Archive for May 27, 2012

Missing Intersectionality in Sex Positive Feminism: The Unaddressed Racism in Porn

Violence women

Feminists, both for porn and against it, hardly ever address the many ways in which racism, classism, ableism, etc conflate to turn porn into a cultural minefield

By Flavia Dzodan

I love porn! I do! I have even written about porn recently! Yet, I really resent that I need to offer this disclaimer any time I would like to address something about the genre. Because it seems that there is a dominant trend within feminism where you are either for porn or against it. And the thing is, for me, one can be “for” porn and still have serious reservations.

However, this lack of nuance in most of the discussions leaves so many important and necessary arguments out because, being in favor of porn, for the most part, means you do not align with the critics of porn, you just play along, you tout the usual favorable talking points, namely

  • porn can be empowering for some people
  • there is a way to produce consensual non exploitative porn
  • there is a market for feminist porn
  • as long as the participants partook out of their own volition, we should not stick our noses into their choices, after all, people should live their lives in any way they see fit.

And I agree with all of the above. These are the reasons why I believe that porn and erotica, and the producers of said media, should be respected for their work and not treated like people who are incapable of making informed decisions about their own bodies and well being.

Then there is the camp that staunchly opposes porn and sex work on the basis that it is always exploitative and degrading. Organizations like Object in the UK, who carry on the ideological legacy of Dworkin, aggressively campaigning against it, conveniently leaving out the arguments of sex workers, porn producers, people in the industry and consumers alike. Theirs is a specific brand of “neo puritan feminism” that seeks to empower women by silencing those who are deemed “oppressed” and not capable of making decisions about their own bodies and lifestyles.

This condescending, binary dichotomy of “what is good for women” vs. “what is degrading” leaves no room for counter points or personal autonomy. Either you are for “exploiting women” or you are against it.

Still, both camps share an inherently similar approach towards porn: it is hardly ever intersectional. It hardly ever addresses the many ways in which racism, class-ism, able-ism, etc conflate to turn porn into a cultural minefield.

If you point out that there are ingrained elements of racism within certain sub genres of pornography, to wit, some stuff that is presented as “fetish”, the usual defense, even from many in the sex positive feminist camp, is that “people like what they like” and, as long as it is consensual, we should not question it. This kind of determinism due to preference remains unexamined, unchallenged, as if our personal taste would develop in a vacuum, devoid of any other socio-cultural influence. As if we could separate ourselves from the environment where we exist.

I suspect this uncritical “we like what we like” argument stems from a need to anticipate the attacks based on moralistic arguments. I understand that anything that deviates from the heteronormative and patriarchal ideas of “acceptable” is criticized on tenuous arguments involving “values” and supposed “deviance”. However, “we might like what we like” and still, that supposedly personal preference might not be as simple or as harmless as we might want to believe. Kyriarchy, after all, infiltrates even the most seemingly disconnected areas of our lives.

So, I have to ask the obvious question here: how “consensual” is some of this fetish porn when it involves extreme and brutal forms of racist degradation? Sure, we say, the women were paid for this, they agreed to be featured, they signed consent forms, they knew they were going to take part in porn. And yet, nothing prepares us for the horror involved in some of these fetish productions that Jamel Shabazz so well illustrates in this piece at Hycide, GHETTO GAGGERS: A Nation Can Rise No Higher Than It’s Women. From the piece:

“I clicked on a video. As it begins, the women are asked, “Why are you here?” Many say they want cash because their boyfriends were “broke ass n*****s” or because they needed money to support their children. “Ghetto Gaggers” allegedly pays $2,000. Some say they want to be porn stars. Some are college students or unemployed, and some are even pregnant. They have names like Mecca, Ashanti, Precious, Ebony, and Destiny. Maybe they are expecting to star in an erotic video, or maybe they think this is gag porn, in which women who sign a release form are humiliated and hurt to satisfy fetishistic viewers. But it’s hard to believe they expect the level of degradation that comes next, or the resulting emotional trauma.

Some porn stars who reportedly knew what they were in for have quit the industry after starring in “Ghetto Gaggers”. “After we get through with them they’re going to have to see a psychiatrist for the rest of their lives,” one attacker boasts on camera. In a typical video, three or four men take turns physically and mentally destroying their victims. During 90 minutes of barbarism, the perpetrators spit in their faces, slap them, stomp them and force some to crawl on all fours with chains around their necks. In other scenes, the women have watermelons smashed on their heads and then are forced to eat the melon, along with the men’s semen. Some women have their faces shoved into a toilet, much to the pleasure of the assailants. During the grotesque finale, the men shove their penises deep inside the women’s throats until they vomit into a large dog bowl, which is emptied on them. As the humiliated women cry, a host promises fans there will be new girls every week!”

I can hear the arguments already “but this is the BAD kind of porn!”, this is the “non feminist!” kind. True, however, missing the point entirely, since, as feminists, even for those who identify as sex positive, we should concern ourselves with all issues involving matters of gender and gender representation. Even more so, when they involve the systematic degradation of an entire group of women based on their ethnicity.

Here’s where the argument in favor of unexamined fetish becomes flimsy and harmful: people like what they like and as long as it is consensual, what is the problem? Except that something like precisely this case illustrated above can be simultaneously consensual (the women initially agreed to participate) and extremely harmful (obviously, if they needed therapy to overcome the experience, nobody would claim that this was just an innocuous form of indulging in fetish). Because consent, especially for women who are already viewed as targets, whose bodies are already viewed as “ready for abuse” is more complicated than signing a release form and agreeing to be filmed while a bunch of racist white guys degrade you.

People like what they like

Now, imagine the same line of argument invoked in any other area of racist critique. When the editor of a fashion mag calls Rihanna a “ni**abitch”, would we, as feminists, accept this idea that “people like what they like”? When the fashion industry does something racist, would we agree that people just “like” that kind of fashion and leave the subject alone because well, “as long as the models took part in the production consensually, then who are we to critique?”.

Even in my last piece, where I critiqued the penis centric nature of porn and erotica for straight women, some commentators felt the need to inform me that “that’s what they like and I had no business criticizing it”. However, again, I repeat myself: how can this personal inclination be isolated from everything else? How can our desire be isolated from the rest of our influences?

And I am sort of exhausted of this individualistic defense that because “someone likes it”, these notions cannot be challenged or analyzed as part of a bigger framework. Because that is at the very root of an intersectional approach to gender politics, we cannot separate the personal circumstances involving race, class, gender, dis/ability, etc, from the overall frameworks of consent, fetish, porn production and the consumption of said products. All of them are interconnected and, “BUT I LIKE IT!” is a poor defense focused on individuals when the focus should perhaps be better directed on how the sum of each individual adds up to create a system of representation.

“We might like what we like” and yet, that very same media might as well be based on the systematic portrayal of certain individuals as “inferior”, unworthy of love, of care, their ethnicity solely “a fetish”. The idea of consent, only in paper, unexamined because we are supposed to operate under the assumption that agreeing to a sex act for the camera only stems from personal choice. Although for women of color depicted in porn, there is obviously more than meets the eye.

Flavia Dzodan is a writer, media analyst and activist living in Amsterdam. This article was originally appeared on Tiger Beatdown. Special thanks to the author for sharing this with FeministsIndia

Abortion Rights: The Gender and Disability Dichotomy

abortion rights

­­­­­­­­­­­­The feminist position of supporting the ban on sex selective abortion but permitting abortion of a foetus with genetic abnormalities is a sore point for disability movement activists in India

By Vineeta Bal

In India, women got legal access to abortion from a population policy perspective rather than rights perspective. Until 1971, women were not allowed to get abortion done legally except in the cases of medical emergencies. The Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act of 1971, in addition to ‘failure of contraception’ as a reason, also granted the right to abortion on the basis of detecting prenatal genetic abnormalities.

Amniocentesis – taking out a small amount of fluid from a pregnant mother’s uterus, commonly during 14-16 weeks of pregnancy – was the method of choice for detecting genetic abnormalities and it could detect only a few abnormalities.

In reality, in countries like India where male children are the preferred choice, it was widely misused for detecting sex of the developing foetus, resulting in high frequency of abortion of the female foetus. A recent paper published in the Lancet Journal has a detailed analysis on sex-selective abortions in India from 1995-2005 which predicted 3.1 to 6 million sex-selective abortions in the 2000s.

While the women’s movement has been silent on abortion of genetically abnormal foetus, there was an urgent demand to stop female sex selective abortion. Women’s rights activists had anticipated the skewing of gender ratios many years back and argued that there was a need to ban amniocentesis, resulting in the Pre Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PNDT) Act in 1994 for regulation and prevention of misuse of the diagnostic techniques. Subsequently, it was modified as Pre Conception and PNDT (PC-PNDT) Act in 2003.

By mid-90s, the need for an invasive technique to detect the female foetus had been bypassed. The new technology of sensitive ultrasonography machines which could ‘see’ the presence or absence of a penis during the scanning procedure had made female sex selective abortion easier.

Since women form half of the population and are necessary for the survival of the species, large-scale female sex selective abortion was considered a major risk from the ‘greater good’ perspective. However, legally banning female sex selective abortion but permitting abortion of a foetus with genetic abnormalities is a sore point for disability movement activists, who often question feminists about their logic for stopping abortion for one reason but not the other.

The issue of ‘greater good’ takes precedence here if the comparison between sex selective abortions versus genetic defect linked abortion has to be made. Genetic abnormalities or other structural and functional abnormalities present at birth which are detectable during pregnancy with certainty are still very few. There is also a spectrum of defects – some like anencephaly (near absence of brain) are very severe with a possibility of foetus dying in the uterus before delivery whereas some others like polydactyly (having more than five fingers per hand or foot) can be considered relatively minor. Abnormalities of this kind can be detected easily by ultrasonography but not necessarily by amniocentesis.

While the number of detectable abnormalities may increase in future, amongst the disabled people today the proportion contributed by disabilities detectable during early pregnancy is very small. When amniotic fluid samples were tested to rule out genetic abnormalities, in a referral laboratory in Spain, the frequency of detectable abnormalities was found to be 2.9% over a 10-year period. In other reports the frequency was even lesser than this. And one must keep in mind that not every pregnant woman is asked to undergo this test. Thus, the numbers of abortions which might be an outcome of this screening is nowhere comparable with female sex selective abortion. In a developing country, this percentage would be even lower because of limitation in the availability of these tests and the awareness about them!

The debate around the right to life of a foetus with abnormalities detected during early pregnancy does evoke a passionate response even amongst some feminists, who think of the foetus as an independent entity. At present, despite technological advances a 16-18 week old foetus, born as a premature baby, is almost always incapable of surviving outside the mother’s body even with all available outside assistance. Thus providing any ‘rights’ to this foetus which cannot survive while preventing the mother’s right to abortion does not appear justified.

However, in the present circumstances, what should be the best approach to address the dilemma? What steps could/should be taken? Should genetic screening be banned? Should all abortions be banned including female sex selective abortions? Should the right to life of a foetus with abnormalities detected during early pregnancy be invoked over the right of the mother to abort a foetus?

An ideal situation for feminists would be when the PC-PNDT act can be revoked because there is no longer gender-based discrimination in the society. Even on such a dream day a woman’s right to abort the foetus should not be taken away.

What about the right of the mother to abort a foetus with some abnormalities in this dream period?  Well, it should still remain intact and abortion should be permissible as mother’s primary right during that stage of pregnancy when a foetus born is incapable of sustaining itself despite adequate technology-based assistance. Today this period is about 20 weeks, and it may decrease with improvements in support systems in the future.

Beyond this critical period, other considerations may come into picture. For example, it is likely that stem cell therapy in the foreseeable future will help in providing cure for some of the genetic defects detected using pre-natal diagnosis. It also needs to be mentioned that some sections of the activists, because of misconceptions and lack of nuanced understanding, link stem cell therapy to eugenics (practices aimed at improving the genetic traits in a population) thereby opposing one potential therapeutic option for curing genetic defects. If such a cure exists and is available, at that point of time, counselling of mothers for continuation of pregnancy will become a real choice.

However, be it in the ‘dream’ period of the future or in the current reality, we need to demand and work towards providing social security for all disabled people, not just to those who are born with a defect.

In conclusion, while the woman’s right to choose is paramount and inalienable, civil society movements and activists should be able to modify their concerns and strategies by better understanding and assessing technological developments on their path to achieve social equality.

Vineeta Bal is a member of Saheli and a scientist at the National Institute of Immunology, Delhi. The views expressed here are personal.

Original articles published on can be reproduced but due acknowledgement to the website is obligatory

Muslim Women’s Rights: Artificial Concern?

Ulema Convetnion India

Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan, one of the largest Muslim women’s groups in India questions the credibility of Jamiat Ulama-I-Hind’s new-found concern for Muslim women’s rights

By Noorjehan Safia Niaz

Jamiat Ulama-I-Hind, one of the leading Islamic ulama organizations in India, passed a resolution on the rights of women at their public convention held in New Delhi on 19th May. Of the 17 resolutions, the 16th – titled as Resolution about the Rights of Woman – reads  “…. this general session of Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind feels that today’s Muslim society is callous towards the rights of woman. It is a matter of anguish that girls are treated as burden and they are denied well- upbringing, education and right to inheritance. Injustice and cruelty to wife and divorce is rampant in Muslim society….. Therefore this General Session of Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind appeals to the Muslim community to act on Islamic instructions about rights of woman.”

It is definitely a welcome change that a religious organization like Jamiat Ulama-I-Hind (JUH), with grassroots network across India has passed a resolution showing concern over Muslim women’s status in the country. However, one wonders whether it is just paying lip service, considering the fact that women’s rights have never been an issue for most religious organizations, including JUH in the country.

Muslim women cannot ignore the fact that powerful and influential bodies like JUH are extremely patriarchal and almost exclusively male and have conveniently ignored the basic premise of Islam which is equality and justice. Issues like women’s rights, patriarchy, and domestic violence are alien to them. For years these groups have usurped for themselves the right to read, translate and interpret the Quran. Many translations of the holy book on key issues concerning women are in their own notions of patriarchy. Quranic verses have been twisted out of their contexts to deny women what has already been ordained.

How genuine is this call when we know that these demands are made at the absence of Muslim women? There was not even a single Muslim woman present at the Ramlila Maidan event. If JUH had made any serious attempt to talk to women and understand their issues, they would have sought representation of Muslim women at the event.

We, as Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA), challenge the JUH that if they are genuinely concerned about the status and rights of Muslim women, they must throw open their membership to Muslim women and give them space to discuss their problems. Muslim women’s rights are human rights too and it is time influential Islamic bodies like JUH make an honest attempt to talk, discuss and engage with the women in the community.

Noorjehan Safia Niaz is the founder member of BMMA. She has been working for many years across the country to mobilize Muslim women’s leadership.


In Memoriam: Prof. Leela Dube (1923-2012)

Leela Dube

Renowned anthropologist and feminist scholar Leela Dube passed away at her residence in Delhi on 20 th May. She was 89. Fondly called Leeladee, Prof. Dube was one of the pioneers of feminist scholarship in India

By Vibhuti Patel

With the passing away of Professor Leela Dube, we have lost a stalwart who broadened the discipline of anthropology by introducing the insights of women’s studies and enriched women’s studies as a discipline by bringing in the technical expertise of an anthropologist.

A well known figure in Indian Sociological Society in the 70s, Leeladee was responsible for introducing women’s studies concerns in mainstream sociology. She played a crucial role in the 1984 World Sociological Congress in which women activists and women’s studies scholars played a dominant role through the Research Committee Women in Society (RC 32). Leeladee chaired a panel on “Declining Sex Ratio in India”, in which Dr. Ilina Sen gave a historical overview of deficit of women in India throughout history of Census of India. Prof. Vina Mazumdar passionately spoke on the finding of towards Equality Report and I spoke on “Sex Selective Abortions-An Abuse of Scientific Techniques of Amniocentesis”.

Leeladee summed up the session with her insightful comments on the tradition of son preference in India. Her greatness lay in synthesizing complex concerns and providing an analytical framework in a lucid and convincing way. In a debate on sex selective abortions carried out in EPW during 1982-1986, her contribution was immense and her predictions about direct relationship of deficit of women and increased violence against women has proved to be true in the subsequent years.

Due to team efforts of women’s studies scholars like Prof. Leela Dube, RC 32 got institutionalized in World Sociological Congress. She invited many activists for the 12th International Congress of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences, Zagreb, erstwhile Yugoslavia, in 1988 to present paper on “Codification of Customary Laws into Family Laws in Asia”. In the Congress, Leedadee’s speech on feminist anthropologist Eleanor Leacock provided new insights into departure of the feminist anthropologists from its colonial legacy of “Big brother watching you”. The power relations between the North and the South in construction of knowledge and the hegemonic presence of ETIC approach in academics were questioned by Leacock as well as Leeladee who propagated “dialogical approach” in anthropological and ethnographic research.

I respected her from a distance. I was too awe-struck to go close to her but always appreciated her sharp, witty comments during academic sessions and tea and lunch breaks at innumerable seminars, workshops and at Indian Association of Women’s Studies Conferences held every two years. She was appreciative of our campaign against sex selection. During 1981 and 1991, I got to listen to her speeches, deliberations and arguments as I used to be one of the rapporteurs in most of the programmes in women’s studies held in Mumbai and Delhi.

leela dube, Indian feminism, feminist scholars

Clockwise: Vina Mazumdar, Hanna Papanek, Gail Omvedt, Neera Desai and Leela Dube in Segovia, Spain, July 1990. Photo Courtesy: Vibhuti Patel

Each time I heard her, I got more motivated to read her papers and later on her books. Her work on Lakshadweep island’s matrilineal Muslim community- Matriliny and Islam: Religion and society in the Laccadives (1969)- was an eye-opener so was her deconstruction of polyandry in Himalayan tribes in the context of women’s workload of collection of fuel, fodder, water, looking after livestock and kitchen gardening in mountainous terrain, resulting into high maternal mortality and adverse sex ratio. She showed interconnections between factors responsible for social construction of women’s sexuality, fertility and labour, rooted in the political economy.

Her highly celebrated book Anthropological Explorations in Gender: Intersecting Fields (2001) is a landmark contribution in feminist anthropology in India. It examines gender, kinship and culture by sourcing a variety of distinct and unconventional materials such as folk tales, folk songs, proverbs, legends, myths to construct ethnographic profile of feminist thoughts. She provides a nuanced understanding on socialization of girl child in a patriarchal family, “seed and soil” theory propagated by Hindu scriptures and epics symbolizing domination-subordination power relationship between men and women.

Her meticulously researched piece On the Construction of Gender: Hindu Girls in Patrilineal India in the Economic and Political Weekly (1988), was used by women’s groups for study circles and training programmes. The volume Women, Work, and Family (1990) in the series on Women and Households, Structures and Strategies, co-edited by Leela Dube and Rajni Palriwala was extremely useful in teaching women’s studies in Economics, Sociology, Geography, Social Work and Governance courses. Her book, Women and Kinship: Comparative Perspectives on Gender in South and South-East Asia (1997) argued that kinship systems provide an important context in which gender relations are located in personal and public arena.

The co-edited volume Visibility and Power: Essays on Women in Society and Development by Leela Dube, Eleanor Leacock and Shirley Ardener (OUP 1986) provided international perspective on the anthropology of women in the context of socio-political setting of India, Iran, Malaysia, Brazil, and Yugoslavia.

After Prof. Iravati Karve, Prof. Leela Dube was the only scholar who made a path-breaking contribution in anthropology with gender sensitivity in India. Leeladee made a mammoth contribution in bringing academic credibility to women’s studies through her scholarly endeavours.

Vibhuti Patel is active in the women’s movement in India since 1972 and currently teaching at SNDT Women’s University, Mumbai.

Featured Photo by: Mukul Dube


Siddharth Mallya Served Notice for Defamatory Tweets

sidharth mallya

Mallya has 48 hours to apologise or face legal action from Zohal Hamid, who was subjected to character assassination tweets from Siddharth Mallya following her molestation charges against IPL Royal Challenger cricketer Luke Pomersbach

By Team FI

Siddarth Mallya, director of the IPL Royal Challengers team, owned by his business tycoon father Vijay Mallya, was served legal notice by Zohal Hamid asking him to apologize for his defamatory tweets against her following her molestation charges against RC cricketer Luke Pomersbach. Mallya has been given 48 hours to apologize, at the end of which legal action would be initiated against him.

The Australian cricketer was arrested and charged on Friday, 18th on charges of molesting Hamid and attacking her fiancé Sahil Peerzada at a five star hotel. Responding to Hamid’s allegations, Mallya tweeted, “The girl who is accusing Luke is saying he hit her ‘fiancé’…what a load of fucking shit. She was all over me last night and asked for me bbm pin, so if he was her fiance she wasn’t exactly behaving like a future wife.”

He later tweeted, “If Luke is in the wrong, then trust me he will face the necessary sanctions. But what this girl is doing is idiotic.” Mallya’s tweets have not only irked women and activists in the country; the twitter community have also mostly greeted the tweet with brickbats.

Pomersbach was released on bail on Saturday. He was charged under IPC sections 354 (assault or criminal force to woman with intent to outrage her modesty), 323 (causing hurt), 454 (lurking house trespass) and 511 (attempting to commit offences punishable with imprisonment for life or other imprisonment).

Cartoon Controversy: Partisan Censorship?

ambedkar cartoon protest

Is self-serving political correctness making us ignore the larger political context of the debate about the Ambedkar-Nehru cartoon and its removal?

By Shipra Nigam

The tenor of the debate within the ‘left’ regarding the 63-year-old political cartoon which has created a huge uproar in the parliament and in the country is distressing. The issue of the specific cartoon apart, the eagerness with which parties across the spectrum came together to demand a ‘review of textbooks’ by a ‘team of members of parliament’ is terrifying. This includes the ‘party left’ which has itself been wary of the ‘new textbooks’ for all the wrong reasons.

While we need to recognize the nuances of the debate and the politics on the ground, it’s important not to be swept by the certitude of political correctness, and the concomitant refusal to place the entire furore and the support coming from certain sections of ‘left,’ within the larger political context in which this debate is raging.

As a progressive historian and queer activist friend put it, ‘There is a world of difference between the New York Post, a right-wing publication owned by NewsCorp of the Murdoch family, and Shankar, whose cartoons as we have seen critiqued a range of political luminaries across the political spectrum from the 1930s onwards. In addition, the criticism from certain progressive sections fails to recognize the self-serving and opportunistic actions of minuscule political organizations in Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu, in addition to the questionable involvement of Mayawati in this debate, by dignifying these actions as “the aroused political consciousness of the dalits”. We might recall that in the early 2000s, these were precisely the tactics used by the Sambhaji Brigade which ransacked the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute in Pune because a historian had called attention to evidence that questioned Shivaji’s caste affiliation. The previously unknown organization used such violence to justify its continued presence in local Pune politics. And if we were to look to a longer genealogy, these were precisely the methods of the Shiv Sena in the 1960s.’

Where the cartoon itself is concerned, Aditya Nigam points out, “It is this textbook, by the way, that perhaps for the first time, gave Ambedkar the place in the history of modern India that he deserves, a fact lost today in the cacophony that marks Parliament.”. In fact, Dr. Ambedkar, in this cartoon, has been depicted in his ‘capacity’ as the Chairperson of the ‘drafting committee’ of the constituent assembly and not merely as a dalit leader.

As Mary E. John, Centre for Women’s Development Studies (CWDS) points out in her email to FeministsIndia list-serve, these textbooks were written after more than two decades of  ‘dalit mobilisation’ and critiques of ‘castelessness’ of Modern Indian state, especially within academic and activist circles. It is time that we engaged with issues of ‘iconisation’ and ‘sacrosanctness’ of symbolic identities, even with regards to marginalized sections including women and dalits. This is perhaps imperative, even more so, to establish and assert our identities on an equal footing for ourselves. This requires moving beyond a simple understanding of ‘victimisation’ in a more nuanced engagement which is able to engage with contemporary modes of marginalization.

Dr B.R Ambedkar himself had no objections to the cartoon. A cartoon portraying what happened during those days is bound to be located within that context. There are several other cartoons on a range of politicians and issues portraying the ‘evolving Indian democracy”. Our history is as important as our present in gaining insights into this process. After all these years of debate, activism and mobilization, are we not even ready to revisit our own past, if for nothing else, to provide a perspective on the present?

The controversial cartoon by Shankar

I also find this understanding of children in ‘class 11 and 12’, more than sixteen years old, as ‘impressionable minds’ to be protected from a more critical engagement with historical contexts slightly misplaced. The cartoon itself is part of the ‘socio-political’ historical context, sensitivity to which is being sought to be inculcated in children’s minds. Are we living under the impression that children, who are today exposed to a wide range of alternative media sources, witnessing widespread lampooning of politicians and political contexts, are innocent of the meaning and nature of political satires? At the very least, as Mary points out, we definitely need to know more about how they do indeed respond to them before coming up with such conclusions.

Given the complexities of our social world, is it possible to come up with intelligent, nuanced and insightful textbooks which ‘open up the world of politics for students’ without coming up with some material which will not be unanimously and unambiguously ‘non controversial’? Under such circumstances, given that these students are part of this complex social world themselves, the best that pedagogy can do is to encourage critical thinking, which is precisely what these textbooks are attempting to do.

Besides a careful perusal of the textbook, placing the cartoon in its context, shows that the textbook actually points to the complexities of mammoth tasks such as writing of the constitution and the ‘inevitability’ of the lengthy process of drafting it entails. It in fact, endorses the importance of spending those years on writing the constitution in a way which is laudatory of those involved in its writing, including Dr. Ambedkar as its Chairperson.

I also beg to differ on the need to insert only ‘contemporary’ and not ‘historical’ cartoons either on grounds of relevance or on grounds of ‘who’ can be the object of political satire. Surely, building bridges with the past in bringing about a sensitivity to the manner in which political discourses develop in ‘public sphere’ over time is not only relevant but important.

As has been pointed out many, these textbooks were the outcome of a collective process of intensive deliberations, drafting and reviewing by hundreds of academics, researchers, teachers and social scientists. This is not to deny the need for their revision, but surely that process has to be at least as informed and democratic as the one that brought those textbooks into existence?

Allowing a team of ‘members of parliament’ to intervene at this moment, as the parties in question in their short-sightedness do not see, sets a very alarming precedent of accepting such future interventions by a wide spectrum of political interests – from neoliberal to saffron – in dictating future academic agendas if not the current one.

Debates and disagreements apart, we must not to let this episode escalate into another act of partisan censorship.

Shipra Nigam is a Consultant Economist at RIS (Research and Information Systems for Developing Countries), New Delhi.

Related reading: Just why was that cartoon in text books?


Let Humour Remain in Indian Public Life: PUCL

Cartoon Controversy PUCL

PUCL (Rajasthan) protests against the removal of the Nehru-Ambedkar cartoon from the textbook stating that it is not objectionable by itself and that the text gets students to question cartoonist’s presentation of the “snail’s pace”

By Team FI

The People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), Rajasthan branch has issued a press statement expressing shock over the uproar in the parliament and subsequent removal of the cartoon of Nehru and Ambedkar from Class XII School text book. The issue was raised by Thol Thirumavalavan of Liberation Panthers Party, Tamil Nadu  in the Lok Sabha on last Friday. He was soon joined by politicians cutting across party lines. Union HRD Minister Kapil Sibal apologized over the “objectionable” content and told the media that he has directed removal of the material and stoppage of distribution of books. Here is the statement from PUCL;

The PUCL, Rajasthan branch and other intellectuals in the city are shocked at the unnecessary controversy created by a section of the Indian Parliamentarians with regard to  the cartoon of 1949 on Nehru and Ambedkar, on the pace of the making of the Indian Constitution, made by the eminent cartoonist Shankar Pillai and published in the Standard XI Political Science Text Book of the NCERT. What is extremely disturbing is the manner in which education minister Mr. Kapil Sibal apologised in Parliament and conceded to the demands of these Parliamentarians by stating that he has directed the NCERT to remove the material and stop the distribution of books. Not stopping there, he also stated that he had taken action by setting up a committee to look at the entire gamut of cartoons in textbooks and their content to ensure material of this nature is taken out of textbooks, before the next session.

We are absolutely certain that there is nothing objectionable in the Nehru-Ambedkar cartoon by itself and the text presented with it if at all is extremely laudatory of the hard work and democratic process that the constituent assembly had adhered to under the leadership of Sh. BR Ambedkar. And the question asked of the students in the context of the cartoon actually is getting students to question Shankar’s presentation of the “snail’s pace” represented. We would like to ask whether parties have really read the text with the cartoon or is it merely criticising to appease the Dalit vote bank which they represent.

In the past also texts have been deleted and books have been tampered with, and people have had cases filed against them merely in the name of upsetting public opinion. It is important to know that the endeavour of education is not to indoctrinate the minds of the young or teach them any one ideology. According to us the primary objective of education is to create a quest for enquiry and learning to think. Providing diverse points of view becomes essential to the educational process. Education essentially means having openness towards all points of views and also the young must know that there are many dimensions to any issue.

We all are well aware that both from the point of view of content and presentation the NCF 2005 and the books that were produced by the NCERT were a milestone in the history of education in India.  These books are also of high quality,  hardly seen before in our Government schools. These books create a questioning and critical mind in the children.  In terms of pedagogy these books are extremely innovative.

The PUCL strongly condemns the move of tampering with the content of these books and in particular the decision of removing the cartoons from the books, this needs to be opposed strongly.


Cartoon Controversy: Who’s laughing?


The country needs several years of cartooning by Dalits to be ready for Shankar’s cartoons on Ambedkar. NCERT should have commissioned a contemporary cartoon reflecting people’s expectations, joys and angst about the constitution today

By Veena Shatrugna

It is unfortunate that some progressive organizations and intellectuals are protesting against the controversy created by the Indian Parliamentarians on the BR Ambedkar-Nehru cartoon in the NCERT text book of Standard XII. Drawn by Shankar in 1949, the cartoon depicts Nehru, with a whip in his hand, chasing Ambedkar, who is seated on a snail.

To begin with, the cartoon is irrelevant in today’s context. And yes, it does show Dr.B.R Ambedkar in very poor light. It should be noted that the Dalit icon was not found anywhere, not even acknowledged, in the school and college texts till the 90s, and now that he is visible, he is caricatured on top of a snail.

The explanation in the accompanying text to the cartoon does not counteract it sufficiently. The text provides reasons for delay in drafting the Constitution – the need for drafts to be circulated and consultations with sub committees. The cartoon however stands in contradiction to the text. Did Shankar not know that consultations were necessary?

This upper caste impatience is ironic considering that Dalits have waited for centuries for change to happen and even today the Constitution must be coaxed to work for the marginalized.

One must also question whether a political cartoon done over 60 years ago makes any sense today with or without the text. Cartoons have to be topical, their shelf life is limited -unless you are studying the history of humour.

Let us also not arbitrate that the Dalits do not appreciate humour. That was the weapon used against feminists long ago – the accusation that feminists usually do not ‘get the point or the humour’”.  How would anyone expect us to laugh at the jokes that degrade us as women?

In my family (Punjabi refugees from West Punjab) there is no space for any frivolous mention of the partition. Despite the fact that there is usually an overdose of Punjabi rustic humour otherwise. You mention the word partition and everyone is silent. It would take a long time for us to joke and laugh about it.

Dr. B. R. Ambedkar

How do you expect the Dalits to switch onto a humour mode, because ‘they must get on with life, or that the texts were put together by such eminent men and women or that the caricature was drawn by a legendary cartoonist’?

The country needs 20 to 30 years of cartooning by Dalits to be ready for Shankar’s cartoons on Ambedkar. It would be good to know when exactly Nehru learnt to laugh at himself – notwithstanding his elite background, his exposure to western liberal thoughts. Maybe it was after those thousands of cartoons which depicted him as the darling of the masses.

Let us not treat textbooks as if they were holy scriptures. Just because the textbooks were written after much deliberation, it does not mean that errors do not creep in. In a young democracy like ours, texts and textbooks should be updated/reviewed every 2 to 3 years.

Instead of taking a short cut, NCERT should have commissioned cartoons which reflects people’s expectations, joys and angst about the Constitution today, and there are plenty of examples, (even if we ignore Anna Hazare) where women, dalits, tribes, minorities, LGBT, to name a few, are struggling to make the Constitution work.

Veena Shatrugna is a medical doctor by training and is the former Deputy Director, National Institute of Nutrition. She is a member of Anveshi, Hyderabad.

Related reading: Cartoons All! Politicians and Self-Seekers

Satyamev Jayate: Girls Are Allowed!

-Satyamev Jayate Aamir Khan

The first episode of the show Satyamev Jayate  on sex-selective abortion has struck an emotional chord with the average Indian viewer. Instead of debating what the show failed to do, let us focus on whether the show did justice to the topic it addressed

By Linda Chhakchhuak

While watching the first show of much hyped and debated Satyamev Jayate, I felt like congratulating all my female friends out there in the red marked states, especially the North Indian states, for scraping through such a network of ‘unwantedness’ that reaches right into the mother’s womb to finish them off. And I salute their parents for protecting and nurturing them.

Hailing from North East India where such insane levels of son worship does not exist or is yet to be reached, I found the statistics horrifying. Crores of females are hunted, killed right in their mother’s womb. Better not to use the polite terms like sex selective abortion or female feoticide, as it does not describe the full horror of the act, the malevolence, depravity and hatred of communities and families. Not that I am against abortion per see. But this is awful. It’s femicide on a mass scale.

Then it was another shock to be told that sex-selective abortion is more prevalent among educated class which led one to think that it is not lack of awareness or poverty which fuels this antipathy to the baby girl. It is about the gender constructs and practices that prevail in a community. No girl child or mother is ever truly safe with such a well of ”unwantedness’ at the core of the culture. Technology just gave it a means of acting upon it.

The show has also tried to bring out the effect of this madness on the lives of men, who at a marriageable age can find no women to marry as dozens of villages are left with men only, because their would be brides were long ago snuffed to death even before their birth.

There were stories of hope, of the woman who was forced to take the test 8 times and abort and who found the courage to keep the ninth pregnancy secret till her girl child was born. She needs to be given a national award for bravery. Imagine challenging her husband and his family by keeping such a secret.

Over all, I was quite impressed by the way the show was presented.  Sex selective abortion is something I have always known existed. Probably because the show was framed to be a tearjerker. After all Aamir Khan is an expert at that sort of thing. And if such great talent is used directly for a social cause, all the better. Every bit helps to push the vehicle out of the sticky mud.

Linda Chhakchhuak is an independent journalist from North East India.