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On Topic: Your Feminist News September Round-up!

Hello, and welcome to the monthly feminist news roundup from your friendly neighbourhood publisher, Zubaan! I’m your host, Intern Harismita, and here’s much ado about everything intersectional feminism this month.

The Supreme Court has had a magnificently active month, pronouncing a number of landmark judgements, from striking down portions of the anti-LGBTQ+ section 377 to the restrictions placed on the entry of women into the Sabarimala temple. Here's a quick rundown.

- A Supreme Court of India bench has partially struck down section 377 of the Indian Penal Code – specifically portions that criminalised “carnal intercourse against the order of nature” while preserving the criminality of such acts as bestiality and sex with minors. The SC acknowledged the discriminatory nature of the law against the LGBTQ+ community, and the right of consenting adults to choose how they have sex. While this is a crucial milestone in securing rights for queer folks in India, we have a long way to go in securing civil liberties such as the rights to marriage and adoption. Queer activist Chayanika Shah recounts the 25-year-long battle against India’s anti-queer law.

- In other great inclusivity news, Shillong just had its first pride march, and TISS now has India’s first gender-neutral hostel!

- Last week, the Supreme Court also struck down section 497 of the Indian Penal Code, which previously viewed adultery (formulated here as sex with a married woman) as a criminal offence (by a man), earlier this month, declaring that “curtailing the sexual autonomy of a woman or presuming the lack of consent once she enters a marriage is antithetical to Constitutional values.” Previously, this section of the IPC allowed the husband of a woman having an extramarital relationship to bring criminal charges against the man outside the marriage. This judgement is a significant acknowledgement of the autonomy of a married woman, as the law previously operated on the assumption of the ownership and subordination of a married woman to her husband.

- Later the same week, the SC lifted the restrictions placed on the entry of women ("of a menstruating age") into the Sabarimala temple in Kerala, acknowledging that restricting access to a place of worship based on gender was unconstitutional, and rooted in a discriminatory and patriarchal tradition. While many have welcomed the judgement, there have been widespread protests by Hindu groups in Kerala since, with many women swearing not to enter the temple.

- The Supreme Court also rejected the demand for an independent probe in the arrest of five activists placed under house arrest since 29th August, and extended their house arrest for a further four weeks, under the ethically-dubious Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. While Gautam Navlakha's house arrest has since been overturned by the Delhi High Court, Varavara Rao, Vernon Gonsalves, Arun Ferreira, and Sudha Bharadwaj are still under house arrest.

- Meanwhile in the United States, Brett Kavanaugh, a Republican nominee for the US Supreme Court, has been accused of sexual assault by three women: Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, a widely published research psychologist (Stanford University) and professor of psychology (Palo Alto University), Deborah Ramirez, and Julia Swetnick. Unsurprisingly, US President Donald Trump is standing firmly by Kavanaugh, as is much of the Republican leadership. Here is a run through of everything that has happened in the last week. Kavanaugh’s nomination is a high-stakes game for the right-wing Republican party because Supreme Court judges in the US serve for life, and Kavanaugh’s successful nomination will result in a Republican majority in the highest court.

Leaving Supreme Courts, Indian and American, behind, here’s a look at news from other realms.

- 'Stop Killing Us': Members of the Safai Karamchari Andolan and activists gathered near Jantar Mantar on the 25th of September to protest the deaths of manual scavengers in sewer-related accidents across the country. Manual scavenging without adequate safety measures or equipment is relegated to members of lower caste communities, for whom this is often the only way to earn a livelihood. Meet Mani, a Dalit manual scavenger from Tamil Nadu, who has been cleaning choked sewers for nearly 30 years. He hopes “that my children should escape this shit, these fatal gases.” Read more about the horrifying circumstances under which sewage workers live, work, and die.

- Aashika Ravi writes about the crisis of democracy in Tamil Nadu, the latest in which is the arrest of Lois Sophia, a research scholar studying in Canada and vocal BJP-RSS critic, at Thoothukudi airport for shouting an anti-BJP slogan at the Tamil Nadu BJP chief, Tamilisai Soundararajan, who was travelling in the same flight.

- In a somewhat absurd mandate, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has advised private TV channels to use the term ‘Scheduled Castes (SC)’ instead of ‘Dalit’ in compliance with directions from the Bombay High Court. Absurd and disturbing because Dalit, a word weighted by the struggle of a community oppressed for centuries, has been used and claimed as a term of empowerment by the community itself. It is unclear whether this notification would apply to magazines and newspapers too.

Thousands of people in the Srikakulam district of Andhra Pradesh will have to leave their land and livelihood to make way for a nuclear power plant. The power plant is likely to displace around 2,200 families of farmers and fisherfolk belonging to Dalit and OBC communities.

- In happier news, the women of Kudumbashree, armed with relentless optimism, solidarity, and the practice of group farming on leased land on a principle of ‘food justice’ – where surplus produce can be sold on the market only after all the families of the group farm have satisfied their own needs – come together to rebuild the state of Kerala, even as they are facing a looming drought and the devastating effects of the floods in August.

- Late this month, India’s National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) also released its first National Register of Sex Offenders. Unlike its American counterpart, India’s database shall not be open for the general public to access, addressing the potential for violent ostracization. Leah Verghese writes about the problems such a list could and could not address, pointing astutely to the fact that such a list offers little protection from perpetrators known to victims, which, according to NCRB data for 2016, account for 94.6% of reported cases of rape against women and children.

Arts and Culture

- Tanushree Dutta, in an interview with Zoom TV, has spoken out about having faced sexual harassment, flinging open again a flurry of discourse on the safety of women in the entertainment industry. She describes the harassment she faced on set ten years ago at the hands of Nana Patekar who was then, unsurprisingly, protected by the producers and the media. Journalist Janice Sequiera, who was also on set at the time, corroborates the story. The actor also spoke about an incident with Vivek Agnihotri, who ordered her to remove her clothes and dance to “inspire” Irrfan Khan. Amitabh Bachchan and Aamir Khan, when asked about these allegations, neatly sidestepped the responsibility of calling either Patekar or Agnihotri out. Meanwhile, footage has emerged of Dutta’s car being attacked as she tried to leave the sets of the movie in 2008.

Health

A recent study published in the medical journal Lancet has found that 4 out of 10 women who commit suicide globally are from India, branding these alarming rates a public health crisis. Rakhi Dandona, one of the lead authors of the study, told the Times of India in an interview that the majority of these deaths are married women, citing as reasons arranged and early marriages, young motherhood, low social status, economic dependence, and inadequate access to mental health care.

- Ashwaq Masoodi presents a fascinating account chronicling the the sex lives of women in rural India.

Sports

- India’s women’s team, D. Harika, Tania Sachdev, Eesha Karavade, and Padmini Rout, did spectacularly at the Chess Olympiad, beating the Venezuelan team 4-0. Of course, some news coverage would subordinate this spectacular feat to the also impressive defeat of Austria by the Indian men’s team by 3.5-0.5 , but hey, we’re just glad they’re both winning.

Zubaan HQ

Over at Zubaan HQ, we’ve had a most eventful September!

Clone by Priya Sarukkai Chabria, our newest release, will be your fix of dazzling dystopian fiction: a thrilling tale of a fourteenth-generation clone in twenty-fourth-century India, struggling against imposed amnesia and sexual taboos in a species-depleted world.

- Our Mela(s) – both offline and online – happened from the 16th of September to the 2nd of October, and caused quite a reshuffle-kerfuffle over at the office. Many many gigantic thank yous to everyone who made it to our offline Mela and/or ordered online from us! We're still shoving packages out the door.

- The last day of our in-house Mela, 23rd September, also saw a spectacular work-in-progress performance, Allegedly, by Mallika Taneja and Shena Gamat, creating conversations around uncomfortable silences and comfortable positions on consent.

- Forget not: head on to your calendars, and mark down the 21st October as your monthly Zubaan Book Club day! The book under the lens is Masks, by Fumiko Enchi.

On Topic: Feminist News from July and August

Ah, July. The first solar eclipse in Cancer in nearly a decade. Ah, August. Mars was in retrograde in Aquarius. Okay, we’re not quite sure what either of these could mean for the intersectional feminist agenda—so we’re just going to focus on the news. Here you’ll find some of the most significant developments in politics, health, education, culture, entertainment, and sports from the past two months that ought to be on your radar.
— Aiswarya J + Sarvar K 

Government and Politics

- After a four-day hearing that concluded on 14th July, the Supreme Court of India reserved its judgement on the challenges levelled by around thirty-five individual petitioners against the constitutional validity of Section 377. It is likely that the Court will rule on the matter by early October. Though the Centre will not intervene in the bench’s final decision, there is much hostility towards any further legislation on marriage and inheritance rights. You can find a small snapshot of the Court sessions here, focusing on our hero, Advocate Menaka Guruswamy.

- The completed draft of the contentious National Register of Citizens (essentially a list of every ‘legal’ resident in Assam) was released on 30th July. Over 20,000 transgender people have been left out of this register due to either a lack of documentation listing their correct gender category, or discrepancies between pre- and post-transition identification documents.

- Also on 30th July, the Minister for Women and Child Development, Maneka Gandhi, apologised for her insensitive (and frankly embarrassing) behaviour during an earlier Lok Sabha debate where she referred to trans people as ‘the other ones’ and ‘TGs’ with a baffled laugh. Gandhi tweeted that she had ‘not [been] aware of the official terminology of the transgender community,’ despite being a Cabinet Minister responsible for the protection of this very community.

- An amended version of the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill was approved by the Centre on 1st August, almost exactly one year after the Bill was first introduced in the Lok Sabha. While discrimination against transgender people is now a criminal act that can lead to imprisonment of up to two years, the Bill is conspicuously silent on the issue of ensuring access to civil liberties, such as rights to marriage and reservation.

- The Delhi High Court decriminalised begging in a landmark judgment on 8th August, declaring all arrests made in this regard to be ‘unconstitutional.’ The Court held that beggars could not be punished as their presence was symptomatic of the larger fact ‘that the state has not managed to provide [food, shelter, health] to all its citizens.’

- Centre-appointed independent director of the Reserve Bank of India and RSS acolyte S. Gurumurthy recently suggested that there could be a link between the devastating floods in Kerala and the Supreme Court’s decision to allow women into Kerala’s Sabarimala temple, where entry has historically been restricted to men (and senior citizens of all genders). While Guruswamy continues his humble public service, we’re better off looking at how Odisha is helping out despite its own recent floods, what Chennai entrepreneurs are doing to help dislocated Keralites, and how you can contribute a hot meal to someone in need.

- India’s social justice community was in for a rude awakening during the morning hours of 28th August with multiple police raids, nine detained and searched, and five held in custody. Human rights activists, lawyers, and academics—both Dalits and non-Dalits—across the country were subjected to intense police scrutiny without search warrants in relation to the caste-based violence that broke out at Bhima Koregaon in Pune. The Centre seems keen to prosecute Varava Rao, Sudha Bharadwaj, Varun Gonsalves, Arun Ferreira, and Gautam Navlakha as ‘urban Maoists’ (sorry, what?) responsible for inciting conflict. Court proceedings under the ethically-dubious Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act are ongoing. Happy Independence Month, or something.

Outside the subcontinent:

- The government of Hungary, in a devastating blow to local education and human rights, announced on 14th August that the state would stop funding university-level degrees related to gender studies. You can find more context for this ridiculous, transphobic, and anti-feminist decision here.

- However, the month of August also saw Germany and Austria set to introduce a ‘third gender’ option in official documents for those identifying neither as male nor female, in a major win for non-binary rights in Europe.

Health and Safety

- The Indian government’s country-wide restriction on factory production of oxytocin will come into effect on 1st  September in an attempt to curb the misuse of this hormone in the dairy industry. However, health activists are concerned that the Centre’s crackdown on access to oxytocin— a natural hormone that helps induce labour contractions and lactation in an expecting parent—may have an adverse impact on the maternal mortality rate.

- In an ongoing case regarding a national ban on khafzthe ritual cutting of a small portion of the clitoral hood of an infant, understood as a Type I category of female genital mutilation as per WHO guidelines—the Supreme Court has deemed the act unconstitutional, in that it interferes with rights to life and liberty. However, the Dawoodi Bohra Women’s Religious Freedom organisation have since mobilised in protest of the Court’s position, claiming that khafz is a safe act of circumcision that ought to be protected as a religious practice.

- Indian folks who menstruate, rejoice! After a year-long, uh, period of implementation, sanitary products have been exempted from the Goods and Service Tax effective 27th July 2018. However, there may be an unintended consequence to this decision—one economist suggests that the burden of cost placed on manufacturers as a result of this exemption may lead to fewer sanitary products being produced overall.

- The Indian Christian Women’s Movement conducted a two-day convention in Pune on 12th and 13th August where, among other topics, the issue of child sex abuse in the Church was discussed. Later in the same month, Pope Francis would visit Ireland—the first papal visit to the country in nearly four decades—and ask its Catholic population ‘forgiveness’ for the Church’s participation in the orchestration and cover-up of systemic child sex abuse.

- The Indian Institute for Human Settlements, in collaboration with volunteer organisation Green the Red, conducted a walk on 15th August in Bangalore to help raise awareness regarding environmentally-friendly menstrual practices. Get involved!

- A recent article explores the excellent Nishulk Beti Vahini Bus initiative (Free Bus for Girls) begun in 2016 by a couple in Rajasthan to help boost female school enrolment and attendance. Dr Rameshwar Prasad Yadav and his wife, Tarawati, explain that their bus now allows girls from villages to travel to their school and back, without fear of either the natural elements or sexual harassment.

Education

- Tokyo Medical University, one of Japan’s foremost medical schools, admitted to manipulating entrance exam scores for over a decade to disadvantage female candidates and allow more men to become doctors. There are talks of reparations, but no one seems to know where to even begin.

- In happier news, 96-year-old Karthiyani Amma was the oldest candidate at the Kerala State Literacy Mission Exam conducted on 5th August 2018. Kerala, which is one of the most literate states in the country, had launched this programme on Republic Day this year to restore 100% literacy. Of the 40,000 candidates that appeared, 29,500—more than half—were women. Karthiyani Amma, who got full marks in reading, silenced the debate on ageism to prove it really is never too late!

Arts and Culture

- Nagaland author Easterine Kire has won the Sahitya Akademi Award for children’s literature, Sahitya Bal Puraskar 2018, for her book, Son of the Thundercloud. The book is a product of the author’s endeavor to preserve Naga oral traditions, and draws on folklore to tell the story of a woman whose husband and sons have been killed by a tiger. The award was announced on 29th June. Previously, Kire won the Hindu Literature Prize, 2015 for our When the River Sleeps, which you can find here along with the rest of her Zubaan titles.

- The fourth edition of India’s first-of-its-kind Gender Bender Festival was held in Bangalore from 22nd to 26th August. The festival brings together an intriguing mix of artists from across the country who tackle gender issues with their practice in a bid for inclusivity. Body-shaming, domestic work unacknowledged as labour, trans activism in Manipur, and how domestic space shapes gender roles were just a few of the themes highlighted at the art festival. Zubaan’s own Urvashi Butalia was present as a jury member. Ita Mehrotra from our Drawing the Line collection also attended the festival.

- Lakmé Fashion Week’s runway this year saw ‘gender neutral’ collections, by designer labels Bloni, The Pot Plant, Anam, and Bobo Calcutta. While the garments were androgynous—fluid drapes, psychedelic colours, easy to mix ensembles—the fashion industry still has a long way to go, so far as hiring non-binary models is concerned. Although intended to “protest gender-based discrimination,” the collections lose credibility, for the bodies they were showcased on couldn’t have been more conventional for the fashion industry: angular faces, lean and muscled bodies, spotless skin. Take a look at the collections here and decide for yourselves.

Entertainment

- Coke Studio’s Season 11 began with a song of, for, and by women, called ‘Main Irada’. Described on their official YouTube channel as ‘an iconic women’s anthem with a powerful message,’ the song seems to express hope for a new and reformed Pakistan under newly-elected Prime Minister Imran Khan. The show’s lineup this time features more women artists, including singers from Pakistani diaspora (Krewella, the US-based electronic dance music duo) and from the transgender community.  A composition like ‘Main Irada’, though long overdue from this popular Pakistani music franchise, augurs well for feminism in the country. Written by Haniya Aslam and Bilal Sami, every verse is a celebration of womanhood, culminating in the chorus, ‘Main irada main Kaavish hoon, main hoon jazba, main khwahish hoon, Main hoon naon main sahil hoon, Himmat hoon main Aurat hoon, Taaqat hoon main aurat hoon’ (I am the expectation and its fulfillments, I am energy and I am aspiration, I am a boat and I am the sail, I am courage, I am a woman, I am strength, I am a woman).

- Agents of Ishq—a mixed-media collaborative project focused on bringing sex-positivity to India—and Nirantar—a Delhi-based NGO—released a gorgeous, funny, and informative music video about consensual sex and romance titled Love in the Garden of Consent.’ Want more information? We got you.

- Legendary soul and blues singer and civil rights activist Aretha Franklin, the voice of the feminist anthem Respect,’ passed away on 16th August. Her body was laid at the Museum of African-American History for fans to pay homage, starting on 28th August. It is part of a week of mourning and celebration in her hometown of Detroit. Rest in power, Aretha.

Avital Ronnell (a literature professor at NYU) and Asia Argento (an actress and #MeToo activist who was a crucial part of the New Yorker’s investigation into human manifestation of garbage, Harvey Weinstein) have both been accused of sexual harassment in the past month. If you’re unsure about the future of #MeToo—don’t be. Read this thread on power, hypocrisy, and the continued need for protest by civil rights activist Tarana Burke, one of the movement’s original founders.

- Hollywood star Scarlett Johansson received intense criticism after news was made public that she would be playing the lead role of notorious American gangster Dante ‘Tex’ Gill in an upcoming biopic. Johansson later released an official statement confirming that she would not appear in the film, acknowledging that, as a cisgender actress, she should never have agreed to portray a trans man.

- A similar discussion of transgender visibility in the film industry is long overdue in India. Recent Malayalam hit, Njan Marykutty, featured cisgender male actor Jayasurya in the titular role of Marykutty, a trans woman aspiring to join the police. While the movie’s depiction of Marykutty has been described as rather progressive, the casting does unfortunately perpetuate the unemployability of trans actors and actresses in mainstream Indian cinema, and peddles the harmful narrative that trans women are simply cis men in drag.

Sports

August has been a fantastic month for feminist sporting enthusiasts in the county. The Indian women’s contingent at the ongoing Asian Games 2018 being held in Jakarta (from 18th August to 2nd September) continues to deliver enthralling performances and secure breakthrough wins in never-won-before categories for India. With two days left to the finale (at the time of writing), they have raised our medal tally to 54 by contributing 20 medals: 3 of 11 gold, 9 of 20 silver, and 8 of 23 bronze.

- Vinesh Phogat, a firebrand of the Phogat family, led the charge on day 2, defeated Japan’s Yukie Irie 6–2 to become the first Indian woman wrestler to win gold at the Asian Games, India’s second at this year’s games. Rahi Sarnobat, the 27-year-old shooter from Kolhapur, won the tie-breaker against Thailand’s Napaswan Yangpaiboon in Women’s 25m pistol to go down in history as the first Indian woman shooter to win gold at the Asian Games. In another landmark win, Swapna Burman, born with six toes on each foot,  became the first ever Indian woman heptathlete to win gold at the Asiad, pushing through the pain of ill fitting shoes to cross the 6000 mark. Meanwhile, the women’s relay team has won its fifth consecutive gold since the 2002 Games as our Hockey team secures a spot in the final with their eyes set firm on gold.

- Athletics saw inspiring victories as well. Hima Das bagged a silver in women’s 400m track at the Asian Games, clocking 50.59 seconds—her second national record after the qualifiers. In July, the 18-year-old athlete from Assam had finished first at  IAAF World Under-20 Championship in Finland, becoming the first Indian woman athlete to win gold in a world level track event.

- Sprinter Dutee Chand of Odisha won silver in women’s 100m. This is not only a remarkable sporting feat but also a step forward for gender inclusivity in India, considering she had been banned in 2014 for failing a hyperandrogenism test. Chand fought through the trauma of gender discrimination that almost cost her her career and has emerged the second-fastest woman in Asia, shutting down critics and prejudiced officials in the Athletics Federation who had failed to support her in the run up to the Games.

- More silver medals in athletics poured in on 27th August. Veteran long-distance runner Sudha Singh finished at 9 minutes and 40.03 seconds in the 3000m steeplechase to seize her second Asian Games medal. She had won gold in 2010, the year the event was introduced. Neena Varakil of Kerala placed second with a best jump of 6.52m in the fourth attempt.

- In badminton, PV Sindhu entered the pages of history as the first Indian shuttler to reach the finals, where she lost to Chinese Taipei player Tai Tzu Ying—albeit not without a tough fight.

- The women’s compound archery event saw India and Korea in close competition until the third round, when Korea secured a lead of three points 55–58, with Muskan Kirar, Madhumita Kumari, and Jyothi Surekha Vennam to winning silver. Meanwhile, the Indian women’s kabaddi team also placed second in a close match with Iran, who won gold in a historic win.

- Contrary to how the media likes to tell it, no one really ‘settles’ for bronze—they work hard for it and we are very proud of our winners! Ankita Raina in lawn tennis grabbed the third bronze medal in women’s singles tennis for the country, while Roshibina Naorem won bronze in Wushu, India’s first in the event at this year’s games. Other bronze medallists include Saina Nehwal in women’s badminton singles, Dipika Pallikal (a self-made sportswoman first and a cricketer’s wife much later. Media houses, listen up!) and Joshna Chinappa in women’s squash singles, and Divya Kakran in women’s freestyle wrestling (68kg). Our mixed bridge team of 6 with three women players—Himani Khandelwal, Hima Deora, and Kiran Nadar—also clinched bronze.

In international news, the French Tennis Federation is considering banning Serena Williams, the world’s greatest tennis player, from further French Open tournaments if she refuses to follow a recently-implemented dress code. The code appears to have been formulated in reaction to Williams’ debut of her full-length black catsuit at the 2018 French Open, which she wears for health reasons—and its resemblance to the Wakandan fashion of Marvel’s Black Panther. The timing of the Federation’s announcement has rightly been criticized by some as a case of misogynoir.

Zubaan

July and August at Zubaan HQ have been a whirlwind of activity. We’ve released brand-new books, hosted great events, consumed an inordinate amount of South Indian sweets, and we’re showing no signs of stopping.

- New books! Do you like speculative fiction, short stories about spaceships and psychics, and subverting the traditional linearity of storytelling? Of course you do. Check out your new favourite book, Ambiguity Machines and Other Stories by Vandana Singh. If you’re searching for something a little more quiet, but just as dazzling, look no further than Mahuldiha Days by Anita Agnihotri. Here, you’ll find the forests of Odisha transformed into a mesmerising dreamscape where the personal and the political are never too far apart. In the mood for some serious non-fiction? Get Indian Feminisms, edited by Poonam Kathuria and Abha Bhaiya, and explore the post-1980s feminist movement in India through a fascinating collection of essays and oral histories.

- The Zubaan trust/NGO has been hard at work on our Stepping Stones and Body of Evidence projects targeting sexual violence on impunity in the country. A meeting of theatre activists and women’s groups was convened in Chandigarh this July, discussing theatre as a platform for initiating dialogue. Our Fragrance of Peace project held a writing workshop for the recipients of the Sasakawa-Zubaan writing grant in Guwahati this August. More will be coming up on both these projects later this year.

- Remember to mark 16th to 23rd September on your calendars, because it’s the Zubaan Mela, and you’re invited! Come to our office at Shahpur Jat and get everything off our shelves with discounts going up to 70%. Support independent feminist publishing! Bring your friends, family, co-workers, a bitter childhood nemesis, etc.

- Our recent release Mannequin: Working Women in India’s Fashion Industry by Manjima Bhattacharjya is set to be launched in Mumbai next month. If you have ever wondered what goes on behind the glamour scene, or what the relationship between fashion and feminism can be, this is the book for you!

On Topic: The Pride and Pitfalls of Feminism in June

June has been an eventful month for feminism. With Pride Month and Ramzan, we have had much to celebrate. However, it has been a month of struggles for many, particularly for marginalised communities across the world. A month like this requires some serious feminist reflection.

 

June is International Pride Month! Happy Pride!

Desi Pride Month has been intense, to say the least. Here are some highlights:

- In a tragedy that highlights the urgent need to address the issues of the Indian LGBT+ community, a lesbian couple in Ahmedabad were forced to commit suicide along with a child because of the constant policing of their desires. The media coverage of the case reveals the stigma of being queer in a heteronormative society. However, Shamini Kothari's obituary for the couple creates a safe space for their story. It is a reflection of her organization QueerAbad’s goal of creating queer intersectional spaces – which they did, during Ahmedabad's first queer pride parade held in February this year.

- Things might have taken a turn for the better for some LGBT+ folks, like Lalit Salve, a cop from Maharashtra who has resumed work after his sex reassignment operation. Such acceptance at work and home is an important step toward the inclusion of trans people.

- However, the marginalisation of the trans community continues, as is apparent in a Kerala High Court verdict that simultaneously recognised and undermined the agency of a 25-year-old trans woman. The court refused a petition by the woman’s mother to allow her into the mother’s sole custody. This verdict went against her right to self-identification because the court ordered a ‘medical/ psychological examination’ to affirm her gender identity, which is in direct opposition to the NALSA judgement of 2014.

- In what might be a crucially influential step, the Indian Psychiatric Society has voiced its support for the decriminalisation of homosexuality, and declassified it as a mental illness. This development came mere days before the Supreme Court began hearing the petition against Section 377, on 9th July. This will hopefully have a positive influence on the court’s verdict.

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

Videsi Pride month has been just as eventful.

- The LGBT+ community of the Kingdom of Eswatini (erstwhile Swaziland) celebrated their first ever Pride in Mbabane, their capital city. The march was an act of rebellion against the colonial anti-sodomy law that bans homosexuality; and their homophobic monarch who had referred to homosexuality as satanic.

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

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

- In keeping with the institutional change back home, the World Health Organization has finally declassified being trans as a mental disorder known as ‘gender incongruence’, thus recognizing trans persons’ right to self-identification.

 

Eid Mubarak!

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

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

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

- The Manakameshwar Temple in Lucknow hosted Iftar for over 500 Muslim attendees to advocate for communal harmony. Such initiatives could keep a check on majoritarian impulses and maintain the diversity of cultural traditions of minority communities.

 

Social media hit some dismal lows and a couple of highs this June.

- Mass hysteria over false Whatsapp forwards, coupled with systemic discrimination against the nomadic tribal community of Nath Panthi Davari Gosavi lead to another misled and violent attack, the lynching of five tribal men in Dhule.

- Right-wing Twitter trolls added their toxicity to the unpleasant mix. Sushma Swaraj was attacked with misogynistic, divisive tweets because she helped an interfaith couple who had complained about the harassment they faced via Twitter get their passports.

- Swaraj was not the only female politician threatened with rape and death this month. Priyanka Chaturvedi’s 10-year old daughter was threatened with rape on Twitter by another Right-wing troll who was recently arrested under POCSO.

- The proposed amendments to the Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act, 1986 may be a step forward in addressing the desperate need to take legal measures to combat trolling and misogyny on the Internet and other digital platforms.

- Amidst all this on-line bigotry, POV Mumbai hosted a three-day digital security workshop with LGBT+ organizations, titled #QueeringTheInterwebs. It created a queer safe space on Twitter. Follow these links for detailed, informative threads about each day of the workshop: Day 1 / Day 2 / Day 3.

 

Desi News

Social media can be terrible. But we have news – which can always be worse.

- In an attempt to eliminate manual scavenging, the government has released another arguably flawed report that puts the number of manual scavengers in India at 53,236. This figure invisibilises a large number of manual scavengers. However, it marks a four-fold increase from the 13,000 manual scavengers in 2017, who were promised Rs 40,000 one-time compensation, among other benefits, under the The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013.

- Such flawed reports, that try to invisibilise the rampant sexism and casteism in India, might have contributed to the now controversial Thompson-Reuters poll that declared India to be the most dangerous country for women. The report was rejected by the National Commission for Women and has received mixed reviews from academics and experts, who have questioned it based on its qualitative methodology, the scale of its comparison, and the subjective definitions of safety. However, feminists mostly agree on the point that India indeed is an unsafe country, and we need to fix what is wrong rather than defending it.

- This argument becomes particularly pertinent in the context of the gang-rape of five activists in Jharkhand, mere days before the poll was released. The enormity of the crime has been overshadowed by the political tensions between the State and tribes from the conflicted region.

- In keeping with the fascist pattern of criticising anything that criticises the State, a report on Kashmir published by the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR), was rejected by the State and its opinion-markers. The report comes in the wake of consistent coverage of the human rights violations in Kashmir by the Kashmiri media and NGOs.

- The protest by Anganwadi workers in Srinagar is a testament to the failure of State mechanisms in Kashmir. The salaries of Anganwadi workers in Srinagar have not been processed for over five months now, which is making the demanding job unsustainable for women.

- When completely disillusioned by the State, this poignant Kerala High Court verdict that declares the depiction of breast-feeding on the cover of Malayalam magazine, Grihalakshmi to be inoffensive gives us hope that the State apparatus can be feminist sometimes.

- However, when the State is being overtly oppressive, we take inspiration from people’s protests. When the Maharashtra government decided to set up the ‘globe’s largest oil refinery in Konkan, without any consideration for the rights of the villagers who would be dislocated by the mega-project, thousands marched against this encroachment on their homeland in Ratnagiri last month.

- Another similarly important yet overlooked protest was organised by the Aravali Nirman Majdoor Suraksha Sangh, in Udaipur. Over 1,500 people, particularly adivasi women, demanded their right to fair wage, children’s scholarship and maternity benefits under the Building And Other Construction Workers Act, 1996.

 

Videsi News

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

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

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

- Norway also banned the burqa and niqab in schools and universities, in keeping with the homogenizing tendencies of many other European nations that state ‘equal opportunity and growth’ as a reason to reduce cultural diversity.

- In another dismaying rift between feminist theory and activism, around fifty prominent scholars (including Judith Butler and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak) have signed a letter that calls the investigation of the allegation of sexual harassment against fellow academic Avital Ronell by a male student ‘unfair’. They ask for the investigation to favour Professor Ronell, based on her ‘reputation’. This age-old argument has been used repeatedly to protect those in power from allegations of sexual harassment.

- The BBC has shattered the glass ceiling this World Cup season with Vicky Sparks becoming the first woman to  commentate for a World Cup game. However, the inclusion of women on panels of football pundits and commentators has threatened sexist male commentators like Jason Cundy, who complained that women have a voice that is 'too high' to narrate football drama.

 

Film and pop-culture

Do you ‘identify as tired’, as Hannah Gadsby does in Nanette, her fiercely personal and explosively political Netflix special that has been all the rage this past month? Here’s some fun film-talk to make you feel better.

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

- But not everyone has recognised the powerful promise of Dalit culture. There has been widespread outrage about the erasure of caste issues that form the crux of Sairat, from its Bollywood remake Dhadak.

- The Malayalam film industry has been in ‘feminist flux’ for the past month with actor Dileep, who was arrested for masterminding the kidnapping and gang-rape of a Malayali actress in 2017, being reinstated to the Association of Malayalam Movie Artistes (AMMA). Authors and actresses like K.R Meera and Rima Kallingal have spoken out against the AMMA. Four actresses who are a part of The Women and Cinema Collective have quit the association in protest.

 

June at Zubaan

That wasn't all fun, and we're sorry – it's been an eventful month. Zubaan has got these fresh-off-the-press books to help you get new and nuanced insights into the problematic complexity of our society.

- Suniti Namjoshi offers a virtuoso display of how the building blocks of a fable can be used in a variety of ways in Foxy Aesop: On The Edge. It’s witty and satirical, and the protagonist Sprite is a comical figure. But at the end, her central question is one of great urgency. Let Deepanjana Pal’s review persuade you further to acquire the literary masterpiece that is Foxy Aesop.

- Rajib Nandi and Ratna M Sudarshan’s edited volume of essays Voices and Values: The Politics of Feminist Evaluation offers critical insight into why it is necessary to bring feminist perspectives to evaluating the impact of grassroots level development programmes.

- Our sister imprint Young Zubaan has a cool new Instagram page (and an even cooler new book)!

- Introduce your favorite kids to our favorite kids: sisters Anjali and Pooja from Ariana Abadian-Heifetz and Pia Alize Hazarika’s Spreading your Wings. They have a lot of questions about the changes their bodies have begun going through and they’ve enlisted their friends, their myth-busting didi (she’s a doctor!) and their mothers in their search for answers. Join the adventure to find out what they learn!

On Topic: The May Review

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

Legal Judgements (India)

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

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

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

Events

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

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

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

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

Popular Culture

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

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

World

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sports

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

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

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

Gender-based Violence

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

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

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

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

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

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

May at Zubaan

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

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

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

On Topic: The 2018 Review (January-April)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

______________________________________________

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

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

 

On Topic: October and the Weinstein Effect

October has been an eventful month with several protests and movements taking Indian social media by a storm, bringing many important conversations about sexual harassment to the forefront. These conversations have been long overdue in the larger scheme of things, and it's imperative that they continue. So we would like to take this 'On Topic' to review everything that happened this month related to sexual harassment.

It seemed to begin with the Harvey Weinstein allegations, with multiple female actors and employees accusing the Hollywood film producer of sexual harassment and assault. A decade-worth of allegations against him surfaced, bringing to light a conspiracy of silence that allowed sexual harassment to go unchecked. In India, parallels are visible between Weinstein and powerful Indian men like RK Pachauri, who benefitted from collective complicity and murky work practices.

Another man compared to Weinstein was Khodu Irani, the owner of High Spirits, a popular club and performance venue in Pune. Several allegations of sexual harassment were made against him and social media was flooded with accounts of him groping, making lewd comments and sending inappropriate messages to patrons and employees. As people admitted to their own role in propagating his behaviour, a conversation was started about how certain cultural and media spaces, such as the club, accept and promote toxic behaviours.

Another outcome of the media attention paid to the Weinstein allegations was the #MeToo campaign started by Hollywood actress Alyssa Milano, where she encouraged women who had ever faced sexual harassment to come forward on social media. In India too, the movement gained a lot of momentum. The campaign promised a safe space for women and others to share their experiences with sexual harassment, with unwavering support and solidarity, with people admitting to having abused someone or being complicit in abuse before. With the emergence of the hashtag #HimToo, the conversation turned to pinpointing men who had gotten away with abusive behaviour, much like Weinstein had for all these years.

The #MeToo campaign also brought to surface offline whisper networks that women usually use to keep themselves and each other safe. One such network was created online through the Google spreadsheet titled “Shitty Media Men”, and was circulated among women journalists in New York, with allegations ranging from flirting to physical and sexual violence. In India, a similar list of names of alleged sexual harassers in Indian academia was published on Facebook by law student Raya Sarkar, along with a Google spreadsheet. Here too, the aim was to warn women and students about these men, by creating an online whisper network. But while the American spreadsheet was met with some support after being put on Buzzfeed and made public, the Indian list became a topic of contention among the Indian feminist community. Several prominent Indian feminists condemned the list for naming and shaming seemingly innocent men and not following due-process, in a statement on Kafila and their own writing. They, in turn, were critiqued for supporting the men on the list, most of whom were their colleagues and acquaintances.

The varied responses to the list have highlighted a schism in the Indian feminist movement, with a majority of established feminists on one side, and a new growing generation of feminists on the other, questioning the idea of a single feminist narrative in the country. Events in the past month have shown how sites like Facebook and Twitter have become an alternate avenue for feminist protest, especially for those who might not have access to the more traditional forms of protest within the Indian feminist community.

In dissecting the intention behind and validity of Raya Sarkar’s list, feminist conversations have neglected the well-being of survivors within an already inefficient system that fails to curb sexual harassment in educational spaces. Due process rarely provides justice, as is evident to some in the recent Farooqui judgement. In many ways the men named in the list are being rewritten as left liberal heroes and/or victims of a vicious attack. The conversation, this time even within the movement, is being shifted away from the issue itself towards questioning the intentions and trustworthiness of victims and protesters.

Meanwhile, after several setbacks in sexual harassment law in September, a recent Supreme Court verdict has shifted the age of consent within marriage from 15 years to 18 years, thus criminalizing all forms of child sexual abuse, even if the minor is married to the abuser. As a reminder, marital rape of women above the age of 18 continues to be legally and socially acceptable in the country.

October at Zubaan

Zubaan celebrated its ‘Cultures of Peace’ festival on 14th October at the Asian Confluence in Shillong. We also organized events in collaboration with TISS Guwahati on 12th and 13th October. Our E-essays project released two sets of essays this month – on the Nation and Women’s Writing/Literature. This month our feminist fiction book club discussed Women Without Men: A Novel of Modern Iran by Shahrnush Parsipur. Next month we will be discussing Hav by Jan Morris.

P.S. We will be launching Centrepiece, our new anthology of writing and art by women in the Northeast, on the 10th of November at Dzukou in Hauz Khas market. Join us!

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!

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