Archive for Debates

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

APJ Kalam was a missile man, let us not get carried away by epithets like “People’s President”


Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam, the 11th President of India, popularly known as a ‘missile man’ passed away on Monday, after a cardiac arrest, in Shillong, North East India. He was 83. It was alleged by activists that Kalam’s nomination in 2002 by the then BJP-led NDA, was an attempt to whitewash BJP’s alleged role in the Gujarat violence which claimed over 2000 lives with several still missing. BJP ideologue Sudheendra Kulkarni described it as “an attempt to project BJP’s secularism in the aftermath of Gujarat violence.” Here is a response from feminist activist Jayashree Velankar about the tributes pouring in for a man who played a big role in the nuclearisation of the country.

This was written to share my frustrations over the tributes pouring in from all quarters for Dr. APJ Kalam. I am disturbed by some of the tributes paid by some within ‘our’ circles of friends and fellow travelers.

There is no doubt Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam was an humble man, came from a very poor family, struggled against many odds, was opposed to death penalty but the fact remains that he was a Missile Man. Kalam chose to build weapons of mass destruction. I can’t call him “People’s President” and I am not sorry I can’t pay tributes to him.

To all those, especially amongst ‘us’ – the social activists, who have said he was ‘visionary’, ‘statesman’, ‘rushitulya’ (like a Sage), ‘apolitical’ my earnest plea is to ponder over these few things:

1) Rajdeep Sardesai, in my opinion, was the first journalist to use the adjective “People’s President” for Kalam. The rationale was, unlike other presidents who kept a safe distance from people in the name of protocol, Kalam mingled with people freely and answered emails by common people, especially young people and school children. All these were welcome gestures but do they suffice for us to call him People’s President – somebody who excelled in building weapons that would kill tens of thousands of ‘people’?

Make no mistake here. Nuclear weapons will make no distinction between people from Pakistan and India. They would kill thousands, if not more on both sides of the border

2) As my comrade in peace movement, Sukla Sen pointed out, Kalam played a big role in India’s nuclearisation that has had disastrous consequences like Pakistan going nuclear within a fort night of India doing so, Kargil war, hijacking of IA plane in December 1999, Parliament attack in New Delhi in 2001 to name a few. Only hawks can think this to be ‘visionary’. Can we?

3) Yes, he opposed death penalty but again isn’t it a bitter irony? By building missiles, in reality, he signed death warrants for thousands.

4) This ‘great statesman’ kept mum when George Fernandes and others in NDA government sacked Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat in a most humiliating manner when Bhagwat exposed huge scams and Fernandes’s connections with illegal arms trade ( I haven’t found the time to cross check this part so I will stand corrected)

5) Nirmalaji Deshpande, well known Gandhian and a staunch opponent of nuclear weapons was chosen by Congress party to be the next President of India. (I think NDTV had made an announcement to this effect) but then a doubt was raised – will she allow use of nuclear weapons in case a war breaks out with Pakistan and her name was dropped like a hot potato. All those who argue that someone like APJ – a Muslim getting the highest office is a sign of maturity of Indian democracy, please rethink. His being Muslim was overlooked only because he was a Missile Man. In the eyes of jingoists, Nirmalaji lacked phallus on both accounts – being a woman and by opposing nuclear weapons. (Eventually Pratibha Patil was chosen as his successor.)

Traditional protocol demands one to be not critical of a person who is no more. But as a feminist peacenik, my conscience demands that I bring these facets to the fore.

How ‘Per Vaginal Examination’ turned into the ‘two-finger test’


Indian laws, clearly stating the role of health professionals while carrying out examination of sexual violence survivors, do not make any reference to assessing virginity of the survivor, degree of habituation to sexual acts, status of the hymen and status of the vaginal elasticity. Despite this, and in the absence of standard medical protocols in such cases, Indian forensic medicine and medico legal bodies continue to refer to these aspects

By Sangeeta Rege

The issue of sexual violence requires a multi-disciplinary approach in order to provide comprehensive response to sexual violence. This multi-disciplinary approach requires several systems such as criminal justice system, health system, child welfare committees etc. to interact with each other. This short article focuses on the role of the health sector vis a vis sexual violence.

The Indian law has clearly laid down role for health professionals in responding to sexual violence. Sec 164A of CrPC lays down the components of medico legal examination namely seeking informed consent for carrying out examination and providing a logical medical opinion for results of the examination. It does not make any reference to assessing virginity of the survivor, degree of habituation to sexual acts, status of the hymen and status of the vaginal elasticity. Despite this fact medico legal examination continues to constantly make a reference to these aspects. These techniques have been devised and perpetuated in forensic medicine text books.

The problem is further compounded by the lack of standard protocol for medico legal care of survivors. Health professionals across the country continue to assess the hymenal status of survivors, determine laxity of vagina by carrying out a finger test, look for marks of resistance on her genitals or body, record physical attributes like built, height, weight etc.

To add to this confusion, the Delhi health department put out an advisory stating that finger test can be conducted in some instances such as to determine internal injures for rape survivors. The advisory confused the term “finger test” with the clinical examination term “ Per Vaginal (PV) Examination”.

Let us decode these confusions:

• Finger test – Finger test emerged from forensic medicine as a way of determining whether a person is habituated to sexual violence. It is done by inserting one or 2 fingers inside the vagina of a woman . If more than 1 finger passes without difficulty , the woman is said to be habituated to sexual activity . Such a test is unscientific and is rooted in biases and stereotypes about rape and misconceptions about virginity. Several High Courts and Supreme Courts have already called it an unscientific test and have asked health professionals to refrain from it. It also contravenes Section 146 of the Indian evidence act of 1872.

• Other unscientific tests – Just like the finger test, Forensic medicine has also developed methods of recording old tears to the hymen to state that the woman is habituated. They ask providers to measure height – weight to argue that if she is well built than the perpetrator, she could not have been over powered . These comments too are in complete contravention of the Section 146 of the Indian Evidence Act (IEA), 1872.

• Overemphasis on injuries – Forensic medicine in India further essentialises the presence of genital and physical injuries on the survivor . Absence of such injuries makes the doctors suspicious about whether the survivor is reporting the “ truth” or was it a consensual act . It is important to lay down facts about absence of injuries . Aspects like fear, threat to life, being too shocked / numbed by the attack , being rendered unconscious etc prevents the survivor from resisting the perpetrator.

However doctors do not take in to account circumstances in which sexual violence occurs and so are unable to understand the lack of injuries on bodies of survivor . Evidence from WHO multi country study 2003 also shows that only 1 in 3 survivors have chances of sustaining any injury . The changes in the law especially CLA 2013 in its explanation (2) to section 375 IPC has clarified that lack of injuries should not be understood as consent to the sexual act . However these changes have still not found its way in the medico legal practices across the country

• Overemphasis on presence of medico legal evidence – Medical professionals , police as well as the Judiciary believe that medico legal evidence is the most clinching form of evidence in the form of semen , blood traces , sperms , saliva , etc which will help in conviction of a perpetrator of sexual violence . In fact in a case of child sexual abuse , the judge allowed an acquittal for lack of medical evidence in the form of seminal stains , despite the fact that the 8 year old child had given the history of fingering in the vagina . This is the extent of how misplaced the understanding on medical evidence is even with the highest echelon in the justice system . What is gravely missed is that medico legal evidence rapidly erodes with time as well as activities such as washing , bathing , gargling, urinating etc . A survivor often needs time to come to terms with the assault , consult family members and reach a hospital or police station . So in many instances evidence of semen , blood etc is not found . But this is misinterpreted as sexual violence did not take place by doctors and thus they are unable to explain the lack of positive forensic medical evidence.

There is a need to correct the biases and prejudices related to understanding of medical evidence

• If a survivor has reported peno- vaginal assault or there are clinical signs / symptoms such as vaginal pain, bleeding , discharge etc. they indicate a need for internal examination only then a Per Vaginal Examination (which should not be confused with finger test ) is done . This is done with the purpose of identifying clinical causes underlying a specific medical condition. This examination requires fingers to be inserted in the vagina but to assess a clinical condition and is followed up with a treatment plan. Here too consent for Per Vaginal Examination should also be sought from the woman/ girl.

• Second, it is important to understand components of medical evidence. Medical evidence is:
 Trace evidence in the form of semen, spermatozoa, blood, hair, cells, dust, paint, grass, lubricant, fecal matter, bbody fluids, saliva.
 Injuries either on the body / genitals
 Presence of sexually transmitted infection that the perpetrator has passed to the survivor in the form of HIV, Hepatitis, Gonorrhea, and also unwanted pregnancy.
 It is important to understand that the possibility of finding forensic evidence decreases significantly after 96 hours after the incident. Even within these 96 hours after the incident, the extent of medical evidence found is subject to activities undertaken by the survivor in the form of bathing, urinating, gargling, defecating etc. Also possibility of finding semen evidence is based on whether perpetrator ejaculated or not. These activities should be recorded by the doctor and explained in the court when asked about lack of medical evidence .

 Most importantly the possibility of finding any forensic evidence depends on circumstances of the sexual violence and also nature of sexual violence , therefore the dependence on forensic evidence is misplaced

• Third, it is important to state that a health professional, in this case doctors, has dual responsibility – forensic and therapeutic. The therapeutic role though often ignored, has now been made mandatory by the changes in the law(Section 357C CrPC and Rule 5 of POCSO). No hospital and health provider private or public can refuse treatment to survivors of sexual violence. Refusal to provide treatment is now punishable by law (section 166 B IPC).

• Fourth, MOHFW (Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Govt of India) in April 2014 recognizes dual role of doctors therapeutic and medico legal and provides specific directions to doctors for responding to not just women and children but also transgender and other marginalized communities. It also equips doctors to understand the scope of medical evidence and steps in interpreting medical evidence. Besides the state health departments, civil society organisations must also be informed about this practice and must push for a comprehensive health care response to survivors of sexual violence.

• MOHFW (Govt of India) established a multi disciplinary committee of experts and developed gender sensitive and uniform protocol for responding to sexual violence survivors. This is the first national directive by the Union health ministry in 2014 to all states to adopt such a protocol. These guidelines have been drafted under Sec 164A of CrPC and must be adhered to uniformly across the country.

This article is based on CEHAT’s collaborative program with the MCGM hospitals in Mumbai on implementing a comprehensive health care response

Govt shows interest in Depo Provera again


For the past three decades women’s groups in India have been fighting against the inclusion of Depo-Provera, the injectable contraceptive into the country’s family planning programme. With signs of a renewed interest from the government on the inclusion of this drug, it is imperative that activists discuss and articulate their views on this issue of grave importance to women and public health

By Sarojini N and Priya Ranjan

After the London Summit- FP2020, a renewed interest is being witnessed, amongst funders, foundations, NGOs, UN agencies and Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MOHFW), in Depot medroxyprogesterone acetate (Depo), an injectable contraceptive.
Many international organizations/agencies/foundations are advocating that the Government of India introduce Depo-Provera (the brand name of DMPA) into the national family planning programme.

In fact, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MOHFW) had recently recommended Depo’s inclusion in the Family Planning Programme (FPP) ostensibly to provide an alternative choice to women seeking to plan their families. However, the Drugs Technical Advisory Board (DTAB), the highest decision-making body on technical matters in MOHFW, has refused to give its nod on the recommendation of the department of family welfare for the introduction of Depo-Provera in FPP and has asked the Department to “examine the matter in consultation with the leading gynaecologists of the country for examining the effects of the use of the drug (Depo Provera) under National Family Planning Programme of the Government of India”.(Pharmabiz April 16, 2015).

There are a few NGOs and other international agencies who are working on issues related to Family planning, contraception and reproductive and maternal health that are in favor of Depo. They argue that injectables and implants provide better contraceptive options particularly for the poor and powerless women to exercise control over their own bodies and lives (since the contraceptive is injectable, neither husbands, nor in-laws would come to know of the contraceptive method used by women). Those who are in favor of injectables are also of the opinion that women should have freedom to choose the kind of contraceptives they want. They believe that the idea of offering injectables as a method of contraception is to widen the choices available to women and that the risk of morbidity and mortality associated with unwanted pregnancies must always be weighed against the side effects of contraceptive methods. There are also suggestions to introduce Depo initially at district level assuming it is equipped to ensure the screening and follow-up care for this method.

On the other hand, many women’s organizations and health groups have consistently opposed the introduction of injectables and implants for many years. Women’s groups have raised concerns regarding serious health risks and adverse effects of Depo on women along with the unequipped public health system to ensure the screening and follow up at all levels. Several studies have shown that the use of Depo leads to loss of bone density in young women. In fact, the US FDA in 2004 asked Pfizer to put black box warning on Depo’s label highlighting potential medical complication associated with the drug. The findings of more recent studies conducted in Africa demonstrated that the use of Depo-Provera may also increase the acquisition risk of HIV infection.

There are also other proven measures to reduce maternal (and infant) mortality besides preventing pregnancy.

Unfortunately, there has been hardly any discussion/debate on injectables and implants in recent years. It is important to speak to women who have used and are using Depo as a method of family planning. It is available in the private market and used extensively in regions such as Jharkhand. Data from this experience needs to be compiled and analysed. From anecdotal evidence it seems that the discontinuation rate appears to be high among the users of Depo. At the same time we should clearly articulate the other alternatives, as women do need safe contraceptive methods.

Given the fact that there is a renewed attempt to introduce it in FPP, it is imperative to discuss and articulate our views on this very important woman’s and public health issue.

History of Depo-Provera
Depo-Provera (Depo) is a synthetic hormonal drug with medroxy-progesterone acetate (MPA) manufactured by Upjohn Pharmaceuticals which was later acquired by Pfizer. In 1963, it was sold in the US as a treatment for incurable, inoperable cancer of the en-dometrium (lining of the uterus).

In 1967 Upjohn decided to sell DP as a long-term contraceptive and applied to FDA (Food and Drug Administration) authorities. As per news reports, two animal trials – mandatory for FDA approval—a seven-year long beagle dog trial and a ten-year long rhesus monkey trial began. DP was granted a conditional approval for use by those who could not use other methods of contraception.

In 1973 the FDA’s Advisory Committee on Obstetrics and Gynaecology recommended the Depo-Provera drug, DMPA, for use as a contraceptive.

In 1975 the FDA convened a joint meeting of its Advisory Committees on Obstetrics and Gynecology and on Biometric and Epidemiologic Methodology. The Committees in turn jointly constituted a sub-committee task force which, after open hearings, recommended that the FDA approve Depo as a contraceptive.

Following the implication of Depo in cervical cancer, the US Congress objected and in March 1978, the FDA stayed the issuing of the license to sell DP as a contraceptive in the US. By then Upjohn had already begun selling the drug especially in third world countries with a large amount of sales going to the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) which had begun distributing it in 12 countries, the World Health Organisation and the US Agency for International Development (AID).

The irony is that even before the US authority could register the drug, it was being used extensively in third world countries, or rather being ‘tested’ on large numbers of women

Following an appeal from the management, and a groundswell of opinion against the injectable contraceptive that in July 1979 the FDA appointed a Board of Inquiry. TheUS FDA was forced to hold a public enquiry, only the second time in its history, to decide on whether the drug should be licensed. Its verdict held that there was insufficient material to show that the drug was safe. This Board convened in January 1983 and a report was issued in 1984. The report stated that there was not enough evidence to prove that the drug was safe for women as a long term contraceptive.

The US FDA did not license Depo for use as a contraceptive until 1990. This was in the context of the resurgence of anxiety about the population explosion especially in the Third World and the fact that the latter had increasingly become cautious about licensing a drug which had not been registered in the country of origin.

Depo Provera had reached India in 1974 and the Indian Council of Medical Research trials had begun testing the contraceptive. However, the trials were soon cancelled apparently due to women dropping out of the trials and so there was no trial report put out. By 1984, the drug was said to be used in a few health projects, though as per news report in the EPW “several professionals and professional bodies have been, after a long silence on the subject, issuing statements urging the government to allow Depo in the Indian market.”

The early 1980s saw women and health groups in India taking a stand against contraceptives especially in the government family planning programmes. In late 1993, India decided to issue Upjohn with the license to market DP for contraceptive use which would be manufactured and sold by Max India. Depo-Provera was approved without the mandatory Phase 3 trials. It was to be sold on prescription, individually, not through the family planning programme. Its price was reportedly, Rs 120 per dose. The company issued a statement saying that they would be doing a Post Marketing Surveillance but they would be doing this on their own without the involvement of the ICMR or the Indian drug control authorities.

In 1993, women’s groups filed a case in the Supreme Court against the introduction of injectable contraceptives into the country’s family planning programme. The court ordered a stay on the drug’s use on the grounds that there was insufficient research on its suitability for Indian conditions.

In 2000, a study conducted by SAMA Resource Group for Women and Health (Unveiled reality: a study of women’s experiences with Depo-Provera, an injectable contraceptive. SAMA, Delhi, 2000) found that in Delhi at public health centers, women were being given injectable contraceptives without informed consent which meant they were not informed of the adverse side effects of the drug.

The potential of abuse, the incomplete mandatory trials and lack of control of government agencies over pharmaceutical agencies that sell the contraceptives were some of the grave concerns of the women, health, and human rights groups. Women’s groups again met with officials from the Health Ministry in 2000 to fight against the government’s intention to incorporate the drug into its family planning programme, though allegedly it had already begun doing so in Uttar Pradesh.

In 2005, a national workshop in October 2004 organised by Parivar Seva Sanstha along with the government of lndia, UNFPA and the Packard Foundation through the Population Foundation of India. The topic at hand was the introduction of injectable contraceptives. Following this a letter signed by 62 individuals and health organisation in India wrote a letter to the then Union Minister for Health and Family Welfare – A Ramadoss. An article based on the letter appeared in the Indian Journal of Medical Ethics written by N B Sarojini of SAMA and Laxmi Murthy of Saheli with title ‘Why Women Group’s Oppose Injectable Contraceptives.

The article stated that the relaxation of Indian drug regulations and the introduction of long-acting hormonal contraceptives such as injectables (Net En and Depo Provera) and sub-dermal implants (Norplant) would cause irreversible damage to the women and their progeny’s health.

According to the article, “administration requires ruling out contra-indications and close monitoring over long periods. Such monitoring is totally absent in this country. Poor women who visit government hospitals where injectables would be offered in the family planning programme would be treated as ‘living laboratories”.

The article pointed out that a five year post-marketing surveillance study was to have been done in place of the final stage of clinical trials. However, this report has not been made public. As per the article, several factors were revealed studying the post marketing surveillance study which had failed to address several serious concerns such as the potential side-effect of bone density loss and subsequent increased risk of osteoporosis, cancer risk, assessment of return of fertility, the effect of Depo on progeny conceived immediately after stopping the use of the drug, amenorrhea, irregular bleeding, generalised weakness and lethargy, migraine headaches, pain in the abdomen and severe abdominal cramps were relegated as “non-serious” medical events by researchers. The article stated that after scrutinisng many studies which favoured the use of DP, women’s groups have found no “scientific/medical justification for the introduction of injectable contraceptives like Depo-Provera or Net-En.”

The above information about the history of Depo Provera was aggregated by the FI Team from the following articles; Why women’s groups oppose injectable contraceptives by N B Sarojini, Laxmi Murthy

‘Contraceptives: Case for Public Enquiry’, EPW, April 9, 1994
‘Retreat on Depo-Provera?’ by Padma Prakash, December 8, 1984

The bogey of ‘Muslim Terrorist’: A note on the Aleru encounter


By branding the Aleru encounter victims as terrorists, the police, the media, the judiciary and even the public seem to be participants in covering up the brutal deaths of five Muslim undertrials who were not even facing terror charges

By Vasudha Nagaraj

On 7th April, the country, witnessed two brutal encounters in the states of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. In Seshachalam, in Andhra Pradesh, 20 daily wage labourers belonging to Dalit and tribal communities were killed. In Aleru, in Telangana, five Muslim under-trials, were killed while they were on their way to the court.

In both states, the police predictably claimed firing in self-defence. However, the newspaper pictures of the Muslim under-trials shackled to their seats and the labourers lying among old red sanders logs bespoke a tragedy – clearly pointing to the police taking law into their hands.

The timing of these encounters in two new states, born just ten months ago, is tragic. While the Andhra Pradesh government came up with the idea of development, growth and universal prosperity, the Telangana state was formed on the foundations of a democratic struggle, thereby bound to rule of law and justice for all, especially for those marginalized as women, Muslims, Dalits and tribals.

In the Aleru encounter, the five undertrials – Viqar Ahmed, Syed Amjad, Mohd. Zakir, Dr. Mohd Haneef and Izhar Khan – were being brought in a police van to attend the court proceedings. The very next day the newspapers carried pictures of the five shackled under trials who appeared slumped dead in their seats. The police sought to explain that Viqar Ahmed after a toilet-break, while boarding the van, snatched the rifle from the escort policeman and then tried to overpower the others. In an act of self defense and considering the past history of Viqar Ahmed, the police opened fire and killed all the five prisoners.

The post mortem reports show that each of the five bodies was riddled with more than twenty bullet wounds and that all the wounds were on the chest and the shoulders. None of the policemen even suffered a scratch of an injury

The FIR registered in the offence states that Viqar Ahmed snatched the rifle and tried to kill, while the other four screamed. Even assuming one accepts the police version, the question remains as to how the other four prisoners could have intimidated the 17 armed escort policemen. It is not the case of the police that the other four prisoners also snatched guns and took aim. They merely screamed. And for that they were shot down.

Soon after this incident, Viqar Ahmed’s father recounted about how his son had repeatedly complained to the Session’s Judge that his life was under threat from the policemen. Civil liberties groups and several political organizations have termed the encounter as a retaliation to an earlier incident in which four policemen were killed in the same district. The number of bullet wounds on each body is evidence of the vindictive and disproportionate exercise of force by the police against hapless prisoners.

The Muslim community has expressed outrage that this is a targeted killing whose purport is to create an atmosphere of terror and insecurity among its people. Large scale mobilizations have marked the funerals of the slain people.

The funeral of Dr Haneef Mohammed was attended largely by the Hindu community. It seems he was a medical doctor who was available to the community day and night. In one protest meeting after the other, leaders of the Muslim community have expressed deep anguish about how the new state of Telangana has betrayed their hope, for a better future and for protection of their youth. Except for constituting a Special Investigation Team, the Telangana government has maintained a stony silence on the encounters.

The media and the judiciary
One cannot help notice the biased coverage that has been given to the Aleru encounter in the media. The bias becomes clear when compared to the coverage given to the Seshachalam encounter. In a calculated move, the police version has been given more credence by justifying their actions in killing so called hardened criminals. There has also been a lot of irresponsible coverage in the media about how the slain prisoners were ‘hard core terrorists’ and so on. Though accused of being Student Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) activists, the slain prisoners were not facing any terror charges, but they were nevertheless branded as terrorists to justify police violence.

NHRC response
What is more tragic is the response of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and the High Court of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. Soon after the encounter deaths, on 23rd April, 2015, the NHRC conducted a camp hearing to enquire about the Aleru and Seshachalam encounters.

In the Seshachalam encounter, the members of the NHRC interrogated the police officials, expressed dissatisfaction with the investigation conducted so far and even went to the extent of deputing its own team for investigation.

However, when it came to the Aleru encounter, the NHRC did not express the same commitment or zeal in questioning the police officials. They were quick to accept the police statement that there was a judicial enquiry and that a Special Investigation Team was constituted to investigate the deaths. The stage of investigation or the other relevant details were not elicited.

The NHRC did not even object, which it should have, when the police referred to the slain prisoners as fundamentalists

The civil liberties activists and lawyers who participated in the hearing were given just a perfunctory hearing. And finally, the NHRC, except for some nominal reliefs, declined to intervene in the issue on the ground that investigation by the Special Investigation Team (SIT) was underway.

Even in the High Court, the fate of the Aleru encounter has been marked by delay and inadequate attention. While the investigation in the Seshachalam encounter is being supervised by the Chief Justice himself, the Aleru encounter has been left to regular course of investigation, albeit by the SIT. The Andhra Pradesh government has registered a case of S 302 in the Seshachalam encounter while a similar demand in the Aleru encounter has been set-aside. The bodies in the Seshachalam encounter were subjected to a re-postmortem whereas the request for exhumation and re-postmortem of the bodies in the Aleru encounter have been rejected.

One is almost envious of the progress, news coverage and empathy in the case of the Seshachalam encounter. It is true that the response to the Seshachalam encounter has been considerably influenced by the Tamilnadu government’s intervention and equally the timely action taken by the civil liberties groups of Tamilnadu. But, this does not completely explain the lukewarm response to the Aleru encounter. We have been told that the Aleru encounter is “different”.

What underscores the Aleru encounter is the branding. Even as the AP state and the media tried to brand the woodcutters of Seshachalam as hardened smugglers, it could not sustain the story or much less erase the stain of an extra judicial killing. But, in the case of the Aleru encounter, one can clearly see how the bogey of the “Muslim terrorist” has been successfully deployed to validate the actions of the police in the name of securing law and order. The media, the judiciary and even public opinion seem to be participants in justifying such a discourse on impunity.

Vasudha Nagaraj is a practising lawyer based in Hyderabad.

Delhi CM Kejriwal’s message makes a mockery of the spirit of International Women’s Day


By Kavita Krishnan

On International Women’s Day, the Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s has chosen not to give a message of solidarity to the women’s movement fighting for justice, equality and freedom for women. Instead he has chosen to give a paternalistic message that reinforces the stereotypes of women in family roles, supportive and nurturing of men.

Mr Kejriwal cited the role of his wife and mother in running the house and supporting him while he fought against corruption. This sounds ominously like ‘Men will lead, women will run the house and support men who lead’. Is it because he sees this as the only fit role for women that he has no women in his Cabinet and his party’s PAC (Political Affairs Committee)?

Mr Kejriwal praises ‘how women fulfill responsibilities honestly without making any fuss.’ But Mr Kejriwal, you haven’t been listening. The thousands of Delhi women, with their sisters across India and in the world, HAVE in fact been ‘making a fuss’ about the gendered division of labour and at having to fulfill familial roles as if that is ‘women’s work’ alone!

By praising women for not making a fuss about this, you have insulted the legacy of International Women’s Day, the day commemorating a century of ‘fuss’ and fight by women!

You praise women for their ‘rock solid tolerance’, Mr Kejriwal. Tolerance of what? Is International Women’s Day an occasion to praise women for ‘tolerating’ injustice, inequality, and lack of freedom?

You chose the Women’s Day as an occasion to give a message to men. But why a message of ‘safety’? Why not tell men on this day to share the roles of housework and childcare and cooking equally with women? Why not tell men to respect and defend the freedom of women inside their own homes? If you just tell men to ‘make Delhi safe for women’, that won’t change the reality, which is that men take away the freedom of women in their own homes in the name of keeping the women safe!

You chose to reinforce the patriarchal idea that men should respect women outside the home as a show of respect for their own sisters, mothers etc. But women deserve respect even if they do not fit the roles of ‘sister, mother, and wife’. it is because men feel entitled to control the lives of and expect services from their wives, sisters, mothers, daughters, that men also feel entitled to sexually harass and rape women.

Noted activists discuss their concerns over India’s Daughter in a letter to NDTV

India- rape-protest

The BBC Documentary India’s Daughter which has been banned by the Indian Government was the subject of a letter sent to NDTV by noted women activists /strong>

Following is the full text of the letter:

5th March, 2015
Dr. Prannoy Roy,
Co-Founder and Executive Co-Chairperson,
NDTV, New Delhi.

Dear Dr. Prannoy Roy,

On receiving a letter from Ms. Indira Jaising and others, on 3rd March 2015, which raised legal and ethical objections with respect to the telecast by NDTV of Leslee Udwin’s film “India’s Daughter” a DVD of the said film was sent by you to Ms. Jaising. Indira Jaising invited us to view.

Before articulating our concerns about the film, we would like to restate the legal objections, raised in the letter of 3 March to NDTV.

It was pointed out that the interview with Mukesh Singh, which is replete with explicit derogatory statements, falls within Section 153A (1) (a) of IPC which reads:
(a) by words, either spoken or written, or by signs or by visible representations or otherwise, promotes or attempts to promote, on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, caste or community or any other ground whatsoever, disharmony or feelings of enmity, hatred or ill-will between different religious, racial, language or regional groups or castes or communities

The right to freedom of speech and expression is not absolute. It is subject to the restrictions contained in Article 19 (2) of the Constitution, namely decency, morality and contempt of Court. At present, the defendant’s appeal against conviction and death sentence is pending before the Supreme Court, therefore, airing the documentary would amount to gross contempt of Court. Section 2(c) of Contempt of Courts Act 1971 states:

“Criminal contempt” means the publication (whether by words, spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise) of any matter or the doing of any other act whatsoever which-
(ii) Prejudices, or interferes or tends to interfere with the due course of any judicial proceeding, or
(iii) Interferes or tends to interfere with, or obstructs or tends to obstruct, the administration of justice in any other manner.

Therefore, to project the discussion on this film as being posited between ban and no-ban lobbies, is misplaced and seeks to evade the complex issues that is involved.

We have always upheld freedoms and civil liberties, and hence we write this letter to seek a postponement of the telecast, till the appeal and all other legal processes and proceedings relating to the 16 December 2012 gang rape and murder case have concluded.

As held by the Supreme Court of India in Sahara India Real Estate Corp. Ltd. vs. Securities & Exchange Board of India reported in 2012 (10) SCC 603:

“ In our view orders of postponement of publication stroke publicity in appropriate cases as indicated above, keeping in mind the timing (the stage at which it should be ordered), its duration and the right of appeal to challenge such orders is just a neutralising device when no other alternative such as change of venue or postponement of the trial is available as a preventive measure to protect the press from getting prosecuted and also to prevent administration of justice from getting perverted or prejudiced,”(emphasis added).

In the light of the above, we would like to emphasize that all marginalized communities have a stake in the rule of law and in maintaining the integrity of the judicial processes.

This communication, we are sending after viewing the documentary film, which ironically, you had proposed to telecast on 8th March 2015, on the occasion of International Women’s Day. We are writing to you to express our serious concerns about some aspects of this film which, as a responsible channel, we fully expect that you will take on board and postpone the broadcast of this film, till all legal processes and proceedings pertaining to the 16 December 2012 case have concluded.

1. After viewing the film we are of the considered view that the film infringes upon and compromises the rights of the rape victim and the accused men. It must be underlined that the appeal in the case of 16 December 2012 gang rape and murder is still pending before the Supreme Court of India. This film clearly constitutes an obstruction in the administration of justice, and therefore violates the law. The film carries the potential to prejudice the outcome of the legal proceedings. Our objection to it being telecast during this period stems from our deep commitment to defending the human rights of all and upholding the rule of law.

2. This film thwarts the sanctity of the evidence recorded in the trial thereby threatening to jeopardise the rights of the victim and the accused.

3. The film maker has in an interview on your channel on 4 March 2015, argued strenuously that she has diligently complied with all the conditions laid down by the prison authorities. The relevant question is, does the film infringe the rights of the rape victim, the accused and women against whom the hate speech is being targeted. Simply because the prison authorities and the state have been derelict does it give the film maker license to violate Indian law and constitutional rights.

4. The centerpiece of the film is an extensive interview with Mukesh Singh, one of the convicted accused in the crime of gang rape and murder on 16 December 2012. It is necessary to find out how Mukesh Singh’s “informed consent” was sought and given for this interview, as claimed by the film. You would appreciate the vexed nature of assuming free, informed and voluntary consent of a man who is in custody in a jail, convicted of death sentence.

5. While interviewing Mukesh, the film maker also pans the camera to show all the other convicted co-accused lodged in Tihar Jail. It would be pertinent to ask if their informed and voluntary consent has been obtained, and are they aware of the detailing of the crime by Mukesh Singh in this film, where he exculpates himself while making incriminatory statements against the other accused.

6. The film also carries an extensive interview with the lawyer M. L. Sharma, the defense counsel for Mukesh who is heard, again and again, advocating a misogynist perspective, that treats women not as rights bearing persons or equal citizens, but as objects deserving of sexual assault if they transgress patriarchal norms and rules. Advocate M.L. Sharma, wearing the lawyer’s black coat, likens women to flowers and diamond, and asserts that if the diamond is out on the street, then the dogs will get hold of the diamond. Another defense lawyer asserts that women should not step out of the house after 6.30pm, and further, that if his daughter were to exercise sexual autonomy outside the bounds of marriage he would himself drag her to his farmhouse and set fire to her.

While it is true that many men across the world hold such regressive views, the amplification of the same by this film also serves to push back the work of the women’s movement in India, which is engaged in contesting and challenging this mindset. We cannot lose sight of the fact that these unlawful and reprehensible statements voiced by two male lawyers are dangerous, inasmuch as they can be received by people as being the opinion not only of lay persons, but informed by law. Such misogynist statements surround us and we constantly refute them; do we then need this film to add to the cacophony of hate speech spewed against women. By foregrounding these voices the film serves to amplify views that encourage and justify brutal sexual violence against women.

7. The graphic description of the physical harm and injuries caused to the victim is horrific and unnecessary. We are concerned to find that the film maker wishes to show this film to children, and we learn from press reports that it has already been shown to many students in Maharashtra.Our view is that this kind of focus on violence, the lack of regret on the part of the perpetrator, and the detailed description of the torture the victim was subjected to, is actually harmful for young children. The egregious impact of descriptions of violence, verbally or through images, cannot be discounted.

8. Further the film makes a disturbing and direct incitement to violence, by once again focusing on accused Mukesh who states that, “The death penalty will make things even more dangerous for girls. Now when they rape, they won’t leave the girl like we did. They will kill her. Before, they would rape and say, “Leave her, she won’t tell anyone.” Now when they rape, especially the criminal types, they will just kill the girl. Death.” We do not subscribe to the view that death sentence should be awarded for the crime of rape, but it is shocking that the film maker does not see the danger inherent in this kind of incitement to violence and hate speech.

9. Also, in spending so much time on interviewing the rapist Mukesh, and in giving so much attention to the remarks of the lawyer, the film maker seems to be building a narrative of a lack of remorse which, according to her, characterizes ‘the rapist’ in India. The issue of rape is complex and this singular case does not exemplify the psychological or mental make- up of a rapist.

10. The focusing on poverty and repeatedly showing clips of the slum to which the rapists of the December 16, 2012 belonged, she is strengthening the very harmful stereotype, that rape is only perpetrated by poor men. This kind of profiling is misleading and unhelpful for advancing women’s rights.

11. We are also concerned with a larger, and to us, very important question. The unfortunate death of the young rape victim in December 2012, resulted in opening up a major discussion and a serious societal conversation and reflections on ending violence against women, and particularly sexual violence, in Indian society. This film, purporting to contribute to this discussion, in fact does not in any way advance the dialogue and indeed, by focusing on the perpetrator of rape, and a lawyer who advocates violence, it makes a mockery of the International Women’s Day marker, on which this film is to be launched. How shocking that on Women’s Day, instead of talking about the serious issues of ending all forms of violence against women, we should be listening to hate speech and incitement to violence against women.

12. Hate speech and incitement to violence against any person or class of persons is restricted, and this constitutes a reasonable restriction on the freedom of speech and expression, under the Indian Constitution. Would any right thinking person or responsible channel provide a platform to hate speech that sanctions or condones violence against say Dalits, religious or ethnic minorities? This film gives disproportionate attention and significance to hate speech against women and here lie our deep concerns.

13. Having viewed the film, we are of the opinion that not only does it not meet the objective that it purportedly seeks to advance, in fact to the contrary it gives a platform to canvas misogynist views and hate speech. NDTV has through the evening of 4 March 2015,sought to canvass through its channel, that the film puts the spotlight on the delay and other dysfunctionalities of the Indian criminal justice system, that aid and abet injustice for sexual violence. Having seen the film we can say with responsibility that the film does not deal with the systemic problems that plague the criminal justice system. Rather we have through our work been highlighting and seeking reform in the legal system for the systemic impunity for violence against women.

14. We also want to make it clear that our concerns do not emanate from the view that the film hurts the image of India. The pervasive violence against women is what tarnishes India. We distance ourselves from the grounds cited by the government for stopping the broadcast of the film.

Dr. Roy, these are issues that should be deliberated by all in India today and in writing you this letter, we would like to assert that we write out of concern, and out of a grounded and longstanding engagement with the issue of sexual violence as part of the women’s movement in India. We have also carefully considered the edits in the film proposed by you.However we are of the view that the same do not address the concerns that we have highlighted here. In view of all the concerns expressed above we would like to seek a postponement of the telecast of the film, until all legal processes are duly completed


Indira Jaising
Deviki Jain
Vrinda Grover
Urvashi Butalia
Kavita Krishnan
Suneeta Dhar
Navsharan Singh
Nandita Rao

India’s Daughter is not an act of global solidarity


Film does not probe sexual violence as a systemic issue, opines eminent lawyer Vrinda Grover in her Facebook post

I have seen the documentary film, India’s Daughter. I think we need to take a position of engagement rather than posit it simplistically as a ban or no ban issue, which to my mind is much more convenient but not necessarily a helpful position.

One significant issue here is of rule of law; the fair trial and rights of victim and accused. It is critical to remember that the legal process has not yet concluded, the appeal is pending in the Supreme Court of India.

The other concern is that the film serves to amplify hate speech against women and broadcast misogynist views.

It is quite interesting that NDTV has spent a major part of the last evening discussing the issue of Violence Against Women, including the problems with the criminal justice system , impunity etc. This to my mind is the ONLY unintended positive fallout of the Udwin documentary.

What is terribly misleading in NDTV’s programmes though is the projection that Udwin’s documentary discusses or raises these issues.

In fact the precise problem with the film is that it does not probe sexual violence as a systemic issue; it isolates the 16 December gang rape and the murder accused. It profiles poor Indian men as rapists.

Thus, on the one hand, the film will serve to incite the wrath of the public and very soon cries of death to the rapists will resound, for they now carry the tag of ‘monsters’.

On the other hand, the film will, for many others, particularly men, reinforce that women deserve rape and their lives must be circumscribed by misogynist and patriarchal notions. Either way it is a lose- lose situation for women in India.

Telecasting this film, even as legal proceedings are pending does not advance the cause of women’s rights or the rule of law or the right to a fair trial

I do not subscribe to the government’s stance that the film defames India. India should be ashamed of each and every act of violence against women.

This film is however not an act of global solidarity. March 8th marks the day of struggle for the rights of women. The telecast of this film on that day will provide a platform for the broadcast of hate speech against women on International Women’s Day.

Related reading: Noted activists discuss their concerns over India’s Daughter in a letter to NDTV

India’s Daughter, a point of view


Leslee Udwin’s documentary India’s Daughter relies on emotional narrative but fails to form a coherent understanding of rape culture

By Supriya Madangarli

The past few days the BBC documentary India’s Daughters directed by Leslie Udwin has caused a furor in media, both print and television, as certain segments of the film were released to the public. There were legal questions raised about the film, how did the producer-director get permission to interview the convicts in the case when the matter was sub-judice. With the case under appeal in the Supreme Court, is it legal to show the film to the public?

The film was fought over in the Parliament with the Government’s decision to ban it. I got an opportunity to watch the film on youtube and these are a few comments I would like to make.

a. Watching the rapists and the reconstruction (in my opinion not necessary) was nauseating and gut-wrenching.
b. The pain of the young woman’s parents was heart-rending
c. The quotes of the rapist and his lawyers overwhelmed the narrative.
It evoked a response of fear, agony and anger. But as the film went on, I was disappointed in its attempt to analyse the rapists ‘mind-set’.

A very feeble portrayal of their economic class and deprivation and the environment they lived in, is shown and I am confused of its purpose. The film talks to an ngo director and a prison psychiatrist in an attempt to understand the ‘why’. Why did these men commit the rape? Are we to understand, that the focus of the film is purely and subjectively on only this particular case and it was treated in isolation – that the analysis was only about these men? However, the quotes of ‘mindset’ and ‘cultural values’ sought to link it with society and the ‘mindset’ of the society.

The intersections of caste, class, consumerism, misogyny, patriarchy and other factors that create rape culture have been ignored. This could have been done if the director had talked to those women who have fought for and been instrumental in changing not only Indian laws, but also fought rape culture from the Mathura rape case to Nirbhaya

Even as activist Kavita Krishanan spoke in the film of how the protest movement that raged in the aftermath became not just about the young woman in Delhi but about a collective anger against rape culture, no such analysis is done in the film. There were no in-depth interviews with the women activists in India, instead the film kept talking to a writer/historian from Oxford who gave inputs which one could have got from wikipedia.

There was also no mention of the painstaking work put in by individuals, activists and women and human rights organisations across India who worked within a nearly impossible deadline to give their submissions to the Justice Verma Commission – these submissions were the core of the content that framed the recommendations for the amendment to criminal law.

However, the criticisms aside, there is no call to ban the film. The need is to continue the conversation by talking about the points that were feebly addressed or ignored by the film. If we are to talk about justice to the young woman, then we need to talk not just about her case, but about Manorama Devi, about Soni Sori, about Sister Abhaya, about Nilufer and Asiya, about Khairlanji, about Rohtak, about Bhagana rapes, the rapes in Gujarat and in Muzaffarnagar etc.