Archive for December 30, 2013

Activists call for Parliament to pass the Disability Rights Bill

disability-rights-india

Disability rights groups are holding a candle light vigil on the eve of New Year in major cities in India demanding that the Parliament reconvene and pass the Disability Rights Bill

By Team FI

Disability rights activists have called for a candle light vigil across the country on December 31, to raise awareness and create a political will that will ensure a legislative guarantee for the Rights of People with Disability to be protected.

In a statement issued by the disability rights organisations, activists stated that they are deeply anguished over the manner in which the political class has consistently ignored the pleas of 70 million Indians with disabilities as they are simply not a vote bank.

In 2007, India signed and ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. As a consequence of ratification India was to modify its domestic laws to bring them in consonance with the Convention.

It took four years, from 2007 to 2011, to create the draft of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill. However, it was finally approved by the Cabinet on 12th December, 2013. With the Parliament being adjourned sine die last week, the hope of having the bill passed was lost.

Activists fear that Parliament may not reconvene for legislative business anytime early next year with the General Elections on the horizon and this would mean that their effort over the last six years will “will go down the drain and the Disability Rights Bill will get consigned to the dustbin of history.”

They feel that if following the example of the Lokpal Bill, the Congress and the Opposition come together and show some political will, the Parliament can be reconvened in January and the Disability Rights Bill can be tabled and perhaps even be passed.

The Disability Rights Bill is apolitical. It will ensure rights for persons with disabilities instead of charity. All that is needed is for the Parliament to be convened even for a day so that the Bill can be tabled and secured

The statement have put out a call for the citizens of India to join them in mobilising a campaign that would ensure that the Disability Rights Bill gets converted to a Disability Rights Act.

Devyani Khobragade Case: Defense strategy deviates from core issue of labour rights

Domestic-workers-at-NY-Indian-Embassy

The Domestic Workers’ Forum, India and New Trade Union Initiative (NTUI) argue that the recent defense strategy of Devyani Khobgrade – that of the visa application being misread – does not take away the criminal charges against her and demands that the Indian Government respect and recognise the rights of domestic workers both at home and abroad

Feministsindia is publishing the full text of the statement here:

In the most recent turn of events, Devyani Khobragade’s attorney Daniel Arshack has argued that there has been a major error with regard to reading the visa application documents, and that Ms. Khobragade’s salary of $4500 has been mistakenly understood to be that of her domestic worker Sangeeta Richard.

Arshack has claimed that in visa application form for Sangeeta (DS-160), $4500 may be the figure mentioned in the box asking for salary of the employer (in this case Ms. Khobragade). This may have been mistakenly read as the intended salary of the domestic worker.

As recent news reports indicate, this claim has also been supported by a screenshot of the visa application form, indicating that Preet Bharara’s office may have misread the visa form.

In this statement, we investigate the implications of this latest development for the deeper underlying charges laid down in the official complaint against Ms. Khobragade, and if there was a misreading, whether that constitutes valid ground for the charges to be dropped.

According to a news report, “Khobragade is said to have helped Sangeeta fill up DS-160 around October 15, 2012. On November 11 the same year, the diplomat and her maid signed the state department mandated employment contract, which guaranteed Sangeeta an hourly wage of $9.75, indicating certain benefits and stating that impermissible deductions would not be made. It projected an average of 40 working hours per week (approximately a salary of $1560 per month) and stipulated off days and other details, all as required by the US state department for receiving the A-3 visa”.

The news report further states that Sangeeta is later said to have asked for a second employment contract, requesting that her basic salary of Rs. 30,000 be transferred to her husband’s account in Delhi, as he was unemployed. A separate employment contract was, thus, signed between Ms. Khobragade and Ms. Richard on November 23, 2012, guaranteeing this.

The report further notes, “According to government sources, Khobragade fulfilled all her commitments in the form of $560 (or Rs 30,000 transferred to Sangeeta’s bank account in India every month), another $375 as deducted from the salary to pay for her chargeable utilities like telephone usage, cable TV, non-work related conveyance, expenses and another $625 given in cash, occasionally with signed receipts. As there were several months where the weekly hours fell well below 40 working hours, the cash payment was apparently adjusted accordingly”.

We argue that this claim takes attention away from the core charges against Ms. Khobragade, as per the text of the original complaint against her. We must not forget that as per the original complaint against her, she is accused of lying on the visa form about payments to her domestic worker, and drawing up a second unlawful contract. Those charges cannot be brushed away irrespective of whether $4500 was mistakenly read as the intended salary of the maid.

Criminal charges against Ms. Khobragade
The criminal charges against Ms. Khobragade allege she lied on official documents submitted to obtain an A-3 visa for her domestic help and never intended to comply with the terms of the employment contract set therein. Ms. Khobragade is known to have obtained an A-3 visa for her domestic help, for which she submitted an employment contract that listed her hourly wage as $9.75, as per the prevailing wage. She is accused of later signing a second unlawful contract, which was concealed from the U.S. authorities, and which attempted to revoke rights guaranteed by the first contract and by U.S. law. The second contract did not list fair hours or working conditions/duties, and held that Ms.Richard would be paid a maximum of 30,000 rupees per month (about $3.31/hour) – an expected monthly salary of Rs. 25,000 per month, and an additional Rs. 5,000 for overtime. Ms. Richard has alleged that she was instructed not to mention anything about the second contract in her visa interview, and maintain that she would be paid the hourly wage of $9.75, and that she would work 40 hours per week.

The charges that led to her arrest are based on the differences in the two contracts, the second of which fell way below U.S minimum wage regulations, and are also driven by Ms. Khobragade’s alleged treatment of Ms. Richard. Ms. Khobragade has been accused of making Ms. Richard work for more than 40 hours a week, from morning until late at night, seven days week, amounting to a wage of less than $3 an hour.

Sangeeta worked very long hours
Ms. Richard’s lawyer, Dana Sussman, a staff attorney at Safe Horizon, a New York based non-profit working with victims of trafficking, has argued that “she essentially worked very long hours, was isolated within the home, and attempted to ask for more time off, ask for more reasonable hours, but those attempts to resolve the issues were unsuccessful.” In a petition to the Delhi High court filed in July 2013, Phillip Richard, Sangeeta’s husband alleged, “Even though the contract stipulated that Sunday would be an off-day she worked from 6 am to 11 pm, minus 2 hours for church even on Sunday. She worked from 6 am to 11 pm on Saturday as well.” He has argued that “the treatment of Sangeeta by Devyani Khobragade is tantamount to keeping a person in slavery-like conditions or keeping a person in bondage”.

The family has further alleged that Ms. Khobragade confiscated Ms. Richard’s passport upon her arrival in the U.S, and turned down her requests to be sent back to India, indicating a coercive situation for the domestic worker. Ms. Richard, who worked with Ms. Khobragade from around November 2012 to June 2013, left the house after her requests were turned down, as she could no longer stand the miserable working conditions. It is claimed that she left with clothes on her back, and very little money, and lived off help from the Indian American community, through whom she eventually connected with Safe Horizon. In addition to the charges of non-payment of minimum wages and disregard for fair working hours, the ones that have surfaced with regard to confiscation of passport, turning down Ms. Richard’s requests to be sent back to India, and retaliation and threats by Ms. Khobragade to Ms. Richard and her family in India indicate a coercive labour situation, and collectively rise to the level of labour trafficking.

Driving attention away from core charges
By zeroing down upon the figure of $4500 as a misinterpretation, Ms. Khobragade’s attorney is seeking to divert attention from the underlying charges against her, which are based on the fact that there was a ‘second’ unlawful contract, indicating that Ms. Khobragade never intended to pay her domestic worker as per U.S laws. Further, the claim that her salary amount was adjusted partly by payments to her family in India, and partly adjusted towards her living expenses and chargeable utilities in the U.S, is once again violative of U.S laws. For, a careful reading of the text of the complaint against Ms. Khobragade, which is also clearly referenced against the required terms of an employment contract under an A-3 visa, indicates that, “The contract must state that after the first 90 days of employment, all wage payments must be made by check or by electronic transfer to the domestic worker’s bank account. Neither Mission members nor their family members should have access to domestic workers’ bank accounts… Further, the bank account must be in the United States so that domestic workers may readily access and utilize their wages.”

All this once again draws attention to the case that Ms. Khobragade clearly misrepresented the terms of the employment contract, and that this misrepresentation goes way beyond the figure of $4500. It lies in the forging of a second employment contract that was violative of U.S laws, in Ms. Khobragade’s treatment of Ms. Richard, and in the manner of transaction of payments, which are compounded by the allegations of threat and coercion.

This case, and the subsequent reactions to it, once again highlights the need for greater protections for domestic workers across the world and the role of their home countries and the countries where they work.

In the shadow of a groundbreaking international covenant on domestic worker rights at the International Labor Organization, it is unfortunate that domestic workers like Sangeeta continue to face extreme exploitation and retaliation from employers. And when they work for consular officials and diplomats, too often their home countries actually act to defend the rights of their abusers.

We urge the Indian Government to reverse its course and take a human rights position going forward. Specifically, we demand that the Indian government:

1) Stop blocking the prosecution of Ms. Khobragade and waive any applicable immunity so that the case against Ms. Khobragade can move forward in the U.S. courts;

2) Respect and recognise the rights of domestic workers at home and abroad;

3) Enact a Comprehensive National Level Legislation to protect the rights of domestic workers

4) Ratify ILO Convention 189 -Domestic Workers Convention 2011

Statement prepared by: New Trade Union Initiative (NTUI) and Domestic Workers’ Forum – India, (NDWFI)

Featured Photo: Domestic workers protest outside the Indian consulate in New York

Pascal Mazurier child abuse case: Letter of a child yearning for justice

Pascal Mazurier child abuse

Suja Jones, the Indian mother who took her French husband to court for allegedly raping their three and half year old daughter, read out a letter written by her child at an event for raising public awareness about child sexual abuse

By Team FI

On the day of Christmas, a candle light vigil was held in Bangalore to raise public awareness against child sexual abuse. The vigil, which started at 6 pm and attended by 80-odd people, was organised particularly to express solidarity with the ongoing legal fight of a four and half year old girl child, who was allegedly subjected to sexual abuse by her influential French father when she was just three and half years old.

The father of the child, Pascal Mazurier who works for the Ministry of External Affairs, France and is posted at their consulate in Bangalore, is now facing trial for raping his daughter. Suja Jones, the Indian mother, is facing systematic character assassination by the powerful and privileged husband, his friends and men’s rights activists in India. She is being targeted for protecting her children by keeping him and his family away from the child who is still traumatised by the incestuous abuse.

At the event, a letter voicing the child’s anguish, written with the help of a large network of people’s / women’s movements, was read out in English and Kannada.

Feministsindia is reproducing the full text of the Letter of a child yearning for justice.

I am a child yearning for Justice
I thank you for taking this time to listen to my voice, and to hear my deep cry.

I stand as the voice of all those children who have faced sexual abuse in their lives

I speak for the children whose lives are marred because of violence against our bodies; our spirit

My future stands blurred because the memory of violence follows like a shadow over my head.

I am the child who faced violence at the hands of one, who I trusted and loved,

Who stood before me as a strong ground, and as one on whom I very much depended on to teach what is right and wrong,

I could not cry out against him as he was my own father, one whom others also loved…

I did not know how to differentiate between what is acceptable and what cannot be pardoned.

The pain of the abuse that I experienced repeatedly in secret came to the fore one fine day

When my plea “please don’t hurt me there” was once again drowned in the loudness of my own cry…

I could bear it no longer and wondered if I would survive to share this horror story

Of a scarred body and spirit – only three and a half years old – to which you could add a decade to every year!

Listen friends; I speak to each one of you who stand here today: the choice that YOU have

To either address my pain and divide it … or multiply it by your stunning silence, passivity, and ignorance

Do you know there are thousands like me who want their beloved society to understand…

That the scales of justice would work better, if only it would listen to the truth of our experience?

If I have gathered courage to speak today against all forms of violence against children, especially sexual abuse

It is because I believe that human beings can change for the better and realize their utter common oneness.

If Christmas day is celebrated as the day when Jesus the Christ child was born into this world to bring peace

We, as children, need your help, partnership and support to usher in new ways of building a Just Community.
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Written with the support of a large network of People’s / Women’s Movements including Vimochana, Praja Rajakiya Vedike (PRV), All India Progressive Women’s Association (AIPWA), Aneka, Bangalore Birth Network, FeministsIndia, Jana Vikasa, Jeeva, Karnataka Sex Workers Union (KSWU), Karnataka Sexual Minorities Forum (KSMF), Samara, Secularism Is A Women’s Issue – international network, Siloam Girls Boarding Home, South Asia Citizens Web, Swaraj Network, Student Christian Movement of India (SCMI), UTC Women’s Studies Department, Women’s Initiative for Citizenship and Universal Rights and many others

Featured photo: candle light vigil outside Town Hall building, Bangalore

Related article: Solidarity campaign for Suja Jones and child

No takers for golden mother award, Calicut University calls it off

Calicut- university-golden-mother-award

Feminists and students call victory as Calicut University postpones the blatantly patriarchal golden mother award

By Team FI

The Golden Mother Award instituted by the University of Calicut, Kerala has been postponed. The insufficient number of nominations was given as a reason for this postponement. It is reported that only 46 applications were received despite the deadline was extended three times.

University students and staff who campaigned against the anti woman award feel that this decision to postpone the award was a direct impact of the protests from feminist groups, students organisations, media and academic community.

The University’s decision to grant Golden Mother awards to “successful working mother” had drawn flak from feminists, students and the academia. Women activists had submitted a petition to the Vice-Chancellor, M. Abdul Salam and had alleged that the award was an attempt to glorify women achievers primarily as mothers.

According to the University, the award was set to highlight the “the contribution of mothers to societal development and nation building and to provide exemplary models to youngsters.”

Scrap Article 377, defend LGBT /queer rights

LGBT-rights-India

The apex court’s decision to uphold the constitutionality of IPC 377 that criminalises gay sex is a massive blow to the very cornerstone of democracy-pluralism

By Soma Marik

In 1895, during the trial of Oscar Wilde, the German socialist Eduard Bernstein wrote a few articles in the German Social Democratic press on the issue. While confused by today’s standards, Bernstein made a few cogent points. On the view that same sex relations were unnatural, Bernstein commented:

“Our entire cultural existence, our mode of life from morning to night is a constant offence against nature, against the original preconditions of our existence. If it was only a question of what was natural, then the worst sexual excess would be no more objectionable than, say, writing a letter – for conducting social intercourse through the medium of the written word is far further removed from nature than any way as yet known of satisfying the sexual urge. Have there not been observed among animals (usually amongst domestic and captive animals, of course, but these are still significantly closer to nature than man himself) and amongst so-called natural peoples practices relieving the sexual urge which would colloquially be termed, “unnatural”?

He went on to argue that in reality, in most civilised countries, sexual intercourse, while formally being described as being related to the propagation of new generations, was actually conducted for pleasure, and was “unnatural” in the sense that all attempts were usually taken to ensure that childbirths did not result from the act.

Bernstein used the word “abnormal” in preference to “unnatural”, suggesting that this was a deviation from the norm. He suggested that there was a need to understand the history of same sex relations rather than to condemn it. In particular, he made out an extremely strong argument. It is the male same sex relation that has been the prime target. Both English and German law condemned this. Anal sex perpetrated between two men was a criminal offence, as it indeed still is, in terms of Article 377 of the Indian Penal Code. But quoting Kraft-Ebbing, Bernstein showed that Prussian law did not punish sodomy when one partner was a woman. As he argued, this latter was most often carried out on women who had no say in the matter, so that it was in fact “inferior” (in his words) to such a relationship between two males. The rise of the “paternal-right family” meant the woman’s body was of little consequence. If she was a prostitute, the state in Prussia oversaw the health of her sex organs to the extent that if a man infected her with a sexually transmitted disease, she was kept locked up. But how a man, whether the husband or the customer, used a woman’s body was of supreme unconcern to the state.

Bernstein’s authority being Kraft-Ebbing, he had the problem of viewing same-sex relations as a medical or psychological issue. Despite that, a century and eighteen years back, he, and a large part of the SPD, were involved in the campaign for the abolition of punishment for homosexual relations.

118 years later, the Supreme Court of India as well as the entire range of Indian political parties have shown their inability to grasp this. Bernstein had grasped, however imperfectly, that hetero-sexism is rooted in the heterosexual, patriarchal family relations. Under capitalist conditions, the family of this kind is important for the perpetuation of class divisions from one generation to the next. It provides a cheap and ideologically acceptable mechanism for reproducing human labour. This involves using unpaid, and overwhelmingly female labour in the family to care for the young, the old, as well as for the male working adult. Monogamous, heterosexual love as a compulsion is a central aspect of the family system as it exists. The state and its laws, the medical and psychiatric establishments, much of the educational system, are all tailored to promote procreative heterosexuality and to stigmatize and suppress other forms of sexuality, often described as abnormal, irresponsible, or medical cases.

Marxist responses subsequently to start with Engels varied from hostility, indifference, and deprioritization. Since the 1970s different currents of Marxists have been compelled to take up the LGBT issue seriously as a political issue. The Fourth International argued in 2003:

“As long as society is organized in a way which assumes that many basic needs will be met within the family, all those who are marginalized from it or choose not to live in it will have difficulty in meeting their needs. This family form under capitalism presupposes and reproduces a heterosexual norm, which pervades the state and society and is oppressive to anyone who deviates from it. As long as heterosexual love is the basis for forming a family, people whose emotional and sexual lives revolve largely around same-sex love are marginalized from family life. As long as the family is a central place where children are raised, lesbian/gay/ bisexual/transgendered children will grow up alienated – even more than children and young people in general are alienated in the family; and children’s access to adults, especially unmarried adults, and other children to whom they are not biologically related will often be limited. As long as only heterosexual desire and romance permeate capitalist consumer culture, LGBT people will feel invisible. As long as heterosexuality is defined as the norm by the state and medical and psychiatric establishments, LGBT people will be explicitly or implicitly discriminated against and marginalized. Repressive laws and widespread social discrimination intensify this oppression in most parts of the world, but repealing repressive laws and combating social discrimination will not by themselves eliminate it”.

In India, the LGBTQ community is mostly hidden. The Telegraph, reporting the SC judgement, suggested the figure of 12 million for a possible size of this community. In course of the case, Suresh Kumar Kaushal & Another v. Naz Foundation & Others, attempts were made to present before the Supreme Court a mass of evidence concerning discrimination, harassment, and torture faced by LGBT persons.

The Supreme Court, in striking down the Delhi High Court judgement, has argued that the High Court had relied too much on foreign judgements, which cannot be applied to the Indian context. This is not the first time that judgements in foreign courts have been discussed by Indian courts. So this insularity has to do with a political orientation, regardless of the formal words uttered. In that case, what the Supreme Court is deferring to, is the socially constructed and maintained conservatism. This finds striking confirmation in the utterances of Baba Ramdev, the BJP, and the Darul Uloom Deoband. For Ramdev and the BJP this is a western aberration that has no space in “Indian tradition”. For the Darul Uloom Deoband deputy Vice Chancellor Maulana Abul Khlik Madrasi, “Homosexuality is an offence under Islamic law and ‘haram’ [prohibited] in Islam”.

The apex court has upheld the constitutionality of IPC 377 by rejecting the constitutional validity of Articles 14, 15 and 21 of our constitution. By this it had written off the very cornerstone of democracy,—-pluralism.

The court distinguishes between “those who indulge in carnal intercourse in the ordinary course” and “those who indulge in carnal intercourse against the order of nature”. The Court says that therefore section 377 is not classified irrationally or arbitrarily. In other words, the Supreme Court is opposed to sex against the “order of nature”. But in that case, should the Supreme Course not oppose, in a spasm of judicial activism, the Government of India’s decades long birth control or the so–called ‘population control’ campaigns? Sex using condoms, sex after various measures to ensure that women do not get pregnant? Is not it going to the extent of authorising the policing of sex lives to check whether fellatio is committed?

The Supreme Court has also argued that the LGBT community is a very small community. So it seems that if a community is sufficiently small, then being a minority confers no assistance. Rather, if you are a small enough minority, then your rights can be violated with impunity since that does not disturb the public peace. The Court cites the fact that there have been only a handful of convictions as proof the community is small. It prefers to ignore how the police routinely harass, take bribes, etc, when it sees same sex activities. The fact that the existence of the law acts as a perpetual threat to the LGBT community is totally ignored.

The court also rejects the claims that Article 377 leads to violation of the right to privacy, the right to bodily integrity and sexual choice and the right to live with dignity. The cases cited by the court have been extremely confused. Of course, the women’s movement has long opposed certain uses of the argument of privacy, for e.g., when it is used to hide rape of a wife by a husband. But that is not the concern of the SC. Ignoring the fact that what was under the scanner was consensual sex between two adults, the SC cited a case where a doctor had disclosed the HIV positive nature of his patient to her fiancée. In that case, it had been correctly held that privacy was subordinate to the right of health and freedom of others. But changing the scope of Article 377 to remove consenting adults from its purview does not come under this head. Once again, if two consenting adults have any kind of sexual relations, whose health and freedom is negatively affected?

The strategy of over-reliance on judiciary can sometime be counter-productive. To cite two landmark cases, the Supreme Court did not come out with a rights perspective for the marginals. It had rejected the Narmada Bachao Andolan plea, and had acquitted the accused in the Mathura Rape Case. If we focus on the elite, if we focus on well-paid lawyers arguing in courts, we cannot expect a wider discourse of rights to be articulated or honoured. To rely on NGOs, to lobby, cannot go far when fundamental social issues are involved. And at the beginning of this essay that is what we argue. To decriminalise and recognise the equality of same sex relations is detrimental to fundamental interests of the ruling elite.

Lesbian/gay liberation is part of a broader, human liberation we are fighting for

We cannot fight for full rights for LGBTs and think that we do not need to fight for the immediate scrapping of the AFSPA. Even closer to the community itself, the ‘queer movement’ of the subcontinent has to look at the queer who are poor, who are not from the upper castes, who are non-urban. To get rights one has to fight for rights, not just lobby for rights. Lobbying can get little advantages for small segments. Full equality cannot be gained other than by mass struggles. It is when there are mass struggles that courts, legislatures, have shown themselves to be willing to be positive. This is not a call for rejecting court battles, but a call to recognise that if we want, not slight gains for small sections of LGBTs, but full equality, then we need to fight for it.

One needs to be grateful for the SC nonetheless, for it has forced into the open the issue of LGBTs. One is grateful also to the BJP, for having come out openly, showing that it is reactionary across the board. But what about the hypocrites in the mainstream parties who are today suddenly concerned about LGBT rights? Much calculation goes into their stances. The Congress has today declared it will bring legislation or push for ordinance. Where was it all these years, especially in periods when it enjoyed comfortable parliamentary majorities? Clearly, at best, the Liberals on the Right wanted to let the courts decide. To take up the cause of alternative sexualities risked losing votes, which they were not keen to do. The reason for Rahul Gandhi’s sudden concern is not far to see. The Deobandis have already declared that they are not particularly keen to take the side of Congress against the BJP. Meanwhile the Delhi elections have shown that the younger generation and the middle class generally has rubbed the Congress out. So this is a desperate gesture to try and regain some support. At the same time, it is quite a safe gesture. The government will either try for a “curative petition” (i.e., again ask the Supreme Court) or ask Parliament, a very safe option since in the current parliament the bill cannot be driven through with a party whip, as not enough parties are openly for the decriminalization of alternative sexualities, so that the congress gets left-liberal approval without antagonising its other potential voters too much.

Nor, sadly, are those whose stated agenda are for social change fully behind the struggles of the LGBTs. The AIDWA demonstrated criticising the Supreme Court. Yet it was also the same AIDWA that had criticised the World March for Women, because in the AIDWA’s opinion, the WMW was wrong in putting LGBT rights upfront along with issues like economic security. Biman Bose, the CPI(M) leader and Chairperson of the Left Front in West Bengal, was blunt. He is on record as having said that there is no hurry as there are more important issues. In other words, the Left is unable to understand that pushing LGBTs back to the closet will be worse for LGBTs from socially deprived sectors.

The women’s rights movement has also not always taken up LGBT rights sufficiently seriously, or in a sufficiently central way. One can think of moments when one has seen LGBT organisations visibly distressed by the reluctance of the sectors of the women’s movements one has participated in, to foreground LGBT rights.

The LGBT movement, likewise, has to recognise that political rights and civil liberties are indeed indivisible

If we fight for civil and political rights, we cannot afford to be sectoral. One cannot say that one is supporting the rights of people of Manipur but not someone accused of being a Maoist. Likewise, one cannot desire rights for LGBTs but say that one is unconcerned about the rights of others. It is by building popular alliances, by launching peoples’ struggles, that we can win. And we cannot fight purely on the terrain of courts.

Soma marik is a member of Nari Nirjatan Pratirodh Mancha and visiting Professor at School of Women’s Studies, Jadavpur University

Ganguly must go, demand women’s groups

Justice-ganguli

Chairs of Rights bodies must be above reproach

By Team FI

Women’s rights groups and activists have issued a statement demanding the removal of retired justice Ganguly from the chairmanship of West Bengal Human Rights Commission following a law intern accusing him of sexually harassing her.

Full text of the statement:
Exactly one year ago, the gang-rape of a young woman triggered immense outrage across the board, putting freedom from rape and sexual assault at the forefront of public debate. From law reform to overhaul of institutions of justice delivery, from media sensitization to public awareness, women’s safety is now squarely on the public agenda, thanks to mass protests. Ironically, a young lawyer revealed that during those very protests, on 24 December 2012, a retired judge of the highest court of the land had sexually harassed her while she was working with him as an intern, and that she was able to speak about it only ten months later.

According to her statement, Justice (Retd) A.K. Ganguly currently the Chairman of the West Bengal Human Rights Commission after insisting that she work on an assignment with him at a hotel in Delhi late in the evening said, “’You know that I’m attracted to you, don’t you? You must be thinking, what, this old man is getting drunk and saying such things. But I really like you, I love you’. When I tried to move away, he kissed my arm and repeated that he loved me.” This is not merely inappropriate behavior by a senior over junior staff or interns; it is not merely over-stepping of boundaries; it is not merely a friendly overture: such acts constitute a clear case of abuse of power and sexual harassment at the workplace which are against the law.

Today, we fight to ensure that sexual harassment of women at the workplace is regarded not only as illegal, but also unacceptable and intolerable. We also struggle to ensure that public institutions maintain their credibility and only individuals of the highest integrity and an impeccable record of upholding human rights are at their helm. Unfortunately, Justice (Retired) A.K. Ganguly is not such a person, with ample prima facie evidence of his having sexually harassed a young woman with impunity.

Following the young woman lawyer’s shocking revelations of sexual harassment by Justice Ganguly, a Committee of three judges of the Supreme Court on 28 November put forth its conclusion that the statement of the intern both written and oral, “prima facie discloses an act of unwelcome behavior (unwelcome verbal/ non verbal conduct of sexual nature) by Mr. Justice ( Retd.) A.K. Ganguly with her in the room in hotel Le Meridien on 24.12.2012 approximately between 8.00 P.M. and 10.30 P.M.”

Justice K. Ganguly has refused to step down from his position as the Chairman of the West Bengal Human Rights Commission, on the grounds that he has not been found guilty by an appropriate court. However, it must be noted that he occupies an office of trust, which demands that the character of the individual must be above reproach, until his name is honorably cleared of all allegations. Otherwise, the credibility of the institution is itself at stake, and the message communicated is: women’s rights do not matter.

Today, we demand that the government assure the women of India and particularly young women entering the workforce, that they will step into a workplace free of sexual harassment, where no form of sexual violence will be condoned, irrespective of the stature or rank of the perpetrator. The State must vindicate the constitutional promise to women of a life with dignity, by breaching the impunity for sexual wrongs. Protection of human rights must include the upholding of women’s rights and the bodily integrity and dignity of women, in keeping with Constitutional guarantees as well as international commitments under the CEDAW.

We therefore demand:

(i) The Prime Minister must request the Hon’ble President of India to make a reference to the Supreme Court of India to initiate proceedings under Section 23 of the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993, for the removal of Justice (Retd) AK Ganguly as Chair of the West Bengal Human Rights Commission.
(ii) Those heading public institutions must adhere to the highest standards of personal conduct and integrity in order to uphold the credibility and effectiveness of these institutions. Adherence to these standards must be not only criteria for selection but also an integral part of the code of conduct to continue in office.

Signed:

1. Aarthi Pai, Centre for Advocacy on Stigma and Marginalisation (CASAM)
2. Anagha Sarpotdar Practitioner and Researcher (Violence Against Women), Mumbai
3. Aruna Burte, Solapur
4. Dr. Kaveri R I, Neuroscientist, Hyderabad Central University, Hyderabad
5. Geeta Seshu, Journalist, Mumbai
6. Jhuma Sen, Assistant Professor, Jindal Global Law School
7. Kalpana Mehta, Manasi, Indore.
8. Kalyani Menon-Sen, Feminist Learning Partnerships, Gurgaon
9. Kamayani Bali Mahabal, Feminist and Human rights activist, Mumbai
10. Laxmi Murthy, journalist, Bangalore
11. Maithreyi Mulupuru, Visiting Professor, National Law School of India University
12. Mary E John, Centre for Women’s Development Studies, New Delhi
13. Purwa Bharadwaj, Delhi
14. Rajashri Dasgupta, Journalist, Kolkata
15. Rakhi Sehgal, Hero Honda Theka Mazdoor Sangathan, Haryana
16. Ratna Appnender, lawyer, New Delhi.
17. Suneeta Dhar, Jagori, Delhi
18. Vani Subramanian, Saheli, Delhi
19. Vimochana, Forum for Women’s Rights, Bangalore
20. Vrinda Grover, lawyer, Delhi

A year after Delhi gang rape

Anti-rape-protest-India

By Team FI

As as per figures by the Delhi Government, 1,330 cases of rape were recorded in the capital city until October this year compared to 706 in 2012 while molestation cases have gone up from 727 to 2844. Only one case that of the Delhi gang rape, has resulted in conviction

On December 16, 2012, six men brutally assaulted and raped a young woman in the capital of India, Delhi. Her story invoked national shame and evoked outrage across the country. Protests broke out and the streets of Delhi were shut down as students, men, and women took to the streets.

Fifteen days later, six fast-track courts were set up to deal with cases of sexual assault.

On January 23, 2013, exactly a month after it was constituted the Justice Verma Commission (headed by the late Justice J S Verma, former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court with the other two members being Justice Leila Seth, former judge of the High Court and Gopal Subramanium, former Solicitor General of India) submitted its recommendations regarding amendments to the Criminal Law. The recommendations were drafted after extensive consultations with women and human rights groups in the country and suggestions from the public.

Among others, the recommendations stated rape and sexual assault were an expression of power and rape should include any non-consensual penetration of a sexual nature. The exception to marital rape in the IPC (the IPC considered intercourse without consent as rape except within a marriage) should be removed. While the former recommendations were present in the Criminal Law Amendments Bill, 2013, passed in April 2013, which amended the Indian Penal Code (IPC) the latter of marital rape was not.

It recommended that non-penetrative sexual contact be considered as sexual assault and that sexual gratification as a motive need not be prerequisite as proof of offence and the act be punishable with 5 years of imprisonment. Rejecting the death penalty as not good enough a deterrent to serious crimes, it recommended life imprisonment for rape. The Criminal Law Amendments however provides for death penalty in the “rarest of rare” cases. The Bill also criminalised offences like causing grievous hurt through acid attack, sexual harassment, use of criminal force on a woman with intent to disrobe, voyeurism and stalking.

Sections inserted after section 166 of the Penal Code, stated that (166A). if a public servant “knowingly disobeys” the law and fails to record FIR under sub-section (1) of section 154 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, they shall be punished with rigorous imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than six months but which may extend to two years, and shall also be liable to fine.

In September 2013, four of the rapists Mukesh Singh, Vinay Sharma, Akshay Thakur and Pawan Gupta were found guilty and sentenced to death. Earlier in March, one of the accused Ram Singh was found dead in his cell in prison. In August, another of the accused was given the maximum sentence according to his minor status which was three years in a reform facility.

The year 2013 ends with two high profile cases, a case of rape registered against Tarun Tejpal, of Tehelka magazine based on the complaint of a junior employee and of sexual harassment against former justice A K Ganguly based on the complaint of an intern. As of date women groups are demanding that the Prime Minister that Ganguly be removed from the position of themselves Chairman of the West Bengal Human Rights Commission. Tejpal is in police custody.

The fact remains however that as per figures submitted to the Supreme Court by the Delhi Government in October this year 1,330 cases of rape were recorded in the capital city until October 15, 2013 as compared to 706 in 2012 while molestation cases have gone up from 727 to 2844. Only one case that of the Delhi gang rape (Nirbhaya), has resulted in conviction.

Four inquiries were conducted by Delhi police of the recorded 501 allegations of harassment and 64 of rape between 16 December 2012 and 4 January 2013. As of September 2013, 1,090 sexual offence cases are still pending in various courts here as the fast track courts are reeling with the number of registered cases.

Last year 24,923 cases of rape were registered in the country, and as per media reports quoting sources within the National Crime Record Bureau, the figures are going to rise further this year.

Even as the nation was protesting the Delhi gang rape, a young woman was gang raped in Haryana, and her case was not registered for nearly fifteen days. Six months later, submitted to harassment by the police and authorities, she committed suicide. Her’s is not a lone case, police indifference and apathy are common especially in rural areas and cases of offence against women from the marginalised sections of the society.

In Kerala, over 482 rape cases were recorded just in the first three months of the year. A young adivasi policewoman in Jharkhand was gang-raped while accompanying her family members carrying the dead body of her sister. According to the National Crime Records Bureau report of 2012, Assam tops the rate of cognizable crimes against women in India in 2012 at 89.54%. The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative and the North Eastern Network recently issue a press release expressing concern regarding the severity of violence against women in the state.

West Bengal, according to data collected by the National Crime Records Bureau, has continuously recorded the 2nd highest incidents of rape in India, for the last seven years (2004-2010). Between, 2006-2010, the incidents of rape across the country increased by 15 per cent but increased by 34 per cent, in West Bengal. A victim of rape in Baranagar, WB, died of internal bleeding because of the callousness of the police and the administration. In another case, in Falta, the police initially refused to record the victim’s complaint but the Calcutta High Court Orders forced the Falta police to investigate the allegation. A 37-year-old woman was raped at gunpoint in a moving car in Kolkata on the night of 5th February in 2012 after accepting a lift from the accused. The chief minister had dismissed the victim stating the complaint was “cooked up”.

Earlier this month women groups in Delhi submitted their six-point ‘womanifesto’ – 1. Educate everyone, 2. Make laws count 3. Make police more responsive 4. Set up faster, competent courts, 5. Create support to survivors 6. Safe streets, safe city. This manifesto was submitted to the candidates in the recently held Delhi elections with the demand that they commit to it enforcing it with one year.

One could hope that such a manifesto be adopted on the national level which would be the first step towards dismantling the misogynistic, patriarchal societal norms that is prevalent in society, and its judicial, legislative and executive branches of government.

Supreme Court upholds gay sex ban, activists protest across India

gay- sex -ban- india

Supreme Court ruling upholding the colonial law of Section 377 is a betrayal of queer and human rights in India, activists gather in protest

By Team FI

The day after the world paid respect to the rights of human being to freedom by celebrating Human Rights Day, the Supreme Court of India ruled to uphold Section 377, thus criminalising homosexuality in the country. This ruling has overturned the Delhi High Court judgement in 2009 that had struck down this ban that dates from the colonial era.

A two-judge bench washed its hands of the issue by stating that it is not up to the courts to intervene, and has passed the buck to the Parliament. “It is up to Parliament to legislate on this issue,” declared the head of the two-member bench, Justice G.S. Singhvi, in the ruling.

A press release issue by Voices Against 377, Alternative Law Forum, Adhikaar and other petitioners including parents of LGBT persons, mental health professionals, academics and law professors has declared the judgement as extremely disappointing, calling it an “unconscionable blow to the dignity of LGBT persons who as per the Indian Constitution are entitled to equal treatment.” The press release pointed out that this has reduced “LGBT persons to the status of what the Delhi High Court memorably called ‘unapprehended felons’”.

It is to be recalled that Delhi High Court in 2009 had said the criminalization of homosexuality forced “a sizeable section of society… to live their lives in the shadow of harassment, exploitation, humiliation, cruel and degrading treatment at the hands of the law enforcement machinery”.

The press release likened this to Supreme Court decisions upholding the emergency and legitimizing rape that marks the lowest ebb in the illustrious history of the Court. “In 1975 in ADM Jabalpur v. Shivkant Shukla, the Supreme Court upheld the declaration of emergency which deprived all citizens of the right to life in India. In 1979, in Mathuras case, the Supreme Court in effect declared that women who were raped should be disbelieved. In 2013 the Supreme Court has held that LGBT persons are not human beings whose dignity and life is violated by a colonial law,” stated the release.

In another statement, Amnesty International called it a black day for human rights in India. “This decision is a body blow to people’s rights to equality, privacy and dignity,” said G Ananthapadmanabhan, Chief Executive, Amnesty International India. “It is hard not to feel let down by this judgement, which has taken India back several years in its commitment to protect basic rights.”

Protests have been planned all over the country by human rights and queer rights activist.

Full Text of Press Release

Black Day for Human Rights, Queer Rights

We are deeply disappointed at the decision of the Supreme Court in Suresh Kumar Kaushal v. Naz Foundation. The decision by overturning the historic Delhi High Court judgment which recognized that LGBT persons are full citizens of India, attempts to stem the tide of history. By overturning the Naz Foundation judgment, the Supreme Court has, in one fell stroke again reduced LGBT persons to the status of what the Delhi High Court memorably called ‘unapprehended felons’. The judgment of the Supreme Court is a unconscionable blow to the dignity of LGBT persons who as per the Indian Constitution are entitled to equal treatment. It withdraws the protective arm of the constitution from LGBT persons and renders LGBT persons vulnerable to discrimination, violence and harassment.

It is a tragedy that this judgment forgets the vision of the founders of the Indian republic which was so eloquently captured by the Delhi High Court. By re-criminalizing LGBT persons the judgment ignores the spirit of inclusiveness which is the heart of the Indian Constitution as articulated by Jawaharlal Nehru. It equally abandons the principle of constitutional morality (ie majorities dont have a charter to discriminate against minorities purely because they are majorities) articulated by Dr. Ambedkar which is the cornerstone of a diverse and plural nation.

The judgment is thus a deep betrayal of the fundamental constitutional promise that the dignity of all citizens would be recognized and that equal treatment is a non negotiable element of the world’s largest democracy. In this betrayal of constitutional faith, the Court has shredded the very principles it has sworn itself to uphold.

This decision today along with the decisions upholding the emergency and legitimizing rape marks the lowest ebb in the illustrious history of the Supreme Court. In 1975 in ADM Jabalpur v. Shivkant Shukla, the Supreme Court upheld the declaration of emergency which deprived all citizens of the right to life in India. In 1979, in Mathuras case, the Supreme Court in effect declared that women who were raped should be disbelieved. In 2013 the Supreme Court has held that LGBT persons are not human beings whose dignity and life is violated by a colonial law.

Hard as this decision is and difficult as the road forward may be, we draw strength and inspiration from ordinary LGBT persons who will not allow this to affect the way they lead their lives. In the course of the last ten years or so, LGBT persons have begun to lead their lives openly and publicly proclaiming their claim to equal citizenship. The page of history has turned and no power on earth can deny LGBT persons the right to freedom, equality and dignity. Rights are not conferred by the Court, as the Naz judgment said, they are merely confirmed by them. The rights of LGBT persons cannot be taken by this decision.

We proclaim that in spite of the judgment of the Supreme Court, the only way the LGBT movement will go is forward and the arc of history though long will turn towards justice. We pledge to continue this struggle with re doubled vigour till such time that Section 377 is consigned to where it belongs- the dustbins of history.

11.12.2013, New Delhi

Issued by: Voices Against 377, Alternative Law Forum, Adhikaar and other petitioners including parents of LGBT persons, mental health professionals, academics and law professors.

Differently abled voters’ rights: Activists demand apology from Election Commission

disabality-rights-india

Do the voting rights of Indian citizens depend on their different abilities – whether mobility or sight? Asks angry activists in a letter addressed to the Election Commission of India

By Team FI

Inaccessible booths, lack of facilities for wheelchair users, the absence of braille stickers for the visually impaired and lack of support from the staff at the voting booths had created a humiliating and despairing situation for many differently abled voters who could not use their democratic right to cast their vote in the Delhi elections held recently.

Protesting against this, citizens and activists in a letter to the Election Commission (EC) of India have called for a public, written apology from the EC and the Cheif Electoral Officer, Delhi, to the differently abled voters in the capital of the country. And with written assurances, provide facilities for the visually impaired and wheelchair bound citizens, with the information about these facilities to be publicized thoroughly through every media.

Full text of the Letter
Even as Delhi hails an impressive voter out and calls it a ‘historic’ poll, the truth is that wheel chair users or visually impaired voters were effectively sought to be disenfranchised in this election. This is not only a matter of deep shame but a complete violation of Supreme Court orders.

Just a day before Delhi went to polls we marked the International Day of Persons with Disabilities on Dec. 3rd 2013. This was an occasion to renew our commitments to full inclusion and access, yet one day later India and Delhi violated this very promise.

We would like to remind the nation and the Election Commission of India that Delhi has 80,000 disabled voters. Yet, there was no information in print, television or radio on facilities for visually impaired voters or wheel chair users. Moreover, the website of Election Commission of India remains inaccessible to visually impaired persons. Do the voting rights of Indian citizens depend on their different abilities – whether mobility or sight?

Given below are a few examples of what has clearly been a widespread violation of the rights of differently abled voters across Delhi:

• West Rajouri Garden Polling booth number 138 had no ramps for wheelchairs and no braille stickers.
Dr. Anita Ghai, who uses a wheel chair could not reach the booth, but because she stood there protesting, she was lifted by the NDTV team as well as authorities and taken to the booth. The desire and determination was simply to vote, because to not vote would go against her democratic and feminist principles.

• Mr. Virender Kalra, a bank manager and a resident of Subhash Nagar, found there was no ramp for his wheelchair, so he got two persons to lift him and take him inside the polling booth.

• Polling booths number 11, 12,13, 14 in Rajokri had no ramps and braille stickers.

• Polling booth 13 in Rajokri had 7 stairs, again with no ramps.

• Abha Khetrapal , a wheelchair user could not cast her vote.

• Shivani Gupta (Booth no. 23 in 45 Mehrauli) could not cast her vote. She described her experience – ‘Yesterday I went to cast my vote for the Delhi assembly elections. This was the third time I had gone to cast my vote, but in terms of accessibility nothing had improved in so many years except there was a ramp. Having a ramp alone is not a solution to enable persons using wheelchairs to vote. I wasn’t able to cast my vote in spite of this ramp for the reasons described below. 1) The route to reach the ramp was inaccessible. It was a long uneven route difficult to negotiate for a wheelchair user. 2) The entry gate to the school had only the wicket gate open with a baton in the bottom at the height of 8 cm restricting wheelchair access. 3) The security did not have the key to be able to open the main gate. 4) The voting room entrance doors had wooden poles to divide the way to enter and exit the room. This division made the clear space to enter or exit the room very narrow for a wheelchair user to pass.

• Neeru Gautam, tried to cast her vote by taking her power chair all the way to the polling station in Block 26 Community Centre. She realised there was no ramp to enter and the entrance to the room was also blocked by a wooden pole which had been placed in the middle of the passage to segregate the incoming and leaving voters. She asked the election staff to come out and help her cast her vote. But despite repeated pleas, no one came forward. Then one person offered to lift her physically, which she refused as she felt it was humiliating and undignified, and came back without casting her vote.

For a person using a wheel chair, being physically lifted in this manner is deeply humiliating. And yet, many disabled voters, like Mr. Kalra and Dr. Anita Ghai, subjected themselves to this humiliation, as a determined act of citizenship, to make their voice count in our democracy. Others, similarly placed, did not or could not.

In the case of Dr. Anita Ghai, there was proof of this violation, merely because an NDTV camera crew, which had gone to cover a celebrity voting, coincidentally happened to be present at the time that she was trying to cast her vote, and so Dr. Anita Ghai was allowed, albeit in a humiliating manner, to exercise her franchise. In other instances, there is oftentimes no ‘proof’ that is demanded by the system, before it accepts or corrects its failures.

We must worry that if this is the situation in the nation’s capital, how grave the situation will be elsewhere, across the country, in smaller towns and cities and in rural areas.

The Election Commission is duty bound to ensure that each and every citizen can cast his or her vote. They ought to have implemented full access to differently abled citizens to polling booths and publicized them.

We demand:
The Election Commission of India and the Chief Electoral Officer, Delhi issue an immediate written and public apology to all differently abled voters who were unable to cast their vote in the Delhi election due to lack of facilities enabling them to do so.

The Election Commission of India to issue orders, and give written assurances that all facilities for the visually impaired and wheel chair bound citizens shall be provided in future elections across India. Further, that such facilities shall be duly publicized through the print and electronic media.