Archive for November 30, 2013

Feminists condemn right wing attack on Tehelka women journalists

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Indian feminists have issued a statement strongly condemning the BJP and right wing forces for viciously attacking Tehelka journalists in the wake of rape allegation against its former editor, Tarun Tejplal

Full text of the statement:

We condemn the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) lynch mob that attacked Tehelka’s Managing Editor Shoma Chaudhury’s house, physically jostling her at the entrance. Unsurprisingly, the BJP and right-wing forces in general have pounced upon the Tehelka sexual assault case to sweep attention away from the sexual crimes of their own Asaram Bapus and their Sahabs.

While Shoma Chaudhury failed in her responsibility as an employer when approached by an employee complaining of sexual harassment within the organization, she is neither an accomplice nor an accessory to the crime of sexual assault of which the Tehelka Editor Tarun Tejpal is accused.

We also condemn the online harassment meted out to other women employees in Tehelka by the right wing brigade in the internet. Such harassment is only further evidence of the double standards of the right-wing forces who see this attack on the woman journalist as a political opportunity.

Sexual harassment and violence against women respects no political boundaries, and we are appalled that a party responsible for large scale violence against women should present itself as the saviour of women’s rights, and that, through a physical attack on a woman journalist.

We recognize the distasteful political pre-election opportunism at work in these self-righteous stands by an ethically bankrupt party, and demand that Shoma Chaudhury’s safety be assured by the state.

Tehelka sexual assault: Woman journalist issues fresh statement, slams politicians

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The woman journalist who accused former Tehelka Editor-in-Chief Tarun Tejpal of sexually assaulting her issued a new statement today slamming politicians for using her case in their pre-election agendas

I am heartened by the broad support I have received over the past fortnight. However, I am deeply concerned and very disturbed by insinuations that my complaint is part of a pre-election political conspiracy.

I categorically refute such insinuations and put forward the following arguments:
The struggle for women to assert control over their lives and their bodies is most certainly a political one, but feminist politics and its concerns are wider than the narrow universe of our political parties. Thus, I call upon our political parties to resist the temptation to turn a very important discussion about gender, power and violence into a conversation about themselves.

Suggestions that I am acting on someone else’s behest are only the latest depressing indications that sections of our public discourse are unwilling to acknowledge that women are capable to making decisions about themselves for themselves.

In this past week, television commentators who should know better, have questioned my motivations and my actions during and after Mr. Tejpal molested me. Some have questioned the time it took for me to file my complaint, more inquisitive commentators have questioned the use of the word “sexual molestation” versus words like “rape.”

Perhaps the hardest part of this unrelentingly painful experience has been my struggle with taxonomy. I don’t know if I am ready to see myself as a “rape victim”, or for my colleagues, friends, supporters and critics to see me thus. It is not the victim that categorizes crimes: it is the law. And in this case, the law is clear: what Mr. Tejpal did to me falls within the legal definition of rape.

Now that we have a new law that broadens the definition of rape, we should stand by what we fought for.

We have spoken, time and again, about how rape is not about lust or sex, but about power, privilege and entitlement.

Thus this new law should be applicable to everybody – the wealthy, the powerful, and the well connected – and not just to faceless strangers.

As seen by some of the responses to this case, instances of familial and custodial rape present doughty challenges to even the most adamantine feminists.

Unlike Mr. Tejpal, I am not a person of immense means. I have been raised singlehandedly by my mother’s single income. My father’s health has been very fragile for many years now.

Unlike Mr. Tejpal, who is fighting to protect his wealth, his influence and his privilege, I am fighting to preserve nothing except for my integrity and my right to assert that my body is my own and not the plaything of my employer. By filing my complaint, I have lost not just a job that I loved, but much-needed financial security and the independence of my salary. I have also opened myself to personal and slanderous attack. This will not be an easy battle.

In my life, and my writings, I have always urged women to speak out and break the collusive silence that surrounds sexual crime. This crisis has only confirmed the myriad difficulties faced by survivors. First, our utterances are questioned, then our motivations, and finally our strength is turned against us: a politician will issue a statement claiming that speaking out against sexual violence will hurt our professional prospects; an application filed in the Delhi High Court will question why the victim remained “normal”.

Had I chosen silence in this instance, I would not have been able to face either myself or the feminist movement that is forged and renewed afresh by generations of strong women.

Finally, an array of men of privilege have expressed sorrow that Tehelka, the institution, has suffered in this crisis. I remind them that this crisis was caused by the abusive violence of the magazine’s Editor-in-Chief, and not by an employee who chose to speak out.

Thank you everyone for your support.

Sexual assault case: Tehelka sets up inquiry committee

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In the wake of the alleged sexual assault of a Tehelka journalist by her editor, the magazine institutes a Complaint Committee to conduct inquiry

By Team FI

Following media reports and protests regarding the weekly news magazine Tehelka’s response to the accusation of assault and sexual harassment made against its editor Tarun Tejpal, the managing editor of Tehelka, Shoma Chaudhury, has released a statement stating that “Tehelka has now constituted a formal complaints committee, in accordance to Vishaka guidelines.”

As per the mail send by an employee to the managing editor of the magazine, Shoma Chaudhary, the assault took place on November 7 and 8 during the Tehelka Think Tank, held in Panaji, Goa. Tejpal had allegedly accosted the employee in a lift while returning from their professional duties. It is clear from the allegations made in the complaint letter that Tarun Tejpal had threatened the employee that complying to him would mean keeping her job, ““Well, this is the easiest way for you to keep your job,” he had stated when she protested against the assault.

The management had referred to the sexual assault issue as an “internal” matter and Tarun Tejpal had recused himself from the magazine for six months for “atonement and penance.” This despite the fact that the complainant had asked the management for an inquiry to be conducted into the matter.

Organisations such as the Network of Women in Media (NWMI) and the Indian Women’s Press Corps had condemned the incident and the management response to it. NWMI had in a press release stated that Tarun Tejpal’s “actions go beyond sexual harassment and fall under the definition of sexual assault, according the new Criminal Law Amendment, 2013.” The organisation rejecting his offer of atonement demanded that, “Institutional mechanisms must be set in place to investigate the complaint of sexual assault, prosecute the perpetrator, and deal with future cases.”

NWMI stated that according to law the employer is responsible for ensuring an environment free of sexual harassment and is legally bound to assist any employee who wishes to pursue criminal prosecution. A fact that management at Tehelka had failed to do.

A suo moto “preliminary inquiry” has also been ordered by the Goa government on Thursday, 21st November into the allegations. The Goa Police has asked for a copy of this complaint to be handed over to them since that is needed for the FIR to be registered. They also pointed out that Shoma Chaudhary should have brought the complaint to the police as she was “legally bound to”.

Sexual harassment cases have being increasing visible with complaints being made against media houses, politicians and even the judiciary. Pointing out the recent experiences in Sun TV, Doordarshan and All India Radio, which has revealed that not only private media organisations but even the state/public broadcasters were not compliant with the law, the NWMI had demanded that “a Complaints Committee be set up by all media houses, including Tehelka, to deal with sexual harassment at the workplace.”

According to Chaudhary’s statement, Tehelka’s complaints committee “is to be presided over by Urvashi Butalia, eminent feminist and publisher, to investigate the matter. The other members of the committee will be announced shortly. In addition to this, Tehelka will ensure setting up a formal complaints committee, according to section 4 of the Sexual Harassment of Women (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal Act, 2013), an institutional mechanism that was sorely missing in Tehelka.”

Golden Mother Award: A paean to patriarchy?

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Students, academia and women’s groups protest Calicut University’s attempt to glorify women achievers primarily as mothers

By Team FI

The Golden Mother Award instituted by the University of Calicut, kerala has come under fire from students, members of academia and women activists in Kerala and across the country.

A petition to be submitted to Prof. M. Abdul Salam, Vice-Chancellor, and the Members of the Syndicate of the University calling for the withdrawal of the Award, labeled it a “blatantly patriarchal, anti-woman, anti-democratic and a move that pulls society back to the mores of a traditional morality.”

Within the state of Kerala, women students are said to be in the forefront with activists including K Ajitha and women rights and human rights organisations such as Kerala Streevedi, AIDWA and Kerala Shastra Sahitya Parishat joining the protests. The academic community have also submitted petitions to the Vice Chancellor.

What has raised the ire of the protestors is the glorification of a woman achiever primarily as a ‘Mother’, which the petition feels, implies that a woman’s place is at home and that her principal responsibility (and her alone) is giving birth to children and rearing them.

The Award is supposedly set to highlight the “the contribution of mothers to societal development and nation building and to provide exemplary models to youngsters.”

Only those women who are mothers and in the age group of 50+ and who are actively contributing to their domains of service will be considered for awards in eighteen categories such as Art, Literature, Teaching, Social work, Politics, Administration, Media, Sports, Agriculture, Entrepreneurship, Engineering, Medicine, Research, Law and judiciary, Police and Banking. Ironically, its the Centre for Women’s Studies at the University that will be accepting nominations.

Author Taslima Nasrin called the University ‘an institution of nonsense patriachy’ in her blog: No country for women.

“It’s not a university’s responsibility to encourage women to become mothers. University should encourage women to become dignified personalities, independent and respected human beings. It is totally women’s personal matter whether they want to reproduce. Like a conservative patriarchal guardian Calicut University crossed the university boundary and entered women’s private bedrooms,” writes Nasreen. It has also been questioned whether the University’s can create such an Award for allegedly its Statutes itself has not empowered it.

As per the petition this Award goes against the UGC Guidelines for Development of Women’s Studies in Indian Universities and Colleges. The UGC Guidelines include the objectives of “the development of an interdisciplinary theoretical framework and a perspective to transform other disciplines to feminist perspectives, the formation of planning strategies that account for women’s particular role in the formulation of policy in establishing a just and secular society in India, the creation of scholars and activists to make more visible the issues of women from dalit, tribal, labouring and minority religious communities, and the empowerment of women in Panchayati Raj Institutions and public institutions including universities and colleges.”

Instead, the Award ignores “the contemporary feminist conceptions of motherhood as a primarily biological affair that is made problematic by conditions of poverty, deprivation and societal violence. In ignoring new forms of motherhood and parentage such as adoption, single mothers, etc., it also affirms elitist, upper-caste, patriarchal conceptions of family and womanhood,” says the petition.

Featured photo courtesy: Gelnn Brown, Flickr