Archive for August 28, 2014

33 years, five women and (many) a movement

Saheli-delhi-meeting

‘In remembrance of feminist comrades and in preparation for difficult futures’ – a report of the annual day celebrations of Saheli Women’s Resource Centre, Delhi

By Saheli Women’s Resource Centre

It was a day of mixed emotions. On 9th August 2014, the hot and noisy (not to mention shaky) Saheli office was packed with people sitting on chairs, sprawled on durries, leaning against walls and perched atop tables.

We had gathered to mark 33 years of Saheli’s existence and work, by paying tribute to the lives and work of some of the feminists we have lost in the last year, to draw strength and inspiration from their lives and work, and above all to reflect on where we are headed, together. One of the truly wonderful things was seeing a mix of feminists old and new, to meet faces familiar and unfamiliar, to be treated to anecdotes both known and unknown.

We started with what Savita of Saheli called a ‘brief history of 33 years of friendships, movements and struggles’ as she spoke of Saheli’s work in the past and our present directions.

Mohan Rao began the recollections with his affectionate tribute to Vina Mazumdar, talking about how meeting Vina-di and Imrana Qadeer in his early days in Delhi had dramatically changed his life. He reminded us of Vina-di’s consistent work against neo-Malthusian population policies and her deep concern for the growing imbalance in sex ratios among children (not just infants) from way back in the 1980s. But most of all, Mohan also reminded us of Vina-di’s love for people and her immense capacity to build and nurture friendships.

Just as we were ready to further these conversations, there was a bit of a stir in the crowd as the walls of our office came alive with pictures that Sheba Chhachhi gifted us on the occasion. The poignant image of Shahjehan Apa holding up a picture of the daughter she had lost to dowry at the public meeting in Nangloi where Gouri Choudhry, Uma Chakravarti, Runu Chakraborty and several others remembered meeting her for the first time, and discovering her warmth, sensitivity and her skills as a feminist orator. There was also the iconic photograph of Satyarani Chaddha at an anti-dowry rally which led to discussions about her long and tortuous struggle for justice for her daughter’s death. We rued the fact that although her son-in-law was finally convicted for his crime decades later, he continues to live the life of a free man.

Then were the lovely portraits of Sharda Behn – smiling in close-up, somber at a rally carrying a poster with the anti-communal slogan of the late 1980s, “Prem se kaho hum insaan hain”, and cooking in her kitchen with the same poster on her door – that got Runu talking about Sharda Behn’s amazing capacity to connect with all kinds of people, which made her a fabulous organiser of women in Mahila Panchayats, and other grassroot level programmes. As the gathering recalled Sharda Behn playing the mother-in-law in countless performances of the now legendary anti-dowry play “Om Swaha”, many remembered Deepti Priya as the poor daughter-in-law who ‘died’ many times in those performances (while she herself, curled up on a chair giggled at the memory). Runu reflected on the various ‘generations’ of casts and performers of Om Swaha, while Gouri looked back critically saying that unfortunately “we were protesting dowry deaths and violence but we never protested dowry itself.”

Gouri also spoke at length about Bharati Roy Chowdhury, another powerhouse organiser and activist who despite her failing health and reduced mobility, remained committed to issues relating to women, forests, labour till the very end. Rakhi Sehgal added how Bharti’s work continued to inspire newer unions like NTUI (New Trade Union Initiative) in their efforts to engender their work in both the formal and informal sectors.

And the floodgates opened for many memories of Sharmila Rege. Uma Chakravarti started by reminding us that some of Sharmila’s earliest academic work was on the issue of Sati, but yet she blazed a path like no other. She countered conventional professional trajectories by taking a ‘demotion’ to move to the Krantijyoti Savitribai Phule Women’s Studies Centre at the University of Pune and making history with that move. She complicated classical feminist theories with issues of caste, and in turn, complicating questions of caste with gender. Uma spoke movingly about how deep a loss Sharmila’s passing is to her personally, as well as women’s studies in India as a whole. Casting a critical eye on many women’s studies centres in India, Uma asserted that if we didn’t learn from the kind of edge Sharmila brought to women’s studies, or the passion and seriousness with which she approached teaching, then the entire field would steadily decline to a point of meaninglessness. Uma also shared inspiring stories of how Sharmila defied conventions of ‘academic publishing’ by writing easily accessible critiques of popular culture, and even co-authoring with her young students.

Quite naturally, these reminiscences left us all, collectively, quite overwhelmed. The perfect moment it seemed, for the newest person in Saheli, Shreya to say her piece. Speaking candidly and freely, Shreya threw her pre-prepared speech to the wind as she talked about why young women like her ‘need feminism’ – to deal with family, to contest the men around them, to make lives of their own. Taking on from there, Deepti of Saheli laid out the issues before us all, young and old. “This year when we started to think about what if we might want to do on Saheli day, we realized there was this enormous sense of loss, not just of these incredible women, but also a sense of fatigue and paralysis around us.

There have been setbacks on the legal front: the recent Supreme Court judgment on 498A about women filing false cases, the chilling clause in the new Sexual Harassment Law sanctioning action against women for ‘false and malicious’ cases’, the shocking Sec 377 judgment of the Supreme Court that recriminalised homosexuality, and countless cases of judges harassing women in the course of work – raising all kinds of concerns including how these men can be expected to make/implement laws to protect the rights of women.

Deepti also highlighted the dangers we are already perceiving of having a right wing led government in majority at the Centre: “a revival of the move to scrap Article 370 or talk about enforcing a Uniform Civil Code (UCC), etc – all being raked up in a jingoistic manner that does not even pretend to seek broader engagement with all the stakeholders. And then, of course, the closing of spaces for dissent by both, state and non-state actors – NGO activists being arrested, social media being monitored, censorship by the likes of Dinanath Batra, and more scarily, self-censorship by individuals and NGOs… all this silences our collective voice,” she said.

The discussion that followed was, not surprisingly, more muted than the preceding session. But the ideas and strategies came forth finally, and slowly we began to hear our own voices speak up. While some advised for caution and subversion in our actions ahead, others said this is no time for fear or moderation. Some said we need to focus on contesting the State and other orthodoxies that surround us, some pushed for us to question family, marriage and other structures, and yet others pointed a finger inwards and suggested we reflect on how we self-censor and how it is affecting our work and sense of strength. We also talked about the need for organizing ourselves in different ways, to create more autonomous spaces, more local groupings that could stay engaged on many fronts.

First in undertones, and then as louder demands, seasoned feminists and newer ones in the room spoke of a need for more dialogue among small collectives and grassroots based organisations, as well as with younger people. Reference was also made to controversies among us that need further dialogue, for e.g. the contrary positions on the issue of bar dancers between Dalit and non-Dalit feminists. As someone in the room pointed out, the recent sessions debating the UCC at Saheli have been a good opportunity to talk about many things, and it is clear that we need to do more, much more together. To get a sense of where we stand on many issues, where we think we need to go, and to strategise about how to get there.

A (tentative) plan was made to have monthly meetings at the Delhi level to carry these dialogues further. But the bigger questions that hung in the air were: are we done with the Conferences of Autonomous Women’s Movements after the last one in Kolkata in 2006? Isn’t it time we think of the next one? Or should we think of smaller, regional conferences? We must evolve more ways for us to stay connected with each other and build on our collective vision, especially in the post-May 16 landscape.

Are all of us feminists, inside and outside that meeting, on and off the various e-lists listening?

Featured photo by Binita Kakati

Former Chairperson of NCW assaulted, Delhi Police ‘too busy’ to help

Mohini-Giri-assualt

Delhi police set a new standard of callousness and insensitivity last week when two police officers – one in a police control van and other on a police control motorbike ignored an ongoing incident of assault and refused to offer aid to the victims, one of whom was Dr V Mohini Giri, the 76-year-old former Chairperson of National Commission for Women. Dr Giri recounts her harrowing experience

By Mohini Giri

After a very tiring day on 23rd August 2014, Saturday, I decided to get out for some fresh air outside my office premises, SHUBHAM, at Qutub Institutional Area. I opted to take a route on the pathway of Sanjay Van in my car which was driven by my driver.

I had reached just the corner of the office building; I saw a sight that was just beyond the moral and humanist value of an individual. What I saw was a shameful assault of a girl by a gang of young boys. As I went closer to really understand the situation what I witnessed just shook me to the ground.

The young boys were trying to molest her by tearing off her clothes and they were also beating her. I immediately tried to shield her with my own body. The next minute, I saw a PCR van just pass by and I tried to stop the van. The driver came got out and saw the whole situation. To my surprise, he went back to report to a higher official sitting in the van. I was told by the driver then, that “Sahib ko kahin jaldi jana hai abhi main aapki koi madad nai kar sakta.”

Suddenly I saw a woman in her mid 30’s coming towards me. She came closer to me and started punching me hard from left, right and centre. Being a 76-year-old woman and being on the medical support, I was hurt very badly with the internal as well as external injuries. There were about 50 onlookers. None of them including my driver could come to my rescue. Rather, they were mere spectators and cheerful audiences witnessing this irony of an old woman. The trouble of the girl was now the trauma of an old woman. Again I saw a PCR motorbike coming. I tried stopping it. When they stopped, I told the police officials to stop this fight and take the boys and everyone along. The policeman started yelling; addressing me as ‘Budiya’ (old woman) he told me that if I have any serious grievances I must report it by filing an FIR at the police station. This raises one question in my mind, who will rescue anyone in this country if we have to face such harassment?

I went straight to my son’s place. He provided me the first aid and some medicine for my heart. I am still suffering from the trauma of the hard punches and the attempt to tear off my clothes. What country do we live in? Where is the law and order? How and when will the police reforms happen? How can person who attempts a rescue be safe guarded in the biggest polity of India? How will the crimes ever stop? These are my questions to you!!

In my medical checkup the ECG was abnormal and now I am proceeding to my cardiologist.

Feminist fictions for teens

feminist fictions

By Team FI

This is a list we made based on suggestions sent by several members of the feministsindia e-group. This is not a comprehensive list but a good one to start by if you are looking to introduce young adults to characters, situations and issues they would not meet in popular culture fiction and non-fiction books. If you wish to add titles, provide corrections and comments, please use the comment space.

Contemporary Writing- Indian
Suniti Namjoshi – The Fabulous Feminist and Suki (a dialogue with her cat); Published by Zubaan

Anita Roy and Samina Mishra (editors)- 101 Indian Children’s Books We Love (Young Zubaan) Rs 195; Published by Zubaan

Vandana Singh – Younguncle Comes to Town and Younguncle in the Himalayas; Published by Zubaan

Payal Dhar: The Shadow of Eternity, The Key of Chaos, The Timeless Land, a trilogy – fantasy, science fiction ; Published by Zubaan

Aditi Rao and Chatura Rao: Growing Up in Pandupur (slightly younger girls); Published by Zubaan

Subhadra Sengupta: Star Struck and The Foxy Four; Published by Zubaan

Kate Darnton: The Misfits; Published by Zubaan

Sowmya Rajendran, Niveditha Subramaniam, pictures: Niveditha Subramaniam: Mayil Will Not Be Quiet and other Mayil books; Published by Tulika

Samhita Arni – graphic novel Sita’s Ramayana – illustrations by Moyna Chitrakar; Published by Tara Books

Salman Rushdie – Haroun and the Sea of Stories

Classics – Indian
RK Narayan’s Swami and Friends

Contemporary Writing – Non-India
Refaat Alareer (editor): Gaza Writes Back: Short Stories from Young Writers in Gaza, Palestine

Ira Ebbotsons – Land of the river sea, Star of Kazan etc

EL Konigsberg – From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and other books

Liv Ullman’s autobiography – Changing

Megan Stine – Who was Marie Curie?

Roberta Edwards – Who is Jane Goodall?

LGBTQ Books
Leslea Newman and Diana Souza – Heather Has Two Mommies: 20th Anniversary Edition- Alyson Books, 2009

Meredith Maran – How Would You Feel If Your Dad Was Gay?- Alyson Books, 2000

Peter Parnell – And Tango Makes Three- Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing, 2005

Robert Skutch – Who’s in a Family?- Tricycle Press, 1997


Classics – Non-Indian

Katherine Paterson – Bridge to Terabithia

E Nesbit – The Railway Children, Five Children and It.

Anne Frank’s Diary

Louisa Alcott – all books

Lucy Maud Montgomery – Anne of Green Gables Series

ABOVE 16
Contemporary Writing – Indian
Anita Roy (ed) 21 Under Forty (21 stories by women under 40); Published by Zubaan

Annie Zaidi and Smriti Ravindra: The Good Indian Girl; Published by Zubaan

Anita Roy (ed) Flying High: Amazing Women and their Success Stories; Published by Zubaan

Lakshmi Holmstrom – The Inner Courtyard – stories by Indian women; Published by South Asia Books

Arundhati Roy – God of Small Things; Published by Random House

Anita Desai – Village by the Sea; Published by Heinemann

Gogu Shyamala – Father May Be an Elephant and Mother Only a Small Basket, But…; Published by Navayana

Anjali Deshpande – Impeachment; Published by Hachette India

Amrita Das (art); Gita Wolf & Susheela Varadarajan (text, from the Hindi original by Amrita Das): Hope is Girl Selling Fruit; Published by Tara Books

Ranjit Lal: Smitten (about incest); Published by Zubaan

The Blue Book; Published by Zubaan with TARSHI

The Yellow Book (both of these are about sexuality, knowing your bodies etc); Published by Zubaan with TARSHI

Begum Rokheya Sakhawat Hossain; Illustrated by Durga Bai – Sultana’s Dream; Published by Tara Books

Urmila Pawar – The Weave of my Life; Published by Columbia University Press; Motherwit Published by Zubaan

Sampat Pal – Warrior in a Pink Sari; Published by Zubaan

Sunanda Sikdar – A Life Long Ago, translated from Bengali by Anchita Ghatak; Published by Penguin Books

Classics – Indian
Ismat Chughtai – The Quilt: Stories; Published by Penguin

Malati Bedekar aka Vibhavari Shirurkar – Kharemaster; Published by Stree

Contemporary Writing – Non-India
Marjane Satrapi – Persepolis

Emma Donoghue – The Room

Tamora Pierce – Song of the Lioness and Protector of the Small series – speculative fiction

Philip Pullman – Sarah Lockhart series, The Golden Compass series (speculative fiction)

Spy Princess: The Life of Noor Inayat Khan

Isaac Asimov – All books – Speculative Fiction

Madeleine L’Engle – A Wrinkle In Time – Speculative Fiction

LGBTQ Books
Eric Marcus – What If Someone I Know Is Gay?: Answers to Questions About What It Means to Be Gay and Lesbian- Simon Pulse, 2007

Ellen Bass and Kate Kaufman – Free Your Mind: The Book for Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Youth and Their Allies- Harper Perennial, 1996

Kelly Huegel – GLBTQ: The Survival Guide for Queer and Questioning Teens- Free Spirit Publishing, 2003

Classics – Non-Indian
JD Salinger – Catcher in the Rye

Harper Lee – To Kill a Mockingbird

Jane Austen – all books

Websites
www.everydayfeminism.com
Books reviews for kids, by kids: http://bookwormsbookshelf.com
A Mighty Girl’s book section features over 2,000 girl-empowering books starring stellar Mighty Girl characters: http://www.amightygirl.com/books
Zubaan books: http://zubaanbooks.com/product-category/books/
Tara Books: http://www.tarabooks.com/books/books/young-readers/teens/
Tulika Books: http://www.tulikabooks.com/
Navayana Publications: http://navayana.org/

India of my dream

women-India

Activist Kavita Krishnan visualizes the India of her dream, one that she shares with those who struggle to transform the country

We revolutionaries, who seek to transform society, spend a lot of time re-imagining the world we live in. That does not mean we live in a fool’s paradise. It means that we dream dreams that can be achieved.

We don’t wish on a star. Our wishes, we know, won’t be granted by any gods. The beauty of our dreams lies in the fact that they’re made up of human imagination and human will, and can be shaped and brought to life by human will.

When our imaginations are cramped, our realities too are likely to be the same. When an idea comes to life in our imagination, it is the first step towards bringing it to life in our real world.

We aren’t solitary dreamers. We don’t dream our dreams isolated from others. Our dreams are not a private indulgence or a private solace. These dreams are born in the collective minds of fellow fighters. We dream together, as we fight struggles together. And when others are able to see and share our dreams, the dreams acquire a life beyond our own personal lives. And imagining dreams take courage. The system survives, not only by jailing or killing revolutionaries – but by killing our dreams. ‘Sabse khatarnak hota hai sapnon ka mar jana,’ said Paash (Most dangerous of all is the death of our dreams.)
Today, I will attempt to share some of those many dreams with you, the reader.

In my imagination, I see an India where a woman can roam free – free of the labels of‘wife’, ‘mother’, ‘daughter’, ‘beautiful’, ‘ugly’, ‘goddess’, ‘slut’… Where every child she bears is legitimate, and none seeks to know or prove who the father is. Where every woman is valued irrespective of her ability of choice to bear a child

An India where caring, nurturing, bringing up children, is not assigned as ‘women’s work’. Instead, all around us we are able to see men and women, who change diapers, bathe, feed and clothe children, and feel that mingled feeling of love and pain that being a parent involves.

An India where the birth of a baby is celebrated without worrying about the sex of the child. An India where girls who play sports are not humiliated and accused of being ‘male’, and boys who dance or cook are not taunted for being ‘effeminate.’ An India where brothers no longer feel entitled to hold sisters in ‘bandhan’ in the name of ‘raksha’ – and sisters no longer feel obliged to give brothers a right to control their lives. An India where the love of brothers and sisters is expressed as solidarity with each others’ dreams, as respect and support for each others’ decisions.

An India where it is unknown for the women to have to worry about ‘what people will think’ – about her clothes, the colour of her skin, who she chooses to love, and what she chooses to do with her life.

An India where love – between people of any community or any sex – will not be a crime.

An India where the ugly hierarchy of castes is a forgotten thing of the past. Where the history of the struggles of the oppressed is recognized and celebrated, and the history of oppression is remembered – so as never to repeat it

An India where men do not fear women, citizens do not fear ‘foreigners’. An India that does not fear the fullest freedom of the Dalits, the adivasis, the people of Kashmir or Manipur or Nagaland. An India that is a free union of free people. Where ‘unity’ does not have to mean a regime of fear, or subservience achieved at gun point. An India that does not fear its neighbours – and that does not induce fear in its neighbours. An India that can be trusted to speak up against injustice anywhere in the world.

An India which will recognize the truth: that all value is created by the labour of workers. When workers – the mehnatkash – can ‘demand their rightful share from the world – not a field or a country, but the whole world.’ When we can put behind us the nightmare-India where a tiny few enjoy Antilla-like palaces and the vast majority has no homes; and awaken to a new India where every person can be sure of a home to call their own. Where education and health care of the best quality can be availed by every Indian as a right, rather than being a commodity to be bought by the rich.

An India where ‘justice’ won’t mean a hangman’s noose. Rather, where justice will mean that we as Indian people will have the courage and conscience to face and admit the truths about the violence done in our name, in our country’s name. Where the truth about the rapes and murders of Manorama, Neelofer and Asiya, the rapes of Kunan Poshpora, the mass graves of Kashmir, the little adivasi children killed by paramilitary forces during harvest festivals in Bastar, the cries of pain and humiliation arising from the torture chambers that are called ‘police lock-ups’ all over the country, can be acknowledged by all Indians. Where ‘national pride’ or ‘national security’ will not be equated with tolerance of these crimes against humanity. And where the acceptance of the truth can be foundation of dignity and democracy for India.

An India where ‘work’ does not mean back-breaking, mind-numbing toil that still leaves stomachs hungry. Where a ‘job’ does not come wedded to ‘joblessness.’ An India where people matter, not profits

An India where animals and humans do not need to fear each other and are not thrown into conflict with each other by a short-sighted and greedy economy. An India where the ‘environment’ – land, water, forests, air, flora and fauna – are not seen as ‘commodities’ to be ‘owned’ and ‘exploited’, but as a world we inherit and are duty-bound to enrich and pass on to future generations rather than allow a few greedy men to devour.

Our revolutionary dreams cannot be bounded by the confines of a country. Naturally, those dreams are dreamed for the entire world, not India alone. We dream of a world free of oppression, free of ownership. A world where the many thousands of peoples live in unity, where domination, occupation and war are things of the past. Where work is not inspired by the fear of hunger, where a ‘living’ does not have to be ‘earned’; where instead, human being work and play to express their humanity.

As I said before, there is no copyright on the dreams of revolutionaries. Where do the dreams of Bhagat Singh end and ours begin, after all? That is why, when I try to give my dreams the shape of words, I often find the words of poets and dreamers past come to my lips. So I’ll end with the immortal words from John Lennon’s anthem Imagine –

“You may say I’m a dreamer, But I’m not the only one, I hope someday you’ll join us, And the world will be one.”

Kavita Krishnan is the secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association (AIPWA). This is the English translation of the article she wrote for Outlook Magazine’s Hindi publication

Independence Day speech: Modi’s art of doublespeak

Narendra-Modi-Independence-Day

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s political record in Gujarat and at the Centre exposes the emptiness of his Independence Day’s speech. Presenting a detailed rebuttal of the Modi rhetoric

By Rohit Prajapati

In his first address as the Prime Minister on India’s Independence Day, Narendra Modi declared: “I am present amidst you not as the Prime Minister, but as the Prime Servant.” This was one of many clever uses of populist rhetoric to appeal to the heart of his audience on 15 August 2014. While it may be the duty of the PM to represent the aspirations of all the people of India, Modi’s actions and those of his government’s demonstrate that in reality, he is committed to serving only the capitalist class for the sake of the GDP.

The contradictions between Mr. Modi’s political record and his speech were numerous. In an instance of blatant flattery for political ends, Modi stated, “My dear countrymen, this nation has neither been built by political leaders nor by rulers nor by governments. This nation has been built by our farmers, our workers, our mothers and sisters, our youth.”

This recognition of the importance of farmers and common people stands in stark contrast to the Modi Government’s recent moves, which are anti-small-marginal-farmers, anti-working class and anti-people in general. Instead of going for more deserving amendments in ‘The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013’, the Modi Government is planning to dilute the act to get rid of almost all major progressive provisions by way of amendments to allow for more land-grabbing. The Modi Government has begun the process to amend present labour laws to make them more investment-friendly so that industries have free reign as promised in the election.

The Modi Government is internationally famous for espousing a business climate for the profit and prosperity of mega industries – the government’s patrons – and not for ordinary people. Modi was clear in his Election Manifesto: “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 labour reforms, besides other steps to create a conducive environment for investors.”

It is thus all the more ironic when Mr. Modi rhetorically asked, “Brothers and sisters, can someone please tell me as to whether he or she has ever introspected in the evening after a full day’s work as to whether his or her acts have helped the poor of the country or not, whether his or her actions have resulted in safeguarding the interest of the country or not, whether the actions have been directed in country’s welfare or not? Whether it should not be the motto of one and a quarter billion countrymen that every step in life should be in the country’s interests?” His loyalty to building an “environment for investment” leaves people in the lurch. This is a question, which Modi, instead of posing to the nation, should first ask himself and his party cohorts.

The Modi Government is busy in building up the environment for the profit and prosperity of its patrons and not for ordinary people. Government’s almost all actions are “honestly” in this direction. For Modi the word ‘Environment’ means “Environment for Investment”

Mr. Modi astutely observed, “Brothers and sisters, when we hear about the incidents of rape, we hang our heads in shame. People come out with different arguments, someone indulges in psycho analysis, but brothers and sisters, today from this platform, I want to ask those parents, I want to ask every parent that you have a daughter of 10 or 12 years age, you are always on the alert, every now and then you keep on asking where are you going, when would you come back, inform immediately after you reach. Parents ask their daughters hundreds of questions, but have any parents ever dared to ask their son as to where he is going, why he is going out, who his friends are. After all, a rapist is also somebody’s son. He also has parents. As parents, have we ever asked our son as to what he is doing and where he is going? If every parent decides to impose as many restrictions on the sons as have been imposed on our daughters, try to do this with your sons, try to ask such questions of them.”

But an appeal to the people to combat rape-culture from the inside – as autonomous feminist groups and other movements have been doing since years – is not sufficient action on the part of PM of India. Modi must go beyond tokenism and sloganism to earn credibility on this issue. He must show political will and allocate sufficient resources, by way of budget and staff, to implement “The Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PCPNDT) Act, 1994, The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005, The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO) 2012, The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act 2013, The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013.” etc. Although as Chief Minister of Gujarat, Modi failed to provide the necessary political support and resources to seriously implement laws that protect women from these injustices, I hope that the people will hold him to putting his money and action where his mouth is on this issue in his new national position of power.

In yet another bizarrely ironic statement, Modi said “Brothers and sisters, for one reason or the other, we have had communal tensions for ages. This led to the division of the country. Even after Independence, we have had to face the poison of casteism and communalism. How long these evils will continue? Whom does it benefit?”

Nobody should know the beneficiaries of communal tensions better than Mr. Modi. His role as the architect of communal divide garnered him immense political capital: first bolstering him to the position of chairman of the central campaign committee of BJP, then the PM Candidate of BJP, then the PM Candidate of NDA, and ultimately the PM of the country. His political career peaked only after carnage 2002 in Gujarat.

Modi said “Therefore, I appeal to all those people that whether it is the poison of casteism, communalism, regionalism, discrimination on social and economic basis, all these are obstacles in our way forward. Let’s resolve for once in our hearts, let’s put a moratorium on all such activities for ten years, we shall march ahead to a society which will be free from all such tensions.” This is welcome advice, from a most unexpected source: we hope that his party leaders & members and members of the all affiliates organisation of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and BJP’s electoral allies were listening.

I have a question for Modi: why only for 10 years? What happens when his 10 years moratorium on communal violence is over and you are asking whom (all those people) to implement this? Mr. Modi, can you eradicate the caste system without challenging the Hindu religion?

Modi appeal again when he stated, “Have we ever thought what the sex ratio in the country is like? 940 girls are born against per thousand boys. Who is causing this imbalance in the society? Certainly not God. I request the doctors not to kill the girl growing in the womb of a mother just to line their own pockets. I advise mothers and sisters not to sacrifice daughters in the hope of son.”

I wish to remind Mr.Modi that he has not even attempted to implement, ‘The Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PCPNDT) Act, 1994, in Gujarat and only used government money for the rhetoric of “Beti Bachao” while promoting the ideology behind dowry through the schemes like “Mangal Sutra” and “Kunwarbai Nu Mameru”*. Mr. Modi, the negative sex ratio is just a symptom of a major decease called patriarchy and you have to challenge the patriarchy with short term and long term programmes .

Mr. Modi said ‘Therefore, an account holder under ‘Pradhanmantri Jan-Dhan Yojana‘ will be given a debit card. An insurance of One Lakh Rupees will be guaranteed with that debit card for each poor family, so that such families are covered with the insurance of One Lakh Rupees in case of any crisis in their lives.”

Mr. Modi, people want the “Right to Work” for fair and living wages, along with all the social securities. And if the government is unable to provide the work, the government should pay an “Unemployment Dole.” With their earning, people may have a chance to open the bank account and can also opt for insurance as additional social security with government further assistance for that. The Government should not withdraw from its social responsibly like education, health care, housing, food, etc.

Modi says “If we have to promote the development of our country then our mission has to be ‘skill development’ and ‘skilled India’. Millions and Millions of Indian youth should go for acquisition of skills and there should be a network across the country for this and not the archaic systems.” Mr. Modi should understand that present and the past Government has deskilled the people at large through almost complete privatisation, commercialisation and commodification of education has in practice given a voluntary retirement from the education to the children of the ordinary people. Now a day the policies of the past and present governments mean knowledge and education for the students of IIT, NIT and so-called, well-known universities & colleges and so-called skill development for ITI & dropout students.

Modi said “The economics of the world have changed and, therefore, we will have to act accordingly.” Mr. Modi, be bold and admit that you are a proponent of liberalisation, privatisation, globalisation, FDI, less and less government and out sourcing of all major policy decisions to private and multinational companies; “Swadeshi” is just a political slogan when the nation’s masses are tuned into the television. The Modi Government is moving ahead with the economic reforms by taking firm decisions in the cabinet like raising of FDI limit in defence and insurance sector from 26 percent to 49 percent, and fully 100 percent in the railway. The Modi Government has started making changes in environment clearance policy to make it simpler for industries to get environment clearance, so that mere submission of the paperwork is sufficient for clearance regardless of the environmental merit.

Modi said “Therefore I want to appeal all the people world over, from the ramparts of the Red Fort, “Come, make in India”, “Come, manufacture in India”. Sell in any country of the world but manufacture here.” Obviously, first world and giant corporate will be sceptical of this appeal, but what about all other small countries and their indigenous industries? Are we interested as a nation to tell other small countries that they become our economic colonies and they should only import from us and not export from their country to our country?

Tourism has brought alienation of local communities through gross violation of human rights. Yet Modi said “Brothers and sisters, we want to promote tourism. Tourism provides employment to the poorest of the poor. Gram seller earns something, auto-rickshaw driver earns something, pakoda seller earns something and tea seller also earns something. When there is talk of tea seller, I feel a sense of belongingness. Tourism provide employment to the poorest of the poor.” In reality tourism had lead to forced land acquisition, large scale displacement, loss of dignity and traditional source of livelihood, lack of accessibility to public spaces are quite visible. These costs of tourism are not the concern for Mr. Modi, however – “filthiness” is a barrier.

Modi said “But there is a big obstacle in promoting tourism and in our national character and that is – the filthiness all around us. Whether after independence, after so many years of independence, when we stand at the threshold of one and half decade of 21st century, we still want to live in filthiness? The first work I started here after formation of Government is of cleanliness.” Mr. Modi’s main worry is tourism industries and not the people of India.

Modi said “Cleanliness is very big work. Whether our country can not be clean? If one hundred and twenty five crores countrymen decide that they will never spread filthiness, which power in the world has ability to spread filthiness in our cities and villages? Can’t we resolve this much?” Modi Government should know basic facts revealed in the ‘Report of the Task Force on Waste to Energy’ dated 12 May 2014 by Planning Commission of India. This report states that “As per CPCB report 2012 – 13 municipal areas in the country generate 1, 33,760 metric tonnes per day of MSW, of which only 91,152 TPD waste is collected and 25,884 TPD treated. The MSW, therefore, dumped in low lying urban areas is a whopping 1,07,876 TPD, which needs 2,12,752 cubic meter space every day and 776 hectare of precious land per year.

Mr. Modi, things are not as simple as you say. This waste generation figure covers only 31.15% population of India. Considering the waste generation figures of all of India, these figures will be even more daunting. The Planning Commission (which Modi wishes to abolish) of India’s report further states “A study, of the status of implementation of the MSW Rules 2000 by the mandated deadline by the States, was carried out in class 1 cities of the country. It revealed that in 128 cities except for street sweeping and transportation, compliance was less than 50% and in respect of disposal compliance was a dismal 1.4 %.” What about the government’s major roll in policy making for the reduction of waste and implementation of ‘The Municipal Solid Wastes (Management and Handling) Rules 2000’? Your tract record in the implementation of these rules in the Gujarat is worst.

The consistent follow up by the pollution-affected people, people’s organisations and NGOs regarding the increasing pollution levels in the industrial areas of India forced the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and the State Pollution Control Board in 1989 to initiate the process of indexing the critically polluted areas. At that time 24 industrial areas, including Vapi, Ankleshwar, Ludhiana, were declared ‘critically polluted’.

In 2009 the CPCB and IIT-Delhi, in consistence with the demands of the people’s organisation’s working on environmental issues decided to use a new method of ‘indexing the pollution levels’ of these areas, which is now known as the ‘Comprehensive Environmental Pollution Index’ (CEPI). The CEPI includes air, water, land pollution and health risks to the people living in the area. However, our demand has been to include the health of the workers, productivity of land and quality of food / agriculture produce in the index since the presence of high levels of chemicals and heavy metals in food produce has severe health implications. This is affecting not only people living around the industrial area but anyone consuming it – hence not restricting the impact to the particular industrial area.

In December 2009 the CEPI of 88 polluted industrial clusters was measured; it was then that the CPCB and the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) of Government of India were forced to declare 43 of those as ‘critically polluted clusters’ and another 32 industrial areas as ‘severely polluted clusters’. Following this study the MoEF on 13 January 2010 was forced to issue a moratorium (prohibition on opening new industries and/or increasing the production capacity of the existing industries) on the 43 critically polluted areas.

As the very first step after assuming power as the PM, Instead of improving the environment of these 88 industrial clusters and taking the remedial measure in these area for clean up after moving to the Capital, the Modi Government instead lifted the moratorium of industrial cluster like Ghaziabad (UP), Indore (M.P.), Jharsuguda (Orissa), Ludhiana (Punjab), Panipat (Haryana), Patancheru – Bollaram (A.P.), Singrauli (UP & MP) and Vapi (Gujarat) as a first order of business on 10 June 2014. Mr. Modi, Vapi’s track record demands more ‘stringent action’ against the polluting industries of Vapi & concerned officers of Gujarat Pollution Control Board and definitely not lifting of moratorium from Vapi.

Modi said “However, today I am going to announce a scheme on behalf of the Member of Parliament- ‘Sansad Aadarsh Gram Yojana’. We shall fix some parameters. I urge upon the Members of Parliament to select any one of the villages having population of three to five thousand in your constituency. The parameters will be according to the time, space and situation of that locality. It will include the conditions of health, cleanliness, atmosphere, greenery, cordiality etc. On the basis of those parameters, each of our MPs should make one village of his or her constituency a Model Village by 2016.”

Mr. Modi, we want you to first spell out what do you mean by ‘Aadarsh Gram’ because your policies and action program in Gujarat when you were the chief minister of Gujarat for ‘Aadarsh Gram’ were neither acceptable nor ideal to local people. Why Mr. Modi, do you not want the local Panchayat to work for their village?

Let me remind Mr. Modi about the struggle which is going on against proposed nuclear power plant with the slogan “Not here, not anywhere; not in any country in the world” – with these slogans the farmers and other villagers affected by the proposed 6000 MW nuclear power plant at village Mithi Virdi in Bhavnagar, Gujarat are protesting.

Orchards of mangoes, chikoos, coconut trees, lush greenery, sea and ships passing by, describe aptly the Mithi Virdi – Jaspara area in the Talaja block of Bhavnagar district. This lush green area is the irrigated region of Shetrunji dam. Situated on the Saurashtra sea coast, one would assume that the land is barren and un-inhabited, but a visit here belies all these assumptions.

The proposal for a 6000 MW nuclear power plant spread over 777 hectares on this green lush land is planned. Presently on this 777 hectare of land spread in Jaspara, Mithi Virdi, Khadarpar, and Mandva stand more than 50,000 fruit trees. Also, bajra cotton, groundnut, onions and other crops are sown year round due to irrigation facilities. This area is therefore aptly called Bhavnagar’s vegetable basket.

Recently on 13 August 2014 the villagers took a pledge that “We, today, on August 13, 2014, take the pledge, To ensure clean air, potable water, fertile lands, nutritious, uncontaminated food and secure life for the future generations. We will do all that is possible to save and protect the land, agriculture, agricultural products and seeds. We will stop all industries and nuclear power plants that pose risk to our food, health and environment. We will protest against the genetically modified crops and the resulting contamination of the natural seeds through them. We will continue our consistent struggle against the so-called development policy that contaminate agriculture, land and water while seeking GDP growth. We will strive to save the society from all companies – national and multinationals – that seeks profits at any cost. We will strive to ensure the deserving amendments to The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013. We register our opposition and resolve to fight against the present government’s move to dilute this act to make it anti-farmer to ensure pro industrial growth.” These villagers want to make their villages as Aadarsh Village. Will Mr. Modi allow them to do so?

We saw, however, in Gujarat that following the will of the villagers was not a priority for Modi. Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd. needs 81 hectares of forest land in addition to the other land for the nuclear power plant. To facilitate this the Taluka Development Officer (TDO) of Gujarat State sent a letter dated July 15, 2013 to Sarpanch of Jaspara directing him to pass a resolution on the lines of the copy that he had sent, so as to have the village body’s stamp of approval for the state government transfer of forest land to the NPCIL. In this letter the TDO instead of seeking the opinion of Gramsabha as per the law for the land transfer, illegally and unconstitutionally orders the Sarpanch to pass the ready-made resolution.

The Gramsabha of Jaspara unanimously condemned and rejected such an unconstitutional letter of TDO. The Gramsabha unanimously resolved not to hand over the forest land for non-forest use to be handed over the NPCIL. Will Mr. Modi respect the decision of the Gramsabha?

Modi said “Thereafter, we have a feeling that it would be better to construct a new house altogether and therefore within a short period, we will replace the planning commission with a new institution having a new design and structure, a new body, a new soul, a new thinking, a new direction, a new faith towards forging a new direction to lead the country based on creative thinking, public-private partnership, optimum utilization of resources, utilization of youth power of the nation, to promote the aspirations of state governments seeking development, to empower the state governments and to empower the federal structure. Very shortly, we are about to move in a direction when this institute would be functioning in place of Planning Commission.” We do have a problem with present planning commission of India, but in the name of “public-private partnership” Modi Government is planning to outsource the planning to private interests. We had seen Mr. Modi use to take all major policy decisions and use to announce in the Vibrant Gujarat Summit when he was Chief Minister of Gujarat.

In sum, Modi gave a “populist” speech in which he doled out advice to the people, yet hardly acknowledged his and his government’s responsibility in policy decisions to resolve these problems. On the issue of development, one only needs to look to his record in Gujarat to understand the emptiness of his “pro-poor”, “pro-farmer”, “pro women” rhetoric.

*‘Kunwarbai Nu Mameru’ is a scheme by the Social Justice and Empowerment Department of the Government of Gujarat for families below the poverty line. Scheme provides, at the time of marriage, Rs. 2000/- to parents and Narmada bonds worth Rs. 3000/- to girls belonging to SC, ST and Socially and Educationally Backward castes. ‘Mameru’ is a variant of the practice of dowry

Mina Agarwala: Her world of voluntarism

Mina- Agarwala -feminist

A tribute to one of the pioneers of Indian women’s movement who paved the way for future generations in Assam

By Monisha Behal

I can think of few women as committed to the cause of women’s issues as my Borma Mina Agarwala (whom we affectionately called Mambu). She passed away in the early hours of 24th July 2014. She was an integral part of the Tezpur Mahila Samiti for more than 50 years, from the 1940s to the 2000s. She also was the President of the District Social Welfare Board in the 50’s, which took her deep into the villages of Mangaldai and Behali to work with rural women.

I witnessed her dedication at close quarters, from when I was a young girl in the late 1950s right up to my adult life in the 1980s, when I started to work in the Tezpur Mahila Samiti, and beyond. The year 1957 is especially clear to me because of the home movies made by my father, which I, along with my young cousins and the neighborhood children watched excitedly in our house at Tezpur. Of the many interesting shots I remember is one of Mina Agarwala busy organizing young women at a conference, which I was to learn later, was the Rashtriya Sanmelan.

The next event where I witnessed her organizational skills was when the Tezpur Mahila Samiti women went in trucks to Missamari in 1959 to welcome the Tibetan refugees who had escaped from the atrocities of the Chinese in Tibet into Assam. In 1962, she and her team organized a fund-raising campaign towards the National Defence Fund after the Chinese aggression. I remember vividly the Tezpur women going through training meant for Home Guards, ostensibly to protect themselves and their homes from foreign aggression. Fetes, melas, study circles, weaving activities and many other annual events were organized by the Samiti over the years, with Mina Agarwala at the helm, along with her efficient co-worker, Hemalata Baruah.

Said Hemalata Baideo recently, “When I joined the Samiti in 1954 I had an attraction and respect for Mina Baideo, her work and her leadership. Her eyes fascinated me as they were beautiful. But they were affected after her eye operation. Her look was all encompassing and would draw people towards her. When we used to go to her house while canvassing for the Congress in the 50’s, she would lend us blankets and her own shawls, in case we felt cold. She was never absorbed in her own self or the family that she came from. This trait of hers taught us a lot.”

Indeed, Mina Agarwala’s personality was attractive because of her world view of liberal and progressive thinking, and perhaps because of her belief in Gandhi’s ideology, something that the nation followed as a value system in the early 50s. This made her voluntarism all the more principled, embellished by notions of honesty and simplicity.

I always saw her in cotton mekhela sador, something we draped her with, a few days ago, for her final journey. I know that she would give away whatever money she received from any quarter to the Samiti or to the women she wanted to support. The idea of voluntarism and voluntary work remained with her till the end of her long association with the Samiti. I had difficulty convincing her that her work with the Samiti had to be remunerative for the good of all. She finally gave in only when we started getting large projects in the late ‘80s.

On the personal front, she had a house to look after, many children who lived in our ancestral house – Poki, and was busy in the kitchen with her sisters-in-law and teenaged nieces. Despite the pressure of her social work, she threw herself whole-heartedly into family responsibilities: the food cooked by the ‘thakur’ at the weddings of the younger members of the extended family, including my own, through the early 1960s till the 80s, was always done under her guidance.

Mina- AgarwalaShe once came to Delhi for a retina operation in the 90s and spent almost two months in our house. During that time I observed her love for books and her deep concentration while reading the national papers. Once she finished reading the papers, she would talk about the politics of the Congress and her growing disillusionment with the party’s fading principles and lack of accountability.

She hardly spoke English and yet she laughed at our jokes and racy talk in that language. I know she studied up to Class IX and her husband had hired a tutor to teach her English. But the tutor would come and have tea and then leave for Mambu had no time for lessons because of house and Samiti work!

Whenever the teacher came to Poki to tutor her there was much laughter, and the whole episode became a family joke. I remember how she busied herself feeding her large extended family of nephews and nieces. Very often, in desperation, she and our respective mothers would send us packing to Jonaki cinema, situated just behind Poki! Run by my father, the cinema hall became a family retreat for many of us children in the 50s. My aunt also had to cater to the umpteen numbers – local people from her husband’s constituency, Bhoodan members and sitting MLAs who visited our house regularly as her husband was one too. Through it all she remained her kind, generous self – slim, seemingly frail and yet strong.

The spotlight needs to be turned on the individual women and members of Mahila Samitis who worked for the welfare of women between the mid-1940s to the 50s because such work was truly at a nascent stage at that time: their mobility was limited, and community work done by women was frowned upon in society.

Sadly, the work of such people and the regional women’s struggles, small as they seem, have not received sufficient recognition in the larger canvas of the Indian women’s movement that gained ground in the 1980s. Women like Mina Agarwala steered themselves into social work step by step, in her case using the Tezpur Mahila Samiti for a collective struggle against low literacy, low income and low self-esteem of women in general.

I salute Mina Agarwala, and her predecessors and colleagues like Chandraprabha Saikia, Chandrabala Barua, Swarna Mahanta, Hemalata Baruah and all those great but little-known women in Assam’s towns and villages whose struggles for the cause of women I will always cherish.

With the passing away of Mina Agarwala we have lost a great soul, but I would not like to say that an era has passed with her death, for many women continue to uphold such values today, despite the waning of liberal thinking and the challenging times ahead of us.

Monisha Behal is an activist based in Tezpur, Assam. She is one of the co-founders of North East Network, a feminist organization which has its bases in Assam, Meghalaya and Nagaland

I will not call for death

Gaza -war

I will not call for death is a poem written by Naila Farouky. Farouky is an Egyptian film maker and Producer. She is also the CEO of the Arab Foundations Forum, a platform for philanthropic organisations that work for the Arab region. Farouky has, in various forums, highlighted human rights concerns and upheavals in the Arab World, and commented on the crisis in Afghanistan, Palestine and Egypt

I will not call for death.

I will not dare to speak the words that call for the death of the “other”

I will not seek to avenge through death, the sister, the mother, the father or brother

I will not cry “If you kill us, then we are right to kill!” and then question, in anguish, “where has our humanity gone?”

I will not call for death.

You ask me to justify how I can stand for my enemy; I will reply only to say “I know no enemy”

I know war and pain
Fear and injustice
I know blood and tears
Corruption and failed armistice

I see bodies, bloodied and strewn about
I see them; I know and I hear you – out loud
I see mothers wailing for the loss of their children
I see children grasping the air in search of the comforting arms of their slain mothers
I see fathers burying their babes in white cloths
I see wandering children with the look of despair in their eyes at sights they will never forget

I hear of sirens unheeded
For to heed them means you have some place to hide
I hear tales of the warnings that come in the night
The warnings that parents must decide to ignore
For to obey them must mean you have somewhere to go

I will not call for death.

“But they want you to die; they demand it, can’t you see?”
“You’re a traitor, a coward, how can this be?”
I see it, I know, do you think me so blind?
I hear it, I fear it, but where do I hide?

As the world sits in wait, to watch and to plead
Those I cherish and love have no choice but to bleed
Our humanity challenged, I offer you this:
You will find it within you, this is where it exists
It is not to be found in the barrel of a gun
Or a bomb, or a funeral, a surah or a psalm
It is in your heart and your head and your womb
In your words and your dreams and the threads that you loom
In your hopes for your children and that they shall not hate
For those hopes and those dreams are their future and fate

So abandon the sirens, the bombs and your might
Hold your hands to the heavens and scream in the night
Beg for mercy, for respite, for heart and for will
But do not fall so low as to go for the kill

And repeat to yourself, for as long as it takes
I will not call for death, no matter how much it aches

I will not.

Fashion shoot resembling Delhi gang-rape evokes disgust and disbelief

Delhi-rape-fashion-shoot

By Team FI

A fashion shoot which has striking similarities with the Delhi gang rape in 2012 has sparked outrage on social media and feminist circles in India. In his newly-released portfolio series named The Wrong Turn, Mumbai-based fashion photographer Raj Shetye features a woman on a bus being abused by several men.

In December 2012, a young woman who was later given the name Nirbahaya, was raped and brutally attacked by a group of men in a moving bus. The physiotherapy student died 13 days after the attack from her injuries. An outraged nation responded with protests and thousands poured into the streets of India’s capital city demanding an end to India’s rape culture. Following the outrage the government introduced stricter punishment for rape.

The photographer after he was vehemently criticized over glamorizing rape and sexual violence against women told the media that despite the reaction to his work, he was pleased that it has generated a discussion.

I’m shocked! After all the shouting and protesting, one guy goes and does this? First they shoot a woman in this set-up, and then make the rapists look glamorous! How can this be art?- Sapna Bhavnani, celebrity hairstylist who starred in the play Nirbhaya

“This is awful. But it must also be said that this isn’t the only instance of eroticizing rape. The print and electronic media also do it all the time, dwelling on verbal descriptions of details of sexual assault, and also on visual representations and reconstructions of such assault. Many movies, of course, have long eroticized rape. This ‘fashion shoot’ is takes that trend a few steps forward” states Kavita Krishnan of the All India Progressive Women’s Association.

This is not the first time fashion photography glamorising violence against women in the name of art. In 2012, Magazine 12, a Bulgarian fashion magazine published a fashion series featuring female models who appeared bloodied, bruised and slashed. Despite outcry from women’s rights activists across the globe, the magazine editors refused to apologise stating the photos were not intended to glamorise domestic violence. In April this year Vogue Italia published a series of fashion photos that showed female models as victims of domestic abuse.