Archive for August 23, 2015

Animated videos use humour to aid Mumbai Police helpline for women


Eeksaurus, a Mumbai based animation studio, have launched three awesome short videos to spread awareness about Mumbai Police Helpline 103 to report violence against women

By Team FI
A woman walking down an alley gets accosted by man. Unperturbed she uses her secret weapon, her jacket sprouts porcupine like thorns whereupon she proceeds to hug her assailant. A message splashes across the scene advertising the product as Porcupine Jacket which alas will only be in the market twenty years hence. So till then, Mumbai women are reminded to call Mumbai Police helpline number, created especially to be used in cases of violence against women – 103.

This animated video was the brainchild of Suresh Eriyat, the Director of Eeksaurus – a Mumbai based company that makes advertising film using animation. So far four videos have been made out of which 3 which were launched online in April 2015 have been endorsed by the Mumbai Police- being ‘Porcupine Jacket’, “Bagzilla’ and “Inter-galactic Pest Control”.

Nilima Eriyat, Executive producer of Studio Eeksaurus, spoke to FeministsIndia on the subject

How was the idea conceived?
The idea came in the wake so many gruesome rape cases in the country and out of an intention to spread awareness about the Police helpline which not many women are aware of. As a part of our services to the community, Eeksaurus sets aside time and budget every year for such projects where we feel that contributing with what we are good at- films and communication is better than monetary grants where we don’t know where the money ends up going.

What kind of research did you do to arrive at the concept?
When we came to know about the Police helpline number 103, and the Mumbai police told us they can reach any crime scene within few minutes of the victim making a call to them, we asked a lot of people if they were aware of such a helpline number and to our surprise, while everyone knew 100 was the police number, no one knew of 103 as the women’s helpline aided by women beat officers. This was startling and we felt a huge need for the citizens to have useful information. That was the starting point for Suresh to come up with this thought of making a series of films in a comic, tongue in the cheek approach so that women felt empowered by the information of having a helpline number they could rely on.

Why did you think of using humour to send the message?
We have seen that almost all communication that is created around women’s safety issues are using live action, showing real people and made very morbid, which actually sets in more fear than empowers women to deal with the issue. Therefore, Suresh felt that using the medium of animation, and making it humorous will make the communication memorable- where the whole point is for women to remember the police helpline number and be assured that help is a few minutes away. In our interaction with the Mumbai police, we have learnt that the police can land up anywhere in Mumbai within a few minutes of the victim making a call to them. So when we have such an efficient system and the police who vouch for it, we felt that this helpline number must be known to as many people, especially women.

What was the reaction from the police to the concept which is different from normal awareness videos?
To our pleasant surprise, the Mumbai Police applauded the films and Suresh’s effort and initiative as a citizen for doing his bit for the society and gave us permission to endorse the film using the Mumbai Police logo and highlighting the helpline number. We are proud and assured to know that our Police force is a bunch of open minded, progressive people who are constantly improvising and ideating on ways to make our city a safe place.

Are these videos only limited to online media or is it being planned to be shown on television or cinema halls?
There is talk of them going on cinema screens and we have approached the metros and buses to play them in a loop for maximum reach to the masses of the helpline number. However, there is a fee we are being asked to pay to play the films on Public transport which we are not willing to do, considering we have pro-actively created them for the benefit of the society and we think that such content should be played on as many screens across the city as it in the interest of the public.

Have you received any concrete reactions to the ad as in quantitive numbers of views or qualitative comments?
The Mumbai Police, commissioner Rakesh Maria and Jt. commissioners Dhananjay Kamlakar and Atulchandra Kulkarni (crime) felicitated Suresh in a special ceremony in Mumbai in April 2015, presided by the chief minister of Maharastra, Devendara Fadnavis, which in itself was acknowledgment of good content where the police further chose to endorse it. We have the films on YouTube and our FB page- Eeksaurus, where we have an outreach but not in the numbers we would like for the awareness of the helpline number. A lot of press coverage has been made, but the real success lies in as many people watching the films and remembering the helpline number 103.

Why VAMP supports decriminalisation of sex work


Any argument that seeks to define sex work as violence and exploitation forecloses discussion over the rights of people involved in sex work to pursue it as a livelihood. Law enforcement agencies, health authorities and clients often use punitive action to harass sex workers and violate their human rights. Decriminalisation will help sex workers address abusive or sub-standard or unfair working conditions instituted by state and non-state actors

By Meena Saraswathi Seshu and Aarthi Pai

Amnesty International, on 11 August, 2015, voted to recommend the full decriminalization of sex work and prostitution in order to protect the human rights of sex workers.

In the aftermath of Amnesty International’s vote, there has been a huge outcry from anti-sex work groups who contend that this move will legitimise exploitation within the sex trade industry. The critics do not agree that the intention behind Amnesty International’s resolution is to protect the human rights of sex workers and call on states to ensure that sex workers enjoy full and equal legal protection from exploitation, trafficking and violence.

Veshya Anyay Mukti Parishad [VAMP] a collective of women in sex work from western India welcomes the decision taken by Amnesty International. We support Amnesty’s assertion that states have an obligation ‘to reform their laws and develop and implement systems and policies that eliminate discrimination against those engaging in sex work’. VAMP works closely with SANGRAM a health and human rights NGO that I helped set up.

As a feminist activist for sex workers’ rights, my (Meena Saraswathi Seshu ) journey began in the movement against violence against women in India in the mid-1980s. I started working with deserted women and cases of dowry deaths in south Maharashtra. Sex workers were always ‘the other’ in every village.

In 1992 the HIV/AIDS epidemic forced Government of Maharashtra to initiate projects to work with ‘prostitutes’. SANGRAM plunged into this work and my world of the well-meaning activist was turned upside down. The involvement with this community of sex workers forced us to address the deep-rooted double standards and biases while dealing with issues related to sexuality and prostitution. It was impossible to ‘preach’ to a group of women who scorned the dominant value systems. The crying victims of the social workers’ imagination were not to be seen or heard.

As the understanding of prostitution as ‘exploitation, victimization, oppression, loose, immoral, illegal’, was broken into, it was not merely ideas and beliefs that had to be questioned but the language too had to be transformed. We had to revise our vocabulary to weed out words that reinforced the stigmatization and marginalization of women in sex work. The need to reclaim the notion of ‘womanhood’ also became necessary since this sanctified moral space refused to acknowledge the fact that the very identity (of being a woman) was obliterated by the “whore, harlot, veshya” image. If women were not “good” then they had no right to be considered women.’ It thus became a matter of claiming citizenship itself.

What caught our imagination was the notion that casual sex could be a physical act stripped of emotion, can be initiated by women, can be used in a commercial context and even be pleasurable. Besides, many adult women seemed to appear in the communities, out of ‘nowhere’ apparently, comfortable with this notion of sex within a commercial context with multiple men. This challenged our initial idea that no woman could and would enter sex work on her own and the notion that all women were forced and trafficked into sex work. It was apparent that many women were not there by force, deception or in debt bondage and were freely walking in and out of the communities.

The argument that decriminalisation will increase exploitation by legalising pimps and brothel owners is made with a very limited understanding of commercial sex

We, therefore, realised that the argument that decriminalisation will increase exploitation by legalising pimps and brothel owners is made with a very limited understanding of commercial sex. Punitive laws that criminalise and punish sex work act as instruments through which sex workers are harassed and regularly have their human rights violated by law enforcement agencies, health authorities and clients. In many countries, sex workers are a primary means by which the police meet arrest quotas, extort money, and extract information.

Police wield power over sex workers in the form of threats of arrest and public humiliation and use condoms as evidence of illegal activity, undoing years of effective public health promotion and campaigning around STIs and HIV. Forced testing for HIV is commonplace, along with breaches of due process and privacy. Sex workers in many jurisdictions are the targets of frequent harassment, physical and sexual abuse, and forced “rehabilitation”. Where sex work is illegal, sex workers often feel there is little they can do to address the violations perpetrated against them and are deterred from accessing health services for fear of further stigma and abuse.

Decriminalisation will help sex workers address abusive or sub-standard or unfair working conditions instituted by state and non-state actors

Branding decriminalisation as an attempt to legalise pimps and brothel keepers does not help sex workers in their struggles for rights, including the rights to health, and justice.

The term “third parties” used by the sex workers rights movement recognizes the diverse third party working relationships that sex workers negotiate. In contrast, the term, “pimp” is a stigmatizing racial stereotype. It posits sex workers as victims rather than as workers, denying their agency. Sex workers can be employees, employers or participate in a range of other work related relationships. Framed as targeting exploitative working relationships of sex workers, third party laws are also used to target the personal relationships of sex workers, as well as workplaces. The criminalisation of sex workers’ personal relationships amounts to the criminalisation of sex workers themselves, while the criminalisation of workplaces mitigates against sex workers ability to protect themselves from HIV and other STIs, and gain labour rights.

In environments where aspects of sex work are criminalised, for instance, soliciting, living off the earnings of a sex worker, managers. sex workers face discrimination and stigma which undermine their human rights, including to liberty, security of the person, equality, and health. Evidence suggests that sex workers’ risk of HIV infection is inextricably related to their marginalized and illegal status, which drives their work underground and increases police abuse and exploitation.

According to UNAIDS Guidance Note on HIV and Sex Work, “even where services are theoretically available, sex workers and their clients face substantial obstacles to accessing HIV prevention, treatment care and support, particularly where sex work is criminalized.” In countries where sex work is decriminalized, there is evidence that violence directed at sex workers is reduced, relations between sex workers and the police are improved, and access to health services is increased.

The reason why VAMP supports Amnesty International in the decriminalisation demand is because sex workers from VAMP want States to actively seek to empower the most marginalised in society, including through supporting the right to freedom of association of those engaging in sex work, establishing frameworks that ensure access to appropriate, quality health services and safe working conditions and through combating discrimination or abuse based on sex, sexual orientation and/or gender identity or expression. This echoes the voices of sex workers around the world who argue that states are responsible for proactively protecting fundamental rights and call on them to undertake measures that will help protect, respect, and fulfill these rights for all.

Any argument that seeks to define sex work as violence and exploitation forecloses discussion over the rights of people involved in sex work to pursue it as a livelihood. It exacerbates the lack of legal remedies to redress violence and erodes the efforts of sex workers fighting for legal and social recognition of their rights to dignity and livelihood. Sex work is work, and sex workers should not be defined as either criminals or victims, such an analysis harms not only sex workers but all women.

Meena Saraswathi Seshu is the co -founder and general secretary of SANGRAM, an organisation working with marginalised women in rural Maharashtra, India. She was instrumental in collectivising women in sex work to form VAMP (Veshya Anyaya Mukti Parishad)

Aarthi Pai is an activist and lawyer. She is the Director of Centre for Advocacy on Stigma and Marginalisation, (CASAM) a unit in SANGRAM that focuses on laws, policies and structures that impact sex workers and sexual minorities

Delhi women’s commission head changes tune on sex work, says she is open to legalization


By Team FI
A meeting with National Network of Sex Workers and other organisations has resulted in DCW Chair Swati Maliwal accepting that she supports legislation of sex work. Though offering no apology, she said she was open to a consultative process with sex workers and NGOs working with them.

Following a statement submitted to the government by the National Network of Sex Workers (NNSW) and other organisations condemning the DCW’s chairperson Swati Maliwal comment on sex work being akin to ‘rape’, a meeting was arranged with DCW and members of the NNSW and other women’s organisation on August 6, 2015.

As per the NNSW, Swati Maliwal listened to their grievances and gave an explanation as to what prompted her statement. Maliwal stated that during her time spent at GB Road, Delhi, she had met with sex workers and NGO’s working in the area, she had been told by sex workers about their ‘ ‘plight’ as to how they had to sell ‘their bodies’ for rs. 50. She said many young girls aged 12- 13 are in a bad condition. Even older women have mental health issues. Maliwal said the women asked for “help and rehabilitation”.”

NNSW stated that they explained how sex workers who come from various states in India, join the profession “their own volition”. They stated that NNSW “believe sex work is work, that they advocate for safe working conditions for all sex workers and that they were against rehabilitation unless it was voluntary. “ NNSW pointed out the forced evictions in the name of rehabilitation in GB road.

As per the meeting minutes, “The network further clarified that women in sex work do not sell their bodies but only provide sexual services for money. NNSW said that one must visit GB road with a non moralistic perspective if one wants to help the women in sex work there. NNSW told her about the sex workers collectives and how powerful they are in working against trafficking and on decreasing HIV and AIDS in the country. The collectives also work on anti-trafficking and the best to discuss solutions to the problem of trafficking.”

The Chair, DCW stated that there is a need to understand decriminalization vs legalization debate and said that she is open to legalization and hold consultations with the NNSW. “There was a conversation with Sakina from UKMO, an NNSW member from Karnataka – “What if you get 1 lakh in other job do you want to continue with sex work?”. Sakina told her about dignity of earning her own living by her own means and explained how empowered she is and that she believes that like doctors and engineers she is also proud of the work she does,” states the notes from the meeting.

Though there was no apology, Maliwal indicated that she would like to start a pilot project in GB Road, and there would be no forced rehabilitation

The project would provide sex workers with alternative means of livelihood and would provide them with an income equivalent if not more than what they earn now.

NNSW states that they “told her what happens in Delhi impacts other parts of India. So we look forward to things and any negative thing can impact the lives of lakhs of sex workers”.

Delhi Women’s Commission head compares sex work with rape, sex workers groups protest


The National Network of Sex Workers and women’s organisations in India have strongly condemned Delhi Commission for Women (DCW), chairperson Swati Maliwal’s comment that sex work is akin to “rape” and needed to be eradicated. The sex workers organizations, in a statement released to the media, have demaned that Maliwal should retract her statement. They have also asked for an unconditional apology from Maliwal.

Following is the full text of the statement:
The National Network of Sex Workers and women’s organisations in India strongly condemn the observations and statement of Delhi Commission for Women (DCW), Ms. Swati Maliwal calling sex work and prostitution akin to “rape” and calling for its “eradication”. We call on her to immediately withdraw her statement and tender an unconditional apology to the all women in sex work, whose dignity has been impacted by her observations.

The Honorable Supreme Court has recognized the need to ensure that sex workers are able to live a life of dignity. The Court set up a panel to discuss “Conditions conducive for sex workers to live with dignity in accordance with the provisions of Article 21 of the Constitution.” (Budhadev Karmaskar vs. Government of West Bengal).

The Chairperson of DCW should do her homework before launching into a campaign that has not engaged with the ongoing debates and dialogues to recognize the rights of adult consenting workers to remain in sex work and ensure that their human rights and dignity are protected, such a short sighted and uninformed perspective demeans the office of a Commission set up to protect the rights and dignity of women.

How can Ms. Maliwal forget the immense contribution of the sex workers in reducing HIV transmission in this country? Today a large number of sex worker led organisations are leading the HIV response and doing invaluable peer based outreach and HIV prevention in partnership with the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, National Aids Control Organisation, Government of India.

The remarks of the DCW chairperson that, the use of condoms is indicative of the extent of “rape being allowed in Delhi”; is blatantly uninformed and bigoted. Such uninformed statements from people in positions of authority have the effect of negatively impacting the HIV response. It is shocking that this statement comes from the Women’s commission at a time when women are fighting for recognition to the right to sexual health.

The United Nations, and various human rights organisations, activists globally and in India have called for an end to the conflation of trafficking and sex work, which criminalises and stigmatizes women in sex work. The Global Commission on HIV and Law calls on countries to “reform their approach towards sex work. Rather than punishing consenting adults involved in sex work, countries must ensure safe working conditions and offer sex workers and their clients access to effective HIV and health services and commodities… Take Complementary legal measures to ensure safe working conditions to sex workers.” And they must “take all measures to stop police harassment and violence against sex workers.’

The UN appointed Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women in her India report submitted to the UN General Assembly in April 2014 also called on the Government of India to review its approach towards sex workers and ensure that their human rights are protected.

At a time when human rights movements, UN, Governments and civil society is moving towards a more rights based approach to sex work, this statement of a Commission that is required to uphold the rights of dignity of women, is truly condemnable!

1. Ms. Kokila, President, NNSW Tamil Nadu
2. Ms. Bharati, Vice President, NNSW Karnataka
3. Ms. Alivelu, Secretary, NNSW Andhra Pradesh
4. Ms. Sangeetha, Joint Secretary, NNSW Maharashtra
5. Ms. Sakina, Treasurer, NNSW Karnataka
6. Ms. Mukta, NNSW Board Karnataka
7. Ms. Deepika, NNSW Board Karnataka
8. Ms. Balanagamma, NNSW Board Andhra Pradesh
9. Ms. Shanti, NNSW Board Tamil Nadu
10. Mr. Sudheer, NNSW Board Maharashtra
11. Ms. Chandalekha, NNSW Board (Kerala)
12. Ms. Meena Saraswathi Seshu, SANGRAM, Sangli, Maharashtra
13. Ms. Aarthi Pai, CASAM, SANGRAM, Maharashtra
14. Ms. Shyamala Nataraj, Tamil Nadu
15. Ms. Meera Raghavendra, WINS, Tirupathi
16. Ms. Indumathi Ravishankar, SIAAP, Tamil Nadu
17. Mr. Manohar Elavarthi, Sangama, Karnataka
18. Ms. Shabana Dastgir Gaundi, VAMP, Karnataka
19. Ms. Durga Pujari, VAMP Maharashtra
20. Mr. Rajendra Naik, Mitra, Maharashtra
21. Mr. Sudheer Patil, Muskan, Maharashtra
22. Ms. Susheela Kunde Bai, Vidrohi Mahila Manch, Maharashtra
23. Ms. Mukta, UKMO, Karnataka
24. Mr. Gurukiran, Karnataka
25. Ms. Rituparna Borah, Delhi
26. Ms. Asma, Tamil Nadu

Health rights activists say NO to HPV Vaccine


Following the government’s decision to conduct a feasibility study to introduce a vaccine for Human Papillomavirus (HPV), public health activists and women’s groups question the vaccine’s safety and efficacy

By Team FI
Health rights activists, women’s groups and representatives of public health networks have reacted with shock and concern over the Government of India’s recently announced plan to introduce human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine in the Universal Immunization Programme (UIP).

In a memorandum sent to the Union Minister for Health and Family Welfare, the activists state their concerns over the Government’s decision to conduct a feasibility study in order for the vaccine to be used in the country in the next three months. “We are extremely concerned about the long-term safety and efficacy of the HPV vaccines—Gardasil and Cervarix—and strongly feel that it would lead to serious adverse effects for its recipients. The Supreme Court is hearing the writ petitions (Kalpana Mehta and others vs Union of India & Others; Writ Petition Sama and others vs Union of India & Others) that have raised important questions regarding the vaccine’s safety and efficacy as well as its relevance and priority as a public health measure in India,” states the memorandum.

The Memorandum pointed out the lack of “conclusive evidence” that the vaccine would ensure protection against HPV. “These vaccines have not been in use for long enough to know the level of protection they will offer to young women when they are actually exposed to the risk of HPV infection. The impact of the vaccines on the health of adolescents is also not known,” states the memorandum.

Following is the full text of the Memorandum :

Shri Jagat Prakash Nadda,
Union Minister for Health and Family Welfare,
Ministry of Health and Family Welfare,
Nirman Bhavan, Maulana Azad Road,
New Delhi 110 011.

Date: 5 August 2015
Sub: Memorandum regarding the introduction of human papillomavirus (HPV) Vaccines in the Universal Immunization Programme.


We, the concerned representatives of public health networks, women’s groups, health researchers, health and women’s rights activists and individuals are writing to you to convey our shock and concern over the Union Government’s plan (reported in Asian Age to introduce the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine in the Universal Immunization Programme (UIP). According to the newspaper report, the Government has asked the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (NTAGI) to conduct a feasibility study in the next three months on the vaccine so that it can be introduced in the country. We are extremely concerned about the long-term safety and efficacy of the HPV vaccines—Gardasil and Cervarix—and strongly feel that it would lead to serious adverse effects for its recipients. The Supreme Court is hearing the writ petitions that have raised important questions regarding the vaccine’s safety and efficacy as well as its relevance and priority as a public health measure in India.

At the outset we would like to bring to your notice that the HPV will by itself not reduce the rate of cervical cancer in India. It is well documented that HPV infection is a necessary cause of cervical cancer; however, since every woman with HPV infection does not develop cervical cancer, it is not necessarily a sufficient cause. Other factors are necessary for progression from cervical HPV infection to cancer. Long-term use of hormonal contraceptives, high parity (number of times given birth), early initiation of sexual activity, multiple sex partners, tobacco smoking and co-infection with HIV have been identified as established factors; co-infection with Chlamydia trachomatis and herpes simplex virus type-2, immuno-suppression, low socioeconomic status, poor hygiene and diet low in antioxidants are other probable factors influencing the progression of cervical cancer. Genetic and immunological host factors and viral factors such as variants of type, viral load and viral integration are likely to be important, though they have not yet been clearly evaluated.

Further, there is a lot unknown about HPV vaccines even today, including whether a repeat dose is required and how long the vaccine might protect from HPV infection. There is no conclusive evidence which suggests that the vaccine will protect girls from acquiring HPV and developing cervical cancer later in their life. These vaccines have not been in use for long enough to know the level of protection they will offer to young women when they are actually exposed to the risk of HPV infection.

The impact of the vaccines on the health of adolescents is also not known. For instance, individual case reports of CRPS (Complex Regional Pain Syndrome) and POTs (Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome) have been reported following HPV vaccinations from several countries including Australia, Germany, Japan, the US and Denmark. The Danish Health and Medicines Authority has drawn the attention of the European Medicines Agency (EMA) towards the vaccine’s safety and efficacy and the EMA is currently conducting a review of the vaccine’s safety profile.

There is little evidence of the safety and efficacy of the HPV vaccine in the Indian context. These vaccines were hurriedly licensed here, on the basis of grossly insufficient research; the Cervarix trial was restricted to women and Gardasil was introduced after a trial with only 110 girls and no adult women.

Government committees have criticised both scientific and ethical aspects of the vaccines’ introduction in India. The 41st Report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee had called for an enquiry into the licensing of the products. However, no enquiry was conducted. The 72nd Parliamentary Standing Committee found gross under-reporting of adverse events in the only large scale “demonstration” study of the two vaccines, on girls between 9 and 16, carried out in Gujarat and Telangana by the US-based NGO Programme for Appropriate Technology in Health (PATH) in collaboration with the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).

A number of girls experienced side effects and at least 7 died post vaccination. The Parliamentary Standing Committee concluded that the girls’ deaths were not properly investigated and that they were instead summarily dismissed as being unrelated to the vaccine. The Committee also concluded that PATH’s demonstration study violated the rights of the vaccinated girls and called for an enquiry by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR).

Further, money and resources that would be spent on this vaccine should be spent to strengthen health services including screening for cervical cancer. These include large-scale awareness programmes (including sex education for girls) on HPV, cervical cancer, methods of preventing transmission of sexually transmitted infections, and the need for screening. This will have a far greater impact in reducing the incidence of and mortality from cervical cancer. Indeed, the Planning Commission’s working group on Non-Communicable Diseases (NCD) for the 12th Five Year Plan recommended that “at this juncture emphasis on availability of HPV vaccine at district level may not be required as simple advice on personal hygiene and early symptoms of Cervix Cancer and training of Health worker in VIA techniques will help in prevention & early detection of cervix cancers”. (Proposal for the 12th five year plan, working group on NCDs, Planning Commission, GoI, pg 100).

Finally, you are well aware that the Supreme Court is still waiting to hear from the DCGI and the ICMR on its order of 12th August 2014, calling on them to produce the files relating to the licensing and collaboration with PATH before the court in the matter of Writ Petition (civil) 558/2012 Kalpana Mehta and others vs Union of India and others and Writ Petition (civil) No.921/2013 Sama and others vs UoI and others. It is unacceptable to ask NTAGI to look into the feasibility of the vaccine when the Health Ministry has failed to comply with the order with respect to licensing that deal with safety and effectiveness of these vaccines.

We sincerely urge you to call an immediate halt to any attempts to introduce the HPV vaccines in the Universal Immunization Programme in the larger interest of the health and well-being of the adolescent girls and women of this country.