Archive for Opinion

India of my dream

women-India

Activist Kavita Krishnan visualizes the India of her dream, one that she shares with those who struggle to transform the country

We revolutionaries, who seek to transform society, spend a lot of time re-imagining the world we live in. That does not mean we live in a fool’s paradise. It means that we dream dreams that can be achieved.

We don’t wish on a star. Our wishes, we know, won’t be granted by any gods. The beauty of our dreams lies in the fact that they’re made up of human imagination and human will, and can be shaped and brought to life by human will.

When our imaginations are cramped, our realities too are likely to be the same. When an idea comes to life in our imagination, it is the first step towards bringing it to life in our real world.

We aren’t solitary dreamers. We don’t dream our dreams isolated from others. Our dreams are not a private indulgence or a private solace. These dreams are born in the collective minds of fellow fighters. We dream together, as we fight struggles together. And when others are able to see and share our dreams, the dreams acquire a life beyond our own personal lives. And imagining dreams take courage. The system survives, not only by jailing or killing revolutionaries – but by killing our dreams. ‘Sabse khatarnak hota hai sapnon ka mar jana,’ said Paash (Most dangerous of all is the death of our dreams.)
Today, I will attempt to share some of those many dreams with you, the reader.

In my imagination, I see an India where a woman can roam free – free of the labels of‘wife’, ‘mother’, ‘daughter’, ‘beautiful’, ‘ugly’, ‘goddess’, ‘slut’… Where every child she bears is legitimate, and none seeks to know or prove who the father is. Where every woman is valued irrespective of her ability of choice to bear a child

An India where caring, nurturing, bringing up children, is not assigned as ‘women’s work’. Instead, all around us we are able to see men and women, who change diapers, bathe, feed and clothe children, and feel that mingled feeling of love and pain that being a parent involves.

An India where the birth of a baby is celebrated without worrying about the sex of the child. An India where girls who play sports are not humiliated and accused of being ‘male’, and boys who dance or cook are not taunted for being ‘effeminate.’ An India where brothers no longer feel entitled to hold sisters in ‘bandhan’ in the name of ‘raksha’ – and sisters no longer feel obliged to give brothers a right to control their lives. An India where the love of brothers and sisters is expressed as solidarity with each others’ dreams, as respect and support for each others’ decisions.

An India where it is unknown for the women to have to worry about ‘what people will think’ – about her clothes, the colour of her skin, who she chooses to love, and what she chooses to do with her life.

An India where love – between people of any community or any sex – will not be a crime.

An India where the ugly hierarchy of castes is a forgotten thing of the past. Where the history of the struggles of the oppressed is recognized and celebrated, and the history of oppression is remembered – so as never to repeat it

An India where men do not fear women, citizens do not fear ‘foreigners’. An India that does not fear the fullest freedom of the Dalits, the adivasis, the people of Kashmir or Manipur or Nagaland. An India that is a free union of free people. Where ‘unity’ does not have to mean a regime of fear, or subservience achieved at gun point. An India that does not fear its neighbours – and that does not induce fear in its neighbours. An India that can be trusted to speak up against injustice anywhere in the world.

An India which will recognize the truth: that all value is created by the labour of workers. When workers – the mehnatkash – can ‘demand their rightful share from the world – not a field or a country, but the whole world.’ When we can put behind us the nightmare-India where a tiny few enjoy Antilla-like palaces and the vast majority has no homes; and awaken to a new India where every person can be sure of a home to call their own. Where education and health care of the best quality can be availed by every Indian as a right, rather than being a commodity to be bought by the rich.

An India where ‘justice’ won’t mean a hangman’s noose. Rather, where justice will mean that we as Indian people will have the courage and conscience to face and admit the truths about the violence done in our name, in our country’s name. Where the truth about the rapes and murders of Manorama, Neelofer and Asiya, the rapes of Kunan Poshpora, the mass graves of Kashmir, the little adivasi children killed by paramilitary forces during harvest festivals in Bastar, the cries of pain and humiliation arising from the torture chambers that are called ‘police lock-ups’ all over the country, can be acknowledged by all Indians. Where ‘national pride’ or ‘national security’ will not be equated with tolerance of these crimes against humanity. And where the acceptance of the truth can be foundation of dignity and democracy for India.

An India where ‘work’ does not mean back-breaking, mind-numbing toil that still leaves stomachs hungry. Where a ‘job’ does not come wedded to ‘joblessness.’ An India where people matter, not profits

An India where animals and humans do not need to fear each other and are not thrown into conflict with each other by a short-sighted and greedy economy. An India where the ‘environment’ – land, water, forests, air, flora and fauna – are not seen as ‘commodities’ to be ‘owned’ and ‘exploited’, but as a world we inherit and are duty-bound to enrich and pass on to future generations rather than allow a few greedy men to devour.

Our revolutionary dreams cannot be bounded by the confines of a country. Naturally, those dreams are dreamed for the entire world, not India alone. We dream of a world free of oppression, free of ownership. A world where the many thousands of peoples live in unity, where domination, occupation and war are things of the past. Where work is not inspired by the fear of hunger, where a ‘living’ does not have to be ‘earned’; where instead, human being work and play to express their humanity.

As I said before, there is no copyright on the dreams of revolutionaries. Where do the dreams of Bhagat Singh end and ours begin, after all? That is why, when I try to give my dreams the shape of words, I often find the words of poets and dreamers past come to my lips. So I’ll end with the immortal words from John Lennon’s anthem Imagine –

“You may say I’m a dreamer, But I’m not the only one, I hope someday you’ll join us, And the world will be one.”

Kavita Krishnan is the secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association (AIPWA). This is the English translation of the article she wrote for Outlook Magazine’s Hindi publication

I will not call for death

Gaza -war

I will not call for death is a poem written by Naila Farouky. Farouky is an Egyptian film maker and Producer. She is also the CEO of the Arab Foundations Forum, a platform for philanthropic organisations that work for the Arab region. Farouky has, in various forums, highlighted human rights concerns and upheavals in the Arab World, and commented on the crisis in Afghanistan, Palestine and Egypt

I will not call for death.

I will not dare to speak the words that call for the death of the “other”

I will not seek to avenge through death, the sister, the mother, the father or brother

I will not cry “If you kill us, then we are right to kill!” and then question, in anguish, “where has our humanity gone?”

I will not call for death.

You ask me to justify how I can stand for my enemy; I will reply only to say “I know no enemy”

I know war and pain
Fear and injustice
I know blood and tears
Corruption and failed armistice

I see bodies, bloodied and strewn about
I see them; I know and I hear you – out loud
I see mothers wailing for the loss of their children
I see children grasping the air in search of the comforting arms of their slain mothers
I see fathers burying their babes in white cloths
I see wandering children with the look of despair in their eyes at sights they will never forget

I hear of sirens unheeded
For to heed them means you have some place to hide
I hear tales of the warnings that come in the night
The warnings that parents must decide to ignore
For to obey them must mean you have somewhere to go

I will not call for death.

“But they want you to die; they demand it, can’t you see?”
“You’re a traitor, a coward, how can this be?”
I see it, I know, do you think me so blind?
I hear it, I fear it, but where do I hide?

As the world sits in wait, to watch and to plead
Those I cherish and love have no choice but to bleed
Our humanity challenged, I offer you this:
You will find it within you, this is where it exists
It is not to be found in the barrel of a gun
Or a bomb, or a funeral, a surah or a psalm
It is in your heart and your head and your womb
In your words and your dreams and the threads that you loom
In your hopes for your children and that they shall not hate
For those hopes and those dreams are their future and fate

So abandon the sirens, the bombs and your might
Hold your hands to the heavens and scream in the night
Beg for mercy, for respite, for heart and for will
But do not fall so low as to go for the kill

And repeat to yourself, for as long as it takes
I will not call for death, no matter how much it aches

I will not.

I came falling down…

Narendra-Modi-policies

Vadodara based human rights activist, Rohit Prajapati takes a satirical look at the ‘changes’ wrought in the country with Narendra Modi at the helm

 

 

 

 

By Rohit Prajapati

In Gujarat the Government had ‘changed’ long ago, now in Delhi too the Government has now ‘changed’.

As soon as the New Government came in power in Delhi, the aroma of “Acche Din Good Days” wafted in every corner of the country.

As soon as the New Government came in power in Delhi, IB was tasked to report people’s issues; and IB submitted its first report too.

As soon as the New Government came in power in Delhi, within x days more than 80% of Illegal Money from foreign shores was deposited in Government Treasury.

As soon as the New Government came in power in Delhi, within y days more than 100% of Illegal Money from Local Shores was deposited in Government Treasury.

As soon as the New Government came in power in Delhi, within xy days with Illegal Money deposited in Government Treasury, inflation was wiped out completely.

As soon as the New Government came in power in Delhi, bribes and payoffs completely vanished from official corridors.

As soon as the New Government came in power in Delhi, prices of cooking gas came down by 50%.

As soon as the New Government came in power in Delhi, unlimited supply of cooking gas bottles began.

As soon as the New Government came in power in Delhi, foremost milk prices came down.

As soon as the New Government came in power in Delhi, within few days petrol and diesel prices too came under control.

As soon as the New Government came in power in Delhi, power prices came down by 50%.

As soon as the New Government came in power in Delhi, instead of watchmen police sub inspectors now stand guard in residential neighborhoods.

As soon as the new government came in power in Delhi, police force actually became friends of people.

As soon as the New Government came in power in Delhi, police arrives on spot and registered complaint in response to calls on toll free police phone number 0420.

As soon as the New Government came in power in Delhi, all the lumpen elements and mafia went into hiding.

As soon as the New Government came in power in Delhi, schools and colleges stopped taking donations.

As soon as the New Government came in power in Delhi, private tuition classes closed down shutters.

As soon as the New Government came in power in Delhi, children started enjoying burden free education.

As soon as the new government came in power in Delhi, government schools and hospitals started working efficiently.

As soon as the New Government came in power in Delhi, any public work is completed barely within 1-3-13-17-31 days.

As soon as the New Government came in power in Delhi, unemployment became a past relic.

As soon as the New Government came in power in Delhi, everybody got both work and living wages.

As soon as the New Government came in power in Delhi, the wage increase outstripped the price rise.

As soon as the New Government came in power in Delhi, the contaminated ground water is rendered pure and clean.

As soon as the New Government came in power in Delhi, the contaminated rivers are rendered pure and clean.

As soon as the New Government came in power in Delhi, all the workers’ issues are resolved.

As soon as the New Government came in power in Delhi, sex ratio in the country started improving.

As soon as the New Government came in power in Delhi, rapists are quickly punished and rape incidents reduced.

As soon as the New Government came in power in Delhi, untouchability was completely eradicated.

As soon as the New Government came in power in Delhi, tribals became vanvasi.

As soon as the New Government came in power in Delhi, in fair price shops good quality grains and essentials are available.

As soon as the New Government came in power in Delhi, all government schemes are executed efficiently.

As soon as the New Government came in power in Delhi, people no longer needed to visit government offices to get their work done.

As soon as the New Government came in power in Delhi, farmers started getting power for 25 hours.

As soon as the New Government came in power in Delhi, it was happiness and gaiety all over.

As soon as the New Government came in power in Delhi….

Dhadamm….`Ouch, it hurts…’

‘What happened?’

I fell down as I turned in sleep.

16 June 2014

Tejpal manipulating public opinion to sway judge

Tarun-Tejpal

By asking to make the CCTV footage public, Tejpal hopes to sow suspicion about the complainant’s motive and her character

By Kavita Krishnan
Tarun Tejpal’s demand to make the CCTV footage public is, in fact, a call to the general public to be voyeurs, examine the woman (complainant), place her smile, her demeanour and her gait on trial, ready to declare her guilty if her conduct does not conform to the 70s Hindi film stereotype of the ‘raped woman’.

Tejpal wants the public (through media) to try and declare him innocent. He wants to use the media, including social media, to sow suspicion about the complainant’s motive and her character. A step towards this has already been taken by his friends who have sent mails with her photos asking – “Check out her pose! Is she traumatised? No! Is she happy? Yes!”

We, in the women’s movement, can only hope that the courts will not behave like the ‘court of public opinion’.

For, if a woman is brutalised, her bloodied body/corpse available as incontestable proof of her victimhood — in conformity with those Hindi movie images we just talked about — then a court MIGHT hand out the death sentence based on ‘public opinion’. I use the word ‘MIGHT’ because here too, for a Bhotmange or a Manorama or a Soni Sori, the brutalised body is no guarantee of public opinion or courts perceiving the heinousness of the crime.

In cases where the victim doesn’t have a brutalised body to display to gratify voyeurs — the ‘peanut-crunching crowd’ — the courts are again all too likely to mirror public opinion and declare that the woman doesn’t really look or behave ‘raped’ enough.

Even when courts appear to be ‘sensitive’ to women, there’s a catch. There is one landmark verdict of the Supreme Court which holds that a conviction can take place even on the ‘sole testimony’ of the complainant. However, what the verdict actually said was: “It is conceivable in Western society that a female may level a false accusation as regards sexual molestation against a male”. However, “A girl or a woman in the tradition bound non-permissive society of India would be extremely reluctant even to admit that any incident which is likely to reflect on her chastity had ever occurred” and therefore isn’t likely to lie about rape! The detailed argument in this verdict has sickeningly sexist imaginings of why ‘Western’ women are likely to lie about rape

Not surprisingly, this notion of ‘chaste Indian woman’ versus ‘loose Westernised woman’ is what Tejpal’s defence is relying on. In his bail plea, lawyer quoted this verdict to argue that she could not be raped, the sex must be consensual because the complainant is “a liberated, emancipated modern woman”.

So, women can only HOPE — against hope — that courts will stand aloof from public opinion, and will deliver justice on merits of the case rather than on jaundiced notions about how raped Indian women are supposed to behave, as opposed to the loose, liberated, modern women…

Tejpal claims there’s no evidence against him, that the charges are flimsy. The charges are by no means flimsy as he suggests but rather, there’s an embarrassment of weighty facts — straight from Tejpal’s own words — enough to make this a very serious case.

Tejpal claimed in an email to his friends that the whole thing was “an incredibly fleeting, totally consensual encounter of less than a minute in a lift (of a two-storey building!)”. However, based on the CCTV footage, the charge sheet establishes that the lift took much longer than usual to make the two-storey climb, certainly much longer than the ‘less than a minute’ claimed by Tejpal.

This unwarranted time in the lift the first time and the footage of him taking her into the lift on a second occasion (a second encounter which Tejpal’s email to friends didn’t mention) is certainly grounds for invoking Sections 341 (wrongful restrain) and 342 (wrong confinement) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

Moreover, his own ‘apology’ email established his admitting to invoking his status as her boss — though he claims to have retracted it. The very fact that he admits to invoking it to overcome what HE calls her ‘clear reluctance’, goes to show a strong basis for invoking 376(2) (f) (person in position of trust or authority over women commits rape on such women) and 376(2) (k) (rape of a woman by a person being in position of control or dominance over the woman) IPC.

And the testimony of several of the complainant’s colleagues that she told them immediately after the first episode that she was assaulted, and of course her own complaint that has remained stable and unchanged while Tejpal’s has mutated time and time again, are pretty strong grounds for invoking Sections 354 (assault or criminal force on woman with intent to outrage her modesty) and 354-A (outrage modesty).

However, though these are undeniably strong grounds, the matter is sub-judice and it is for the court to pronounce him guilty or not.

Finally, Tejpal claims that his arrest is “an early sign of the inherent fascism of the right-wing that will target its detractors in the most sinister and underhand ways, using all the government machinery at its disposal. This is a warning shot across the bows of all liberals and opponents of communal politics. It’s a crying shame that a major party that is bidding to rule the great pluralism that is India is imbued with no tolerance for dissenters and critics, of whom I certainly am one.”

I know neither Mr. Tejpal nor the complainant personally. I know them both from their work as journalists and public intellectuals. And I can say: Mr Tejpal, you don’t have to be male and a senior editor to be a ‘dissenter and critic’ against communal politics. The complainant — a young journalist who has done courageous and forthright journalism — is no less a dissenter and a critic. And we, who stand up for her rights, are no less dissenters and critics.

Tejpal trivialises the anti-fascist struggle by trying to use it to demand impunity from accusations of rape. Being a dissenter and a critic doesn’t provide us with some kind of AFSPA-type shield to being prosecuted for rape.

Can we please keep the word ‘draconian’ confined to laws like AFSPA, MCOCA, sedition and so forth? The new rape law is NOT draconian

The new law very correctly expands the definition of rape and provides graded punishment for different types of sexual violence; and it very correctly states that consent cannot be presumed without a clear YES, ‘by word or gesture’ from the woman. These are not draconian provisions. Ten years, for the compound crimes Tejpal is accused of, is not necessarily excessive. It should jolt us that Tejpal’s friend can refer to what he is accused of as a ‘mere pass’. Even a ‘pass’ is now sexual harassment. And holding a woman against her will in a closed space, disrobing her and forcing your finger or tongue inside her private parts is not a ‘pass’ — and it’s downright scary that some can think of it as such.

The same pal of Tejpal’s said, chillingly, that if this is rape, 50% of editors and CEOs will be in jail for rape. Do editors and CEOs (Tejpal seems to think these are all male) really see it as their entitlement to do these things to their woman employees?! If so, it reminds me of the sense of entitlement that Bihar landlords used to expect, as their due, from Dalit woman workers in their fields in the 1980s. Those bosses who think women have to submit to such treatment must indeed be in jail.

I am willing to discuss, in a general context, the need to retain some discretion for the judge in sentencing, but I’ll do so in a context of concern for justice for women, so that courts should not be deterred from convictions and discretion should not move from the judges to the cops. And I’ll discuss these when we have some evidence that the new law is indeed acting against women’s interests in this regard. To use those concerns and debates of the women’s movement to paint Tejpal as a victim is abhorrent.

To those who accuse feminists of defending a draconian law to play ‘media darlings’, allow me to point out that the women’s movement has consistently — on the same media — articulated and defended the UNPOPULAR positions against draconian provisions of death penalty and lowering of the age of juvenility and raising the age of consent.

We have interrupted the media’s self-congratulatory narratives on Tejpal or Asaram to remind them of their own double standards on Manorama, Kunan Poshpora, Soni Sori, countless Bastar rapes, rape of Dalit women in Haryana and so on. The same activists who make use of a few minutes in the media to counter the insidious campaign of vilification that Tejpal and his pals are carrying out against the complainant, have also spoken — again in the face of abuse and hate speeches — against the hanging of Afzal Guru and the conviction of Shehzad in the Batla House case. We have made the women’s movement’s dissent and outrage heard against the custodial killing of the December 16 rape accused Ram Singh inside Tihar jail.

I am one of the handful of people who have, after carefully examining available evidence, rather than the feverish imaginings of a sexist media campaign, questioned the obnoxious, appalling Aarushi verdict, which was a ‘media trial’ if ever there was one. A secular friend, who today accuses me of participating in media trials of ‘secular’ men accused of rape, was only too happy to repeat the prejudiced misinformation peddled by the media in the Aarushi case, warning me to stick with public opinion rather than my own assessment and conscience in that case!

I have also spoken AGAINST ‘potency tests’ for Asaram and Tejpal. I hold potency tests to be just as demeaning, unscientific and humiliating as a two-finger test for rape survivors.

What about bail for Tejpal? I believe bail is a right that all undertrials are entitled to. I, along with many others, have thanklessly struggled for bail for NOIDA workers, Maruti workers, held on far flimsier grounds. Soni Sori got bail after years of incarceration. Many of my own comrades languish in jail without bail on cooked-up charges relating to mass movements led by them.

In the case of those accused of heinous crimes, courts tend to deny bail irrespective of how flimsy the charges are. And this has nothing to do with the new rape law. It has been the case long before last year. Tejpal, therefore, cannot claim he’s being denied bail because of political vendetta or a ‘draconian’ law. Rather, if at all he gets bail, it will be because he has a posse of lawyers and he is viewed as ‘respectable’ and ‘respected’, unlike your average worker or slum-dweller or common man/woman accused. And if he gets bail, I would not oppose it.

The very phrases ‘media darlings’, ‘BBM-ing feminists’ and so on are redolent of rank sexism. We do the cause of democracy and secularism a grave injustice by resorting to this manner of campaign. Tejpal is entitled to a defence, surely. But we cannot allow the complainant to be subjected to a moralistic, voyeuristic pillory on the pretext of his defence. She is being put through hell, has had her mindspace and professional world turn from a zone of comfort and achievement into an ugly space of abuse and jeers, not because of her own actions but because she made the hard decision to complain about rape by her boss. This is the tough, painful world of rape survivors.

For those of us who ask why we activists cannot remain ‘neutral’, survivors and complainants get through this hell by relying on the support of the women’s movement. So, yes, we are not going to stop supporting rape complainants because the accused happens, on occasion, to be part of the secular or democratic camp. That’s because democracy includes women’s rights.

Tarun Tejpal’s Press Statement 18.2.2014:

“If conclusive proof was needed of the political vendetta that has been
unleashed against me, under the guise of a sexual molestation
investigation, it has been emphatically provided today. In a blatant
attempt at twisting and concealing the facts, the Goa police while
filing a 3000 page highly spurious charge sheet, has not presented or
handed over the most crucial piece of evidence in this case, the CCTV
footage of the incident

In my first and only press note of November 22nd 2013 I had urged,
“the police to obtain, examine and release the CCTV footage so that
the accurate version of events stands clearly revealed”. I said this
at a time, from Delhi, when I had neither accessed nor seen the
footage. But since I was the man on the spot I knew the truth of what
had happened.

It is violative of due process, to not make all collected evidence
available to the accused at the time of filing the charge sheet. In
fact, receipt of the footage is what we have been impatiently waiting
for since the last three months. This duplicity is in keeping with the
sinister and motivated political vendetta that is being pursued.

I have been in jail since November 30th simply because the goa police,
clearly acting under the orders of their political bosses, have
refused to release this crucial footage of the relevant days, 7th and
8th November. This entire case hinges on the 130 and 45 seconds (as
per the charge sheet) of contested time which can be brought to light
via the CCTV footage. The goa police know their fabricated case will
collapse the moment the footage is revealed and compared with the
‘testimony’ of the alleged victim, on the basis of which the Goa
police filed it’s FIR under draconian provisions.

As it were, I viewed the relevant footage of both days whilst being
‘held’ in police custody and the footage clearly validates me. The
fact is most of the officers in the crime branch know there is no
case, and have said as much to me. Even so the IO has been pursuing an
agenda spelt out for her by her political masters, totally violating
the principle of police neutrality.

I’m afraid what we are witnessing here is an early sign of the
inherent fascism of the right wing that will target its detractors in
the most sinister and underhand ways, using all the government
machinery at its disposal. This is a warning shot across the bows of
all liberals and opponents of communal politics. It’s a crying shame
that a major party that is bidding to rule the great pluralism that is
India is imbued with no tolerance of dissenters and critics, of whom I
certainly am one.”

Cut to Caste

Dalit cinema

By Jyotsna Siddharth

A look at the Intersectionality of caste Identity and gender in two Hindi films – Sujata and Ankur

Two of the finest films on caste discrimination, produced in different time-frames have approached the issue of caste and gender in strikingly different ways, The first film is Sujata (1959) a black and white film directed by Bimal Roy with Nutan as Sujata, the protagonist and the second film is Ankur, (1974) in colour directed by Shyam Benegal with Shabana Azmi as Laxmi, the protagonist. Sujata, is based in semi-urban setting, middle-class, upper-caste, educated household whereas Ankur is picturized in rural setting, upper-caste, uneducated, rich zamindar household.

Sujata and Ankur powerfully brings out a feminist conception of identity and burden in a feudal society where caste dominates till today. The identity crisis is powerfully unravelled in Sujata, where the protagonist is in a constant tussle with her self-identity and her space-location in the house. She is in a dilemma about her identity – is she of a low-caste because she was born in a low-caste family, or does she belong to the family that looked after and raised her.

Sujata is taken in as a baby by a kind bureaucrat after the death of her mother. In the film one of the first few scenes that question the fundamentals of caste identity is when the foster father refers to the baby as Sujata. His wife asks who she is. He says that he has named the new baby as Sujata to which she responds smiling, “A girl who belongs to a low caste and you have named her Sujata (which means, good caste or well born).” The significance of the name is also referred to in Ashutosh Gowarikar’s Lagaan, where a character of an untouchable boy was referred as ‘Kacchra’, whose literal translation is garbage. This is to relate with names that most individuals carried in Dalit families for centuries. The names given to Dalits often symbolized shame, filth, curse, waste and so on and therefore it was a matter of surprise for a Dalit to have a name that suggested otherwise.

In the film, the character Sujata throughout draws a comparison between the bureaucrats’s biological daughter Rama who is a college going ‘modern’ girl, who likes to read poetry and play sports. Sujata, on the other hand, manages the house and takes care of needs of her “parents”. However, despite being brought up in an “upper caste” household, she continues to be viewed as an “untouchable”, because of her birth in an “untouchable” family.

This perception is emphasized by the reaction of Sujata’s foster father’s aunt when she learns of Sujata’s caste after initially mistaking her for Rama. She literally throws the baby Sujata. When the same Aunt’s son falls in love with Sujata, the protagonist refuses him because she accepts the identity of an untouchable. The film draws heavily on Gandhi’s principles giving it a very light and mediocre route.

Ankur, on the other hand, unfolds the caste and gender relationship boldly. Laxmi, the low caste domestic help works in the fields of the local zamindar and also looks after the house. The landlord’s son who is sent to look after the farms asks Laxmi to prepare morning tea for him. Laxmi is aghast and asks him if he will have tea prepared by her. The son gets surprised at her response, and asks her what the issue is? She reminds him that that she is from a low caste to which he that he does not believe in caste and that she should prepare tea for him.

When he makes a sexual advance towards her, she rejects him and refuses to work for him. He visits her house and persuades her to come back. The two eventually have a physical relationship. It is interesting to see that over a period he starts treating her as his partner implying that he will take care of her for the lifetime.

Ankur constructs a feminist standpoint, which one of the scenes in the film brings out sharply. When the Zamindar’s son finds out that Lakshmi is pregnant he asks her to abort the child. He shares his concern that how is she going to raise the child, as her husband has run away, and that he (landlord’s son) would refuse to accept the child. Accepting the child of an outcaste maid servant will bring dishonour to him and his family so he would wash his hand off. She looks at him in a rage and says, “Am I asking you to look after the child?” He is surprised and questions her, “Won’t she be ashamed?” She pauses and asks, “As if only I will be ashamed, would nothing happen to you?”
Laxmi is conscious about the consequences that might unfold and her inability to raise the child. However, she is determined to keep the child and raise it without the “necessity of father’s name” that our patriarchal society insists on.

As against Sujata, in Ankur, identity is not a dilemma as throughout the film Laxmi seems at ‘peace’ with her identity, powerfully negotiating her fears, apprehensions, opinions and desires. However, the sentiment of being a burden is common in both Sujata and Lakshmi’s lives. It is apparent that they feel a burden on others, though for different reasons. Sujata for being raised by parents who did not give birth to her and yet looked after her while Lakshmi is economically dependent on the landlord’s son that both she and her husband cannot oppose to exploitation he implicates on them, a lived reality experienced by many in villages till today.

Ankur and Sujata are two important films that revealed the dynamics of caste in two different situations. Despite celebrating a hundred of cinema in India, one can still count the number of films on our fingers that reflect the issue of caste. Media texts are as important for analysis as they are entertainment. They are a mirror of time, witnessed by human beings across generations. Thus, it is important what they show, how they show and in what capacity.

Jyotsna Siddharth has completed her Masters in Development Studies from Tata Institute of Social Sciences. She loves to read literature and poetry and her areas of interest are Caste, Gender, Feminism, and Philosophy. Currently she is working with Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation

Gang rape must lead to an awakening in India

Anti-rape-protest-India

By Ramlath Kavil

Perhaps the only “mistake” the 23-year-old New Delhi gang-rape victim made on the ill-fated night of Dec. 16 was to trust Delhi’s public transport system. In India, especially in cities like New Delhi, despite its being the national capital with enormous security presence and closed-circuit cameras, boarding a bus at 9:15 p.m. can be fatal for a woman, even if she has the company of a male friend.

The young woman was brutally raped and assaulted with an iron rod by six men in what turned out to be a private bus. The assault was so inhuman that it ripped her intestines apart, caused severe genital injuries and on the 29th of December — 13 days later— she died in a hospital in Singapore. The incident roused the nation’s collective consciousness, and a large portion of young India spilled into streets, paralyzing parts of the capital city. Post-independence India has never witnessed such large-scale, spontaneous public outcry over women’s security.

India has often been described as a great paradox. The largest democracy in the world, and a land with a long-celebrated history of non-violent political struggle, is profoundly misogynistic. Sexism has such deep roots in society that it is an acceptable form of discrimination. The son-only culture has affected the gender ratio so much that Haryana, for example, which is just a few kilometres away from the national capital, has reached a stage of importing brides from other parts of the country due to an extreme shortage of young women.

Sex-selective abortion, though illegal, has always been a booming business across the country. Dowry, a practice of giving property and money to the bridegroom and his family, has been held as one of the reasons for the deep antipathy to having daughters, as their birth signals an unaffordable financial liability.

According to the National Crime Records Bureau, rape today is India’s fastest growing crime.

Women’s rights activists in the country have long been asking for societal and legal reforms and accountability from the political establishment when it comes to protecting women’s rights. Sexual violence has an institutionalized status in the country. Deep-rooted patriarchal mores make the honour of the family and community dependent on the chastity of the woman. This society has the audacity to ask its daughters not to get raped instead of asking its sons not to commit rape.

Activists report that a large number of rapes go unreported. Shockingly, on average, every 20 minutes a rape is committed in India, and in the majority of the cases the perpetrators are family members. Even of the registered rapes, conviction rates are as low as 26 per cent of cases. In this context, the more shrill demands to hang the rapists and give the death penalty for rape are not going to make bringing the rapist to book easier.

Rape in India, as in most cultures, is a convenient weapon to be used against women in caste/class/communal conflicts in the country. During notorious Gujarat riots of 2002, the men belonging to the right wing Hindu political outfits used rape as a weapon to teach the minority community a “lesson.” Perpetrators of the riots are still roaming free due to their high-end political connections.

During the 2006 Kherlanji caste massacre, a mother and daughter belonging to a lower caste community were paraded naked and gang-raped before being murdered. In politically troubled areas like Kashmir and the Northeast, the army and police have long been accused of rape and violence. Soni Sori, a tribal school teacher who was termed as a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International in 2012, following her arrest on unsubstantiated charges of supporting the banned radical left in India, was subjected to brutal sexual violence in custody which included shoving stones into her genitals. While Sori is still languishing in jail without bail, the cop who was alleged to have orchestrated the violence was awarded the president’s medal in 2012 for professional excellence.

In most cases that involve violence against women, India has often failed to take any productive measures to protect women’s basic human rights primarily because of political pressure.

The horrific Delhi gang rape has given India’s youth, especially women, a platform to express their anguish over India’s abysmal record in defending women’s rights. Spontaneous protests are still taking place all over the country. The extent of outrage in New Delhi was so unexpected, a jittery administration has acted to defuse public mobilization.

The government has appointed a three-member committee to look into possible amendments in the criminal laws in order to provide speedier justice and stringent punishment in sexual assault cases.

The bottom line is — as thousands take to the streets braving water cannons and police batons, especially young women — India is waking up to the slogans that women’s organizations have long been shouting. End violence against women! It is time that India recognized the need to change in order to put an end to the inhuman degradation of its women, and the inevitable decay of the human rights of women.

This article was originally published in the Ottawa Citizen

© Copyright (c) The Ottawa Citizen

Youths show the way at India Gate

Delhi rape protest

By Naina Kapur

While aging ministers with archaic mindsets stumbled in the halls of government to offer yet another “legal” approach to ‘rape’, young men and women spoke with clarity and a commitment for an issue that they had no historical connection to but for this 23-year-old- one of their own

Some have asked my reason for attending the protest against rape on December 23rd at India Gate which led to being caught in an unprovoked brutal lathi and tear gas charge by the Rapid Action Force and Riot Police. My answer is- the young people. A few years ago I did feel reflective about what it was that moved the young. What rights would this next generation really fight for? For those of us who emerged from the protests, campaigns, disappointing outcomes and some successes of the women’s movement in the 80”s and 90’, there seemed no apparent answer. The signals, it seems, were in the places we never thought to look- within them.

On December 23rd, it took a single step into a symbolic circle near Amar Jawan Jyoti at India Gate to melt away my doubts. Young men in a chakravu, held hands surrounding an inner circle of mostly women. As I gently tapped one young man on the shoulder, there was an instant and graceful parting which allowed me to enter a collective space at the centre. There, women sat, shouted for justice, sang and heard the heartfelt stories of other women including the gang rape of a 3 year old who died from her abuse. And in that moment, for all the shame that has echoed in the very being of us as Indians over the vicious brutality faced by a young woman who simply stepped out to dinner and a movie with a friend only to board that fateful bus, I felt an equal depth of pride- for the young people within that circle and their genuine call for justice- for, in fact, a better world for women.

Many in that circle had come to protest for the first time in their lives, and the cause is rape and violence against women. With or without us, they are struggling to find ways to respond. Young men spoke up and vouched to eliminate ogling at women- ogling! Men were speaking about ogling- that silent yet oppressive shadow which stalks women throughout the city if not the country but to which we have forever turned a blind eye.

If only some of our leaders had peacefully entered that circle with me, they would have witnessed what I experienced- a genuine expression of pain. As parents, citizens, Indians and people who sought to pave a way, we must ask ourselves what legacy we want to share with them. Brickbats and teargas? Adversity and violence? Or compassionate engagement with their cause- one that impacts us all? Our youth are trying to point the way to a truth about ourselves, our values, our rights. We must find the humility to follow and where needed, to offer some of those pearls of wisdom we might have gathered along the way. RAF and Riot Police cannot defy a truth- it can only embolden it. It’s not an Arab Spring- it’s a circle. But In the words of a famous American hymn rewritten in the eighties- one which can’t be broken.

“Will the circle be unbroken, by and by Lord by and by.
There’s a better way to live now, we can have it if we try.”

Naina Kapur is an advocate and Equality Consultant based in New Delhi

Koodankulam Anti Nuclear Protest: The Struggle Belongs to All

koodankulam anti-nuclear protest

Why are there not many powerful voices and groups in India coming out openly in support of the movement against Koodankulam nuclear power plant led by the extraordinary women from the villages?

By Lalita Ramdas

On 9th Sunday night, thousands of people, mostly women and children spent the night under the open sky near the sea at Idinthakarai, the epicentre of protests against the Koodankulam nuclear power plant. Neither the lathi charge nor the teargas shells could stop this inevitable nonviolent struggle by the people of Koodankulam. Police intimidated with batons and officials threatened naval intervention. The protesters, braving the rough coastal weather, refused to go home. On Monday morning the police again tried to disperse them with batons but had to finally withdraw.

The women of Koodankulam, along with their men folk and their children are displaying outstanding qualities of collective leadership, organisational skills, dedication and commitment. They showed their capabilities in rigorous analysis of complex questions of energy policy, dangers of nuclear power and radiation and ecological impact of nuclear plants on their livelihoods, on the oceans and the marine biology.

Groups of women have traveled to participate and put their perspectives in front of a wide range of audiences – both within Tamil Nadu as well as outside the state. Most recently audiences in Delhi were moved by presentations made by the women from the community of fisher folk at the public hearing on nuclear energy on August 21.

And yet what is perplexing and disturbing is the relatively low level of interest and support that this movement has received when compared to many other issues in the country.

The opposition to the nuclear power plant has been given such short shrift at all levels despite a series of exposes regarding the fault lines, lack of all safety procedures, the CAG’s damning report on the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board and the utter lack of all basic environment studies.

In March this year, Jayalalitha, the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, brought in a huge police force in order to intimidate the protestors. The police arrested thousands of protestors, cracked down on several activists and slapped draconian charges of sedition and waging war against the state.

Since then, the core leadership team has been virtually grounded in Idinthakarai. They fear they would be arrested if they moved out. They have continued undaunted – filing PILs, preparing detailed technical reports, making appeals, analysing every single action of the Nuclear Power Corporation of India (Ltd), the Department of Atomic Energy and informing about the various contraventions of safety regulations in the project including those by the Russian suppliers. All seem to have fallen on deaf ears.

For the past several years I have personally been deeply involved with the movement against nuclear weapons and against nuclear energy. I have been writing, posting literature, articles on the key questions around nuclear energy and its destructive potential. Through Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace (CNDP), I have been closely involved with the leadership of People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE). I have spoken with people at all levels. It is from this deep personal experience that my own commitment to spread the word and news about this struggle has grown and been reinforced. Above all else, it is the determination of the women of Idinthakarai and surrounding villages that is moving and inspiring.

However, today, I am left with many disturbing questions:

Why are there not many more powerful voices and groups out there raising their voices and coming out openly in support of an incredible and vibrant movement – that too with the leadership of extraordinary women?

To what extent has the possible link of nuclear power with the issue of national security played a role in this silence?

How many continue to believe the TINA factor with regard to nuclear energy – i.e. India absolutely needs nuclear power to grow and develop.

Are there just too many causes going around and we are tired and simply lack energy to go into depth regarding any of them?

Anti Nuclear protestors at Idinthakarai on Sunday

How can the people of India be made aware of the peculiar dangers of nuclear energy and nuclear power plants, so that many more voices can be convinced to speak up and speak out with conviction?

Betsy Hartmann, Professor of Development Studies and Director of the Population and Development Program at Hampshire College, Massachusetts, USA, presents a set of arguments as to why nuclear power should be part of all our agendas. Although she speaks within the context of the USA, we have seen that as with the peace and anti-war movement, it is not gaining traction, either in India or elsewhere. The items on our agendas are growing fast, the funding is severely reducing and groups are facing assaults from all sides – as we saw in the case of the Prime Minister’s Office crying hoarse that the protests in Koodankulam were foreign funded!

This is where Prof. Betsy is at her best showing us how we can and must make a space for anti-nuclear activism in each of our movements because there is a powerful convergence in many of them. She argues:

  • Nuclear power is a reproductive rights issue; Among other serious side effects, exposure to radiation can increase the risk of sterility, birth defects and genetic mutations that can affect the reproduction of generations to come. Plutonium, a by-product of nuclear power and a key component of atomic bombs, is the most potent manmade poison on the planet, with a half life of 24,000 years. It crosses the placenta and is stored in male testicles.
  • Nuclear power is an environmental justice issue; From uranium mining on indigenous lands in the southwest to locating reactors in poor African-American rural communities in Georgia. And let’s not forget our own Jaduguda or the uranium mines in AP.
  • It’s a climate justice issue; Don’t let them fool you. Nuclear power is not a clean substitute for dirty fossil fuels. For one thing, the government and industry have no idea of how or where to safely store the waste. Moreover, nuclear energy is hardly emissions-free when you factor in the mining, transport and enrichment of uranium as well as the leakage of the potent greenhouse gas CFC 114 from cooling pipes. The money spent on nuclear development should instead flow into the development of safe renewable energy and conservation.
  • It’s a labour rights issue; As we’ve seen at Fukushima, nuclear workers, many of them labouring on an exploitative contract basis, are being exposed to unacceptable health risks. Nuclear power also produces dangerous chemical by-products that affect workers. As an industry shrouded in secrecy, workers often lack redress or are scared to complain about health and safety violations for fear of losing their jobs.
  • It’s a peace and security issue; The notion of ‘atoms for peace’, first trumpeted by President Eisenhower in the 1950s, has always been a sham. Nuclear power fuels the atomic weapons industry, facilitates nuclear proliferation, and increases vulnerability to terrorist attacks. In a profound irony, it helps legitimize the national security state as necessary to protect us from nuclear threats of the state’s own making.
  • Nuclear power is a basic democracy issue too; Why does President Obama support nuclear power?  Because the nuclear lobby supported his candidacy. If we want clean renewable energy, we need clean elections. And we need local control.” We should be clear too as to why Prime Minister Man Mohan Singh supports nuclear power and signed the Indo US Nuclear deal – the reasons are not far to seek.

Koodankulam is showing us the way – human rights and democracy are under threat there as in many places across the country today. We must acknowledge the linkages with these struggles. Koodankulam is a struggle that belongs to us all, affects us all, and therefore should be fought by us all wherever we are.

Lalita Ramdas is an active member of the Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace [CNDP]. She is the founder of ANKUR Society for Alternatives in Education, Delhi, was a founder and Board Chair of Greenpeace India, and till recently, Board Chair of Greenpeace, International.

Human Rights Abuse in India: An Unholy War on its People

Medha Patkar

Human rights activists in India are deeply concerned about the shrinking democratic spaces with allegations of police/security forces intimidation, arbitrary arrest, imprisonment, and torture multiplying for the past several years

By Ramlath Kavil

On the human rights and civil rights front, things have been going wrong in the most populous democracy of the world for quite some time. Human rights organizations including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have been accusing the Indian State of blatant rights abuses. In May 2012, the Government of India itself declared in its Parliament that human rights violations in the country have increased by over 13,000 in the last three years and in 2011 alone some 94,630 such violations were reported.

The government stands accused in several cases of human rights violations in various courts of the country. The UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review, May 2012, made 169 recommendations to India regarding human rights issues, which included the ratification of the UN Convention Against Torture and the UN Convention on Enforced Disappearances. India’s Attorney General who led the government delegation in Geneva, chose to play down the recommendations by saying, “India has the ability to self-correct.”

The  Unlawful Activities Prevention Act,1967 ( UAPA)  which entitles the police to arrest anybody without warrant on mere suspicion and its 2008 Amendment which allows the authorities to detain the accused upto 180 days of pre charge detention,  has also come under severe criticism. It may be recalled, a widely respected pediatrician and rights activist Dr. Binayak Sen was arrested in 2007 under this act, which prompted several international organizations and individuals including Noam Chomsky to come down heavily on the Indian Government. Dr. Sen was granted bail by the Supreme Court in April 2011.

The arrests and imprisonment of the tribal woman Soni Sori ,civil rights activist Seema Azad and now a young political cartoonist Aseem Trivedi offer yet another glimpse to how one of the fastest growing economies in the world is callous when it comes to checking its human rights record.

Soni Sori

Soni Sori, named by Amnesty International as a prisoner of conscience, hails from Chhattisgarh, one of India’s poorest regions where the banned radical left group Maoist (Naxalite) is said to wield considerable clout. Thousands of families have been caught between a deadly war fought by the State and the Maoists, both accused of violent tactics. Soni Sori’s family happened be one of them. According to rights activists, she and her family landed on the wrong side of both the Maoists and the state police, as they refused to operate as informers to either of them.

A warden in a state run girls hostel, Soni Sori’s ordeal with the law began in 2009 when the Chhattisgarh police arrested her 26-year-old nephew, a local journalist, Lingaram Kodopi. Sori and her family had claimed that the young journalist was arrested for speaking up against atrocities of Chhattisgarh police and the exploitations of the tribal people.

On September 9th 2011, Chhattisgarh’s Dantewada police charged Soni Sori, and her nephew Lingaram Kodopi of being ‘Naxalite accomplices’. Subsequently, both Kodopi and Sori were arrested.  The police accused them of being a conduit for extortion between the mining company Essar and the Maoist.  Both Sori and Essar have denied the allegation.

After two days in custodial interrogation, when Sori had to be produced in front of the Dantewada Magistrate on the 10th October 2011, the 37-year-old was so weak that she could not even get down from the police van.  A court clerk came to the police van, and the court passed an order without seeing her.

Soni Sori wrote to her lawyer about the brutal torture she was subjected to in custody at the orders of the then District Police Superintendent Ankit Garg, the controversial cop who won President’s gallantry award early this year.

Subsequently, the Supreme Court ordered an Independent medical examination to be conducted at NRS Medical College Hospital in Kolkatta. The report, presented in Court on 25th Nov, 2011 states three stones were found inserted deep inside Sori’s private parts and the MRI scan also showed annular tears on her spine.

Ever since the evidence of Sori’s custodial torture surfaced, women’s rights and human rights activists have been campaigning for her release and for an independent probe into the alleged custodial torture, including sexual violence. On March 8th International women’s day Amnesty International launched a campaign to release Soni Sori. As the Supreme Court is yet to decide on the petition for squashing the cases filed against her by the Chhattisgarh government, Soni Sori, the mother of three, is currently lodged in Raipur central Jail.

Seema Azad

The conviction of Seema Azad in June this year, a 36-year-old human rights activist and the Editor of a bi-monthly magazine adds another chapter to the country’s ongoing chronicle of silencing of dissent. Azad and her husband Vijay were arrested in early 2010 by the Uttar Pradesh Police and were accused of being members of the

From left to right- Soni Sori, Seema Azad and Aseem Trivedi

banned Communist Party of India (Maoist) and possessing banned Maoist literature. They were charged under various sections of IPC and also under the notorious Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. At the time of the arrest, Seema Azad was the State Secretary of People’s Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL), a national network of human rights activists.

After 2 years of trial on June 8th, 2012, the activist couple were convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment by an Allahabad Court. Human rights organizations severely criticized the conviction alleging that Azad and her husband were victimized for speaking on behalf of mining workers and farmers in the region. PUCL called the conviction of the couple for terrorism, unlawful activities, sedition and waging war against the state “a glaring travesty of justice,”, The same court, however, on August 6th granted bail to the couple.

Aseem Trivedi

Aseem Trivedi, an award winning political cartoonist was arrested in Mumbai on 8th September 2012 for sedition under section 129 A of Indian Penal code. He was also charged under the IT Act and the 1971 National Emblem Act. Trivedi is arrested for drawing Parliament as a commode and showing the national emblem with bloodthirsty wolves instead of lions. Trivedi, well known for his series of anti corruption cartoons, launched Cartoon Against Corruption, a website in order to support the anti corruption movement in India in 2011. However, within 24 hours of its launch, the Mumbai Crime Branch blocked its content. Later in 2012 Trivedi started, Save Your Voice, a movement against internet censorship in the country.  Trivedi has been sent to police custody till September 16.

“Such cases show that civil and human rights in India are in a moment of profound crisis. Many of these arrests and violations have deep connections to the growing corporatization of India’s mineral-rich land and resources.  This expanded development has displaced many hill and village populations and polluted many of their habitats” says Lena Ganesh, a Delhi-based gender and human rights activist.

Since 2005 many big corporations like Mittal, Jindal, Posco, Vedanta etc have signed MOUs for mining activities in the mineral rich Indian states of Orissa, Chhattisgarh, Jharkand etc. These regions have also witnessed extreme opposition from locals against corporatization of the forest land. The Indian government argues that “the rise of extreme leftist outfits in the regions rich in minerals has badly affected investments.” However, rights activists feel the unrest among the locals in these regions is widespread and independent of ‘insurgents’. By attributing the disaffection to ‘motivated parties’, the government and the corporations are walking a tight-rope over a political mine field.

The fact is, as the number of human rights violations grows, the dissent also grows.  In a country where one third of the world’s poor live, silencing the voice of the distress is an absolute impossibility. Threats of arrest and imprisonment would only alienate the vast majority of its 1.2 billion population. Let us not forget, it is the country that gave birth to one of the greatest non violent political movements, a movement that taught the British Empire that no Kingdom can rise above its people’s civil liberties.

Featured photo courtesy: PTI