Archive for April 28, 2014

India’s shame: Dalit rape survivors of Hisar still await justice


Authorities remain indifferent to the ongoing sit-in protest at Jantar Mantar, New Delhi by the four young rape survivors and their families

By Team FI

A candle light protest was organised by students and human rights activists outside the Home Minister’s office in New Delhi on Sunday demanding justice for the four young rape survivors from Hisar, Haryana.

The protest was in solidarity to the ongoing sit-in protest by the four Dalit women, two of whom are minor girls. The women along with their families and neighbours have been protesting at Jantar Mantar from April 18 against the local authority’s indifference and inaction.

In March 2014, the four young girls were kidnapped from their village Bhagana, and raped by five youths belonging to the upper caste Jat community. The girls were left near Bhatinda Railway station in Punjab after the alleged crime. When their families approached their village head ( Sarpanch) for help, and said that they would file an FIR, the Sarpanch informed them about the whereabouts of the girls. The girls allege that when the Sarpanch and his men came and picked the girls, he threatened them to keep quiet about the rape and the identity of the perpetrators.

The villagers alleged that the local authorities including the Superintendent of Police Manisha Chaudhury were not only uncooperative but also intimidating. The families took the girls to the hospital in Hisar for a medical test. Though they reached the hospital at 10 in the morning, it was at 1.30 am the next morning when the tests were finally done and an hour later, the SP took their statements.

The Dalits of Bhagana village are no stranger to violence and abuse by the Jat community what with the ongoing social and economic sanctions imposed on them by the upper caste. This was because the Dalit community had protested against the appropriation of their common lands by the Jats in the village.

For these young women from Hisar, there are no hordes of protestors lining the streets of the country’s capital, no outcry of anguish, and not much show of support except from human rights activists, women’s groups and a few student organisations. There is an alarming increase in the sexual violence against Dalit women in the country and Haryana is achieving notoriety with many cases of sexual violence, assault and honour killings being recorded.

In most cases, the survivors get no assistance from the police or administration. With the perpetrators belonging to the ‘upper’ caste in most cases, the caste dominance combined with poverty and lack of political clout ensure that cases, even if an FIR is filed, do not reach resolution and justice is denied or delayed indefinitely.

Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS) issued a statement based on their visit and interactions with the rape survivors and their families. FeministsIndia is reproducing the full text of the statement here:

WSS condemns the Sexual Assault of Four Dalit Girls from Village Bhagana, District Hisar, Haryana

In the continuing backlash against Dalit assertion, four young girls of Dalit families (two of whom are minor) from Bhagana village (Hisar district, Haryana) were abducted on 23rd March 2014 and gangraped by 5 Jat boys (3 from Bhagana and 2 from outside of whom one was from Bhiwani). All four girls were then abandoned in the Bhatinda railway station on 23rd March itself. The sarpanch along with the girls’ fathers and brothers reached Bhatinda to bring them back. They were threatened by the head of the village sarpanch who is also the cousin of one of the accused to remain quiet; otherwise they along with their families would suffer dire consequences, even murder.

The context is as follows: In May 2012, 70 Dalit families from Bhagana Village moved with their families, belongings and cattle to the Secretariat, District Magistrate’s office in Hisar to protest against the forceful and unfair land appropriation of their common lands (Shamilat land) by the Jats of the village.
In response to their protests, these Dalits suffered widespread social ostracism and boycotts, including denial of access to water sources by destroying public taps, denial of entry to common land whether for the burial of dead animals, or for children to play games like football etc. Dalits were unable to move around freely or even go out for urination or defecation. Even access to doctors was denied as doctors were from the Jat community, who either refused to treat Dalits or charged higher fees. The sale of products has been refused and they have also been prevented from using public transport.

Despite several complaints to the village panchayat, police officials, the administration paid no heed and allowed such incidents and treatment to escalate. Instead of filing FIRs, the police arrested 45 Dalit protestors and charged 6 with sedition charges though these were later dropped. While some families continued their protests at the secretariat, a few families decided to stay back whether out of fear or due to economic necessity. It is girls from these families who were then abducted and sexually assaulted on 23rd March 2014.

In spite of threats from the Jat community not to take up this case, FIRs were filed on March 25 and the girls underwent medical examination. Cases have been booked under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 (POCSO), Prevention of Atrocities Act, 1989 and Sections 363/366/366A/376/120B/328 of the IPC. Copies of these are with the families who have come to Delhi to demand justice and are now at Jantar Mantar. While five of the accused have been arrested, the demand to arrest another seven people remains. In conversation with members of WSS who visited the families at Jantar Mantar, these details were courageously and openly shared. The girls are sitting in protest too, the youngest being 13 and the eldest 18 years. They were going to school (classes 7 to 10) but have dropped out now. Their fathers work as agricultural labourers or engaged in other daily wage work. Other women present said that such sexual violence perpetrated on Dalits by Jats is by no means new but what is new is the reasons why they attacked them in this way. ‘We have no wealth’, one of the women said, ‘so they plunder the little that we have, namely our izzat.’ ‘But we are here in this city to get justice.’

WSS stands in solidarity with their struggle and their courageous battle for justice and dignity.
We demand that:

1. All land be restored to Dalits that is due to them. This includes allotments under the Mahatma Gandhi Vikas Yojana and also the Shamilat land rights.

2. Safe passage and return to the village for Dalits must be provided to ensure that they can live in security and dignity.

3. Survivors of sexual assault must be given the full compensation according to Government of Haryana provisions. Their education which has had to be discontinued must be provided. All threats to them and their families must cease.

4. All false cases lodged in 2012 against Dalit men and women be withdrawn immediately.

5. All the accused Jats including the sarpanch, who have been intimidating and threatening them be arrested and cases taken forwarded.

Secular forces support Mumbai college principal against Hindutva attack


Educationists and activists issue letter in support of St. Xavier principal, Father Frazer Mascarenhas, following the BJP attack on him for writing a letter to his students advising them to vote wisely

By Team FI

Ever since Father Frazer Mascarenhas, the principle of Mumbai’s prestigious St Xavier’s College wrote a letter to his students advising them to vote wisely, he has come under attack from Hindu right wing facing threats and verbal abuse.

Father Mascarenhas has not directly named any individual or political party in his letter. He requested his students to” choose well” and exercise a “reasoned choice of individuals and political parties who promise to work for a real quality of life”. The letter speaks about the poor human development indicators in Gujarat, including education and rights of the tribals. The letter which had appeared on the college website and was subsequently forced to be taken down, spoke about the imminent threat that faces India’s secular fabric, “The prospect of an alliance of corporate capital and communal forces coming to power constitutes a real threat to the future of our secular democracy”.

The BJP filed a complaint with the Election commission charging that the college has violated the code of conduct. Following the controversy, several academicians and activists came in forward supporting Father Mascarenhas’s right to free speech.

FeministsIndia is reproducing the full text of the letter issued by the NOMOre Campaign, a non-funded, non-party affiliated secular platform and endorsed by several academicians, activists and feminists in the country as statement of solidarity.

Dear Father,
In these troubling times, when the mightiest are being bought over, lured, seduced, or silenced, we salute you for your courage and moral clarity in asking your students to choose wisely. By drawing the attention of your students (who would have voted for the first time) to the seamy underbelly of a ‘model’ that is being promoted unabashedly by the corporate media as the panacea of all that which ails India, we believe you acted responsibly and ethically. The purpose of education is to inculcate critical thinking, to provide tools of analysis, and to make students sensitive to social realities – no matter how unpleasant they may be. Far from abusing your position, as the BJP is alleging, we think that your advice is the appropriate way for a teacher, and head of an academic institution, to act.

There is reason, the BJP and its allies, ought to know, why educational institutions, despite being funded fully or partially by the government, are autonomous. This autonomy protects the right of the academic to critique the government, leaders and policies without fear. By rushing to the EC, the BJP has made a frontal attack on this intellectual freedom which is constitutionally guaranteed. Besides, this is very obviously a legally dishonest move: the code of conduct applies only to political parties and not to private individuals or social groups. Surely a party which is pretending to have already formed the government should know this simple rule.

We are amused to read in the papers that local BJP leaders have said that “we are ready to engage with the students in an open debate. But the Principal should have withheld his views till such debate.” This comes only a day after BJP cadres assaulted political opponents on a live TV broadcast from Benares. So much for open debate!

Your letter has prompted many mainstream media houses to question the propriety of a college principal in writing a letter to students on the eve of polling. We also believe that institutional spaces, while retaining the right to be fiercely critical, should remain non-partisan. Those who are quick to condemn and pillory you however conveniently ignore that you only presented a critique – that incidentally many democratic minded citizens share – without recommending any political party.

Moreover, no questions have been raised about the way in which educational institutions have been used systematically over the last year or so, to build the Supreme Leader’s image among the youth. All TV channels broadcast Modi’s Sri Ram Memorial Oration at Sri Ram College of Commerce (DU) live last year; newspapers carried full-page ads of the SRM University’s convocation ceremony where Modi was the chief guest. Similarly, no channel is aghast at Modi’s plans to take chopper tours of BHU and Kashi Vidyapeeth. This hypocrisy is nauseating.

In an election marked by hyperbole, arrogance, threats and insinuations, your letter, written with remarkable restraint and sagacity will remain an important intervention. NOMOre stands with you wholeheartedly and extends to you our sincerest solidarity.

Issued by NOMOre Campaign, a non-funded, non-party affiliated secular platform. We do not endorse any political party.

Endorsed by academics, activists and educationists across India.

In Memoriam: Bindia Thapar 1957- 2014


Bindia Thapar created visual campaigns for the women’s movement with her posters, illustrations for books, monographs, websites and, left a legacy of visual imagery in her illustrations for children’s books

By Juhi Jain

Our beloved feminist friend Bindia Thaper passed away on April 18 in New Delhi. An architect by profession, Bindia Thapar, was best known for her passion and creativity – as an “illustrator by choice”, having created some of the most vibrant, lively and colourful illustrations for books for children and young adults. As a feminist, she has also illustrated posters and banners on issues of literacy, violence against women, sustainable livelihoods, child rights, peace and diversity for many NGOs and women’s groups. Her work has been published widely in South Asia, England and US.

Bindia, with a professional degree in architecture from the School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi had spent many years in formal teaching as a visiting lecturer at SPA, New Delhi. However, Bindia, loved to draw and design, a creative pursuit which according to her was “inspired by her daughter Meao”.

She spent a major part of her time designing, decorating and illustrating books and publications for children, for publishing houses of repute like, Zubaan, Penguin Books, Puffin Books, Tulika Publishers, Dorling Kindersley, Katha and Kali for Women.

Bindia -Thaper -booksSome of the books which showcase her innate talent to convert serious issues into fun filled and engaging subjects for kids through creative calligraphy and drawings are: Ka se Kapde Kaise?, Maalu Bhalu, We, the Children of India: a Preamble to the Constitution, Curiosity Killed the Cat and other Animal Idioms, The Runaway Puppy, The Magic Raindrop etc.

Bindia is also remembered for her deep commitment to issues of sustainable diversity and peace, environment and gender justice. Towards this end she has co-authored and also illustrated and designed several posters, books, monographs and websites. Some of her prominent work, in collaboration with feminist activist and writer Kamla Bhasin, has been created for Jagori, feminist resource centre, namely Turning Aids into Opportunities, If Only Someone had Broken the Silence, Men and Masculinity, Laughing Matters among others.

We will always remember Bindia as a feminist friend and colleague known for her generosity, warmth and affection. She valiantly battled her deteriorating health with spirit and resilience, an example we all must learn from. Bindia, we are missing you sorely but we hope and pray that you will be happy and blessed wherever you are.

Obituary: Manorama Savur (1927-2014)


A tribute to Professor Manorama Savur, beloved teacher, down to earth academician, vibrant activist of the women’s movement

By Vibhuti Patel

Dr. Manorama Savur who passed away on 14th March was an exemplary teacher who mentored hundreds of students who opted for Master’s and Doctoral programmes for Sociology from Mumbai University during her three decade tenure in the sociology department. Influenced by Prof. A. R. Desai, a stalwart committed to Marxism, she had the courage of conviction and she fearlessly expressed her views. In 1975 when the emergency rule was imposed, she vehemently and openly opposed it. She always had a gracious smile that added charm to her beautiful persona.

In 1977 when University of Mumbai was throbbing with ideological debates, her room was an adda. She had an open door policy and students, scholars and academicians of different ideological moorings could also have access to her. During 1980s, she introduced a paper on ‘Sociology of Women’ in Mumbai University.

Dr. Savur was not an ivory tower academician; she was down to earth and responded to the unfolding socio-political reality with utmost zeal. She loved plants and when the new campus of Mumbai University was established in Santacruz (E) in 1974, she took an active part in planting saplings which have grown into giant trees over the last 40 years. Till her last days she fought to protect the trees. She was also an animal lover and till she retired, she always brought food for a dog in the university campus.

Prof. Manorama Savur’s areas of specialisation were environmental sociology, sociology of health and rural sociology. She retired as Professor and Head of the Department of Sociology, University of Mumbai in 1987. After her retirement, she became a volunteer at the Women’s Centre that provides institutional support to women survivors of violence. Her presence had a humanizing impact among fire-brand feminists. Even in her late sixties she would go to Women’s Centre from her home by bus.

Dr. Savur’s research work was always on socially relevant issues. She edited archival material on trade union movement in India. Through her research she also exposed built-in weaknesses of the Employees State Insurance Scheme in India, and compared its operation with that of similar schemes abroad. With Prof. Indra Munshi, she also co-edited “Contractions in Indian Society: Essays in Honour of Professor A.R. Desai” that was published by Rawat Publications.

Prof. Manorama Savur never shied away from arduous field work. Her painstaking effort for over one decade resulted in two extremely valuable volumes published in 2003 on the political economy of bamboo. This book “And the Bamboo Flowers in the Indian Forests: What did the Pulp and the Paper Industry Do? Vol. I & II, Manohar Publications, Delhi” was the outcome of a multi-sourced (archival, library and field based research) and interdisciplinary work to highlight the environmental and socio-economic implications on the forest dwellers and workers as a result of the paper and synthetic fibre industry and the policy concerning bamboo farming, from the colonial times to the present.

She supported environmentally regenerative bamboo-use practices and was for a rational and scientific approach towards felling of bamboo. She opposed arbitrary and intensive use of bamboo by commercial vested interests that destroy forest lives and damage forest dwellers livelihoods. She declared, “To clearfell the bamboo forests in the Northeast would be an ecological disaster. Bamboo does have many uses for the local people – but let us not forget it is also the green gold of the forests.”

For last two decades, she managed to be active despite cancer and deteriorating health. She never discussed her pain but gave helpful advice to cope up with cancer to many cancer victims. She passed away on the same day as her ideologue Karl Marx i.e. 14th March, 2014. During her last days, she was helped by many friends in the Indian Army and she had rented a flat in Athashree, a society for senior citizens founded by Armymen in Pune. As per her last wish, her body was donated to Army Medical Hospital. This act of hers inspired all those who had gathered to pay their last respect to her after her death to take a pledge to donate their bodies.

Transgender accorded legal recognition as third gender


In a landmark judgment Supreme Court of India put paid to the binary notion of gender in Indian law by ruling that transgenders must be given the third gender status

By Team FI

This judgement may be called as a historic victory for transgender rights in India. The Supreme Court has ruled that discrimination against transgender people should be treated as discrimination on the grounds of sex. The apex court passed the order on a PIL filed by National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) urging the court to recognize separate identity to transgenders by recognising them as a third gender preference.

The judgment also recognized that gender identity refers “to an individual’s self-identification as a man, woman, transgender or other identified category. Sexual orientation refers to an individual’s enduring physical, romantic and/or emotional attraction to another person.”

The judgment stated that since gender identity is integral to the dignity of an individual and is at the core of “personal autonomy” and “self-determination” – “Hijras/Eunuchs, therefore, have to be considered as Third Gender, over and above binary genders under our Constitution and the laws.”

It recognized that self-defined sexual orientation and gender identity is integral to a person’s personality “and is one of the most basic aspects of self-determination, dignity and freedom and no one shall be forced to undergo medical procedures, including SRS, sterilization or hormonal therapy, as a requirement for legal recognition of their gender identity.”

The court stated that, transgender should be admitted in educational institutions and given employment on the basis that they belonged to the third gender category. The SC has also asked the Government to treat transgender community as socially and economically backward. As per the OBC (other backward classes) category, they are entitled to employment and educational reservations and other state recognized benefits. The apex court also ruled that the Government will chart out social welfare schemes for third gender community and run public awareness campaign to erase social stigma.

Main Features:
1. Recognition of third gender.
2. Recognition of people who identify in the opposite sex based on self-identification. Includes female identifying as male and male identifying as female.
3. Non-recognition of gender identity amounts to discrimination under Arts 14, 15 and 16.
4. Discrimination on the ground of sexual orientation and gender identity amounts to discrimination on the ground of sex under Art 15.
5. No SRS (sex reassignment surgery ) required for recognition of gender identity.
6. Persons gender identity based on their choice is protected under the constitution.
7. A series of directions have been given to the Centre and States based on the above.

Details of the Judgment:
The judgment referred to the various articles regarding gender identity and human rights from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 1966, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966 and also quoted extensively from Yogyakarta Principles on the application of International Human Rights Law in relation to Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity.

The judgment also referred to international law and cases dealing with the rights of the transgender community in other countries. The judgment stated that it was unfortunate that there was no legislation in this country that dealt with the rights of the transgender community. It referred to the fact that binary notions of gender existed in the Indian Penal Code, for example, “Section 8, 10, etc. and also in the laws related to marriage, adoption, divorce, inheritance, succession and other welfare legislations like NAREGA, 2005, etc. Nonrecognition of the identity of Hijras/Transgenders in the various legislations denies them equal protection of law and they face wide-spread discrimination.”

The judgment quoted Articles 14, 15, 16, 19 and 21 of the Indian constitution – Article 14 of the Constitution of India states that the State shall not deny to “any person” equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India. Article 15 states that the State shall not discriminate against any citizen, inter alia, on the ground of sex. Article 16 states that there shall be equality of opportunities for all the citizens in matters relating to employment or appointment to any office under the State.

The judgment stated that “Article 14 has used the expression “person” and the Article 15 has used the expression “citizen” and “sex” so also Article 16. Article 19 has also used the expression “citizen”. Article 21 has used the expression “person”. All these expressions, which are “gender neutral” evidently, refer to human-beings. Hence, they take within their sweep Hijras/Transgenders and are not as such limited to male or female gender.”

The judgment referred to Article 19(1) (a) of the Constitution which states that all citizens shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression, “which includes one’s right to expression of his self-identified gender.” The judgment stated that “self-identified gender can be expressed through dress, words, action or behavior or any other form. No restriction can be placed on one’s personal appearance or choice of dressing, subject to the restrictions contained in Article 19(2) of the Constitution. Gender identity, therefore, lies at the core of one’s personal identity, gender expression and presentation and, therefore, it will have to be protected under Article 19(1) (a) of the Constitution of India.”

Stating that Article 21 protects the dignity of human life, one’s personal autonomy, one’s right to privacy and so on, the judgment recognized that “one’s gender identity lies at the heart of the fundamental right to dignity. Gender, as already indicated, constitutes the core of one’s sense of being as well as an integral part of a person’s identity. Legal recognition of gender identity is, therefore, part of right to dignity and freedom guaranteed under our Constitution.”

Stating that “gender identity, in our view, is an integral part of sex and no citizen can be discriminated on the ground of gender identity, including those who identify as third gender, the judgment concluded that “that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity includes any discrimination, exclusion, restriction or preference, which has the effect of nullifying or transposing equality by the law or the equal protection of laws guaranteed under our Constitution, and hence we are inclined to give various directions to safeguard the constitutional rights of the members of the TG community.”

Directions of the Judgment
(1) Hijras, Eunuchs, apart from binary gender, be treated as “third gender” for the purpose of safeguarding their rights under Part III of our Constitution and the laws made by the Parliament and the State Legislature.
(2) Transgender persons’ right to decide their self-identified gender is also upheld and the Centre and State Governments are directed to grant legal recognition of their gender identity such as male, female or as third gender.
(3) We direct the Centre and the State Governments to take steps to treat them as socially and educationally backward classes of citizens and extend all kinds of reservation in cases of admission in educational institutions and for public appointments.
(4) Centre and State Governments are directed to operate separate HIV Sero-survellance Centres since Hijras/ Transgenders face several sexual health issues.
(5) Centre and State Governments should seriously address the problems being faced by
Hijras/Transgenders such as fear, shame, gender dysphoria, social pressure, depression, suicidal tendencies, social stigma, etc. and any insistence for SRS for declaring one’s gender is immoral and illegal.
(6) Centre and State Governments should take proper measures to provide medical care to TGs in the hospitals and also provide them separate public toilets and other facilities.
(7) Centre and State Governments should also take steps for framing various social welfare schemes for their betterment.
(8) Centre and State Governments should take steps to create public awareness so that TGs will feel that they are also part and parcel of the social life and be not treated as untouchables.
(9) Centre and the State Governments should also take measures to regain their respect and place in the society which once they enjoyed in our cultural and social life.

Though the judgment referred to the abuse in the usage of Section 377 stating that it “used as an instrument of harassment and physical abuse against Hijras and transgender persons,” it refrained from expressing any opinion on the law, stating that they were dealing with a “different issue” that of “the constitutional and other legal rights of the transgender community and their gender identity and sexual orientation.”

In Memoriam: Sudha Varde (1930-2014)


After a lifetime of commitment towards women’s liberation and progressive and secular values, Sudha Varde has left behind a legacy of socialist and humanist ethos

By Vibhuti Patel
Sudhatai Varde was extremely lively, cheerful person with the dream of an egalitarian society in her eyes. She was forthright, upfront and dedicated to the cause of women’s liberation. She passed away on 9th April, 2014 at the age of 84.

Right from her childhood she had a great fascination for dancing. She used this talent for her social cause as a volunteer for Rashtra Seva Dal (RSD) which she joined as a teenager. She was involved in freedom movement through the RSD. She met her soul- mate Shri. Sadanand Varde who was also a mainstay of RSD and in due course she married him. Both of them were gracious and full of life and remained active workers in the social movement as patriotic socialists.

In the post-independence period, Sudhatai played pivotal role in the development of Cultural wing of RSD. She also encouraged her daughter Jelum to be a classical dancer. She shared a beautiful relationship with her daughter and always talked highly of her.

Women’s Movement
Sudhatai was closely associated with Mrinaltai Gore, Kamaltai Desai and Pramilatai Dandwate. Sudhatai’s involvement in women’s movement began with anti price-rise struggles in the early 1970s. She participated in the ant-rape campaign in 1980. Her residence in Mumbai was initially an office of Mahila Daxata Samiti (MDS). She was part of several agitations including the Anti-dowry agitations (1981), Brides are not for burning campaign, Parityakta Mukti Morcha (Deserted Women’s Liberation Front) and solidarity for textile strike (1982). In a campaign against dowry harassment, I remember Sudhatai shouting slogans against murderers of Manjushree Sarda and Vibha Shukla when we had protest demonstrations within Bombay High Court in 1988. She was a sympathiser of Swadhar that provided support to women in social distress.

Sudhatai attended all shibirs, meetings, rallies, sit-ins and public meetings of united from of women’s groups and state level coordination committee for women’s liberation- Stree Mukti Andolan Sampark Samiti.

After communal riots in Bhivandi in 1984, women’s organisations such as NFIW, AIDWA, MDS, SMS, Women’s Centre, Forum Against Oppression of Women formed Committee Against Religious Fanaticism. Sudahtai was actively involved in the same. In 1987, she was with feminists to protest against emergence of sati temples in Mumbai and re-naming of road in suburban Mumbai as Maha Sati Road. As a representative of MDS she took an active interest in the Forum Against Sex Determination and Sex Selection. She attended study circles on technical issues such as the implication of hormone based injectable contraceptives on women lives before joining the agitation against it. She was a supporter of Narmada Bachao Andolan.

During 1991 as a Director (I/C) of Research Centre for Women’s Studies, SNDT, Mumbai for a brief period, I had to organize a National Round Table on Women in Decision Making, I requested Sudhatai to present a status paper on Women in Decision Making in Western India. She was so overwhelmed with emotion and said, “It is so rewarding to feel that you, younger lot of firebrand feminists see value in our thinking!!” To prepare her paper, she frequently visited RCWS Documentation Centre and went through’ all the reports, resolutions, books concerning the subject and made a brilliant presentation at the Round Table.

She was shaken by Mumbai riots in 1992 and in a meeting organized by Stree Mukti Sangahtan at Bhupesh Gupta Hall, she asked, “Where did my generation go wrong? How do you explain children of secular generation are turning out to be religious fanatics?” She made a resolve to focus more on Seva Dal’s activities with children to change their mindset towards humanism.

In 1993, Both Sudhatai and Sadanandji founded Aple Ghar to care for orphans after the earthquake in Latur.

Sudhatai’s inspiring and charming persona and her contribution to women’s movement will have a lasting imprint on the glorious HERSTORY of women’s liberation movement in Maharashtra. Hers was a life lived for her commitment for progressive and secular values and socialist and humanist ethos.

Featured photo courtesy: Jhelum Paranjape

Related reading: Aai: my dearest mother

Investment beats environment in BJP Manifesto

Gujarat pollution

In Modi’s manifesto, ecology and environment seem to be solely understood in terms of creating a suitable climate for industries disregarding the loss of livelihood, forced land acquisition, irreversible damage to the environment and permanent loss of natural resources

By Rohit Prajapati

The word ‘Environment’ is formally and casually mentioned at 7 places in BJP “MONEY-FESTO – MODI-FESTO” and same is the case with Congress “All is Well Manifesto”.

BJP’s crucial understanding and concerned about environment is mentioned at page 29 “Decision-making on environment clearances will be made transparent as well as time-bound.” The word environment clearance is highlighted in bold, which clearly reflects that Modi’s Money-Festo’s main concern is speedy clearance for the industries and not the environment.

The other word ‘time-bound’ is also clearly reflects that Modi’s Money-Festo’s main concerns is speedy clearance for the industries and not the environment. To make it very clear on the same page the Money-Festo further states “Frame the environment laws in a manner that provides no scope for confusion and will lead to speedy clearance of the proposals without delay.” This well spell-out assurance of Mr. Modi is to the industrialist that they should not worry about environment laws because Modi will remove all their hurdles so that just by filing some papers and giving some vague assurance they will get the clearance. This is the “Gujarat Model of Development” which led Gujarat State to become number one in pollution.

To make it further crystal clear Money-Festo states that “Take all steps: like removing red-tapism involved in approvals, to make it easy to do business, invest in logistics infrastructure, ensure power supply and undertake labor reforms, besides other steps to create a conducive environment for investors.” The Modi-Festo says in very clear words to mortgage the environment and labor laws.

At page 11 Money-Festo states “performance review, social and environment audit would be mandated for all Government Schemes and programmes.” Why should not social and environment audit will also be compulsory for the industries? That means Modi is stating in clear words that when he talks about social and environment audit it is not for industries.

At page 33 Money-Festo states “Sewage treatment plants to prevent the pollution of rivers.” Modi-Festo is completely silent on the issues of river pollution by industrial effluent. At page 36 Money-Festo states “Cleaner fuels will be promoted so as to bring down the pollution levels particularly in the cities.” Modi is completely silent on the issue of air pollution by the industrial cluster in rural and urban areas. It further states “Ecological Audit of projects and pollution indexing of cities and townships will be done on scientific basis.” Modi-Festo does not want to talk about “Ecological Audit – Pollution Indexing” for industrial cluster of India which is called Comprehensive Environmental Pollution Index (CEPI). In fact, Gujarat is the most polluted state in India.

In 2009, the Ankleshwar’s industrial area, with 88.50 CEPI, topped the list of ‘critically polluted areas’ of India. In 2011 and 2013, Vapi industrial area, with CEPI of 85.31, topped this list.

On the issue of river pollution there is only mention of river Ganga at page 41 by completely sidelining the issue of number of severely polluted rivers of India and specifically the issue of severely polluted rivers passing through the industrial cluster of Gujarat.

In Gujarat rivers are “used” for industrial and domestic effluent dumping

Constituency of Modi – Vadodara’s rural area’s ground water is highly contaminated and it is red. If you travel just 10-20 kms you can witness reddish ground water.

The word Climate Change at page 35 of Modi-Festo states “encouraging research and application to meet the challenges of climate change and for forecasting prevention and mitigation of natural hazards, particularly floods, cyclones, earthquakes, drought and landslides.” This clearly indicates Modi-Festo’s narrow understanding of climate change which completely ignores the impact of industrial pollutants on climate change. It further states at page 36 “We will take Climate Change mitigation imitative with all seriousness and work with global community and institutions in this regard.” The word Climate Change mentioned very casually and no real program to mitigate the climate change is discussed in the Money-Festo of BJP.

Same understanding is also reflected in Narendra Modi’s book on climate change. In his book- CONVENIENT ACTION – Gujarat’s Response To Challenges of Climate Change- Modi selectively presents information and data, which are convenient to defend the ‘development model’ being pursued by the state. The book completely ignores the information from the ‘Gujarat Ecology Commission’ of the Government of Gujarat, and the press coverage on pollution in Gujarat by almost all newspapers over the last 15 years. Even a Google search on ‘pollution in Gujarat’ would have provided plenty of information.

The author could also have accessed basic information from the Central Pollution Control Board and the Gujarat Pollution Control Board to find out the status of the environment of Gujarat State. Even the Gujarat Ecology Commission report and recent CAG report acknowledges the abysmal status of the environment in Gujarat. Why did Modi base his book on cherry-picked evidence that ignores the level of irreversible environmental degradation in the state of Gujarat?

Modi has included in his book on page 132-133 a photo of the ‘Common Effluent Treatment Plant’ of Vapi, a facility which has not been able to fulfill the environmental norms prescribed by Gujarat Pollution Control Board since many years. While the photo is very large, there is no discussion about the functioning of CETP of Vapi. The book completely ignores the failure of all major ‘industrial effluent treatment facilities’ of Gujarat. Why?

The so-called success story of the two-digit growth and tall claims of capital investment in Gujarat State has masked the several digit realities of loss of livelihood, land acquisition, displacement, irreversible damage to environment and permanent loss of natural resources, which are treated as free goods in this development model. The investment figure, without the figures for displacement, destruction and depletion of natural resources and the employment figure without loss of livelihood does not make sense. No wise person would talk about the income without talking the cost of acquiring that income or wealth.

This capitalist development has never tried to arrive at even a realistic estimate of loss of livelihood, land acquisition, displacement, irreversible damage to environment and permanent loss of natural resources figures but the magnitude of the loss can be guessed from some of the facts emerging from various important research works on status of environment in Gujarat.

“Money-Festo – Modi-Festo” of BJP clearly reflects the understanding of environment of Gujarat Development Model of Mr. Modi.

Rohit Prajapati is a social activist based in Vadodara

If you can’t join ‘em, beat ‘em

woman- journalist-sexual -assault

The media trial that sought to vilify the complainant in the Tejpal case would reverse the currently increased receptivity to women’s complaints of sexual abuse and restore the public culture of silence against sexual violence

By Ayesha Kidwai

Over the last one year, since the rape and murder of a young woman on a Delhi bus, the Indian public sphere has been repeatedly rocked by reports of egregious sexual harassment and sexual violence against young women, usually committed upon them in the course of their work. What has been unusual is not the occurrence of these incidents, but the fact that so many of these incidents have become complaints, materialising from the crisp backlit text of email, blogs, and the social media on our computer screens into brutally-thumbed and casually bandied-about complaints and depositions.

Public institution after institution — the judiciary, the media, and academia — has felt the impact of this unanticipated shift. But ever since the problem has gotten off the bus and knocked insistently at the door of whichever institution, one considered to be one’s home, the initial enthusiasm for the bracing winds of social change has abated. Three recent journalistic pieces — one by Manu Joseph in the Outlook and two by Seema Mustafa in The Citizen and the Statesman — show that the strategy to contain the contagion of complaints have evolved in disturbing ways.

Quite obviously, the complainants lie at the heart of every problem, but dealing with them is not an easy task. For one, they do not cower behind the anonymity that is their right under law, but never ever get; for another, even when they have been subjected to the most public violations of privacy, confidentiality, and due process, they do not back away from their complaints. And since the law holds that a survivor is her own true witness in the allegations she makes, the best way to discredit her is to cast her asunder from her words. In Manu Joseph’s view, this separation is effected by what the Grand Hyatt Hotel’s elevator landing saw (i.e. CCTV cameras in the landing areas outside the elevator); from Seema Mustafa’s version of what the Elevator Landing speaks to, a woman’s right to voice even a perceived grievance is denied to her.

While Joseph’s and Mustafa’s pieces have been extensively critiqued in the electronic and social media (most admirably by the Network of Women in Media [NWMI]) for the many breaches of ethical professional journalistic conduct they embody, what allies them most is the lengths that both go to elide the word ‘complainant’, or the more popular word ‘victim’, from the lexicon of their (this-is-not) rape narrative. As Pratiksha Baxi points out, in her Kafila piece, Joseph’s use of Young Woman for the complainant is a reference that does “not evoke the popular image of the innocent rape survivor”.

It is clear that for Joseph, there is only one set of victims here — Tejpal and his family. It is he who has been “destroyed” and it is his family who has been “evicted” from their home, as his wife suffers the “indignity” of defending her husband’s “consensual” relationship. The complainant of course has not suffered in the same way: though she has had to move as well, it is only to a “new home on the outskirts of Delhi”. There is no mention of her mother at all, and her father cannot be told that Tejpal raped her because of his ill-health; in short, no grieving kin or friends. And while she is “in a delicate mental state”, this fragility is not because of the assault she has been subjected to, but because she is “consumed by the intense fear” that her character will soon be put on trial. And lest we begin to empathise with her, we should know that “details of her past are already in the air” i.e. she has a past that needs some worrying about! Comparing this to Tejpal’s ordeal of sitting in a small cell in a Goa jail, we know which one of the two could qualify as the veritable zindaa laash, were it not for Tejpal’s love for his journalistic craft, embodied in his ceaseless striving (through Court petitions) for stationery supplies in jail.

Mustafa’s characterisation of the complainant is even more partial than Joseph’s. Since, unlike Joseph, Mustafa does not appear to have even bothered to meet the complainant (whatever happened to the journalistic code of checking and balancing sources, we wonder), it’s only the woman on the CCTV footage who she describes as the “alleged victim”. This purposely cruel phrase — more so because Mustafa refers to Tejpal (only once) with the contradictory ‘”alleged accused” (note, not “alleged perpetrator”) — discredits every part of the complainant’s deposition, even those incidents that the Elevator Landing couldn’t see, most importantly the act of the rape itself.

The choice of this phrase as the descriptor (although the usage of the term ‘alleged victim’ to mean complainant does exist in US legal parlance, it is novel for Indian journalism) then allows Mustafa the latitude to interpret what the CCTV evidence should mean for the case: since the woman did not show “visible (to Mustafa) signs of agitation”, and because she chose not to take the stairs in the second incident complained about, Mustafa concludes that “the jury is clearly out on this one.”

Both Joseph and Mustafa have stoutly defended their positions by invoking the criterion of objectivity, but one is puzzled as to how that criterion is served by their unwillingness to question information fed to them and which is clearly directed towards a “media trial” of the complainant. Surely, intrepid journalists like these two should have entertained enough skepticism about such information fed to them and carry it over to the copy they generated. Nevertheless, even if we were to assume that every alleged contradiction pointed out in these articles are “facts”, as Mustafa asserts, surely there has to be an understanding that any “fact” is always interpreted as one within a particular context. The context here is one of sexual violence, for which there is ample evidence that the trauma causes confusion, numbness, memory lapses, etc in the victim. In the universe of this discourse, it is no longer a ‘fact’ that recollection and narration of a sequence of events must be instantaneously seamless and fluent for it to be credible.

The burning question is why Mustafa and Joseph have done this? Are they misogynistic ‘supporters’ of Tejpal or fearless worshippers of fact and intrepid journalism? While the latter question may be good for an author’s self-image, and the former one can be dismissed as presupposing too tidy a critique, the real issue is a general failure amongst the professionals to come up with an adequate response to what the changed mood in the middle class demands. Mustafa and Joseph’s failures are just repeats of ones that we have witnessed over and over again, and each profession has plunged into a crisis when a colleague has been accused: How does a ‘senior’ professional approach the fact that some young woman has gone and complained about something that wasn’t even a grievance just a few years ago? After all, it is ”her’ word against ‘his’ and we know him; and while he may have his faults, he has done so many good things, and he is above all, secular. In any case, why are these outsiders, this “bunch of feminists” getting so involved in these matters (which are always so stippled with grey when seen from our side)?

For an outsider feminist like me, the answer is obvious: no one but this bunch knows what to do when a complaint is made from within one’s own kind. When the complaints have been made from within academia or within the judiciary, it is this bunch that has fought for them to be addressed, protested and thwarted the misuse of hierarchical power and its machinery of slander and intimidation, and reminded their professions that the ideal of equality must first be expressed in the creation of conditions conducive to its access. In doing so, they have imbued the phrase “let the law take its own course” with substantive meaning.

It is time for some of our journalist friends who have long written about women’s empowerment to emulate a fraction of what Indira Jaising and Vrinda Grover did in the complaints against the judiciary. Disputing their and other activists’ rights to dispute one’s own article may serve to create a comfortable ‘Us vs. Them’ binary that facilitates self-justification, taking feminists names along with the website-hacking Hindu Right may exaggerate the sense of injury (and dare I say it, “alleged victimhood”), but using the suicide of Khurshid Anwar as a stick to beat all feminists and complainants with does not serve the memory of a man whose commitment to the cause of women’s emancipation and equality has been cited as proof of his innocence.

It may be thought that the fact that the court has already taken a position on the Insightful Elevator Landing renders the current debate irrelevant, but this would be a terrible mistake. Across the spectrum of professions, what is at stake here is the fundamental right of a woman to make a complaint, and the vilification of the complainant that we are witnessing currently targets the all important court of public opinion. The increased receptivity to women’s complaints that we have witnessed in recent times must be reversed, and what better way to do it, but to turn the woman against her word. If complainants are no longer as readily believed, if feminism’s misdeeds begin from supporting such untrustworthy women and end with draconian punishments like the death penalty (which they were in truth the first to oppose), the re-creation of a public culture of silence about sexual violence can perhaps be hoped for. It needs no guessing as to whose interests this aspired to future will serve, but must we be doomed to dream the nightmares of the communal misogynistic right?

Ayesha Kidwai is a professor of linguistics at Jawaharlal Nehru University

If you don’t vote for Modi, you are a terrorist


A concerted attempt by investigative agencies and sections of media seeks to foster suspicion and hatred against the minority community and create an image of the BJP’s controversial PM candidate Narendra Modi as being the target of terrorists

By Kavita Krishnan
In the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections 2014, several instances of politically-motivated violence have been witnessed. The communal violence at Muzaffarnagar, intended to sharpen communal polarisation
and consolidate the dominant and majority community in UP and neighbouring states in favour of the BJP, is a good example. In Bihar, the murder of a young Muslim schoolteacher Akbar Khan followed by the murder of CPI(ML) Liberation leader Budhram Paswan, have also been used to serve a political purpose.

Following Comrade Budhram’s murder, feudal forces fired celebratory shots in the air, aiming to terrorise the poor supporters of CPI(ML). Following Akbar’s murder, there was a malicious attempt to spread a rumour that he was killed because he cheered for Pakistan in a cricket match. Fortunately the communal canard failed, because the young Akbar, who used to teach poor children for free and organise actions to keep the streets free of sexual harassment for schoolgirls, enjoyed the affection and respect of local people of all communities. As the elections unfold, it is disturbing to note a trend of communalisation and politicisation of terror investigations.

In the month of March, there has been a concerted attempt by investigative agencies and by sections of the media, to create an image of the BJP’s PM candidate Narendra Modi, as a leader who is the target of terrorists and to foster suspicion and hatred against the minority community as well. Following the arrest of four youths in Rajasthan recently, the media carried many stories claiming – supposedly based on ‘IB alerts’ that these four men were part of a terror plot against Modi. The Delhi Police Special Cell that made the arrests chose to hold a press conference about the arrests. What was the need for a press conference in an ongoing investigation, when no substantial facts are available? Such an exercise, in an election season, smacks of a political motive.

Communal profiling in terror Investigations: Report from Abgila, Arwal, Bihar

A team comprising CPI(ML) leaders Dhirendra Jha, Kavita Krishnan, Mohd Salim, Rajaram and Mahanand, as well as senior advocates and activists of Rihai Manch, Mohd Shoaib and Asad Hyatt, visited Abgila village in Arwal district on March 31, 2014. Below, we summarise what the team was told by people of the village:

National Investigation Agency (NIA) asks ‘Why won’t you vote for Modi?’ Maqsood Alam, father of 19-year old Aslam Parvez told the team that his son has been held in NIA custody since March 5th. Alam had taken his son to Karauna OP of Jehanabad after being informed by the police to present himself there. In his presence, his son was beaten by the NIA team and asked to confess to involvement in the blasts.

Subsequently, he was held in NIA custody in Delhi and papers reported on April 1 that he was produced in a Ranchi court on March 31st and that he has ‘confessed’ to involvement in the blasts.’ Maqsood Alam and other family members were told by the NIA to present themselves in Delhi on the day of Holi. Alam saw his son in NIA custody in Delhi, and according to him, ‘Aslam Parvez appeared crazed by torture, talking incoherent rubbish. It was heartrending to see my young son in this condition.’

Maqsood Alam himself was interrogated by the NIA. During interrogation he was asked to which party he belonged, to which he replied ‘Maaley’ (CPIML Liberation is known in Bihar by this name). Asked ‘What’s Maaley’, he replied ‘It’s Dipankarji’s party (Dipankar Bhattacharya is the party General Secretary)’. To which an NIA interrogator asked him, ‘Why won’t you and your family support Modi, vote for Modi?’ Maksood Alam is a homoeopathic doctor; the NIA also tried to instigate his landlord to evict his clinic from the premises.

Aslam Parvez’s cousin Irfan Ansari had been picked up on March 1st, and tortured in NIA custody. In Jehanabad, he was stripped naked and beaten on his legs and soles of the foot. In NIA custody in Delhi,
soap was put in his mouth, and his head was held under water repeatedly. A chair was placed on his chest, and NIA personnel would sit on the arms of the chair to create unbearable pressure on his body. He put be placed in a room all night with no clothes on, with the fan on. Irfan Ansari said the NIA told him – ‘We’ll ensure that no Muslim from Arwal ever gets a government job.’ Irfan has been selected for the CRPF, and the NIA told him that they would ensure that he lost his place.

Irfan was asked to confess to having introduced Aslam Parvez to some ‘Hyder’ and to have been in Gaya on the day of the Bodh Gaya blasts (7 July 2013). He had in fact travelled by train to Asansol via Dhanbad; and the train passes through Gaya. However, he said he never alighted at Gaya. He was shown photographs of persons and asked, under torture, to identify them – but he was unable to do so. Irfan was released and told that he would be interrogated again at a later date.

During interrogation by the NIA in Delhi, Manzoor Alam was brought face to face with Aslam Parvez, and the latter said to Manzoor, “We met together at Gaya with Irfan and Hyder to plan the Bodh Gaya
blasts.” Manzoor Alam said that Aslam Parvez’s manner revealed that he was under duress and severe torture.

Irfan’s brothers Rustom and Sohrab, Murtaza Ansari, Parvez Alam, Sarfaraz, Sarfuddin and Naushad Alam are some of the other youth from the village who have been summoned and interrogated by the NIA. There is an atmosphere of palpable terror, with every youth living in the village fears that he will be tortured and branded a terrorist.

The NIA Act is a draconian law under which an accused can be held in police custody for 30 days, and further detained without charges for 180 days. For Aslam Parvez, this has meant that the NIA has the powers to extract false confessions under torture.

The whole episode displays a disturbing trend of politicisation and communalisation of terror investigations.