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New Maternity Benefit Bill is discriminatory, activists

woman and child

Presenting the letter drafted by activists with backgrounds in child psychology and child rights law on the Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Bill. The letter will be submitted to the Ministers of Labour, Women and Child Development, Health and Family Welfare, Social Justice and Empowerment, and the PMO. Those who wish to endorse the letter in your capacity as an adoptive or pre-adoptive parent, can write swagataraha(at)gmail (dot) com


Shri Bandaru Dattatreya,
Hon’ble Minister of Labour & Employment,
Government of India, Shram Shakti Bhawan
Rafi Marg
New Delhi-110001

Sub: Urgent need to reconsider the Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Bill, 2016

Honourable Minister,

We, the undersigned, are adoptive and pre-adoptive parents who strongly urge you to reconsider Section 3B of the Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Bill, 2016 which entitles only adoptive mothers to maternity benefit of 12 weeks only if they legally adopt a child below the age of three months.

We are of the view that Section 3B of the Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Bill, 2016 should be reconsidered for the following reasons:

1. The age limitation in the Bill discriminates against babies above three months and parents who adopt them: All children have physical, emotional, psychological and social needs – regardless of whether they have been born into or adopted into families. All children need parents to spend time in caring for them. All parents need time to bond with their children, to understand their multiple and complex needs and respond to them accordingly. To say that some parents need 26 weeks while others need only 12 weeks, is legally discriminatory as well as against the principles of child development.

Biological parents have the advantage of a lead-time of nine months of pregnancy to prepare – physically, emotionally, financially for the birth of their child, adoptive parents have to be prepared to deal with the uncertainties relating to very fundamental aspects like age of the child, gender of the child, health history and needs and previous history of trauma of institutionalization. All this information relating to the child becomes available to the adoptive parents only at the time of placement when the child actually joins the family. Birth parents may also have in-built advantages of biological processes like breast feeding, family acceptance and social support, while adoptive parents have to invest time to create the psychosocial bonding with the child while battling stereotypes and prejudices in their families as well in society.

It is also important to remember that the longer a child is in institutional care, the greater is the time and parenting attention that is required to fulfil his /her various physical and psychosocial needs and meet his/developmental milestones. From that stand-point, the older the child, the greater the need for the time required for parents to nurture the child, making it necessary to revise the three-month age stipulation for adoption.

As per Section 56 of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015 (JJ Act), adoption should be resorted to for ensuring a child’s right to family and as per Section 40 is an alternative for the rehabilitation and social reintegration of orphan and abandoned children. This implies that the State believes that adoption and care in a family is in the ultimate best interest of the child and preferable to institutional care. Instead of facilitating and incentivizing the process of adoption for parents (whether biological or adoptive) who are prepared to are prepared and committed to adopt older babies and children, the State is discouraging them by depriving them of maternity leave.

2. The Bill is discordant with adoption procedures that render adoption of a child below three months impossible: The legal process to be adhered to before a child is declared free for adoption under the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015 (JJ Act) makes it near impossible for children below three months to be available for adoption. Section 38(1), of the JJ Act requires the Child Welfare Committee (CWC) to declare an orphaned or abandoned child below two years of age to be free for adoption within two months from the date of production of the child and within four months for children above two years of age. In the case of surrendered children, the CWC must allow the parents or guardian two months time to reconsider their decision before a child can be declared free for adoption (Section 35(3), JJ Act). The Adoption Guidelines, 2015 and the the Draft Adoption Guidelines, 2016 require the Specialised Adoption Agency (SAA) to prepare the child study report and medical examination report of a child within 10 days of the CWC’s declaration. Prospective adoptive parents have 48 hours within which they must reserve a child. The SAA then has a maximum period of 15 days within which the matching process must be completed. The child should be taken in pre-adoption foster care by the prospective adoptive parents within 10 days from the date of acceptance.

Assuming that a child is abandoned/orphaned/surrendered at birth and all the above deadlines are diligently adhered to by the authorities involved, the child will easily be above three months at the time of adoption thus rendering the benefit under the provision meaningless.

3. The Bill is discordant with the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015 (JJ Act) that allows a single person to adopt: Under Section 57(3), JJ Act, a single or divorced person can also adopt. The provision is gender-neutral and thus enables adoption by men and transgendered persons. By failing to recognise this, the Bill discriminates against adoptive parents on grounds of their gender.

Section 2 (2) of the JJ Act defines adoption as ‘the process through which the adopted child ….. becomes the lawful child of his adoptive parents with all the rights, privileges, and responsibilities that are attached to a biological child’. This implies that adopted child has the same right to their parents’ time as a biological child.

4. The Bill is incongruent with international standards and practice: As per the International Labour Organisation, if domestic law provides for adoption, adoptive parents should be entitled to the protection and benefits available offered under the ILO Maternity Benefit Convention. Countries like Australia, Brazil, Senegal, United Kingdom, Colombia, and Tajikistan among several others entitle adoptive mothers to the same leave available to biological mothers. In Slovenia, adoptive parents are entitled to 150 days of paid leave for adopting a child under four, and to 120 days for adopting a child between four and 10 years. Sweden gives parental benefits of 480 days of paid parental leave for the adoption of a child below the age of 10 years. In Canada, adoptive parents are entitled to 52 weeks of parental leave beginning no earlier than the day on which the child comes into the employees’ care and ending no later than 52 weeks after that day. This leave can be availed by both parents simultaneously. In the Russian Federation, when a married couple adopts, the couple can choose to have the father take the leave period of up to 70 days after the child’s birth and then, upon request, the parental leave period to which he might be entitled, until the child is 3 years. The mother is entitled to 70 calendar days of pre-natal leave and post-natal leave again of 70 calendar days.

Although India has not ratified the ILO Maternity Benefit Convention, since 2006, the Government of India has granted adoption leave of 135 days to women government servants on adoption of a child upto one year of age. The Guidelines Governing Adoption of Children, 2015 require government and public sector undertakings to provide adoption leave to all adoptive parents working in their offices irrespective of the age of the child.

5. Adoptive parents should also have the ‘work from home’ option – There is a need to clearly and specifically mention that the arrangement to ‘work-from -home’ as negotiated with the employer also covers adoptive parents just like biological parents.

6. Clarity required with respect to adoption of siblings: Section 39 of the JJ Act requires that all efforts be made to keep siblings placed in institutional or non-institutional care together. The Maternity Benefits (Amendment) Bill is silent about cases where two or more children from the same family may be adopted. While even 26 weeks of leave is inadequate in such cases, it is unclear whether maternity benefit would be doubled or tripled and made applicable on a per-child basis.

In the light of the above, we urge you to amend the discriminatory aspects of Section 3B of the Bill to ensure that parental benefits of 26 weeks and the work from home option is available to all persons who adopt irrespective of their gender and irrespective of the age of the adopted child.

Loss of feminist space : Davinder Kaur (1953-2016)

Davinder- Kaur

By Kalpana Mehta

Davinder Kaur, a Saheli since 1982, passed away on 30 May 2016.

Davi came in touch with us when she left her marital home and two children to lead her life on her own terms.

In her practice she embodied many cherished feminist concepts – concept of sisterhood, non-competition, unconditional love, generosity and great sensitivity towards the underprivileged.

She had been married off by her parents, as soon as she finished her schooling, to a man nearly ten years older than her and had two children in quick succession. She struggled within the marriage for her independence and got a job in the external affairs ministry. There she came in contact with the Left and Dalit movement and this politicization led her to rebel from her family in 1982.

Davi’s personal rebellion was a common practice of the times in our circle and faltering and finding oneself in a hostile world was a personal as well as political struggle. For her, the rebellion away from the tradition was also marked by smoking and keeping her hair short considering that she was born a Sikh.

She joined as a volunteer and then took a break from her job to work full time in Saheli. In Saheli, her empathy with women in crisis remained a valuable asset. She would spend endless hours smoothening ruffled feathers. Her open house (or room) witnessed many stormy meetings and hectic work. She was a perfectionist and methodical in her work and would not move till she clearly understood what she was dealing with –not a cut-paste person.

Her exposure to the world had been very limited and when Sahelis went to Bombay in 1984 for a national meeting it was the first time she ever sat in a train. It was amazing that this woman then went to Africa, Latin America, Europe and dealt with the world, learnt many languages and was a much respected employee in the Ministry despite going late to the office every single day.

Her political involvement did not follow such a smooth path. She continued to enhance her understanding but it could not materialize into practice as spaces became less open to ideas. Though till the end she remained an honest foot soldier and was ready to translate any material into Hindi, edit and proof read all materials, take care of Saheli accounts, give her house for meetings and when she could afford, give donations – she would express her views only in more personal settings.

Her generosity knew no bounds and she always had the energy to make everyone feel at home and was always very welcoming of activists. Many of us outsiders visiting Delhi always knew that we had a place of our own there which Davi kept up.

While the common people of her office could sense and value her uncommon potential, from the feminist movement she got no such recognition. She was occasionally perturbed about it and expressed that too only privately.

Her death is a personal loss to many of us who lived in Delhi and other places who she brought together; her death is also a tremendous loss to the feminist legacy of sisterhood that she kept alive.

Kalpana Mehta is a founder member of Saheli, an autonomous feminist collective in Delhi

New textile package is anti-labour, union activists

garment -workers-India

The Government of India has announced a “Gift Package” for Garment Industry that is going to have a very negative impact in the industry dominated by women workers.

Below is a statement from the Garment and Allied Workers Union in Haryana, India.

The Indian government on Wednesday, 20th of June announced a Rs. 6000 crore package for the garment and textiles industry, stating that it will lead to the creation of one crore (10 million) jobs and amass a cumulative increase of US$ 30 bn. in exports and investment of Rs. 74,000 crores all over the next 3 years.
Although this package has been welcomed by the industry with open arms, the truth behind the large numbers is not exactly glossy. The garment industry, at present is already reliant on informal labour subjected to numerous violations of labour rights.  Creation of new jobs on a large scale without a proper strategy in place for monitoring compliance with labour laws in all tiers of the supply chain would only mean an increase in the exploitative conditions. 
The announcement further includes changes in labour laws to fuel the employment process including introduction of “fixed-term employment.”  This term is a camouflage for irregular, short term contract labour that is a recipe for labour violations.  Any form of non-regular employment reinforces and increases the insecure conditions of workers. It pushes workers into employment terms that are unaccountable, at the whim of the employer and susceptible to rights violations. 
As experienced in the industry, the present form of fixed duration contracts denies benefits to the worker and pushes workers out of the ambit of even retirement benefits. It is only beneficial to the management so that workers can never establish their seniority, regularity, labour rights and claim the benefits associated with it. It is used to hire and fire workers without due process and is one of the more common union busting strategies used by factory management. Needless to say this move only adds to the existing challenges towards workers realising the right to freedom of association. 

Creation of more jobs will only add to the existing labour violations and force a larger number of workers to work in inhuman conditions in low paying jobs; while the garment industry itself grows on the cheap labour provided by the Indian government to the global brands

Further, as the larger percentage of the new workforce is expected to be women this raises concerns over the incidents of sexual harassment regularly faced at the workplace by women, as well as the denial of maternity benefits. Already both the existing social taboo around incidents of sexual violence and the power dynamics across the factory workforce prevent women from raising their voices against any violation; an added apprehension of their job security will only clamp down the few voices as well as possibly expose the new workforce to a more exploitative environment. 
One of the key features of the new package is the change introduced to the Employee Provident Fund Scheme. The government will now bear the entire 12% of the employers’ contribution of the EPF Scheme for garment workers hired in the 3 years who are earning less than Rs. 15,000 per month. Additionally for these workers earning less than Rs. 15,000 participation in the EPF will be made optional to apparently promote more money in the hands of workers. This seems rosy enough to believe that it has been devised keeping in mind the workers’ interests.   However the reality is that most workers due to the already low pay that they receive will in all likelihood opt out of the scheme rendering therefore the government’s contribution useless which in any case only benefits the employer by subsidising their contribution. Additionally making EPF optional for workers, earning below Rs. 15000, increases the future insecurities, while not addressing the current issue of low wage.
Recognising the opportunity presented with China upskilling away from the sector, the press release by the Apparel Exports Promotion Council emphasized the need for India to take on its competitors Bangladesh and Vietnam, two countries that have surpassed India in apparel exports over the last fifteen years. AEPC cited flexible labour laws and preferential tariffs as the reason for this and hence stated the importance of this package in boosting Indian apparel export to the fore.
However before the government creates an enabling environment for increasing employment into the garment and textiles sector it needs to lay down concrete mechanisms for enforcing labour rights within all the tiers of the garment supply chain. Creation of more jobs will only add to the existing labour violations and force a larger number of workers to work in inhuman conditions in low paying jobs; while the garment industry itself grows on the cheap labour provided by the Indian government to the global brands. A series of three reports released by Asia Floor Wage Alliance (for the International Labour Conference held in Geneva earlier this year in June) on working conditions in supplier factories of global brands H&M, Gap and Walmart exposes the harsh realities of rampant rights abuse faced by workers on a regular basis at their workplace.
This package serves to benefit only supplier factory management to boost export production at the cost of human rights of workers. In order to compete with other countries the government can improve other aspects – such as better infrastructure, efficient use of energy and water, better industrial engineering on the shop floor, better managerial skills, education and skill development of its labour force – all of which would be good for the country and its competitiveness.  Instead such packages only ends up squeezing India’s already poor workforce – it speedily takes India to the bottom in the race to the bottom as opposed to a high road development and growth approach.
Especially the stance of employing women as a step towards social transformation is hollow when protection of women against rights violations including unequal payment of wages, employment in low paying positions, denial of maternity benefits and sexual harassment is yet to be enforced. There is a need to develop more robust strategies towards better working conditions that will lead to an environment conducive to work and therefore contribute towards quality assurance of products as well as good management practices. The process of putting India on top of the apparel exports industry needs to be complementary to the interests of both the workers and the management for the industry – and the country — to flourish.

Free Homa Hoodfar: Indian feminists in solidarity with jailed Canadian scholar


Indian feminists issue statement of solidarity with the imprisoned Canadian-Iranian professor. Hoodfar was arrested by Iranian intelligence officers last week

We, the undersigned, are in solidarity with Dr. Homa Hoodfar, a Canadian anthropologist of Iranian origin who has been imprisoned by the Iranian authorities on June 6, 2016. Dr. Hoodfar is a respected academic scholar and researcher on women and family in the Middle East and the Muslim world.  She travelled to Iran in March 2016 to visit family and for research on women’s participation in public life.

Prior to her arrest, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard interrogated Ms. Hoodfar repeatedly without the presence of a lawyer, searched and seized her belongings including passport, phone and laptop.  Ms. Hoodfar fully cooperated with the process and has been very respectful of the domestic Iranian judicial system.  Since her arrest however, her family, colleagues and supporters in Iran were left with no choice but to go public with the news of the arrest.

Iranian authorities have given no reason for the arrest and the charges under which she has been held.  She has not been granted access to her family or legal counsel.  Dr. Hoodfar, aged 65, is not in good health and has already suffered from a mild stroke in 2015.  Her family is concerned about her health and fears she may not have access to the specialized care that she requires.

We urge the Iranian government to: 
Provide Dr Hoodfar immediate access to her family and lawyer.

Ensure Dr Hoodfar has the medicines she requires for her neurological illness, her condition is monitored and the report shared with her family.

Release Dr Hoodfar and return her passport and other essential documents so she can travel back to Canada to continue her treatment there and resume her academic work.

Jisha rape and murder: Women’s network demands action against police officials who refused to file FIR


statement issued by Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS), a nationwide network of women from diverse political and social movements

We, condemn the gruesome incident of heinous rape and murder of a 30-year old law student from Kuruppamapdy, villageVattolippidi Canal Bund near Perumbavoor in Kerala’s Ernakulam district. On the evening of April 28th 2016, her mother, a daily-wage labourer returned home to find her youngest daughters body mutilated, raped and murdered. She was studying for her law exams at home when the incident took place. Her body had 38 injuries, including in the genitals.

We are appalled at the apathy extended towards the family by the State, Administration and the Mainstream Media. Police refused to file First Information Report on the night of April 28th 2016, when, mother of Victim approached them . After five full days of inaction and pressure by Dalit Activists in Kerela FIR was registered. Additionally, the mainstream media’s handling of the case stands in violation of the law that prohibits the use of the name of the victim/survivor in media. However this case saw a parading of the dead victim. Her photos were paraded by mainstream media and circulated. Denying the Dalit women respect and dignity even in Death.

The victims family was a woman headed-household who were continuously harassed by the middle caste/class neighborhood by denying them access to water, and other daily resources. Despite that the family continued to struggle and survive. The daughter soon after getting admission earlier, owing to poor financial conditions , had to give up her studies at one point of time. Later she was determined to pursue her law degree hoping to work towards access to justice for the poor and marginalised.  Her entry into the educational institutions is part of the in-roads / upward social mobility, made by the Dalit-Bahujan community in spaces of higher education that have been historically denied to them. The rape and murder of this student is a retaliation of this occupying of public space by a Dalit woman. Further the community in shunning the incident by putting the blame on the ‘outsider’ the migrant labourer.

This rape is not a stand alone incident in the daily violence meted out on Dalit bodies in their access of public spaces in Kerala . To cite few cases in the recent past , just two days back a Dalit nursing student was raped inVarkala, Thiruvananthapuram and also Chitralekha a Dalit auto riksha driver has been continuously harassed by CPI (M)goons since 2004. The incidence stands in a long list of state apartheid towards the Dalit community. In kerala crime rate  against SCs is 26.8 and that against STs is 27.8 .( the All india crime rate for SCs  is 23.4 and STs is 11.0- NCRB 2014)

Caste based violence and gender based violence don’t work in isolation but are hand-in-glove with each other. They have to be placed in the larger history of violence meted out on the basis of caste and gender. The inter-sectionality works in insidious manner through the bodies of women. We see gender based violence tied with casted based violence both of which are used as tools of violence and discrimination and perpetuated by the State and its machinery. Caste is the underlying reality of the country; hence attempt at looking at gender-based violence minus the caste reality of it is a gross injustice to understanding gender-based violence. As collectives committed towards a non-funded grassroots effort started in November 2009, to put an end to the violence being perpetrated upon our bodies and societies. We are a nationwide network of women from diverse political and social movements comprising of women’s organizations, mass organizations, civil liberty organizations, student and youth organizations, mass movements and individuals. We unequivocally condemn state repression and sexual violence on our women and girls by any perpetrator(s).

We demand
1. Immediate Arrest of the accused involved
2. Speedy trial of the case as per Criminal law Amendment Act 2013 & SC/ST POA Act 1989
3. Competent legal representation of the victim
4. State to provide adequate compensation to the family of the deceased .
5. Independent inquiry by NHRC ,NCW and NCSC  
6. Action against police officials who refused to file an FIR on day of the incident as per S.166a

Pachauri’s suit against Vrinda Grover will have chilling effects on sexual harassment complaints, women´s rights activists

RK- Pachauri

We the undersigned activists and organizations of the Indian women’s movement express our outrage at the fact that R.K. Pachauri has filed a civil suit for injunction and demanded damages of Rs. 1 crore against Advocate Vrinda Grover. The attempt is to hold Ms. Grover liable in a civil suit for her efforts towards bringing official cognizance of two complaints of sexual harassment at the workplace brought against Mr. R.K. Pachauri by two of his former colleagues.

Both these women have complained that they were sexually harassed at TERI by Mr. Pachauri much prior to the complainant of FIR dated 18th February 2015, in which Mr. R.K. Pachauri has now been charge-sheeted in February 2016. Alarmingly, despite the fact that Ms. Grover has sent repeated written communications to senior officers of the Delhi police informing them that her two clients would like their statements to be recorded, the police have till date not taken any steps in this regard.

The very public attack on Ms. Grover is a matter of concern for all those who, like the signatories to this letter, are struggling to deliver substantive justice under the laws on sexual harassment in the workplace in India today.

Firstly: All codes of professional ethics have been breached in this act of suing Ms. Grover for damages. Mr. Pachauri’s legal representative, Ashish Dixit, in The New Indian Express article titled “European Woman Accused Pachauri of Harassment”, dated 31st March 2016, has charged Ms. Grover of leading a “conspiracy to defame” Mr. R.K. Pachauri. This imputation of motives of a criminal nature to Ms. Grover, the opposing counsel, is a serious violation of the statutorily binding professional code of conduct and etiquette expected from advocates. This breach is made even more egregious by the fact that Ms. Grover is the woman lawyer representing two women in their complaints of sexual harassment by the petitioner, leading as it does to the inescapable conclusion that the civil suit is just a continuation of the intimidation and vilification of women (be they complainants or their lawyers) who have the temerity to pursue complaints of sexual harassment against powerful men.

Second: Given that laws and provisions legitimizing the grievance of workplace sexual harassment are relatively recent, investigation into such charges needs to record the complete history of every case that may be relevant to ongoing investigations. By refusing to record the statements of Ms. Grover’s clients against Mr. R.K. Pachauri for close to a year after Ms. Grover approached them on their behalf, the police has already demonstrated its lack of commitment to a full and vigorous investigation of these women’s grievances. Now, by suing Ms. Grover for acting on her clients’ instructions to make their statements public, Mr. Pachauri seeks to restrain her from executing her responsibilities to her clients. Clearly his intent is also to deny to these two women, and by implication all complainants, the right to share their experiences of sexual harassment in public when their every effort to access justice has been thwarted.

The fact of the matter is that this civil suit against Ms. Grover is yet another instance of the impunity with which Mr. Pachauri has been able to maintain his immunity with respect to his abuse of three women’s human rights. His objective in trying to gag Ms. Grover, is to consolidate the immunity given to him by his organisation TERI, by ‘cooperative’ police officials strangely reluctant to record the two statements that will strengthen the case against him, and amenable sections of the media which have buttressed his claims of being framed in the charges against him.

Over the past month or so, Mr. Pachauri has courted the international media. In interviews given to The Guardian and The Observer, he presents himself as a man beleaguered and hounded by climate-change skeptics and women activists, conflating women activists taking up charges of sexual harassment with climate change sceptics. The three women complainants it should be pointed out were working for the cause of climate change to the point of enduring sexual harassment from Pachauri, which makes such a charge of belittling the cause of climate change absolutely ridiculous.

As individuals and organizations committed to the implementation of the country’s laws on sexual harassment in the workplace, we condemn in the strongest terms Mr. Pachauri’s shamelessly transparent bid to influence the sub judice case about to enter its trial phase in a month’s time

The fact that Mr. Pachauri’s suit is also directed simultaneously at prominent Indian media houses, such as Bennet Coleman, NDTV, and India Today, reveals an intent aimed at throttling all public reference to the complaints of sexual harassment against him.

Furthermore, we would like to emphasise that Mr. Pachauri’s suit against opposing counsel has implications that will have a chilling effect on complaints of sexual harassment, as it has all the characteristics of an instance of strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP). Such legal actions are intended to censor, intimidate, and silence critics by burdening them with the cost of a legal defence until they abandon their criticism or opposition. In addition, since Mr. Pachauri’s suit also targets prominent media houses, the aim is perpetuation of a social space in which only Mr. Pachauri’s defence and allegations against complainant(s) holds sway, thereby creating an atmosphere that is in general disbelieving and often downright hostile to complainant(s) and their efforts to access justice.

Accordingly, we demand that official cognizance be taken of the attempt to intimidate Ms. Grover and her clients. Mr Pachauri’s actions suggest that he has learnt nothing from the failure of his earlier attempts to silence the complainants. Mr. Pachauri it appears is finding it difficult to understand that he can no longer evade the law and he will have to face legal consequences.

We expect those who bear the responsibility of bringing him to justice, to convey this message to Mr. Pachauri in clear and unambiguous terms. We also urge the National Commission for Women to maintain oversight of the pre-trial process and ensure that it is not influenced or subverted by those who seek to protect Mr.Pachauri from the consequences of his actions.

We call upon all like-minded individuals and organizations to join us in supporting the right of Advocate Vrinda Grover to pursue this case and bring justice where it is due.

Hyderabad University strike: Women´s groups extend support to students as police and administration continue to use brutal force on protesters


The strategy of the BJP government – to crush all dissent and establish a totalitarian saffron regime in institutions of higher education – is now visible in campuses across the country, from Hyderabad to JNU, Pune and Chennai

WSS strongly condemns the brutal police action against the students of the University of Hyderabad. The students, who were exercising their democratic right to protest, were lathi-charged, beaten and manhandled and women students were mauled and threatened with sexual assault. Students and faculty members were forcibly dragged into police vans, thrashed and moved from thana to thana to prevent them from contacting their lawyers and families. They have also been mercilessly beaten while in custody. As many as 34 students and three faculty members have been sent to jail – the beatings have continued even after remand.

For the last two months, the students of the Universty of Hyderabad have been protesting the institutional murder of Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula. Their campaign for justice for Rohith has reverberated across the country and has rallied thousands in support of their call for an end to caste discrimination in educational institutions.

The police action follows hard on the heels of the re-appearance of the VC on the campus. This individual is one of the key actors in the events leading to Rohith’s death, and stands charged with offences under the SC/ST Atrocities Act. He was supposedly on indefinite leave pending the results of the inquiry instituted against him, and the students protested against this stealthy attempt at his re-instatement with a gherao of the VC’s lodge.

The response of the Government of Telengana and the University has been to turn the campus into a war zone. The students are under siege – hostel messes have been locked down, electricity and water have been cut off and the gates sealed to prevent the entry of media persons and “outsiders” trying to provide food, water and medical aid to the injured. Students who have volunteered to keep the kitchens running to feed their comrades have been beaten and their provisions confiscated. At least one of these volunteers is critically injured and still not out of danger. The media is being fed with concocted reports that are contradicted by video footage taken by students, with testimonies describing the attacks and showing their injuries. The continued presence on the campus of large numbers of armed police tells its own story.

The HRD Ministry is brazenly using every possible instrument to foist their regressive, limited and flawed version of education on the academic community. The government has shown its willingness to use force to stifle critical enquiry and independent thought, and to silence dissent and questioning

The strategy of the BJP government – to crush all dissent and establish a totalitarian saffron regime in institutions of higher education – is now visible in campuses across the country, from Hyderabad to JNU, Pune and Chennai.

We stand strongly with the students of the University of Hyderabad in their struggle to protect democracy on the campus and to challenge and combat casteism and discrimination in educational institutions. We salute them, and their comrades in struggle in universities across the country, for bringing new energy and hope to our democracy through their determined opposition to the repressive casteist, communal and patriarchal ideology and world view that the Hindutvavadi regime seeks to foist on us.

We salute Radhika Vemula for her determination to claim justice for her son and for the lakhs of Dalit students who are daily facing violence and discrimination in their pursuit of education.

We condemn the actions of the state government, which has shown its subservience to the Modi sarkar and cynically sold out its commitment to the students without whom Telengana would not have come into being.

We demand
Immediate withdrawal of police from the campus.
Immediate release of all arrested students and faculty.
Suspension of P Appa Rao.
Judicial enquiry into the role of the HRD Ministry, the HRD Minister and Sri Bandaru Dattatreya in inciting violence against Dalits on campus.
Independent enquiry into the incidents of violence on the campus including the role of the ABVP in vandalising the VC’s office.
Action against police personnel named by students in their complaints.
Passage of the “Rohith Act” against caste discrimination in education.

Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS)

Featured photo courtesy: Bilal Veliancode

Maternity entitlements must be universal and unconditional

Women's-rights- India

On the occasion of International Women’s Day, Women and civil organisations write to Prime Minister demanding immediate implementation of the National Food Security Act of 2013

By Team FI

In an open letter to the Prime Minister on the occasion of the International Women’s Day, 8th March, 2016, women and other concerned civil society organisations have asked for the immediate implementation of the National Food Security Act 2013, under which the Central Scheme for Maternity Entitlements would extend its outreach to atleast 200-high priority districts which includes those villages with a higher percentage of tribal population.

The letter demanded that the “universal guarantee of at least Rs. 6000/- is only to be read as a beginning, and it should subsequently be rationalised as wage compensation.” More importantly the letter has demanded that “Maternity entitlements in all sectors must be universal and unconditional, and not linked to the number of children or age of the woman, as that is fundamentally discriminatory to both women and children.”

The letter signed by National Alliance For Maternal Health And Human Rights (NAMHHR), the ECD Alliance, the Working Group for Children Under Six and the Right to Food Campaign, India also asked for the “progressive realisation of nine months of maternity leave (three months before childbirth to six months after) with full compensation of wages for all women, calculated at least according to minimum wages at prevalent rates.” They have asked that this revised Maternity Benefits Act (1961) recognise “women’s work in all spheres, markets, domestic, for care and reproduction and subsistence; and guarantee maternity entitlements to all pregnant women, adoptive parent(s), surrogate mothers etc without discrimination.”

Given below is the full text of the letter:
An Open Letter to the Prime Minister of India on the occasion of 107th International Women’s Day, 8 March 2016

Dear Hon’ble Prime Minister,
We, the undersigned women’s organizations and other concerned groups, convey our greetings on the occasion of 8th March, Women’s Day. This day has been celebrated for more than a hundred years to commemorate the women’s movement’s struggles for equality, justice and peace across almost all countries of the world.

On this memorable occasion, we are aware that you and your colleagues will be making speeches and statements to indicate how much this nation values the contribution of its women to the country’s progress. We expect that many will praise women as mothers, caring family members and hard workers; we hope some will acknowledge the diverse struggles of women everywhere in securing freedom from violence and ensuring peace.

We appreciate your earlier efforts to promote the value of daughters and encourage education for the girl child. We therefore look forward to more announcements from you this year that will indicate just how much this nation, and your government, shows appreciation for the women of this country. We would especially like to draw your attention to women’s work that produces food, goods, services, and care for the household as well as children who will be the future workforce of India; yet women’s care work continues to remain invisible, unsupported and unshared. You must have noticed how everywhere women work simultaneously in fields, forests, water bodies, and at home; providing water, fuel, fodder, cooking, cleaning, caring of children, sick, elderly, yet they are often unpaid and sometimes get much lesser wages than men on farms, work sites, factories, and markets. In fact unpaid care and household work by women, even though it is ten times as much as men, remains unrecognized and unaccounted for in the System of National Accounts (SNA).

The McKinsey report (The Power of Parity, 2015) points out how the gender gap in employment is exacerbated by unfair conditions for working women who become pregnant. In India 95% women workers are in the informal and unorganized sector and do not receive any wage compensation during pregnancy and after childbirth, although we expect them to rest, gain weight, improve their own health and then provide the baby with exclusive breastfeeding for six months. The Economic Survey of India 2016 (Ministry of Finance, Government of India) points out that ‘42.2% Indian women begin pregnancy too thin and do not gain enough weight during pregnancy’ and recommends that ‘some of the highest economic returns to public investment in human capital in India lie in maternal and early life health and nutrition interventions.’

Sir, on the occasion of Women’s Day we would earnestly request you to announce some substantial entitlements for women that would show very tangibly how much this country values women’s contribution to society and their families: as workers, as mothers and as valuable members of communities.

I. At the very least, we expect your leadership in immediate implementation of the National Food Security Act 2013, within which:

a. The Central Scheme for Maternity Entitlements should immediately be up-scaled from its pilot phase into at least 200 high-priority districts especially including those with a larger proportion of tribal (ST) population. The universal guarantee of at least Rs. 6000/- is only to be read as a beginning, and it should subsequently be rationalised as wage compensation.

b. Maternity entitlements in all sectors must be universal and unconditional, and not linked to the number of children or age of the woman, as that is fundamentally discriminatory to both women and children.

c. Supplementary nutrition through locally prepared foods – preferably hot cooked meals to be supplied to all pregnant and lactating women at the local Angawadi centre. The money invested for such a meal is highly inadequate currently under the ICDS program, leading to poor quality and quantity of the supplementary nutrition

d. The public distribution system must provide universal access to 10 kgs of cereals, I kg of pulses and 1 kg of oil rations under the NFSA.

II. We also hope within a short time to see:
a. The progressive realisation of nine months of maternity leave (three months before childbirth to six months after) with full compensation of wages for all women, calculated at least according to minimum wages at prevalent rates. This revision of the Maternity Benefits Act (1961) should recognise women’s work in all spheres, markets, domestic, for care and reproduction and subsistence; and guarantee maternity entitlements to all pregnant women, adoptive parent(s), surrogate mothers etc without discrimination.

b. Large scale campaigns that call upon men to increase their contribution to care work and domestic chores, and reduce the burden on women.

c. Creche and breastfeeding facilities at every work place and community (through Anganwadi-cum-creches) to be made mandatory to ensure women can continue to work and care for the infant.

d. Financial resources for maternity entitlements and crèches should come from all economic activities in the country as a state obligation to ensure entitlements and services, since reproduction is a social function which benefits the family, society and the nation.

Sir, on the occasion of Women’s Day, while paying compliments and appreciating the role of women, we are sure the government would want to change the embarrassingly inadequate allocation of 400 crores for Maternity Entitlements against the requirement of 15000 crore annually. We urge you to translate rhetoric into action by allocating resources for social security in maternity, and acknowledging unpaid reproductive work done by women in this country, even as you greet them on this Women’s Day.

Signed on behalf of: National Alliance For Maternal Health And Human Rights (NAMHHR), the ECD Alliance, the Working Group for Children Under Six and the Right to Food Campaign, India

Sex workers express solidarity with JNU students, demand Azadi from `Goddess’ Durga


Veshya Anyay Mutki Parishad writes to Jawaharlal Nehru University students expressing solidarity with their fight against right-wing orchestrated violence and intimidation

Dear Students of JNU,
Salute! Jai Bhim! Laal salam! We will win this war against sedition! March 3rd, International Sex workers Rights Day, Zindabad!

We write from the sex worker’s rights movement to hail your struggle and to add to the discourse you have sparked. We would like to discuss why using the term sex worker in the alleged pamphlet in JNU on Mahishasura Martydom Day is a concept fraught with the Whore Stigma. The use of the politically correct sex worker instead of the commonly used `prostitute’ does not take away from the fact that it is used to depict an insalubrious deed. The use of this term has only led to more misunderstandings of the term itself.

Sex worker is the term used by the sex worker’s rights movement in order to claim dignity to the work adults do consensually by providing sexual services for money. The sex workers use this term to give dignity to those that exchange sexual services for money but the use here is to supposedly strip the `goddess’ in this instance, of any dignity. The term since then has taken a life of its own. From a politically correct term it is now being used to describe anti-nationals, anti-goddesses even anti- patriarchy! But the thinly veiled contempt for the sex worker is huge in every utterance, from the Hindu Goddess Durga to the `anti-national’ women students in JNU.

It was brought to the nation on Februrary 24, 2016 when an alleged pamphlet issued in JNU to mark Mahishasura Martydom Day, October 2014 was produced in Parliament by Minister for Education Ms. Smriti Irani stating that it contained offensive material regarding the “Durga Puja”— “where a fair skinned beautiful goddess Durga is depicted brutally killing a dark-skinned native called “Mahishasura, a brave self-respecting leader, tricked into marriage by Aryans. They hired a sex worker called Durga, who enticed Mahishasura into marriage and killed him after nine nights of honeymooning, during sleep.” The pamphlet was issued on “Mahishasura Martyrdom Day” observed by scheduled tribe, scheduled caste, other backward caste and minority students of JNU.

The minister asked for forgiveness from her god to even utter the words as printed in the pamphlet. The use of the politically correct term sex worker and the use of the words like enticed and honeymoon to depict sexual exchange are the reason for the chocked anger of Ms. Irani. Would it have been better for the pamphlet not to have used the term sex worker? Because I cannot see what else the minister could have to ask forgiveness for, a fair skinned woman enticing Mahishasur and killing him is a well-accepted concept among the tribals, whether the woman was Durga is unclear.

Earlier on February 13th Jawahar Yadav, former Officer on Special Duty to the Chief Minister of Haryana In his tweet, Yadav wrote “For the girls who are protesting in JNU, I only have one thing to say that prostitutes who sell their body are better than them because they atleast don’t sell their country”.

Almost after two hours, Yadav wrote a clarification and deleted his previous tweet. In the clarification he said: “No girl has been compared to any prostitute in my previous tweet. Instead I meant that the girls who are forced to enter prostitution are rather better than the girls who were protesting in JNU and raising anti-India slogans, Pakistan Zindabad slogans. The daughters and sisters who are forced to sell their body are better than the girls who were demanding the freedom of Kashmir and Kerala and shouting that their fight will continue till India is destroyed.”

To continue this saga, on 27th February Devdutt Patnaik has written a piece on `How patriarchy makes ‘sex worker’ a term of abuse’ where he explains that, The Goddess as a free woman discomforts many, who cannot bear to see any female, divine or otherwise, in positions of power. His analysis however is very far away from this misleading headline in the Daily O. Devdutt’s simplistic analysis cannot move away from its moral frame of the single woman who has to satisfy `the unsavoury yearnings of men’. Mr. Patnaik also falls into the same trap of having a very interesting analysis but not addressing why the term sex work cannot be used interchangeably with the stigmatising concept of the `prostitute’.

Then on February 29th there is the headline, ‘Threatened and termed a sex worker after Mahishashura debate’: Asianet News editor Sindhu to TNM. Now we move from the alleged JNU pamphlet to the discussion on the Mahishasura Martydom day and all hell breaks loose. The anchor is threatened with life and also called a sex worker.

The mobile number of Sindhu Sooryakumar, the Chief Coordinating Editor of Asianet News, was circulated on WhatsApp allegedly by activists of right wing groups offended by a TV programme where members of Congress, BJP and Left parties debated whether celebrating Mahishasura, a common custom among certain tribes in India, is enough to accuse students of Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University of “anti-national” activities.

This constant reference to sex work and women in sex work in particular is made to stigmatise and put down the woman it is describing. It is used to depict sleaze, disgust, distaste and revulsion. Mere use of the politically correct term has not taken away the whore stigma attached to the term `prostitute’ if it is used to divide women into the `good and the bad’.

The sex worker rights movement would like to bring to your notice the fact that it is therandi [whore] stigma that pushes sex workers outside the rights framework, effectively cutting them off from privileges and rights supposedly accorded to all citizens irrespective of what they do for a living. Stigmatization, which has its roots in the standards set by patriarchal morality, is experienced as the major factor that prevent sexworkers from accessing their rights. In the real world of sex workers, the lives of women in sex work are particularly held hostage. Stigmatization impacts the lives of women in more ways than one. Some of the rights denied due to discrimination are: freedom from physical and mental abuse; the right to education and information; health care, housing; social security and welfare services to name but a few.

We also demand Azadi!

Azadi from discrimination, azadi from the violence of a judgemental attitude, azadi from the multiplicity of injustice meted out to sex works, Azadi from the loose use of the politically correct but deeply stigmatised use of the term sex worker.Sex workers demand Azadi from `Goddess’ Durga

In solidarity,
Shabana Khazi, Durga Pujari, Kiran Deshmukh, Chanda Vazane, Neelawa Siddereddy, Suvarna Ingalgave, Meenakshi Kamble, Raosaheb More, Sudhir Patil, Aarthi Pai, Meena Saraswathi Seshu.

Veshya Anyay Mutki Parishad

Muskan [ TG and Male sex workers]