Archive for May 14, 2012

Obituary: Sweet Maria

Queer Activist Sweet Maria

Remembering queer activist Sweet Maria/Anil Sadanandan who was murdered at his/her quarters in Kerala, last week

By Anil. A

My friend and queer activist, Sweet Maria/Anil Sadanandan was brutally murdered on 10th May 2012, at his quarters in Kollam, Kerala. I cannot comprehend that such a crime was committed against a person who was so loving and lovable.

S/he was a vibrant, pleasant, courageous person, spreading a lot of positive energy around. A companion to many in all social classes. Bold enough to express and establish his/her marginalized and stigmatized identity in every space s/he traversed.

S/he was very active in the fight for the rights of sexual minorities. S/he worked hard to form community based organizations for sexual minorities in Kerala. S/he was the former General Secretary of Loveland Arts Society (LAS), Kollam, a community based organization for queer people. S/he was one of the advisory board members of PEHCHAN project for Kerala, initiated by Sangama, Bangalore. The warm relationship and friendship s/he nurtured and maintained with community members was indeed the lifeline of these groups.

Anil’s intervention and focus to prevent and control the spread of HIV/AIDS among sexual minorities is commendable. S/he was very concerned about the health issues of those who have multi-partner sexual behavior. His/her unparalleled rapport with community members was very important in the effective implementation of HIV/AIDS prevention programmes, among this high risk group in Kerala.

Sweet Maria proudly revealed his/her identity in his/her family, workplace, every public space and media. To do this s/he had to encounter innumerable problems and had to fight consistently to establish his/her rightful social space. S/he incessantly fought against the injustice of mainstream society towards queer people.

Born on 5th May, 1973, in a lower middle class Malayalee family, Anil struggled hard to become a Govt. employee (Department of Harbor Engineering, Government of Kerala).

Sweet Maria / Anil Sadanandan lived his/her life fully, enjoyed the beauty of his queer nature, displayed it proudly and demonstrated its vibrance. In the queer pride march and in every queer cultural event, her pleasure in dance and the joy she was filled with, still reverberates in those who knew her. It’s still hard to absorb that we can’t rock in laughter at the queer jokes that s/he laid out at every turn, and that we will not be able to see and hear from her any more. S/he will not be there in any more festivals…and the void is unbearable.

S/he dared to face the challenges posed by an intolerant society which normally pushes gays, lesbians or anybody, who even slightly differs from the mainstream, to the limit of committing suicide. S/he faced such a society holding his head high, living his life fully, and standing out for the rights of the fellow queer. And he fell victim to that…

Anil’s murder is a brutal signal from the murdering homophobic patriarchy. We have to gather strength together to fight for the right of all trans/queer/nonconforming people to live with dignity and equality.

Anil.A is a human rights activist living with sex workers’ children, for the last 12 years in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala. He is also the Vice-president of Sangama, Banglore.

Related reading: Gay activist’s murder: Cops quiz three


India’s Open Wound Haunts Dow’s Olympic Dreams

Bhopal Plant

The call for the removal of DOW Chemical’s sponsorship from the London Olympics, by the survivors of the Bhopal gas tragedy, is not just about denied justice but also about the denial of responsibility by the company

By Ramlath Kavil and Supriya Madangarli

The Olympics, the world’s biggest sporting event, has courted controversies from its inception. An event that took off as a religious celebration in ancient Greece, has in modern times witnessed everything: bribing, bullying, doping, sexism, racism, political manipulation — you name it, the Games would claim it.

The latest controversy arose when the International Olympic Committee took on the Dow Chemical Company as World-Wide Partner for the Olympics and for the Olympic Movement. Dow Chemical, the world’s second-largest chemical manufacturer, also paid a whopping £7 million for a decorative wrap for the London Olympic Stadium.

Ever since the details of the agreement surfaced, the survivors of one of the world’s worst industrial disasters, the Bhopal gas tragedy of 1984, along with social activists, environmentalists, athletes and human rights groups including Amnesty International and the Indian Olympic Association, have been demanding that Dow be dropped as the main sponsor from the 2012 Olympics. Adding weight to the protest, Meredith Alexander, member of the Commission for a Sustainable London 2012, resigned earlier this year. She demanded that Dow take responsibility for one of the worst corporate and human rights violations of her generation.

Twenty-eight years after the lethal gas leak at the Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) pesticides plant that may have killed more than 20,000 (and counting) people and injured half a million, Bhopal is still an open wound in India. Mothers are still delivering babies with severe deformities, the young and old have been fighting chronic health problems ranging from psychological and neurological disabilities, to vision and breathing related disorders. A curative petition is still pending in the court and no final compensation has been made.

In 2002, a Dow Chemical spokesperson reportedly stated the 1989 compensation that amounted to $500 per person should be good enough for an Indian, a statement which the company later retracted. One of these “Indians” is Halimanbi, who was named Sinhourwali (the lioness) by her colleagues for her unrelenting fiery participation in the struggle for justice. Today, in her late 70s, she has lost the vision in her eyes, but not any of her passion. Sitting in a 60-square-foot “home” with a mud floor and broken aluminum sheets for a roof, beside a few empty vessels and a broken-down cupboard, Sinhourwali stares sightlessly as her hands grope for her supari box. Her husband, Abdul Hamid, drags himself beside her and picks up the box and places it in her hands.

“We will win, there is no other way,” she says, “we have fought for so long; we will win!”

The compensation she had received, that was deemed “good enough,” has been long spent — on expensive medical bills, and for their daily bread. The sole earner of the family, Abdul Hamid could no longer work the rickshaw he owned. Sinhourwali is, however, hopeful for the future, that justice will be rendered, and the accused given due punishment. She still awaits a final settlement, so that she and her husband can live their declining years in peace.

At the Chingari Trust run by Bhopal gas tragedy survivors Rashida Bee and Champa Devi Shukla, more than 300 children attend the special school for victims of groundwater contamination. These children are from the communities based in the two- to three-kilometre radius of the UCIL factory premises. The children suffer from developmental delays, stunted growth, hearing disorders, congenital disorders, birth defects. Nearly all of them are under the age of 12.

Bhopal Gas tragedy - Dow

Halimanbi with her husband Abdul Hamid at their home- Photos by Ramlath Kavil

One of them is Meenakshi. Born five years ago, her body has refused to catch up with her mind. She suffers from stunted growth. As she putters about the yard, one of the mothers asks softly, Has this happened elsewhere, or is it only us?

The activists attribute the groundwater contamination to leakage from the solar evaporation ponds that were used for dumping toxic waste in the Union Carbide factory grounds. The leakage caused by tears in the liner of the ponds meant that poisonous waste containing heavy metals, benzene, mercury and lead slowly seeped into the groundwater tables — the same groundwater that the residents in nearly 20 colonies around the factory use for their household needs. The water was so contaminated the tube wells in the vicinity of the factory had to be abandoned way back in 1982.

Evidence of the groundwater contamination was first published in a report by Greenpeace in 1999, the same year Dow had begun the process to acquire the Union Carbide Corporation, which was completed in 2001. Since then there have been more than a dozen tests conducted by the Madhya Pradesh Pollution Control Board (MPCB) testifying to the fact. A fact-finding mission (1999-2004) has informed of the presence of toxins in vegetables and breast milk — lead, mercury, nickel and pesticides were found. Mercury, one of the most toxic chemical compounds, was up to six million times higher than expected levels. The groundwater contamination has reached colonies even three kilometres away from the plant.

Activists allege the grounds and structure of the factory are still contaminated, even as children from nearby slums sneak in to use the grounds for playing cricket, to scavenge for metal parts to be sold as scrap — some even use it as an open toilet. Today, the gaunt, savaged factory premises, now controlled by the Madhya Pradesh government, still house the pesticide plants, standing tall as reminder of the continuing tragedy.

Despite the growing resentment, both Dow and the Olympic committee are still adamant about not withdrawing Dow sponsorship. While Dow had to remove its logo from the wrap due to the protests, the decorative wrap-up of denial continues in the case of the Bhopal gas tragedy. The question remains: Would a 900-metre-long and 20-metre-wide sheet of fabric be large enough to cover the chemical giant’s frayed image?

This article was originally published in the Ottawa Citizen

Women: Occupy the Left

occupy-wall-street Photo by Marnie Joyce.

For the Left, women’s inequality seems to exist only in the context of the workplace and feminism is largely ignored. There’s hope for the Occupy Movement though, with its ideological openness and the presence of large number of young women activists

By Katha Pollitt

Women’s rights have always been a bit of an add-on for the left. At this spring’s Left Forum, only fifteen of 440 panels touched on any feminist issue, broadly understood. New Left Review is famous, at least in my apartment, for its high testosterone content (despite being edited by a woman); ditto Verso, the left’s flagship publishing house, where women authors are as rare as Siberian tigers. And it’s not just the left—women’s rights, in fact women period, tend to get set aside whenever economics or “class” is the focus.

Occupy Wall Street’s initial declaration, a long list of grievances from colonialism to the maltreatment of “nonhuman animals,” mentioned women’s inequality only in the context of the workplace—no mention of the systematic inequality that affects every area of life. Occupy Austin went further: a paper put out by its Language of Unity Working Group describes Occupy Austin as “radically inclusive,” open to everyone from disaffected Tea Partiers to Greens and anarchists, as well as homeless people and “soccer moms looking for a cause” (not too patronizing!) and highlighting only “the things that bring people together.” “For instance, you will never see Occupy approach the issue of abortion. It is too derisive (sic). Rather than championing one side, the huge innovation of the Occupy movement is its focus only on issues which unite people. We care most about people and care what most people support.”

Hmmm. Let’s leave aside for the moment the question of whether caring “most about people” is compatible with silence on state-mandated transvaginal ultrasounds, personhood amendments and so on—let alone forced childbirth. I would think that when one in three women has at least one abortion, and when virtually all women have used birth control, we are talking about issues that affect “most people”—including most men, who benefit greatly from women’s ability to control their fertility. Let’s not look too closely, either, at the assumption that the 99 percent constitutes a coherent category: that a software engineer, a car salesman, a Chinese-food delivery man, a rabbi, a municipal clerk, a fashion photographer and a cleaning lady really have the same interests. The notion of common cause, even among the actual working class, is as much a romantic and aspirational construction, as much a matter of “identity politics,” as the oft-derided ideal of “sisterhood.”

You know the slogan “Women’s rights are human rights”? Well, women’s rights are economic rights, too. When it comes to reproductive issues, apparently, the connection needs to be spelled out. So here it is: limiting women’s access to birth control and abortion is not “culture war” theater, and it is not just a “social issue” either. It’s an economic issue.

1. Early childbearing, most of which is unplanned, has a big effect on women’s education. According to Centers for Disease Control fact sheet, “Only about 50% of teen mothers receive a high school diploma by 22 years of age, versus approximately 90% of women who had not given birth during adolescence.” While this partly reflects the fact that poorer, less school-oriented girls are more likely to give birth, it’s clear that having a baby as a teenager creates serious economic stress.

2. Birth control is expensive. Many insurance plans don’t cover all methods; some don’t cover any method (looking at you, Catholic Church!). Annual cost of the Pill can range from a low $108 a year for generic ortho-cyclen to an astronomical $1,140 for Loestrin. The IUD, a highly effective method many plans don’t cover, costs around $1,000 for insertion.

Photo Courtesy: Feminist Online Spaces

3. Abortion is expensive. A first-trimester abortion costs around $500. After that the price climbs quickly: at twenty weeks, it’s more than $1,000. A late abortion for medical complications can cost several thousand—assuming the woman can find one. And this is just for the procedure, not for the hassles heaped on women by clinic closings, waiting periods and other restrictions—transportation, childcare, hotel bills. These burdens fall mostly on women themselves. The Hyde Amendment bars federal funding; most insurance plans do not cover it; only seventeen states fund Medicaid coverage for medically necessary abortions.

4. Childbirth is expensive. Childcare is expensive. Having a baby lowers women’s earnings dramatically, but it boosts men’s. Welfare? A dream of the past. Child support from the other parent? Good luck with that. According to the Census Bureau, “Of the $35.1 billion in child support due in 2009, 61.0 percent was reported as received, averaging $3,630 per custodial parent.” (One in six of those custodial parents is a man.)

And if all that wasn’t enough, women are charged more for the same or virtually the same products, from health insurance ($1 billion more a year!) to dry cleaning. To say nothing of the economic burdens of stalking, domestic violence, rape and the fear of rape.

It may be too late for the late-middle-aged old new left to take feminism to heart. There’s hope for Occupy, though, with its plethora of young women activists and ideological openness. In New York, Women Occupying Wall Street, the women’s caucus of OWS, is planning a Feminist General Assembly for May 17 at 6:30pm in Washington Square. I’ll be there, and will report back.

Katha Pollitt is an American feminist poet, essayist and critic living in Berlin. She writes the award-winning column, “Subject to Debate,” for The Nation magazine. This article was originally published in The Nation. Copyright ©Agence Global

Featured Photo by Marnie Joyce


Delhiites March in Protest Against Rape

Delhi protest by activists

Individuals and activists from women’s groups, disability groups, and civil rights movements marched in Delhi NCR in a protest against rape

By Team FI

United under the banner of Citizen’s Collective Against Sexual Assault, about 350 people from across Delhi, Gurgaon and Noida, marched from Mandi House to Jantar Mantar on 5th May, 2012, to protest against rape and the negligent and insensitive responses of authorities. “Stop Rapes and Make Delhi NCR a Safer Place for Women” was the message that was delivered to the public and police authorities.

The protesters intended to march from Mandi House to the ITO but the permission was withdrawn by the Delhi Police. The march had to be rerouted to Jantar Mantar. “No, you cannot protest on the streets” – this is the response that members of the Citizens’ Collective got when they went for police permission to the Parliament Street police station a few days ago. Obviously, our ‘duty bearers’ today are absolutely fine with women being raped and sexually assaulted on the streets, but they are not okay with people protesting this. This is the grim reality in Delhi NCR today, “ stated the press release from the Citizens Collective.

The protesters were from women’s groups (including Action India, AIDWA, AIPWA, Jagori, Nirantar, PLD, Saheli, Sama, Stree Adhikar Sangathan), disability groups (The Deaf Way Foundation, Noida Deaf Society, National Association of the Deaf), youth groups (Must Bol and YP Foundation), representatives from other movements (NAPM, NTUI, students groups/unions), citizen groups like Gurgaon Girlcott and residents from across the NCR. The march also attracted passers-by who joined the protesters.

The marchers, most of them dressed in red, carrying banners that read Nazar Teri Buri Aur Parda Mein Karoon?’ and ‘Don’t tell me how to dress, tell them not to rape,’  gathered at Jantar Mantar. The next three hours saw slogans shouted, songs of protest, speeches and a performance of ‘Dastak’ (a nukkad-natak/play by Arvind Gaur’s theatre group Asmita).

”According to media reports, Delhi Police says a woman is raped every 18 hours and molested every 14 hours in Delhi. Delhi Commissioner of Police, B K Gupta accepts that not all rape cases get reported,” stated the press release issued by the organizers. The rally ended with the Joint Commissioner of Police Taj Hussain being presented with a memorandum in the absence of the Delhi Commissioner of Police. JCP Taj promised to follow-up on the demands.  Similar memorandums would be submitted to the Gurgaon and Noida Commissioners of Police.

The Memorandum

The Commissioners of Police (Delhi, Gurgaon and Noida) must publicly condemn the statements made by their respective colleagues. They must clearly convey zero-tolerance of anti-women and gender-insensitive attitudes of their forces. Strict action should be taken against police personnel for making such statements/letting such attitudes affect the course of justice.

All state agencies must stop blaming the victim and shift the responsibility onto the state agencies mandated to protect women’s rights. We demand respect and dignity of all women.

Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) for sexual assault cases (including sexual harassment in public places, domestic violence and rape) must be made available in the public domain so that all citizens are aware of their rights under such circumstances. This information would include the procedures for helpline, PCR, as well as walk-in cases.

There must be 100% response to calls by women and on behalf of the women in distress.

The Police forces must ensure effective and timely response from Delhi Police helplines like 100, 1091, 1096, and other helplines in Gurgaon and Noida. Mechanisms to regularly monitor calls and the subsequent responses should be put to immediate effect.

Immediate and sustainable preventive mechanisms should be designed and adopted by all police forces for coordinated action across state borders.

Police officers should demonstrate greater sensitivity towards all women and girls, and undergo periodic gender training and follow gender sensitive normative standards.


Pregnant Sex Worker Brutally Assaulted by Satara Cops

Sex workers India

Women’s groups in the country are demanding stern action against the policemen in Satara who assaulted a pregnant sex worker causing a miscarriage

By Team FI

Women’s organisations in the country are outraged that even after one month no action has been taken against the policemen who brutally assaulted a pregnant sex worker in Satara, Maharastra, causing a miscarriage. The incident occurred on 2nd  April,  around 7.30 pm, when Anu Mokal, who was four months pregnant, and Anjana Ghadge were bringing dinner for their friend who was admitted in the civil hospital.

When they were passing the Satara bus stand area, senior Police Inspector Dayanand Dhome started shouting at them using abusive language. When they told him that they were taking food for their friend, he allegedly called them liars. Dhome and his subordinates started beating Anu and her friend Anjana. Dhome repeatedly kicked them and said that women like Anu are a ‘shame’. Her pleas that she was four months pregnant fell on deaf ears. Anu and Anjana were detained and put in a lockup.

On the following day they were produced before the magistrate and were released after a payment of Rs 1200 fine for an offense not known to them. They were taken to the civil hospital by members of Veshya Anyay Mukti Parishad [VAMP] an organisation that works among sex workers and Anu received medication.  However, on 5th April, she suffered a miscarriage.

Anu has filed a complaint against Inspector Dhome and his colleagues with the Satara Superintendent of Police M. M. Prasanna. SANGRAM, (an organisation that runs the Maharashtra State AIDS Society HIV/AIDS prevention project with women in sex work and sexual minorities in Satara District), has also sent a written complaint to the Home Minister R.R.Patil, SP M.M  Prasanna, and the Regional DIG Tukaram Chavhan, demanding that action be taken against Dayanad Dhome and others, but to no avail. DSP Prasanna told a delegation from VAMP on 30th April that an enquiry has been instituted but he did not commit as to when one can expect its result.

Sign online petition Justice For Anu Mokal

Paraplegic Woman Deserves Dignity Not Custody: Supreme Court

Paraplegic Seema

Survivor of sexual assault by Rajathan Police, Seema, whose subsequent suicide attempt resulted in 80 percent paraplegia has been granted bail by the Supreme Court of India

By Team FI

Paraplegic woman, Seema who has spent the last 63 days in police custody after her arrest in a kidnapping and sexual abuse case has been granted interim bail on May 1st by the Supreme Court. According to the People’s Union for Civil Liberties‘s (PUCL), Rajasthan, press release, Justice CS Thakur and Justice Gyan Sudha Mishra said that Seema was a living corpse and she deserved dignity and not custody.

Seema’s story begins on 23rd January 2011, when she was brought into the Pratap Nagar police station (Jaipur) for questioning in an alleged kidnapping and sexual abuse case. Even as her father Shivdan Singh, a constable, was waiting outside, she was beaten and sexually assaulted by the SHO Ramniwas Bishnoi, head constable Babru Khan and constable Lal Chand. The next day, Seema, in an attempt to commit suicide jumped in front of train. She survived but spinal cord damage left her paraplegic. Her left leg had to be amputated above the knee.

Public uproar and protests by women organisations resulted in the arrest of the three policemen who are currently in jail, their bail applications having being rejected by both lower and higher courts. However in what activists and Seema’s parents believe is a bid to silence Seema, she was implicated in the kidnapping case and arrested on 29th of February, 2012. It was alleged that the victim of the sexual abuse case was forced to include Seema’s name as a conspirator.

Judicial magistrate Chandra Kala Jain sent Seema to the same jail where her abusers were being kept. She was shifted later to Sawai Man Singh hospital by jail authorities. According to Seema’s lawyer Ajay Kumar Jain, her bail plea was rejected by additional judicial magistrate Anita Sharma of the special court for women’s atrocities on the grounds that her pulse and her blood pressure were normal.