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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.