Archive for July 24, 2013

Kerala media’s diatribes; watch out for the femme fatale

women and media

Following the solar energy scam and the sex tapes case, television channels and newspapers in Kerala have revealed their misogynist biases with their femme fatale diatribes

By Anonymous

A few weeks ago, a friend travelling on work in Kerala called. She was perplexed. As a professional in the tourism field, she had to often visit Kerala. This time around, she was encountering increasing hostility, especially from men. It was quite contrary to her steady belief that one of the few things that saves a woman in Kerala from constant ogling and “commentadi”( the act of passing lewd comments) was her bold look and “don’t you dare act smart with me’ attitude.

I asked her to keep track of the local news. Since the last month, Kerala’s vibrant and powerful media have been busy bashing women by making broad generalisations about women’s criminal minds. All because of two women. One, was Saritha Nair who was involved in the solar energy scam, which has put several politicians in the dock and another was a woman’s act of recording a sitting MLA’s alleged sexual advances.

Saritha Nair is an accomplice of Biju Radhakrishnan in the Solar Energy Scam that is reported to be much more than the official estimate of Rs.10 crore. Though several politicians directly and indirectly supported the company set up by Saritha Nair and murder accused Biju Radhakrishnan, investors lost money in the vain hope of making a huge profit while tapping Kerala’s solar energy potential.

When the story of ‘Sarithorjam’ (Saritha energy) as the media repulsively put it – was making its misogynistic waves, a more sleazy and juicy story came in. A 30-year-old woman approached the police with a CD of alleged sexual abuse by a sitting MLA. The woman was in a relationship with the son of MLA Jose Thettayil. The families were reportedly on the verge of fixing their marriage when the MLA allegedly sexually abused the woman. Thettayil allegedly demanded sexual favors again under the pretext that his consent is crucial if she really wanted to get married to his son. The woman decided to record the MLA in action; she taped her and the politician in her apartment and went to the police with the CD.

How on earth would a decent Malayali woman have the audacity to record sexual acts on a web cam?

As the video tapes played out, the news channels resembled the sleazy posters of adult movies shown in dilapidating theaters in one’s neighborhood.

Most news channels and print media competed with each other in shifting focus from the real issues of corruption, mis-governance and sexual abuse. A leading newspaper published a series of articles, on why an increasing number of women are becoming Karuthammas – Black women (a brahminical term for immoral/deceitful woman).

Some journalists commented about Saritha Nair’s silk saris and the amount of makeup she wears. The main accused, Biju Radhakrishnan -who confessed to having killed his wife seven years ago- and the politicians who kept the dubious company alive till date, were nowhere in the media headlines. It was just Saritha Nair and the way she seduced the rich and the powerful of Kerala.

This phenomenon was similarly represented in the online social media networks. On Facebook, a platform where classic Malayali voyeurism takes its supreme form, a well-known Left leaning poet took this line — “Woman, your good looks is your wealth” — from a poem written by a legendary Kerala poet Vallathol and made it his status message. A journalist wrote on his FB wall that he wouldn’t dare to press the ‘like’ button on any woman’s posts from now on, as he is not sure how many Saritha Nairs and hidden sex tapes are out there. Why lose reputation by supporting women on Facebook?

In a supposedly progressive e-group in Kerala where a lot discussions around media and politics take place, a member trotted out his hidden misogyny by asking whether it is wrong for a “father and son to eat from the same plate” ( in response to the woman’s allegations of that both father and son sexually abused her).

What is highly disturbing is the fact that the media is blatantly hypocritical and misogynist when it comes reporting on male and female criminals. Kerala, since 1980s, has been in the news for several cases of kidnap and rape of young girls. In some cases influential people including politicians were accused of rape.

When the accused are men, media would play down the growing violence against women by making general statements such as – the number of criminals in the society are increasing, rapes are increasing and the most important question- where are the feminists – as if it is the feminists’ responsibility to control growing sexual violence.

But if a woman is at the centre of a cheating case, sex trade or human trafficking, the reportage changes. A blame game starts and scandalous generalisations are made about woman’s criminal mentality and their immoral instincts. Religious and community leaders, along with stalwarts of Malayali patriarchy, script speeches putting the blame on material things that trigger the criminal thoughts in women. And these material things include–don’t laugh, ‘mobile phones, jeans, lipstick, internet, co-ed schools etc.

The message is clear and uncompromising – let us start the ‘shame the woman’ game. Look around; there are Sarithas everywhere. They use their sexual charm to seduce our good men. They destroy our otherwise serene social fabric. In short, watch out for the femme fatale.

The author is a journalist in kerala and her name has been withheld on request

Chennai HC Judgment: A judicial let down!

women and law

Flawed reasoning that has no backing of existing laws, lack of required judicial discretion, failure to accord permissible amount of maintenance are some of the flaws of the judgment passed by the Chennai High Court last month

By Aruna Burte

“….if any couple, subject to their attaining the mandatory age of freedom, who indulge in sexual gratification, then that would be considered as valid marriage and they could be termed as ‘husband and wife’, as a result of their choice of freedom.” Thus declared Chennai High Court judge C.S. Karnan, on 17th June 2013, while giving judgement on the criminal revision case of maintenance of Coimbatore family court.

The judgement created a huge controversy and provided fodder to all sorts of reactions verging on frivolity on various social networking platforms. Though the hype died down, the real issue was relegated to oblivion!

However, it is very important to discuss the issue because it is about judicial discretion and awarding permissible maintenance.

The case
The facts of Aysha v. Ozir Hasan (MN.64 of 2000 of Coimbatore Family Court) case are: Ayesha claimed that she married Ozir Hasan in 1994 and had two children (dates 21.12.1996 and 31.12.1998). They stayed as family until 1999 when he deserted her.

She filed for maintenance of Rs.5000/- as her husband’s earning was Rs.25000/- in the year 2000. She submitted proofs which included birth certificates of their two children, her husband’s signature for a caesarean operation (for the birth of the second child), a family certificate where his signature appears as the head of the family and witness of doctor who performed family planning operation on her.

The family court granted maintenance Rs.500/- per child and Rs.1000/- towards court expenses to the woman on 28.4.2006 but denied her maintenance citing the lack of documentary proof of her marriage. She appealed to the high court.

The Chennai High Court judge C.S. Karnan revised the family court order and granted Rs.500/-maintenance to the woman. She would be entitled to this from the date of petition i.e. September 2000. The arrears from that date onwards till May 2013 would have to be paid in three months and a sum of Rs 500 per month thereafter.

The judgement
The awarding maintenance to the deserted woman is creditable. The judgement, however, fails on two grounds. One – it is full of flawed reasoning. Two – it does not award a permissible amount of maintenance to the woman.

The main issue in this case was how to decide woman’s marital status in the absence of sufficient documentary proofs of marriage. The proof of five years co-habitation along with birth certificates of children was enough ground to grant maintenance under section 125 Cr.P.C. It was the first marriage for both the woman and the man in question. They had no third party encumbrance. They were both of legal age. What needed was to expand the definition of ‘wife’ as in earlier cases of Supreme Court. For example in Vimala (K.) v. Veeraswamy (K.), [(1991) 2 S.C.C. 375, the man had denied the marriage. There was no documentary proof of marriage but the proof of a fairly long period of cohabitation was submitted. The man extended the argument that he had married earlier. However, he could not submit proof for this argument. Therefore, the Supreme Court declared that the man is liable to pay maintenance to Vimala.

In another case of Dwarika Prasad Satpathy v. Bidyut Prava Dixit (1999) 7 S.C.C. 675, the Supreme Court said that it is not strictly mandatory to provide documentary proof of marriage under section 125 Cr.P.C. unlike the bigamy section Cr.P.C. 494. Under Cr.P.C. 125, if the woman is able to submit proof of co-habitation for a sufficient period of time, the man and woman in the case would be considered as husband and wife. The man has the scope of disproving cohabitation by providing proofs. But if he cannot do so then he is liable to pay maintenance to the woman. The Chennai High Court could and should have made the argument by sighting similar judgements. But the judgement did not do so.

Instead, it gave opinions on valid marriages, sexual behaviour, and validity or otherwise of registration and host of such matters. In other words, the reasoning of the judgement is based is seriously problematic. It does not show required judicial discretion which is clear from the following sentences of the judgement:

“This Court is of the view that if a woman aged 18 or above has a sexual relationship with a man, aged 21 or above, and during the course of such relationship, if the woman becomes pregnant, she would henceforth be treated as the ‘wife’ and the man would be treated as the ‘husband’. Even if the girl does not become pregnant after having such sexual relationship with a man but if there is strong documentary evidence to show the existence of such relationship then also the couple involved in such acts would be termed as ‘wife’ and ‘husband’.”

The judgement in the next paragraph states if the there is any dispute the ‘husband’ in such relationship has to obtain divorce before he marries second time! It further says:

“This Court is of the further view that if the bachelor has completed 21 years of age and the spinster 18 years of age respectively then they acquire the freedom of choice as guaranteed by the Indian Constitution. Consequently, any couple who choose to consummate their sexual cravings then that act becomes a total commitment which adherence to all consequences that may follow except on certain exceptional considerations. Therefore, the marriage formalities as per custom or registering of marriage at a Government Registration Office is only to comply with each one’s respective custom or for the satisfaction of the society.”

‘Hence, the main legal aspect for valid marriage is consummation or sexual interaction…’

The court declares the woman in question ‘wife’ and the man ‘husband’ in arbitrary manner. And hence, the man is liable to pay maintenance to wife. The arguments are problematic for the following reasons:

• As shown in the paragraphs above the arguments have no backing of existing law relating to validity of marriages and divorce and also of previous cases.

• It carries conflicting statements. For example it says, ‘In India there is no need of registration of marriage to prove validity, only the proof of sexual relationship is sufficient’. In the same breath it states, ‘if the couple wants to seek divorce in such cases they should do so legally’.
To take a legal divorce, some documentary proof would be required. In one sentence processes that provide documentation like registration is trashed and in the next its requirement is stated. On one level the registration of marriage is trashed and on the other all adult consenting sexual relations are declared marriage. What can be said of this sort of ill-logic?

• This conflicting and contradictory statement raises more questions than answering the existing ones. For example, what about short-time sexual relationship? What happens to citizens who are against ‘marriage’ as such? Is registration of marriages so insignificant?

• The choice of words like ‘sexual gratification’ and ‘any couple who want to consummate sexual cravings’ show non-liberal, moralistic, narrow and judgemental attitude towards male-female sexual relations. To declare all consenting sexual relations as marriage is nothing short of assuming moral policing. This attitude hampers the autonomy and privacy of citizens which is pre-requisite of democracy. Such ideology cannot ensure women’s rights in the end.

• Such regressive ideology compartmentalises human sexuality into ‘marriage’ and ‘prostitution’. There is patriarchy lurking in it. In fact, men and women are interacting freely due to education, profession, jobs, art, etc today. The young generation wants to breathe free of restrictions of marriage. Many want to go in for live-in relationships. The horizons of personal freedom and concepts are ever increasing. Only liberalism can help to create responsible sexual relationships amongst the youngsters. The opinions in the judgement are not conducive for creating such milieu in the society. For protecting women’s right to maintenance how can broader democratic rights of which women’s rights are part, be flouted? It is viewing women’s rights from the point of male dominance after all! Sadly, one has to admit that our learned judges are also product of the all pervading patriarchal world-view.

• Lack of legal discretion is dangerous. It is arbitrary and therefore not in the tradition of democracy and liberalism. Democracy allows citizens to exercise autonomy in personal lives.

• In fact, the lower courts depend on the judgements of High Courts. Therefore, the high court judges are expected to exercise greater discretion. But the present judgement is wrongly argued and lacks legal discretion.

There is a tradition of judges expressing their perspective while delivering judgements. This judgement could have done following:

• Could have ascertained whether the maintenance paid for children is applied from date of application or not. And whether it is paid regularly, since there are many defaulters.

• Under the same amendment, it was directed to dispose of such cases in 60 days from the date of application. In this case, it was relevant that judge could have commented upon.

• Could have increased the limit of maintenance by sighting amendment of 2001 to Cr.P.C.125 wherein limit of Rs.500/- was lifted. Do high court judges, not only in this case but in many other cases, not know of this amendment or they do not want to interpret the law in favour of disadvantaged i.e. women? With the limit of Rs.500/- deleted, judges are free to interpret the amount of maintenance based on the income of the respondent.

• This judgement had the scope to state the need of expanding economic rights of women beyond the sum of maintenance to ‘matrimonial property or community of property’. But it is very difficult to this looking at the mindset from which this judgement originated.

Finally, but most importantly, we all have to understand that ‘maintenance’ is one side of the coin of women’s secondary status due to patriarchy. We need to revise the campaigns for rights of deserted women led by Ms. Vijaya Chauk of 1990 of Dhule district in Maharathtra; long drawn struggle asserting land rights of single women of Bahe village in Maharashtra and present day single women’s struggles.

They all demand economic rights of and entitlements for women i.e. jobs, employment, opportunities, rightful shelter, credit etc. While these struggles outside the perview of courts are important to bring substantial relief and dignity to women it is equally necessary to critique judgements from feminist and democratic rights point of view.

Aruna Burte is a writer and feminist activist based in Solapur, Maharashtra

Sharmila Rege (1964 – 2013): A tribute

Sharmila Rege

Sharmila Rege, an extremely popular teacher and warm fellow traveler in the women’s studies movement, will always be with us through her writings on caste, gender and feminism and compassion she has shown for activists and researchers

By Vibhuti Patel

I was shocked and saddened to learn about the untimely death of Sharmila rege, on 13 July, 2013, due to cancer of colon, at the young age of 48. Prof. Sharmila Rege was an Indian sociologist, feminist scholar and widely discussed author. She was a leader of the Kranti Jyoti Savitribai Phule Women’s Studies Centre (KJSPWSC) at University of Pune who fought for her ideological commitment for the excluded and brutalized sections of society. She was not only a good scholar but also a refined human being.

I was amazed when Prof. Sharmila Rege, Head of Department of Sociology decided to join as Director and Reader, Centre for Women’s Studies. In a hierarchical institution such as university, a scholar established in the mainstream discipline switching for ‘lower’ position without batting an eyelid showed her commitment towards women’s studies in 2007. Under her leadership, KSPWSC became an intellectually vibrant centre providing platform to academicians, retired scholars, free lance researchers, social activists and feminists.

I had opportunity to meet Sharmila for 10 years continuously, from 1996 to 2006 when I was invited by her centre for lectures on gender budgeting, globalisation, sex selection and declining sex ratio and sexual harassment at workplace for Refreshers Courses/Certificate course in Women’s studies. I was impressed by the atmosphere of nurturance, voluntarism and cooperation created by Sharmila even in the midst of tremendous financial crunch experienced by the centre in that period.

Sharmila, as a social activist, feminist scholar and social analyst, challenged the brahminical patriarchy from ‘Dalit Standpoint’. In 2008, her inspiring and insightful Savitribai Phule Oration on ‘Education as Trutiya Ratna: Towards Phule-Ambedkarite Feminist Pedagogical Practice’ sponsored by NCERT in a jam packed hall at SNDT Women’s University, Mumbai was mind-blowing. The audience, whether agreed with her or not, listened to her with rapt attention and many of them gave her standing ovation.

She could convincingly explain women’s predicament determined by complex interplay of class, caste, religion and sexuality with the help of historical evidences, contemporary concerns of dalit-tribal-minority women and queer community. Sharmila practiced what she preached within the academia and from the political platforms. She fought for the right of the Dalit students in her university. She legitimized crucial contribution of Dr. Ambedkar in examining Indian civilization from the point of view of the oppressed and exploited sections i.e. shudra and ati-shudra. She brought to the fore knowledge of the ‘subjugated’ and challenged the dominant Brahminical discourse.

She left a lasting impression on any one who met her. She had a huge fan following among post graduate, M. Phil. and Ph. D. students. How can anyone forget the courteous, mild mannered and soft spoken Sharmila who was patient with her students, who gave quality time to her non-English speaking students, who with great perseverance brought out important works of women’s studies in Marathi in collaboration with her colleagues-Prof. Vidyut Bhagwat, Dr. Anagha Tambe, Dr. Swati Dehadroy and Dr. Sneha Gole. Their commitment and strategic thinking for KSPWSC put their centre on the national map. Every year we displayed their yellow poster announcing the MA and certificate course in women’s studies. No one would remove the poster due to Savitribai’s photograph on it. The KSPWS team played crucial role in Indian Association of Women’s Studies and edited its newsletter during the millennium years.

Sharmila’s book, Writing Caste, Writing Gender: Reading Dalit Women’s Testimonies published by Zubaan, Delhi in 2006 had a massive ripple effect among sociologists, political scientists, women’s studies and Dalit studies scholars. In the same year, Sharmila received the Malcolm Adiseshiah award for “sharpening the perspective on caste and gender by examining the differences and the connections of power that existed between women while also recognising what connected them as women.”

Sharmila Rege’s articles, ‘More than Just Tacking Women on to the ‘Macropicture’, Review of Women’s Studies, EPW, Vol – XXXVIII No. 43, October 25, 2003; ‘Real Feminism’ and Dalit Women’, EPW, Vol – XXXV No. 06, February 05, 2000; ‘Dalit Women Talk Differently-A Critique of Difference and Towards a Dalit Feminist Standpoint Position’, Special Issue, EPW, Vol. XXXIII No. 44, October 31, 1998 and ‘Writing Caste, Writing Gender: Reading Dalit Women’s Testimonies’ must be translated in all regional languages of India.

Sharmila’s death is a major blow to the women’s studies and dalit studies movements. Her concerns were encapsulated in the quotation from Dr Ambedkar that invariably accompanied her emails:
“My final words of advice to you are educate, agitate and organize; have faith in yourself. With justice on our side, I do not see how we can lose our battle.”

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

Woman journalist harassed online, TN Police apathetic

online abuse

Upset women journalists ask Chief Minister Jayalalitha to intervene in the case

By Team FI

An association of women journalists in India has written a letter to the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, J. Jayalalitha, calling her attention to the online harassment of a Chennai based woman journalist, Kavin Malar.

According to the letter issued by Network of Women in Media, India (NWMI), Kavin Malar, a journalist with India Today, has been subjected to character assassination and abusive messages on Facebook for over a month by one Mr Kishore K Swamy. The letter states that Swamy, a self-proclaimed AIADMK supporter, is “repeatedly posting abusive messages on Facebook targeting Kavin Malar’s professional work, her personal character and wilfully attempting to malign her reputation in society as well as in the media.”

The letter alleges that the Chennai police has not taken any action on the complaint filed on May 13, 2013, beyond calling Kavin for an enquiry.

Kishore K Swamy, a self-proclaimed AIADMK supporter is said be a habitual online harasser who particularly targets women journalists- Photo courtesy: Facebook

Kishore K Swamy, a self-proclaimed AIADMK supporter is said be a habitual online harasser who particularly targets women journalists- Photo courtesy: Facebook

Kavin told FeminsitsIndia that she suspects Swamy has chosen to target her primarily because she is a woman and also because she has written often on Dalit issues. According to Kavin, the abuse began soon after her visit to Marakkanam, a small town near Chennai to report on an incident of caste violence that took place in April this year. Soon after, Swamy began posting abusive comments against her on his Facebook wall. Swamy alleged that Kavin used a criminal’s vehicle to travel to Marakkanam and then went to a nearby luxurious bungalow to have sex and smoke cannabis.

“This man writes that I have connection with a criminal, whose name I have not even heard before. He accuses me of traveling to Marakkanam in this criminal’s car. Is India Today not capable of arranging a cab to its employee? He is writing almost daily about me in obscene language. These abuses are too personal and he is intruding into my personal life,” says Kavin.

Online harassment against women is on the rise in India. Earlier this year, in April, activist Kavita Krishnan was threatened with rape during a discussion on the anti-rape movement in India on an online chat forum organised by Rediff.com, a leading Indian news portal. In 2012, Meena Kandasamy, a young poet, was subjected to a violent hate campaign on Twitter which also called for her gang rape. This was in reaction to her supporting Dalit students at a beef eating festival in Hyderabad last year.