Archive for August 24, 2013

Women journalists’ body condemns Mumbai gangrape

Mumbai gangrape suspects

The Network of Women in Media, India, condemning the gangrape of a photo-journalist in Mumbai, has demanded safety for women media professionals

By Team FI

The Network of Women in Media, India, (NWMI) has strongly condemned the gangrape of a woman journalist on August 22, when she was on assignment for a print magazine. The press release, issued by the organisation has called for a speedy police investigation and demanded that justice is delivered without delay.

The women journalist and her male colleague were at the Shakti Mill Compound in the Lower Parel area in Mumbai when they were accosted by a group of men. The journalists were asked to show their authorisation for their presence in the compound. Using this pretext, the woman journalist was taken aside, her colleague was tied up and five persons committed the assault. The NWM credits the presence of mind of the woman journalist who not only freed herself but also managed to free her colleague. The two then filed a complaint with the Mumbai NM Joshi Marg Police Station. The journalist is in a city hospital and is reported to be stable.

The NWMI press release exhorted media employers to “desist from introducing restrictions on work assignments for women journalists and instead ensure the safety and security of their staff.” It also cautioned its colleagues to report on the matter with sensitivity and responsibly.

Pointing out that the incident is a grim reminder of the deteriorating state of safety for women across the country, NWM called attention to the increasing harassment of women professionals in the media, “Along with work-place related harassment, journalists also have had to contend with anti-women prejudices and biased reactions from employers as well as law enforcement officers,” stated the press release.

Mumbai Press Club issues statement
According to a press release issued by a delegation of organisations including the Press Club and Mumbai Marathi Patrakar Sangh the Mumbai Police Commissioner Satyapal Singh had stated that one person had been arrested and the rest identified and expected to be apprehended soon. The said organisations had also held a protest rally yesterday condemning the incident. The Bombay News Photographers Association and the Working News Cameramen’s Association have also condemned the incident.

Statistics from the National Crime Records Bureau show an 11 percent rise in sexual assault cases in Mumbai, from 553 in 2011 to 614 in 2012. The city also showed a 45 percent rise in sexual harassment cases in 2012 with 235 cases of sexual harassment in 2012 as compared to 162 in 2011. Cases of rape in Mumbai rose at a rate of 5 percent in 2012. The 232 cases put the city second in terms of reported rapes, behind Delhi, which saw 585 cases in 2012.

Featured Photo: Composite sketches of the accused released by Mumbai police on Friday

Roche India gives up patent for breast cancer drug

Breast cancer drugs

A victorious Campaign for Affordable Trastuzumab calls for generic manufacturers to come forward and apply for licences to manufacture biosimilars of Trastuzumab so as to provide affordable medicines for women who are battling HER2+ breast cancer

By Team FI

The Campaign for Affordable Trastuzumab came to fruition on 15 August, 2013, when the Swiss pharmaceutical company Roche declared that it is relinquishing the patent for its breast-cancer drug Trastuzumab in India. The announcement was welcomed by the Campaign which was initiated in November 2012 and endorsed by several Indian and global patient associations, cancer survivors, health movements, women’s rights activists and eminent jurists.

A press release from the Campaign stated that this decision, “…brings hope of a disease-free life for the thousands of Indian women who are battling HER2+ breast cancer.” The campaign had been working to bring awareness of the Roche’s “predatory pricing policy on women with HER2+ breast cancer,” and urged the Indian government to allow production of biosimilars of Trastuzumab. The press release stated that its research into the issue has “uncovered serious anomalies and irregularities in the Indian patent, which appears to have been granted in violation of Sections 3(d) and 3(e) of the Indian Patent Act and is therefore unlikely to survive a legal challenge. Our inquiries also reveal a consistent pattern of bureaucratic manoeuvres to delay and deflect legal challenges to the Roche patent.”

Earlier this year an Expert Committee set up by the Health Ministry had recommended for compulsory licensing for Trastuzumab. The Campaign opined that, “…the decision to relinquish the patent on Trastuzumab is a tactical move by Roche to avoid compulsory licensing, which would have much more serious and far-reaching implications for its plans in the Indian market. Roche is already questioning the approval given to Dr Reddy’s Laboratories for the production of a biosimilar version of the lymphoma drug Rituximab, which will pose stiff competition to Roche’s MabThera. Roche is also planning to launch successors to Trastuzumab in the US and European markets before 2014, when biosimilars can be expected to enter the market.”

The Campaign urges generic manufacturers in India to come forward immediately and apply for licenses to manufacture and market biosimilars of Trastuzumab. The Campaign also urges the government to ensure a fast-track process for regulatory approval of biosimilars, and make Trastuzumab available through the public health system.

Loving “her” to death

violence against indian women

Patriarchy is responding to the increasing individuation of women with newer forms of misogyny, even as it continues its age old practice of socially sanctioning violent male sexuality

By Janaki Nair

A grisly attack on a young woman student and the violent suicide of a “spurned” boyfriend has shocked and alarmed the campus community at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Long believed to be a small “republic” where few of the violent hierarchies that are the staple of Indian life prevail, and where the everyday brutalities of the national capital region have largely been kept at bay, the shattered peace calls for confronting some painful truths, of which such grotesque violence is only a symptom.

What does such acts of senseless violence reveal about the speed and direction of the bewildering changes in our social life, for which even higher education in one of India’s most prestigious universities does not prepare us, and to which it is not immune? And how do we prepare realistically for an increase in the rise of such violence, where aspirations are not matched by opportunities?

There are at least three levels on which such changes are occurring. For at least two decades, we have witnessed newer forms of misogyny that keep pace with the increasing individuation of Indian women. This has been difficult for not only men but for some women to accept.

There is the violence with which women are reinserted into official kinship relations of which the khap panchayat is the most visible reminder: men continue to be well served by this “symbolics of blood” much more than women. As student bodies are changing, with higher and higher proportions of hitherto underprivileged castes and groups, including women, seeking higher education, the hypervisibility of women from all backgrounds who control their destiny – intellectual, financial, political, sexual — is too much for some sections to bear. Class differences combine in important ways with differences based on region, language and caste, and have already been the cause of much tension in campuses such as JNU.

More important are the ways in which young men feel entitled to “love” women to death: our contemporary visual culture is saturated with messages that teach us, over and over again, that sexualized violence and violent male sexuality is normal. Love is unidirectional, declared by men, and succumbed to or accepted by women. Pre-marital love between Indians can blossom, but only on the distant shores of Australia, as in Salaam Namaste, which was set in worlds beyond the reach of parents and neighbours, litigants and agitators on behalf of female chastity and “honour”. The stain on national honour by the arrival of a love-child in Salaam Namaste was prevented by the timely production of a ring by the hero, and birthing squalls came safely after the legal bond, and conjugality was saved among Antipodean Indians.

No such luck, it appears, attends the lives of real life heroines. They are often loved to death by men who, once spurned, wield the axe, knife or acid bottle with great skill on their “loves”. Indian cinema has carefully nurtured this version of loving, a unidirectional flow of feeling from man to woman, whose outcomes are always predictable. In one Malayalam film, a police officer (Mohanlal) shackled the woman he “loved” to a tree and compelled her to say the three little words. Vishnuvardhan, the Kannada actor, playfully whipped his heroines into submission, and on the rare occasion when the filmic narrative called for Rajnikanth to be slapped by a woman (Chandramukhi), the hero’s honour was recouped on the streets by his angry fans.

Real women are a different matter. Many new entrants to the university system who come from a very wide variety of socio economic backgrounds, envy and fear the economic and social independence of women, themselves often from Dalit and OBC communities. They are a major threat to social life and civility as it has long been defined by men. Ironically, there are women fellowship holders on our campus who have become the new victims of the preying male, when the latter depend on them financially for years, but eventually leave them in the lurch (and several lakhs poorer). In addition to these new forms that a renewed patriarchy is taking are many features of the old ones: the entitlement that upper castes feel they have to lower caste female bodies, of dominant communities to minority women, of men who throng the repressive state apparatuses of army and police to those who they purportedly protect, and last but not least, of male faculty to their female students.

To make sense of the near pornographic performance of violence by the male student, we must ask, from what has this self destruction emerged? Even as our youngsters are adept consumers of goods of every shape and description, and there is relentless pressure to acquire as much and as quickly as possible, they have become most vulnerable at an emotional level.

An unprecedented brittleness is everywhere evident – in the excessive (and new) dependence on faculty; in the inability to face and accept the hard knocks that life sometimes deals us, whether in the form of low grades or unrequited love; in the loneliness to which the new consumerism condemns us — for which there appears to be no immediate succor. This is in inverse proportion to the precocious and promiscuous handling of objects from a young age – mobile phones and computers at the age of 12. Our young are increasingly unable to deal with the heaves and shoves of our monstrous society.

Leaning too heavily on securitization or the law alone is dangerously inadequate. What is needed most urgently is the building of a new civility by men and women, of lower and upper castes and classes, of urban and rural areas. The new civility must reveal that the social and economic independence of women is not always at the expense of lower class male prospects, that women are no longer the playthings that invite possession rather than respect. This new civility will be seriously challenged in the one sphere where the individualities of women have been celebrated, namely the market, turning women’s, or anyone’s, independence into a freedom to consume, and to be consumed.

To overturn such newly entrenched and older ideologies is no easy task, and calls for nothing short of a revolution. We may take heart in what caste movements in India have achieved over the past three decades, making discriminatory speech, actions or beliefs in the public sphere more difficult (though not yet impossible). At the same time, women are made the ground for new forms of assertion. A completely new gender and caste just civility must be the goal, which will make our campuses, and indeed the country, safer and less threatening for women.

Janaki Nair teaches History at Centre for Historical Studies, JNU, New Delhi

In memoriam: Sharmila Rege (1964 -2013)

sharmila rege

By Uma Chakravarti

In the last six months or so the small community of feminist scholars cum activists has been hit by major losses: in February Lotika Sarkar who was among the signatories protesting the Mathura judgment that initiated a new and hugely important phase of the women’s movement passed away; at the end of May Vina Mazumdar who spearheaded the parallel women’s studies movement also passed away. But at least we had the consolation that they went in the fullness of time, having done all they could to put feminist issues into the public domain. They had also seen the difference it made to the way we think about patriarchy, an axis of inequality that has survived over the centuries and flourishes even today.

Sharmila Rege, whose unexpectedly cruel death which hit us like a body blow this month, was dynamically taking forward the women’s movement and the women’s studies movement in many new directions by making all feminists learn to engage with caste, the most offensive and monstrous structure of inequality that the world has ever created. Through her work on caste, and the issues she raised, she forced metropolitan feminists to first read and then think about caste before they jumped in to take positions on controversial issues generated all around us. The painful thing is that Sharmila was only 48 and had over the years grown into a committed scholar and entered a most creative phase in her life with years of productive work before her and so her loss is almost unbearable.

Sharmila, whom I met for the first time in 1993 as a bright young scholar at a women’s studies conference, began like many others around her – as a student of sociology at Pune University her M.Phil thesis was on sati. We had all been through the Roop Kanwar case where some eminent male academics, in one of the fierce polarizations of our times, were denying the right of ‘feminists’ to speak on sati because they weren’t ‘authentic’ (Indian/Hindu) women. After that she more or less naturally gravitated to a critical engagement with mainstream/malestream sociology and the directions it had taken. She started to teach soon after completing her M.A. first in a college and then in the Sociology Department of Pune University which at that time housed the newly opened Women’s Studies Centre. It is this department that received most of her energies through the rest of her all too short life.

Unfortunately, Women’s Studies departments are unstable by definition with hardly any permanent faculty thanks to the ‘higher’ wisdom of the UGC that has, over two decades or more, reproduced the biases of university systems and wider society in the way they have dealt with them. To this day most academic posts run only from one plan to another so there is almost no permanency of tenure and it is, therefore, virtually impossible to build them up as institutions that can survive and grow in any meaningful way. In this mad system, Sharmila’s commitment to women’s studies was extraordinary: in a world where academics hop from one university to another in pursuit of professorial positions, she actually moved ‘downwards’ from being a Professor in the Sociology Department where she was teaching between 2005 and 2008 (she was also Head of the Department at the time) to become an Associate Professor in the Women’s Studies Centre. She did that because as a committed academic she felt the need to be located at this centre to help safe- guard it as the uniquely creative place that it had grown into. Everyone except a few feminists thought she was mad. Using this space she spearheaded programmes in a wide arc of locations – colleges in Pune and other small cities across western India – always keeping caste as a critical index of inequality which could not be separated from issues of gender. The mix of students that Pune University drew led to many experiments with translations, and creating teaching materials: through all this time Sharmila and other young colleagues at the centre made it evident that one could rigorously engage with the social sciences in the
regional languages, and also be grounded in the material and social reality of the area where one was located.

No wonder that her students loved her and worked tirelessly with her. Always democratic and encouraging, one of her courses on popular culture led to three student publications which too was very different from a situation where professors could publish the work of their students in their own names and get away with it because of the power dynamics operating in universities.

All too soon there were extraordinary demands upon Sharmila’s time. In order to cope with teaching –the classroom was a space that she loved so she never gave up even on a single class if she could help it – activism, research supervision, mentoring her students and younger colleagues in every possible way, organizing workshops, the framing of syllabi for her own centre and for the UGC (a venture that suddenly folded up!)– there was little time for her own research work. So she got up at 3 a.m. to write for a couple of hours before her day formally began, leaving her little time to even eat properly or look after herself.

But during this time she wrote and published important papers and books. One needs to be specifically mentioned: this is an essay on the dalit feminist standpoint where she tried to find a way for feminist politics to move beyond ‘difference’ even as difference needed to be the basis of formulating a political position. She urged the adoption of a position that moved away from what she called the ‘savarnization’ of the women’s movement and the masculinization of the dalit movement to recover the original egalitarian agendas of these movements. Always attempting to make border crossings possible in a new creative politics, she gave herself to the crisis of our times through her sustained engagement with caste.

Perhaps it was these qualities of head and heart and the extraordinary demands upon her that took their terrible toll; I discovered to my dismay that she hadn’t seen a doctor for years even as many of us kept noticing that she was getting thinner by the day. She said it was nothing and in the end the cancer gave her only three weeks to live after it was discovered. I have been wondering if the cancer in our society transfers itself upon people who care. There is a sadness inside me that has frozen and it doesn’t seem to be going. I hope it does because Sharmila wouldn’t want me to feel the way I am feeling, the generous and affectionate woman that she was till the very end.

Rest in peace dear friend; others will carry on the struggles that you were so passionately engaged in.

Uma Chakravarti is a feminist historian

This tribute was originally published in the Seminar magazine

“She is free to go wherever she wants!”, Kerala HC tells parents

High court Kochi

Kerala High Court upholds adult woman’s right to decide where and how she wants to live without parental intimidation or control

By Team FI

A Habeas Corpus petition alleging that the Bangalore based NGO Sangama had forcibly detained a young woman against her will was dismissed by the Kerala High Court on August 13, 2013. It was established the young woman Sruthi had come to Bangalore for further studies and in search of employment.

Setting a precedent the Kerala High Court Judge, Justice Anthony Dominic, said that the young woman Sruthi was “free to go anywhere she wants,’’ a freedom denied to many adult women who struggle to get out of their `parents’ protection’.”

The writ petition was filed by Sruthi’s mother, who was upset over her daughter’s decision to leave home and live in Bangalore with her same sex lover Saranya. The judgment comes on the heels of the another High Court judgement on a Habeas Corpus petition filed by father of Saranya, termed as judicial intimidation by Sangama which resulted in Saranya returning to her natal home.

Sruthi and Saranya, both aged 21 years, had left their homes in Kerala and decided to come to Bangalore to live together. Compelled by their families to marry men, the duo had taken refuge with Sangama, an NGO in Bangalore. Saranya’s father filed a Habeas Corpus petition in High Court of Kerala, alleging that his daughter was kidnapped by Sruthi. The writ petition asked the court to grant him ‘parental control’ and ‘custody’ of his adult daughter.

A signature campaign organised by various individuals and organisations submitted a petition to the Chief Justice of the Kerala High Court which alleged that during the court proceedings Saranya was left in the company of her family for three hours after which she appeared extremely upset. Despite filing an affidavit that she was in Bangalore by her own will, the court directed that Saranya be sent to a government shelter till the matter could be resolved. According to the petition, Saranya’s parents immediately asked the court to allow her to return home upon which Saranya agreed.

Sruthi claims that it was emotional blackmail that led to Saranya’s decision.

Sruthi’s advocates, lawyer and human rights activist, BT Venkatesh and Asha of Thrissur agreed with Sruthi. “The practice in Habeas Corpus cases in Kerala against women was always against the constitutionally guaranteed fundamental rights. The courts are supposed to be the guardian of these fundamental rights. But unfortunately judicial Intimidation has happened in Saranya’s case where the girl was forced to return to her parents. Fortunately, in this case, the alleged detenue Sruthi came up to the standards of the courageous women and was not overtaken or overwhelmed by the unfriendly atmosphere of the court hall which emphasizes that only courageous and empowered women can have their freedom like that of men”.

Sruthi defended Sangama as “one of the finest organisations providing protection and security to give member like me from the marginalised communities, the confidence to lead a free and independent life.”

Gurukiran Kamath, director of Sangama, who informed that their organisation has supported many lesbians and transgenders who migrated from Kerala to Bangalore in the past 10 years, said that the order of the honorable High Court re-affirms their belief that right of choice is a fundamental right that can never be violated by anyone including the state agencies.

Women’s groups demand compensation for bar dancers

bar dancers Bombay

Women’s organizations asks Maharashtra government to remedy the gender bias and caste apartheid practiced by its ban on dance bars and stresses the need for long term development plans

By Team FI

Welcoming the Supreme Court’s verdict, which declared the Maharashtra government ban on dance bars, as a constitutional violation, women’s groups in India have demanded compensation from the state government to the bar dancers who have been out of job since 2005. “Most of the women dancers have incurred enormous loans to cope with the situation during the period of the ban. Many women have been forced to commit suicide or have attempted to do so,” read the statement.

The Maharashtra government imposed a ban on bars where women danced to bollywood songs to entertain customers. The ban was imposed citing an argument that these bars were exploiting women and corrupting young minds. The allegation that these bars were a front for crime and prostitution was contested by both bar dancers and women’s rights activists in the state. According to a survey done by Forum Against Oppression of Women, a feminist group in Mumbai that vehemently opposed the ban, the government decision affected the livelihoods some 75000 women dancers. In 2006, the Bombay High Court had quashed the ban and on 16 July, 2013, the Supreme Court of India upheld the Bombay High Court order.

A press statement signed by several women’s groups and women’s rights activists in India, demanded that the Maharashtra government remedy the gender bias and caste apartheid practiced by its ban on dance bars. According to women’s groups, following the ban, the women dancers had suffered not just massive financial loss but also emotional trauma. Most of them had to withdraw their children from school, as they could not afford the related expenses. In most households, the bar dancers were either the sole or the primary earning member and their family member, including the elderly have not been able to access health care since the women were compelled to stop earning.

Activists also demanded regularization of the working conditions of dance bar women. The Bar Dancers’ Association, Bar Owners’ Associations and women’s organizations had come together to form a grievance cell to look issues arising out of working conditions in dance bars. Women’s groups have demanded that legal authority be granted to this grievance cell so that it could “function as Advisory and Drafting Committee to formulate proper service conditions and look after their implementation…”

Activists strongly condemned police harassment and the act of throwing arrested bar dancers into remand homes. The police began to arrest women indiscriminately during the raids. Some of these women were taken under The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act India (PITA) and put in remand homes. Many of them were languishing in the remand homes in terrible conditions till the intervention by the High Court of Bombay in December 2012. According to activists, these were women who were merely standing and serving drinks, a legal activity even under the law that was struck down by the Supreme Court.

Declaring the government ban as caste apartheid, the press note further stated that a large section of the women dancers come from castes wherein dancing by women of the community was the traditional means of livelihood. “These castes and communities have for generations been denied any opportunity to acquire any other skills. They have been deprived of education and skill-training. In the light of such massive levels of deprivations and denial, most of these women have no other avenue but to enter into their caste based professions. “The Government has made no effort to do away with this caste discrimination. On the contrary, by imposing a ban on dancing in bars, the Government further pushed the women into even greater levels of starvation.”

Women’s groups stressed the need for a long term plan – “a development model that increases rather than reduces options of women. There need to be greater choices for women to choose their livelihood options and employment. Today women and men are forced into occupations that are caste determined, may those be related to sweeping and cleaning, including sewages, carrying of night soil, dance work or sex work.. “It is also the responsibility of the state to devise concrete policies, programs and schemes that aggressively attack the caste system and provide opportunities for people to do work of their liking and choice…”

According to women’s groups, some of the rights that women working in bars need are:

*Monitoring and prevention of entry of children into the bars as dancers or in any other capacity
Safe working conditions and protection against harassment from employers, co-workers, customers, the police and other officials

*Right to dignity and better treatment from employers, co-workers, customers, the police and other officials

*Protection against forced sexual relations and harassment

*Protection against unfair practices of employers and the state

*Right to a fallback minimum remuneration

*Security of earning

*Maternity benefits

*Medical benefits

*Crèche facilities for their children

*Better facilities for good and nutritious food at the dance bar

*Better resting facilities and an agreed upon break time

*Paid weekly off

*Provisions for health and safety

*Access to education, training and acquisition of skill of their choice

*Retirement benefits and post-work life benefits like pensions or superannuation funds.