Archive for Debates

Govt shows interest in Depo Provera again

Depo Provera india

Women’s groups in India have been fighting for the past three decades against the inclusion of Depo-Provera, the injectable contraceptive into the countries family planning programme. With a renewed interest from the government on the inclusion of the drug, it is imperative that activists discuss and articulate their views on this very important woman’s and public health issue

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 (DMPA), an injectable contraceptive.

Many international organizations/agencies/foundations are persuading the Government of India to introduce Depo-Provera (the brand name of DMPA) into the national family planning programme. In fact, MOHFW had recently recommended Depo’s inclusion in Family Planning Programme (FPP) ostensibly to provide alternative choice to women seeking family planning.

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 recommendations 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 gynecologists 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”, the DTAB said” (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 private market and used extensively in regions such as Jharkhand) and compile/analyse their experiences as the discontinuation rate appears to be high among the users of Depo. And also at the same time 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 (DP): A synthetic hormonal drug with medroxy-progesterone acetate (MPA) manufactured by Upjohn Pharmaceuticals which was later acquired by Pfizer.
First sold in the US in 1963 – in the treatment of 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 DMPA as a contraceptive.

Following the implication of 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 according Upjohn had already began 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). Following an appeal from the management, in July 1979 the FDA appointed a Board of Inquiry which 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.
Depo Provera had reached India in 1974 and the Indian Council of Medical Research trials had begun for 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 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 DP 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 manufacture 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 against the introduction of injectable contraceptives into the countries family planning programme in the Supreme Court which 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 which apparently had already begun 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 DMPA 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.”

In 1994, Upjohn of USA, in collaboration with Max Pharma, launched in Bombay the injectable contraceptive Depo Provera (DP),

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

All this generated such a groundswell of opinion against the injectable contraceptive that in 1984 the US 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.

The US FDA did not license DP for use as a contraceptive until 1990. And 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.

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

http://www.issuesinmedicalethics.org/index.php/ijme/article/view/702

‘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

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

Kejriwal-women's-day-message

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
To,
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:
Whoever—
(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

Sincerely,

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

vrinda_grover-on-India's-daughter

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

India's-daughter-documentary

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.

Union Budget 2015-16, through gender lens

Gender-budgeting-India

By Vibhuti Patel

The Union Budget (2015-16) has subsidized the corporate sector by providing the tax reductions and sops. The wealth tax (replaced by a 2 per surcharge) and the phased reduction of corporate tax have made the richer sections of the economy jubilant. The burden of indirect taxes is going to break the back of poor women.

Macroeconomic measures proposed in the budget are detrimental to the working class and marginalized sections of the economy. Instead of raising the direct taxes from rich sections to fund the Railway budget, public-private partnership (PPP) model is promoted to further the cause of corporatization of transport and make the masses pay more for the transport services.

The budget has demanded the diversion of pension funds and MP Local area Development (MPLAD) funds thereby absolving the government from any direct responsibility to enhance financial support for regional development and pensioners. Reduction in financial allocation for Panchayati Raj, the Union Budget makes a mockery of democratic decentralization in the absence of financial decentralization, the local self government bodies become ineffective and the talk of 50% reserved seats for women in the rural and urban local self government bodies becomes an empty rhetoric of ‘empowerment of women’.

Public economics with no concern for the marginalized groups
The state is increasingly withdrawing from the social sector in which the financial allocation has been reduced to from 16.3 percent 2014-2015 (budget estimates) and 15.06 percent revised estimates, 2014-15 to 13.7 percent of the current budget outlay for 2015-2016. Financial allocation for women’s needs gets reduced in the current budget as the percentage of allocation for women and child development remains stagnant at 0.01 percent of the total budget. This budget fails to translate gender commitments of the government into budgetary commitments as the financial provisions for gender concerns have reduced from 4.19 percent of the estimated total budgetary expenditure in 2014-2015 to 3.71 percent of the total expenditure in the current budget.

Gender budgeting
In the Union Budget 2015-16, there has been nearly 50% percent decrease in the allocation of the Ministry of Women and Child Development over the revised budget of 2014-15. Even if we add the Rs. 1000 Cr for the Nirbhaya fund and Rs. 100 Cr for the Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao fund to the ministry’s allocation, there is still a decrease of more than 1/3rd allocation in the total amount allocated for women and child development. The Gender Budget has been drastically slashed by 20 per cent (less by Rs. 20,000 crore). Major chunk of gender budget is cornered by Reproductive and Child Health (RCH) with an aim of population stabilization and to meet the targets of ‘two-child norm’.

MGNREGA – Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act
MGNREGA, a major safety net for poorest of the poor women has received a major blow. For women headed households where main economic burden of the family is shouldered by widows, separated, single and deserted women; the survival struggle will be more painful and extremely arduous due to symbolic increase in budgetary allocation for Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Scheme in the context of galloping inflation. The Finance Minister stated that he will only allocate an additional Rs. 5000 Cr to the scheme if there is an increase in the revenue receipts of the government.

Health and nutrition

The economic survey presented along with the budget, criticizes the PDS systems and argues for the uniform application of the cash transfer scheme through JAM (Jan Dhan- Aadhar and Mobile network) as a means of implementing food subsidy. Experience shows that this policy measure has failed to ensure proper nutrition for women as it cannot ensure adequate food for them.

ICDS and Midday meals
The allocations under the ICDS and Midday Meal Schemes have come down by half, from over Rs. 16,000 crores to Rs. 8,000 crores only in the Union Budget. The government made an empty promise of increasing the allocations for ICDS by Rs. 1500 Cr on condition of increase in revenue receipts. The gender budget in the health sector has been reduced by 17.9 percent over last year’s revised estimate. The budget perceives women only as reproductive beings, as a result overall health needs of women and girls are neglected. There is nothing in the budget for elderly women.

Budgetary allocation for housing and urban poverty alleviation has been reduced from Rs. 6,008 crores in the previous year to Rs. 5,634 crores in the current budget. Financial allocation for the Tribal Sub-Plan (TSP) has reduced to 5.5 per cent as against mandated 8.2 per cent. Thus, as compared to the previous year’s budget, the current budgetary allocation for tribal development is short of Rs. 5000 crores. For SCs it is 8.34 per cent instead of the mandated 17 per cent (less by Rs. 12,000 crore

Education of girls
The disregard for girls’ education is also evident in this budget. The overall gender budget for school education has come down by 8.3 percent over last year’s revised estimate. The budget for Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan has been reduced by 9.5 percent. The much touted Beti Bachao Beti Padhao Abhiyan gets only Rs. 100 Cr which is a mockery of this important slogan.

Rail Budget
The Rail Budget must give priority to increase the number of women’s compartments and prevent men from encroaching in them, improve lighting in all compartments, toilets and on railway platforms and outside railway stations, post policewomen and have a special helpline for women commuters. Moreover, the ministry must give top priority to cleanliness, affordable and safe food, sufficient toilets, clean drinking water and adequate health services on railway coaches and platforms. Most of the cases of kidnapping of women and children take place at the railway stations. Hence, budget for ‘Women’s Help Desk” functioning 24 X 7 must be created to cover all major railway stations and junctions throughout the country.

Social security
Women’s organizations have been demanding universal social security coverage for all women workers. But, in this budget, there is no special focus on the needs of working women, especially in the unorganized sector. Though the budget has provided for a pension, old age pension and social safety net fund, the allocation for finances for these much needed schemes is highly insufficient. There is a virtual phasing out of schemes like shelter homes for single women, one stop crisis centres and there is only a meager allocation of Rs. 30 Cr for hostels for working women. The scheme for improving the working condition women and child labour has also got a slight increase.

As far as the allocations for women safety are concerned, the budget increases the Nirbhaya Fund by Rs. 1000 Cr. But let us not forget that last two years’ budgets, 2013-14 and 2014-15, allocations under Nirbhaya fund were not utilized as the government has no concrete plan of action to create structures, channels and mechanisms to use this fund.

India’s commitment to universal social security does not offer much in reality. In spite of high maternal and child mortality rates in our country, there is nothing on universal maternity benefit. In spite of hundreds of thousands of women involved in subsistence production, neither Economic Survey nor the budget recognizes women farmers. Budget talks about the raised agriculture credit target by Rs.50, 000 crore to Rs.8.5 trillion for 2015-16 fiscal and also announced financial support to enhance irrigation and soil health for higher agriculture productivity. Lot in the budget is being talked about farmers, small farmers but nothing on women farmers.

Infrastructure

The allocation for infrastructure sector Rs 70,000 crores, but it doesn’t talk about the investment for reduction in the daily grind of unpaid care work done by women in terms of cooking, cleaning, caring, collection of fuel, fodder, water, looking after live-stock and kitchen-gardening. It is high time that budget recognizes, reduces and redistributes the women’s unpaid care and non-care work. Women pedestrians need footpaths, women vendors and entrepreneurs need market places, women commuters need affordable and safe transport, rest rooms and public toilets, elderly women in half way homes, but the union budget is not bothered about these crucial concerns of women.

Conclusion

In conclusion, it is clear that the toiling poor, majority of who are women, are the major casualty as the budget hardly offers anything in terms of

Protective Services- Sabla, Swadhar-scheme for women in Difficult Circumstances, Ujjawala Comprehensive Scheme for Prevention of Trafficking, One stop Crisis centre for women and children survivors of violence, night shelters for homeless women and children, short stay homes, welfare of working children

Social Services-ICPS, JSY, GIA, Creche, CFNEUS, Kishori Shakti Yojana, Nutrition Programme for adolescent Girls

Economic services such as schemes for training and skill development, and provision for credit, infrastructure, marketing etc. which are critical to women’s economic independence and autonomy. e.g. STEP, Support for Training and Empowerment of Girls, working women’s hostel.

Regulatory services which include institutional mechanisms for women’s empowerment, such as State Commissions for Women, women’s cells in police stations, awareness generation programme etc.

It’s risky simply to be a woman at all!

Uber-Taxi-rape

Kavita Krishnan argues that in the wake of the recent Uber taxi rape in the capital, blaming the survivor of an act of violence has become another brick in the wall of ‘protective’ boundaries that imprison women rather than open up safe spaces

As it usually happens after a much-publicized rape case, there is a flood of attempts to rationalize ‘victim blaming’ i.e. suggesting that the victim also bears some responsibility for the assault since she took unnecessary risks. I am seeing a lot of this commonsensical rationalization of victim blaming as ‘precautions’ on my twitter timeline.

A Congress leader on TV the other day baldly said that the woman herself should not have been drunk and sleepy in the cab. And this self same logic – garden-variety victim blaming – has been repeated in more sophisticated ways by many, including by some who call themselves feminists.

The list of precautions that can, supposedly, keep us safe from rape, are pretty long, endlessly long, in fact.

We should not be drunk in cabs, or fall asleep in cabs. (This implies, of course, that we women should not party at all, or should not drink at parties – since driving while drunk is a risk we all know can kill us and others).

Feminists are being accused of preaching recklessness to women, thereby rendering them vulnerable in a world which is deeply violent and unsafe. The NCW Chairperson, in a similar vein, said recently, that autonomy or ‘aggression’ on part of women in India could render them unsafe and at risk. Sheila Dixit had called the journalist Soumya Vishwanathan (who was murdered) ‘adventurous’ for being out late at night.

Well, what else? It’s risky to go to school, of course, since teachers might molest you there. It’s risky to enter a lift with your boss, since he might molest you. It’s risky to meet an ex-Supreme Court judge in his hotel room for work, since he might molest you. It’s risky to be drunk at a party at a friend’s or colleague’s place and spend the night there instead of taking a cab home, since one might get raped by the friend or colleague.

It’s risky to be a bar dancer or a sex worker – since your work is inherently ‘risky’ and so you can’t expect or demand safety.

It’s risky simply to be a woman at all, anywhere at all, be it at home or at work or on the streets….

The tragic thing is, ALL women, barring none, take precautions, weigh risks, are ‘careful’. Most rape survivors agonise over what they could have done differently to avoid that horror. What is disturbing, though, is the smug way in which rape victims are being lectured about ‘precautions’. Precautions, no matter how many we take, can never keep us entirely safe. And no matter how many precautions you took, if you’re raped, there will always be people to tell you a long list of things YOU could have done differently so as NOT to have been raped.

Remember, this common-sensical concern for safety is what is voiced when women are told by their parents not to choose who they befriend, sleep with, love and marry. “We’ll make the decision for you since you might make a mistake” is what is said. If one’s ‘love’ marriage breaks down, parents sometimes say, “This would not have happened if you had listened to us and not married this guy in the first place.”

What I say is, you can either live your parents’ mistakes, or your own. And surely, one’s own mistakes are infinitely more productive, teaching us, if nothing else, to take responsibility.

Many of the rationalisers of good old-fashioned victim blaming are saying ‘men take precautions too, we teach our boys safety norms too’ and so on.

However, ‘adventurous’ when used for men, is a positive word, has always been. A man I know is very protective of his wife and won’t let her travel anywhere, even in their own city, without a rigorous set of precautions and limits set by him. The same man takes a yearly holiday, all alone, wandering in wild mountainous terrain. Lone travel is a badge of honour for a man.

Drunken men are objects of affectionate celebration in movies. People I love very much have always been concerned about my safety when I travel, which is a lot. Loved ones often tell me, with fear in their heart, not to take an auto from a railway station at 4 am, not to take a walk up a mountainside in Dharmashala, not to travel in an unreserved compartment, not to react or argue if ogled at or molested, not to rush to the rescue if I see someone being beaten up by a mob on the street. I understand, even sympathise with their fears. I feel such fears myself for those I love. But I cannot – cannot – afford to be ruled by those fears. If I did, mine would be a life devoid of the experiences that make me, me.

A life stripped of risk, rigorously regimented by fear, is hardly a ‘life’ in any sense of the term… Not to mention that much of that fear is not just a fear of physical violence, but a fear of loss of respectability, a loss of ‘character’. The latter is a fear men seldom have to feel – it is women’s preserve, and lurks unsaid behind the ‘safety’ regimentation imposed on us by parents, spouses, boyfriends, aunts…

Think about it. Had my parents done what ‘sensible people’ advised them to, I would not have been sent far from home to college. While at college in Mumbai, I would never have taken the risk of walking on curfew restricted, deserted streets with a woman friend, watching the effects of communal violence first hand. I would never have traveled in unreserved compartments – where I have, on occasion, been pawed by army men and felt great fear, but on countless other occasions, experienced the generosity and humanity of random strangers. I would never have attended political meetings during Lok Sabha elections in the city of Banaras, where ‘sensible’ friends had advised me not to go for fear of violence breaking out. I would never have participated in political protests which resulted in me being arrested and jailed.

So, now, when loved ones advise precautions, I listen, lovingly. But I refuse to be ruled by THEIR perception of risk and their fears and curfews set by them. I gauge risk myself, weigh them, and take calculated risks while taking responsibility for MY OWN actions.

Taking responsibility for the risks we take, does not mean that then the State, the police and so on are let off the hook. It does NOT mean accepting responsibility for being raped. (I say this because there are many who will say that though they’re not justifying the rapist’s actions, the woman, rather than the State, bears a share of responsibility.)

The State has a responsibility to imagining and putting in place infrastructure and systems that minimize risks and expand women’s freedoms. Safe, accountable public transport systems are crucial among these. And in case an assault does happen, prompt and accountable police response is as crucial. The State cannot hold women – or in fact any citizens – responsible for ‘their own safety’. It’s simple – it’s the Government’s job to ensure that women should have access to roads, metros, buses, taxis, rickshaws, and toilets – all services that should be safe and accountable.

Of course women could be raped at home too. But that does not mean that we fail to hold a taxi company or a school responsible for ignoring prior complaints against someone and failing to vet their drivers or teachers! And above all, we cannot fail to hold the Govt responsible for failing to regulate taxi services and schools to ensure basic safety norms!

The question we have to be asking Governments is: “What are your plans to ensure that every woman has access to safe, affordable transport with last mile connectivity, 24/7?” Asking women ‘Why were you drunk/asleep/out late at night/dressed skimpily etc etc” is simply a very effective way to avoid making the State accountable.

I am uneasy with women-driven taxis or karate classes and so on being propagated as a solution. Sure, we need women, lots of women, to invade every masculine fortress, and this includes transport of all kinds. I rejoice in women driving cabs’ and buses and tractors. But I do not want the State and various smug busybodies telling women who are raped in a cab, “Why didn’t you take a woman-driven cab? You were careless and so you got raped.”

I know from personal experience that learning martial arts well enough to use it the way you see in films, is not possible for most people! I don’t want women who get molested being told, ‘”It’s your fault, why were you so wimpy that you didn’t learn martial arts?”

I’ll end with a long quote from Why Loiter that puts it all better than I ever could:
“We would like the right to choose to be able to go out at anytime of the day or night or to choose to stay in. In some ways benevolent paternal protection is simple—it lays down the boundaries and all one has to do is skilfully negotiate them. Losing this protection, however conditional, will mean that one is compelled to take decisions and make choices whose outcomes we might have little control over. However, freedom from protection will also mean freedom, not from the male gaze or the threat of physical assault, but from having to consistently manufacture respectability in order to be worthy of protection. The right to risk is unconditional. The right to risk knows no temporality, no codes of conduct and needs no symbolic markers to define ones worthiness. The right to risk chooses freedom over restrictions and seeks freedom from restrictions.

We acknowledge explicitly that with freedom comes responsibility. The demand for the unconditional right to take risks in lieu of protection places the responsibility squarely on women. Our desire then is to replace the un-chosen risk to reputation and the unwanted risk of loss of respectability with a chosen risk of engaging city spaces on our own terms. Yes, there is street harassment, and yes, there is violence against both women and men. The fear of violence in public space is legitimate and cannot be merely wished away. At no point are we ignoring or even minimizing the violence, both sexual and non-sexual, that might potentially take place in the public and lead to physical as well as psychological trauma. Even as we ask for women’s right to engage risk in public space, we do not disregard the responsibility of the state and its mechanisms of law and order in dealing with public violence. Instead, we suggest that they deal very firmly with the aggressors of that violence and not tie up the victims of violence in endless blame games, inane dress codes, and relentless moral policing. The woman who seeks the simple pleasure of a walk by the seaside at night is in no way responsible for an attack against her.

In another world, this would not be a risk, but given that it is a risk in Mumbai, and in several other Indian cities, the least one can expect is unequivocal justice if one is assaulted. The least one can expect is that the assailant be punished without collateral emotional damage to the victim. The least one can expect is to not be held responsible for that violence. The least one can expect is an acknowledgement of one’s right to walk on the beach, stroll on the waterfront, laze in the park without question.

At the same time, however, we also need to recognize another kind of risk: that of loss of opportunity to engage city spaces and the loss of the experience of public spaces should women choose not to access public space more than minimally. By choosing not to access public space without purpose, women not only accept the gendered boundaries of public space, but actually reinforce them. This renders women forever outsiders to public space; always commuters, never possessors of public space.

The right to risk is not merely abstract. From the perspective of the city, it must be mirrored in the provision of infrastructure. While the decision to take certain risks must be chosen, risks must not be thrust upon women by inadequate or miserly planning.

Infrastructure is central to access. The state and the city’s role in the provision of infrastructure like public transport, public toilets and good lighting are integral to the success of the larger claim to public space. Public space, then, does not mean empty space devoid of infrastructure and facilities, but a space that is thoughtfully designed with the intention of maximizing access. Not just functional spaces like train compartments, bus stops and toilets, but also spaces of pleasure like parks and seaside promenades are significant to creating accessible cities. For it is in these spaces that the joy of being in and belonging to the city is shared and communicated.

While we must lobby for an infrastructure that will make it possible for us take risks as citizens, at the same time, the demand for infrastructure that reduces risks should not provide the grounds to indict those who choose to take other kinds of risks not dependent on infrastructure. The presence of well-lit streets in the city should not mean that women found in dark corners should be deemed unrespectable or blamed if they are attacked.

Choosing to take risks in public space undermines a sexist structure where women’s virtue is prized over their desires or agency. Choosing risks foregrounds pleasure, making what is clearly a feminist claim to the city.”

Extract from Why Loiter? Women and Risk on Mumbai Streets by Shilpa Phadke, Sameera Khan and Shilpa Ranade, New Delhi: Penguin, 2011

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

A risky freedom

rehabilitation-home-for-girls

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The story of Sabeena and others

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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