Tag Archive for women’s rights

Indian feminists issue Womanifesto on March 8

Anti-rape-protest-India

Feminists issue a Womanifesto today in New Delhi declaring their stake in the national elections

By Team FI
On International Women’s Day, keeping the upcoming Lok Sabha election in mind, women’s groups and feminists in India have released a ‘Womanifesto’ – a six point plan to ensure gender equality. Demanding an end to the treatment of women who constitute nearly half of the electorate as politically unimportant, activists are seeking endorsements from political parties and candidates who are contesting the 2014 Loka Sabha elections.

The full text of the Womanifesto:
A freedom movement for women has caught fire. Citizens across the country are demanding an end to the generations-deep violence and suppression faced by hundreds of millions of Indian women and girls. Voters are calling on elected officials to commit the resources and political will for change now. This Indian Womanifesto is a 6-point plan critical to the freedom and safety, equality and flourishing of India’s women and girls. All candidates for the 2014 Lok Sabha should commit to:

1. Educate for equality: We will implement comprehensive, well-funded and long-term public education programmes to end the culture of gender-based discrimination and violence. These will include: SMS, radio and TV public service campaigns, accessible lesson plans for schools, modules for training teachers and to train professionals such as doctors and lawyers. To this end we will reach men, women, boys and girls in both urban and rural areas.

2. Make laws count: We will ensure each government agency produces a detailed action-plan to implement laws to end violence against women, and we will fund it. We will work with state governments to provide comprehensive services to women who are victims of violent crimes, helping them to fund and set up one-stop, 24-hour crisis centres and safe shelters in each police district, and to give swift financial compensation. We will create and fund a comprehensive scheme to prevent sexual abuse of children, including safe childcare for children in villages and urban jhuggis, and awareness campaigns among children and parents. We will work with state governments to establish responsive and fair fast track courts for crimes of violence against women and raise the number of judges to 30 per 100,000 population. We will also ensure increased access to accountable legal aid, ensure that money damages are rapidly paid by the State in cases of sexual violence, and create robust witness protection programmes.

3. Put women in power: We will support the Women’s Reservation Bill in the Lok Sabha, and ensure that women will be represented in all councils, committees and task forces related to policy and practice across the board. We will support the adoption of a Code of Conduct to disqualify electoral candidates who have committed offences of gender-related violence and end misogynist comments and behaviour in the Lok Sabha. We will strengthen the autonomous functioning of the National and State Commissions for Women, with experienced professionals being selected through a transparent process.

4. Police for the people: We will establish and enforce a comprehensive response protocol for crimes against women, and publicise it. We will work with state governments to change service rules and ensure police and prosecutorial recruitment, promotion and penalties are made on attitudes and performances based on gender. We commit to implementing police reforms and to ensure that police personnel who breach the new procedures are investigated and disciplined accordingly. We will also establish rape crisis response teams, with rural and urban pilot projects. There will be zero tolerance of moral policing by Statenon-State actors.

5. Swift, certain justice: We will support amendments to laws that perpetuate violence and discrimination against women and sexual minorities, and those that directly/indirectly sanction discrimination against women on the basis of religion, caste, sexuality, age, economic status or disability. We will stringently implement the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostics Technique Act. We will support the amendment of existing laws, to remove the marital rape exemption, repeal Section 377 IPC and make sure that the rape of any person is criminal. We will change the law so that consenting couples aged 16 and 17 do not fall foul of rape laws. We will remove the impunity to perpetrators of custodial rape under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act and will appoint special commissioners in conflict areas to monitor and prosecute sexual offences. We will enact the Prevention of Atrocities (Amendment) Bill to stop crimes against dalit and adivasi women and commit to a strong law against communal violence that holds state and non-state actors accountable. We will take strong action against racial discrimination and violence against women from the North-East. We will push to enact a special law to combat honour crimes. We will take steps to bring speedy justice in long-pending cases of communal and caste massacres, as well as custodial rapes.

6. Economic flourishing: We will ensure secure, dignified, remunerative employment for women. Action plans will be created to secure equal pay for equal work in all sectors; provide creches and other critical support to MNREGA workers; rights, dignity and minimum wage to all women workers in the organised and unorganised sectors. We will grant government employee status to workers in ‘voluntary’ schemes where women work with informal honorariums. We will push to amend the law to address the range of unfair discrimination at work, including in the unorganised sector and we commit to implementing the Central Government mandate under the sexual harassment law. We will bring universal, non-contributory old age pensions for women. We will create action plans to accelerate quality education for girls. We will devise a scheme to ensure that women achieve equal property rights in natal families and fair shares through marriage. Public toilets shall be set up, especially in the poorest areas, and all women will have access to regular, safe public transport.We will ensure development justice for women and respect community rights to resources. All action plans will include infrastructure, personnel, training, monitoring and evaluation, resourced by central finances.

Do not go gently into the night

Sunila Abeysekera

Remembering Sunila Abeysekera, singer, fighter, writer, and leader whose commitment to human rights drew her to the centre of all social movements struggling for rights

By Vasanth Kannabiran

Sunila is gone. It is hard to imagine or accept the fact that we will not see her smile again, see her honeyed eyes sparkle as her brilliant smile embraced you. Hard to accept that the humour and warmth she radiated in the movement is gone. She was special and beautiful. A beauty that sprang from the life she had led, the struggles she had led, the passion and compassion that engulfed her.

I met Sunila for the first time in Bangalore with Subha, a suckling child in her arms. Her clarity and keen vision were striking then as later when it was honed over the years. Her interventions, her songs, her presence were such a pleasure to the whole South Asian group meeting there. She was then the younger woman to many of us looking fondly on her. Fresh from doing her Masters in The Hague she said how different it was to be with a small child in this group and how alone she felt at times despite supporting friends abroad. And her thank you included a thank you for welcoming Subha. After that we met time and again and she visited us at New Jersey when she was with the Global Center and my grand daughter Ramya was just born. She always asked about her warmly for years after.

Born in 1952 in Sri Lanka, Sunila was active in the Women’s Human Rights movement. She worked unceasingly for peace, reconciliation, and freedom of the press. She fervently believed that “all human beings are inherently entitled to all human rights” and was an active member of the Free Media Movement. She intervened at multiple levels to protect and ascertain the freedom of the press. As an artist and singer she saw that the freedom of art is indivisibly linked to the freedom of the press.

As an anti war activist she was firmly opposed to military solutions to ethnic issues. She held dialogues with men and women in war afflicted areas at a practical level. Her commitment to human rights drew her to the centre of all social movements struggling for rights. Part of the Women and Media Collective in Sri Lanka, Sunila worked tirelessly to end violence against women and strengthen women politically. She worked with cultural groups to develop ways of expressing new and radical ideas through art.

Sunila was a well-known and active through the South Asian region and internationally. She was an activist who also was a scholar. She reconceptualised the nation state – looking at principles of good governance from a feminist perspective, addressing problems of representation and employing critical cultural theory.

Her contribution was acknowledged by the UN Human Rights Award she received in 1999.

She was an actor, a singer, a fighter, a writer, and a leader. Her struggles made her indispensable on every front. Living in strife torn Sri Lanka and speaking of human rights made her vulnerable and open to attack. But her involvement with the Mother’s committees, her work with feminist and human rights groups, her fearless honesty in appraising the situation in a land torn apart set her apart.

I remember asking her once how she managed so many children in the house. She laughed and said it was easy, “just stock lots of food and don’t get paranoid about a tidy house. Then it’s easy for everyone.” Sunila’s house was home to all her friend’s children, friends who were traveling, had disappeared or were gone.

I remember the last time I spent a day with her in her home in Colombo. We were lounging drinking beer and chatting, the sun slanting in through the window. Several young people walked in and Sunila greeted them with a warm smile. She then told me that the kids who were now scattered across the world would always drop in on Sunday if in Colombo. They were sure to meet any of the siblings who happened to be in Colombo at that time. I remember the large pots of hot rice and curry sitting warmly welcoming the children to the table. It was one of the most heart warming days in my life.

Sunila’s house was as large, warm, generous and welcoming as her heart. They don’t make that model any more. Sunila might live on in all our hearts but she is gone and the poorer we are for bread and roses.

A life well lived, rich with meaning, suffering, joy and sorrow. And with no regrets.

Vsanth Kannabiran is a feminist writer and activist

Featured photo courtesy: www.1000peacewomen.org.

Salutes to Vina Mazumdar, doyenne of women’s studies

Vina Mazumdar Obituary

Vina Mazumdar, veteran feminist and much loved pioneer of women’s studies movement in India passed away in New Delhi on 30 May 2013. She was 86

By Vibhuti Patel

With the passing away of Dr. Vina Mazumdar, fondly known as Vinadi, the Indian women’s movement has experienced an irreparable loss. Vinadi personified in her, a far sighted and strong willed thinker and a forceful speaker and convincing debater who had faith in ‘human goodness’.

Her intellectual prowess did not make her an ivory tower in her approach towards her colleagues and fellow travelers- academicians, policy makers, researchers and feminist activists. She always remained warm at heart, easy to approach, instantly building rapport, magnanimous in sharing her knowledge and institutional resources as director of Centre for Women’s Development Studies.

Her charm was in her electrifying persona, an always smiling face conveying optimism, down to earth approach, ideological sharpness, story-telling with witty humour and the most important courage of conviction combined with honesty of purpose. This is what explained her commanding agenda setting power, whether she was in the decision making bodies of University Grants Commission (UGC), Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR), Planning Commission of India and several ministries or outside of them. She could galvanize students, teachers, researchers, women’s organizations, trade unionists, bureaucrats, politicians and law makers into action as she was one of the best ‘argumentative Indians’ produced by ‘women’s studies movement’.

Vinadi was very good at coining catchy terms such as ‘women’s studies movement’, ‘the Indian psyche defined by binary ‘Ma’ versus “Maal’ – the dichotomy that worships motherhood and dehumanizes/commodifies the rest of women

Her contemporaries – powerful men in the Universities, research institutions and ministries called her ‘bulldozer’ while women scholars and practitioners found her the most trustworthy friend and mentor.

I worked closely with Vinadi during 1981 for the Women’s Studies Conference hosted by SNDT Women’s University, in 1985 for preparation of ‘End of the Decade’ alternate country report on Status of Women in India, in 1986 for a panel discussion on ‘Ante Natal Sex Selective and Abortions of Female Foetus in India’ for World Sociological Conference and in 1988 for a multi-centric research project on ‘Child Care as an Essential Input for women’s Development’.

Vina Mazumdar  was a great champion of participatory action research. Photo courtesy : Zubaan Books

Vina Mazumdar was a great champion of participatory action research. Photo courtesy : Zubaan Books

Vina Mazumdar was born in 1927 and completed her schooling in Calcutta. She did her honours course from Benaras Hindu University as well as Ashutosh College, Calcutta University and completed D.Phil. from Oxford University. In 1960, Once again she enrolled as a research scholar at Oxford University and within 2 years was awarded D.Phil.

She taught political science at Patna University and Berhampur University for couple of years. After that she joined UGC. She made a mark in the UGC Secretariat as an energetic Officer. She was also selected as a Fellow of the Indian Institute of Advanced Studies, Simla.

In 1972, when the Indian government agreed to honour the UN mandate to prepare a status report on women, Vinadi was appointed as Member Secretary of Committee on the Status of Women in India. Her unique contribution while preparation of landmark report “Towards Equality” as a researcher and her analytical rigour to explain material and ideological conditions that determined women’s predicament in India made her the most sought after scholar-activist during 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and the millennium era.

In 1974, When All India Institute of Medical Science began conducting a sample survey of amniocentesis to find out about foetal genetic conditions and easily managed to enroll 11000 pregnant women as volunteers for its research, the main interest of these volunteer pregnant women was to know sex of the foetus. Once the results were out, the women who were told that they were carrying female fetuses demanded abortion. When the young researcher of AIIMS shared this observation with Vinadi, she mobilised a women’s delegation to meet the health minister to stop abuse of amniocentesis for sex selective abortions.

During the International Women’s Year (1975), Vinadi was appointed as Director, Programme of Women’s Studies, ICSSR, for five years (1975-80). She was Founder-Director of the Centre for Women’s Development Studies, New Delhi from 1980 to 1991, and thereafter was Senior Fellow at CWDS and JP Naik National Fellow, ICSSR, for two years. From 1996-2013, Dr. Veena Mazumdar was the Chairperson, Centre for Women’s Development Studies, New Delhi. She was the heart and soul of Indian Association of Women’s Studies.

Vinadi’s writings provided road map for developmental initiatives. Her memoir, Memories of a Rolling Stone pulished by Zubaan Books in 2010 provides vivid description of her principles, programmes, and policy initiatives in collaboration with her team of ‘movers and shakers’.

Vinadi will remain with us with her insightful publications:
• Education & Social Change: Three Studies on Nineteenth Century India. Indian Institute of Advanced Study, 1972.
• Role of Rural Women in Development. University of Sussex. Institute of Development Studies. Allied Publishers, 1978.
• Symbols of Power: Studies on the Political Status of Women in India. Allied, 1979.
• Emergence of the Women’s Question in India and the Role of Women’s Studies. Centre for Women’s Development Studies, 1985.
• Peasant Women Organise for Empowerment: The Bankura Experiment. Centre for Women’s Development Studies. 1989.

Featured Photo: Vina Mazumdar while studying at Asutosh College, Calcutta – courtesy: Wikipedia

UN Commission commits to women’s rights

United Nations Flag

UN Women welcomes the outcome of 57th session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, held in New York, this week

By Team FI

The UN Women today welcomed the Agreed Conclusions of the 57th session of the United Nation’s Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), which concluded on Friday. In a press release, the UN Women have appreciated the document adopted by the Commission, which not only condemns the pervasive violence against women and girls but also focuses significantly on prevention – “through education and awareness-raising and addressing gender inequalities in the political, economic and social spheres.”

According to the press release, the document has underlined the importance of “multi-sectoral services for survivors of violence, including for health, psychological support and counseling, social support in the short and long term.”

Referring to the outcome as a testimony to the commitment of UN Member States to prevent and eliminate violence against women and girls, the UN Women stated that by adopting this document, the respective governments “have made clear that discrimination and violence against women and girls has no place in the 21st century.”

In 2003, when the Commission took up violence against women and human rights, Member States had failed to reach to an agreement.

Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood on Wednesday had called the proposed document un-Islamic. According to women’s rights activists, the Vatican, Russia and some Muslim nations had formed “an unholy alliance” to weaken a UN statement calling for tough global standards on combating violence against women.

Women’s organizations across the globe had expressed their alarm at the “constant negotiation of the language in the outcome document”. Women’s human rights are not to be negotiated away, said the press release endorsed by over 200 women’s groups and organizations and more than a hundred individuals, insisting that negotiations should not be re-opened “on the already established international agreements on women’s human rights.”

The 57th CSW had also seen the organizations and individuals of Arab Caucus express their concern over the positions taken by some Arab governments on violence against women. They accused their leadership of “increasingly using arguments based on religion, culture, tradition, or nationality to justify violence, discrimination and allow the violations against human rights and continue with impunity.”

The Arab Caucus representatives from non-governmental organizations underlined the fact that “the taboos and politicization of issues around sexuality are major hindrances to gender justice and the elimination and prevention of violence against women and girls in our countries. The denial of the existence of youth and premarital sexuality, extra-marital sexuality, sex work and same sex practices constitutes a dangerous threat to the well-being and public health in our societies.”

AFP news report suggests that western nations, particularly from Scandinavia, toned down demands for references to gay rights and sexual health rights to secure the agreement after two weeks of tense negotiations between the 193 UN member states.

Some 6,000 non-government groups were present in New York for the CSW meeting.

Dowry Victim Wants Death for Herself and Daughter

dowry death india

Dowry victim from Uttar Pradesh loses faith in legal system and asks President’s permission to kill self and daughter

By Team FI

Twenty nine year old Alpana Pandey, who hails from a poor family in Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh, has written to the President of India, to allow euthanasia for her and her 5-year-old daughter. The reason – she and her daughter have been deserted by her husband because her family could not furnish the dowry he demanded.

Alpana married Alok Pandey in 2005 and at the time of the marriage, her family had given some gold and money as dowry. In 2006, a year after her marriage, Alpana’s husband and her father-in-law allegedly began pressurising her to give a dowry of Rs 10 lakh. When Alpana’s father said that he could not afford to give such a large amount, she was allegedly starved by her husband’s family. According to the social worker, it was at this time that they came to know of her pregnancy. Her father-in-law insisted that she go in for a sex-determination test and when they found out that the foetus was female, Alpana was thrown out of her marital home. She and her daughter have since been living with her parents.

Alpana and her family wanted the in-laws to take her and the child back, but these pleas were ignored. Alok married another woman without divorcing Alpana and moved to Lucknow. Though Alpana has filed a complaint with the police and even met with the District Magistrate and the district Police chief, they have allegedly ignored her petition and no case has yet been filed.

According to Alpana, she sent the letter to the President seeking permission for euthanasia so that she and her daughter can end their sufferings. “I have lost faith in the legal system,” she said.

Dowry, traditionally an upper cast Hindu practice of the bride’s family offering wedding gifts to the bride-groom’s family, is now widely practiced by all religious communities across the country despite the law that prohibited dowry way back in 1967. In 1986, following nationwide campaigns and lobbying by women’s rights organisations, India amended its Penal Code to include section 304B and 498A which acknowledge harassment and cruelty by husbands and his relatives for dowry.

Women’s rights activists have been complaining that the police inaction and low rate of conviction make this social evil an acceptable practice in the country. According to statistics released by the National Crime Records Bureau, 8391 dowry death cases were reported in 2010 while the conviction rate was just 34%.

Featured Poster by National Commission for Women, Courtesy: Zubaan Poster Women

Soni Sori Case: Brutal Treatment Continues

soni sori AIMS

Soni Sori denied food, water and medicines for 24 hours on her way back to Raipur Jail from AIIMS, Delhi

By Team FI

Human rights activists have accused the Chhattisgarh Government of denying Soni Sori food, water and medicines immediately after her discharge from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences at New Delhi. After being treated at AIIMS after months of ill-treatment and improper medical treatment by the Chhattisgarh Government, Soni Sori was sent back to the Raipur Jail.

Soni Sori’s counsel, Mr. Colin Gonsalves had expressed his concern to the Chhattisgarh Government counsel, Mr. Atul Jha about no travel arrangements being made for her return to Chhattisgarh, to which Mr Jha assured Mr Gonsalves that every necessary precaution would be taken including, if need be, return to Raipur by flight. But despite these assurances, Soni Sori was taken to Raipur by train, in a crowded unreserved compartment. In scorching summer heat, she was made to stand for most of the 24 hour long train journey from Delhi to Raipur, despite her fragile health condition. With daytime temperatures touching 45 degrees Celsius, she was denied water, kept without food for the whole day and not even given the medicines prescribed to her by the doctors at AIIMS.

Soni Sori was brought to the AIIMS on May 10th at the behest of the Supreme Court which ordered immediate and urgent treatment to be provided to her. She was suffering from the  wounds inflicted on her during the sexual torture meted out to her in October, 2011 under police custody, which had been allowed to fester untreated in the jail. Consequently, she had grave secondary medical conditions, such as intermittent anal and vaginal bleeding, blisters on skin, difficulty in walking etc. at the time when she was brought to AIIMS.  Over the 5 weeks of her treatment in AIIMS, she seemed to have recovered significantly, due to regular and expert medical care provided to her.

According to activists it was sheer and deliberate negligence on part of the Chhattisgarh Government that led to such deterioration in Soni Sori’s health in the first place, that the Supreme Court had to order immediate medical intervention by AIIMS. The manner in which Soni Sori is being treated after her discharge from AIIMS once again raises serious concerns about the intention of the Chhattisgarh government in ensuring her health and safety.

“It is time for state violence against her to end,” urged activists who have asked the  Chhattisgarh Government to diligently follow the recommendations of AIIMS about rest, diet and medicines so that Soni Sori makes full recovery. They pointed out that the Indian Constitution guarantees under-trial prisoners basic human rights – Soni Sori rights need to be acknowledged.

It should be recalled that Soni Sori, an adivasi school teacher, had been subjected to brutal physical torture and sexual violence during her custody in the Dantewada police station on the night between 8th and 9th October, 2011.  Her torture had been confirmed by an independent medical examination conducted by the NRS Medical College and Hospital in Kolkata, during which stones lodged deep in her private parts had been recovered.

However, the medication prescribed by the NRS hospital had been discontinued by the jail authorities in Raipur Jail soon after her discharge, and Soni Sori had been denied any regular medical attention since the examination conducted by the NRS Hospital in October 2011.  In the absence of regular medical care and attention, Ms. Sori’s condition had steadily worsened, prompting the Supreme Court in June 2012 to order her to be brought to AIIMS in New Delhi for immediate medical treatment.

Women: Married to Personal Laws?

Girls India

In India, caste and religion seem to be the considering factors for deciding the marriageable age of a woman, rather than her constitutional right to self-determination

By Indira Jaising

The Delhi High Court ruling upholding the marriage of the 15-year-old Muslim girl, exposes the fault lines in the Indian Constitution. As usual, these cracks emerge where women reside. Why are women bereft of fundamental rights, why must “personal laws” and not the right to be human determine the public space which we inhabit?

The Delhi HC is not the only example of religious considerations influencing court judgements. Take this recent example of divided and contradictory policies on marriage from Rajasthan. The newly enacted Compulsory Registration of Marriages Act- 2009, requires the consent of the parents to register a marriage, if the girl is below 21 years of age. This means that though a girl may marry without parental consent after 18, she will not be able to register the marriage (make it legal) till she reaches the age of 21. The object here is to prevent inter-caste marriages and give parents an opportunity to oppose the marriage when a girl marries outside of caste.

The Rajasthan High Court also gave a judgement that Arya Samaj marriages cannot take place without parental consent. The Arya Samaj, a movement which came into existence in opposition to caste hierarchies, is now compelled to give way to caste based objections to marriage.

Perhaps what we need is a universally applicable law, regardless of religion, which makes all marriages below 16 void; make those marriages between 16 and 18 voidable; and rape within marriage outlawed. We also need to alter our laws relating to “kidnapping from lawful guardianship” which enable parents to file complaints of kidnapping when a daughter marries outside the caste, while they do not object to getting 15-year-olds married within caste.

Would the Delhi case ruling have been different if this had been a Hindu girl? She would have had the protection of a law which fixes the age of lawful marriage at 18, and not puberty. But that is only half the battle won. A marriage below the age of 18, even for a Hindu girl, is not void, just nearly voidable, putting the onus of avoiding the marriage on her.

Deciding ‘marriageable age’ is normally done on the basis of the right to health, to avoid early pregnancies, to ensure a degree of maturity at the age of marriage and the ability to protect oneself against exploitation and rape within marriage (which is however still not an offence)

Last month, India, in its attempt to tackle child sexual abuse, proposed to raise the age of consent for sex from 16 years to 18. Considering this, one wonders whether it makes any sense to permit marriages at 15, when the consent to sexual relations is raised to 18? The ability to feel sexually engaged is not dependent on laws fixing the age of consent. It is by and large recognised that a girl is capable of giving consent to sexual relations at the age of 16. Raising it to 18, however, will only enable more parents to bring charges of rape when they disapprove of the person with whom sex has taken place, making it a matter of “honour” for the family.

We need to look at age of marriage, age of consent, rape within marriage and kidnapping in an outer connected manner, recognising the dynamics of societal pressures but always in the context of the right to live a life of dignity and recognising the agency of the woman. In the Delhi HC case, marriage at 15, with the possible consequence of pregnancy, affects a girl child’s right to education, health and well being. It is these considerations rather than religious codes that must prevail when looking at the age of marriage.

Indira Jaising is the Additional Solicitor General of India and the Executive Director of Lawyers Collective.

Featured photo by Ramlath Kavil

Original articles published on feministsindia.com can be reproduced but due acknowledgement to the website is obligatory

Human Rights: India’s disappointing response to UN

child-labour

UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review urges India to ratify UN Convention against Torture and the UN Convention on Enforced Disappearances and repeal the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) while India defers response till September

By Team FI

The draft report of the Universal Periodic Review of India’s human rights record, conducted by the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) on 24 May 2012 and adopted on 30 May 2012, has submitted 169 recommendations to the Government of India (GoI). The review prepared by 80 countries includes recommendations to ratify the UN Convention against Torture and the UN Convention on Enforced Disappearances; to repeal the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA); to adopt the Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence Bill; to enact comprehensive reforms to address sexual violence and all acts of violence against women; to improve human rights training of police officers; to strengthen efforts to combat trafficking and address the inequities based on rural-urban divide.

Government of India declined to comment on the recommendations, deferring its response till before the plenary session of the HRC in Geneva in September 2012. According to Miloon Kothari, Convener of Working Group on Human Rights in India and the UN (WGHR), “We look forward to a constructive response from the GoI as it formulates responses to the many useful suggestions that are contained in the document adopted by the UN on May 30, 2012. These responses from the GoI should be formulated after thorough consultations with the Parliament, human rights institutions, civil society and independent institutions.”

However, as per the WGHR, India’s initial response during the UPR session  saw a “lack of acceptance of human rights challenges in the country and a mere reiteration of domestic laws, policies and Constitutional provisions by the Government of India” The press release of the organisation regretted that “the answers of the government did not address critical issues related to gaps in implementation of laws and enjoyment of rights, with India’s Attorney General who led the government delegation, stating in his opening address that, “India has the ability to self-correct.”

“By employing a defensive and largely self-righteous position at the HRC, GoI has, at least in its initial response at the HRC, once again lost the opportunity to constructively engage with the UN human rights system and in accepting the enormous human rights challenges it is faced with.”  Says Kothari.

During India’s first UPR in 2008, GoI had accepted recommendations to ratify the UN Convention against Torture (CAT) and the Convention against Enforced Disappearances (CED) which have however remained unfulfilled. The current UPR had several of the 80 countries which participated, reiterating these recommendations. However WGHR points out that while the GoI spoke about the Prevention of Torture Bill (PTB) which is pending before Parliament, it ignored the fact of the Bill’s non-compliance with the CAT’s definition of torture.

WGHR states that not only did the GoI didn’t comment on the ratification of CED but also “dodged the recommendations for repeal and review of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) by referring to the Supreme Court’s upholding of its constitutionality and by citing Army’s human rights cell as a redressal mechanism.”

Ms. Vrinda Grover, human rights lawyer and member of WGHR, expressed serious concerns at GoI’s misleading response to the HRC, “The refusal and reluctance of GoI to squarely address the issue of impunity under AFSPA, in spite of numerous recommendations by international bodies, government appointed committees and UN Special Rapporteurs is unacceptable in a country that proclaims to be the largest democracy in the world.”

In response to the several recommendations to ratify the Optional Protocol (complaint mechanism) to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), India during the UPR session had stated that its domestic legal remedies were adequate to address gender-based discrimination. WGHR regretted the fact that GoI did not engage substantially with recommendations made on issues relating to women, including maternal mortality, pre-natal sex selection, infanticide, sexual and gender-based violence, political participation of women, sexual harassment at the workplace, early/child marriage, harmful traditional practices, honour crimes, and trafficking.

WGHR was however appreciative of the GoI’s stand on the issue of homosexuality, where the government affirmed its support of the High Court of Delhi judgment decriminalizing homosexuality and stated that it would take a sensitive view of the matter that has been appealed in the Supreme Court.

Featured Photo by Ramlath Kavil

In Memoriam: Prof. Leela Dube (1923-2012)

Leela Dube

Renowned anthropologist and feminist scholar Leela Dube passed away at her residence in Delhi on 20 th May. She was 89. Fondly called Leeladee, Prof. Dube was one of the pioneers of feminist scholarship in India

By Vibhuti Patel

With the passing away of Professor Leela Dube, we have lost a stalwart who broadened the discipline of anthropology by introducing the insights of women’s studies and enriched women’s studies as a discipline by bringing in the technical expertise of an anthropologist.

A well known figure in Indian Sociological Society in the 70s, Leeladee was responsible for introducing women’s studies concerns in mainstream sociology. She played a crucial role in the 1984 World Sociological Congress in which women activists and women’s studies scholars played a dominant role through the Research Committee Women in Society (RC 32). Leeladee chaired a panel on “Declining Sex Ratio in India”, in which Dr. Ilina Sen gave a historical overview of deficit of women in India throughout history of Census of India. Prof. Vina Mazumdar passionately spoke on the finding of towards Equality Report and I spoke on “Sex Selective Abortions-An Abuse of Scientific Techniques of Amniocentesis”.

Leeladee summed up the session with her insightful comments on the tradition of son preference in India. Her greatness lay in synthesizing complex concerns and providing an analytical framework in a lucid and convincing way. In a debate on sex selective abortions carried out in EPW during 1982-1986, her contribution was immense and her predictions about direct relationship of deficit of women and increased violence against women has proved to be true in the subsequent years.

Due to team efforts of women’s studies scholars like Prof. Leela Dube, RC 32 got institutionalized in World Sociological Congress. She invited many activists for the 12th International Congress of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences, Zagreb, erstwhile Yugoslavia, in 1988 to present paper on “Codification of Customary Laws into Family Laws in Asia”. In the Congress, Leedadee’s speech on feminist anthropologist Eleanor Leacock provided new insights into departure of the feminist anthropologists from its colonial legacy of “Big brother watching you”. The power relations between the North and the South in construction of knowledge and the hegemonic presence of ETIC approach in academics were questioned by Leacock as well as Leeladee who propagated “dialogical approach” in anthropological and ethnographic research.

I respected her from a distance. I was too awe-struck to go close to her but always appreciated her sharp, witty comments during academic sessions and tea and lunch breaks at innumerable seminars, workshops and at Indian Association of Women’s Studies Conferences held every two years. She was appreciative of our campaign against sex selection. During 1981 and 1991, I got to listen to her speeches, deliberations and arguments as I used to be one of the rapporteurs in most of the programmes in women’s studies held in Mumbai and Delhi.

leela dube, Indian feminism, feminist scholars

Clockwise: Vina Mazumdar, Hanna Papanek, Gail Omvedt, Neera Desai and Leela Dube in Segovia, Spain, July 1990. Photo Courtesy: Vibhuti Patel

Each time I heard her, I got more motivated to read her papers and later on her books. Her work on Lakshadweep island’s matrilineal Muslim community- Matriliny and Islam: Religion and society in the Laccadives (1969)- was an eye-opener so was her deconstruction of polyandry in Himalayan tribes in the context of women’s workload of collection of fuel, fodder, water, looking after livestock and kitchen gardening in mountainous terrain, resulting into high maternal mortality and adverse sex ratio. She showed interconnections between factors responsible for social construction of women’s sexuality, fertility and labour, rooted in the political economy.

Her highly celebrated book Anthropological Explorations in Gender: Intersecting Fields (2001) is a landmark contribution in feminist anthropology in India. It examines gender, kinship and culture by sourcing a variety of distinct and unconventional materials such as folk tales, folk songs, proverbs, legends, myths to construct ethnographic profile of feminist thoughts. She provides a nuanced understanding on socialization of girl child in a patriarchal family, “seed and soil” theory propagated by Hindu scriptures and epics symbolizing domination-subordination power relationship between men and women.

Her meticulously researched piece On the Construction of Gender: Hindu Girls in Patrilineal India in the Economic and Political Weekly (1988), was used by women’s groups for study circles and training programmes. The volume Women, Work, and Family (1990) in the series on Women and Households, Structures and Strategies, co-edited by Leela Dube and Rajni Palriwala was extremely useful in teaching women’s studies in Economics, Sociology, Geography, Social Work and Governance courses. Her book, Women and Kinship: Comparative Perspectives on Gender in South and South-East Asia (1997) argued that kinship systems provide an important context in which gender relations are located in personal and public arena.

The co-edited volume Visibility and Power: Essays on Women in Society and Development by Leela Dube, Eleanor Leacock and Shirley Ardener (OUP 1986) provided international perspective on the anthropology of women in the context of socio-political setting of India, Iran, Malaysia, Brazil, and Yugoslavia.

After Prof. Iravati Karve, Prof. Leela Dube was the only scholar who made a path-breaking contribution in anthropology with gender sensitivity in India. Leeladee made a mammoth contribution in bringing academic credibility to women’s studies through her scholarly endeavours.

Vibhuti Patel is active in the women’s movement in India since 1972 and currently teaching at SNDT Women’s University, Mumbai.

Featured Photo by: Mukul Dube