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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 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: August, Blog-ust! Women's Selfie Nudes, Veil Ban, "Gender Bender" and Lots More

"August is the winter of summer I'm resting assured." ~ Ayesha Siddiqi

Policies, Systems and Resistance

  • In a landmark case, the Supreme Court allows the fourteen-year old rape survivor to abort, although the law excuses abortion only within 20 weeks of pregnancy (TW: discussion of sexual violence)
  • Following up on the veil ban by Supreme Court, an Aligarh University student speaks out on the misogyny specifically targeting Muslim women at the heart of this law
  • A recent study by the Socio-Economic and Caste Census 2011 reveals that women head 23 million households in rural India and many other findings about gender
  • In a scathing piece, Thenmozhi Soundarajan explains how India's caste culture is a culture that condones rape and sexual violence of Dalit women

 

Yours, Mine & Ours: On Bodies, Lives and Lived Experiences

  • Lalita Iyer shares her experience of consciously and critically growing into loving her body, and the ambivalent "politics of thin"
  • Here's an interesting read in Tehelka about Indian migrant nurses, most of whom are women from the South, and their precarious status as employees in the UK
  • Anuradha Roy is the only Indian to be selected on the Man Booker Prize 2015 longlist. Read about her book and her story here, amid an array of female nominees at par in number with the male candidates at this year's Booker selections.
  • Read Sneha Rajaram's commentary on the intersection of radical feminism and chick lit in Sarai Walker's Dietland
  • Sonali Gulati on her life as a lesbian navigating family, rejecting marriage, and Section 377 in light of marriage equality in the States.
  • Meet Meghna Kaur Jaswal, a writer whose book Inheritance, sparks a dialogue around the less-talked-about Sikh diaspora in Singapore
  • Why is the "know your neighbourhood rapist" rhetoric insidious, and more?
  • Nirbashito, a film about the struggles and experiences of exiled Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen (and her cat) is "on screen" this week!
  • Check out what this The Ladies' Finger article has to say about "Gender Bender", the playful, diverse art show focusing on gender performativity and presentation, organized in Bangalore earlier this month.
  • Read about what Panmai, the first of its kind transgender theater group in Tamil Nadu, has to say about trans productions as a platforms to tell their stories
  • What does it mean for women to photograph their nudes? What kind of relationships do selfies allow many to forge with their bodies? Nishita Jha shares women's varied experiences with cyber-stalking, abuse, sex positivity on the internet, desire and selfie-care/love.

 

On Gender, Race and Popular Culture

 

A warm and lazy goodbye, feminists! Have a restful and exciting week, unlearning (and self-caring).

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