India – Government needs to make amendments to law public


Make amendments to law public, says Aruna Roy

Rahi Gaikwad

Aruna Roy

Aruna Roy

Terming the right to information a fundamental function in democracy, Aruna Roy, RTI pioneer and social activist, who recently quit the National Advisory Council, said here on Sunday that on the last day of her term, NAC had sent a suggestion to the Prime Minister for making public changes in laws.

“If any amendment is made to the new laws and regulations, it should be put in the public domain for scrutiny, before it goes for drafting. The draft law should be put up on the website,” Ms. Roy said. She was delivering the Pradhan Jwala Prasad memorial lecture on “The Challenge of Transparency and Accountability in Indian Democracy.”

Critical of middle class cynicism, Ms. Roy warned against such a “defeatist” attitude. She said the landmark right to information law was born from the distress of the poor. She stressed engaging with the government. In her first term at NAC, important legislation related to forest rights, domestic violence and employment guarantee were brought into force.

Ms. Roy said her departure from NAC had been “sensationalised” in the media.

“I was not against anybody. I only said that there were two thought processes in the country — one that believed that market growth would solve all problems and the other that advocated socialistic measures.”

The Indian government was highly averse to participatory decision-making, she said.

Raising concerns over the harassment faced by information-seekers, Ms. Roy said asking questions had become difficult.

“What is the price of asking a question in this country? IAS and IPS officers can’t ask questions. Students can’t ask questions and these days even journalists can’t. We have been suppressed for long … Those who are asking questions on sensitive issues, like the Kudankulam nuclear power plant, are called extremists and Maoists. They are harassed and killed,” she said.

About 30 lakh people in India were asking questions under the RTI, but it had cost the lives of 30 people, from all sections of society, including engineers, intellectuals, and farmers. They paid with their lives because “they had the audacity to ask questions.” Earlier in the day, Ms. Roy attended a meeting of the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information, where she met RTI activists in Bihar and learnt about the threat and intimidation they faced.

Ms. Roy questioned the Unique Identification project for being ambiguous on the issue of privacy.

 

Kalpakkam must be made a case study: Medha Patkar


24 May

  • Addressing the people, social activist Medha Patkar said, “Going to the seashore was once tourism and an entertainment. But now, the ‘man-made tsunami’ has changed that pleasure. (File/PTI)
    Addressing the people, social activist Medha Patkar said, “Going to the seashore was once tourism and an entertainment. But now, the ‘man-made tsunami’ has changed that pleasure. (File/PTI)

On the second day of her visit to the State, social activist Medha Patkar visited Kalpakkam. While she was interacting with the people from the fishing community, she said, “More and more scientific data over the effects of radiation must be coming from Kalpakkam, and thereby, it should be made a ‘case study’ for other nuclear reactors.”

Addressing the people, she said, “Going to the seashore was once tourism and an entertainment. But now, the ‘man-made tsunami’ has changed that pleasure. The struggle of the fishing community against nuclear plants either in Kalpakkam or in Koodankulam, has turned a service to the environment and to the whole of mankind.”

“During the Narmada Valley protests, we had said it was in the quake-prone zone. But officials denied it. Later, there was a quake at Latur, where the place has been pointed as not in the quake-prone zone. It clearly shows that we cannot estimate the possibility of a quake at any given region. When there are scientific reports that showcases Kalpakkam is under such a hazard, why should we want to take the risk?,” she asked. She further said, “In the past, there were judges like V R Krishna Iyer and P N Bhagwati who ordered investigation committees to go to the ground and inspect. Such practices are not followed in today’s judiciary.”

Meet cancelled

Meanwhile, the proposed meeting with Chief Secretary Sheela Balakrishnan IAS by social activist Medha Patkar was cancelled on Thursday evening.

According to members of NAPM, Medha Patkar had written to the Chief Secretary and got an appointment for around 5.30 pm on Thursday. But due to work exigencies, it is said the chief secretary cancelled the meeting.

 

Press Release- A Radio Ad on Red FM names Medha Patkar shopping in R City Mall


To

 

medha

Advertising Standards Council Of India

Mumbai, May 23, 2013

Complaint- Radio advertisement of  R City  Mall using name of activist Medha Patkar

 

I was aghast to listen to your advertisement on Red FM between 1545 hrs and 1555 hrs on May  23rd 2013. The R City Mall, shamelessly names Medha  Patkar,  of Narmada Bachao Andolan , the activist enjoying shopping at R City Mall. I contacted  Medha Patkar and she denied completely giving any consent to the R city Mall   using her name. Even the Radio Station RED FM, with tag line Bajate Raho , have ignored such a big  blunder  in the advertisement

Medha  Patkar is a name which resonates  with rights of  slumdwellers   in Mumbai and she is last person to endorse and shop at Malls. She has   been fighting the Builder Mafia and has stood like a rock against the  islum demolitiosn for many years now and recently had been on a ten day  hunger strike against  the Golibar demolitions, which have were stopped due the  relentless efforts of NAPM.

R City has defamed Medha Patkar by using her name in their promotional advertisement for the Mall.

The advertisement should be immediately  withdrawn  , and the Mall and Radio channel need to tender a public apology  with immediate effect.

 

Kamayani Bali Mahabal

 

Mumbai

May 23, 2013

complaint tracking No - 613ed1596928

Gujarat – Death threat to RTI activist: Police get no lead yet


Express news service : Rajkot, Mon May 20 2013, 04:06 hrs

THREE days after RTI activist Nathalal Sukhadia of Amreli was allegedly threatened by an anonymous caller after he declared to expose the alleged corruption in the administration of Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee (APMC), Amreli taluka police has not achieved any breakthrough in the case.

“We are seeking the call details of Sukhadia and trying to identify the person who made the phone call,” an officer of Amreli taluka police said on Sunday. Sukhadia hit the headlines last year after he alleged the then state Agriculture Minister Dilip Sanghani and his family members of irregularities in the affairs of Amreli District Cooperative Bank on the basis of information he obtained under RTI. The activist’s campaign had dented the reputation of Sanghani and had contributed to his defeat in state Assembly elections in December last year.

But Sukhadia had filed a complaint with Amreli taluka police on Friday, stating that a man called him at 9.56 on Thursday and threatened to kill him if the activist called a public meeting on Monday.

The activist is fighting election as a director of the APMC. The election will be held on May 23. He had announced to hold a public meeting to “expose corruption” of the outgoing BJP-backed APMC board. “The board had indulged in corrupt practices in auctioning 400 shops . I suspect the caller was an aide of one of the outgoing office-bearers,” Sukhadia said.

- See more at: http://www.indianexpress.com/news/death-threat-to-activist-police-get-no-lead-yet/1118127/#sthash.yz8pMe2a.dpuf

 

Change.org – Sign the change you want to see #onlineactivism


The concept of online petitioning is riding high on the wave of social change sweeping the world. MANU MOUDGIL says that while the impact is promising, there are several roadblocks to be negotiated.
Posted/Updated Saturday, Apr 27 , thehoot.org
Every other day, a new mail drops into the inbox asking you to ‘change the world’ by signing a petition. It can be as serious an issue as seeking justice for an acid attack victim or as trivial as asking Justin Bieber to have a live concert in India. For an increasing number of urban Indians bred on concepts of equality and justice but frustrated by trappings of age-old power hierarchies of this country, the idea is promising. You don’t need to be a kurta-wearing social activist sitting on dharnas or a donor writing cheques to fund campaigns. Just filling in your name, email Id and postal code would do.
Petitioning around social campaigns has been in practice for decades but never has its impact been more pronounced than today when a call to ‘stop rape’ can gather 59,000 signatures in just 24 hours (On last count, the petition had 6.64 lakh signatures). For every signature, the decision makers get an email (many petitions also request the supporters to call the officials) thus ensuring constant pressure on them to act.
Two government school teachers in Jharkhand get paid after four years, five asphalt factories in Rajasthan shut down for causing air pollution, a discriminatory temple ritual is banned in Karnataka…the list goes on about the impact online petitions have made, though not singularly.
Online petitioning picked up pace in India after 2011 when Change.org, the world’s largest e-petition platform, started its operations here. Today, it has close to 6 lakh users with 600-800 petitions started every month, up from 11-15 petitions two years ago. Worldwide, it has operations in 18 countries and boasts of 35 million users.
Change.org also scores over other online platforms because of its support team, which helps build a communication strategy around selected petitions. In India, a small five-member team sends emails to users, talks to the media and suggests ways to engage with decision makers around campaigns which are bound to get popular support like the anti-rape petition started in wake of the Delhi gang-rape. The team works on 14-16 campaigns a week.
Everyone’s invited
 
One palpable difference online platforms have made in the field of campaigning is democratisation of the petitioning tool. Anybody can mobilise support for a cause they strongly feel about. Namita Bhandare, who started the anti-rape petition, had never participated in protest marches or candlelight vigils. She wrote the petition just to give vent to her anger and feeling of helplessness after the Delhi gang-rape. “At first, I questioned myself what would a petition do. In fact, now I realise that the recommendations we made in the petition were very basic and the Justice Verma Commission went much beyond as it factored in marital rape, action against armed forces and redefined sexual assault. However, filing that petition was cathartic for me. The tool lends power to the people who were earlier completely dependent on media or NGOs to mobilise support,” she says.
However, critics believe that e-petition promotes slacktivism or armchair activism which is also the reason it is so successful. It gives “false power” to those who feel helpless in face of problems they can’t control and prevents many of the supporters from participating in on-ground action. Preethi Herman, Campaigns Director at change.org laughs off such criticism. “We tend to assume that people just sign petitions. Online platform is the first point of engagement. They make telephone calls to decision makers, participate in offline events and help spread the word further. You can’t equate mobilisation with activism as it’s more about developing a larger support base for your cause. Most of the supporters are not activists but they do want a change,” she says.
Bhandare agrees: “ E-petition does sensitise one to the cause. You can’t just start a petition on rape and go to a cocktail party. I am sure many of the signatories to my petition also joined the on-ground protests.”
Change.org also collaborates with Video Volunteers and CGNet Swara, the two grassroots-level organisations which use video and audio media to highlight issues in rural India. “It was important for us to adapt to Indian conditions where Internet penetration is still very low. We work with Video Volunteers and CGNet Swara to identify issues in their areas which could be promoted online and hence bridge the gap between rural and urban population,” Herman says.
Tania Devaiah, the impacts manager at Video Volunteers, confirms that getting numbers behind a cause through online petition lends an institutional approach to the campaign. “Constant flow of emails and phone calls does build pressure on decision makers in comparison to a single approach of making and screening of videos. We pick up issues for online campaigns where either it’s difficult to make the authorities act or the cause has a universal appeal,” she adds. The next frontier change.org wants to conquer is to make the platform available in Hindi and adapt it to mobile phones.
The loopholes
Change.org believes that to get the desired impact, online petitions should be supported by on ground action, exposure in local media and interactions with decision makers. However, in many cases, the offline or on-ground mobilisation may be completely missing, thus putting a question mark on sustainability of the impact generated. For instance, a petition by Video Volunteers against a discriminatory practice in a Rajasthan village where a traditional practice of Dalit women carrying their footwear in their hands while crossing the houses of upper caste families garnered 5,480 signatures.
Acting on the petition, the District Collector along with other officials held a meeting in the village apprising them of the law banning caste discrimination and ordered that the practice be disallowed. However, the villagers did not even know that there was a campaign running on this issue and unknown people were playing their saviours over the Internet. The impact has been that the Dalits are now much more scared to talk about the discrimination, as mentioned by this report in Times of India. Herman refutes this claim, saying that the correspondent of Video Volunteers had mobilised Dalit women against this practice and villagers might be scared of talking to the media due to local power equations. However, independent inquiries made by The Hoot confirm that the action taken by the officials was solely on the basis of the online petition and there was no local campaign against the practice.
Verification of facts reported in the petition is another sore point. Though some petitions do carry images and videos related to the issue, there are chances that you might end up supporting a wrong cause. For instance, an incident in Hyderabad got two separate petitions running on the website. Girl college students coming out of a pub after a farewell party were accused by the regional news channels of creating nuisance at a public place and depicted as uncultured while the students blamed the media of moral policing and wrongful depiction. The chances are you may end up signing one of these petitions without getting to know the other side. Herman says since numerous petitions are created daily, it’s not possible to substantiate the facts presented in each of them but whenever the Change team works on and pushes a petition, the facts are verified in detail.
Values shortchanged?
Change.org claims to be a corporation using the power of business for social good. It made revenue by allowing sponsored petitions from progressive groups willing to shell out dollars to promote their campaigns. The concept has helped the company generate enough profit to make its functioning self-sustaining.
However, something changed in October last year when a leaked internal documentrevealed how the organisation was replacing its value-based advertising policy to an ‘open’ approach allowing even conservatives and corporates to use its resources. This invited widespread criticism from the progressive community which felt that the vast user database it helped build through the years was being sold to the opposition camp.
On the other hand, as underscored by Isaac Luria of Groundswell, organisations running social campaigns don’t get a full contact list of their supporters whom they could later invite to attend meetings, join local groups, or donate. “Of course, I could have bought the names that signed the petition on Change.org for around $500,000 or about $2 per name if I had the foresight before the campaign was launched or had the money,” he adds.
Change’s founder Ben Rattray responded to the criticism by arguing that the organisation “cannot maintain an open platform and simultaneously block all ads that don’t fit a particular political view” and ads from controversial groups would only be accepted if the platform has users interested in their work. He also emphasised that an open advertiser policy was essential to avoid being “regularly forced into unsustainable positions.”
However, not everybody was impressed with these clarifications. Kamayani Bali Mahabal, an online campaigner who has initiated a petition asking Rattray to come out clean, says the definition of openness pushed by Change.org is not in consonance with progressive principles. “I used to laugh at some of the inane petitions like the ones promoting homophobia or anti-abortion, as I was sure change.org will not give any support and the petition will die its own death. But with the new policy, anyone is eligible to advertise. So, after I sign a petition for human rights, I might find a link to a sponsored petition on giving legal recognition to khap panchayats,” she says.
Mahabal has now been trying other online platforms but is not happy with their technical support. For the time being, she is using her own blog to mobilise online support and is hopeful that Indian activists will have their own independent platform soon.
Meanwhile, as they say, every change is accompanied by discomforts. The question is how well can we deal with these.
Official recognition

Online petitioning is officially recognised in the US where the right to petition your government is guaranteed by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. The White House hosts an online platform ‘We the People’ where any petition which gets 1,00,000 signatures within 30 days elicits a government response. The threshold before January 2013 was 25,000 signatures and one of the petitions which got the White House speaking was seeking ‘genocide’ status for the 1984 Sikh riots in India. The petition had more than 30,000 signatures.

original article http://thehoot.org/web/Signthechangeyouwanttosee/6753-1-1-12-true.html

A Quickie For Mr. Mahesh Murthy #FOS #Gender #Chrisgayle


india trans  A Quickie For Mr. Mahesh Murthy

Posted byPosted onApr 26 2013

There is a fine line between humor and everything else. One may think they have said the funniest thing of the hour, without giving the slightest of thought that their said words can have consequences. In fact words do have consequences, trust me! (Remember this? …Yes, I did learn a lesson or two there.)

And so at it happens, at times the well informed too need a reminder of the above perhaps a quickie on Queer sensitization as well. So we begin today’s session with Mr. Mahesh Murthy. Who is he? Er…he is blah blah & blah. Jumping onto what he did! Well… he posted the below message on his Facebook page;

Screen Shot 2013 04 24 at 7.04.34 PM A Quickie For Mr. Mahesh Murthy

Funny? Really?! Since I am one of the 26,000+ people who visit Mr. Murthy’s FB page every now and then, all I can say is that this isn’t his finest of wordplay. And believe you me, this man is funny.

Personally though I found his posted message not only demeaning but also his follow-up (defensive) comment to be equally arrogant. Here are bits of it:

I personally don’t give a rat’s ass for political correctness. Yes, I know LGBT and other minorities have fought long and hard to be treated as equal – but part of being treated as equal is about forgetting what our own sexual leanings and other badges of minority-ness are, and being warm, friendly and funny human beings.

Firstly my apologies to the rat for unnecessarily being pulled up in this conversation. Believe me I know how hard it is to maintain a toned ass. But only if the likes of Mr. Murthy started paying some attention to the necessity of political correctness (at least in some instances)…Sigh! Imagine a greener world. Now Mr. Murthy it is heartening to know that you are aware of our struggle, but I wonder how much of it do you actually understand. For a Queer person much of our humanness lies in the acceptance of our sexuality and/or gender. And while you may ask us to let go of the core ingredients that make us happy human beings to begin with, how about first giving us the basic necessities that an equal person is provided with. Lets begin with the right to exist (Yes it’s true… in 2013 we continue to fight a battle in the supreme court).

So while you rightly say “Equal doesn’t mean better than equal”…you must first ensure the other is on an equal platform to begin with before you start kicking below the belt. Even in the Just Joking context.

Moving on Mr. Murthy enlightens us with further gyan…(*Statutory notice: He is only a human being).

Everyone’s welcome here. We don’t discriminate here, nor do we believe anybody needs to be treated with kid gloves. We’re all adults, we all have thick skin here. You want sensitivity, get yourself litmus paper. But this group of folks is under no obligation to offer any. They might, if they feel like, but it’s not a membership criteria here.

Now to the issue of humour. My post was a simple pun on the word “Chhakka” to refer to a eunuch (or TG person, as other terminology puts it) and a sixer in a game of cricket. Chris Gayle hit 17 sixes today. So there was a silly thought of calling him “Chhakkon ka raja” – king of sixers. But the pun also indicated “King of the transgenders” so the joke went on, that eunuchs might be unhappy with someone saying he’s now their ruler.

Not a super-great joke, but one for the moment indeed. I see nothing offensive about it, and if you or anybody else seemed offended you have a responsibility to say why you are, and what the issue is. And if you do find it offensive, get off this page. Please. Like I’ve said before, nobody’s under any compulsion to read or like what I write, and nor am I under any compulsion to write only what you like to read. And that goes for everyone else here.

Getting to the crux of the matter:

Mr. Murthy, FYI the word “Chhakka” is deemed offensive. It is a derogatory word used not only to humiliate the TG/Hijra community but also gay men & lesbians. This very word is engraved in the every day living of a Queer person in the form of mockery and many a times physical abuse (rape) in the hands of both, the judiciary and society. Furthermore it has taken years for the transgender & hijra community to disentangle itself from the word “Chhakka” but clearly the battle is yet not won.

Agreed your Chhakka update was nothing but a thoughtless remark. On a closer look, your behavior could very easily have a negative affect on the TG community. By the way are you aware of the many deaths that happen in the transgender community via murders and suicides? Ever wondered why? It’s because of such attitude that continues to belittle them & treat them like they are anything but human!

So Mr. Murthy you are guilty of discrimination.

And mind you, no one is asking for sensitivity here. I accept that people tend to be over sensitive at times, but at this point, it isn’t the sensitivity speaking. It’s an effort to teach you to respect gender & gender expression. As I said earlier on, knowing does not mean you understandSensitisation is the word here; we are not even asking you to walk in our chappals. So by all means you can call Chris Gayle the king of sixers (in the context of the game of Cricket) but we would appreciate it if in the future you keep the word Chhakka away from the eunuchs and your pun even further away from the two.

And while you clearly state your freewill to write everything and anything, we too would like to add that each time we find your words offensive we shall not hesitate to give you another quickie. When you proudly boast your social media statistics, it wouldn’t harm paying some attention to the political correctness. The point being – if you are informed, you will inform others too! *Good karma all around!*

Lastly, time and again I am advised to develop a thick skin in the course of my journey; as a woman, as a lesbian, a blogger and I suppose to a certain degree I have (see how well I tackle ignorance). But I also make an effort to be continuously informed, as it is the latter that helps me grow as a human.
As for the assuming ‘goodwill’ part… we are expecting your thank you message in the mail pretty soon now.

PS – Happy watching T20!!

for comments above post click below

Original article here http://gaysifamily.com/2013/04/26/a-quickie-for-mr-mahesh-murthy/

 

Press Release-Condemn the Growing Tendencies of Re-arrests of Political Activists!


COMMITTEE FOR THE RELEASE OF POLITICAL PRISONERS

185/3, FOURTH FLOOR, ZAKIR NAGAR, NEW DELHI-110025

 

Dated: 19.04.2013

Condemn the Growing Tendencies of Re-arrests of Political Activists!

Condemn the Brutal Torture and Illegal Detention of Zakir Hussain!!

Release Zakir Hussain and Sabyasachi Goswami

Immediately and Unconditionally!

Punish the Officers Responsible for the Torture and

Illegal Confinement of Zakir Hussain!

 

Yet again the People of West Bengal are being witness to another instance of police brutality, trampling all constitutional norms, perpetration of third degree torture in police lock-up and the submission of false statements in the court of law. In its treatment of dissident voices, the present Mamata-led government is no different from the previous Buddhadev-led government which had ruled the state of West Bengal for more than 3 decades.

On 19 April 2013, Zakir Hussain and Sabyasachi Goswami were produced in Bankshall Court, Kolkata. The police force (STF) as usual showed them to have been arrested on 18 April from Behala in Kolkata for having Maoist links. Zakir had signs of police torture in STF lock-up all over his body and was almost unable to move. Actually, Zakir was arrested on 15th from Dharmatala in Kolkata—a place other than what was stated before the court. He was produced after four days of arrest—a clear violation of Supreme Court directives which makes it binding for the police to produce an arrested person within 24 hours of arrest. Zakir’s face was covered by a mask by the police in the lock-up to escape identification. Then he was beaten black and blue to extract confession—yet another violation of court directives and UN Covenant relating to Civil and Political Rights.  Sabyasachi Goswami was picked up on 18 April from Piyali, Canning in South 24-Parganas. He was subjected to mental and physical torture and was not allowed to sleep the intervening night between 18 and 19. They, as usual, were implicated in false cases like carrying arms and indulging in seditious acts, having Maoist connections.

 Both Zakir and Sabyasachi were arrested and incarcerated earlier for years together in another case and both were acquitted and released in 2011 after spending six years in prison. Both of them had been attending courts regularly since then in cases where they were released on bail. Last year, the STF raided the house of Sabyasachi and threatened his relatives. His mother who had been suffering from various ailments had a traumatic experience and she expired recently—a clear case of death by torture, brutal police forces driving a mother to her death by intimidation. This is how ‘democracy’ works in this ‘this largest democracy’ in the world.

Re-arrests of activists who have been acquitted of previous trumped up charges that too after prolonged periods of incarceration—in this case six years—has become a regular feature of the modus operandi of the police forces whether it is in West Bengal, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa Bihar etc. This while undoubtedly shows the growing impunity of the police and other special forces as well as investigating agencies is further becoming a standard operating procedure vis-à-vis criminalizing all forms of political dissent in the subcontinent.     

At CRPP, we unequivocally condemn the re-arrest of Zakir Hussain and Sabyasachi Goswami, the torture perpetrated on them in police custody by the notorious Special Task Force under the Mamata Banerjee-led government, demand exemplary punishment of those police personnel guilty of committing torture as well as the immediate and unconditional release of the political prisoners.

 

In Solidarity,

 

SAR Geelani                  

President                

 

Amit Bhattacharyya             

Secretary General                    

 

Sujato Bhadro              

Vice-president           

 

MN Ravunni

Vice President

 

Rona Wilson

Secretary, Public Relations

 

PRESS RELEASE- Police Out to Arrest AIPWA Activist For Raising Voice of Protest against sexist remark #Vaw


Odisha BDO Makes a Sexist Remark Against Women Protestors,

 

On 8th April, AIPWA’s Odisha Secretary Sabita Baraj along with 60 women activists of Rajkanika block, went to the local block office to protest regarding several local issues on the ‘grievance day’ declared by the local administration and Government. When they reached the Block office they found the gate closed, forcing them to wait outside in the severe heat. After two hours, the Block gate was opened by a peon and all the activist asked the BDO (block development officer) why the gate was closed on ‘grievance day’?

The BDO told them, “Being women how can you dare to ask this question?”

The women strongly protested this sexist comment by the BDO, and Comrade Sabita filed an FIR against the BDO. After four hours the BDO filed cases against all the women activists. But the police took no action against the BDO, and instead attempted to arrest Sabita Baraj and the other women activists based on the delayed FIR filed by the BDO. On 11th April, 300 women activists of AIPWA held a protest meeting which was addressed by AIPWA activists. The police continues to conduct raids on the homes of CPI(ML) and AIPWA activists, searching for Sabita Baraj.

 

Remembering Lakshmi, ‘Devi’ #Obituary #Vaw #Womenrights


Lakshmi, 'Devi' ( Mathamma)

S Anandhi, EPW march 16, 2013 vol xlviiI 32 no 11

As a dedicated Mathamma, Devi’s world consisted of the violent

realities of caste oppression and sexual exploitation. Struggling

to negotiate her convictions to abolish the practice of dedicating

women to the goddess, she wanted to show her fellow

Mathammas how it is still possible to struggle for one’s own

autonomy. Like her life, her death too was a centre of controversy.

Just as her life, Lakshmi’s death too is dogged by controversy. The news

of her suicide was almost unbelievable,indeed shocking, since she was a

fi ghter despite having had to struggle against poverty and sexual violence all

her life. At the age of seven, Lakshmi,also known as Devi, an Arunthathiyar

woman, was dedicated to her caste goddess,Mathamma, and performed as a

dancer during the Mathamma festival in10 villages of Thiruthani taluka in Tiruvallur

district of Tamil Nadu. No one remembers her original name – she was

known only as Mathamma like the other dedicated women in her village.

I met Devi in 2009 as part of my research project on dalit women activists

in the offi ce of the Rural Women’s Liberation Movement in Arakkonam. Looking

famished, a bright-eyed woman with attractive features was introduced to me

as the president of the recently formed Mathamma Relief and Rehabilitation

Association and as one of the activists of the Rural Women’s Liberation Movement.

As part of her campaign against the practice of dedicating women to the goddess,

she rechristened herself Devi and refused to being called Mathamma. Devi was clear

she wanted an identity for herself and not to be lost in the generality of being

the “goddess”. However, she feared that removing her mangalsutra or thali, the

symbol of her dedication to Mathamma might invite the wrath of the goddess

leading to her death or some serious illness. Not surprisingly, many criticised

her for not being courageous enough to remove the thali.

The Rebel

As I understood from my conversations with Devi, she was struggling to negotiate

her convictions to abolish the practice of dedicating women to the goddess both

in her struggle for survival as an impoverished, outcaste, landless labourer, and

as a Mathamma controlled by both the upper caste and her own caste men

It was important for Devi not to give up her identity as a Mathamma since

she was bargaining with the state for the betterment of all the women who

had been dedicated to the goddess. It was equally important for her to be a

Mathamma in order to challenge the men of her community from within and

to show fellow Mathammas how it was possible to struggle for one’s own

autonomy even within the limits imposed by the system.

Devi’s world was not just of “radical political activism” demanded of her by

her organisation; it also consisted of violent realities of caste oppression and

sexual exploitation specifi c to her life as              a “Devadasi”.

As a dedicated Mathamma from the age of 16, Devi resisted her

caste panchayat regulating her sexual life. She refused to pay the fi ne imposed

on her for living with a Paraiyar man without the approval of the panchayat.

After living with her for 18 years, he left her with three children. By then Devi

had given up dancing, which had at least sustained her and her family. Nonetheless,

she resisted dominant caste men,Naidus in this case, taking advantage of

her situation and refused offers of monetary favours in exchange for sex. It is the

assertion of her sexual rights and her awareness of what she was entitled to

that invited the wrath of her natal family and her caste community refused to

help in her struggle to survive. Narrating these bitter experiences she once

remarked that she is “an outcaste among the outcastes”.

Persistent poverty and the refusal of the dominant castes to employ her as an

agricultural labourer (since she rejected their advances) pushed her back into

dancing during the Mathamma festival and, occasionally, into sexual labour for

a pittance. This enabled her to survivebut did not provide enough to send her

son to school. Devi was conscious and aware that many women in her organisation

did not share the same moral and ethical world that she lived in but that

did not deter her from talking about it and the pain and pleasure it entailed.

Indeed, regular consumption of alcohol and her sexual choices were at the

centre of the criticism she faced within her village and organisation, though

the latter was concerned about her health. Devi often dismissed these

remarks as talk of “privileged people” (vasadi ullavanga pesuvanga) but did

not get discouraged.

Devi carried on her struggle to get patta lands for Mathammas and eventually

got three cents of land with a housing patta and managed to build a small

hut to live in. Devi was emerging as a formidable leader of the oppressed

Mathammas much to the dislike of her community men and dominant castes

in her village. She contested the local panchayat election for the post of ward

member but was defeated due to a malicious campaign that presented her as a

prostitute and an alcoholic.

Diffi cult Death

Unfortunately, these were the same moral values with which her death was

questioned and judged. On 16 January 2013, Devi’s son informed her organisation

that she had died in a nearby village where she had gone to work and live

with her new male partner against his wishes. The organisation and her partner

arranged to bring her body back to her village for the last rites. Her partner

claimed Devi had committed suicide by consuming fertiliser. Not believing the

claim, activists of the Rural Women’s Movement demanded a post-mortem.

This was stoutly refused by her caste community as many did not want a

p olice probe into the case of a Mathamma who had been at the centre of controversies

in the village and Devi’s body was quickly cremated.

It was three months before her death that Devi met her new partner, a coolie

worker from Andhra Pradesh, who lived with his wife and daughter. However, the

Arunthathiyar caste panchayat in Devi’s village refused to accept her new partner

and imposed a heavy fi ne on her. They also threatened her partner, telling him

to leave the village. In protest, an enraged Devi removed her thali, something she

had refused to do on several previous occasions, and left the village. Her son had

already occupied her small hut and she was left with nothing in the village. At

the behest of her new partner, Devi worked as a construction labourer in another

village and supported his e ntire family. However, she was subjected to severe

forms of domestic violence.

Just fi ve days before her death, Devivisited her village and told members of

her organisation that she was being tortured by her partner and that he did not

allow her to leave him as she had been providing for his family. According to

the activists of her organisation, though Devi had marks of physical injuries and

complained of severe trouble in breathing, she remained spirited and full of life

as ever. Her caste men and others were quick to conclude that her death was due

to alcoholism, some even attributed it to her so-called sexual excesses. Devi, in

their view, was an “immoral” woman who had insulted goddess Mathamma

and therefore incurred her wrath.In several of her interviews with me,

Devi spoke of the brutality of the systemand the violence of caste in which women

like her were treated as less than human.She also spoke of the Mathammas’

illusionary search for “permanent love”.

Devi’s struggle against poverty and sexual exploitation and her search for freedom

might have ended but her insights on the lives of the most oppressed and

her courage to stand up against exploitation must stay with us. They speak to us

of complex histories of power, subjectivity and identity.

Notes

1 Though her movement was equating the custom of Mathammas with the devadasi custom,Devi, in her interviews, denied such equations on the grounds that the erstwhile devadasiswere respected and revered and were granted properties, while the Mathammas were left to starve with no one to care for them.

2 As per the ritual practice of Arunthathiyars, dedicated Mathamma women are not permitted to marry. It is generally perceived by othersthat Mathammas lead an “immoral” sexual life as they are not constrained by familial responsibilities.On the contrary, the sexual choices of Mathammas are not actually choices of their own. It is well known that they are sexually exploited by the dominant castes as well as by those men who choose to be their sexual partners.

On several occasions, Devi has shared her personal experiences of being deserted by men

fter she gave birth to their children, leaving  the burden of providing and parenting entirely

on her. The close surveillance of Mathammas by her caste elders ensured that the “choice” of

sexual partners is made only with the consent of the caste members.

I thank Fatima Burnad and friends at the
Society for Rural Education and Development, Arakkonam and M S S Pandian for their comments.

S Anandhi (anandhister@gmail.com) is Associate Professor at the Madras Institute of Development Studies, Chennai.

 

Activists allege illegal detention of workers by Noida Police


 

By Newzfirst Correspondent2/28/13

New DelhiActivists of labour organizations Thursday accused Noida police of illegally detaining seven persons and harassing them on the directions of factory-owners.

Police picked Naveen Prakash and his employee Raju Wednesday evening without stating any reason. Four persons who went to enquire the reasons were also locked up by the Police, said Satyam Verma, a leader of Bigul Mazdoor Dasta.

Naveen Prakash, who runs a DTP centre at Ghaziabad, was active in workers’ union.

After detaining them, Police made Naveen to call his friend Tapish Maindola, an activist of the Bigul Mazdoor Dasta and locked-up him too, he said.

Police took all the three without informing anybody and where they are being taken to, he said.

According to latest updates, four persons- Gyanedar, Pramod, Gajendra and Sunny- who approached police station to know the whereabouts and the reason for the detention were also detained by the Police.

The police has so far neither lodged an FIR nor charged them of any offence. Activists alleged that Police is contemplating to charge them under NSA for allegedly instigating the workers for violence.

According to the Police, they are taken into custody for suspicious activities and are being interrogated.

Bigul Mazdoor Dasta has been holding street corner meetings in different parts of Noida and distributing a leaflet since February 23.

The leaflet says that the incidents of sporadic violence during the two-day strike were only a reflection of the deep set anger and frustration in the millions of workers in Noida who were being denied even basic rights. It points out that such anarchic explosions of anger are no solutions to the problem and workers must organise themselves in revolutionary unions and political organisations to wage an organised struggle against capitalist exploitation and the state machinery hand-in-glove with the exploiters.

“It is obvious that the police, as always, are working like henchmen of the factory-owners of Noida. Bigul Mazdoor Dasta has been targeted several times before by the Noida police at the behest of the factory owners who trample even basic labour laws under their feet and rush to smother every voice of protest. It should be recalled that the factory-owners’ associations have been clamouring to book the workers under NSA for the incidents of 21-22 February.” the statement released by the activists reads.