Archive for January 17, 2013

One billion rises to end violence

One Billion Rising -India

February 14, 2013 will see over 13000 organisations around the globe coming together for the One Billion Rising campaign that demands to stop violence against women

By Team FI

One billion women are being called upon to stand up and rise in a demand to stop violence against women across the world on February 14, 2013. In South Asia, the time of rising is between 1300 (1 PM) and 1800 (6 PM). The One Billion Rising campaign was called into action by V-Day, an organization established by activist and playwright Eve Ensler. Activities towards creating awareness of the campaign have ramped up all over the world – over 13,000 organizations around the globe, and 176 countries have committed to participate and hold events on February 14, 2013.

The organization that kick started the campaign – V-Day – came into being on Valentine’s Day in 1998 due to the efforts of Eve Ensler and a group of women in New York City. The organization that describes itself as a global movement of grassroots activists pledged to generate awareness and interest and also funds to “stop violence against women and girls, including rape, battery, incest, female genital mutilation (FGM) and sex slavery.” One of the activities decided was to allow women groups all over the world to stage Ensler’s historical play Vagina Monologues once a year and use the funds generated for their local activities.

In 2012, V-Day decided to launch the campaign of One Billion Rising. When United Nation reported that 1 in 3 women on the planet, that is one billion women, will face violence – beaten or raped – in their lifetime, V-Day decided to invite one billion women across the world to stand up against violence – “walk out, dance, rise up, and demand an end to this violence” on February 14th, 2013 – the date of V-Day’s 15th Anniversary. The campaign states that, “One Billion Rising is a promise that we will rise up with millions of women and men around the world to say, “ENOUGH! The violence ends NOW”.”

In the South Asian region, across eight countries, more than 300 organizations have come together to launch the campaign in their respective areas. In India, the One Billion Rising Campaign is being worked on in more than 15 states. Organizations including women’s groups, Dalit groups, human right activists, writers, artistes including Aparna Sen, Javed Akhtar, Mahasweta Devi, Mallika Sarabhai, Mita Vasisht, Nandita Das, Rahul Bose, Rituparno Ghosh, Samik Bandyopadhyay, Shabana Azmi, Soumitra Chatterjee and Usha Uthup, and men and women and children have participated in the events that form the run up to February 14.

The One Billion Rising Campaign was launched in India in Delhi when Sangat, Jagori and the Jamia Outreach Programme along with over 36 women and community collectives/groups came together at the Jamia Millia Islamia University on November 24, 2012. The Minister for Women and Child Development, Delhi, Ms. Kiran Walia partnered the effort.

The International Association of Women in Radio and Television launched a film festival OUR LIVES … TO LIVE which had films from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Iran, Africa, Australia and South America. Simultaneously in Bengaluru and New Delhi on 23-25 Nov 2012. The film festival was also held in Mumbai and Thrissur.

In Mumbai, Vacha Trust launched One Billion Rising in Kalyan in Thane District on January 4 2013, with 500 girls. OBR was launched in Jaipur, Rajasthan on Human Rights Day in 2012 where over a thousand people assembled. As part of the One Billion Rising Campaign, Eve Ensler visited Delhi on the 7th and 8th of January.

Oath prepared by veteran feminist Kamla Bhasin
I PLEDGE
I will not discriminate against women and girls in any way
I will not be violent towards anyone, especially women and girls
I will not keep quiet if violence is done to me
I will actively oppose violence being done to any woman/girl.

Events
Mumbai – Black Bindi Day
Boycott Jan 26th for Women’s Rights in India
Time: Saturday, January 26, 2013 (All Day Event) GMT+05:30
Host: Deepti Datt
Location: Mumbai, India (Mumbai, Maharashtra)
Mumbai, Maharashtra 400050
Facebook page

February Events

February 10th
Awareness march and street dance

An Awareness March followed by a street dance by a local troupe, candle light vigil and a Signature Campaign
Time: Sunday, February 10, 2013 4:00 PM – 5:00 PM GMT+05:30
Host: Anuradha Kataria
Location: Delhi NCR (Gurgaon, Delhi NCR). Leisure Valley Park,
Sector 30, Gurgaon, Delhi NCR 122001

February 14 – Delhi Rising
Delhi is ready to rise for the women and girls around the world.
Joins us and participate in multiple flash mobs, demonstrations and other events to occupy public places.
Follow Delhi Rising on Twitter @delhirising
Time: Thursday, February 14, 2013 (All Day Event) GMT+05:30
Host: shruti singh
Location: New Delhi (Delhi, Delhi)

Bangalore Rising
Time: Thursday, February 14, 2013 10:30 AM – 11:30 AM GMT+05:30
Host: Neeraj Verma
Location: Victoria Statue, MG Road (Bangalore, KArnataka)

Pune Rising
Organised by Matru Chhaya Charitable Trust and S.M.A.R.T Women Internationa, the event will start at 11 am from Phoenix Market City and then go to Amanora township and then to S.G.S mall in M.G. Road.
Contact: www.matruchhaya.sewa@yahoo.co.in or burchettroland@yahoo.in. You can even call us on 9823707861.
Time: Thursday, February 14, 2013 (All Day Event) GMT+05:30
Host: Sabrina Burchett
Location: Wadgaon Sheri (Pune, Maharashtra)

Himalayas Rising

Students, activists, leaders, villagers and townspeople walk , dance and sing together. signature campaign, street plays, live band also planned.
Time: Thursday, February 14, 2013 12:00 PM – 2:00 PM GMT+05:30
Host: Meenakshi F. Paul
Location: The Ridge, Shimla, Himachal Pradesh 171001

Mumbai Rising
Time: Thursday, February 14, 2013 (All Day Event) GMT+05:30
Host: Apeksha Vora
Location: Mumbai, Maharashtra
Facebook page

One Billion Rising flash mob
Time: Thursday, February 14, 2013 12:00 PM – 12:10 PM GMT+05:30
Host: Chriselle B
Location: Bandra, Mumbai, Maharashtra
Facebook page

Chandigarh Rising
Details are still being worked on. What’s in the pipeline is a dance, a few street plays by teams from the local colleges, a platform for the local political leaders, a stage where local musicians may perform, etc depending on what can be prepared.
Feel free to pour in your ideas/recommendations!
Time: Thursday, February 14, 2013 5:00 PM – 9:00 PM GMT+05:30
Host: Eesha Devgan
Location: Sector 17 Plazio, Chandigarh 160044

Watch Break The Chain – One Billion Rising Anthem

Produced by Even Ensler and V-Day, directed by Tony Stroebel, music by Tena Clark and Tim Heintz and choreographed by Debbie Allen.

Featured photo courtesy – V-Day

Cut to Caste

Dalit cinema

By Jyotsna Siddharth

A look at the Intersectionality of caste Identity and gender in two Hindi films – Sujata and Ankur

Two of the finest films on caste discrimination, produced in different time-frames have approached the issue of caste and gender in strikingly different ways, The first film is Sujata (1959) a black and white film directed by Bimal Roy with Nutan as Sujata, the protagonist and the second film is Ankur, (1974) in colour directed by Shyam Benegal with Shabana Azmi as Laxmi, the protagonist. Sujata, is based in semi-urban setting, middle-class, upper-caste, educated household whereas Ankur is picturized in rural setting, upper-caste, uneducated, rich zamindar household.

Sujata and Ankur powerfully brings out a feminist conception of identity and burden in a feudal society where caste dominates till today. The identity crisis is powerfully unravelled in Sujata, where the protagonist is in a constant tussle with her self-identity and her space-location in the house. She is in a dilemma about her identity – is she of a low-caste because she was born in a low-caste family, or does she belong to the family that looked after and raised her.

Sujata is taken in as a baby by a kind bureaucrat after the death of her mother. In the film one of the first few scenes that question the fundamentals of caste identity is when the foster father refers to the baby as Sujata. His wife asks who she is. He says that he has named the new baby as Sujata to which she responds smiling, “A girl who belongs to a low caste and you have named her Sujata (which means, good caste or well born).” The significance of the name is also referred to in Ashutosh Gowarikar’s Lagaan, where a character of an untouchable boy was referred as ‘Kacchra’, whose literal translation is garbage. This is to relate with names that most individuals carried in Dalit families for centuries. The names given to Dalits often symbolized shame, filth, curse, waste and so on and therefore it was a matter of surprise for a Dalit to have a name that suggested otherwise.

In the film, the character Sujata throughout draws a comparison between the bureaucrats’s biological daughter Rama who is a college going ‘modern’ girl, who likes to read poetry and play sports. Sujata, on the other hand, manages the house and takes care of needs of her “parents”. However, despite being brought up in an “upper caste” household, she continues to be viewed as an “untouchable”, because of her birth in an “untouchable” family.

This perception is emphasized by the reaction of Sujata’s foster father’s aunt when she learns of Sujata’s caste after initially mistaking her for Rama. She literally throws the baby Sujata. When the same Aunt’s son falls in love with Sujata, the protagonist refuses him because she accepts the identity of an untouchable. The film draws heavily on Gandhi’s principles giving it a very light and mediocre route.

Ankur, on the other hand, unfolds the caste and gender relationship boldly. Laxmi, the low caste domestic help works in the fields of the local zamindar and also looks after the house. The landlord’s son who is sent to look after the farms asks Laxmi to prepare morning tea for him. Laxmi is aghast and asks him if he will have tea prepared by her. The son gets surprised at her response, and asks her what the issue is? She reminds him that that she is from a low caste to which he that he does not believe in caste and that she should prepare tea for him.

When he makes a sexual advance towards her, she rejects him and refuses to work for him. He visits her house and persuades her to come back. The two eventually have a physical relationship. It is interesting to see that over a period he starts treating her as his partner implying that he will take care of her for the lifetime.

Ankur constructs a feminist standpoint, which one of the scenes in the film brings out sharply. When the Zamindar’s son finds out that Lakshmi is pregnant he asks her to abort the child. He shares his concern that how is she going to raise the child, as her husband has run away, and that he (landlord’s son) would refuse to accept the child. Accepting the child of an outcaste maid servant will bring dishonour to him and his family so he would wash his hand off. She looks at him in a rage and says, “Am I asking you to look after the child?” He is surprised and questions her, “Won’t she be ashamed?” She pauses and asks, “As if only I will be ashamed, would nothing happen to you?”
Laxmi is conscious about the consequences that might unfold and her inability to raise the child. However, she is determined to keep the child and raise it without the “necessity of father’s name” that our patriarchal society insists on.

As against Sujata, in Ankur, identity is not a dilemma as throughout the film Laxmi seems at ‘peace’ with her identity, powerfully negotiating her fears, apprehensions, opinions and desires. However, the sentiment of being a burden is common in both Sujata and Lakshmi’s lives. It is apparent that they feel a burden on others, though for different reasons. Sujata for being raised by parents who did not give birth to her and yet looked after her while Lakshmi is economically dependent on the landlord’s son that both she and her husband cannot oppose to exploitation he implicates on them, a lived reality experienced by many in villages till today.

Ankur and Sujata are two important films that revealed the dynamics of caste in two different situations. Despite celebrating a hundred of cinema in India, one can still count the number of films on our fingers that reflect the issue of caste. Media texts are as important for analysis as they are entertainment. They are a mirror of time, witnessed by human beings across generations. Thus, it is important what they show, how they show and in what capacity.

Jyotsna Siddharth has completed her Masters in Development Studies from Tata Institute of Social Sciences. She loves to read literature and poetry and her areas of interest are Caste, Gender, Feminism, and Philosophy. Currently she is working with Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation

Gang rape must lead to an awakening in India

Anti-rape-protest-India

By Ramlath Kavil

Perhaps the only “mistake” the 23-year-old New Delhi gang-rape victim made on the ill-fated night of Dec. 16 was to trust Delhi’s public transport system. In India, especially in cities like New Delhi, despite its being the national capital with enormous security presence and closed-circuit cameras, boarding a bus at 9:15 p.m. can be fatal for a woman, even if she has the company of a male friend.

The young woman was brutally raped and assaulted with an iron rod by six men in what turned out to be a private bus. The assault was so inhuman that it ripped her intestines apart, caused severe genital injuries and on the 29th of December — 13 days later— she died in a hospital in Singapore. The incident roused the nation’s collective consciousness, and a large portion of young India spilled into streets, paralyzing parts of the capital city. Post-independence India has never witnessed such large-scale, spontaneous public outcry over women’s security.

India has often been described as a great paradox. The largest democracy in the world, and a land with a long-celebrated history of non-violent political struggle, is profoundly misogynistic. Sexism has such deep roots in society that it is an acceptable form of discrimination. The son-only culture has affected the gender ratio so much that Haryana, for example, which is just a few kilometres away from the national capital, has reached a stage of importing brides from other parts of the country due to an extreme shortage of young women.

Sex-selective abortion, though illegal, has always been a booming business across the country. Dowry, a practice of giving property and money to the bridegroom and his family, has been held as one of the reasons for the deep antipathy to having daughters, as their birth signals an unaffordable financial liability.

According to the National Crime Records Bureau, rape today is India’s fastest growing crime.

Women’s rights activists in the country have long been asking for societal and legal reforms and accountability from the political establishment when it comes to protecting women’s rights. Sexual violence has an institutionalized status in the country. Deep-rooted patriarchal mores make the honour of the family and community dependent on the chastity of the woman. This society has the audacity to ask its daughters not to get raped instead of asking its sons not to commit rape.

Activists report that a large number of rapes go unreported. Shockingly, on average, every 20 minutes a rape is committed in India, and in the majority of the cases the perpetrators are family members. Even of the registered rapes, conviction rates are as low as 26 per cent of cases. In this context, the more shrill demands to hang the rapists and give the death penalty for rape are not going to make bringing the rapist to book easier.

Rape in India, as in most cultures, is a convenient weapon to be used against women in caste/class/communal conflicts in the country. During notorious Gujarat riots of 2002, the men belonging to the right wing Hindu political outfits used rape as a weapon to teach the minority community a “lesson.” Perpetrators of the riots are still roaming free due to their high-end political connections.

During the 2006 Kherlanji caste massacre, a mother and daughter belonging to a lower caste community were paraded naked and gang-raped before being murdered. In politically troubled areas like Kashmir and the Northeast, the army and police have long been accused of rape and violence. Soni Sori, a tribal school teacher who was termed as a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International in 2012, following her arrest on unsubstantiated charges of supporting the banned radical left in India, was subjected to brutal sexual violence in custody which included shoving stones into her genitals. While Sori is still languishing in jail without bail, the cop who was alleged to have orchestrated the violence was awarded the president’s medal in 2012 for professional excellence.

In most cases that involve violence against women, India has often failed to take any productive measures to protect women’s basic human rights primarily because of political pressure.

The horrific Delhi gang rape has given India’s youth, especially women, a platform to express their anguish over India’s abysmal record in defending women’s rights. Spontaneous protests are still taking place all over the country. The extent of outrage in New Delhi was so unexpected, a jittery administration has acted to defuse public mobilization.

The government has appointed a three-member committee to look into possible amendments in the criminal laws in order to provide speedier justice and stringent punishment in sexual assault cases.

The bottom line is — as thousands take to the streets braving water cannons and police batons, especially young women — India is waking up to the slogans that women’s organizations have long been shouting. End violence against women! It is time that India recognized the need to change in order to put an end to the inhuman degradation of its women, and the inevitable decay of the human rights of women.

This article was originally published in the Ottawa Citizen

© Copyright (c) The Ottawa Citizen

Gang rape on Page 1, Honey Singh on Page 3?

Honey Singh Protest

By Vasudha Katju

The December 16th gang rape in New Delhi has shocked and angered many people, and led to a massive public discussion on the incidence of rape in India. Attention has also turned to the numerous other forms of violence that women face every day– whether it be street harassment, sexual harassment at the workplace, sexual abuse at home, or others. What is being questioned is a culture of misogyny that makes sexual violence possible.

One such example that has come under the public scanner is that of Honey Singh, a popular rap artist performing in a mix of Punjabi and English. His song ‘Brown Rang’ was the most watched Youtube video in India in 2012. Singh was scheduled to perform at the Bristol Hotel, Gurgaon, as part of the hotel’s New Year’s Eve celebrations. A day before the performance, three petitions were circulated, addressing the management of the Bristol and calling for the cancellation of the programme. One petition cited the “pornographic lyrics” and “woman hating (sic) sentiments” of the song ‘Choot’; the other quoted the same song and said that Singh’s songs reflected “a deep misogynist and violent mindset” and were “extremely sexist and derogatory to women”. The third declared that the lyrics of the song were too offensive to be quoted. Together, the petitions garnered over 3000 signatures. On the night of the 31st, the hotel went ahead with its New Year’s Eve event, but Singh did not perform. Singh has since denied any connection with the song ‘Choot’.

It has been said by some commentators on the internet that the song ‘Choot’ is only meant to be entertainment, after all, and that no one listening to it would be inspired to go out and rape someone on the strength of its lyrics alone. This seems in some way to miss the point. The song talks about a man’s desire to have violent, brutal sex with a girl – with his sword-like penis, until her underwear is soaked with blood. Many men have had you, it says, in expensive rooms and cars, but no one like me. And after you, I’ll have your friends. Most disturbingly, though the man says that he knows that the girl wants to have sex, at no point do the lyrics indicate that she wants to have sex with him. These lyrics do not seem to be entertaining or sexy as much as vicious.

The video to the song ‘Yaar Bathere,’ a song by Alfaaz that features Singh, shows the two singers walk up to a house, accompanied by six or eight other men. A group of girls stand on an upper-floor balcony, while smoke billows from a burning jeep overturned in front of the house. As the song begins, Singh climbs onto the jeep and starts smashing it with a baseball bat. The song is about a boy who feels betrayed by a woman he loves, and he sings of her having had many lovers. The underlying aggression and violence in this video is unmistakable. In ‘Brown Rang’, mentioned above, Singh tells a girl that her brown skin has captivated him, and that he doesn’t like white women anymore. While trying to seduce her, he asks her to become his whore. In songs such as these, Singh seems to be drawing upon common tropes regarding interpersonal relationships – the gold-digger, the whore, the slut – in ways which exculpate the men in those relationships.

It has been pointed out that Singh is not unique in violent, hyper-sexualised, or objectified portrayals of women, as it is a feature of much of our popular culture. Singh has said that he is being used as “an excuse”, i.e. as a scapegoat. Others, who do not seem to be especially sympathetic to the singer, have asked why item numbers which objectify women are not censured. Another writer echoes this sentiment, but goes on to say that the problem lies with those who consume such music and popular culture, not with those who produce it.

It is important to understand that we live in a culture which both produces and consumes misogyny. Honey Singh does not have a monopoly over misogyny – nor, for that matter, does anyone else. The massive reaction to this incident of sexual violence, and others that are being revealed every day, have not only brought the misogyny and sexism of our culture into plain view, but have given us an opportunity to tackle those aspects of it that make such violence possible. Clearly, it is time to look a little more closely at the choices we make, even those made in the name of entertainment.

Vasudha Katju is a research scholar at CSSS, Jawaharlal Nehru University

Supreme Court admits plea against cervical cancer vaccine trials

Supreme_Court_of_India

By Team FI

The supreme court of India on Monday has admitted a public interest writ petition against licensing and trials with cervical cancer vaccines in the country. The Court has asked the Government of India to file its reply in the matter immediately.

The petitioners -three health rights activists – argued that Gardasil and Cervarix are two unproven and hazardous human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines purported to prevent cervical cancer, marketed in India by MSD Pharmaceuticals Pvt. Ltd. (subsidiary of Merck) and GlaxoSmithKline Ltd. The petition challenged their licensing for use in the private sector and attempts to introduce them in the public sector. The petition implicates the Drugs Controller for having licensed the vaccines without adequate research on safety and efficacy; the Health Ministry for not carrying out an enquiry into licensing of these vaccines as ordered by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Health and Family Welfare in April 2010 nor taking any action on the report of the enquiry committee set up by itself despite all irregularities of PATH project being confirmed. Rather than looking at safety and efficacy of these vaccines in India, this project was meant to influence the government to adopt these vaccines for introduction in the public sector.

According to the press statement by the petitioners, PATH had initiated a project for the introduction of the two vaccines in India by signing an MoU with ICMR even before they were licensed by the Drugs Controller of India. This project was funded by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) who had substantial stakes in Merck that produced the vaccine and hence there was a direct conflict of interest. PATH was helped by ICMR in carrying out large scale trials in the states of Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat unethically and without regard for health of poor tribal girls. The unethical nature of the study and deaths of girls became the subject of Governmental enquiry in 2010 when the matter was repeatedly raised by activists. This enquiry concluded that there were many gross violations in the project with respect to procedures for taking informed consent, inadequate health facilities for dealing with adverse events and medical emergencies. Yet after two years of the enquiry the government had not initiated any action to redress the situation and to punish PATH and ICMR as admitted by Ghulam Nabi Azad before the Indian Parliament in December 2011.

The petitioners have been raising the issue with the Health Ministry, the Drugs Controller, and National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights and other authorities including the government of Andhra Pradesh and have not made any headway. Hence a petition was filed under article 32 of the Constitution.

Hazards of the vaccines and unproven benefits
The vaccines are genetically engineered and their hazards are unknown even to the scientific communities. Though r-DNA has been detected in Gardasil in samples from many countries including India, in their application for licensing MSD pharmaceuticals claimed that there was no hazard because there was no r-DNA. GlaxoSmithKline uses a novel technique for producing Cervarix which involves the use of insect cells. Their product information admitted to their vaccine containing insect cells and proteins only in July 2011 though the vaccine was already in use since 2007. These residues or adventitious agents enter the blood stream when the vaccine is injected and are acknowledged to have the capacity to cause infections, tumours and cancer. What is noteworthy is that neither of these vaccines has been studied to determine their potential to cause cancer. In addition, the Drugs Controller has not even set standards of acceptable limits for such contamination in vaccines on the basis of which he could have found them safe for licensing.

Though both the vaccines are claimed to prevent cervical cancer, the truth is that cervical cancer takes twenty or more years to develop and the vaccines have just not been around that long to prove their efficacy in preventing cancer. But what is known with certainty is that if these vaccines are given to women who already are infected with the virus then they do raise the incidence of cervical cancer among those women.
Gardasil was first licensed in the USA in June 2006. This licensing was done on fast track with numerous conflicts of interests not only on the review board but also in that that the vaccine patent was held in PPP and the FDA itself as a part of the health department would benefit from the sales.

Licensing issues
Both vaccines were licensed for use among girls and women in India on the basis of very small studies that flouted even the liberalized Indian law. This law allows easy access to the Indian market for drugs and vaccines produced by multi-national companies once they are approved in the home country. In 2005 this law also made it possible for multi-national companies to hold trials for unapproved drugs in India simultaneous to international trials.

Targeting adolescents
These vaccines are supposed to work best when administered to girls in the age group of 9-14, before sexual debut. In the case of Cervarix GlaxoSmithKline did a trial with just 176 adult women and was granted a license for an age group of 10-45 year old women. This trial just looked at anti-body levels achieved and immediate side effects. No trial was done among Indian girls.

In the case of Gardasil, Merck through its subsidiary MSD signed an MOU with ICMR in 2005 but did not proceed with the studies that were envisaged involving thousands of women. But once it was licensed in the USA it did a speedy trial on its own with only 110 Indian girls 10-14 year old again to see immediate immune response. But it got a license by the DCGI to administer it to women from 9-26 years old though not a single adult woman had undergone a trial. According to the Indian law a trial on adults has to precede a trial among children and it was these violations that had been brought to the notice of the Parliamentary Committee that had asked for a proper enquiry into licensing.

Violations in PATH project
PATH on its own had decided to do studies with the HPV vaccine in four countries and India was one of them. The Indian market is substantial if a vaccine is accepted in the immunization programme. There is documentary evidence that though PATH is an NGO in this case it had entered into business agreement with Merck so that Merck had a ready market for the vaccine in the resource poor countries. In fact PATH got funding from BMGF in the very month that Gardasil was licensed in the USA. It signed an MOU with ICMR for this purpose. ICMR played along though it was clear that the vaccine was too expensive for India to afford. For each girl vaccinated the country would need to spend Rs 10,000 for three shots. The vaccines were marketed by hyping the risk of cervical cancer. Yet the fruits of this approach were not going to be reaped for 30-40 years or when the ten year olds crossed the age of forty – the age group when women are susceptible to cervical cancer. ICMR went ahead though it knew that the country is unable to meet the present needs of medicines to meet the current problems of the population like T.B. and malaria and could ill afford to spend money for these uncertain products. Further through its cancer registries it was also aware that the incidence of cervical cancer was declining and it was not a major health problem of the country.

PATH project was carried out in total disregard to scientific approach. It made false claims about the safety of vaccines and their efficacy. When the project took off there was no data to figure out the need for boosters, how the malnourished girls of India would respond to the vaccine that had so far only been administered to a healthy population. Yet a large number of girls in A.P. and Gujarat were administered a vaccine that had serious side effects including death. When four girls died in Andhra PradeshSupreme Court India women’s groups raised a hue and cry in 2010 and the government ordered an enquiry. The Government of AP, of Gujarat and PATH made depositions and provided data. The Enquiry Committee found that records of even informed consent had been fudged. The girls were not asked for their assent even though the law provides for such assent to be taken in writing. Further no arrangements were made for providing medical care to them if they suffered serious side effects.

Thus the rights of all 24,000 girls who were recruited by PATH in these trials were flouted as they were given the vaccine without a chance to make free informed choice. This assertion of women’s groups was confirmed by the enquiry. However, the Enquiry Committee had no legal expert and could not determine the liability of PATH towards the girls who were duped or forced into participation in PATH trial, those who died during the trial and those who would have suffered serious side effects.

PATH did everything to prevent the problems of the study from becoming common knowledge and sat on data on deaths despite women’s groups making a hue and cry about it at a public meeting organized by them in December 2009. The petitioners have pointed out that the data on death during the project is incomplete, illogical and full of discrepancies yet the deaths were called as being unrelated to vaccine administration. Side effects reported by the study were very rare and this was also brought out in the Enquiry. Yet there is no provision of continuing health care of these rural girls. Extrapolating from trial data of the two companies the petitioners have estimated that there are at least 1,200 girls in the two states have suffered from serious side effects or have developed auto-immune disorders who need continuing medical care and treatment.

These questions have been put before the Supreme Court with the hope that prompt justice and care would be provided to girls who are suffering as a consequence of an ill designed trial carried out by PATH with the active support of ICMR and the two state governments. By those very governments who are constitutionally bound to protect their life and health. Given the serious violations indulged by PATH, the petitioners have asked that PATH be blacklisted and no other foreign agency be allowed to have field presence.

The petitioners have also asked for the licences of the two products to be suspended and the vaccines recalled as there has been no scientific basis to allow their administration to girls in the private market either.

Youths show the way at India Gate

Delhi rape protest

By Naina Kapur

While aging ministers with archaic mindsets stumbled in the halls of government to offer yet another “legal” approach to ‘rape’, young men and women spoke with clarity and a commitment for an issue that they had no historical connection to but for this 23-year-old- one of their own

Some have asked my reason for attending the protest against rape on December 23rd at India Gate which led to being caught in an unprovoked brutal lathi and tear gas charge by the Rapid Action Force and Riot Police. My answer is- the young people. A few years ago I did feel reflective about what it was that moved the young. What rights would this next generation really fight for? For those of us who emerged from the protests, campaigns, disappointing outcomes and some successes of the women’s movement in the 80”s and 90’, there seemed no apparent answer. The signals, it seems, were in the places we never thought to look- within them.

On December 23rd, it took a single step into a symbolic circle near Amar Jawan Jyoti at India Gate to melt away my doubts. Young men in a chakravu, held hands surrounding an inner circle of mostly women. As I gently tapped one young man on the shoulder, there was an instant and graceful parting which allowed me to enter a collective space at the centre. There, women sat, shouted for justice, sang and heard the heartfelt stories of other women including the gang rape of a 3 year old who died from her abuse. And in that moment, for all the shame that has echoed in the very being of us as Indians over the vicious brutality faced by a young woman who simply stepped out to dinner and a movie with a friend only to board that fateful bus, I felt an equal depth of pride- for the young people within that circle and their genuine call for justice- for, in fact, a better world for women.

Many in that circle had come to protest for the first time in their lives, and the cause is rape and violence against women. With or without us, they are struggling to find ways to respond. Young men spoke up and vouched to eliminate ogling at women- ogling! Men were speaking about ogling- that silent yet oppressive shadow which stalks women throughout the city if not the country but to which we have forever turned a blind eye.

If only some of our leaders had peacefully entered that circle with me, they would have witnessed what I experienced- a genuine expression of pain. As parents, citizens, Indians and people who sought to pave a way, we must ask ourselves what legacy we want to share with them. Brickbats and teargas? Adversity and violence? Or compassionate engagement with their cause- one that impacts us all? Our youth are trying to point the way to a truth about ourselves, our values, our rights. We must find the humility to follow and where needed, to offer some of those pearls of wisdom we might have gathered along the way. RAF and Riot Police cannot defy a truth- it can only embolden it. It’s not an Arab Spring- it’s a circle. But In the words of a famous American hymn rewritten in the eighties- one which can’t be broken.

“Will the circle be unbroken, by and by Lord by and by.
There’s a better way to live now, we can have it if we try.”

Naina Kapur is an advocate and Equality Consultant based in New Delhi