#India- Politician blames item songs in films for #Rape #Vaw #WTFnews


GIRIDHAR JHA   |   MAIL TODAY  |   PATNA, JANUARY 15, 2013 | UPDATED 19:42 IST

JDU leader Shivanand Tiwari puts foot in his mouth, blames items songs in films for the rise in crime such as rape against women in recent times

Is it right to blame item songs for reason behind crime like rape?
Is it right to blame item songs for reason behind crime like rape?
Veteran Janata Dal-United leader Shivanand Tiwari is at it again.After raising the hackles of the leaders of his party’s coalition partner Bharatiya Janata Party over his remarks on the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief Mohan Bhagwat recently, the Rajya Sabha MP has blamed the items songs in films for the rise in crime such as rape against women in recent times.”Item songs in today’s films are extremely titillating,” he said in Patna on Monday. “Who will not get carried away after watching them?”

Ravi Kishan with Sambhavna Seth
Bhojpuri superstar Ravi Kishan with item girl Sambhavna Seth.

The 70-year-old leader, who is the national spokesman of JD-U, said that one had heard of mythological tales about the dances of the apsaras (celestial beauties) who were sent on earth to interrupt the meditation of the sages. “I think their dances must have been something like today’s item songs in films,” he stated.

Tiwari said that women were being blatantly projected as a commodity in films and advertisements in the post-liberalisation era which was casting a bad impression on the minds of the youngsters. He said that the projection of women as an object of desire and the double meaning dialogues in the films provoked men to commit crimes such as rape. He said that concerted efforts should be made by all in society to check such tendencies. “It is a very serious matter,” he said.

The Rajya Sabha MP’s statement, however, irked the item girls from the film industry. Sambhavna Seth, the highest paid item girl from the Bhojpuri cinema, said that Tiwari’s views were nothing but a bundle of rubbish. “I think his comments do not even deserve any comments,” she said. “He must be having some problems in his mind to think like that. He needs help.”
Seth, often called the “Helen of Bhojpuri cinema”, said that item songs were not a new phenomenon. “Hindi movies have had so many item numbers by Helen in the past,” she said. “Why did they not lead to rape cases earlier?.”

Shivanand Tiwari (right) with Bihar CM Nitish Kumar
Janata Dal-United leader Shivanand Tiwari (right) with Bihar CM Nitish Kumar.

Seth said that crime against women was a serious issue and it should not be trivilaised by linking it to item songs.

Another item song specialist Seema Singh said that it was silly to single out item songs in the films as being responsible for the rape and other crime cases against women. “I have performed more than 250 item songs in 170 Bhojpuri films and I can tell you that I have never received any lewd remark from any of my fans,” she said.

Singh said that she was popular as an ‘item girl’ among cine-goers in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh and it was not a stigma to her image as a film actress. “I get a lot of love and adulation from the family audience wherever I go,” she said. “I am rather proud of my item songs which have made me popular among my fans.”

Singh, who has performed the maximum number of item songs in the films of any language, said that some people had tried to look down upon Rakhi Sawant as an item girl in Bollywood but she fought against all prejudices to attain a respectable position in the film industry. “It is high time the politicians stopped blaming the item songs for something as serious as rape,” she said.

 

#India -7-year-old school girl raped in a toilet in Goa , headmistress detained for negligence


PTI  PANAJI, JANUARY 15, 2013 | UPDATED 10:44 IST

Representational graphic
Police said that they had still not been able to nab the accused.

A seven-year-old girl wasraped at her school in the port town of Vasco, resulting in huge protests here on Monday night.

Police have detained the headmistress of the school on charges of negligence.

The second grade student was sexually abused in the school toilet next to the office of the headmistress during recess on Monday, by an unidentified person, police saidon Tuesday.

The incident came to light after the minor complained of pain and was referred for medical examination.

Several parents and locals protested outside the school on Monday night questioning the negligence on the part of the school management. As the situation turned tense, Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar visited the spot late last night assuring stern action against the accused.

“We will not spare the accused and anyone involved in this crime,” Parrikar said, following which police detained the headmistress.

Police said the culprit is yet to be arrested. A sketch has been prepared based on the description provided by the victim, they said.

Incidentally, the school has been one of the well guarded institute with Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) personnel posted at the gate.

Goa Crime Branch to probe seven-year-old’s rape

The Crime Branch has been directed to probe the rape of a seven-year-old girl in the school premises in Vasco, Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar said Tuesday.

While the rapist is still at large, Crime Branch officials have arrested the headmistress of the school for inordinately delaying the registration of a first information report (FIR).

“The Crime Branch will probe the complaint of rape and negligence by the headmistress separately,” the chief minister said.

The chief minister, along with top administration and police officials, had to rush to the school Monday night after irate residents and friends of the victim’s parents laid siege and did not allow the staff to step out.

According to the police, the girl was found Monday in a state of shock in the school toilet, after being raped by an unknown person who had slipped into the school premises in Vasco, 40 km from here.

The education ministry, which is headed by Parrikar, has ordered the school shut for two days in view of public ire.

With IANS inputs.

 

 

#India- Odisha gang-rape rape victim dies #Vaw


Blood lust mars India’s Tiananmen moment #Vaw #delhigangrape

PTI | Jan 15, 2013,

BHUBANESWAR: A minor girl, who was gang-raped in Odisha’s Rayagada town about a week ago, died at a private hospital at Visakhapatanam on Tuesday.

“The girl passed away at about 3.45pm on Tuesday in a private hospital at Visakhapatanam,” Rayagada district collector SS Padhi told over phone.

The 16-year-old orphan, unable to bear the ignominy, had tried to immolate herself and had suffered over 80 per cent burns. She succumbed to her burn injuries after battling for life for about eight days.

She was admitted to the Vishakhapatnam hospital on January 7.

The girl was forcibly taken away to a nearby jungle when she was returning home from work on the evening of January 2 and gang-raped by four persons, the police said adding she tried to immolate herself the next day.

The girl was staying with her grandmother.

Meanwhile, the police have arrested four persons in connection with the incident based on the statement given by the girl.

“Four youths have been arrested and lodged at jail in two phases. We will submit the charsgesheet within 30 days of the incident,” Rayagada superintendent of police Rajesh Pandit said.

#India- Against Castration for Rapists #Vaw #Justice


JANUARY 15, 2013

Guest post by HIMIKA BHATTACHARYA AND DEEPTI MISRI, kafila.org 

some-protestors-have-been-calling-for-rapists-to-be-castrated

The public preoccupation with both the death penalty and castration as punishment for rape continued last week, with the Pakistani activist Asma Jahangir reportedly suggesting that the rapists of the Delhi rape case be either punished with castration or else face the death penalty.[1]The consistent demand for punitive castration in India may be somewhat boosted by the Indian media reporting the following developments – last week, the South Korean court ordered Asia’s first chemical castration[2]; the Malaysian bar is pushing for castration[3] as a punishment for repeat sex offenders; and that such punishment has reportedly been long used in other countries[4]such as Germany, Denmark, and some states in the U.S.

The most recent demands for castration can broadly be divided into two categories: popular and legal. Here we wish to problematize both, the legal and popular demands for castration by drawing out the reductive understanding of rape implicit in this demand; and by tracing the problematic notion of emasculation-as-justice driving this demand. We call for a suspension of the demand for castration on three broad grounds, listed here and discussed in greater detail below:

-          The logic of castration as legal punishment locates the threat of rape squarely in the male body (specifically male genitalia), reinforcing the heteronormative paradigm of peno-vaginal penetration that feminists have been trying for decades to dislodge from Indian rape law.

-          Such a punishment obscures the role of institutions in enabling and preserving rape. It also delinks sexual assault from structures of caste, class, sexuality and disability, which shape sexual violence.

-          The popular demand for castration relies on a logic of emasculation (napunsak banana) that actually re-centers “good,” protectionist masculinity as the way to creating a safer environment in our communities.

In legal circles, chemical castration has sometimes been presented as a more effective alternative to prison sentencing[5]. Rather than surgically and irreversibly removing the penis or the testes, chemical castration entails administering anti-androgen drugs that suppress testosterone production. In the popular imagination however, this mode of punishment undeniably evokes the gratification of “cutting off the problem at the source” by administering a well-deserved emasculation to the rapist. For example, on the website Punjabi Portal, one user wrote: “Nai fansi nai honi chahidi but rape Karen wale de part nu cut ke usnu napunsak bana dena chahida … Taki oh rape taan ki viah Karen de Kabil v na rahe” (Rapists shouldn’t be hung, but their part should be cut and they should be emasculated … so that they are unable to rape and unworthy to “marry”). [6]On Twitter, another user wrote: “delhi gang rapers ko napunsak bana diya jaye” (emasculate the Delhi gang rapists) [7]; yet another Twitter user said: “Guys in India arenapunsak to the power infinity..Capable of pulling a stunt like Delhi bus gang rape case or acid attack”.[8]The Facebook page “Hang in Public..Delhi Gangrape Culprits”[9] with 531 “likes” bears on its wall numerous fantasies of torture and castration.Elsewhere, it is the Delhi police who are berated for being napunsak[10] for failing to protect women from rape, and for targeting protesters. This language of napunsakta, which at once calls for the emasculation of the hyper-masculine rapist and berates the Delhi police for not being manly enough, exemplifies the ways in which,as Iris Marion Young notes, “dominative masculinity … constitutes protective masculinity[11] as its other” and so legitimizes the control of women in the name of protection.But as Kavita Krishnan noted in her now viral speech[12]: “This machismo is not any solution to the problem of violence against women — it is the root of the problem itself.”

What does the demand for castration presume about the nature of rape, and what possibilities does it offer as a legal response to rape?To begin with, the demand for castration locates rape as a crime of sex. In this view,rape is something men do to women, with their penises,because of an excess of testosterone in their bodies. It is ironic that this impetus towards castration has gained momentum in the aftermath of a brutal rape conducted not only with penises, but with iron rods.Are we really persuaded that a more controlled libido would have prevented those six men from committing their brutal act of disciplinary violence against the young woman who died in Delhi last week? Do we believe that it would have prevented the rape of the minor Dalit girl who committed suicide after she was lured[13]—by a woman—to her rape by two caste Hindus in Punjab? Would it have prevented the infamous mass rape of an entire village of Kashmiri women in Kunan Poshpora by the Indian army in 1991—and if so, are we willing to convict and impose castration on the army personnel involved in those rapes? When Thangjam Manorama was picked up by security forces in Manipur, sexually tortured and shot in the genitals after being charged with being a militant, was it the raging testosterone of the soldiers that led to her rape? Or are we willing to consider that in all these instances, the derision and apathy of the police; the impunity granted to soldiers under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act in Manipur and Kashmir; and the abysmally low conviction rate around rape across India may have played a greater part in these scenarios?

The enormously reductive understanding of rape as a penis-driven crime fixes responsibility on individuals and prioritizes biological motivations, while obscuring the social, cultural and political structuresthat enable rape. Additionally, it completely overrides the work of activists across different constituencies (women’s rights, queer rights, child rights, dalit rights, disability rights) to expand the definition of rape beyond the peno-vaginal paradigm in the law. As Flavia Agnes notes, “Vaginal penetration is only one of the many ways in which women are chastised and humiliated [particularly in episodes of caste and communal violence such as Partition, the Gujarat carnage, and Khairlanji]. Acid attacks, slashing of the face, stripping and parading, dragging women to the ground and kicking them on their abdomen, etc. are some of the other violent ways in which women are shown their place in public.”We would agree with Agnes that “while we are addressing issues of sexual assaults [we must] stop awarding a special status for peno-vaginal penetration as compared to other types of violations.”The peno-vaginal understanding of rape also overlooks the frequent role of women in enabling rape, as well as the vulnerability of men or transgender people: for instance in Khairlanji, where women dragged out Priyanka and Surekha Bhotmange[14]by their hair, beat and stripped them before leaving them to be raped by men; or in Kashmir, where scores of men have been sexually tortured in custody by security forces; or indeed all over India, where gay men and transgender[15] people are routinely subject to rape.What use would the castration fix be in such scenarios, animated by power and hate rather than lust? This takes us back to the key question that activists in India have been actively working through, especially during the re-drafting of the sexual assault bill over the last few years: what constitutes sexual assault?

In conclusion, we want to extend some recent insights from feminist arguments against the death penalty, which apply to the demand for castration as well. One notable point across these critiques is that calls for more stringent punishments blithely presume an efficacious functioning of the legal machinery. Flavia Agnes warns that “around one-third of all rape cases are filed by parents against boys when their daughter exercises her sexual choice and elopes …With the clamour for death penalty [and, we would add, castration], how will we deal with such cases?”[16] Given the notoriously paternalist mentality prevailing among the Indian police force[17], in such instances the law becomes a mechanism for the caste-bound sexual regulation of young women and men by their families. Furthermore, as Kavita Krishnan so eloquently argued, the death penalty is no solution for low conviction rates, but a spectacular deflection from the real problem of police inaction. Similarly we might ask whether the legal fix of castration would do anything at all in terms of improving the conviction rate for rape in a scenario where the police regularly refuse[18] to register cases of rape[19] to begin with!

The mass protests possibly indicate a growing public awareness that rape is not merely a crime between individuals, but a crime for which the institutions of government and socials structures are equally if not more responsible. Despite the major gaps that have compromised the protests on Raisina Hill, they have publicly moved rape beyond the narrow frame of “women’s issues”[20]and implicated the government. However, this frenzy for a quick solution for rape by seeking revenge over justice[21]also obscures the structural problems highlighted by Dalit[22]and disability rights feminists.[23]For example, as Anu Ramdas rightly reminds us, the “rightful but selective[24]national exclamation of horror against this urban gang rape furthers the normalization of rapes and gang rapes of dalit and adivasi women,” which have rarely elicited such outrage, and which certainly would not be helped by the castration fix. Before we decide the terms of punishment and legal reform, we would like to ask what kinds of bodies we seek to protect, whose safety we hold dear, who we criminalize and why.

 


#Punjabgangrape-police draws flak for revealing survivor’s name #Vaw #Justice


 #India-Towards a Decisive Victory in the Historic Battle for Women’s Rights

Agencies

Posted On Monday, January 14, 2013

Punjab Police drew criticism from all quarters, including the victim’s kin, after it revealed the name of the 30-year old woman who was abducted and gang raped on Friday night.

The police released the victim’s name in a press note on Sunday. According to reports, the press note was issued after the First Information Report (FIR) was lodged by police on the basis of complaints.
According to lawyer Rahul Verma, naming a rape victim is a punishable offence under Section 228 (a) of the Indian Penal Code.
“The provision is clear; it says nobody can publish the victim’s name in such cases.
Recently, the Supreme Court, in connection with the Delhi gangrape, said no name has to be disclosed, because there is a social stigma that exists in our society,“ he said.
Meanwhile, the incident has spurred an outpouring of anger from women in the state.
“There is a sense of insecurity all the time, we feel threatened. There has been outrage over the Delhi gang rape and another similar incident has occurred here. It shows that women are not safe anywhere,” said Daljeet Kaur, a resident of Pathankot.
Police have arrested six people so far, including the bus driver and conductor.
The woman was travelling by bus to her village when the driver and his assistant drove her to a deserted location and raped her.
Five more people reportedly joined them later and assaulted the woman in a house. They then dropped her off near her village the next morning. The victim went home before going to a police station to file a complaint.

 

Chhattisgarh: Complaint against MLA for allegedly revealing rape survivor’s identity #Vaw #Justice


CHHATTISGARH, Posted on Jan 15, 2013 at 02:54pm IST

Raipur: Hitting out at the Bharatiya Janata Party government, the Opposition Congress on Tuesday alleged that a ruling party MLA had disclosed the identity of a rape survivor of Raipur, Chhattisgarh and demanded registration of FIR against him. “BJP MLA Nand Kumar Sahu has disclosed the identity of the minor girl who was allegedly raped one month ago in the Urla area,” Shaliesh Nitin Trivedi Congress spokesperson said.

“The law as it currently stands is not in favour of revealing the identity of the rape victim and the MLA has acted in a very insensitive manner,” he added. Sahu had recently met the survivor to provide her assistance and later revealed her name and photograph which was totally irresponsible, Trivedi said adding that taking the matter seriously, a case should be registered against the MLA.

Additional Superintendent of Police Lal Umed Singh said Congress party workers have given them a complaint letter against Sahu in this regard and they have begun an investigation into it. No senior BJP leader was immediately available to comment on the issue.

 

#India – Supreme Court says Khap diktats retrograde, illegal #vaw #moralpolicing


By , TNN | Jan 15, 2013, 01.20 AM IST

 
NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Monday said it was an offence to order women not to use mobile phones or to dress in a particular manner and warned that no one can run a parallel matrimony court to issue diktats against the law to harass young couples.

“Imposing a dress code on women and asking them not to use mobile phones, are such orders not socially retrograde? But these are also against the law. How can anyone ask women not to carry a mobile phone,” a bench of Justices Aftab Alam and Ranjana P Desai asked while hearing a PIL which sought protection of young couples marrying inter-caste or within the same gotra from the wrath of khaps.

The bench said this after taking note of the presence of many elders, sporting colourful turbans and belonging to different khaps of UP and Haryana, in the court’s visitors’ gallery. A large number of khap members were also present in the court room in response to the bench’s desire to hear their views on socially retrograde diktats and honour killings.

But the Sarv Khap Panchayat, a conglomerate of 67 khaps in Haryana’s Rohtak district, nonchalantly told the court that it was the family members who lynched girls and boys who marry outside their caste or within the same gotra, unable to resist social pressure and taunts of relatives. Regulating the khaps would not reduce honour killings, it said.

“Such incidents happen only in the peace loving and law abiding people of the village and normally not in mischievous families,” the panchayat said in its written submissions to the court.

The bench questioned the inspector general of police (Meerut zone), additional director general (law and order) of Haryana along with superintendents of police of Rohtak and Jind districts on khap-dictated honour killings. All the police officers said khaps sometimes adopt socially retrograde resolutions but there had been no instance of their members being involved in honour killings.

The cops said it was the family members who indulged in killings of youth who defy caste and gotra barriers. Amicus curiae Raju Ramachandran explained, “Once the khaps issue an order of censure on matrimonial alliance, the family of the involved boys and girls face the prospect of being socially ostracized. To overcome this, they resort to killing of the couple who defied the khap-imposed social barriers.”

The bench wondered why the police of UP and Haryana were “so anxious to give a good conduct certificate” to the khaps but additional advocates general of both states – Gaurav Bhatia and Manjit Singh – sought time to file a proper affidavit on behalf of the police. But counsel for the khaps said in unison, “What the police officers are saying is correct.”

When additional solicitor general Indira Jaising said “the Sarv Khap Panchayat of district Rohatak has admitted that it adjudicates all matters relating to marriage and family”, the bench said, “That means they are running parallel courts.”

The court came to the rescue of Jaising, who was being shouted down by the counsel for khaps seeking time to file their response to the PIL by NGO Shakti Vahini. The NGO’s counsel Ravi Kant said, “Though khaps are directly not responsible for the honour killings, their orders vitiate the atmosphere. There are many instances where the girl’s family had been excommunicated or the girl’s head had been tonsured.”

Jaising said, “There has been a failure on the part of the police to provide security to couples marrying against social norms fixed by khaps.” The bench asked the khaps to file their written submissions not exceeding 10 pages by February 18 and posted the matter for detailed hearing on March 5.

 

#India – Police says’ stay indoors to avoid sexual harassment on streets” #WTFnews #morapolicing #Vaw


Dreaded Bombay Police Act strikes again

Stay indoors to avoid ched-chad

Overzealous Thane cops fine unmarried couples and single women found on the streets after sunset as part of their drive to protect ladies

Arita Sarkar, Mumbai Mirror

Posted On Tuesday, January 15, 2013 at 04:37:34 AM

Inspector Vasant Dhoble, all set to be transferred to Thane, will soon find himself in good company: Thane police has launched a special anti-harassment squad, Ched-chad Virodhi Pathak that books young, unmarried couples out on the streets after dark under section 110 of the Bombay Police Act for “causing public nuisance.”

Young couple are fined Rs 1200 and given a humiliating lecture on morality before they are let go. If they don’t have the money, their parents are summoned and asked to pay up.

Since the drive was started on December 16, 64 people have been booked under the section 110 of the Bombay Police Act and fined. Anamika Sengupta, head of recruitment at an IT company, who was stopped by the police when she was out for a walk with a male companion at 8 pm, said she was told to “stay indoors.”

Anamika has since complained about the patrolling squad’s behaviour to the senior inspector of Manpada police station Ramakant Mahire. The drive was launched following the December 3 murder of Santosh Vichivora, 19, at Dombivili, who had intervened when five teenagers made lewd remarks aimed at his neighbour who was returning home from work. The way the police see it had Santosh and his lady friend not been walking together in public, the incident would not have happened.

The 15-member plainclothes squad now roams the streets of Thane looking out for unmarried couples and single women in ‘isolated spots.’ The ‘suspicious elements’ are given an earful, often asked to go home, and fined. The police have also roped in authorities from the four colleges and eight high schools in their jurisdiction.

Principals of these co-education institutions have been told to instruct their students to wear their identity cards at all times. The police said even students who are alone without their IDs are taken to the station and fined.

“Nobody should sit in corners and isolated places unnecessarily even in day time,” said Manpada senior inspector Mahire. “Ever since we started this drive, we have ensured that nobody is out on the streets after 10 pm and this has brought down crime.” He is convinced that the drive has helped curb crime against women.

According to him, Vichivora’s murder was not a result of sexual harassment. He said had the girl and boy not been walking together so late in the night (the incident happened around 10 pm) the incident would not have happened. Thane police commissioner KP Raghuvanshi who has not accounted for the overzealousness of his cops on the ground said that the intent behind the drive was not to harass young couples or single women.

“It is meant to target road Romeos and molesters. Our plainclothes squad is supposed to identify and book them.” In fact, the Thane police have also issued a well-intentioned and useful pamphlet with helpline numbers.

 

 

India – Single Women’s Association- A force not be forgotten #womenrights


Fellow members of the Jharol Block group of the Single Women’s Association in Udaipur, Rajasthan are an important source of strength and solidarity for one another.

Single, divorced or widowed women in India are customarily excluded from many areas of life, are often subject to significant discrimination and abuse, and can feel extremely ostracised and alone. www.flickr.com/photos/christianaidimages/sets/72157629130..

By Swapna Majumdar

Delhi (Women’s Feature Service) – ‘Namaste, main Radha hoon, ek paritakta. (Greetings, I am Radha, a deserted woman)’. When Radha Devi, 32, introduces herself her eyes brim with confidence, her voice is loud and clear. For a rural woman from Himachal Pradesh who five years ago did nothing even as her alcoholic husband thrashed her, this was a huge change.

 

But achieving this transformation was not easy. Radha had accepted that violence at her husband’s hands was her fate and was ashamed to tell anyone about the beatings. She was also afraid that she would be separated from her son if she complained. She would have probably continued this way had not she met members of the Ekal Nari Shakti Sangathan (Association of Single Women).

 

 

 

Says Nirmal Chandel, state coordinator of the Himachal Pradesh unit of ENSS, “Even after we met her, Radha was unwilling to leave her husband. It took us several meetings to convince her that unless she took some action, she would lose her son anyway because she would be dead.” 

Finally, Radha gathered the courage to leave her husband, along with her son. Since 2007, she hasn’t looked back and today heads ENSS’s state unit in Rakkar in Himachal Pradesh’s Kangra district.

 

Radha is not the only woman whose life has changed. Several ENSS members shared their stories of change at a recent meeting held in the Capital. Organised by the National Forum for Single Women’s Rights, the meeting brought single women comprising widows, abandoned, deserted, unmarried and divorced women from seven states together to discuss how their issues could be mainstreamed in the national discourse.

 

According to the 2001 census, more than 39.8 million women are single. This figure is expected to be much higher in the 2011 census, the results of which are presently awaited. The issues of single women were first raised in 2000 after the ENSS was set up in Rajasthan. Started by Astha Sansthan, an Udaipur-based non-government organisation, ENSS began with a handful of members. Over the last 12 years, the movement has gathered steam, with 80,000 members across eight states. Single women have formed state units in Bihar, Jharkhand, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. Other states expected to join the ENSS family soon are Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir.

 

As the movement grew, the single women’s collective broke several barriers, especially of silence. In Bihar and Jharkhand, support by the collective has helped to save many widows targeted as ‘daians’, or witches, from being lynched by violent mobs. In Rajasthan, the Sangathan has given single women the confidence and legal knowledge to claim their rights to land, while their counterparts in Gujarat have been helped to speak out against violence, discrimination and assisted in resuming their education. ENSS members in Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra have helped each other break cruel traditional customs, stand up to sexual harassment and seek police and legal assistance. As single women came together, shared their experiences, grief and pain, they were inspired by the courage displayed by many of the other members of their group who had stood up for their rights and successfully accessed their entitlements, ranging from pensions to birth certificates.

 

Even while state units continued to reach out to single women, it was found to be necessary to bring their issues to the national fora in order to achieve policy level changes, according to Ginny Srivastava, founder of ENSS and co-founder, Astha Sansthan. To make that happen, in 2009, different state units of ENSS got together to form the National Forum for Single Women’s Rights (NFSWR) that lobbies for their rights at the national level. The NFSWR advisory committee is now focusing on strategies that could be translated, especially keeping in mind the upcoming general elections. “Getting politicians to include the issues of single women in their election manifesto is very difficult. We held several meetings with them to make them aware of the importance of single women’s rights. We also managed to get a few political parties to include some of our issues in their manifestoes during assembly elections, after convincing them that single women now form an important vote bank,” revealed Chandel, who was herself widowed at the young age of 23.

 

The Himachal ENSS unit, working through SUTRA, a NGO engaged with gender empowerment, has become a force to contend with. It is the recipient of the Ashoka’s Changemakers Award in 2010 for its success in enabling all 35 single women in Tikri village of Baijanth block to access government schemes.

 

Single women, as an entity, have also made it into the Twelfth Five Year Plan for the first time, which means that government programmes and policies can focus on their specific needs.

 

But the forum is not stopping with these achievements. One of the issues it is pushing is the allotment of land for collective farming to enable single women to access sustainable livelihoods. This demand has been supported by the National Commission for Women and the National Mission for Empowerment of Women, both of which have agreed that the government should help women claim community lands and form farming cooperatives.

Findings of a 2011 study conducted by representatives of the single women’s group have validated this demand. Entitled ‘Are We Forgotten Women? A study of the status of low-income single women in India’, the study found that in the absence of marketable skills, education, and ownership of resources, single women rely heavily on daily wage labour for survival. This makes them easy prey for exploitation and abuse. Conducted in six states, the survey covered 386 single women and noted that 75 per cent of single women survived on less than the minimum wage with as many as 90 per cent dependent on borrowings to make ends meet. Ironically, only 21 per cent managed to get recognised as living below the poverty line (BPL) by the government.

For single women, it is a long, hard road ahead. But they are determined to prove that while they may be single, they are not alone and will certainly not allow themselves to be forgotten.

Women’s Feature Service