a selection of articles that shed light on the lives of people with disabilities, focusing on their sexual and reproductive health and rights.

-The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Social Justice and Empowerment, headed by Ramesh Bais, presented its 43rd report.The Committee has asked the government to clearly define a transgender person and to consider suitably incorporating the committee’s suggestions in 'The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill 2016'.  Several issues that the bill needs to resolve include the question of current definition, which replaced the one in the 2015 draft inclusion of persons with intersex variations under the transgender umbrella; discrimination in employment not addressed etc. If these guidelines are not clarified, the bill might even harm the community.

-The Supreme Court has refused to allow an abortion for a 10-year-old girl, allegedly raped by her uncle, on the grounds that she is too far into her pregnancy. The doctors’ panel told the court that, at 32 weeks, the termination would be too risky. A lower court had earlier turned down her plea on similar grounds.The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 allows the termination only up to 20 weeks, and though the court has allowed termination beyond this permissible period in the past based on medical board recommendations, this case indicates the urgency with which this act needs to be amended to better address the varying concerns of Indian women - be they rape survivors, married women or sexually active single women.

Sports

-Women’s cricket saw India and England battle for the Women’s Cricket World Cup after seeing some terrific performances, especially India’s win against Australia in the semi-finals. The pulsating finish saw England win the cup by nine runs.

- The 2017 Asian Athletics Championships held from 6th to 9th July at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubanweswar saw India’s top of the table finish with a total of 29 medals. The Indian women gold medalists include Chitra P U in women’s 1500m run, Sudha Singh in the Women’s 3000m Steeplechase, Manpreet Kaur in women’s Shot Put, Swapna Barman in Women’s Heptathlon, Nirmala Sheoran in Women’s 400m Run and the Women’s 4*400m relay.

-Dutee Chand who was subjected to a gender testing in 2013 has bagged a bronze medal in the 100m event at the 2017 Asian Athletics Championships. Just a day before the championship, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) decided to return to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) with more evidence in support of its Hyperandrogenism Policy which ruled that any female athlete with naturally high testosterone levels ineligible for competition. Chand is allowed to continue to compete till a final decision is given by CAS on her appeal against the policy. However, unless athletic authorities want to take on all conditions that might result in an unfair advantage – biological, genetic, social or otherwise – it seems arbitrary to focus on testosterone in female athletes.

The World

-A recent report revealed the unjust  disparity in pay between men and women working at the BBC. The top-earning woman at the BBC takes home only a fifth of what the top-earning man at BBC does. This disparity is seen across all levels and an anonymous female senior journalist commented that “young female producers are kept long term on shabby short-term one or three-month or six-month contracts on rates that haven’t moved for 20 years or more.”

-A report from the Media, Diversity & Social Change Initiative at the University of Southern California does not show promising results for representation of diversity, after analyzing the demographic makeup of every speaking or named characters from 100 highest-grossing films at the domestic box office every year since 2007. It found that the representation of women, minorities, LGBT people, disabled characters in films remains largely unchanged from the previous year. Exclusion, the report says, is the norm in Hollywood, not the exception.

-Google CEO, Sundar Pichai has stated that they are looking to train 10 million people in sub-Saharan Africa in online skills over the next five years. They also hope to train 100,000 software developers in Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa. This pledge is an expansion of an initiative launched in 2016 and the programme will try to ensure that at least 40% of people trained are women. However, many African women face cultural and social barriers to becoming entrepreneurs, so it is to be seen what the impact of this programme would be if sufficient employment avenues are not created post the training.

July at Zubaan

Zubaan commander-in-chief Urvashi Butalia has been awarded this year's Goethe Medal, an official distinction from the German Federal Republic. The medal "honors individuals who have displayed exceptional competence of the German language as well as in international cultural exchange”, and will be presented to Urvashi at a ceremony in Weimar in late August.

The e-Essays project has been making individual essays available in e-formats for a reasonable fee. The first four sets of the e-Essays focused on Indian women's movements, sexual violence, domestic space and kinship and religion and conflict. To be added to the mailing list, subscribe here!

We had three new book releases in July, Women, Peace and Security in Northeast India (Åshild Kolås (ed.), July 2017, Academic), Motherhood and Choice: Uncommon Mothers, Childfree Women(Amrita Nandy, July 2017, Academic) and Aosenla's Story (Temsula Ao, July 2017, Fiction)

Zubaan’s feminist book club will be discussing Attia Hosain’s Sunlight on a Broken Column this August. We’ll be meeting on the morning of Sunday, 20th August - if you’d like to join, shoot us  an email (contact@zubaanbooks.com).

New on our blog is our picks from the latest in YA lit. We would love to hear about your favourite YA titles!

That’s it for July, but On Topic will be back next month with more conversations, news and stories!

 

ON TOPIC: JUNE WITH GENDER, INCLUSIVITY, AND EDUCATION

Events

-On the 28th of June, various Indian cities saw protests under the name of Not In My Name’ being held. The protests, although held in immediate response to the lynching of Junaid Khan, addressed the larger issues of militant nationalism and vigilante ‘beef lynchings’. While holding a protest like this was extremely important, people have voiced criticisms of the protest as well, in particular speaking out about the issue of the name of the protest, saying it’s like the “Indian upper-caste liberals’ version of #NotAllMen.

-In celebration of Pride Month, Chennai held its (9th) annual pride parade this June, and over a 100 people participated. People chanted slogans, dressed up in colourful clothes and handed out badges. A group of sex workers also joined the parade to raise awareness about sexually transmitted diseases.

-This month, the Indian Express started a new series called #GenderAnd, where through different articles and news pieces, it looked at the intersection of gender with other concepts like culture, the nation, and development, showing that gender isn’t something that can be looked at in isolation. The series includes articles on painting (gender and culture), corporate India (gender and business), trans rights (gender and the nation), and so on.

Popular Culture

-After a long struggle with the Indian Censor Board for certification, Lipstick Under My Burkha (which was initially supposed to release in October last year) will finally hit Indian theatres on the 21st of July. The film was earlier denied certification on the premise that it was too ‘lady oriented’. Balaji Motion Pictures announced the news with a bold and telling poster. Despite its release being stalled in India, the film has won numerous accolades abroad.

-Video Volunteers, a media and human rights NGO has a campaign called #KhelBadal, a video based campaign that tries to initiate conversations on different issues. This month, the campaign was called What’s In A Name, and talked about how many women all over the country are unable to address their husbands by the first name as it’s seen as a sign of disrespect. Not following this practice leads to social censure. Watch the video here.

Politics and Governance

-Chaya Kakde, accompanied by five other social workers from her women’s self-help organisation in Maharashtra, has been on a hunger strike since the 21st of June (as of 26 June 2017). Their demands include: removal of GST on sanitary napkins, making sanitary napkins available at ration shops, the providing of free sanitary napkins to women with uterus cancer, and the installment of sanitary pad vending machines in Maharashtra schools. They plan to move their protest to Jantar Mantar by June 30 if their demands are not met.

-Tamil Nadu is going to make the registration of pregnancies with the health department mandatory. Not completing such formalities could mean that the child will not get a birth certificate. The scheme, which will be implemented in July, is "[...] an ambitious project that attempts to bring down maternal and infant mortality rates by keeping a tab on every pregnant woman in the state," according to health secretary J Radhakrishnan.

However, this announcement does raise certain issues. As this article points out, the implementation of the scheme, especially in rural areas, will reduce the amount of time village nurses have to actually interact with pregnant women and educate them about health risks, as record keeping will begin to consume most of their times. Further, placing pregnant women under surveillance could make them feel conscious to avail of abortion services.

-A conference organized by the National Commission for Women in Chandigarh revealed that many women who married NRI men were being abandoned by their husbands, who after moving abroad without their wives, sent them divorce notices. This is a common occurrence, and to curb it, the Indian government is going to launch a web portal to help women who have been abandoned by men abroad.  This redressal system will aim at helping women register grievances regarding maintenance, divorce, and child support.

-The Haryana government will now allow married girl students in state universities and colleges to avail of maternity leave benefits of up to 45 days after submitting a valid medical certificate, effective from the upcoming academic session onwards. However, this only applies to married students, despite the fact that is it possible for unmarried women to get pregnant too!

-This month, the Punjab government decided to implement a number of progressive measures that will empower women in different spheres of their lives. Firstly, it increased the percentage of seats reserved for women in rural and urban local bodies from 33% to 50%. Further, it declared that education in government schools and colleges from the nursery to PhD level will be made free. The education reforms also include making textbooks more accessible and equipping classrooms with internet facilities.

-The Tamil Nadu government made education for transgender students free in the Manonmaniam Sundaranar University in Tirunelveli. Further, ‘meritorious students’ are to get an additional stipend of Rs. 3,000 per month. Over in Kerala, the State Literacy Mission, following a survey, decided on continuing its education programmes for transgender students who discontinued their education midway. The programmes started in early June, and are being held in different cities for both tenth grade and senior secondary levels.

It's heartening to see different state governments making progressive measures to empower different sections of the population. However, the large gap between announcement and implementation can make policies fail, even if they have the best of intentions.

For example—the Kochi Metro, this month, became the first government organization to employ transgender people, with 23 transgender people being hired as ground staff. However, within a week of the metro’s implementation, 8 of the employees quit, as people refused to rent houses/rooms to them because of their gender identity.

Undoubtedly, it’s extremely important for the policy formulation and implementation agencies to recognise that nothing takes place in a vacuum—the social context always needs to be taken into account, and structures need to be put into place to ensure that the policy can function smoothly on the ground.

-Women are allowed to hold positions in the medicinal, legal, and engineering branches of the Indian Army, but they cannot be placed in combat positions. However, this month, the Army Chief said that the Army was in talks with the government to open up combat roles to women, something very few countries worldwide have done. The chief further said that initially, women would be recruited in the military police, whose role involves maintaining movement of soldiers, handling prisoners of war, assisting the civil police, etc.

This, however, raises larger questions about whether we as feminists should be lauding the Army for taking this step.  This Firstpost article puts forward some pertinent points—“If the inherent nature of the army is violence, and if violence is something that is both incompatible with feminism and that has uniquely horrifying effects on women, what does it mean to enlist more women in such an organization? There’s a lot here to unpack before we throw a party celebrating women’s entry into this traditionally male field. We’re all for women facing better employment prospects, but do we really need them to be hired as agents of violence and the patriarchy?”

Legal Judgements

-The Uttarakhand High Court declared that courts throughout the state should hear acid attack cases on a daily basis, and ensure that such trials conclude within three months. The court also announced that a compensation of Rs 1 lakh should be paid to acid attacks victims by the state after the filing of an FIR. It also ordered the state government to provide protection to eye-witnesses during the trial.

Sports

-The ICC Women’s Cricket World Cup commenced this month, and our cricket team emerged victorious from their first match, where they beat England by 35 runs.

-Pro-wrestler Kavita Dalal has been selected for the WWE’s 32-competitor Women’s Tournament, The Mae Young Classic.

Tech

-Following company research that revealed that many Indian women don’t set profile pictures of their faces out of fear that their pictures will be misused, Facebook is now rolling out a new feature in India called profile picture guard. Activating the feature means the following: others cannot download, share or send your profile picture in a message on Facebook, and Android users will be unable to take screenshots of your profile picture. However, screenshots still can be taken from other devices.

June at Zubaan

-After five long years, we sent out a new and improved version of our e-newsletter to our subscribers! If you’re interested in being up to date about Zubaan’s new releases, activities and projects, make sure you sign up for the (monthly) newsletter here.

-This month has also been dedicated to putting the finishing touches on our e-Essays project, due to launch next month. This project is going to ‘unbundle’ content by making select essays from anthologies available in e-formats for a reasonable fee. If you’re subscribed to our newsletter, keep your eyes peeled for the e-Essays mailer, coming to your inbox soon.

-On the 25th, Zubaan’s feminist book club discussed Amruta Patil’s Adi Parva. If you were unable to attend but are interested to read it, pick up the book here. Also, if you’d like to know when the next meeting is, don’t hesitate to shoot us an email (contact@zubaanbooks.com).

-This month on the blog, we featured two excerpts from our title Watercolours: A Story from Auschwitz by Lidia Ostałowska, translated from Polish by Sean Gasper Bye. Watercolours is the story of artist Dina Gottliebová-Babbitt and how she survived Auschwitz. In the words of S.G Bye:

 Lidia Ostałowska’s telling of this powerful story interweaves Dina’s life with the history of the camp both during and after the war, tracking how cultural memory of the Holocaust has evolved over the last half-century in Europe, America and Israel. She also poses challenging questions about art and morality. If art is used in service of genocide, is it still art? What are the artist’s duties under such circumstances? And to whom does the artist’s work belong—to the artist? The victims? To humanity?

That’s it for June, but On Topic will be back next month with more feminist news, so see you soon!

(PS: for daily feminist news updates, follow us on Twitter!)

 

On Topic: May with Menstruation, Masturbation, & Mental Health

Events

-May is observed as International Masturbation Month and sex- positive website Agents of Ishq helped people celebrate it. Through the posts on their website and by using the hashtag #masturbationmay on social media platforms, they initiated conversations about female masturbation (something that isn’t talked about often) and talked about the different words people use to refer to masturbation. They even published a series of videos that addressed and dispelled various myths surrounding the topic!

-May is also Mental Health Awareness Month, and Canada-based desi duo Chuski Pop, who host monthly podcasts on desi culture, women’s issues and society at large, dedicated their May podcast to talking about women’s mental health and addressing their own struggles with depression and anxiety. Catch them on Soundcloud here for more.

Governance and Politics

-Besides masturbation and mental health, the month was also dedicated to discussions on menstruation, owing to the fact that the new Goods and Services Tax (GST) regime has taxed sanitary napkins at 12%, but has made items like sindoor, bindis and bangles tax free. Although the 12% figure is a reduction from the earlier figure of 14.5%, this decision has angered many as it prioritizes the affordability of symbols of marriage and beauty over items that are of essential use to women.

In India, only 12% of the female population has access to sanitary products. Women who don’t enjoy access to these products use alternatives like rags, ashes and even old sand, leading to long term health complications and sometimes death. Government programmes do exist to promote menstrual health, however in states like Hyderabad and Telangana, they have suffered from bad implementation. A survey done in the two states reveals that while there are provisions that provide girls with supplies, disposal still remains an issue.

The public’s response to the new tax regime was swift—many took to social media to express their disappointment, and petitions and campaigns like #lahukalagaan were launched.

-Social media was also used by Chhattisgarh police officer Varsha Dongre to expose the (alleged) human rights violations being carried out by the Indian state. In a Facebook post, she talked about how young Adivasi girls in Bastar were subjected to extreme torture like electric shocks. She also went on to state that tribal women suspected of being Naxalites were being raped and assaulted. She was subsequently suspended for violation of conduct.

-While some girls are being denied their human rights, others are being denied their right to education. Schoolgirls from Rewari in Haryana sat on an 8 day hunger strike to demand the upgradation of their local school from Class 10 to 12. A similar protest also took place in Rajgarh. These strikes took place because schools that offered higher classes are located far away from the villages where the schoolgirls live, and they would consistently face sexual harassment during their long journey to school.

- Undoubtedly, education is an integral aspect of everyone’s lives, and how it is structured can shape worldviews and opinions. However, Indian education may soon witness the erasure of identities. The Central Board of Secondary Education in its course review meeting suggested that it may replace the term ‘Anti-Muslim Riots’ with ‘Gujarat Riots’ to refer to the 2002 communal riots. This definitely isn’t the first time that (potential) syllabus changes have reflected ideological considerations—in 2014, former HRD minister Smriti Irani announced that Kendriya Vidyalayas would discontinue teaching German as a third language as an alternative to Sanskrit, a decision she said was taken in view of "national interest".

Many BJP leaders have also been demanding the removal of Mughal emperors from textbooks to make more space for Hindu kings. Earlier this year, an RSS-organized workshop called Gyan Sangam was held in Delhi, and academics and vice chancellors of various central and state universities were on the list of attendees. The aim of the workshop was to discuss how to “Indianise” the educational system of the country and bring a “real nationalist narrative” to higher education.

-In representing all shades of opinion in governance, Mexico is making important strides. Mexico’s National Indigenous Governing Council appointed María de Jesús Patricio Martínez as their spokesperson. Backed by the leftist political group Zapatista Army of National Liberation, this decision will pave the way for her to run as an independent candidate in the upcoming presidential elections in 2018. As an indigenous woman who will now work towards securing representation for her historically underrepresented community, her appointment is extremely symbolic.

-Speaking of representation and recognition of identities—Taiwan made history this month when it became the first Asian country to decriminalize gay marriage. Its constitutional court declared that a new legal framework accommodative of gay marriage must be implemented within two years.

Legal Judgements

-The highly brutal and highly publicised Nirbhaya gang rape case came to a close on May 5th, when the Supreme Court upheld capital punishment for the accused. The court’s decision was met with mixed responses—many celebrated the decision and thought it was fitting, but some questioned the role of the death penalty as a deterrent. These concerns were further exacerbated when only a few days later, a woman was brutally gang raped in Rohtak.

-On May 11, a five-judge bench of the Supreme Court convened a special summer session to deliberate upon the constitutionality of triple talaq. Six days later, it decided to reserve its verdict. However, the bench did ask the All India Muslim Personal Law Board whether a clause could be inserted in the nikahnama (marriage contract) that would prevent a husband from being able to use triple talaq. Muslim marriage is contractual, so the addition of such a clause will specify the nature of a woman’s consent to a marriage and thus possibly curb the use of triple talaq in the future. However, as Flavia Agnes says

“In any case […] the bride and her family have little, if any, say in wedding-related decisions. The nikahnama is usually drawn up by qazis affiliated to the Muslim law board and they hardly ever inform the bride of her right to negotiate the terms of her marriage.”

Thus, only time will tell what sort of judgement will now emerge from the apex court and how it will impact Muslim women.

Sports

-The Indian women’s cricket team is breaking worldwide records—Deepti Sharma and Poonam Raut became the first ever pair to score 300 runs in a One-Day International. Jhulan Goswami also made history when she became the highest wicket taker in women’s ODIs.

Popular Culture

-May has been a good month for female directors. DC Comics’ first ever female led superhero movie Wonder Woman hits select theatres at the end of this month, and will see worldwide release in June. It also happens to be the first major studio superhero movie directed by a female director, Patty Jenkins. Gina Prince-Bythewood will soon make history as the first woman of colour to direct a superhero film with Marvel Comic’s Silver and Black. The film itself is centred around two women ‘antiheroes’. Further, this month at the Cannes Film Festival, Sophia Coppola became the second woman ever to win the Best Director title for her film The Beguiled. The first woman to win this title, Yuliya Solntseva, received it over 56 years ago.

Tech

-Intel Social Business Ltd. and a Bangladeshi not for profit have created the COEL, a smart bangle that gives pregnant women audio cues like reminders regarding diet, vaccinations, cramps, etc. Rural women lack access to maternal healthcare facilities, and the COEL seeks to address that issue. COEL can also detect toxic carbon fumes originating from the use of charcoal, which can be harmful to the child and alert the mother. It’s being used in Bangladesh and will be distributed in Indian markets this year at the price of Rs 1000.

In Memoriam

-Earlier this month, Justice (retd) Leila Seth passed away. She was the first woman judge in the Delhi High Court, and the first woman to become a Chief Justice of a state high court (Himachal Pradesh). She was also responsible for progressive amendments to the Hindu Succession Act.

May at Zubaan:

-Do You Remember Kunan Poshpora?, our book on the 1991 mass rape of women from the Kashmiri villages of Kunan and Poshpora, by the Indian army, was awarded the Laadli Media prize for best non-fiction book. Co-written by five Kashmiri women, the book highlights the continuing legal (non-)consequences of the Indian state’s human rights abuses under AFSPA in Kashmir.

-In celebration of International Museum Day and in collaboration with the International Association for Women’s Museums, Zubaan participated in a worldwide social media campaign to promote women’s museums. We shared several posters from our Poster Women archive on Facebook and Twitter, which addressed various issues like dowry death, religion and domestic violence.

-We also announced our next Young Zubaan project, a comic book promoting menstrual health among young readers called Spreading Your Wings. Created by Ariana Abadian-Heifetz and illustrated by Pia Alizé Hazarika, it will have both Hindi and English editions. The author is currently accepting donations so that the cost of the book can be subsidized, making it affordable and able to reach as many beneficiaries as possible!

-On the 28th, Zubaan’s feminist book club discussed Kuzhali Manickavel’s Insects Are Just Like You And Me Except Some of Them Have Wings. If you were unable to attend but are interested to read it, you can pick up the book here. The next meeting is on the 25th of June and we’re reading Amruta Patil’s Adi Parva – if you’d like to join us, shoot us an email (contact@zubaanbooks.com)!

Happy reading, and May the force be with you!

On Topic: Feminist Waves through Different Mediums

April has been my favourite month since I was in school: the excitement of new class, the fragrance of the new books, covering new notebooks and so on. Let us look at the events and and voices that created impact in our feminist world last month.

Things begun with the news that India got its first transgender sub-inspector K. Prithika Yashini from Chennai, and her struggle also raised several LGBTQ issues of gender identity and social acceptance.

Lucknow embarked on its first #Pride on April 9, where we got to see trademark queer quirky messages alongside the rainbow flags and glitter. The month also witnessed another memorable moment for same-sex marriage in Punjab on 22nd April 2017, with enthusiasm and love.

From celebrating sexuality, fighting for gender identities, prejudices against and within the LGBTQ community boxing in the social construct, we witnessed a revolution against the patriarchal social construct and applause to all those never-ending voices against the oppression and violence.

The end of this month beheld the Kerala Trans Sports Meet in Trivandam on 28th April, 2017.

‘Lipstick Under My Burkha' has been receiving worldwide recognition: the Hollywood Foreign Press picked the film, in early April, for the opening night screening at the International Film Festival, Los Angeles (making the movie eligible for the American Golden Globe awards), questioning the Censor Board for Film Certification's denying the film certification in India. Voices in support of the movie have led the censor board to reconsider their decision: the movie, certified 'A' with some voluntary cuts, will be released soon.

A charity from Argentina ‘MACMA’ came up with a clever way to avoid censorship: their video for breast cancer awareness called Everybody Loves Boobs sings the glories of breasts, with lips replacing nipples and with sarcasm towards censorship on social media.

Another crowd-funded documentary about arranged marriages in India ‘A Suitable Girl’ is premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival. The documentary took four years to complete and the women behind it organized and executed the project through an online fundraising campaign.

Since we are talking about the emerging voices against the oppression, we cannot miss the campaign Let’s Talk About Trolls by the Hindustan Times, fighting vicious misogyny and cyber violence on social media. HT published a series of articles featuring influential women who have been active on social media, in which they express their political views and talk about their experiences of online trolling. Meanwhile, this report via News Deeply states that the gender gap between women and men when it comes to using computers and the Internet is increasingly widening, an important issue when it comes to gender equality and basic rights.

In our last 'On Topic' post, we talked about how the tax on sanitary pads has been removed in Delhi. An online campaign by Youth ki Awaaz “#IAMNOTDOWN” talks about several issues surrounding menstruation, such as accessibility and affordability of sanitary napkins, as well as the social stigma around menstruation, which can have deadly consequences on young women's lives.

Reports say that India will have its first free condom stores for HIV prevention and awareness, brought about by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF). Although the government currently provides affordable contraception to citizens, it is reported to be of low quality.

April also witnessed elections for the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (the MCD). The Bhartiya Janta Party, which has been in control of the MCD for the last two terms (10 years), won the elections. Of 270 seats, 124 seats were been secured by women.

The United Nations on the 22nd of April made a surprising announcement as they elected Saudi Arabia to the women's rights commission. The 45 member body works towards promoting gender equality and empowerment of women worldwide.  According to The Independent there are several political reasons behind this decision. Several countries were questioned about the vote counts and their stands on the declaration. Saudi Arabia was already in the news the month before for holding its first “Girls Council”, with photos showing zero girls on stage.

Here at Zubaan:

Amidst the chaos of the renovation at Zubaan office inside and political parties campaigning outside, we managed a quick book club meeting discussing the internet phenomenon Worm. Next meeting: our very own Kuzhali Manickavel's Insects Are Just Like You and Me Except Some of Them Have Wings.

Prisoner No. 100 is back in stock. We bade farewell to our intern Sarah and everybody misses her (and her zucchini bread); our office manager Elsy is back stronger and more relaxed after a brief surgical battle, and you could maybe manage to get some discounts from her. So don’t forget to visit us, and happy reading!

On Topic: The March Review

Having just crossed the threshold into April, let’s look back at what March had to offer this year.

 

Since the month marks international women’s day on the 8th of March, why not start this blog with some stories on the social achievements for women’s lives that we have seen of late – and yes, there are a few worth mentioning.

On March 9th, the Lok Sabha passed the Maternity Benefits Bill. An amendment of the 1961 Maternity Benefit Act, this has now extended the period of paid maternity leave for mothers after the birth of their first two children from 12 to 26 weeks. On top of that, work environments with more than fifty employees, must now provide work-site crèche facilities for working mothers. Of course, as articles by The Ladies Finger and Hindustan Times rightfully point out, shortcomings are found to remain among this amended bill. Thus, while the ILO-recommended maternity leave time suggests a minimum of 14 weeks, the Maternity Benefits Bill sticks to its previous 12-week maternity leave for mothers after the birth of their third child. And while maternity leave for commissioning mothers is addressed by the bill, mother surrogates remain excluded. Most significant of all, perhaps, is the structural premise of the bill, whose parameters exclude women from the unorganized work sector. This means that the majority of working mothers currently will not benefit from this bill at all. Nonetheless, its gender-neutral language to include fathers for some of the principles laid out does indicate a tentatively changing perception for the significance of creating structural support for parents in the first few months after their children’s births.

Further on the note of births and motherhood, Telenaga’s new budget, announced on March 13th, now includes money-provision schemes for new mothers of Rs. 12,000 for the birth of a baby boy and Rs. 13,000 for the birth of a baby girl, provided that mothers give birth in government hospitals. In addition, so-called ‘KCR Kits’ have now been implemented, named after Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrashekar Rao. Drawing inspiration from other such incentives across Europe and India, including Tamil Nadu’s ‘Amma Kit’, the KCR Kit will provide sixteen vital items to new mothers and their new-born babies, including a cradle, diapers, mosquito nets and hygiene products for mother and child. Both can be seen as a structural incentive to increase birth-rates in institutional settings, in an attempt to further reduce the maternal mortality ratio (MMR) and infant mortality ratio (IMR).

Finally! The tax on sanitary pads has been removed in Delhi – at least for those sanitary napkins that cost below Rs. 20. All those priced higher will see a tax cut from 12.5 to 5 per cent. So although there has been an ongoing and important debate in India surrounding the hygienic and environmental consequences of using sanitary pads, this at least, demonstrates that women’s health and sanitation is regarded a necessity rather than a luxury in Delhi.

Some might argue that this can be seen also in the recent ‘toilet for all’ order, called for by the South Delhi Municipal Council (SDMC). Implemented on April 1st of this year, the policy has called upon all restaurants and hotels in South Delhi to open their washrooms to the public, in the hope that this will facilitate circumstances particularly for women. That the latter are indeed among the most vulnerable when it comes to lack of toiletry access is hardly surprising and was recently demonstrated by the Rohini rape case in Delhi. Two children girls were raped, while urinating in an open space, given that the washrooms in their area – even after continuous complaints by the community – were out of order.

However, the question remains whether this target group is indeed best served by the new sanitary policy; even beyond its obvious geographically isolated response. Thus, while the policy was met with much positive feedback from the South Delhi community, social exclusion does not surpass its implementation. In theory, of course, the toiletry facilities are open ‘for all’, where a maximum charge of Rs. 5 has been imposed in the assumption that people from all economic backgrounds can afford to make use of them. In reality, however, it is feared that many will be denied entry due to hotel and restaurant dress code policies and social-class shaming. This is not unwarranted, given that many restaurant owners are unhappy about these changes, citing increased security problems and chaos as a main reason for their stance against the policy. We are yet to see, therefore, how effective the ‘toilet for all’ order will play out in practice.

Gender and toiletry policies appear to be a popular topic among politicians at the start of this year. Embedded in these, we find Donald Trump’s attempted move in late February, to exclude transgender students from schools’ locker-rooms and bathrooms on the basis of their gender identification. Although this was met with vehement rejection by several courts, on the premise of being unconstitutional, this policy marked only the beginning in a series of discriminatory stances  towards LGBTQ people and their rights in the current US administration this month. One was the US Department of Health and Human Services’ elimination of questions about LGBT people on two recent health surveys. Another was Trump’s revocation of the Fair Pay and Safe Workplace Order, introduced by the Obama administration, and concerned with a series of anti-discrimination policies in workplaces. Now this has been trumped by the administration’s announcement that the 2020 Census would no longer include options of sexual orientation, thus numerically excluding transgender Americans from public spaces and policy evaluations. At least hope sweeps over from Pakistan, where the country is currently preparing for its 6th census, the first to take count of transgender people, albeit as a separate category.

Less hope comes from the current discussion and implementation of so-called ‘anti-Romeo squads’ in Uttar Pradesh. A central part of the BJP’s campaign in the lead-up to recent state elections, Yogi Adiyanath’s stepping into CM office, was soon followed by his dedication to actualize his campaign promises. Particularly prominent in Ghaziabad, these police-formed ‘anti-Romeo squads’ have taken to rounding up young men, particularly outside school and college campuses, under the guise of protecting women from unwanted harassment. In actuality, it is argued, the targeted youngsters are ordinarily partners of these very women, and ‘anti-Romeo squads’, as their name suggests, are more concerned with the moral policing of public spaces, than the protection of women. At a time, when young women living in PG’s are required to stay indoors during the festival of Holi, and are continuously faced with curfews, often exposing them to more rather than less dangers, one cannot help but sigh in frustration at the age-old narrative that women’s ‘beautiful souls’ must be protected at any cost, even, or rather especially, when this serves to infantilize them.

Indeed, this appears particularly curious, given the opposing narrative currently found in legislative politics, where women, sometimes feminazis are dedicated the role of schemers who are seeking revenge from men and former partners, by falsely accusing them of rape. At least this seems to be the metanarrative which underpins the ‘Challenge to Unconstitutional Provisions of Anti-Rape Law’, recently issued as a petition to the Delhi High Court by women’s activist Madhu Kishwar. It’s purpose: to challenge the rape law amendments of 2013, including the persecution of non-penal-vaginal offences and victim testimony as sufficient evidence under the premise that this lends itself to mis- and abuses. Co-signed by a man and a woman currently convicted under these very rape law amendments and argued for by Kapil Sibal – defence lawyer in the Mahmood Farooqi rape case, currently waiting for its appeal – it is difficult not to see the petition as political back-door scheming. One can only hope that the Delhi High Court recognizes this and leaves the case to rest – an outspoken stance against it might be too much to ask…?!

 

Indian-Pakistani, and other, conflicts

March has been marked by an increasing sense of instability with regards to Indian-Pakistani conflicts in several spheres. One of the most obvious spaces where this is played out remains, of course, Kashmir. Following on from previous months, March too has seen a number of deaths among civilians, where notably those among children and minors, continue to cause most protesting response. Two such cases, supposedly caused by stray bullets though this remains contested, have made the headlines this month: that of fifteen-year-old Amir Nazir, killed during a protest in southern Padgampora; and six- or seven-year-old Kaneeza, who was shot in her home in northern Kupwara.

Analysts argue that such incidents continue to be linked to what they regard to have been the ‘tipping point’ in the contemporary conflict between militant rebels and civilian protestors, and army officers in Indian-administered Kashmir: the killing of Burhan Wani, former leader of the Hizbul Mujahideen, in July 2016. Indeed a recent video  released by Wani’s successor, Zakir Rashid Bhat, which calls upon Kashmiri youth to fight for Islam can be seen as a rollover from Wani’s previous recruitment policies. Thus, known for his skilled use of social media, Wani – sometimes referred to as the ‘poster-boy’ of militancy in Kashmir – gained reputation for his ability to recruit youngsters. That this will only fuel fire in ongoing tensions between militants and the Indian army officials can be seen in the latest killing of two militants  and the arrest of twelve youths for their alleged involvement in stone-throwing protests, both occurring in Pulwama district last week.

Another sphere in which Indian-Pakistani relations have been tense, has been with regards to the Indus Waters Treaty of 1960. Following a series of terrorist attacks on India in the summer of 2016, in which the latter accused Pakistan of providing support to ‘infiltrators’, PM Modi had declared that ‘blood and water cannot flow together’ and suspended Permanent Indus Commission (PIC) talks, mandatorily held once in a fiscal, as laid out by the treaty. Together with India’s disputed building of hydroelectric power plants among Pakistani administered Western rivers, including the Kishanganga and Ratle hydroelectric plants, which Pakistan claims violate provisions of the treaty, water relations among the neighbouring states began to deteriorate. The PIC meeting last week, the first since 2015, can therefore be seen as a vital step in reopening dialogue on these issues and a symbolic attempt to smoothen grievances. Nonetheless, India’s pre-emptive declaration that there would be “no compromise” with regards to its full exploitation of treaty terms, and Pakistan’s continuous insistence that India’s planned projects deprive Pakistan of its due water rights under the treaty, may prove to make this difficult in practice. Given that it was World Water day on March 22nd, one can only hope that the two parties of the world’s most successful water treaty translate symbolic gestures into practice swiftly, as ‘water insecurity’ remains to be a dire reality for the daily lives of about 800 million people across the globe, including many of their respective citizens.

However, it should not go unacknowledged that there have been a number of voices, who have called for peaceful resolutions. Not only was it Pakistan, who initiated the current PIC talks earlier this month; Maulana Syed Athar Hussain Dehlavi, chairman of the Islamic body Anjumana Minhaj-e-Rasool, has also urged the Centre in Pakistan to reiterate the latter’s recognition that Jammu and Kashmir are integral parts of India, by passing a resolution and thereby reaffirming the government’s 1994 declaration. So far this has seen little reaction from the latter. However, on a cultural-legislative note, the Hindu Marriage Bill passed in Pakistan on March 11th can be seen as a tentative step towards a reconciliatory gesture.

Meanwhile, such incentives have, unfortunately, not seen much reciprocated attempts by India. Indeed, the recent appointment of Yogi Adityanath as Uttar Pradesh’s chief minister, for example, is feared to ignite Muslim-Hindu political and cultural conflict within the region. A Hindutva hardliner, Adityanath had previously declared that he was in favour of Trump’s highly controversial Musilm immigration ban, a stance he believes India should also take in its fight against terrorism. In the context of such exclusionary narratives, it is perhaps rather unsurprising that March 27th, for example, was marked by the killing of a suspected Pakistani ‘intruder’ who was shot dead by the BSF after crossing the Indian-Pakistani border at Punjab’s Gurdaspur. The identity of the deceased remains unknown, as eventual finding of his body revealed that the 21-year-old male, dressed in a pathani suit, carried no belongings, including an ID card or weapons. While it is not useful to conflate this incident with Adityanath’s earlier remarks or, of course, Trump’s policies in the US, it does illustrate that Indian, like other contemporary politics, appears to find itself amidst a sentiment of national(ist) nervousness, both embedded in, and fostering of, a perceived threat of ‘otherness’.

 

This was clearly illustrated also in Greater Noida last week. Following the incident of a missing 17-year-old boy, who was later found in a drug haze near his house, and who died due to a drug overdose on Monday, racial violence broke out in Greater Noida and continued well into the week. Accused of cannibalism and drug trafficking, Nigerian inhabitants in Greater Noida, most of them students at Sharad University, were attacked last Sunday and Monday night, as large mobs – as many as 1200 other Noida residents on Monday night – blamed them for the death of young Manish. Currently, six FIRs have been filed against suspected persecuters. However, the communal sphere remains tense, as Nigerian students are cautioned not to leave their house, unless escorted by police and the Office of the Dean of the African Group Head of Missions continues to stress that not enough was done by the New Delhi municipality and police to prevent and deter these xenophobic and racial attacks. In particular, the lack of response by PM Modi and UP’s CM Adityanath have caused much disappointment. That the current situation is merely the tip of the iceberg in terms of racialized and nationalist profiling and prejudice in the area, was also demonstrated by mass protests that broke out in Noida last Tuesday, following the tearing and binning of the Indian flag by a Chinese national, employed by the Oppo mobile phone company. Police registered a case against a Chinese employee, Kevin Suhahu, under Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act, 1971, while the company reacted by firing one of its employees, though name and nationality have not been made public.

 

March at Zubaan

March has also been a busy month at Zubaan, much of which was dedicated to internship applications and interviews, and we are excited to welcome eight new interns to the team throughout the year, starting this week! Further, Zubaan’s current e-pub project, which is to release individual essays from some of Zubaan’s published books online, is now well under way. Thank you to all those taking the time to answer our survey! Your responses have now been analysed and the first online releases are set to appear during the summer later this year. Big thanks also go to the anonymous donator in support of our translations project! Last but certainly not least, March at Zubaan was filled with a series of new releases. And here they are: For academics, we have New Intimacies, Old Desires: Law, Culture and Queer Politics in Neoliberal Times (eds. Oishik Sircar and Dipika Jain), as well as A Passionate Life: Writings By and On Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay (eds. Ellen Carol Dubois and Vinay Lal), coming fresh off the printing press. For non-fiction, the new edition of From Cork to Calcutta: My Mother’s Story (by Milty Bose) and Watercolours: A Story from Auschwitz (by Lidia Ostałowska), were both released at the beginning of the month. Enjoy!

ON TOPIC: We're Back!

While most parts of the world – with the exception of Pakistan  – are indulging in the whirl of capitalist expenditure on lavish romance during the month of February, members of India’s government have taken up deliberation about a socialist venture into the Indian marriage tradition. The proposed marriage bill, introduced by MP Ranjeet Ranjan, and currently under discussion by the Lok Sabha, states that families spending over Rs 5 lakh on a wedding, should contribute 10 per cent to a government welfare fund to facilitate marriages of girls from families of lower income.  Read here for a discussion of the pros and cons.

 

While this debate may appear merely to scrape at the surface of many women’s continuous social threats when entering into this sacred of bonds, it is not alone in its contribution to the debate on the intersection between economic and social security in women’s lives. An article  by Sharanya Gopinathan, on The Ladies Finger, has recently revealed that helplines in Bhopal, operated by the One Stop Crisis Centre and the Madhya Pradesh Public Health and Family Welfare Department, reported a spike in domestic violence calls after demonetisation policies were implemented by the Indian government in November. Accordingly, the number of calls received following the weeks of the government’s decision more than doubled compared to previous average numbers, as increasing women faced violence at the hands of their partners in money-related disputes.

 

Meanwhile, New Delhi Police is striving towards an “image-makeover” by employing women public facilitation officers across twenty police stations. Dressed in civilian clothes and trained in communication skills, the aim of this new policy is to smoothen the grievance mechanism at New Delhi’s Police Stations, where it is claimed that Duty Officers often have their hands full with other duties, which delays such processes. That there is, indeed, a need for a more rapid grievance mechanism across the country, is illustrated time again. Most recently this was seen in the rape and murder case of a 17-Year-Old Dalit Girl in Tamil Nadu by her former boyfriend and his friends, after refusing to abort their six-week-old foetus. The family of the girl, who filed a complaint that their daughter had been kidnapped, was instead polished off with a missing-persons-complaint, and faced abuse by police officials, who claimed that her parents did not know how to raise a girl.

However, it is widely accepted that this incident – along with many others – was the result of an active act of discrimination  against the ‘lower’ caste girl and her family, rather than a failure of the grievance mechanism’s potential per se. As such, the New Delhi Police policy to employ women public facilitation officers is largely viewed a charade. In its public institutionalization of feminine gender stereotypes, it is argued, the police performs an image of care and empathy, which glosses over underlying social issues that currently inform the problematic grievance mechanism. These, in turn, remain unaddressed.

 

But maybe we should set the gloom aside for a moment, and allow some celebration at the opening for more women employees in Delhi’s police sector, perhaps one of the most traditionally male-dominated public spheres? The continuous debate in Nagaland on the 33 per cent reservation for women in the civic bodies’ election would certainly incline one to do so. After the outbreak of protest and violence  in its opposition, which led to the suspension of state elections on February 1st, this was followed by demands that the constitution be amended to avoid the implementation of the quota, which is seen as a threat to customary local laws. Many feminists, including Zubaan, have taken issue with the matter, by signing Kafila’s online petition in support of Naga Mother’s Association and other peace-seeking bodies. Nonetheless, it remains uncertain in which direction the dispute will move, particularly now that T. R. Zeliang has decided to resign  from office, following Nagaland Tribal Action Comittee and Naga People’s Front (NPF) demands to do so.

 

In a more positive light, the Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI), the youth arm of CPI-M, has adopted a resolution  demanding the right to education, jobs and social equality for the members of the LGBT community. Adopted during the tenth DYFI national conference in Kerala earlier this month, the group has called for an abolition of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, and a budgetary provision set aside for members of the LGBT community to finance their education. With more than half of registered transgender people illiterate, and almost a third of them belonging to scheduled castes and tribes, the DYFI’s petition demands that they be allocated equal rights and resources as other vulnerable groups in India’s society. At a time, where Manobi Bandhopadhyay is taking office as the principle of Krishnagar Women’s College, West Bengal, making her the first transgender college principle of India, this has caused some incentive for hope in the struggle for equal treatment of people from the LGBT community. However, more needs to be done, if this is to become a collective, rather than individual success story, say activists.

 

In Kashmir, a recent encounter  among security forces and militants in Frisal, a village in Kulgam district, south Kashmir, caused for much unrest, after one civilian was killed in the incident  on February 12th. A second civilian death followed due to violent protests which emerged in the valley as a result, and at least twenty-one others were injured as police forces used bullets, pellets and tear gas shells in their attempt to disperse the crowd. On Monday (13th), a third civilian was reported to have succumbed to his injuries, though this has been contested by officials, who filed an information report against alleged rumours of more civilian deaths and who have warned that ‘false updates’ on social media can intensify military action. After confrontations  had stalled during the winter months, the encounter in Frisal is only one among a rising number of similar encounters, which have gained momentum since the beginning of the year. Given the lack of dialogue among militants, civilians and security forces in the region, there is increasing fear that these encounters mark the beginning of a revival in the conflict’s escalation.

 

While little of the ongoing unrest in Kashmir is contemporarily sensed in Delhi, the recent ‘anti-nationalist witch-hunt’  at Jodhpur University - widely condemned across Delhi's academic landscape - was a reminder that this country is, at the very least culturally, at war with its neighbour to the West. As is seldom the case, neither side is a sole fighter in such battles, and so even the invitation of Indian authors and editors to Pakistan’s literature festivals is considered an ‘anti-national’ act according to Pakistan’s security forces, as Urvashi Butalia reports from her visit to the Karachi Literature Festival earlier this month.

 

On the note of literature, here is what we’ve been reading at Zubaan:

Caught between fiction and non-fiction, there is The Lonely City: Adventures into the Art of Being Alone, by Olivia Laing and A Brief History of Seven Killings, by Marlon James. Related to the topic of crime, murder and thrill, Shweta is currently reading The Torment of Others by Val McDermid. “This book,” she says, “is about people with warped minds who commit the most bone-chilling crimes. It’s brutal, gory, suspenseful and engrossing. My first by the author but it is certainly not going to be my last.” In the meantime, some of us have revisited some classics – The Outsider by Albert Camus, Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, and, an all-time favourite, Dykes to Watch Out For by Alison Bechdel. We've also just discovered (along with everyone else on the internet) our new favourite tumblr, Custom Cuts. Aside from that, most of us are in the midst of reading Chinela Okparanta’s Under the Udala Trees, in preparation for Zubaan’s next book club meeting on March 5th, at 5pm in the Zubaan Office. Please come along and join us if you can!

 

 

On Topic: War and Pieces

It’s nearly time to bring out your boots as October marks the beginning of autumn, with a slight chance of war on the horizon. Delhi is in high alert as a result of alleged surgical strikes on terrorist camps conducted by the Indian army across the Line of Control, while Pakistan’s government and media continue to deny that these surgical strikes even occurred.

Surprisingly, Indian political parties and media outlets have been united on the issue, nearly unanimously taking pro military-action stances – so much so that it appears that the country is in favour of an impending war against Pakistan. Some voices of reason, thankfully, still exist: prominent South Asian women journalists as well as people from both nations have spoken out against an outright war.

The threat of war has taken up so much screen time that it’s easy to forget that something is still rotten in the state of Kashmir. Parts of Kashmir are still under curfew, and the Kashmir Reader was forced to stop publication for disturbing the 'public tranquility'Kashmiri journalists are protesting this #mediagag.

The unlawful arrest and the subsequent detention of the human rights defender Khurram Parvez of Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Societies (JKCCS) has raised many concerns on the human rights narrative in Kashmir.

 

Meanwhile at Central University in Haryana, two teachers – Snehsata and Manoj Kumar – put together a play on ‘Draupadi’, the iconic short story by Bengali writer and activist Mahasweta Devi, which portrayed the injustices faced by Adivasi women. The two teachers are now facing backlash from the ABVP, who protested the performance, claiming that the play insulted the Indian Army.

In the national capital, the Delhi police are branching out and attempting to set up a proper cyber crime unit to help solve cases faster. Earlier this year, over 150 personnel from police stations across the city received a week long training on cybercrime and currently the cyber cell team of Delhi Police has 40 personnels.

The #PinjraTod (‘Break The Cage’) movement escalates in Delhi as LSR women recently face repeated instances of sexual harassment outside college gates and paying guest accommodations. In response to complaints made by the students at hostels and paying guest accommodations, PG owners and landlords have, rather than increasing security, resorted to imposing restrictions on women.

This is no recent phenomenon but merely the continuation of a long-standing tradition of victim blaming. In fact the call of ‘Pinjra Tod’ began in 2015 by a student’s collective (under the same name). Pinjra Tod have organised several marches for safety of women and the right to public space, demanded accountability from concerned universities, as well as safe, affordable and non gender discriminatory accommodation for women. The campaign has received support and sympathy from those across the border despite the turbulent times of the current political scenario.

Meanwhile, issues of gender inequality concerning college campuses persist across the country and the world. College-going girls in Tamil Nadu face regressive college rules that pose a threat to their mental health and career, while many universities in the US still fail to acknowledge the seriousness of the issue of campus safety and gender based violence. Emma Watson, the UN Women Ambassador, addressed the issue in her speech at the UN.

Nearly 6 million women all over Poland gathered to protest the Polish government’s plans to ban abortion and succeeded, a huge relief for women everywhere because you should never have to apologise for getting an abortion.

On the other side of the planet, Japanese politicians are heading in the right direction with the Kyushu Yamaguchi Work Life Promotion Campaign, where male governors wear ‘pregnancy’ vests to simulate the experience of a woman in the seventh month of her pregnancy. The campaign hopes to encourage Japanese men to help out at home (Japanese women do five times the housework that their husbands do) and engage men in the equal pay conversation.

 

During the PBST festival, Uma Tanuku and Anupama Chandra released their documentary The Books We Made, which attempts to trace the legacy of Urvashi Butalia and Ritu Menon’s work in feminist publishing. You can watch the trailer here.

This month’s On Topic would not be complete without mentioning the much talked about film Pink. Despite its relatively optimistic ending and Amitabh Bachchan’s male saviour complex (which is hard to ignore), Pink does an excellent job of portraying the modern working woman and nails the message that ‘No means No’. However, as a review on The Wire has mentioned, the film does not explore all the nuances of consent and the fact that while “men have to learn to take No”, “women also have to learn to say No.”

Parched arrived in Indian theatres a week after Pink, and has a similar focus on women. Yet unlike Pink, which was a courtroom drama, Parched is a female buddy film (that is reminiscent of Pan Nalin’s Angry Indian Goddesses) and received mixed reviews.

In spite of the progress made on the big screen, behind the scenes the film and television industry holds some ugly truths. Sonam Kapoor, in a rather candid essay, opens up about her experiences with body shaming and unrealistic beauty standards in the Bollywood industry.

Meanwhile, Tannishtha Chatterjee, the star of Parched, spoke out against her experience of bullying based on her dark skin on prime time television. The repeated jokes at the cost of her skin is very telling of the pervasive reality of class and caste discrimination and marginalisation. Not only are they ridiculed for their status, they are routinely ignored. Read this interesting piece of on the erasure of Dalit wisdom and this piece on what it means to be a Dalit woman.

 

In the world of books, the much coveted identity of the Italian author Elena Ferrante (pen name) has been outed by Claudio Gatti on New York Review of Books’ website. The disclosure of her identity has been cause for much discussion, her anonymity some argue is part and parcel of her artistic endeavours, and fans of the author fear she may never write again. As Dayna Tortorici writes in n+1: "It’s difficult to read a man’s attempt to “out” a writer who has said she would stop writing if she were ever identified as anything but an attempt to make her stop writing."

On Topic: Recent Reads for Indian Feminists

It's September, with the days of perpetual rain behind us, and we are back with a round-up of recent reads and feminist news:

In the wake of Mahmood Farooqui’s conviction for rape, the internet has been rife with conversation about the 2013 amendments to rape laws in the IPC. The piece on Kafila which started it all, written by J. Devika and Nivedita Menon, explains why the conviction is a landmark verdict in the history of rape cases in India. Both the case and the article have led to several responses including this one by Manisha Sethi, this article in The Bangalore Mirror, and this interview with Flavia Agnes by Natasha Bhardwaj. Manisha Sethi argues that the evidence was not clinching enough to prove an assault without reasonable doubt. Dushyant, in The Bangalore Mirror, goes on to place those who accept the verdict as lying on the extreme end of a spectrum, the other end of which is held by self-proclaimed Men’s Rights Activists. Flavia Agnes says in her interview that forced oral sex is different from brutal gang-rape. All of these pieces shake their textual heads sadly over the ‘harsh’ punishment faced by Farooqui, a talented and popular man. On the other side, Shyamolie Singh's response to the Flavia Agnes interview takes apart the arguments raised one by one, arguing that it shouldn’t be difficult to understand that a lack of consent forms the core of a sexual assault case regardless of the grade of violence inflicted.

On a related note, Brock Turner, the Stanford rape accused, is out after serving only half of his six-month sentence to continue the bright shiny future he was being kept from. For those who forget, Brock Turner was arrested after he was found raping an unconscious woman behind a dumpster near a frat house on campus. He was given a minimal sentence by the judge (a Stanford alumnus himself) because of a lack of previous offences and his ‘potential-filled’ future. In response to the lenient sentence, California passed a bill requiring mandatory prison time for raping an unconscious person. Emily McCarty explains how mandatory minimums disproportionately affect minority communities, while this satirical essay in The Guardian compares the Stanford sexual assault case to a white privilege cake with vanilla frosting on top.

Indian ministers, as always, have found ways to decide what’s best for women — Indian as well as foreign. Rajnath Singh has said that because of ‘social realities’, the law will continue to protect sex within marriage even when the woman is below 18 years of age. Section 375 of the IPC says that sexual activity with a girl below 18 years of age counts as rape except in the case where a girl above 15 years of age is married to the man. The Union Minister for Tourism and Culture Mahesh Sharma has advised foreign tourists visiting India to not wear skirts or venture out late at night for their own safety because “Indian culture is different from Western [culture].” Last year he had also said that “night outs for girls were not a part of Indian culture” and that he would defend India from “encroachment by western culture.” Here’s a Sanitary Panels strip on this.

(As far as sartorial recommendations for women are concerned, there’s no lack of them even in the West from which Mahesh Sharma wants to defend Indian culture. The mayors of many coastal resort-towns in France imposed a ban on the burkini, a full body swimsuit worn by Muslim women. The country’s highest administrative court has since then lifted the restrictions, saying the ban cannot be justified as there is no risk of disruption to public order. Musab Younis in the LRB (London Review of Books) blog writes about the history of France’s obsession with what Muslim women wear and how it is about nothing more than racism, pure and simple.)

Some men in India have been more generous than others. The Bombay High Court allowed women access to the inner sanctum of the Haji Ali Dargah. This article in The Indian Express will answers all your questions about this move. In response to the court’s decision, some women started the ReadyToWait campaign to discourage the judiciary from meddling in their personal relationship with Ayyapa of Sabarimala temple in Kerala. The temple does not allow women between the ages of 10 and 50 access to the core where the idol is placed. According to these women, the law should not interfere with what is written in the shastras. Here’s a response by Priya Menon where she writes that those who are willing to wait should not stop others who are not.

Sushma Swaraj has joined the bandwagon of politicians ‘protecting’ Indian culture by saying, “We do not recognize live-in and homosexual relationships… this is against our ethos” while unveiling a draft law to ban commercial surrogacy. The surrogacy bill, approved by the cabinet to be introduced in Parliament, limits access to surrogacy to couples who have been married for five years at least. Also, only a close relative can offer to be a surrogate. The bill excludes single people, unmarried couples, and homosexual couples. Members of SAMA, a resource group for women and health, offer a detailed analysis of the bill. They highlight the need to pay attention to genuine issues regarding health and compensation faced by surrogate mothers rather than moral policing of parenthood.

Last Friday the radiologists of Indian Radiological Imaging Association (IRIA) went on strike to protest against the Pre-natal Diagnostic Technique Act, which criminalises sex determination of the foetus through ultrasound. Women’s Rights activists organised a press conference where they denounced the protest on the grounds of widespread female foeticide. The protests are supposedly in reaction to the recent conviction of doctors for illegal sex determination in Maharashtra and Haryana.

Coming back to the issue of institutionalised misogyny, St Aloysius college of Mangalore is trending online after an ex-student blogged about a new list of irrational rules outlining a code of behaviour for the female students of the college. The rules forbid interaction with the opposite sex but places the onus on girls. The rules were communicated to them in a closed-doors meeting only for female students. Girls are barred from re-arranging their hair in front of boys and from going outside the campus for lunch among a host of other things. Here’s a blog post by Rashmi Shetty, another alumna of the college, digging up memories of the rampant sexism faced by the female students. Despite severe criticisms on social media, the college administration has defended the new rules.

The best of intentions without proper understanding can sometimes do more harm than good. Chetan Bhagat’s new book is his self-proclaimed attempt at feminism. In an interview for Livemint he betrays his superficial understanding of the term and his lack of research. He goes on to say “it’s not such a complex issue also.” Shinjini Bose in her article for Scroll says:

[Bhagat] is implying that we should be so grateful that a best-selling author of his stature is giving “publicity” to the cause that we should go along with whatever shape he twists it into. Bhagat understands the influence he has as a writer, and seems to feel a sense of responsibility about his role in public conversations. It’s a pity that he chooses to ignore his own limitations and explain them away rather than deal with them in any thoughtful manner.


If you're in Delhi this month, come to the Zubaan Mela for excellent discounts on all of our amazing books! From the 24th of September to the 1st of October, 10 AM to 8 PM daily at our office - for more details, take a look at our event page.

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