Archive for June 27, 2012

Facebook Gets its First Woman Director

sheryl-sandberg facebook

Sheryl Sandberg, CEO of Facebook inducted into company’s board of directors

By Team FI

Facebook, the social networking giant that had come under immense criticism since 2011 for not having any women on its Board of Directors, seems to have got the message.

The company announced on Monday that Sheryl Sandberg, its Chief Operating Officer, has joined its board. “Sheryl has been my partner in running Facebook and has been central to our growth and success over the years,” said Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook.

In April 2012, Ultraviolet, a women’s rights group in the US, declared it “shameful” that despite studies showing how women have contributed to the company’s global success, it had not inducted any women into its board of directors. The majority of Facebook users – 58% – are women who are also responsible for 62% of the sharing that happens on the network and make up 71% of the daily fan activity on the site which is a huge source of revenue for the company. Ultraviolet had launched a global campaign to convince Facebook to rectify the situation before the company went public in May.

The first woman on Facebook’s hitherto male only board, Sandberg oversees Facebook’s business operations including sales, marketing, business development, legal, human resources, public policy and communications according to a press note released by the company. Prior to Facebook, Sandberg was vice president of Global Online Sales and Operations at Google. She has also served as Chief of Staff for the United States Treasury Department under President Bill Clinton and began her career as an economist with the World Bank. Sandberg also serves on the boards of The Walt Disney Company, Women for Women International, the Center for Global Development and V-Day.

Dowry Victim Wants Death for Herself and Daughter

dowry death india

Dowry victim from Uttar Pradesh loses faith in legal system and asks President’s permission to kill self and daughter

By Team FI

Twenty nine year old Alpana Pandey, who hails from a poor family in Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh, has written to the President of India, to allow euthanasia for her and her 5-year-old daughter. The reason – she and her daughter have been deserted by her husband because her family could not furnish the dowry he demanded.

Alpana married Alok Pandey in 2005 and at the time of the marriage, her family had given some gold and money as dowry. In 2006, a year after her marriage, Alpana’s husband and her father-in-law allegedly began pressurising her to give a dowry of Rs 10 lakh. When Alpana’s father said that he could not afford to give such a large amount, she was allegedly starved by her husband’s family. According to the social worker, it was at this time that they came to know of her pregnancy. Her father-in-law insisted that she go in for a sex-determination test and when they found out that the foetus was female, Alpana was thrown out of her marital home. She and her daughter have since been living with her parents.

Alpana and her family wanted the in-laws to take her and the child back, but these pleas were ignored. Alok married another woman without divorcing Alpana and moved to Lucknow. Though Alpana has filed a complaint with the police and even met with the District Magistrate and the district Police chief, they have allegedly ignored her petition and no case has yet been filed.

According to Alpana, she sent the letter to the President seeking permission for euthanasia so that she and her daughter can end their sufferings. “I have lost faith in the legal system,” she said.

Dowry, traditionally an upper cast Hindu practice of the bride’s family offering wedding gifts to the bride-groom’s family, is now widely practiced by all religious communities across the country despite the law that prohibited dowry way back in 1967. In 1986, following nationwide campaigns and lobbying by women’s rights organisations, India amended its Penal Code to include section 304B and 498A which acknowledge harassment and cruelty by husbands and his relatives for dowry.

Women’s rights activists have been complaining that the police inaction and low rate of conviction make this social evil an acceptable practice in the country. According to statistics released by the National Crime Records Bureau, 8391 dowry death cases were reported in 2010 while the conviction rate was just 34%.

Featured Poster by National Commission for Women, Courtesy: Zubaan Poster Women

Soni Sori Case: Brutal Treatment Continues

soni sori AIMS

Soni Sori denied food, water and medicines for 24 hours on her way back to Raipur Jail from AIIMS, Delhi

By Team FI

Human rights activists have accused the Chhattisgarh Government of denying Soni Sori food, water and medicines immediately after her discharge from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences at New Delhi. After being treated at AIIMS after months of ill-treatment and improper medical treatment by the Chhattisgarh Government, Soni Sori was sent back to the Raipur Jail.

Soni Sori’s counsel, Mr. Colin Gonsalves had expressed his concern to the Chhattisgarh Government counsel, Mr. Atul Jha about no travel arrangements being made for her return to Chhattisgarh, to which Mr Jha assured Mr Gonsalves that every necessary precaution would be taken including, if need be, return to Raipur by flight. But despite these assurances, Soni Sori was taken to Raipur by train, in a crowded unreserved compartment. In scorching summer heat, she was made to stand for most of the 24 hour long train journey from Delhi to Raipur, despite her fragile health condition. With daytime temperatures touching 45 degrees Celsius, she was denied water, kept without food for the whole day and not even given the medicines prescribed to her by the doctors at AIIMS.

Soni Sori was brought to the AIIMS on May 10th at the behest of the Supreme Court which ordered immediate and urgent treatment to be provided to her. She was suffering from the  wounds inflicted on her during the sexual torture meted out to her in October, 2011 under police custody, which had been allowed to fester untreated in the jail. Consequently, she had grave secondary medical conditions, such as intermittent anal and vaginal bleeding, blisters on skin, difficulty in walking etc. at the time when she was brought to AIIMS.  Over the 5 weeks of her treatment in AIIMS, she seemed to have recovered significantly, due to regular and expert medical care provided to her.

According to activists it was sheer and deliberate negligence on part of the Chhattisgarh Government that led to such deterioration in Soni Sori’s health in the first place, that the Supreme Court had to order immediate medical intervention by AIIMS. The manner in which Soni Sori is being treated after her discharge from AIIMS once again raises serious concerns about the intention of the Chhattisgarh government in ensuring her health and safety.

“It is time for state violence against her to end,” urged activists who have asked the  Chhattisgarh Government to diligently follow the recommendations of AIIMS about rest, diet and medicines so that Soni Sori makes full recovery. They pointed out that the Indian Constitution guarantees under-trial prisoners basic human rights – Soni Sori rights need to be acknowledged.

It should be recalled that Soni Sori, an adivasi school teacher, had been subjected to brutal physical torture and sexual violence during her custody in the Dantewada police station on the night between 8th and 9th October, 2011.  Her torture had been confirmed by an independent medical examination conducted by the NRS Medical College and Hospital in Kolkata, during which stones lodged deep in her private parts had been recovered.

However, the medication prescribed by the NRS hospital had been discontinued by the jail authorities in Raipur Jail soon after her discharge, and Soni Sori had been denied any regular medical attention since the examination conducted by the NRS Hospital in October 2011.  In the absence of regular medical care and attention, Ms. Sori’s condition had steadily worsened, prompting the Supreme Court in June 2012 to order her to be brought to AIIMS in New Delhi for immediate medical treatment.

Seema Azad Case: Incarceration of Human Rights

File photo of Seema Azad

PUCL and human rights organisations protest against the silencing of civil rights activists in the country as shown in the recent conviction of activists Seema Azad and her husband Vishwavijay Kamal

By Team FI

The arrest and sentencing of civil rights activists Seema Azad and her husband Vishwavijay Kamal to life imprisonment has led the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) and other human rights organisations in the country to call for a nationwide protest on 26th of June against alleged state sponsored crackdowns on human rights activists in India.

“The conviction of civil rights activist Seema Azad for terrorism, unlawful activities, sedition and waging war against the state is a glaring travesty of justice,” stated the press release by PUCL of the press conference held last week. According to the PUCL, academics, journalists, and representatives of various social organisations have already pledged their support to campaign for the immediate and unconditional release of Seema Azad and her husband.

Seema Azad, the Organising Secretary of People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) in Uttar Pradesh and her husband Vishwavijay Kamal were arrested in Allahabad on February 6, 2010. The accusation leveled against them was that they were members of the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist) – they were charged under Sections 121, 121A and 120B of IPC and under Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act for possessing objectionable literature. The couple was fined Rs 20,000 and sentenced to rigorous life imprisonment.

According to the PUCL, the arrest and conviction is a bid to silence Seema Azad’s protests on behalf of mining workers and farmers. The press release presented arguments by Justice Sachar and Senior Advocate Ravi Kiran that indicated that the judgement was based on flimsy grounds and was premeditated.

Justice Sachar argued that “the only allegation against her is that she was in the possession of literature that the prosecution argued was illegal. But between possessing literature and committing an offence is a wide chasm that cannot be bridged by the flimsy arguments brought forth by the prosecution and accepted by the judge.” Justice Sachar pointed out that it is within the powers of the state government to withdraw prosecution. He urged the new government in Uttar Pradesh to nullify the wrongdoings of the predecessor government and withdraw the false charges against activists’ lodges by that government.

Senior Advocate Ravi Kiran pointed out that the literature ostensibly seized from Seema Azad which had been sealed as evidence, was opened by the prosecution without any authorization. In normal circumstances this would make the entire evidence suspect. But the judge continued to rely on this evidence.

It was also pointed that Seema Azad was given on police remand after the completion of the statutory period of 90 days. It is in this illegal custody that the police claim to have two cell phones which are also being used as evidence against her. Given the delay and the circumstances of this custody, the possibility of wrongdoing by the prosecution cannot be ruled out.

Senior Journalist Anand Swaroop Verma who is heading a campaign in support of Seema Azad argued that the judgment was prejudiced and an attempt to silence protest against government policy. He felt that Seema was being targeted since she was a bold voice against the takeover of farmer’s lands and livelihood and exposing the reality of the witch-hunt of Muslim youth promoted by the government and its security establishment in Azamgarh.

Activists Demand Justice for Pinki Pramanik

Pinki Pramanik controversy

Activists demand Pinki Pramanik case must be treated with gender sensitivity

By Team FI

Human rights and LGBT activists in India have launched a signature campaign in support of Asian Games gold medalist athlete Pinki Pramanik, who was arrested on the charge of ‘raping’ her live-in-partner.

The activists have severely criticised the treatment given to Pinki Pramanik by the administration and media following her arrest. The 26-year-old athlete was arrested on 14th June after her live-in partner complained to the West Bengal police of Pinki being a male and raping her. The middle distance runner who bagged several medals for India in various athletic competitions was remanded to a 14 day judicial custody by the court on 15th June.

Following the arrest, the media frenzy resulted in various allegations towards Pinki’s “rough” and “manly” behavior. Pinki who was employed by Eastern Railway as a ticket collector, has been served suspension order following the arrest.

The following petition was released by activists

On Thursday 14 June, 2012 Pinki Pramanik, Asian Games gold medalist athlete, was formally arrested by Baguiati Police on the charge of being a male and held for alleged rape. Since then Pinki has been isolated from both support groups and her own family. She was not allowed to meet her father or interact with various human rights groups that have reached out to her like Kolkata based activist group Sappho for equality in spite of repeated pleas by Pinki for intervention. During her time in custody, Pinki has refused to undergo gender tests without due course and diligence.

However, on Saturday, 16 June, an unauthorized gender test was conducted on Pinki in a private clinic after which the police called a press conference declaring her a male. During this test, there were no women police, nor a state gynecologist, endocrinologist or counselors present. In all sex determination tests, it is mandatory to have at least two of the above mentioned. After this gross violation of human rights, Pinki was prejudged guilty by the way she has been treated and paraded before the media.

Pinki continues to insist that she is a woman and has appealed to be treated as such until proven otherwise.

She is now to appear for a second gender test and we the undersigned demand that these violations be brought to a complete halt. In accordance with the prevalent human rights practices with regards to gender determination tests that have been conducted on other athletes whose gender has come under scrutiny, we demand that the presence of a gynecologist, a counselor for intersex, trans-gender people and an endocrinologist be made mandatory for the test along with the presence of woman police.

Sign petition here

Featured Photo Courtesy: Mirror UK


Egypt Chases its Women to Hell

Egypt women by Amanada Mustard

They might have been sisters in revolution but come victory and they have been turned into prey. A visit to witness a rally in Tahrir Square ended in three women being brutally assaulted by a large group of men. Presenting the testimonies of the assault survivors

By Team FI

Egypt has been witnessing an alarming increase in violence on the streets against women since last year. Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the Egyptian uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak in 2011, has been in the news for months with reports of constant sexual harassment and assault against women protesters on the vicinity.

One may recall that on March 8th 2012, women who took out a march demanding equal rights were attacked and sexually assaulted by a large group of men near the square.

On June 2nd, 2012, a group of men attacked, chased and brutally molested women who had gone to Tahrir Square to watch a mass rally organised in support of Muslim Brotherhood. On June 8th, women took out a march protesting against the June 2nd incident and demanding an end to the increasing sexual assaults on streets. These 50 -odd women protesters were also sexually assaulted by a large crowd of men.

The mob groped the women protesters, tore off their clothes and some men even tried to rob them, despite attempts by other men to push them away. The assault lasted an hour even as some women resorted to taking shelter in a nearby building.

Nazra for Feminist Studies, an organisation based in Cairo has published three testimonies of women who were sexually assaulted by a mob on the vicinity of Tahrir Square on June 2, 2012. Although the three testimonies do not account for the entirety of the brutality that many women experienced on that Saturday and the Friday after, they are one example that offers a window to the dynamics of mob sexual assault and harassment on those two days, which are not the first of its kind.

Testimony One – By: N – I Felt Evil.

Saturday evening I went to Tahrir with no interest in protesting. I just went to check things out, I was really frustrated about the fact that the Egyptian people were not united, that everyone was looking for their own interest and not the interest of the country and its people. There weren’t many people at first but then many came and it felt that we were coming together. I was so happy. We were 5, 3 girls and 2 guys, and we were walking in the square among the crowd and I thought it would be safe. But it wasn’t. Suddenly men started grabbing us away from each other. They started groping me and grabbing my Hijab (headscarf). Then I lost friends…I was terrified …some men hid me behind a small kiosk but I kept looking for my friends I couldn’t find them.

I was able finally to reach one of them and she told me she was safe.

The other friend was hurt very badly, my heart aches for her and I keep playing the whole thing in my head over and over again, she was right there in front of me then someone grabbed my ass so I looked behind then looked back and she was gone, I kept looking for her I couldn’t see her anymore, it was as if I was in high sea and all the waves are just tossing me all over the place.

How can people be so evil…why is it that no one is held accountable for what they do? Those men are walking freely on the streets looking for their next victim and there is nothing I can do about it. I was raised that good people get rewarded and bad people get punished but I came out to the world and it’s not true. It’s the other way around…and I feel betrayed…I feel angry…I feel guilty for not protecting my friend. I wish it was me not her.

Who should I blame for this? Mubarak for destroying my country’s education so those men have no respect for women and have become just animals? Our useless police who are incapable of defending us? Our religious leaders who claim that they want what’s best but they don’t go to these young men and teach them what’s right? Our educators who turned into business men?… Our politicians who just want power? Who???!!!!

I don’t know who to blame…But I am really angry at many religious leaders who prefer to appear on TV thinking they reach more people while there are certain people who don’t even have a TV…our leaders tweet and do commercials targeting a specific segment of the people leaving the mass majority who needs help.

I am angry at everyone who just does remote control charity and not get involved in the society and try to help them…just throwing some money thinking they have done their part in helping the society.

I am angry at all the mothers who teach their sons that they are superior just because they are men and tell their daughters that they are inferior just because they are women.

I am angry because my friends and I were humiliated….

I am angry but I am not broken…

I have seen the best and worst of people that night…I have faith that Allah will help me through this and will give me the strength to help others.

I know that many will not like that I wrote this about Tahrir square thinking I am trying to vandalize the image of the Egyptian revolution…but this is not my intention, I have participated in almost all the battles and marches since Jan 28, 2011 but sexual harassment in Egypt is growing and growing and we need to address it. We ignored it for too long and it is becoming a monster that is eating us all…I feel hate towards those men who molested us…I can’t smile in the face of anyone that I don’t know anymore…hell, I can’t smile the way I used to….

I am sorry for not being there to protect my friend…I am sorry for being weak…I am sorry that it was her not me…I am sorry that my country is fucked up…I am sorry that my leaders are addicted to power…I am sorry for the women of Egypt…

I hope no one else will have to face that fear….

I hope that world turns and things get better…

Testimony Two – By: C

On the 2 June 2012, I was on Tahrir Square like I had been several times before to document the protest that took place and didn’t reach the foreign news. I’m not Egyptian but I had been following an Egyptian friend (a woman) through the period before, during and after the first round of election. I had been filming her in several protest and marches and so I was on that day.

We were five, three women and two men. We felt safe and were crossing the square going to the Muhammed Mahmoud Street corner. Suddenly it got more crowded around us and I noticed a man was following us. He had a phone in his hand and it kept ringing without him answering. I thought it was strange and I told my Egyptian friend, when she turned around he was gone and we decided to get away from the crowded area of the square.

The best way we saw was to go through the metal fence and on to the street walk. On the way I felt a man grabbing my breast. I pushed him away and continued.

By the short time I have spent in Cairo I have experienced sexual harassment many times and I knew that this was a big problem. We continued and suddenly all the men around us started touching us all over the body. It was as if they surrounded us at the same time and separated us from each other.

This happened while we were getting through the metal fence on to the street walk. From there I didn’t see any of my friends except one of them (Egyptian man) who was trying to get the men away from me as they got more and more aggressive.

Before I knew it I was thrown up against a wall where a motorcycle was parked. I was standing on top of the bike while my friend and a few other men tried to make a half circle to protect me. But there were more men trying to hurt me than protect me and I was grabbed all over and my pants and shirt where ripped. In that moment it was as if the men got even more crazy. My pant was pulled down by the many men and they raped me with their dirty fingers. I managed to pull my pants up again and I could still see the face of my friend still trying with all his power to keep at least some of the men away. I really saw the best and the worst of men. My friend was beaten and putting his life at risk trying to save me while other men were fighting just to get near me with only one intention, to hurt me as much as possible.

Cairo Rally By Amanda Mustard

A political rally in Cairo: Photo by Amanda Mustard

All the time, I tried to protect myself but there were too many hands and too many animals. More and more came to join the assault and suddenly I saw another face I knew. It was an American friend and he and my Egyptian friend kept telling me that everything would be alright, that it would soon be over. I didn’t believe them and I don’t think they did themselves.

I threw my camera to my American friend and told him to run. I knew that he would only get in more trouble staying. He ran off with the camera and in the same moment my Egyptian friend and I decided to try to escape. We counted to 3 and I jumped in his arms and it created a second of confusion for the men who were hurting me. But again they were all over me. I was thrown into the ally and up against a wall.

I didn’t know who was trying to help and who wasn’t. The only person I trusted was my friend. Others said they were helping but really just trying to get in the first row, getting a piece of the cake. Others were actually helping but it was impossible to know who.

The men were like lions around a dead piece of meat and their hands were all over my body and up under my destroyed clothes. Again my pants and underwear where pulled down with violence and several men at the same time raped me with their fingers. I was suddenly on the ground and the men pulled me from my hair, legs, and arms while the raping continued. Somehow I got up again and the door of a hallway was opened next to me and I was pushed and pulled in there.

In the hallway about 20 men managed to enter before the door was closed again. I didn’t see my friend among the men. It was the first time I had a chance to see the men for a few seconds and they were from all ages. The looks in their eyes were really like animals. Not human at all and the way they were throwing me around was as if I was a not a human but a piece of garbage.

Again I was surrounded this time from all sides in the middle of the floor. There was even a man lying on the floor being stepped on by the others, forcing his fingers between my legs. That happened from all sides and more fingers at the same time. I was sure that they wouldn’t stop before I was lying dead in that hallway. I really tried to fight and protect my body but it was impossible. Every time I tried to kick out more hands were between my legs and every time I tried to hit someone or remove hands, my shirt was even more ripped and my breasts pulled. For one second, I had the chance to hurt one of the men back. I pressed my finger, with all the power I had left, in one of his eyes but he just continued hurting me with his fingers.

Two or three men managed to pull me away from the others and on to a chair in the corner. I know now that they were trying to help me but I didn’t know that at the time. I was so afraid and saw no ending to this. Suddenly I could hear a loud sound and I saw an old man with a big wooden stick in his hand. I saw him hitting a young man over the back and I was pulled into a back room while some men were trying to hold back other men. I got a chance to finally pull up my underwear and ripped pants and a man gave me a big Egyptian flag to cover myself with. I was told to go up the back stairs.

The old man with the stick was leading and about four or five men followed. Others stayed and were holding back the rest of the men.

Going up the stairs, I had no idea what would happen. I only knew what was down there and that I couldn’t go back. I keep falling because I had no energy left. The stairs were never-ending and I kept falling and crying. I didn’t trust any man. One man kept saying “everything is okay, Egyptian men are good men.” One time I fell and the man walking behind me put his hand on my back trying to help me up. On the way he just touched my breast a last time and when I pushed his hand away and looked back at him he just said sorry like it was an accident. It wasn’t and I was disgusted by him and even more scared of what was waiting at the end of the stairs.

But luckily they were helping me and I was so relieved to finally see a woman when we entered the apartment at the end of the stairs. She was the wife of the man leading me up the stairs and they didn’t let any of the men into the apartment. The women took me to the bathroom and gave me some of her clothes. When I got to the bathroom I couldn’t stand up for another minute. I fell down on the floor just crying and crying. I don’t know how long time I sat there but suddenly my Egyptian friend (one of the girls I got separated from when it all started) came in the door. I have never been so happy to see anyone as I was when I saw her. She hugged me and helped me change my clothes and wash most of the dirt off my face, hands, and arms.

We stayed in the apartment with these wonderful people who gave us water and Pepsi to drink. They also gave me a headscarf and some shoes to wear, as I had lost one of my own shoes during the assault. My friend had a phone and was able to communicate with our other friends. After some time I was told that it was safe to leave the apartment but I refused several times before I was talked into it. I was so afraid that the animals were waiting outside.

The old man and his son followed us down to the ally and I was so happy to see our two male friends waiting for us there. We rushed without running through the ally covering my head with the scarf and got to my friend’s car that was parked nearby. We drove to the apartment where I lived and met the rest of our friends.

The following days, I could see my brave friends and other women start talking about the big problem. I kept a low profile and returned to my home country after a week. I’m now getting medical and psychological help to recover after the assault. My identity has to be kept secret for my safety and to be able to return to Cairo some day.

I wish the best for the women of Egypt. Without them, there would not have been a revolution. Assaulting and trying to break them now is just to ruin the continuing of the revolution. I have heard some people telling the women to not tell their stories about the harassment, assaults, and rapes because these stories ruin the image of the revolution. I have only one thing to say to these people.

No one but the men doing this to the women is ruining the revolution. What will you have left in the square without the strong and brave women?

I do believe that the women will not be quiet and they will not break, but it’s also important that each and every man in Egypt takes a position in this subject. Say it out loud, write it on a sign, and wear it on a t-shirt. Do what it takes to tell women and the world that not every Egyptian man would beat up, rape, assault, or harass a woman just for walking on the street, take part in a protest, or simply demand her right to be worth the same as a man.

Testimony Three – By: R

On Saturday 2 June 2012, I went to Tahrir Sq. with a group of friends. We walked around the sq freely, then suddenly we wanted to get closer to where the Ultras were, near Mohamed Mahmoud Street. We started to walk towards the street cutting through the Sq. As we got closer, I felt men getting closer to us; we had two guys with us trying to lead us into the crowd. Suddenly I felt a hand grab my butt, I turned around and saw the young guy and stared him down, a few men saw and tried to push me forward away from him, the young man backed away once he saw I looked directly at him.

He cowered away.

My friends keep pushing forward, at this point it was obvious we were not getting through, it was far too crowded. We started trying to get to the sidewalk. Suddenly men were appearing to help us, and they formed a human chain around us, trying to push us forward. We were being pushed and lots of men were pushing towards us, I immediately felt the attack coming, these men were too close, they were pressing their bodies onto mine. I was the last in the group, thus I was being pushed more.

Suddenly we were pushed onto the sidewalk, and then the men attacked. At first, they formed a human chain around me trying to protect me but the men were grabbing at every inch of my body through the men, grabbing at everything they could, my breasts, butt, and crotch. I felt dozens of hands all over my body. I was screaming and jumping trying to get the hands off me. Suddenly I had men pulling on me, everything happened so fast; I was split from my friends. The last image I have of my friends is my friend N. trying to grab my hand, and our friend A. [a male friend] pushing the men away screaming “Ibn-kalb” to them.

Suddenly I was violently grabbed and thrown towards the wall right next to Hardee’s. Then a group of older men formed a human chain around me and protected me. I was hysterical, screaming. I couldn’t see my friends, I couldn’t tell who was trying to help me or who was trying to sexually assault me. The men turned towards me, all older men in their 50’s or so. They were trying to calm me; they keep telling me I was safe, they were protecting me. I then started to panic again, I couldn’t see any of my friends, I couldn’t get out of the human chain, it was still total chaos there was still men, trying to get to me. I was suddenly terrified, I couldn’t see my friends, I couldn’t get out. I was stuck, I then tweeted for help.

I could see the mobs of men still attacking C. our friend. I couldn’t see her in the crowds. Suddenly, the men moved me to another cordon where there were more women. They were all terrified; there was six of them, all being protected by a human chain. One by one they got us out, I was last. Men had to escort me out of the area. Once I was clear I called my friends, some were waiting near KFC, N.was missing; she was looking for C.. That’s when I first realized C. was missing; we didn’t know what happened to her. I was finally able to walk through the square with no problems once I got out of that area. I found our two other friends and helped them get a taxi, then walked home.

I cannot express how horrible the experience was, I was completely sexually assaulted by groups of men, pulling on me, grabbing every inch of my body. I remember looking at some of them, yelling at them. They all had the same smirk on their faces, they were enjoying attacking me, they were all enjoying it. It was a crazy face, like they had lost all senses; they were acting like complete animals.

Animals, that is the best way I can explain their behavior.

What happened to C. was even worse, words cannot express the anger and rage I felt when she told us her story and what had happened to her.

Featured photo by Amanda Mustard


Minor Girls, Free Will and Marriage


The Delhi HC ruling giving girls below 18 the right to decide on marriage needs deeper analysis

By Geeta Ramaseshan

The recent Delhi High Court judgment where the court upheld the marriage of a 16-year-old girl has sparked off a debate amongst lawyers and women’s rights activists in India.

I have few concerns about the judgment and do not consider it as a great victory of the right to choice of a teenaged minor girl. The judgment does not lay down any new law as all systems do not make a difference between arranged marriages and marriages of choice. Individual judgments have however chosen to make it an issue.

It is the inter play of IPC and personal laws and their use in controlling and persecuting sexual autonomy against minors (and adults) that is problematic.

The situation is not unique to Muslim law alone even though the judgment has discussed the right to choice on option of puberty – which is that Islam gives women right to choice if they have attained puberty.

As a lawyer, I have come across cases in the Madras High Court of Hindu marriages where the HC permitted minor girls to rejoin their husbands instead of sending them to “protective custody” as is the normal practice. But what I find disturbing in this particular case is that there are no facts detailed in the judgment. For example, there is nothing to indicate in the judgment about the 16-year-old’s husband’s age, employment, background – nothing to indicate whether the HC sought an assurance from him, nothing to indicate whether the court was convinced about her decision, whether her consent was really free and so on.

These are all relevant factors in determining habeas corpus even in the cases cited in the judgment. Instead by pushing the “observation” of the girl to the child welfare committee under the Juvenile Justice Act, whose mandate is to address the rights of children in need of care and protection, the court has complicated the issue further. It is also important for us to ask the question, would the court have taken the same position if the girl expressed her intention to live with her partner and not marry him?  In any event the criminal case of kidnapping and theft filed by the mother would still be pending.

Again the language of the judgment in using the term “ Mohammedan law “, which is a colonial construct instead of Islamic law, and the reliance on Mullah in judgments, which has been critiqued by many Islamic jurists, is a problem.  The Dissolution of Muslim Marriages Act of 1939 makes the “option of puberty” a ground for divorce if exercised before eighteen years – if the girl was married before fifteen years provided the marriage was not consummated (a ground that is found in the Hindu Marriage Act without the stipulation on consummation)

So the judgment only reiterates what even statutory law recognises as an age of valid marriage. Nevertheless, to address the validity of Muslim marriages of minors and permit it as a matter of choice requires a lot of analysis, which is lacking in the judgment. However, as Flavia Agnes points out, the provocative posturing discussions on the judgment, in relation to Muslims, are indeed a matter of great concern.

Under all personal laws, except under the Special Marriage Act, child marriages are legal. A minor married girl is not completely independent under the law, as again under all personal laws, the husband becomes her guardian on marriage.  Under Islamic Law and under the Indian Christian Marriage Act, a minor can marry with the permission of the guardian. Some judgments have even looked into the Guardian and Wards Act of 1890 and The Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act of 1956 to consider the “guardianship” of a married minor.

In the 60’s, the Supreme Court in S Varadarajan vs State of Madras (AIR 1965 SC 942) took note of the educational background of a woman college student who was seventeen years when she left the home and went to the sub registrar’s office to marry her partner. This led to a criminal case being filed against her partner and friends on charges of kidnapping from lawful guardianship by her father.

The observations of the court – “When the minor leaves her father’s protection knowing and having the capacity to know the full import of what she is doing and voluntarily joins the accused person, the accused cannot be said to have taken her away from keeping of her lawful guardian” – is a progressive precedent that actually decriminalised the right to choice, with reference to the offence of kidnapping from lawful guardianship, in cases where the evidence showed that the woman was able to make a calculated and clear judgement. This judgment is not frequently used to quash proceedings even though it is a binding precedent.

I mention this because there are many complex situations. There are situations where the offence of kidnapping against lawful guardianship is used as a tool to harass, when a girl makes a choice especially in inter caste/inter-religious relationships. This has been used even on adult women who have been unable to prove their age. There are also situations where a young girl could be trafficked on sham marriages.

In the context of the judgment we have to be cautious not to advocate early marriages or even marriages on the instance of the minor or their guardian. What is required is addressing behaviour among young people in various appropriate ways and to break the whole silence around intimacy and sexuality. Criminal law cannot really address complex social relationships and it is important to discuss all these concerns in a more nuanced fashion in the context of age.

Geeta Ramaseshan is an advocate practising in Chennai and a legal scholar. She is a guest faculty at the Asian College of Journalism, Chennai where she teaches Media, Law and Society.

Queer Feminism’s Closeted Sexism?


Have the assumptions of masculinity, hypersexualisation and polyamory in queer circles created a false hierarchy between the ideal queer and the everyday realities of lived queer lives?

By Laura Brightwell

I had never thought much about asexuality until a couple of years ago when, for the first time in my adult life, I lost my sex drive. I mean, I didn’t actually lose it. It wasn’t hiding under the bed or anything, gathering dust with old shoes and mouldy peanuts. It just went on a holiday, to give me the time and space to sort some stuff out. Thank you, sex drive. That was very considerate of you.

Up until that point I had what I considered a very active libido. You know that old myth that men think about sex every seven seconds? Well, as a teenager I thought about sex so much that I didn’t doubt this myth was true. I just assumed it must extend to women, because I thought about sex all the time. This pretty rampant sex drive has followed me throughout most of my adult life, until, as I said, 2 years ago when I became depressed.

As well as being horny, I am a pretty radical person. I am what Caitlin Moran calls a ‘stringent feminist.’ The kind of woman who will make any dinner party awkward by calling out the conservative dude in the tie on his ha-ha, light-hearted jokes about women or race or the working classes. Oh, so funny! I am the stuff nightmare dinner parties are made of.

I am also queer, femme, into BDSM, curious about dating cis men, and all sorts of other interesting things. I consider myself sex positive and pretty non-judgmental when it comes to other people’s sexual adventures. I do my best to live by my feminist code of ethics. My feminism means that I believe we are all a little transphobic, sexist, homophobic, classist and racist because we live in a patriarchal society that is founded on these hierarchies.

We give men the upper hand by putting down women; we use racist theories to justify white supremacy, classism to explain a world-order in which most people starve while a few thrive, etc etc etc. My feminism means that I recognise I have all of these prejudices inside me and that I think it is my job to diminish them. This doesn’t mean that I am constantly beating myself up about what a horrible person I am, it’s more that I recognise my own flawed position. This is a pretty difficult attitude to take. Seeing some people behave in the most horrible ways and understanding the fucked-up logic behind their actions is exhausting. Dismissal is easy. Empathy is complicated.

Queer feminism has allowed me to embrace my kinky side and learn much about non-cis gender identities and LGBT history. But I also find massive flaws in the dynamics of the queer communities I know. There are three assumptions commonly made in queer circles, each of which creates a false hierarchy between an ideal of queer and the reality of many lived queer lives. These three assumptions are: hypersexualisation, the idea that everyone wants to have sex all of the time (and if you don’t you’re repressed); that polyamory is a natural desire and wanting to form monogamous relationships means you have jealousy issues; that masculinity is the hottest thing ever and being feminine, especially as a woman, means you are brainwashed. So, as someone who currently doesn’t want to have sex; prefers monogamous relationships and – shock horror – loves wearing dresses, I’m not being a very good queer at all, am I?

I didn’t come to this realisation out of virtue – I had never thought much about asexuality or people who choose not to or don’t want to have sex before – I came to it following a profound personal crisis. Having always had a pretty raging sex drive, the queer assumption that we all want to have sex all the time made sense to me. But losing my sex drive cut me out of the queer community. It meant that I saw no more reason to socialise in it.  How’s that saying go? Oh yeah: if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.

Sex positive feminism has done a lot of good. In a world which tells anyone assigned female at birth that all we want to do is find a heterosexual male partner and have babies, sex positivity has allowed us to carve the space in which to express our own sexual desires.

The celebration of polyamory, too, isn’t in itself a bad thing. The problem comes when polyamory is glorified as the ‘natural’ state of relationships, and if you’re monogamous you have jealousy issues and have been brainwashed. Erm, hasn’t gender theory taught us feminists anything? Since when did we start embracing words like ‘natural’ to describe our identities? Surely we have learnt to be hesitant about the monolithic meanings of such a word. As deconstructionists don’t we find claims that things are this way for everyone a little bit sketchy? No? Oh, OK. Moving on.

Now comes the moment for the trump card in this loving critique of queer feminism. Now it’s time to get the big skeleton out of the queer community’s closet. And that skeleton is -, sexism! What? Sexism? I hear you cry? How can queer feminism possibly be sexist? I mean, we queers have deconstructed the male/female binary and concluded that gender behaviours don’t go hand in hand with vague ideas about biology and evolution. How dare you accuse us of such a thing?

‘I can’t be sexist because I’m queer’.  We hear this quite often. Don’t we?

Queer Pride photo by Ramlath KavilWell, my friends, sad as it may be, it’s time to face up to the facts. Walk into a queer space and what do you see? A uniform of plain black hoodies, asymmetrical hair and caps. There’s not a dress to be seen. Not a hint of colour, lipstick, of long hair.

Despite all our lip service to multifarious gender identities, there is only one gender that we really celebrate in this queer community, and that is masculinity.

The boyish woman, the gender queer and the trans man are the epitomes of hotness in queer scenes. If you’re a feminine woman, cis or trans, then you are just not cool. Transmasculinities are at the top of the queer pile, pushing transfemininities down to the bottom.

Personally, I think this prejudice is unintentional. Talk to any good-meaning queer and they’ll be shocked when you mention things like sexism and femmephobia. But despite individual professions of innocence, we are all guilty. Any time I ignore a feminine woman in a queer bar because I assume she is straight, I am being just as sexist as the people who exclude me.

As Flavia Dzodan suggests in her recent article on sex positivism and race, the assumption that our desires are innate and not learnt, is worth questioning. How asocial and apolitical can our desires be? If no one professes to fancy femininity doesn’t that reflect our internalised misogyny? If we truly were free lovers, if we did express our natural desire and identities, then surely there would be a proliferation of varying desires and genders in our queer spaces. There wouldn’t be a uniform of jeans and t-shirts and strictly boi-on-boi action.

It’s true that not wanting to have sex or a lover has led me to feel alienated from the queer scene. Combine this feeling with my realisation that I prefer to date monogamously and have a very strong femme identity and I no longer feel included or appreciated in the community I have made my worldwide home for the past 6 years. And I am not the only one who feels this way. As responses to my first article on hypersexualisation prove, many people feel alienated from the queer community because their sexual desires don’t fit the queer bill. I’m not poly enough, not kinky enough, not thin enough, and not boyish enough. Not queer enough. As a friend said upon reading zines about being queer, it seems that we think of queer as something up here – she raised her palm above her head – and of ourselves as being down here – she pushed her palm towards the floor.

This notion of queer as an unattainable ideal is really messed up. What happened to queer as an umbrella term? What happened to the ever-expanding joyful list of people we love: LGBTTSIQQA (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Transsexual / Two-Spirited Intersex Queer Questioning Asexual)? Unlike slightly mad UK feminist Julie Bindel, I love the idyllic aspirations of queer. The way it wants to join all us freaks together. So it made me really sad, upon moving to Berlin, to realise just how much queer doesn’t want me.

What I want to see from queer communities worldwide, what I think would be truly queer, is a celebration of difference that leads to diversity in our relationships, our beds and on our dance floors. Maybe it is human nature to form group norms (safety in numbers) but I am a political optimist. I think we can do better. Let’s start to really celebrate differences, the freaks and the outcasts. It takes a lot of courage, but I think we can do it. Surely individuality is what is queer.

Laura Brightwell is a compulsive critic obsessed with gender and sexuality. You can either find her on her blog Diary of a Lipstick Terrorist or performing in burlesque shows around Berlin.

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India Ranked Worst G20 Country for Women

Indian women status

Gender experts responding to a global poll rank India as the worst for women among the G-20 countries

By Team FI

India has been ranked the worst country for women, amongst the G20, by a global poll conducted by Trust Law, a legal news service run by Thomson Reuters Foundation. Trust Law asked 370 gender experts from 63 countries – mainly aid professionals, academics, health workers, policymakers and journalists – to rank the 19 countries of the G20 in terms of the overall best and worst to be a woman in.

The experts opine that the poll shows the grim ground reality of a woman’s life despite the presence of rights granted by the constitution and judiciary laws. The poll has ranked Canada first considering factors like women’s safety, access to health care and education. Germany has landed the second rank, with Britain following. These are followed by Australia, France, United States, Japan, Italy, Argentina, South Korea, Brazil, Turkey, Russia, China, Mexico, South Africa, Indonesia, and Saudi Arabia and in the 19th position is India. The EU, which is a member of the G20 as an economic grouping along with several of its constituent countries, was not included in the survey.

While the poll was based on perceptions and not statistics, U.N. data supports the experts’ views. According to the UN Population Fund, India recorded 56,000 maternal deaths in 2010, perhaps an outcome of diminishing public health care system in India. According to a study by  International Center for Research on Women (2010) 44.5% girls were married before 19 years of age. UNICEF’s Global Report Card on Adolescents 2012, reveals that 57% adolescent boys and 53% of girls in India think it is justifiable for a man to beat his wife.

G20 Women status map

Courtesy: Thomson Reuters Foundation

In Saudi Arabia, factors like – women are not allowed to drive, women were given limited voting right only last year, 64.6% women with tertiary education are unemployed, the fact that the law against violence against women lacks teeth because a man’s testimony is worth that of two women in court – placed the oil rich country as the second worst. China which has one of the highest male to female sex ratios at birth is ranked 14, just below Russia. According to the 2008 World Bank report, in China, with a culture that prefers boys over girls, 1.09 million girls dead or missing at birth due to infanticide.

However, the poll has been criticized by some stating that it promoted popular but inaccurate perceptions. Dr. Kathleen Lahey, of the Queen’s University, Canada, points out that the countries of Germany, Argentina, Australia and Brazil have a woman as a head of state or prime minister and therefore they are perceived to be a progressive society. She points out however that in Germany, only 12.5% board members of publicly listed companies are women and there is 21.6 % gender pay gap for full time workers while in Brazil, only 9 per cent of MPs are women.

The Trust Law poll has ranked the United States in sixth place overall. The increasing number of women who have no access to affordable health care and the recently reignited reproductive rights debate placed US below other western countries like Germany, UK, France, and Australia. Terry O’Neill, president of the Washington-based National Organization for Women, is surprised that US has got the sixth place pointing out to the Globe and Mail that the U.S. is one of only seven countries that haven’t ratified the UN’s Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

The G-20, which refers to the informal group of 20 major economies in the world – 19 countries plus the European Union, is all set for its annual summit being held this year in Mexico on June 18-19. The poll which precedes the summit has experts opine that it is more vital than ever to protect women’s freedoms at a time of political upheaval in several parts of the world.  “Times of political transition, we’ve learned the hard way, can also be times of fragility, and when rights for women and girls can be rolled back instead of advanced,” says Minky Worden, director of global initiatives at Human Rights Watch.