Archive for December 28, 2015

Professor accused of sexually harassing colleague gets promoted to JNU Executive Council, women’s groups write to President, Please take sexual harassment seriously

Bidyut-Chakraborty-sexual-harassment

Women’s groups and individuals have written an open letter to the President of India protesting the appointment of Professor Bidyut Chakraborty to the Executive Council of JNU despite the case of sexual harassment against him. Activists have also expressed concern over the reports that his name features as a candidate for the prestigious position of the Vice Chancellor of the University of Delhi

By Team FI
Eight years ago a sexual harassment case was filed by an employee of Gandhi Bhawan against Professor Bidyut Chakraborty who was then the institution’s director. The committee of Delhi University on Sexual Harassment filed its report which led to the removal of Professor Chakrabarty from the position of Director, Head of the Department of Political Science and Dean, Faculty of Social Sciences. In October of this year, Professor Chakrabarty was appointed to the Executive Council of Jawarharlal Nehru University. Women’s organisations and individuals, in an open letter to the President of India, have pointed out that such a position “demand impeccable record of academic excellence and integrity. However, it would appear that a record of sexual harassment does not impact the process of appointments in Universities.”

The following is the full text of the letter:
An Open Letter to the President of India: Please take sexual harassment seriously
It is shocking that the Hon’ble Visitor appointed Prof Bidyut Chakrabarty to the Executive Council of JNU on 8 October 2015 and his name now features as a candidate for the prestigious position of the Vice Chancellor of the University of Delhi, if this is accurately reported in the media. 1 Both these positions—either as a Vice Chancellor or as a nominated member in an Executive Council of a University—demand impeccable record of academic excellence and integrity. However, it would appear that a record of sexual harassment does not impact the process of appointments in Universities.

It is well known that a sexual harassment case was made by an employee of Gandhi Bhawan on 4.4.07 against the Director, Prof Bidyut Chakrabarty. The Delhi University apex committee on Sexual Harassment vide its report that was tabled and accepted by the Executive Council Resolution No 114 dated 8.10.07 resolved that:

1. A letter of warning be issued to Prof Bidyut Chakrabarty.
2. He should be asked to step down from the Directorship of Gandhi Bhawan.
3. He should be debarred from holding any administrative post in the University for a period of three years.

Prof Chakrabarty was removed from the position of Director, Gandhi Bhawan, Head of the Department of Political Science and Dean, Faculty of Social Sciences.

Prof Chakrabarty petitioned to the High Court, Delhi, not on the merits of the complaint but his right to cross-examine the witness (WPC No 8227/2007 dated 29.5.09). The Supreme Court in its order dated 12.1.10 for Special Leave to Appeal directed that cross examination for witnesses be carried out though the ‘witnesses need not be revealed’ and appointed Ms Binu Tamta, the Court Commissioner for the purpose of getting ‘answers to questions’ to be supplied by the respondent Prof Chakrabarty. The statements recorded by the Court Commissioner were heard on 7.5.10 and it was decided that the same be handed over to the Apex Committee for further action and closed the matter.

The Apex Committee considered the court recordings and submitted its report to the EC. The report was finally tabled in the EC on 21.3.12 and Resolution 235 accepted the findings of the committee. ‘The Council further resolved that Prof Bidyut Chakrabarty, be debarred from all the administrative posts and supervisory duties in the University for the remainder period out of the 3 years, if any.’ Page 2 of 3

The Assistant Registrar (CR & Vigilance) wrote to the Head of the Department, Political Science vide letter no. CR-Vigilance/069/2006/17 dated 23.5.12 to implement the above EC resolution.

Further it may be pointed out that Prof. Chakravarti had petitioned the Delhi High Court also to quash ‘ordinance XV-D of Delhi University on the ground that it is violative of Article(s) 14, 16 and 311 of the Constitution’ (Prof. Bidyug Chakraborty vs Delhi University & Ors., W.P.(C) No.8226/2007, 29 May 2009 at para 2). Justice Sikri and Justice Jain of the Delhi High Court held that since they had ‘read the requirements of complying with fundamental principles of natural justice as implicit in the inquiry procedure’, there was no need to ‘strike down the relevant provisions of Ordinance XV-D of the University of Delhi’ (Prof. Bidyug Chakraborty vs Delhi University & Ors., W.P.(C) No.8226/2007, 29 May 2009 at para 19).

The Visitor and the selection committee have chosen to ignore the Vishakha guidelines wherein the Supreme Court noted that each incident of sexual harassment is a violation of fundamental rights of gender equality and the right of life and liberty: a ‘clear violation of the rights under Articles 14, 15 and 21 of Constitution’.

Any Vice Chancellor or Executive Council member must possess a sterling record on gender equality. These positions demand gender just governance of Universities which includes making policies, judging cases of sexual harassment and an active implementation of the law against sexual harassment at the workplace.

While it is constitutionally mandated that Universities must prevent and redress sexual harassment, it is equally the constitutional duty of any selection committee and the Visitor not to appoint persons who have a record of sexual harassment on such bodies.

We, the undersigned, representing women’s organisations, students and teachers, request the Visitor to uphold this constitutional duty by appointing to such positions only those persons whose commitment to gender justice is beyond question.

Organisations
1. Sehba Farooqui and Maimoona Mollah, AIDWA
2. Kavita Krishnan, AIPWA
3. Sadhna Arya and Vani Subramanium, Saheli
4. Poonam Kaushik, Pragatisheel Mahila Sangathan
5. Geetha Nambisan, Jagori
6. Padmini Kumar, Joint Women’s Programme (JWP)
7. Kalyani Menon Sen, Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression
8. Moushumi Basu and Deepika Tandon, Secretaries, PUDR
Individuals
9. Pamela Philipose, Senior Journalist
10. Shambhavi Prakash, Assistant Professor, CGS, SLLC&S, Jawaharlal Nehru University
11. Dr. Rajesh Kumar Jha, Rajdhani College, DU
12. Dr. Premchand, ARSD college, DU
13. Pawan Kumar, Aryabhatta College, DU
14. Satyajit Singh, Professor Dept. of Political Science, DU
15. Dr. Navin Gaur, Dyal Singh College, DU
16. Tanvir Aeijaz, Ramjas College, DU
17. Dr. Mihir Pandey, Ramjas College, DU
18. Dr. Vinita Chandra, Ramjas College, DU
19. Achin Vanaik, Former Head of Dept of Political Science, DU
20. Ayesha Kidwai, Professor, CL, SLLC&S Jawaharlal Nehru University
21. Nivedita Menon, Professor, CCPPT, Jawaharlal Nehru University
22. Jayati Ghosh, Professor, CESP, SSS, Jawaharlal Nehru University
23. Uma Chakravarti, Feminist Historian, Delhi
24. Anand Chakravarti, Retired Professor, Dept. of Sociology, Delhi University
25. Biswamoy Pati, Associate Professor, Department of History, University of Delhi
26. Rajni Palriwala, Professor, Dept. of Sociology, Delhi University
27. Kalpana Kannabiran, Director, CSD, Hyderabad
28. Kaveri Indira, University of Hyderabad
29. Uma V Chandru, Independent Researcher, Bangalore
30. Dr Nisha Biswas, Retired Scientist, Kolkata
31. Patricia Uberoi, Retired Professor of Sociology, Institute of Economic Growth
32. Kumkum Roy, Professor, CHS, SSS, Jawaharlal Nehru University
33. Brinda Bose, CES, SLLC&S, Jawaharlal Nehru University
34. Mohan Rao, Professor, CSMCH, SSS, Jawaharlal Nehru University
35. Ritoo M. Jerath, Professor, CRS, SLLC&S, Jawaharlal Nehru University
36. Madhu Sahni, Professor, CGS, SLLC&S, Jawaharlal Nehru University
37. Ranjani Mazumdar, Professor, SAA, Jawaharlal Nehru University
38. Urmimala Sarkar, Professor, SAA, Jawaharlal Nehru University
39. V. Sujatha, Professor, CSSS, SSS, Jawaharlal Nehru University
40. Sameena Dalwai, Associate Professor, Jindal Global Law School, JGU
41. Saptarshi Mandal, Assistant Professor, Jindal Global Law School, JGU
42. Chinmayi Arun, Assistant Professor, NLUD, Delhi
43. Jhuma Sen, Assistant Professor, Jindal Global Law School, JGU
44. Pratiksha Baxi, Associate Professor, CSLG, Jawaharlal Nehru University

Disability rights activists write to PM demanding a review of National Building Code

disability-rights-india

Requesting time for a finer reading of the National Building Code, disability rights activists demand that suggestions from people with disabilities ought to be included in the building plans

Team FI
A petition initiated by disability rights activist Professor Anita Ghai was sent to the Prime Minister Narendra Modi regarding the National Building Code (NBC) deliberations. Stating that the NBC is a critical element for persons with disabilities, the petition has demanded a thorough and comprehensive review of the National Building Code. “We want to be included in all the issues such as safety, toilets, and garbage disposal.” However, given that the activists would like to give their recommendations after a finer reading of the NBC, the petition pointed that the last date for recommendations was Dec 24. The petition stated that they could not do “justice to issues of accessibility in six days”.

Following is the full text of the petition that can be found on change.org.

Dear Prime Minister Modi Ji
As per the Accessible India campaign, the government visualised “an inclusive society in which equal opportunities and access is provided for the growth and development of persons with disabilities to lead productive, safe and dignified lives”. The campaign as we understand will focus on three verticals: built environment; public transportation and information and communication technologies.

Hon’ble PM, in his speech underlined the importance of Accessible India Campaign in the following words: “This campaign in its true sense has the mission of changing the physical and virtual infrastructure of the country so as to make it more accessible and inclusive for the persons with disabilities (PwDs). This campaign will pave the way for equal rights and participation of brothers and sisters with disabilities in all community activities. Our disabled brothers and sisters will get empowered in true sense.

The target to make built environment, transport system and Information Communication Technology eco-system accessible on such a vast scale is extremely important and I invite all the Central Government Ministries and State Governments to actively come forward and participate in successful implementation of the campaign.”

National Building Code is a critical element for persons with disabilities. We want not only ramps or toilets. We want to review the National Building Code. We want to be included in all the issues such as safety, toilets, and garbage disposal. We want to give our recommendations and do a finer reading of the National Building Code which would require time. However the last date given is Dec 24th. WE CANNOT DO JUSTICE TO ISSUES OF ACCESSIBILITY in six days. Please request the concerned authorities so that we have sufficient time so that people with disabilities can be truly included in the building plans. We look forward to you so that a THOROUGH AND COMPREHENSIVE review from the lens of Universal Design can be conducted.

As you know the disability movement’s slogan
NOTHING FOR US WITHOUT US
We are sure that you will help us in this endeavour,
Thank you

Three years after Nirbhaya, fight continues for justice

nirbhaya-rape-delhi

It has been three years to the brutal gang rape that killed a courageous young Nirbhaya but women continue to fight for justice and freedom from fear, says statement released by women activists, students and progressive groups

As 2015 comes to a close, we remember the tumultuous times in December 2012 when thousands of people – young and old – poured into the streets of Delhi in pain, rage and outrage. This was, of course, in the aftermath of the brutal gang rape and assault on a young woman that eventually led to her tragic death. That it occurred in the heart of Delhi, the capital of the country, was a shocking truth that people demanded and the government pledged to change.

Yet, in the three years since December 2012, women continue to face violence in every space they occupy, including their own homes, in public places, on public transport and at workplaces. There have been many attacks on women and girls, some accompanied by huge media coverage, but most taking place away from the public glare. Violence is the weapon used to keep them “in their place” on the basis of their identities, including caste, class race, religion and disability.

These range from sexual assaults and rapes and even murder of adivasi women and girls in Bijapur, Chhattisgarh, by CRPF men; on Muslim women in Muzaffarnagar, Uttar Pradesh; on Dalit women in Haryana, on women from Northeast India, either in their own states or in the places they move to in search of brighter opportunities.

Women occupying workplaces in the informal and formal sectors are facing increasing levels of backlash. From women working in fields, mines or inside homes, on construction sites or tending roadside stalls, to women working in corporate offices, non-governmental organisations, educational institutions, law offices or in the media, countless cases bear testament to the systematic sexual harassment they face at workplaces. While some have taken courage to file cases against their perpetrators, the severe consequences that have had to face from the media and the courts for speaking out are a matter of deep concern.

Take for instance some of the most high profile cases of sexual assault by senior male colleagues at workplaces as varied as the courts, media houses and NGOS. In case after case, the women have faced hostile work environments, been named and outed, harassed and finally hounded out of their jobs. While the men are out on bail (if arrested in the first place), reinstated in their jobs with full public sympathy and credibility, the women complainants are out in the cold, their stories trashed and disbelieved, their workplace harassment continuing as ‘punishment’ for having spoken out, their economic status severely compromised. Yet, the rhetoric of ‘misuse’ of the law by women is growing every day; with little regard for the facts on the ground.

If we turn to cases filed under the new amendments to the law against sexual assault that were passed in the wake of the movement in December 2012, the scene is dismal. Be it the women in Muzaffarnagar, Bhagana or Bastar, or the women employees of Tehelka or TERI, they all await justice.

The police and the judicial system, not to mention society, the media and political powers that rule at States or the Centre, have mostly worked to subvert the law

Worryingly, even as women who file cases under the laws enacted to protect women are feeling betrayed and vulnerable, a growing clamour brands the laws against gender-based violence as “draconian,” “biased against men”. Another disturbing fact is that 40% of rape cases filed in Delhi is by parents branding elopements as ‘rape.’ These cases hide a tale of familial violence against women who choose their own partners. In addition, is the intensified political offensive on inter-caste and inter-faith love. A recent sting operation by Cobrapost exposed how outfits close to the Sangh Parivar run an organized racket to brand inter-faith love as ‘love jehad’ and beat and coerce women to give up such relationships.

Unfortunately, the Governments allow these outfits to attack the rights and freedom of women with impunity. At the same time, central and state governments are increasingly seeking to use the issue of violence against women to push through regressive policies like death penalty, or lowering the age of juvenility – even though the Justice Verma Committee carefully considered and rejected these measures as counter-productive and against the interests of victims of gender violence. Measures that we as women’s, students’ and progressive groups and movements have steadfastly resisted.

The movement of December 2012 had raised the slogan of Bekhauf Azaadi, or Fearless Freedom for women and for all, and had specifically challenged moves to control women in the name of their own safety, and to use the fear of rape to justify patriarchal restrictions and surveillance on women’s freedom.
We share the grief and have full empathy with parents and families of victims of violence. It is however important that we continue to place the issue of violence against women and children at the centre of discussions and not “victimhood”. We understand that one instance of sexual violence in a family sometimes takes a toll on the family as a whole and it is years before they can recover. In our struggle against violence we must be aware and ensure that we do not reinforce victimhood and prolong this suffering. They, victims and families need to heal, and their loss and grief must not be publicly paraded.

We stand in solidarity to commemorate the victim of the December 2012 gang rape, as well as all the other known and unknown women and girls who face sexual and other forms of abuse. For us, this is a day that calls upon us to renew our vision of substantive, reformative and reparative justice for victims and survivors of sexual violence, as opposed to retribution against perpetrators. Such justice can only truly be achieved in a society that is both ethical and humane, and in which the survivor and her health and freedom are the focus of the procedures of the criminal justice, medical, and social welfare systems. We condemn the impunity that most often accompanies acts of gender-based violence against women, girls, boys and trans people. We assert their right to equality in the eyes of the law.

• We stand today in hope with millions across the country – and indeed, the world – that justice will prevail in all cases, including the December 2012 case, according to the prevailing laws of the land.

• We state unequivocally that we are against draconian punishments like death penalty or chemical castration.

• We believe in reformative and reparative rather than retributive justice, which gives a chance for people – including juveniles – to change and turn their lives around.

• We reiterate our demand for certainty of justice and not severity of punishment.

• We reject the logic of ‘instant’ vigilante justice and instead seek to strengthen the systems and due processes of justice, to ensure that these work for and not against victims.

• We demand that the Governments at the State and Centre uphold their obligations under the Constitution of India and under international human rights Covenants to guarantee women and girls the right to equality, freedom and justice.

Remembering Fatema Mernissi, the magician among the Casablanca Dreamers

Fatema- mernissi

Shuba Chacko pays tribute to renowned Muslim feminist and sociologist, Fatema Mernissi by remembering an exciting feminist gathering organised by Devaki Jain. Mernissi passed away in Morocco on November 30th. Her most celebrated book, Beyond the Veil, reviewed Islam from a feminist perspective rejecting its age-old patriarchal interpretations

‘The Casablanca Dreamers’ is the evocative name that Fatema Mernissi gave to our informal group of feminist scholars and activists. We had come together to think through an alternative framework for ensuring that justice is built into macro economic ideas and policies. We were a diverse bunch drawn from varied backgrounds, of geography, specializations and perspectives. Devaki Jain was the brain behind the idea and brought this exciting group of feminists together. And we met in Casablanca because Fatema, the magnet, was there. (http://www.mernissi.net/books/articles/casablanca_dream.html)

Fatema’s broad, civilisational imagination swept the group and we undertook a magical journey. She thrilled and inspired. She dressed flamboyantly, laughed loudly, her eyes twinkled as she wove long and beautiful stories. And when she said “Voila” we wanted to clap as she, the magician held us captivated.

Below are some of the thoughts and visions she shared – though unfortunately without the liveliness of her telling.

For Fatema Mernissi the borderlessness that globalisation promises, that is – the dissolution of borders between nation states to facilitate the flow of goods, services and finance capital, is skewed. She argued for breaking down of the walls of the mind. She evoked Sindbad the sailor, a popular character in Arabian folklore and contrasted him with the cowboy – a figure around whom many American stories revolve.

For Sindbad strangers were sources of joy; of being enriched – while the cowboy was fitted with gun and holster to take on the unknown. Sindbad challenged the traditional notion of wealth – for him travel in itself was an enriching process; whereas for the cowboy he was driven by a need to protect his cattle, even while trying to poach on other people’s livestock.

The theme of travel as a means to explore and know new worlds both literally and figuratively appears many times in Fatema Mernissi’s writings. The exploring and learning leads to progress that is mutually beneficial – it is not a blind copying from another culture but the active process of deriving, adapting, adding, changing that allows cultures to intermingle and converse rather than clash. These thoughts are reflected in the tales of Sindabad as well as the countless other seers and poets of the Arab world who exhorted people to travel, and counted the gains from these journeys in terms of “entertainment, livelihood, self-discipline, knowledge and the opportunity to be in the company of splendid creatures.”

‘The journey’ however is not restricted to new outward frontiers but also encompasses travels within, to know the ‘self’ better, as the inward movement ‘unveils the hidden face of the traveller’. Mernissi insisted that this self-knowledge was important for establishing the norms of ethical behaviour.

When one approaches strangers with this view, then it is possible for one to be open and able to conquer the fear of them through dialogue. Dialogue entails commitment to translation, to creating fora that allow for these conversations and to master “the art of communication and demonstration”. In this worldview being insular is seen as causing poverty and ruin. Movement is viewed as natural and perpetual and in a philosophical sense that “the fate of the human being is to tune to the universal movement”.

This recognition of the constant motion meant that recognition of survival depended on weaving a symbiotic partnership. The need to communicate with strangers is embraced, not just with humans but across species – including birds and sea-monsters.

Some of the rulers have adopted this approach. The Caliph al Mansur, the second Abbasid Caliph (for example), who created Baghdad, adopted the concept of adab or allying with the stranger. Building bridges requires the art of communication that is respectful of the ‘other’. It is this desire to understand and know new ‘truths’, new ideas, new histories that pushed the rulers and scholars of this Caliphate to undertake huge translation missions. They believed that talking and listening and other forms of cultural exchange was the only way to grow richer and sustain themselves.

This attitude Mernissi insists is most relevant for a truer globalization because strangers will be constantly trespassing into our neighbourhoods and lurking on our street-corners.

The encounter with strange things and events must stimulate us to enlarge our horizons. The need is to invest in books and research and in understanding each other and become more familiar with other world views, idioms and value systems. This she points out is in contrast to the current trend of wanting to subjugate the ‘other’.

Our arrogance means we are often caught up in our narrow views that tend not look beyond the obvious – for example we confuse the desert with nothingness and then go on to condescendingly hold “training programs which teach the local population” about their local habitats. The wealth of knowledge that they hold is unacknowledged and dismissed and they are not supported to know more about the exceptional wealth of the region, that will build their pride and help shape their new vision of the desert as a wonderful paradise of life in all its forms, where they are enabled to manufacture new identities for themselves. This she underlines is the missing ingredient which explains the failure of bureaucrat-led development programs, be they promoted by the local state, or the international agencies such as the World Bank. This ability of information to empower and validate is often overlooked in a mechanical attitude to information.

New technologies do offer hope in that they hold “the magic power, for the first time in modern history, to engineer their own image on-line, and not only for their restricted local consumption, but for the universe at large”. However this power has to be harnessed and used for “imagination-nurturing creatures on one hand” while the ruling elites will try to wrest control yet again and want their specific interests to dominate. This ‘digital chaos” Mernissi argues is an opportunity for creative growth

The task is to work collectively –drawing from each other and enhancing each other “Any group who gather together to pursue a higher goal could enjoy the dazzling effect which comes from mirroring each others’ beauty.”

Fatema, thank you for everything. Your deeply insightful words echo through my head now and then; as does your laughter. You, I am sure, will continue your Safar.

atema-mernissi-calligraphy

Safar (travel) as self-discovery-an example of Fatema Mernissi’s use of calligraphy and illustrations