#India – Every Move She Makes. They’ll Be Watching Her #moralpolicing #Vaw


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Rising hemlines lead to rising TRPs. Aradhna Wal examines a commercial news industry committed to sleaze, to lechery and to shaming young women

There’s something rotten in the states of  and . And it seems the Kannada and Telugu news channels have identified the problem — girls gone wild, fuelled by alcohol. On 14 May, Karnataka’s leading regional news channel, TV9 Kannada, ran a programme, Olage Serideru Gundu (literally, ‘once alcohol is inside’), a fine assortment of video nasties from across the country, showing the great evils of girls drinking — the ruckus on the street, clothes askew, clashes with cops.

For some years now, the disapproving cultural policing of a class of girls — ones who can afford to go out to drink — has become a staple on regional news in both states. There is massive viewership, particularly of sleazy ‘true crime’ reports, and so editors and programming heads encourage reporters to follow women and young couples, to stake out pubs, nightclubs and make-out spots. A cursory search on YouTube reveals the many news reports with such eye-catching titles as ‘Drunk women causing hulchul’, ‘Drunk women causing hungama’, or ‘How to ban rave parties to save the youth’.

“We show boys too, but a girl being daring on screen instantly catches the viewers’ attention,” says Shreeti Chakraborty, senior producer with a leading Kannada channel. One clip was of an altercation between four female students of NALSAR University of Law and reporters from the Telugu news channel ABN Andhra Jyothy, outside Rain pub in Hyderabad’s Banjara Hills on the night of 11 April. Shruthi, Megha, Prachi and Adwitiya angrily confronted a drunk man filming them on his phone. The confrontation attracted a mob and reporters from ABN. Apparently, the drunk man was a reporter who had telephoned his colleagues. The footage was picked up by other news channels. Several of them branded the girls immoral, drunk and half-naked and even questioned the pub’s licence.

Watching the ABN footage is instructive. The camera pans up and down the women’s bodies. It is exploitative; consent is not an option, probably not even worth a thought. The viewer is implicated by the camera’s roving eye, a fellow voyeur leering at barefoot girls in short dresses. The cameraman follows the girls to their taxi, thrusting his camera through the door, his taunts provoking the girls to shout insults. Their expressions of fury at being cornered were circulated on primetime news as the faces of unacceptable modernity, of aggressive young women out at night, women who must be checked.

One irate senior journalist with a leading Telugu news channel described the girls as “public nuisance”, and launched into a tirade about “minors” getting drunk, abusing reporters and partying late into the night. He blames this “anti-social behaviour” on both NALSAR and the students themselves: “They even shot a promotional video for the ‘daaru party’ on campus. Look at the things they say in that.”

Confronted by this (self ) righteous indignation, the students launched an online campaign on change.org to prove that they had been harassed by the media. They compiled evidence to show that they were neither minors, nor drinking after legal hours (11 pm), and the leaked video that the news channels broadcast was not a promo for the party. Raj Singh, the owner of Rain, has stated that the ages of everyone at the party were checked and the girls left around 11 pm, not past midnight as the reporters alleged.

“The police raided us at 11.45 pm after the incident was over,” says Singh. “At 12.45 am the reporters barged into my club, beat up my security guard and placed bottles on the bars to suggest that the pub was still open.” His decision to stand up for the girls has meant that his pub “has been raided almost nightly by every department imaginable looking for some illegal activity”.

In response, Andhra Pradesh’s Electronic Media Association of Journalists put up a counter petition on change.org, asking for the girls who “assaulted reporters” to be condemned. It garnered over 5,000 signatures. But during routine checks, change.orgtraced the bulk of these signatures to one IP address, proving that most were fake. After they removed those signatures, only 132 were left.

The girls’ determination to stand up for themselves sets them apart in a state where reporters looking to manufacture lurid stories appear to operate without any kind of sanction. “We had to fight back,” says Shruthi Chandrasekaran, one of the girls involved in that now infamous April incident. “What’s happening is just wrong and too many people seem resigned to it. We don’t even know what motivates the media’s malice towards us.”

Andhra Pradesh has some 16 regional news channels. Sevanti Ninan, editor of The Hoot, an online media watchdog, has written about how corporate ownership sets the terms and how the need to be profitable means a redrawing of the lines between public and private. In a market exploding with money and fierce competition, no channel can afford for viewers to switch off. Thus, there’s little distinction between what channels define as eyeball-grabbing reportage and salacious entertainment. News seems to essentially mean reality TV served with an indigestible side dish of hypocritical, moralistic commentary.

GS Rammohan, associate editor with ABN Andhra Jyothy, accepts that TV news has gone insane, driven by ratings and profit. According to the , what sells is sex and crime. “People enjoy watching other people’s private lives on TV,” he says. As long, apparently, as the “other people” are comely young women. The same senior journalist who denounced the NALSAR students stated matter-of-factly that channels look to show beautiful women onscreen as de facto policy. Local media in Hyderabad and Bengaluru, Rammohan says, are similar in this regard. Though Karnataka has six regional news channels as opposed to 16, its crime news coverage is famous for stings, both successful and attempted, on bars in Bengaluru, Mangalore and Manipal. Many of these stings are the work of reporters employed by Suvarna News 24×7 and TV9 Kannada, the two most popular regional news channels in Karnataka. Both blame the other for lowering the tone of the public conversation with leering, tabloid journalism.

Raoof Kadavanad, a crime reporter with a leading English daily in Hyderabad, watches the tactics of TV reporters with some bemusement. He describes how crime reporters seek out couples in public spaces and film them with hidden cameras. The footage is then screened to bolster the argument that the behaviour of young women in the city is deplorable. After the NALSAR incident, TV5 aired a segment about Hyderabad’s nightlife that deplored what was “happening to our sisters and daughters”

In July 2012, Tonic, another pub in Banjara Hills, was raided for having a party long after legal hours. The media filmed the raid, focussing largely on the women in that familiar, creepy style. Depressingly, this behaviour is typical. In January 2012, Suvarna broadcast a ‘sting’ on illegal bars in Bengaluru. The ‘illegality’ of said establishments was, of course, of less concern than filming the girls on their cameras. In 2011, a medical student was photographed at a party in Le Rock Cafe in Bengaluru. Her picture was published in a Kannada newspaper belonging to the Telugu channel Sakshi TV as an example of the malign influence of western culture on the present generation.

The combination of sanctimoniousness and aggression is visible. Girls are hunched over, hiding their faces, surrounded by baying men. The footage is edited insidiously, with strategic blurring implying nudity when a girl is wearing a dress deemed insufficiently modest. Shame is thrust on the girls. “It was terrifying,” remembers Shruthi, “to be chased by this man with a camera, who won’t even let you shut the car door.” Her fear has been felt before by innumerable women running away from cameras, desperately covering their faces with dupattas, scarves or their own hands.

Another popular tactic used by reporters is to wait around with traffic police conducting its weekly drunk-driving tests at various checkpoints around Hyderabad. Every Friday and Saturday night, a small group of reporters armed with lights and cameras film these checks, waiting for women who might be stopped. “Channels use that footage in different packages to say different things for months. People enjoy it,” says ABN Andhra Jyothy’s Rammohan.

In Bengaluru, Ajit Hanamakkanavar, the Crime Bureau Chief of Suvarna, acknowledges that “news has crossed over the line to  and reality TV”. “In the TV business, the remote control is your biggest enemy. No one watches serious, investigative stories,” he adds. The channel has a “legal team at the ready” to deal with accusations of slander and defamation. The reporters are often tipped off about the bar raids by the police. “A commissioner will not be my source,” says Hanamakkanavar, “but a constable will be.” A senior police officer confirmed that the constabulary and reporters often share information.

Both Rammohan and Hanamakkanavar put the blame squarely on upper management. The top brass have cynically turned moral policing into a lucrative business. Many of the reporters, who often come with their own cultural baggage, actually believe they are making a valuable difference, providing a much-needed check to out-of-control youth. It is not enough for them to observe society; they feel the need to become enforcers of a particular, usually imaginary, cultural code. Sampath Kumar, a crime reporter for ABN, earnestly tries to explain how “these people” can be kept in check “through fear of the media and by being made to understand that their behaviour is wrong”. He claims the reporters have the public on their side and that tip-offs come just as often from their audience as from the police.

In Karnataka, there is also a penchant for blaming the outsider, or the ‘foreign hand’ — students and professionals, who flock to cities from other states and countries, and bring money, decadence and loose morals. The pressure to make the money to lead extravagant lifestyles also results in crime, say reporters. Rajesh Rao, the Mangalore crime reporter for TV9 Kannada, says that he’s “seen what goes on in these pubs, what drugs are exchanged. These petticoat parties where girls wear short clothes”. Suresh Kumar Shetty, the Mangalore crime reporter for Suvarna, worries about the effects the “lavish lifestyle” of rich students from outside the state have on locals.

Like Rao, Shetty admits that his channel has attempted to smuggle cameras into popular bars. He once asked two friends of his, who were not reporters, to enter a bar as a couple and film the goings-on. To validate the rightness of the cause, he refers to the tragic suicide of Sneha, an 18-year-old Mangalore girl, in February this year. A drug addict, she reportedly killed herself because she couldn’t afford the next fix. Her parents spoke about a girl who used to top her class at school until she started going to parties in hotels and pubs and was introduced to drugs.

This story fits conveniently into Rao and Shetty’s argument that local youths are tempted into vices they cannot afford and that the media must protect them. Naveen Soorinje, the Mangalore reporter for Kasthuri TV, disagrees. With vehemence. He made national headlines last year after the 23 July 2012 homestay incident in which activists from the Hindu Jagarana Vedike attacked boys and girls at a birthday party. Soorinje’s coverage shed light on what had happened, yet he was named as an accused in the case by the police. Released on bail in March this year, all charges against Soorinje were dropped by the Karnataka government on 14 June. Having consistently reported on cultural policing, he points out when right wing groups such as the Sri Ram Sene go on one of their periodic moral policing jaunts in Mangalore, the media, tipped off by these groups, is close behind. It’s a cosy relationship. The media gets political backing for its own occasional hand-waving about decadent modern culture and the right wing groups get the soapbox and spotlight they so desire. “When the right wing groups are not around,” says Soorinje, “TV channels film young people in pubs and ask ‘what is the Hindu sangathan doing now?’ When TV9 does something, Suvarna tries to catch up by doing something more sensational.”

This role of social responsibility is championed by TV9 Telugu’s executive editor Dinesh Akkula and Input Editor Arvind Yadav. According to them, the story of Telugu media is one of transformation — from a cutthroat business to responsible journalism that is the hallmark of the likes of TV9. “Maturity is coming in slowly,” says Akkula, “we stick to the guidelines recommended by the News Broadcasters Association (NBA). We don’t target specific people or groups, but we show what’s in the public interest.”

In TV9 Telugu’s infamous Planet Romeo sting (February 2011), a reporter posed as a gay man on the site Planet Romeo and befriended other members, eliciting intimate details while recording his conversations. The ‘report’ was broadcast with lots of hand-wringing about how Hyderabad was falling prey to the fashionable gay culture. The conversations were played on TV, revealing identities, personal sexual preferences and histories. Prominent gay rights lawyer Aditya Bandopadhyay filed a complaint and the NBA fined the channel 1 lakh, a piffling sum for a network of TV9’s size.

That appalling piece of reporting shows that it’s not just middle and upper-middle class girls in the firing line, but all manner of easy targets. The Telugu news channel NTV 24×7 once filmed transgenders at an LGBT awareness event held by the NGO Suraksha and then aired that footage in a completely different context, when a man was murdered at a popular cruising spot. TV9 Kannada did a major expose in 2009 on the “Devdasi tradition” among sex workers of Kudligi in Bellary district. The story’s fallout, as documented in a fact-finding report by Vimochana, a women’s organisation, and Nava Jeevana Mahila Okkuta, a Dalit Women’s Collective, was that these sex workers, previously accepted by a wider community, were now ostracised. They had lost their only source of livelihood, couldn’t send their children to school and were shunned by the neighbours. The TV9 journalist, Prakash Noolvi, went on to win the Ramnath Goenka Excellence in Journalism Award in January 2012. “The reporter didn’t hide the faces of these women,” says Akkai Padmashali, the media coordinator of Sangama, an LGBT organisation. “They cheated these women by posing as clients. One had even been visiting them for sex.” She angrily recounts the many times reporters secretly film sex workers to extort money from them.

Activists and intellectuals point to how a large section of society gives legitimacy to the media and other self-appointed moral police. People will be outraged by a girl being beaten up, but will also say that she should not have been out drinking in the first place. Conservatives who might be of completely different backgrounds find common ground when setting limits on women’s behaviour. Shaming is a cultural reality. Madhavi Lata, a scriptwriter and former reporter for NTV, is honest about the fact that truth is often warped to fit viewers’ preconceptions. But even she asks why “these girls give people the chance to say something about them. They could go out for a drink in more decent clothes”.

Hyderabad-based activist Tejaswini Madabhushi recalls media reaction to the 5 January ‘Midnight March’ in the city, an attempt to take back the night from sexual predators and the moral police. “Vernacular news reporters,” says Madabhushi, “kept asking us why we wanted to go out in the night and provoke men like them.”

Pop culture too reflects this attitude. Audiences cheer when Telugu heroes verbally and physically abuse heroines. It’s part of a nationwide acceptance of . Sandhya, a leading gender rights activist in Hyderabad, says people “want to see women as sex objects. Studios call us for panel discussions and pit us against someone from the right wing. We tell them to leave the girls alone and start telling the boys how to behave.” R Akhileshwari, a senior print journalist, points out that it’s “always the woman’s body” that is the locus of censure or dispute. “Why do these channels not look at the liquor shops on the road, where men buy drinks, enjoying a session right there by the roadside?”

Perhaps legal challenges will force TV channels to modify their intrusive behaviour. “It is a violation of privacy,” says Bengaluru-based lawyer Akmal Rizvi. “It can be interpreted as stalking, which comes under Section 354D of the IPC.” One of Hyderabad’s eminent lawyers says, on the condition of anonymity, that some reporters “blackmail people for money by threatening to show their faces on TV”. The NALSAR students cited the reporters’ violations of the NBA’s regulations concerning stings and media ethics. The reporters argue that roads are public areas.

“Moral policing on TV goes back to the ’90s when crime shows started,” says Deepu, a Bengaluru- based documentary filmmaker with Pedestrian Pictures. He reiterates the point that journalists are part of the social fabric that consumes these shows. But the very morality these channels pretend to is hypocritical. “Why would you want to see that picture of the skimpily dressed girl if you are so moral?” asks Nisha Susan, freelance journalist and writer, who began the ‘Pink Chaddi’ campaign in 2009 in response to Sri Ram Sene goons beating up women in a Mangalore pub. Thousands of people around the country responded to her call to send the thugs the aforementioned items of women’s underwear. She adds that each generation must push the boundaries for acceptable female behaviour and be prepared for the inevitable friction.

As of now, vernacular media is working hard to play to its audience’s prejudices. An audience that tunes in repeatedly to be scandalised. Perhaps one day, these channels will be overtaken by their viewers as they’re forced to adapt to changing times. One day, the audience will note the rage on a young girl’s face as she is backed into a corner by a reporter wielding a camera. And then they’ll no longer listen to the reporter’s claims that it is the young girl whose behaviour is immoral.

aradhna@tehelka.com

(Published in Tehelka Magazine, Volume 10 Issue 27, Dated 6 July 2013)

 

#India – Dr Soonawala rape case in Mumbai shows how elite privilege works #Vaw


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Illustration by Megha Roy Talukdar | Dev Kabir Malik Design

Police conduct, elite reaction and the manner in which this story was reported illustrate how hard it is for a poor woman to accuse a privileged man of rape in India, writes Richa Kaul Padte
Richa Kaul Padte  22nd Jun 2013
There are many stories within this story, often manufactured, and almost entirely contradictory. Perhaps then we should begin with the story that has been told the least: the story of a 26 year old woman who was allegedly raped by her general practitioner Dr. Rustom Soonawala on 17 May at 6pm at his clinic in Mumbai. The narrative begins clearly enough: on leaving the clinic, she told her husband what had happened. At 10.30 pm the same day, an FIR under Section 376 – rape – was registered at the Khar Police Station. The following morning, two police constables accompanied the survivor and her husband to Soonawala’s residence at Dadar Parsi Colony, where she identified the doctor as her rapist. Here, however, is where the story begins to splinter.

The constables sent the couple back to Khar, and told Soonawala that he must accompany them to the police station. Choosing to travel in his own car (questions around why an immediate arrest wasn’t made or why an accused rapist is permitted his own transportation remain unanswered), Dr. Soonawala revved up his engine with a police constable in the front seat and another in the back, along with two of his sisters. Here is precisely where all coherent narratives disintegrate, because over an hour later, the police officers returned to the station, saying that Soonawala had absconded. One account says that one officer had to leave the car to let a patient inside, and the other got out to prevent Soonawala from escaping. Another suggests that there was only ever one constable involved, who was lured out of the car on the pretext that everyone was getting out — before the car sped away. Any police account, however, raises several burning questions: why was the licence plate of the car not recorded? (‘We forgot,’ say the police) Why was the control room not telephoned with a description of the car to be halted at the next signal? (‘We didn’t think of it,’ they say).

On 11 June, over two weeks after the FIR had been lodged, the still-absconding doctor and accused rapist was granted anticipatory bail. And the shock-horror-anger following last year’s Delhi gang rape was nowhere to be seen.

Speaking at a public meeting organised by the Aam Aadmi Party on 18 June in Mumbai, Justice Suresh Hospet said, ‘This reminds me of what the first CPI Chief Minister of Kerala said: If in a court of law there is a rich, well-dressed, suited and booted person standing on one side, against an ill-clad, starving poor man on the other side, the court has an inherent tendency to lean in favour of the former against the latter. This is exactly what is happening today. It is the rich against the poor.’ As a member of the upstanding Bombay Parsi community, which has always held a position of social and cultural privilege dating back to British Imperialism, Soonawala’s respectability was vouched for from all sides. From a lawyer-community with personal ties to the doctor to medical professionals (‘if this can happen to him it can happen to us': a perverse twist in the logic of vulnerability that normally exists between doctor and patient, says Sujatha Gothoskar from the feminist collective Forum Against the Oppression of Women) to the wider Parsi community, efforts to clear the doctor’s name were aggressive and multi-pronged.

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The crux of the issue here lies not in Soonawala’s guilt or lack thereof, but in the fact that the law was prevented from taking its own course – singularly because of the social and economic standing of the accused.

Activists who had worked with Soonawala to strengthen laws against hawkers alleged that the case was fabricated by the hawker community in an act of vengeance. But the survivor is no hawker. She is a quiet, soft-spoken wife of a tailor from Orissa, with little money and no one to speak for her. In an unprecedented movement of support for a man accused of a crime that recently made every second Indian a feminist, over 300 people attended the first hearing for anticipatory bail in the Mumbai’s Sessions Court, where the victim was heckled from all sides. How does a judiciary rule in the face of such overwhelming, ‘respectable’ support?

he Order issued by the Mumbai High Court judge on 11 June was a regressive about-turn from the strides made by the Ordinance that resulted from the Justice Verma Committee Report. ‘Facts’ like ‘why didn’t she scream?’ and the 5 hour ‘lapse in time’ it took the survivor of a physical, sexual and mental assault to reach the police station took precedence over forensic evidence of semen on the examination table; an appointment book listing only the survivor’s name for the day; and clear police negligence in locating an absconding Soonawala. Other ‘facts’ cited were that the survivor was unsure about the extent of penetration, and that a forensic report dated 20 days after the incident found no traces of male DNA on her vaginal smear —factors that have been dismissed by the Supreme Court in several rape cases where the survivor is accustomed to sexual intercourse. In a note on the subject Justice Hospet writes, ‘In most…rape cases, there is the victim and the accused — and it happens in a closed room, and there are no eye witnesses.’ It comes down to what the judiciary believes. But as the evidence shows, this ‘belief’ does not exist free of classism and privilege. Aam Aadmi Party members Anjali Damania and Preeti Sharma Menon ask, ‘What if the case was reversed? What if a tailor raped a Parsi lady doctor? Would we say that he should get anticipatory bail? No, we’d say, “Arrest him and put him in jail immediately.”‘

Says Sujatha Gothoskar, ‘What [supporters of Soonawala] don’t seem to understand is that this sets such a dangerous precedent with much wider implications than the case itself…Whether you believe her or the doctor, let the law take its own course; let him be arrested.’ The crux of the issue here lies not in Soonawala’s guilt or lack thereof, but in the fact that the law was prevented from taking its own course – singularly because of the social and economic standing of the accused. Now being heard in the Supreme Court, if the current ruling is not overturned, will the Soonawala case be the new litmus test for rape cases of the future? Fast track for poor rapists, bail for the wealthy? The more support in court, harassment of the survivor and reportage from an uncritical media, the better the chance for acquittal?

If the public and media conscience and consciousness were so righteously raised by the aftermath of the Delhi gang rape, the Soonawala case shows the falseness and elitism of that consciousness to begin with. When it’s the tailor, the plumber, the masked villain in the night, the country (as represented by social media, at least) is up in arms against this ‘dishonouring’ and violent act against its women. When the culprit is ‘one of us’, the silence is chilling.

 

Pioneer of Women Studies Vina Mazumdar- A Personal Tribute #Feminist


Vina Mazumdar

Vol – XLVIII No. 25, June 22, 2013 | C P Sujaya , EPW

A recollection of the varied contributions of Vina Mazumdar (1927-2013), one of the pioneers of both the women’s movement as well as women’s studies in India.

C P Sujaya (cpsujaya@gmail.com) is a retired IAS offi cer from the Himachal Pradesh cadre who worked as joint secretary in the Ministry of Women and Children from 1985 to 1989. She is Vice President of the Centre for Women’s Development Studies, Delhi.

My story starts, somewhat incongruously, with the inevitable struggle of an Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer to get a “good” posting in the Government of India. One needs the pull and push of godfathers and godmothers, especially for postings considered cushy or prestigious (the two words have different connotations).

So, when I decided to opt for the normal five-year tenure in the Government of India, away from my home cadre of Himachal Pradesh, I was aware of these facts of life but did not visualise how difficult it would be. However, I found an unexpected ally in a non-governmental organisation (NGO), who introduced me to Bunker Roy, who in turn became a conduit in my search.

When I was finally informed that I had been posted as joint secretary in the Department of Social Welfare (as it was then called), my heart did sink a bit. “Social Welfare” or “Welfare” postings were not really popular with the bureaucracy, but after sternly telling myself that beggars could not be choosers, I trotted off to Shastri Bhavan in early 1985.

Bunker Roy had apparently done his bit in spreading the word. I came to know this when one day, soon after I joined in Shastri Bhavan, R P Khosla, the secretary of the ministry, called me to his room. There were two women sitting there with him and one of them, who was puffing away on her cigarette, turned around, looked me up and down and said in a very matter-of-fact tone, “Ah, there you are” – as if she knew me (or knew of me) and was expecting me. I was completely mystified. Coming from the boon docks, I had never heard of Vina Mazumdar, or of the Centre for Women’s Development Studies (CWDS). Nor had I heard, except very vaguely, about the women’s movement.

The rest, I would say, is my history. I found a new vocation, a new interest, a new awareness, both of the world around me and of myself. Over the four years I spent in Shastri Bhavan, I discovered “gender”, with all its connotations. Vina-di, as she was widely known, was the guiding light, the reason why I felt myself so involved in this “not so important ministry”, why I began to understood a dictum “the personal is the political”. (All this was in spite of a solicitous junior (male) colleague warning me of the pitfalls of engaging with “women’s groups” – he graphically described how every divorce that took place would be followed by celebrations organised by such groups.)

Towards Equality

But what I started to feel was that I had a whole new world to explore, uncover and understand. I had not heard of the Committee on the Status of Women, or of Towards Equality (TE). It was just a report or a book, left on my table in the office, meant for “reading” because it related to the ministry (there were many of these). But the presence of, and my frequent meetings with Vina-di and her persona made TE come alive. This report became my first and primary textbook in Shastri Bhavan, enriched, with running anecdotes provided by one of my personal assistants in the office, S C Bhattacharya, who, coincidentally, had earlier worked as her stenographer when she was dictating the final report of TE. Bhattacharya remembered, especially, the high speed and the high quality of her dictation, which he said, was the best training-learning experience he had received in his career of stenography. I still have with me this old printed copy of TE (first edition), now dog-eared, torn and frayed. In turn, Bhattacharya told Vina Mazumdar that the new joint secretary seemed to be obsessed with TE and had issued instructions that she should not be disturbed in office with too many sundry visitors since “she had to make up for a lot of lost time”. In turn, Vina-di repeated this quote back to me, with some delight.

Vina Mazumdar took me under her wing. I learnt about the International Women’s Year (1975), the International Women’s Decade (1976-85), went through the reports of the Mexico (1975) and the Copenhagen (1980) Conferences on Women, and prepared the ground in Shastri Bhavan for the next (third) upcoming International Conference on Women scheduled for mid-year 1985 in Nairobi. My advantage was that the presence of Vina Mazumdar and her colleagues from CWDS made each of these earlier events come alive, because they, as the representatives of the women’s movement, were actively in pursuit of the implementation of the recommendations made earlier at these conclaves and they made me feel personally involved as well. This would not have happened if the UN reports of Mexico, Copenhagen, etc, were to just “officially” land on my table for me to read, which is what normally happens within the government departments and ministries. It would then have become a duty, sometimes even a chore, for bureaucrats to plough through these “weighty” tomes. (I would probably have told one of my juniors to prepare a “short” summary.) Personal involvement is rare in such a scenario, just official duty.

Education as Empowerment

One day she asked me to go with her to the room of the education secretary, Anil Bordia; a new National Policy on Education was on the anvil. One of Vina-di’s highest priorities related to education, to women’s education, and how it was visualised and implemented. She used to repeat to us a Sanskrit sloka, sa vidya ya vimuktaye – education is that which liberates – (this was long before Freire!). Anil Bordia was planning to arrange a workshop on the proposed “New Education Policy” (NEP) and, of course, wanted Vina Mazumdar’s help, especially for drafting the section on women’s education.

Her imprint is still there in this section of the policy document. Part IV of the 1986 policy, enshrined the title “Education for Women’s Equality”, starting with these memorable sentences:

Education will be used as an agent of basic change in the status of women…In order to neutralise the accumulated distortions of the past…the National Education system will play a positive interventionist role in the empowerment of women…foster the development of new values through redesigned curricula, textbooks, the training and orientation of teachers, decision-makers and administrators, and the active involvement of educational institutions. This will be an act of faith and social engineering…The National Education System will play a positive interventionist role in the empowerment of women.

It was the first time that the word “empowerment” entered the vocabulary of a government policy document and it was Vina-di’s achievement. I remember that in the official discussions which I attended many eyebrows were raised. Sadly, it has now been debased and trivialised by overuse in all sorts of other contexts, but the original sheen has still not disappeared from my mind.

When this concept of education as a means of empowering women entered government policy, it did not lie dormant, with no practical expression or manifestation. Vina Mazumdar strongly believed that government policies are to be “implemented” and not to be kept as showpieces. The initiation of the Mahila Samakhya programmes in 1988 for rural, poor women (especially scheduled caste and scheduled tribe women) by the education ministry was a direct result of this theme of women’s empowerment in the NEP. It was an unconventional programme, raised eyebrows for its apparent breaking of protocols and government’s “rules of business”. Mahila Samakhya is not a programme which taught the women only the ABCs; it mobilised and organised the poorest women of the locality and village into groups and taught them, what can be termed, “life-skills” using unorthodox teaching-learning methods, so that they developed the ability to fight their own battles and thus become empowered women.

Women and Children

Notwithstanding her priority to the building of a strong women’s movement in the country, Vina-di did not separate or split issues relating to women and those relating to the child. Many feminists – especially radical feminists from the west – looked at the processes of motherhood as patriarchal ploys of diverting women’s attention from their autonomy and their individuality; child-care and child-rearing was seen as a burden that prevented women from an “outside” life, relegating her to the “inside”. In India, the early women’s movements of the 1970s followed this reasoning, by and large. If women and children were clubbed as a dyad by the State, this was more for administrative and management reasons, whereas the Indian’s women’s movements of that time were largely anchored by women and focused on women. Childcare, maternity and maternal health, the population issue, etc, were extremely important issues for the movement, but they were seen from the point of view of women and not that of the child. Vina Mazumdar, however, showed far-reaching and exceptional sensitivity towards the need to visualise the mother and the child in the same frame, but as independent persona, each having separate identities, both of which had to be cared for.

A decade after TE, in 1985 the book titled, Who Cares? A Study of Child Care Facilities for Low Income Working Women in India, written my Mina Swaminathan and published by the CWDS with the feminist publishing house Kali for Women came out. Vina-di wrote the preface, in which she mentioned the connections between TE and the presence of childcare facilities as an important support service for women. The book was written and published with the approval of the executive committee of CWDS, even while Mina made it abundantly clear that she was doing so from the perspective of child needs, not from that of women. CWDS fully supported her in this. In her preface, Vina-di recalled Mina’s own contribution to the setting up of CWDS in 1980.

There was genuine partnership in such efforts between those who worked for the women’s cause and those who worked for the child’s cause. It was not a bifurcated interest or interests. Vina-di had much to contribute to this broader vision of the existential relationship of the mother and the child through her encouragement of those who were looking at children’s needs. Mina acknowledges that it was Vina Mazumdar who initiated the study and supported its completion with utmost interest. In the first chapter of the book, Mina points to the increasing recognition that women and children need to be seen together and the needs of families to be considered as a whole, that facilities for children of working women can no longer be seen in isolation from the need for child development and education, nor could children’s programmes be seen in isolation from the changing position of women and families. The two, she says, should converge and be placed in the larger framework of social and economic change and development. Both Mina and Vina Mazumdar always prioritised the childcare needs of poor and vulnerable women.

Similarly, when Razia Ismail, after retirement from UNICEF, put all her energies into the formation and running of the Indian Alliance for Child Rights, Vina Mazumdar presented the first annual lecture on the girl child in 2001.

Academic Activist

Academia and action came together for Vina-di. She did not see any fault line or divergence between them. She was the architect of the Indian Council for Social Science Research (ICSSR) programme of women’s studies, under which for the first time the focus was shifted from middle-class preoccupations to those of the socially and economically deprived. ICSSR commissioned studies on unorganised women workers in the coir, cashew and other industries. She was instrumental in pushing the idea of creating the Indian Association for Women’s Studies (IAWS), which she presented during a conference at the SNDT University under the then Vice Chancellor Madhuri Shah. After the memorandum of association was finalised and passed, elections were held to pick the executive committee to conduct the IAWS conferences.

From its inception, the IAWS has been an organisation for both scholars and activists, and as Maithreyi Krishnaraj points out, it has rejected the separate categorisation of these two conventional groups. Devaki Jain says that it has redefined the scholar as an activist and the activist as an intellectual. When the Mahila Samakhya programme was started, the women of the sanghas (i e, the village women) said that “they wanted time to think” according to Srilatha Batliwala, who started the programme in Karnataka. In each of the IAWS conferences, both scholars and activists participated and still do. As Maithreyi Krishnaraj points out, this was a special feature of the IAWS unlike other discipline-based bodies.

Over 600 women attended the first conference and Vina-di’s efforts to get the presence of the members of the women’s wing of political parties brought in Mrinal Gore, Ahalya Rangnekar, Manju Gandhi, Sarojini Varadappan, Sister Mary Braganza, Pramila Dandavate, etc. Vina-di’s attempt was to build a federation across all parties. Though this idea failed, the women’s movement always had the presence of women members of political parties and this was largely due to Vina Mazumdar’s vision. She had created a forum of “seven sisters” which is still remembered with nostalgia.

The Responsibility of Democracy

Vina-di’s insistence on conducting formal, planned elections for selection of office-bearers of women’s organisations is another unique aspect of her faith in democratic values. It is also a tribute to her insistence on formal procedures being consistently followed, perhaps due to her own collegiate experiences. Besides the IAWS (which came into being later), the CWDS, started in 1980, has regularly conducted formal elections for their office-bearers. This formal electoral procedure is not followed by most NGOs and other social organisations where informal procedures such as election by consensus, show of hands or voice vote are the usual modes.

Vina-di has an anecdote that related to one of her many trips to Bankura (West Bengal) where CWDS was working with tribal women. She used to tell us this incident quite often; it had obviously made a deep impression on her. Lotika Sarkar was with her on this trip to Bankura. Lotikadi had just finished speaking to the tribal women of the area (unlettered and poor) telling them and making them understand – as she was asked to – about their rights relating to all aspects of their lives. Her intention was to make the women acquainted with the issue of women’s rights, how they are not powerless creatures but strong beings because they had rights as per the Constitution of India. The women heard her talk with rapt attention. After the talk was over, one of the tribal women (I forget her name) put up her hand and put a question to Lotika Sarkar,

It is wonderful that you have come here from Delhi and told us, unlettered women, about all our rights, about what we can do with these rights. It has made us feel strong; our shoulders are now straight and broad after listening to your talk. Now, tell us what our responsibilities are.

I think Vina-di remembered this small incident all her life because it reinforced her belief in the strength of women, especially of poor women. The women’s movements have always fought against the “welfare” approach to women, against the tendency to see women as powerless, needing protection rather than empowerment.

Vina-di led a multidimensional life, with multifarious interests, as her biography Memories of a Rolling Stone has depicted. To those of us who knew her closely, she will always remain a lasting influence, because she has touched our lives with such strength. It would not be an exaggeration for me to say that my life as an IAS officer took a complete U-turn after knowing her, working with and listening to her, interacting to her and most of all, learning from her.

 

Men, Women and Other People: Understanding Sexualities #Sundayreading


breaking1

From left to right  ( Nine members of the research team ) – Hasina Khan , Kranti  ,  Shruti, Shalini Mahajan, Smriti Nevatia , Raj, Sabla , Meenu pandey, and Chayanika shah

Kamayani Bali Mahabal, Women Feature Service 

The concept of gender needs to be transformed. That was the central thrust of a recent study entitled, ‘Breaking The Binary’, released by the queer feminist collective, Labia, at an event organised in Mumbai’s well–known SNDT University.

Questioning the male–female binary, the study concluded that there can be no uniformity within these identities. Even when people use the same term like ‘man’, ‘woman’, ’transgender’ to define themselves, their lived realities may differ greatly. Such categories, therefore, should necessarily be less rigid because when the boundaries between them get blurred, individuals are enabled to exert greater agency and choice in moving across them. According to the study, gender needs to be consensual; it needs to get transformed from a hierarchical discrete, binary system to a porous, multiple–gender one.

‘Breaking The Binary’ was based on 50 life history narratives that explored the circumstances and situations of queer PAGFB (Persons Assigned Gender Female at Birth), who were made to, or were expected to, conform to existing social norms pertaining to gender and sexuality.

The research team for the study comprised 11 members, with Chayanika, Raj, Shalini and Smriti from Labia anchoring the work. Explained Chayanika, “Through this study, we looked at the experiences of our subjects within their natal families and while at school. We charted their journeys through intimate relationships and we attempted to understand what happened to them in public spaces, how they were treated by various state agencies, what were their sources of support and refuge when they came under the threat of violence or faced discrimination.”

The people interviewed came from a wide cross–section of society in terms of location, age, caste, class, and religion. These variations were critical, according to Chayanika, as the intention was to reach those living at the intersections of many marginalised identities. But achieving this was difficult, even impossible. As she put it, “The silence and invisibility around individuals who continually transgress gender norms meant that we were able to approach only those individuals who have some contact with queer groups.”

The 50 respondents were spread across north, east, west and south India – living in cities such as Bangalore, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Delhi, Pune and Thrissur. The representation of individuals living in rural areas was low, but two persons – one from rural Maharashtra and the other from rural Jharkhand – were interviewed, and 11 of the respondents had grown up in rural settings. Of the 50 individuals who participated in the study, 30 were from the dominant castes, 11 people were from the Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes/Special Backward Classes, three were from Other Backward Classes (OBC) and six identified themselves as Others.

‘Woman’ as a biological category was one of the subjects that figured in the interviews. Persons whose biological sex did not correspond with their psychological sex, were branded as gender “variants”, even though women do not constitute a homogenous category and could belong to many different categories – including a category as unfamiliar as ‘working class lesbian’ or ‘dalit lesbian’.

According to Raj, a member of Labia, “We found that being from an upper class background was no guarantee of privilege. There was a 20–year–old from a business family. Because of family dynamics, she was unable to get the education she had wanted and was forced to support herself by earning small sums of money playing cricket. Another respondent, identified as upper class, was also deprived of a meaningful education.” Clearly, a privileged, upper class background does not protect queer persons, especially if they happen to challenge gender and/or sexuality norms.

The study identified three levels of violence the respondents had faced. The first is at the individual level, where harmful acts are perpetrated against people and property. This can range from taunts to forced marriage and even murder. The second is at the institutional level, where damaging consequences are perpetrated by social institutions with the idea of obstructing the spontaneous expression of human potential – as, for example, when an office denies promotion to an employee on account of sexual orientation. The third is at the structural – cultural – level as, for instance, when religious or political beliefs rule that homosexuality is immoral or illegal.

A woman’s sexual orientation can, among other things, determine her access to resources as well as her social status, according to the study. Women suffer severe material loss when their families desert them and many experience emotional and psychological trauma in their struggle against discrimination and ostracism. Mis–recognition and non–recognition can become a very perverse form of violence as it seeks to naturalise the power enjoyed by dominant groups over non–dominant ones.

For instance, families, friends and teachers could refuse to recognise the need of lesbians to be acknowledged as they are and treated with dignity, leading them to experience a severe loss of self–esteem. This constitutes a form of violence imposed by the majority on a minority. As Shalini, one of study team members, put it, “Every society has its own notion of what is normal and what is assumed to be normal. Going beyond that construct could invite violence on the individual. Many of the respondents felt that the gay rights movement was crucial precisely because people cannot hide behind identities that are not their own. Therefore, just as women defied patriarchy through the women’s rights movement, queer persons defy heteronormativity through the queer rights movement.”

This study, the first of its kind, has helped shed light on how queer persons have addressed the challenges of life and how they continue to search, negotiate, and challenge multiple boundaries. It has attempted to answer some important questions. Where, for instance, are the points at which gender binaries rupture? How are the normative gender lines being reinforced? What situations help to create varied gender identities? Most important of all, the study has helped to capture the experiences of Persons Assigned Gender Female at Birth and their negotiations with families, friends, communities, social structures, as well as the health and legal systems.

The team hopes to take the study forward to highlight areas of concern and conceptualise effective interventions. As one of the team members put it, “We are aiming to convey its insights to the more general category of people, at least those who are interested in taking proactive steps in addressing violence against any human being in any form and also for those who would like to understand the root causes of homophobia. We also want to take it to educational and governmental institutions, so that they can also help usher in change.”

The study was released not just in Mumbai, but in Kolkata, Delhi, Bangalore, Thrissur and Chennai as well. A Hindi translation of it is also on the cards. (WFS)

 

Press Release- Women groups demand apology from Advocate General West Bengal #Sexist


PRESS RELEASE FROM MAITREE

Date: 07th June 2013, Kolkata

We are writing to you on behalf of Maitree, a women’s rights network of 60 organisations and individual activists based in West Bengal. We strongly condemn the comments made by the Advocate General of West Bengal on 4th June 2013 at the Calcutta High Court regarding the State Election Commission.

The Advocate General’s comment: “The State Election Commission is behaving like a beautiful lady asking for this and that. It is making arbitrary and whimsical desires. Some unreasonable” is sexist and stereotypes women. Instead of legal arguments, the Advocate General distracts from the important political issues and tries to diminish the concerns raised by the Election Commission by resorting to trivial and unparliamentary language to attack his opponent. By doing so, the Advocate General joins a long list of public figures in the country who have made denigrating comments about women which go against the grains of equality and justice.

The comment should be examined within the larger context of increasing violation of women’s rights in recent times. If the AG of a state can make such a denigrating comment about women, it sends a wrong signal to the public at large threatening the very safety and security of women. This is most unfortunate since one looks to the higher judiciary to uphold values stated in the Constitution.  Thus his comment is far from being humorous as claimed by him and reinforces deep-seated gender bias. We condemn this as an affront to the dignity of a woman.

We demand public apology from him immediately.

Vina Mazumdar’s Rolling Story


vina
Pamela Philipose

Many known and unknown women have helped build up that seeming inchoate, open-ended, work-in-progress that is the Indian women’s movement. Among this remarkable sorority is Vina Mazumdar, known widely as ‘Vina-di’, who being endowed with tremendous energy, intelligence and an interest in ideas, has contributed immensely to the intellectual growth of this movement.

In her eighties now, Mazumdar has recently written a memoir, entitled ‘Memories of a Rolling Stone’, brought out by Zubaan. To have a woman who was a notable educationist, who anchored the 1974 Report of the Committee on the Status of Women, who is widely seen as the “grandmother of women’s studies in South Asia”, and who remains a feminist/activist/”trouble maker” to this day, set down her recollections of a lifetime spanning eight decades is in itself cause for celebration. So many of her contemporaries have, sadly, passed on leaving their footprints behind, but not their words. In her acknowledgements, Vina-di indicates one of the factors that motivated the work: “I view this book as part of my tribute to the Indian women’s movement to assert the rights they had earned through participating in India’s freedom struggle.”

The freedom struggle certainly helped to shape this young life. When Mazumdar joined the Delhi University, she could sense the political turmoil in the air. The Constituent Assembly was in session, and she would occasionally make her way to the visitors’ gallery to listen to a galaxy of leaders hold forth on their idea of India. One abiding memory was that of witnessing the Union Jack coming down and the Tricolour going up at Delhi’s India Gate, the other was of a caption-less David Low cartoon she saw in a British newspaper as a student at Hugh’s College, Oxford, which appeared soon after Gandhi’s assassination, depicting Socrates with the bowl of hemlock, Christ on the cross, and Gandhi with his ‘dandi’ (stick).

Here then was a women shaped by pre-Independent India, who would go on to try and shape, in her own way, post-Independent India. The challenges Mazumdar faced were many, and they included domestic upheavals caused by professional choices. There was also the backlash from entrenched hierarchies – notably during her courageous attempt to breathe fresh life into the stagnant academic scenario of the University of Berhampur in Orissa.

Relatedmore news tagged with "Feminist movement" ]

Meanwhile, the world began to focus more on women. The United Nations marked 1975 as the Year of Women, and went on to declare 1975-1985 as the decade of women. This meant that UN member-states had to submit Country Reports on the status of women in their respective countries. That was how fate and a visionary bureaucrat called J.B. Naik, conspired to introduce Mazumdar to the subject of gender. She was taken on as Member-Secretary of the committee that was drafting India’s report on the status of its women. The whole experience was to prove a life-changer. As Mazumdar puts it in her memoirs, “My earlier struggles represented an individual woman’s efforts to balance the demands of professional and familial responsibilities. The new struggle was increasingly a collective, ideological one – to rediscover the Indian nation, the world, the past, the present and the future – from the perspective of India’s hidden and unacknowledged majority: poor working women in rural and urban areas.”

The exercise meant, first of all, evolving a framework with which to regard the position of women in the country cutting across castes, classes, economic strata and religion and reorganising existing demographic data to yield its evidence of the large scale “marginalisation, poverty and invisibility” of Indian women caught in a “dual economy” (traditional and modern) – a concept borrowed from Gunnar Myrdal‘s ‘Asian Drama’. It was what Mazumdar describes as a “fantastic experience of the evolution and growth of collective thinking”. Despite occasional personal differences within the Committee, the process was driven by a “collective conscience”, as Mazumdar puts it.

There were major silences in the Report and Mazumdar recognises that the Committee did not pay sufficient attention to the issues of rape and dowry. Yet, it is no exaggeration to say the Committee on the Status of Women in India Report, which came out in 1974, changed the way the country regarded its women. It countered assumptions of the millennia, undermined government mindsets, helped unleash innumerable mutinies, and changed policies and laws. In fact, it was revolutionary in its impact, all the more remarkable for having emerged just before one of the darkest periods of recent Indian history – the Emergency. If the Committee, and its Member-Secretary, did not have friends and supporters in the establishment, it may have never seen the light of day. Today, decades later, Mazumdar, recalls with what one would imagine an impish smile, “Before the rest of the government could realise what the Report contained it was placed before Parliament, a report very critical of the Government of India.”

The realisation of the centrality of gender in society led to another significant process in which Mazumdar again played an important role, and that was the emergence of women’s studies as an academic discipline. Mazumdar sees the women’s movement and the women’s studies movement as “twin movements”, each influencing and furthering the other. The logical outcome of this process was the setting up of the Centre for Women’s Development Studies (CWDS) in May 1980, with Mazumdar as its founder-director. It was at this point that her concerned elder sister, observing Mazumdar’s penchant for embracing ever new challenges despite the fact that her daughters still needed her attention, termed her a “rolling stone” – the title of the book.

But the stone, despite such apprehensions, rolled on nevertheless and invariably into fresh fields. This included a project that came to define Mazumdar’s contribution as a social analyst-activist. To put it in Mazumdar’s own words, “Our (CWDS’s) real journey of discovery began at the ‘Reorientation Camp for Seasonally Migrant Women Labourers’, organised by the Department of Land Reforms, Government of West Bengal, in Jhilmili village in Banjura district.” That encounter with tribal peasant women proved to be an “unusual alliance of a social science research institution and groups of the poorest, migrant rural women”, and to Mazumdar it showed the possibility of arriving at development with a human face.

The CWDS had its plate full. There were a plethora of concerns that needed scholarly scrutiny, ranging from the resurgence of the practice of ‘sati’ in some pockets to one of the most serious demographic challenges facing India today: the skewed sex ratio.

When ‘Memories of a Rolling Stone’ was released in Delhi, Brinda Karat, senior Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader and general secretary of the All India Democratic Women’s  Association, spoke for many when she observed how Mazumdar helped bring women together. Said Karat, “This was because she was convinced that if things have to be changed on the ground, it has to be a joint effort… Vina-di put things in a wider perspective, which could draw the Indian women’s movement forward. This helped it to retain a dynamism that has petered out in many movements in the West.”

By arrangement with WFS   

 

 

Women Deliver unaware of charges against Kurien, is that Enough ? #Vaw #Rape


AARTI DHAR, The Hindu

P J Kurien. File photo
The HinduP J Kurien. File photo

“Had we known of the controversy, we would not have permitted PJ Kurien to speak at the side event,” say the organisers of Women Deliver conference

With twitterati in India launching a tirade against Rajya Sabha P.J.Kurien’s presence at an international conference on women underway here, the organisers of Women Deliver on Wednesday said they were unaware of charges against him.

In a statement issued here, Women Deliver said it took the issues of violence against women and rape very seriously.

We were unaware that Indian Parliamentarian PJ Kurien is facing allegations of rape. While we cannot comment on the specific allegations, had we known of the controversy, we would not have permitted PJ Kurian to speak at the side event. Addressing violence against women is central to our mission as an organization and one of the focus areas of this global conference,” the statement said.

Mr Kurien, who is facing serious charges of rape, is also chairperson of the Asian Forum of Parliamentarians on Population and Development, that had invited him to speak at the Global MPs Conference, held as a side event at Women Deliver conference.

As the word on Mr Kurien’s participation spread, social media overflowed with condemnations. Tweeted Vidyut: massive anger over women’s rights situation, sweet promises by Sonia/sarkar, half hearted committee/law passed, then Kurien at Women Deliver”

Women’s activists lost no time in writing to UPA chairperson, Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister demanding Mr Kurien’s removal as chairperson of Rajya sabha.

Mr Kurien’s case involves gang rape of a minor girl in Suryanelli in Kerala. While the victim has alleged that she was raped by 42 men over 40 days and one of them was Mr Kurien. In 2005, the Kerala High Court tried 35 men but Mr Kurien was not among them- and acquitted 34. This order was recently set aside by the Supreme Court following which there have been demands of Mr Kurien’s removal as chairperson of Rajya Sabha.

 

Vulgar Song Case: FIR Filed Against Punjabi Rapper Honey Singh


 

 IBTimes Staff Reporter | May 17, 2013 =

Just days after High Court questioned the inaction by Punjab police against Honey Singh, a First Investigation Report (FIR) has been booked against the pop singer on Friday.

A case has been filed with the Nawanshahr police against Honey Singh, accusing him of singing vulgar songs laden with sexual violent content directed at women.

The singer was booked under Section 294 (singing obscene songs at public place to the annoyance of others) of Indian Penal Code and the song “Main Hoon Balatkari” (I Am rapist) with its lyrics has been included in the complaint.

Based on the section of crime, a person can be put behind bars for three months maximum, fined or be subjected to both.

Confirming the case, Nawanshahr senior superintendent of police (SSP) Dhanpreet Kaur told Hindustan Times, “We have registered a case against Honey Singh and started further investigations.”

The complaint was filed on behalf of Nawanshahr based NGO, Human Empowerment League of Punjab (HELP), by its general secretary Parvinder Singh Kittna for prohibiting songs laden with lewd contents. Honey Singh’s name was mentioned among others in the petition.

The Punjab and Harayana High Court had rapped the Punjab police for not taking steps against the rapper on 15 May asking, “Why the Punjab government has not taken cognizance of “Main hoon Balatkari” song sung by Honey Singh, even though it attracts the provisions of Section 294 IPC, which is a cognizable offence?”

The rapper was in a fix just when the Nirbhaya gang rape protests rocked the nation. Honey Singh was condemned for his songs which carried derogatory content.

The High Court also questioned as to why the song was still available to the public via YouTube when a song of such stature should have been banned at the earliest.

The court has fixed the next hearing for the case on 4 July.

To contact the editor, e-mail: editor@ibtimes.com

 

Crusader against communalism


Published: May 15, 2013 02:31 IST | Updated: May 15, 2013 02:31 IST

ASGHAR ALI ENGINEER 1939 – 2013

Meena Menon

 

The Hindu Asghar Ali Engineer.

Asghar Ali Engineer.

All his life he tirelessly worked for interfaith peace and harmony and religious reform in his own community

As a child in Wardha at the time of Partition, Asghar Ali heard “horrible stories of people being killed and trains full of dead bodies.” Those stories, he wrote in his autobiography, A Living Faith, disturbed him so much that he began thinking very early in his life about why people killed each other in the name of religion.

Then, as a student in 1961, he was deeply affected by the riots in Jabalpur, the worst till then in independent India. For Engineer, those riots were the beginning of his lifelong battle against the pathology of communalism and the engagement with creating interfaith harmony.

Only last December, on the 20th anniversary of 1993 Mumbai riots in Mumbai post the Babri Masjid demolition, he was part of a campaign to mark a bloody phase in the city’s history. At the launch, though unwell, he was spirited about the need to remember those riots: “Not for revenge but to ensure that it does not happen again.”

All his life he spoke for peace and communal harmony, his other passion being the democratisation and accountability of the religious establishment. He was physically attacked six times for his beliefs and his advocacy of religious reform. His family often worried about his safety, said his son Irfan.

Born on March 10, 1939, at Salumbar, a town near Udaipur, Rajasthan, Engineer grew up in an orthodox atmosphere. His father was a priest and was posted to different towns to provide religious guidance to the Bohra communities there. But, as he recalled, he never spoke anything against other religions.

It was at school in Dewas, when he and other Muslim boys were teased as being “pro Pakistani” that he became aware of religious and caste distinctions. Engineer was already writing articles in school, mostly on Islam and the problems of Muslims, something that he continued to do almost until the end.

In February, from his hospital bed, he typed out a keynote address on his laptop for an interfaith meeting in Indonesia. Two years ago, he delivered a speech, again from hospital, over the cell phone for one and a half hours, for a conference. A commitment was a commitment for his father, said Irfan.

A scholar and writer of over 70 books and numerous articles, Engineer, his son said, was a very humble person who could relate even to his critics, arguing differences with patience. Irfan, who has taken up Engineer’s crusade, remembers him to be a kind and understanding father who was also a friend.

Women’s rights

Women’s rights and equality was another of his missions. Engineer fought for understanding the Koran which he believed had given women equal rights. Medieval jurisprudence had cheated women and he wanted those rights restored. To support religious reforms, a conference to launch a democratically-elected Central Board of Dawoodi Bohras was held in February 1977 in Udaipur where he was elected general secretary. He later set up the Institute of Islamic Studies, in Mumbai and the Center for Study of Society and Secularism.

He counted Ghalib among his favourite Urdu poets and confessed to being deeply influenced by the Sunni thinker Iqbal among others. Initially repelled by Marxism because of its atheism, Engineer said he was later “won over” by Marxist doctrines “as I found them close to Islamic values,” and that it was not necessary to be an atheist to be a Marxist. Engineer’s father had decided not to force him to continue the priesthood tradition. The first time he had taken him to Bombay was for the ritual of kissing the feet of the Syedna, which Engineer had found revolting.

Arriving in Bombay again in 1963, he found a job with the city municipal corporation as an engineer but quit in 1983. He started writing against the oppression of the Dawoodi Bohras in Udaipur. For this he faced threats and demands for an apology. His family boycotted him. Some of the attacks on him were serious enough for him to be hospitalised. His Center for Study of Society and Secularism was vandalised.

Along with his intense participation in efforts to get to the bottom of communal riots that affected India’s social fabric, and his interfaith initiatives for harmony, Engineer was a scholar of Islam. In his Muslims in India since 1947: Islamic Perspectives on Inter Faith Relations, Yoginder Sikand says Engineer’s principal concern was to evolve a theology of Islam that seeks to grapple with the modern condition even while being rooted in it. Engineer’s main contribution was in articulating a contextual hermeneutics of the Koran one that he believed could help guide Muslims in dealing with the challenges of contemporary life.

Engineer combined a passion for knowledge and religion with action on the ground, taking along leading writers, journalists and members of progressive movements of the day in his battle for religious reform and what he believed was an “un-Islamic” imposition of the Syedna’s tenets.

Before he succumbed to diabetes-related complications on Tuesday, he had partially recovered from a prolonged illness (of three months), and had returned home from hospital on April 26. His passing comes at a time when many of the issues he fought for and deeply cared about are still far from settled. More than ever, we need the values of tolerance, communal harmony and inter-faith dialogue that Engineer stood for all his life.

meena.menon@thehindu.co.in

 

Delhi refuses to Learn – 13-yr-old gangraped by eight men in Delhi, 393 rape cases in first 3 months 2013


IANS  New Delhi, April 20, 2013

 A

 13-year-old girl was allegedly gangraped by eight men, four of whom were known to her, police said on Saturday. The incident comes even as the capital is witnessing outrage over the horrific rape of a five-year-old girl.

Three of the eight men have been arrested.

The victim and her 12-year-old brother were abducted by two men known to her on March 15 from outside her house at Farsh Bazar area in east Delhi and taken to Loni in the city outskirts, where she was gangraped by the eight, a police officer said.

 Four of the eight accused were known to the girl, the officer added.

Police arrested three accused – Deepak, 21, Ranjeet (20) and Sohan Lal (24) – Saturday, following medical examination of the victim April 15.

The victim is undergoing treatment at the Hedgewar Hospital in east Delhi.

According to a police officer, the father approached police after she went missing, but did not file a rape complaint after she returned home.

A search is on to nab the other accused, the officer added.

Meanwhile, the girl’s family alleged that police had refused to lodge their complaint.

On March 24, the girl returned home and the family approached the police, the mother said.

Failing to get any response from police, the family approached the local court April 9 which then ordered police to lodge a rape case.

The five-year-old girl was brutally raped for two days and kept without food and water in a room in which the accused, her neighbour, lived. She was rescued Wednesday when her family heard her screams. The accused has been arrested from Bihar.

Delhi has seen 393 rapes in the first three months of the year.