Archive for October 29, 2014

Reyhaneh Jabbari’s last message to her mother

Reyhaneh Jabbari

Reyhaneh Jabbari, the 26-year-old Iranian woman who was hanged to death on Saturday in Tehran after 7 years of solitary imprisonment, has recorded her will in the form of an audio message to her mother, Sholeh Pakravan. Reyhaneh Jabbari, an interior designer by profession was imprisoned and executed on the charges of killing an Iranian intelligence officer who attempted to rape her in 2007.

Here is the English translation of the message released by the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI)

Dear Sholeh,
Today I learned that it is now my turn to face Qisas (the Iranian regime’s law of retribution). I am hurt as to why you did not let me know yourself that I have reached the last page of the book of my life. Don’t you think that I should know? You know how ashamed I am that you are sad. Why did you not take the chance for me to kiss your hand and that of dad?

The world allowed me to live for 19 years. That ominous night it was I that should have been killed. My body would have been thrown in some corner of the city, and after a few days, the police would have taken you to the coroner’s office to identify my body and there you would also learn that I had been raped as well. The murderer would have never been found since we don’t have their wealth and their power. Then you would have continued your life suffering and ashamed, and a few years later you would have died of this suffering and that would have been that.

However, with that cursed blow the story changed. My body was not thrown aside, but into the grave of Evin Prison and its solitary wards, and now the grave-like prison of Shahr-e Ray. But give in to the fate and don’t complain. You know better that death is not the end of life.

You taught me that one comes to this world to gain an experience and learn a lesson and with each birth a responsibility is put on one’s shoulder. I learned that sometimes one has to fight. I do remember when you told me a story from Nietzsche, the philosopher, when he protested to a carriage man who was flogging his horse, but the flogger hit the lash on his head and face…(not audiable) and he taught us that for creating a value one should persevere even if one dies.

You taught us that as we go to school one should be a lady in face of the quarrels and complaints. Do you remember how much you underlined the way we behave? Your experience was incorrect. When this incident happened, my teachings did not help me. Being presented in court made me appear as a cold-blooded murderer and a ruthless criminal. I shed no tears. I did not beg. I did not cry my head off since I trusted the law.

But I was charged with being indifferent in face of a crime. You see, I didn’t even kill the mosquitoes and I threw away the cockroaches by taking them by their antennas. Now I have become a premeditated murderer. My treatment of the animals was interpreted as being inclined to be a boy and the judge didn’t even trouble himself to look at the fact that at the time of the incident I had long and polished nails.
How optimistic was he who expected justice from the judges! He never questioned the fact that my hands are not coarse like those of a sportswoman, especially a boxer. And this country that you planted its love in me never wanted me and no one supported me when under the blows of the interrogator I was crying out and I was hearing the most vulgar terms. When I shed the last sign of beauty from myself by shaving my hair I was rewarded: 11 days in solitary.

Dear Sholeh, don’t cry for what you are hearing. On the first day that in the police office an old unmarried agent hurt me for my nails I understood that beauty is not looked for in this era. The beauty of looks, beauty of thoughts and wishes, a beautiful handwriting, beauty of the eyes and vision, and even beauty of a nice voice.

My dear mother, my ideology has changed and you are not responsible for it. My words are unending and I gave it all to someone so that when I am executed without your presence and knowledge, it would be given to you. I left you much handwritten material as my heritage.

However, before my death I want something from you, that you have to provide for me with all your might and in any way that you can. In fact this is the only thing I want from this world, this country and you. I know you need time for this. Therefore, I am telling you part of my will sooner. Please don’t cry and listen. I want you to go to the court and tell them my request. I cannot write such a letter from inside the prison that would be approved by the head of prison; so once again you have to suffer because of me. It is the only thing that if even you beg for it I would not become upset although I have told you many times not to beg to save me from being executed.

My kind mother, dear Sholeh, the one more dear to me than my life, I don’t want to rot under the soil. I don’t want my eye or my young heart to turn into dust. Beg so that it is arranged that as soon as I am hanged my heart, kidney, eye, bones and anything that can be transplanted be taken away from my body and given to someone who needs them as a gift. I don’t want the recipient know my name, buy me a bouquet, or even pray for me. I am telling you from the bottom of my heart that I don’t want to have a grave for you to come and mourn there and suffer. I don’t want you to wear black clothing for me. Do your best to forget my difficult days. Give me to the wind to take away.

The world did not love us. It did not want my fate. And now I am giving in to it and embrace the death. Because in the court of God I will charge the inspectors, I will charge inspector Shamlou, I will charge judge, and the judges of country’s Supreme Court that beat me up when I was awake and did not refrain from harassing me. In the court of the creator I will charge Dr. Farvandi, I will charge Qassem Shabani and all those that out of ignorance or with their lies wronged me and trampled on my rights and didn’t pay heed to the fact that sometimes what appears as reality is different from it.

Dear soft-hearted Sholeh, in the other world it is you and me who are the accusers and others who are the accused. Let’s see what God wants. I wanted to embrace you until I die. I love you.

Reyhaneh,

April 1, 2014

Remembering Geeta Das

Geeta-Das

All India Progressive Women’s Association’s (AIPWA) honorary president Comrade Geeta Das passed away on 24th October at the age of 78

By Kavita Krishnan

I first met her when I was a student in the 1990s. A small, feisty, lively woman, who moved busily, like a bird. A face full of warmth and feeling. And speaking to her, I never felt the distance of age between us. For me, a JNU student, she felt like a kindred spirit, whose sensibilities matched mine and that of so many women much younger than her.

She was born in 1936, on 15th September, in Faridpur district of East Bengal (now Bangladesh). Her education was disrupted after Class VIII. Years later, after her marriage, she felt a burning determination to educate herself further and stand on her own feet. She completed her matriculation (Class X) and passed her teacher’s training (for primary school teaching), with a gold medal. She then worked as a school teacher.

Many members of her family were leftist activists. She felt deeply against injustices, and for the rights of the oppressed. From 1967 onwards, she was passionately involved in the Naxalbari movement, helping to pass messages between comrades who were underground. Since then, she remained a committed activist of the Communist Party of India (Marxist /Leninst).

She was among the founding leaders of the Progressive Women’s Association (PWA) and the founding President of the All India Progressive Women’s Association (AIPWA) when it was formed in 1994.

I especially miss Geeta Di in the times we’re in, when Hindutva fundamentalists are resurgent and are openly attacking women’s freedoms. With what energy Geeta Di did battle with those self-declared custodians of ‘Indian culture’ and ‘Indian women’!

Geeta Das confronting the Puri Shankaracharya in 1994 in Kolkata, after he stopped a woman scholar from reciting from the Vedas, declaring that women were forbidden to recite the Vedas

Geeta Das confronting the Puri Shankaracharya in 1994 in Kolkata, after he stopped a woman scholar Arundhati Roychoudhury from reciting from the Vedas, declaring that women were forbidden to recite the Vedas

One memorable occasion was when she along with other activists confronted the Puri Shankaracharya in 1994 in Kolkata, when he stopped a woman scholar Arundhati Roychoudhury from reciting from the Vedas, declaring that women were forbidden to recite the Vedas. (This was the same Shankaracharya Nischalananda Saraswati who just a few days ago said Dalits should not be allowed to enter temples.) Geeta Di, then President of the West Bengal PWA, along with the Secretary Chaitali Sen, stormed a press conference of the Shankaracharya and heckled him, forcing him to drop his posture of paternalism and expose his true, menacing colours! Geeta Di’s courage in storming a room full of the Shankaracharya’s own cohorts, to assert women’s rights, is an inspiring memory.

Age did not stall or stale Geeta Di’s fighting spirit, even as her body became increasingly frail. She also served on the CPI(ML)’s Control Commission.

I recall the last time I heard her speak in public – at the AIPWA West Bengal Conference in 2010. She spoke about the situation of under-paid and over-worked working women, and peasant women resisting land grab in the State. She said, ‘Some say I am a feminist. Well, I am, indeed, a feminist! Shouldn’t we all be, as long as injustice against women remains a reality?’

Geeta Di, your courage in your own life, your spirited presence in women’s movements and the Left movement, will always inspire us. I hope there will always be a bit of you, alive and fighting, in all of us!

Kavita Krishnan is the secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association (AIPWA)

A risky freedom

rehabilitation-home-for-girls

Namrata Acharya writes about the plight of inmates of the rehabilitation home for girl children in Purba Medinipore, West Bengal

Eighteen, the official age of attaining adulthood, is often a reason to celebrate. It is the age of freedom, aspirations and verve to challenge the conventional.

Ruksana (name changed) turned eighteen a few months ago, but in captivity. She yells and repeats: “For three years you have been telling me I will be free. When will your tomorrow come?”

Ruksana was rescued by Police from perilous circumstances at a roadside eatery in Kolkata about three years ago. She was then directed by a court to stay at Snehaneer, a rehabilitation home for girl children in Purba Medinipore. While Ruksana has been in the orphanage, Police and the local child welfare committee (CWC) have been conducting inquiries about Ruksana’s home, which she said was in Bangladesh. The case turned into a repatriation issue, and Ruksana could not be released.The CWC and Police got in touch with the Bangladesh government for the custody of Ruksana. However, with her family remaining untraceable, the inquiry ended without any conclusion. If Ruksana is released, she would be treated as an illegal immigrant. If she is not, she will be deprived of her right to freedom.

In the meantime, Ruksana retracted from her earlier statement and informed the Police that she was from Kolkata. “With Ruksana retracting her earlier statement, the case has become further complicated. Unless the court orders, we cannot release her. There is no clear law governing such cases,” says the warden of Snehaneer. Meanwhile, Ruksana awaits freedom, sans a crime.

Reshma (name changed), was detained by Police from a red-light area a few days ago. According to Reshma, she was above 18, but the Police insisted she declare her age to the court as 17. If Reshma is 18 she can be convicted for a criminal offence. If she is 17, she comes under the purview of laws governing juvenile crime.

According to The Immoral Traffic (Suppression) Act (SITA Act), 1956, prostitutes can practice their trade privately but cannot legally solicit customers in public. Further, in 2013, the Indian Parliament too changed the definition of exploitation to remove prostitution from the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill 2013. Thus, prostitution is not counted as a criminal offence under the Bill.

Unaware of the complex laws, Reshma insists she is 18. “The Police asked me to say that I was 17, but I am 18. I am married and my husband had left me at a hotel, when Police picked me for no crime,” says Reshma.

So far, Reshma’s husband has never come to meet her at the orphanage. “We believe that Reshma’s husband has totally abandoned her, put her in a prostitution racket and married again,” says an employee of Snehaneer.

The story of Sabeena and others

Locked in a secluded room at Snehaneer, sixteen girls share a space lined with wooden beds, without mattresses. There are no fans, even as the humid temperature rises up to 45 degree Celsius in the months of April and May. Fans are not installed in the rooms for authorities fear the girls might commit suicide, while mattresses are not given as they might get soiled.

Yet, that is the best that Shehaneer can provide. If the girls were not here, they would have been probably lying homeless in streets, vulnerable yet unwanted. The girls are mentally challenged, and almost all above 18, living a life of confinement of the worst form.

Snehaneer is meant for rehabilitation of mentally challenged girl children, but the home shelters a number of victims of trafficking, juvenile law-breakers, including girls rescued from prostitution, abandoned babies found in garbage bins and other children rescued by the local child welfare committee (CWC). In some of the cases district courts have entrusted the orphanage with the custody of the children .
According to the provisions of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) Act 2000 in India, state governments are required to establish a CWC in every district. Each CWC comprises a chairperson and four members, with powers same as a metropolitan magistrate or a judicial magistrate of the first class. A child can be brought before the committee by a police officer, or any other individual. The CWC usually sends the child to a children’s home. Snehaneer is one of the four such government-listed homes in the district of Purba Medinipore. It is said, it is one of the better maintained among the four in the district.

The rooms for girls other than those mentally challenged are better off, for behind the locked doors and staircases are dormitories with few fans and beds with worn-out mattresses. On a positive side, the girls are imparted with regular school education, and vocational education in some cases. However, in a few cases, particularly in early marriage cases, in absence of proper birth certificates, the girls are not allowed to attend school.

Two among the recent entrants in the home includes an infant found in a garbage bin by Police. The child has been suffering from cerebral palsy, which requires specialized treatment, which Snehaneer is unable to provide.

For nearly 40 girls, there are only three toilets in the hostel. There is one general physician for the entire home. There are no psychiatric or clinical psychologists for mentally challenged girls or pediatricians for the babies.

Every month the government provides Rs 700 for each of the girls at Snehaneer.

“For us the biggest problem is where will the girls go after the age of 18,” says the warden of the hostel. That’s indeed a matter of concern. If the girls are detained after 18, that’s the violation of their basic human right, the right to freedom. If they are left to go, they have nowhere to go.

The story of Reshma, Ruksana and Sabeena is no different from other women and children, trapped in the rehabilitation homes across India. For them, 18 could be the age of beginning of vulnerability, homelessness and hardships of adulthood.