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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: ZUBAAN MELA IS AROUND THE CORNER. WE ARE FRAZZLED.

The Zubaan office has seen major upheaval and rearrangement over the last week. Books, shelves, and cheese(s) have been moved. We are bemused, befuddled, and often lose our way between the door and our desks. Still, we rounded up the best of the feminist interwebz for this week's On Topic, for the benefit of our faithful readers (who should all come to the Mela).

Some well written and pertinent things we have been reading:

  • A fresh and well-researched take on how imperialism uses the rhetoric of feminism to justify itself:

    Do women, their freedom, their clothes and their marriages provide some crucial avenue into establishing hegemony, a method of representing the foreign invaders as good? The most compelling reason for this enquiry is that South Asian and Afghan feminisms are tainted by an imagined complicity with colonialism and imperialism. Making explicit just how aspects of women’s lives – their clothes and marriages – have been put into the service of Anglo-American imperial projects of domination, and how little these projects have had to do with those actual women, is a step towards lifting the weight of imperial complicity on Afghan feminism.

  • Shared on the Zubaan Books Facebook page, we feel the need to once again point to this brilliant and incisive article on being Dalit, woman, and upwardly mobile in Bengal:

    ...I was told, rather absurdly by a professor that there are no Dalits in West Bengal. I had responded with a wry smile and had nothing to say. It is my contention that there are no Dalits in West Bengal because of the simple fact that Dalits are not allowed to exist. You can be a casteless Brahmin, Baidya or Kayastha. On the other side of the equation, you can be an untouchable/achyut waiting to be emancipated (accultured) by upper caste casteless radicals or you can be a scheduled caste employee perpetually embarrassed for enjoying the "privilege" of affirmative action…When I identify myself as a Dalit I am making a claim and seeking recognition for that discrimination, prejudice as well as that resistance. But inadvertently by identifying myself as a Dalit I am also doing something more. I am challenging a practice of "division of labourers" that is endemic to West Bengal. This is the division between emancipators (which includes writers, intellectuals, social activists, doctors, economists, trade union leaders, Naxalite leaders) and the to be emancipated (which includes peasants, workers in factories and homes, taxi drivers, rickshaw pullers etc).

  • In part of a series on gender (read them all!) on Medium.com's Matter, Laurie Essig tells us why we've got gender all wrong:

    ...what frustrates me is that “born this way” protects straight and cisgender persons from ever being one of us. They cannot be infected with our queer desires or queer gender presentations. In this worldview, we all enter this world with a stable gender identity and unwavering sexual desire. Identity is simple.

  • An MIT student shows how stereotypes of gender and race are destroyed by most sensible research studies.
  • A linguist tells us why criticising women's speech is not only unhelpful, but also misogynistic:

    This endless policing of women’s language—their voices, their intonation patterns, the words they use, their syntax—is uncomfortably similar to the way our culture polices women’s bodily appearance. Just as the media and the beauty industry continually invent new reasons for women to be self-conscious about their bodies, so magazine articles and radio programmes like the ones I’ve mentioned encourage a similar self-consciousness about our speech. The effect on our behaviour is also similar. Instead of focusing on what we’re saying, we’re distracted by anxieties about the way we sound to others. ‘Am I being too apologetic?’ and ‘Is my voice too high?’ are linguistic analogues of ‘is my nail polish chipped?’ and ‘do I look fat in this?’

  • A profile on the West Bank's first woman taxi driver:

    Ahmad became interested in cars at a young age - but even then, she understood that it was not considered a "normal" interest for a girl. She watched her cousins work on their engines when she was a teenager - never asking questions, but taking mental notes instead. "I can work on my own car [now]. I watched and watched, [and] now I know about cars. I can take even apart the carburettor," Ahmad said.

  • A young Muslim girl in America coped with racism by listening to Green Day. "This language, imprecise as it was, was my first political vocabulary."
  • TW: Sexual harassment, stalking. The editor of Khabar Lahariya writes about the sexual harassment she and her colleagues faced, and the difficulty they faced in getting the police to do anything about it:

    When...I said I wanted to file my FIR against this man, the SI said I should just switch my phone off if I didn’t want to talk to him. I said I couldn’t, that I needed to use my phone. So get a new SIM card. But people have this number and call me on it. So if he abuses you, abuse him back. Get the men in your house to do it. The calls will stop...He sounded like so many other men I knew. Let go of this desire to control your life, and everything will be ok. Really? One phone stalker was going to get me to let go of everything?

  • On the Munnar women's agitation in Kerala:

    Two aspects of the Munnar mobilisation need to be recognised. One, the protesters openly stressed the gender aspect of the mobilisation — Pembila Orumai (Unity of Women) is how they called themselves. Two, the protesters were part of the organised sector and members of trade unions...The women were discovering agency and identifying trade unions as a male preserve, a trend increasingly visible in women dominated work sectors.

  • On the attack on the women's train, Matribhumi, in West Bengal:

    Some women passengers reportedly said that many among the aggressors happened to be men they travelled with regularly. They expressed their utter bewilderment at the familiar dhoti-clad bhadrolok...turning into such a violent rabble of attackers and raring to assault them; an all-woman train was all that it took to rip apart the veneer of the ostensibly progressive Bengali man…Bengal prides itself on being a matribhumi state as opposed to the pitribhumi states of the Hindi heartland—a matriarchal society, not a patriarchal one. It is not uncommon to hear ordinary Bengalis, as well as political leaders representing the state, wax eloquent on Bengal’s gender equality, its respect for women, its past historic traditions of social reform, the iconic personalities of male reformers such as Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar and Ram Mohan Roy. But the bitter truth is that Bengal, much like the rest of the nation, has rarely seen women in any role except that of a mother or sister. Regardless of the shades of radicalism that have defined its politics, individual autonomy has been conscpicously absent from public and private space,  and the conversations around gender have been stripped of any radicalism. Patriarchal roots, instead of being removed, have been inadvertently nurtured.

  • On the unpaid and unrewarded labour of being an online feminist, and how community needs to mean more than likes, comments, and shares:

    The think piece industrial complex exploits the young and digitally-native, provoking those of us who are fed up, feminist, and accustomed to unpaid intellectual labor into snapping back on public forums. This organic tone of immediacy and frustration has been made into a reproducible product for click bait and ad sales. Each article's tagline claims to be more feminist and more urgent than the next. As it pluralizes feminism, it also threatens to dissolve the importance of community restoration and regeneration, and the need to slow down and reflect, in addition to snapping back.

  • On institutionalised misogyny in education, and how the school or college campus becomes a site for controlling women in India.
  • Mira Jacob, author of The Sleepwalker's Guide to Dancing, writes about getting a book published as a person of colour in the U.S.:

    Here is the thing about how discrimination works: No one ever comes right out and says, “We don’t want you.” In the publishing world, they don’t say, “We just don’t want your story.” They say, “We’re not sure you’re relatable” and “You don’t want to exclude anyone with your work.” They say, “We’re not sure who your audience is.”

  • On what a #feministfail Katti Batti was:

    Today’s cinema may be a lot more open about lovers being in a relationship (or rather, not pretending to have sex behind bushes anymore) but everything is still coated with a generous layer of misogyny.

  • Speaking of movies, have you heard of 141 I Love You? (It has lesbians and animated heart shaped balloons.)

See you at the mela!

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