A Pakistani in Delhi

Farooq Sulehria
Tuesday, June 11, 2013
On January 6, I nervously landed at the Delhi airport. I say nervously because I wasn’t there as a tourist. I had gone to India as a researcher – to spend six months conducting research on the Indian media. As a Pakistani, I was uncertain if I’d be able to get my work done without being suspected of any other activities.


On reaching India, however, it did not take long to for my nervousness to dissipate. My Pakistani origin, I soon discovered, was not a disadvantage. On the contrary, my Pakistaniat was not only helping me achieve desired research goals, it also began to pose gastronomic challenges: in the form of endless dinner invitations.


That my arrival coincided with the alleged beheading of an Indian soldier at the LoC invoked an unknown fear within me. Four months later, Sarabjit’s murder terrified me as well for a while. A fear of the unknown would grip me even otherwise – particularly when alone or lonely. ‘Anything can go wrong and land me in trouble,’ was a thought constantly nagging at me. However, the hospitality extended by my Delhi friends and acquaintances would lay to rest all such fears. Most importantly, a sense of familiarity – at times transforming into a sense of belonging – hardly ever made me feel alien.


My language, skin colour, name, or religion – nothing is alien to Delhi. On the streets, people would stop by and ask for directions. In one incident, while at a metro station I had asked a person standing next to me: “Which line goes to Rajiv Chowk?” Ironically, I was standing right underneath a route-map, which happened to be in Hindi. Rather well dressed and holding a laptop, I hardly looked like the stereotypical unlettered person. The man I spoke to was perhaps in a bad mood. Pointing towards the map, he shouted, “Why don’t you read for yourself?”. “I am from Pakistan, can’t read Hindi”, I replied in Urdu. At which he apologised immediately, shook my hand and politely guided me.


The similarities were even stronger in the case of Punjabis and Muslims – even though I am neither Punjabi nor religious. For about four months, I lived in Malviya Nagar, a Punjabi neighbourhood. My Punjabi language skills invoked such an affinity that within weeks I had an udhar system working with two local grocery stores.


Everywhere in Delhi, one overhears the azaan. Is it that moezzins in Delhi recite the azaan in a highly melodic way. My Swedish-Pakistani friend Prof Ishtiaq helped me understand that the azaan is also an assertion of Indian plurality and rights of the Muslim there.


As if to appreciate this plurality, I would candidly discuss the Kashmir question as well as the situation of Indian Muslims with my non-Muslim friends and comrades. My interaction with Muslim and Kashmiri students at Jamia Millia Islamia, with which I was attached, helped me enrich my understanding of their situation. While Kashmiri students – infested with conspiracy theories – visualised Pakistan as an Islamic paradise, Indian Muslims have no such illusions about Pakistan even if, like any other Indian, they are concerned about the crises in our country.


Also, like any other religious community, Muslims are divided along ideological and sectarian as well as class and caste lines. Jamia Millia epitomises Muslim diversity as well as the cultural progress Indian Muslims have made.


Imagine a campus in Pakistan with statues of Mirza Ghalib and Maulana Jauhar. While the road to the Mir Taqi Mir Hall is dedicated to Manto, a beautifully built auditorium is attributed to Noam Chomsky. However, my favourite hang-out was the Castro Café surrounded by the M F Hussain Gallery and the Maulana Azad Hostel.


Beyond Jamia Millia, my favourite escape was Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). Away from conservative Delhi, JNU’s walls – graffitied with huge images of Marx, Lenin, Che, Bhagat Singh and Manto – offer relief to any frustrated progressive. However, it is Faiz one finds all over the place. But Faiz and Manto are not confined to the JNU’s romantic campus. They are all over Delhi. In fact, Delhi it seems has become Urdu’s last refuge in the Subcontinent.


While the annual Jashn-e-Baharan Mushaira symbolised Delhi’s role in preserving Urdu, a qawali session during Khusro Week at the National Museum or an evening with dhrupad master Ustad Wasifuddin Dagar at the India International Centre (IIC) convinced me that Delhi is also protecting other forms of culture that Muslims have greatly contributed to.


There is a vibrant Urdu press and a flourishing publishing business. At the International Book Fair held in February at Pragati Maidan not merely offered a glimpse into Urdu publications, it was interesting to see an Ahmadiyya bookstore next to Tahirul Qadri’s Minhaj-ul-Quran bookstall. While Urdu press and publications promote a conservative agenda, progressive Muslim voices have found refuge in the recently-launched DD Urdu.


Visits to Doordarshan were always a great experience owing to the warmth shown by its Additional Director General, Ranjan Thakur. However, Faiz’s life-size portrait – surrounded by those of Gandhi jee and Tagore – at DD’s reception would add a special touch to every visit. Once a profitable enterprise, DD is now running huge financial losses. However, it remains committed to its social responsibility.


Apart from DD, the Indian television media is sensationalist. TRP-hungry channels have compromised themselves – journalistically and morally. Luckily, sections of the daily press, notably The Hindu and some magazines, haved stayed committed to the Indian tradition of quality journalism. Interestingly, India is the only major newspaper market that has expanded even after the arrival of the digital age.


But electronic media – the television – has outdone other outlets. The sprawling Noida Film City, on the outskirts of Delhi, is a testament to this growth. An enviably modern and efficient, though overcrowded, metro is the best way to reach Noida. Ironically, from metro station one can reach huge media houses via cycle-rickshaws. Initially, I tried to avoid using cycle-rickshaws pulled by skinny migrant workers from Bihar. But they were unavoidable as well as living proof of India’s ‘combined and uneven development’, a theory brilliantly propounded by Leon Trotsky.


Beyond glaring class contradictions, one also comes across sights that would be very familiar for a Pakistani. The traffic is messy; manholes are usually uncovered; and there is an utter neglect for monuments (with few exceptions) and old buildings. Apart from some posh areas, most streets are littered with garbage. While there may be no power cuts, there is a real water crisis.


Since my return on June 4, I have been quizzed by siblings and cousins, friends and acquaintances. ‘What do they think about us? Do they hate us?’ I am asked. ‘I do not know. However, I had wonderful time,’ is my standard reply. Honestly, such simple questions cannot be answered in a similarly simple manner. Also, I do not have any documented evidence to substantiate or deny any claims. I can only narrate my impressions. And I think Pakistan is not the most hated country in India. We could say that about perhaps Bangladesh or Afghanistan where Pakistan is disliked near-universally. However, I can safely assert that the only country where I have been warmly received as a Pakistani is India.


The writer is a freelance contributor.Email: mfsulehria@hotmail.com

source- http://www.thenews.com.pk/Todays-News-9-183118-A-Pakistani-in-Delhi


Refashioning the Breast- Angeila Jolie #Breastcancer

Modern Medicine and Dispensable Female Body Parts

Vol – XLVIII No. 20, May 18, 2013 | G Arunima

Expressing unease with the celebration of Angelina Jolie’s double mastectomy, this article argues that the medical industry has played a masterstroke by casting the mastectomy debate in terms of an older “rights discourse” of the women’s movement. It suggests that the feminist and progressive movement hit back by asking questions to the scientific establishment about access, costs, and the necessity of specific forms of treatment. That may be the way forward towards not only accountability to “consumers”, but actually for equitable health-care for all.

G Arunima (arunima.gopinath@gmail.com) is with the Centre for Women’s Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

In this last week, social media, blogs, websites, and news sites have been awash with reports, and opinions, about Angelina Jolie’s preventive mastectomy. Apparently falling in a genetically high risk category, she chose this procedure for both breasts, so that she would be there “for [her] children”. She, as the tagline goes, chose life over cancer. Mostly enthusiastic, reports are also describing this as something “brave”, applauding her for “coming out” about this, in order to help other women.

Consuming Health

So I ask myself – why am I not responding to this with the requisite amount of enthusiasm, indeed euphoria, that seems to be accompanying the media coup of the week. In part, this is to do with an instinctive mistrust of the manner in which modern technology in the last few decades has invaded and displaced all other forms of medical care, creating simultaneously a kind of pseudo scientific common sense.

The Jolie case itself reveals many elements of this. For instance, the liberal references to percentages, without ever clarifying sample sizes, racial or national contexts, or age profiles, is a classic instance of the misuse of statistics. Most reports mention hitherto unheard of genes (except presumably in medical circles) and within a mere forty eight hours or so the BRCA gene has achieved a resounding degree of notoriety. The combination of math and science in this fashion, needless to say, is a noxious cocktail. And as marketing strategy, not entirely unfamiliar.

Indeed, the steady shift to technological interventions, and medical procedures involving multiple levels of assessments (“tests”) has been undergirded by what can be termed as the ‘genetic turn’ in popular scientific discourse. As someone untrained in any kind of science, medical or otherwise, it would not be my place to mount a critique of developments in the field. However, having been reduced to being a “consumer”, like millions of others, my response to these trends is primarily one of bewilderment, accompanied by mistrust of a medical system that’s clearly making huge profits whilst subtly introducing anxieties about possible health risks that one might embody, utterly unbeknownst to oneself.

Living in a country with practically no public, or affordable, health care, the growth of the medical industry and new accompanying technologies holds frightening prospects. Other than the fact that the emerging “super specialty” hospitals price the average Indian out, it also successfully instils in everyone’s minds that this is the only form of health care that could provide medical solutions. In an almost caricatured version of neoclassical economic logic of supply creating demand, the profusion of technologies has resulted in a mindless multiplication of tests, where a body becomes the sum of its test results. In this light, the case of women’s health, and bodies, becomes particularly relevant.

The Economy of Predictive Interventions

A frightening dimension of this is the manner in which women’s health has so easily been reduced to reproductive health. In part a UN inspired move, it has, certainly from the 1990s been accompanied by large amounts of focused funding and the emergence of a cottage industry apparently generating research in this area. Two correlates of this phenomenon – albeit leading in opposite directions – have been huge money spinners. One is the increasing medical common sense of preventive intervention in the form of hysterectomies; the other has been in the area of assisted reproductive technologies. Here I want to dwell briefly on the hysterectomy, and what this trend signifies.

Purely impressionistically speaking (and this is an area in which detailed, and reliable statistics would be very welcome) hysterectomies have been increasing at an alarming pace in this country. In states like Kerala, women are routinely advised to remove their uterus, sometimes ovaries, after about 40. The assumption here is that a woman who’s had her children, or past “reproductive” age, doesn’t require this organ. The justification is normally provided on the basis of the existence of uterine fibroids, which could, within this new language of science as dire prediction, eventually lead to malignancy.1

Needless to say, other than the costs and fear that accompany such procedures, most women are also not advised about the short or long term after effects that such surgery could have. The idea of woman as reproductive vessel – with use value during menstruating years – is at least as old as organised religion. Yet there is something else that appears to be happening at this moment of (reproductive) organ dispensability. It is about the manner in which medical discourses are inflected by industry concerns, in which the fear that is generated reaps fine dividends. It is therefore quite educative to see the nascent preventive mastectomy industry emerging, complete with its gene patenting, testing and surgical costs.2

The Gaze on the Breast

In possibly what was one of the earliest feminist reflections on mastectomy, the poet Audre Lorde wrote movingly of her experience in Cancer Journals.3 Far more than Angelina Jolie’s highly publicised “brave” disclosure, Lorde’s quiet voice had powerfully engaged both the trauma of fighting cancer, the then prevalent surgical interventions, and the ‘solutions’ that were on offer. Going to the heart of the economy, and gender politics, of the mastectomy industry Lorde, rejecting prosthetic solutions, asked why “looking normal” would help any woman heal? How unlike Jolie, who has probably given millions to her plastic surgeon for “reconstructive surgery”,4 and has been selected poster girl for the medical industry. This then brings me to the last set of issues I wish to raise here – about the woman’s body, its parts, and the contemporary moment in “disease management”.

In her insightful, and racy, A History of the Breast, Marilyn Yalom rightly points to the need to read the breast not merely as unmediated biological fact, but also as a site of multiple discourses.5 She tracks the manner in which the biological or nurturant function of the breast has been inflected by the erotic, as indeed the scientific and medical. Posed perilously at the intersection of differing, and often competing, attention the breast has constantly evoked desires, fears, and fantasies.

The breast, unlike the uterus (which too has been the produced via multiple discourses) has increasingly been fetishised as a potent, and complex, sign of a woman’s beauty. This has led to its being subject to intensive commercial onslaughts, from the corset industry, silicon implants, to nipple piercings. It looms large in both ideas of motherhood and in pornographic representation. Predictably, such excessive attention to particular body parts, and its place in producing ideal womanhood (reproductive and sexy) has led to a certain kind of feminist unease with women’s bodies.

Often when some feminists speak of throwing away their uteruses or breasts, they are rejecting the tyranny, and consequences, of such an overdetermined gaze on particular female organs. Yet frighteningly, the market savvy medical industry feeds off precisely such views, and produces new regimes of health care that will deliver, rather cold bloodedly, precisely such results at prohibitive costs. Not only that, it also produces an apparently apolitical “scientific” rationale for its marketing strategy.

What is Normal?

Needless to say, this trend of preventive surgical science coexists quite comfortably with heteronormative and patriarchal ideas about women, their bodies, and sexuality in general. Writing of the complexity of trans lives, the historian Afsaneh Najmabadi’s nuanced discussion of the Iranian context maps how sex change surgeries are framed within the utterly objectionable language of “curing” abnormality and deviance.6 Similarly, trans artist James Cameron’s work, with great irony and power, unmasks ideas, and desires, that undergird dominant notions of masculinity. His triptych “God’s Will” where he parodies body builders, using props of syringes, knives and light bulbs, also constantly references the body as ‘performance’ and its being reconstituted continually through acts of self-fashioning.7

I think it is extremely urgent that we engage, and utilise profitably the insights gained from trans experience, with its critique of “normal” bodies, sexuality, and indeed patriarchy. Yes, women must take charge of their bodies and selves. Yet this cannot happen in the absence of a demand for greater accountability and transparency from the medical scientific empire whose solutions are invariably industry driven.

Genetic focus, and folding back into specific women, and their personal histories, needs to be offset by a wider understanding of growing numbers of new cancers, often in people with no identifiable genetic disposition. In other words, its time that we demand that governments, and the medical establishment, invest money and research in understanding the relationship between food, lifestyle, environment and changing global health trends. Can this happen without rethinking development, economy and the very nature of the political process?

Casting the mastectomy debate in terms of an older ‘rights discourse’ of the women’s movement is a masterstroke by the medical industry. I would suggest we hit back by asking feminist inspired questions to the scientific establishment about access, costs, and the necessity of specific forms of treatment. That may be the way forward towards not only accountability to ‘consumers’, but actually for equitable health-care for all.


1.Many oncologists, and researchers, would now agree that myomectomy is a far cheaper, and easier, way of dealing with uterine fibroids. This, however, is rarely suggested to patients by the medical establishment. Nor does it engage productively the completely foolproof natural health care regimes that have proven histories of fibroid management.

2. http://jezebel.com/angelinas-cancer-gene-is-actually-patented-by-a-compa…

3. Audre Lorde,(1980) Cancer Journals, Aunt Lute Books.

4. “Angelina Jolie’s story boosts awareness of breast reconstruction, local plastic surgeon says” The Record.com, 17 May, 2013.

5. Marilyn Yalom, A History of the Breast.

6. Afsaneh Najmabadi, “Transing and Transpassing across Sex-Gender Walls in Iran”, WSQ: Women’s Studies Quarterly, 36:3 & 4,(Fall/Winter 2008).

7. Melanie Taylor, “Peter(A Young English Girl): Visualizing Transgender Masculinities”, Camera Obscura, 56, Volume 19, No. 2.

#India- Caste in Tamil Nadu

A History of Nadar Censorship

Vol – XLVIII No. 03, January 19, 2013 | M S S Pandian

Representations have been made by some of the political parties of Tamil Nadu to have a particular chapter in an NCERT Class IX textbook removed; the chapter is being attacked for discussing the past of the infl uential Nadars as “untouchables” and for highlighting the role played by 19th century Christian missionaries in the community’s subsequent upward mobility. The present clamour for a censored caste history has a right-wing Hindu character to it. If memories of degradation are an enabling resource in producing alliances against continuing forms of oppression, in this instance erasure of such memories is what is being sought by an upwardly mobile caste.

M S S Pandian (mathiaspandian57@gmail.com) is at the Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

I am grateful to Vincent Kumaradoss and Mani Manivannan for sharing with me sources of information which made this piece possible. I also thank Anandhi S and A Kalaiarasan for their comments on an earlier draft. This is the first of a two-part series on caste in Tamil Nadu today. The second part will be published next week.

Certain communities have denied social equality to the Nadar community. The Nadars have…from time to time asserted their claim to social status. But unfortunately they have attempted to maintain their claim for equality by seeking to prove that they were Kshatriyas… Such a method of establishing your status is very unfortunate. For, the moment you claim to be Kshatriyas, you recognise the validity of the caste system and reserve to yourself the right of treating certain other as being inferior to your own. I must…congratulate you on your spirit of tolerance which is evidenced by the amicable personal and social relationship which you have maintained with that portion of the community who have embraced Christianity. Keep up these social virtues at all costs.

– Shanmugham Chetty, Presidential Address, Nadar conference, 1927 (The Indian Social Reformer, 8 October 1927, pp 88-89).

This is a story of the Nadars, today an intermediate caste in Tamil Nadu, not heeding to the perspicuous advice given by Shanmugham Chetty in the 1920s. The present-day story may begin with the Tamil Nadu politicians’ enduring love for the school textbooks produced by the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT).

In October 2012, S Ramadoss, the leader of the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), a party of the intermediate caste Vanniyars, issued a public statement in Chennai. The statement objected to a chapter on clothing in the Class IX history textbook of the NCERT. The part of the text which offended the sensibilities of Ramadoss recounts briefly how the Shanars, who are known today as Nadars, struggled against the Travancore state during the first half of the 19th century and earned the right for the Shanar women to cover their breasts in public. The book also refers to the contribution of Christian missionaries in the struggle.

Ramadoss claimed that the Nadars are the sons of the soil of south Tamil Nadu and objected to them being referred to as Shanars. Of course, there is no need for him to know that it was only in 1921 that the ministry headed by the non-brahmin Justice Party in the Madras Presidency substituted the term “Nadar” for “Shanar”. “Shanar” was official till then. Discounting the contribution of the protestant missionaries in the breast cloth revolt, Ramadoss finds in Vaikunda Swamy, an important Hindu Shanar social reformer, the source of Shanar women’s liberation.

The fact, however, is, when the Travancore state issued the first order on the right of Christian Shanar women to cover their breasts in 1812, Vaikunda Swamy was just four years old. When the final order, which allowed both the Christian and Hindu Shanar women to cover their breasts, was issued in 1859, he was dead for no less than eight years. Death of history may be the beginning of politics. Ramadoss wanted the life of Vaikunda Swamy to be included in textbooks produced by the state as well as the centre.

Political Representations

Ramadoss was joined by the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leader J Jayalalithaa and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam chief M Karuna­nidhi. Jayalalithaa, in a letter to the prime minister, characterised the Nadars as the lofty descendants of the Tamil royal dynasties of the Cheras, the Cholas and the Pandyas and sought the removal of the lesson from the NCERT textbook. While her letter was silent on the extensively-documented role played by Christian missionaries in the social and economic mobility of the Nadars, it made sure to invoke Vaikunda Swamy: “The said text has neglected the struggles of Aiyya Vaikundar in the ‘upper cloth revolt’ and also his social reform”. No surprise here: “anti-conversion” was one of the favoured themes of Jayalalithaa in the past. Karunanidhi, who is supposed to have familial compulsions to take up the issue, listed a number of Nadar greats such as K Kamaraj, W P A Soundra Pandian, and K T K Tangamani, and registered his protest against the NCERT text. Consumed by narcissism, he could not resist adding his own role in conferring a positive caste identity on the Nadars. If he was silent on Vaikunda Swamy, he was silent on the Christian missionaries as well.

Now it was time for the caste leaders to join the chorus. Sharad Kumar, an actor who heads an inconsequential political party, Samathuva Makkal Katchi (SMK) and a Nadar himself, was hurt about, among other things, the text not talking about the sacrifices of Vaikunda Swamy. But he too was silent about the Christian missionaries. So was the case with the representation made by the Vaikunta Swamy Dharma Pracharana Sabha which claimed an exalted past for the Nadars.

To cut a long story short, there is more or less a consistent pattern in the representations against the NCERT text. First, there was a refusal or an unease to come to terms with the untouchable past of the Nadars who are today both econo­mically and professionally influential. Second, there is a reluctance to acknowledge the labour of Protestant Christian missionaries in the social mobility of the Shanars. Instead, it is Vaikunda Swamy who is being celebrated.

There are, of course, exceptions to this pattern. The representation made by the History Council of Kanyakumari ­District does recognise the contributions of ­Rev Charles Mead, Rev William Tobias Ringeltaube and other Christian missio­naries to the breast cloth revolt. ­D Peter, the chairman of the Kanyakumari Institute of Development Studies, is even more candid. He found nothing wrong with the NCERT text and added that if the text was deleted, “…it would become a great loss to the student community as well as an insult to the Protestant Christian Shanars of the South Travancore…”

Nadar Censorship: An Early Instance1

Before engaging with the current demand by the Nadars and their political backers to withdraw the NCERT text, it may be of some interest to take a look at the late 19th century when the Christian Nadars, as a consequence of their upward mobility, sought a history for themselves which would silence their degradation at the hands of the upper castes. The campaign led by a section of the Christian Nadars against Rev Robert Caldwell’s book The Tinnevelly Shanars (1849) is illustrative of such a trend.

Caldwell, a well-known scholar missionary and the author of A Comparative Grammar of the Dravidian or South Indian Family of Languages, worked among the Shanars of Tirunelveli district for about half a century. While his missionary labour established in the region a large community of Protestant Christians drawn from among the Shanars, his ­educational efforts, which resulted in a network of schools and colleges, made the community economically prosperous and socially acceptable. His commitment to the region and its people made him, during his last visit to England in 1883, to declare, “For Tinnevelly, I have lived, and for Tinnevelly, I am prepared to die”. Caldwell’s mortal remains lay interred at the altar of the Holy Trinity Church at Idayangudi, the first Christian village that he established in the region.

The very upward mobility which the Christian Shanars experienced due to the exertions of Caldwell, turned the Shanars against him. In 1883, Samuel Sargunar, a sub-registrar in the Chinglepet district, published a pamphlet,Bishop Caldwell and the Tinnevelley Shanars. It not only contested Caldwell’s description of the lowly social status of the Shanars, but also claimed a kshatriya status for them. A spate of petitions were sent to the ­Society for the Propagation of the Gospel and the archbishop of Canterbury seeking Caldwell’s removal from the Tirunelveli mission. Some demanded Caldwell to write a new text affirming the Shanars as kshatriyas. Y Gnanamuthoo Nadar, who described himself as “Antiquarian and Representative of the Shanar Race”, sent a series of petitions appealing to “various representatives of the British Government and the missionary ecclesiastical structure demanding that the British censure Caldwell and remove his offending book from circulation”. Caldwell withdrew the publication from circulation.

The Turn of the Hindu Nadars

It is not that the Hindu Nadars did not seek a kshatriya status in the late 19th century. They did. Yet, their present clamour for a censored caste history with an anti-Christian tilt has a right-wing Hindu character. In 1980, it was P Thanulingam, a Hindu Nadar from Kanyakumari district and a former Congressman, who along with Ramagopalan, a brahmin, formed the Hindu Munnai. Under their vituperative provocations, Tamil Nadu witnessed the first large-scale communal riot between the Christian fishermen and the Hindus in the coastal village of Mandaikadu. The present Tamil Nadu state BJP President Pon ­Radhakrishnan is also a Hindu Nadar from the district. He was returned to the parliament from the Nagercoil Lok ­Sabha constituency, as a BJP candidate, in 1999.

Such brahmin-Hindu Nadar alliance has, of late, evolved into forms of “intellectual collaboration”. A case in point is the South Indian Social History Research Institute (SHRI), run by S Ramachandran, a brahmin who happens to be an epigraphist with an unenviable skill in selectively interpreting inscriptions to assign higher varna pedigrees to castes which are traditionally deemed to be shudras. In the specific context of the present controversy about the NCERT text, it is necessary to have a look at the widely circulating Tamil book Thool Cillaik Kalakam: Therintha Poikal, Theriyatha Unmaikal (“Upper Cloth Revolt: Known Falsehoods and Unknown Truths”) authored by Rama­chandran along with A Ganesan, a Hindu Nadar (who, according to Ramachandran, is the embodiment of Nadar “racial memory”). The book was published by the SHRI in 2010.

The book confers a kshatriya status on the Nadars and makes them “Sandror” (“people of noble qualities”) instead of “Shanar”. It targets the Christian missionaries, in particular Caldwell, and celebrates Vaikunda Swamy for, among other things, ensuring the Christian converts’ return to Hinduism. If Ramachandran’s is a barely veiled Hindutva project, its endorsement comes from those who openly espouse right-wing Hindu agenda. Aravindan Neelakandan, in a review of the book, claims it to be a model historical research and argues why figures like Vaikunda Swamy are important for the spiritual and social liberation of the Hindus.2 Neelakandan’s recent book, ­co-authored with Rajiv Malhotra of the Hindu fundamentalist Infinity Foundation located in the US, is Breaking India: Western Interventions in Dravidian and Dalit Faultlines. If that does not tell it all, then one just needs to have a look at his Hindutva: A Simplified Introduction.

If memories of degradation are an enabling resource in producing alliances against continuing forms of oppression, erasure of such memories is what is ­being sought by the upwardly mobile castes. The Nadar case is no exception. Yet, not everything is lost. A section of the Christian Nadars, perhaps to the dismay of Samuel Sargunar and Gnanamuthoo Nadar, continues to acknowledge their untouchable past. For instance, Samuel Jayakumar, a theologian and a historian of Christianity in Tamil Nadu, in his book Dalit Consciousness and Christian Conversion: Historical Resources for a Contemporary Debate (ISPCK, Delhi, 1999) equates the Shanars along with the Parayars as dalits in the past – with no discomfort at all.


1 Most of the details in this section are drawn from Y Vincent Kumaradoss, Robert Caldwell: A Scholar-Missionary in Colonial South India, ­ISPCK, Delhi, 2007.

http://www.tamilhindu.com/2011/01/thol see lai-kalagam-book-review/


#Delhigangrape-It’s Not about Patriarchy #Vaw

Linking it to the Delhi gangrape is an exercise in self-delusion
BY Omar Ahmad , Open Magazine, Jan 19,2013

And yet almost all men in India are products of a patriarchal culture. That doesn’t automatically make them sexual predators, rapists or murderers. I am from Uttar Pradesh, and from a culture that is so patriarchal that it is almost a caricature. When my circumcision took place as a child, my grandfather and his brother stood on either side of the cot with unsheathed swords. After the chop-chop was done, I’m told there was blood and I cried a little. My paternal grandfather, overcome, asked me if there was something I wanted. I requested his double barrelled shotgun, and hugging it, went to sleep. It would be hard to outdo such rituals of patriarchy, merging masculinity with sexuality and violence. Freud, eat your heart out.

My mother’s side were no laggards in teaching me the tools of violence. My uncle gifted me my first air rifle at the age of three. I was too young to lift it, so for most of my life my sister was a better shot. For all I know, she still is; I haven’t been on a shooting range with her for years. When I was twelve, my maternal grandfather tasked my training to someone we knew, and I learnt how to use muzzle loaders, shotguns and my grandfather’s rifles. The piece de resistance was obviously his Holland & Holland .500 Express that he had picked up to shoot crocs in the river near one of our properties. It was also the rifle which was, no doubt, responsible for the tiger skin in the drawing room where he played cards with his friends in the evening.


In 2000, I was returning from Banda, my maternal home and a bastion of patriarchy, to Jawaharlal Nehru University where I was (not really) pursuing an MPhil degree. It was noon when the train reached Delhi, and since I didn’t have much luggage, I took a bus to the campus. It was too crowded to find a seat, so I stood leaning against the guard rail behind the driver and in front of the bus conductor.

As the bus passed Bhikaji Cama Place, one of South Delhi’s busiest areas, I heard some commotion. A woman was arguing heatedly with an older man. She might have been in her early thirties, and he looked about ten years older than her. I could just about make out that she was accusing him of groping her while they were standing. It was very loud, and getting louder, but nobody intervened. The man yelled out an insult, and the woman slapped him. After that, he hit her so hard that she was knocked into the laps of those sitting in the row parallel to her.

No one did anything, so I dropped my bag and pushed my way past the other passengers to stand between the man and the woman, lying prone behind me. As I did this, one of the men, presumably with the older man, slipped a large foldable knife half out of his pocket, showing me discreetly that there was a cost to confrontation. I figured that nobody would use a knife in a crowded bus; anyway, I was just trying to calm things down, my hands up.

Unfortunately, the older man was too wound up to be talked out of his fury. He asked me if I was trying to be a hero, and then, frustrated that he couldn’t reach the woman, grabbed me by the throat. I punched him, and he fell. He had two companions, both of whom were willing to use their knives in a crowded bus at a little past noon in one of the busiest parts of India’s capital.

I lost some skin and flesh off the back of my right hand, and another knife bounced off a silver cigarette case I had in my pocket—a gift from a patriarchal great-uncle.

Then the three of them waved their knives, forced the bus to stop, and ran away. I got off at the next stop, although I could have taken the bus all the way to the university. I was a bit shaken, and bleeding, and would have to miss my German Foreign Policy class—in which I was one of two students, with the other usually not turning up—if I was going to get stitched up. I thought I’d take an autorickshaw so I could at least inform my professor.

The woman got down as well, offering to help me, get me to a clinic. I wish now that I had at least asked her name. From the snap memory I have of her, I can only guess that she worked at an office, but not at a highly paid job, one that would force her to travel again and again on buses where her safety was in jeopardy, and nobody would say anything. To this day, I remain in awe of her courage, and the courage of others like her who continue to drive this country forward while it dismisses their needs, safety and concerns.


From my female friends who have studied and travelled in Delhi, I know that such cases are common. In the recent gangrape case, we have an extreme example. This cannot continue. We need a safer city, investment in safer public infrastructure, a police force that is accessible and capable of dealing with such issues. We need a political climate that protects the rights of its citizens, and not merely the privileges of its quasi-imperial rulers. We don’t need the crocodile tears of Jaya Bachchan whose political party fielded the highest number of criminals in proportion to any other, we don’t need the inanities of Sushma Swaraj whose political party saw the murder of pregnant women in Gujarat as a successful experiment in its Laboratory of the Hindu Rashtra, we don’t need the fumblings and mumblings of the Congress which continues to have those involved in the 1984 Delhi riots in high office.

We need a replacement for the Police Act we currently have, which was framed by the British in 1861 to keep Indians in check after the 1857 Uprising. We need a judiciary that recruits enough staff to try cases in time, instead of facilitating corruption by endless delays. We need a country where criminals are caught and crimes punished. These are political changes. Instead, we have the nattering of a civil society that prides itself on being ‘apolitical’ and whose major achievement so far is the cancellation of a concert by Yo Yo Honey Singh.

The call to ‘End Patriarchy’ is a call to grumble about the ills of the world and feel satisfied with grumbling alone. The difference between that man on the bus and me so many years ago did not lie in our patriarchal upbringing. It lay in his criminality, in the passivity of his audience, in the lack of policing, and in the impunity that criminals enjoy. The rapists who killed the girl recently chose to do what they did. They made that horrible choice. They were not mere products of their culture. Nor do I think they were humming the latest sexist song as they did what they did. There is such a thing as individual responsibility. And governmental responsibility. There exists social responsibility as well, but if we focus only on the last, we will neglect the justice that is necessary and the reforms that have been delayed far too long.

Rape Cultures in India- #mustread #Vaw #Torture #AFSPA

DECEMBER 23, 2012, Kafila.org

Guest post by PRATIKSHA BAXI

Delhi has tolerated intolerable forms of sexual violence on women from all backgrounds in public spaces for decades. It is a public secret that women are targetted in streets, neighbourhoods, transport and workplaces routinely. There have been countless campaigns and appeals to all agencies concerned to think of safety of women as an issue of governance, planning and prevention. However, prevention of sexual violence is not something, which features in the planning and administration of the city. It is not seen as an issue for governance that extinguishes the social, economic, and political rights of all women.

It is a public secret that rape of women in moving vehicles is popularly seen as a sport. The sexualisation of women’s bodies accompanies the projection of cars as objects of danger and adventure. Private buses now participate in this sexualisation of moving vehicles as a site of enacting pornographic violence. In this sense, safety is not seen as a commodity that can be bought, purchased or exchanged. Men consume images of a city tolerant of intolerable violence. City planners enable rapists to execute a rape schedule. Streetlights do not work. Pavements and hoarding obstruct flight. Techniques of surveillance and policing target women’s behaviour, movement, and clothing, rather than policing what men do. The city belongs to heterosexist men after all.

The brutality of the assault on the 23 year old student who was gangraped and beaten mercilessly with iron rods when she resisted has anguished all of us—generating affect similar to the infamous Birla and Ranga murders decades ago. The nature of life threatening intestinal and genital injury has shockedresulting in angry protests in the city and elsewhere.Yet most remain unaware that the brutality accompanying sexual violence such as assault with iron rods, swordsand other objects; mutilating a woman’s body with acid;stripping and parading women; and burning them after a brutal gangrape routinelyscar the pages ofourbloodied law reporters. There is no political or judicial framework to redress such forms of aggravated sexual assault.

The judiciary, tall exceptions apart, construct rape as sex. This perspective from the rapist’s point of view, does not frame rape as political violence,which posits all women as sexual objects. Rape is repeatedly constructed as an act of aberrant lust, pathological sexual desire or isolated sexual deviancy.

Politicians for most part do no better. The parliamentary discourse on rape, after the brutal attack on the 23 year old woman who is fighting for her life, uses sexual violence as a resource for doing politics, and therefore re-entrenches rape culture. By arguing that rape is worse than death and rape should attract death penalty, rape survivors are relegated the space of the living dead. The social, political and legal mechanisms of shaming, humiliating, and boycotting rape survivors are not challenged. Nor are the mechanisms of converting rape narratives into a source of further titillation and excitement displaced. Rather most political actors convert rape into a technique of doing party politics. No one reflects seriously on why India sports a rape culture—surely the political and social toleration of intolerable sexual violence in everyday and extraordinary contexts of violence produces an effect of immunity and impunity to men who enjoy rape.

The right wing politician who is exhausting lung power on death penalty for rapists is not concerned with how a strident Hindu nationalism is built on violated bodies of women. Nor are such politicians concerned with what may happen to women if rape is punishable by death—surely there will be more murders and even more acquittals, since judges prefer to give lower than the mandatory sentence in rape cases. They have not marked the upsurge of the phenomena of burning and mutilating women after rape, as reported in the media, after a spate of such cases in Uttar Pradesh last year. Nor has any political party even acknowledged or apologised for the sexual violence during mass scale violence. Surely if chief ministers who get elected year after year dismiss mass scale sexual violence as a figment of imagination, this generates, endorses and even celebrates a new national rape culture.

The men (and even some women in positions of power) who lead India are successfully able to de-link the celebratory stories of neoliberalism, militarisation, nationalism,growth and development from the toleration of sexual violence as a sport, a commodity, as collateral damage, or a necessary technique to suppress women’s autonomy. Fact of the matter is that Surekha Bhotmange and her daughter were stripped, paraded, raped and killed in Khairlanji for expressing and asserting their autonomy. The men who assaulted and murdered them were not tried for rape.  Does anyone even remember that Bhanwari Devi’s appeal still languishes in the Rajasthan High Court? A courageous woman in whose debt all middle class women working in universities and everywhere else remain for the promulgation of the Vishaka judgment. We got the guidelines on sexual harassment in the workplace, but Bhanwari Devi did not get justice.  All of us remain in the debt of BilkeesBano who is perhaps the first survivor of mass scale sexual violence in Independent India to secure a prosecution in a rape and riot case but only after the trial was transferred. Manorama’s gangrape and murder by the army did not result in the withdrawal of AFSPA, which gives the army the licence to rape as ifto rape is in the line of duty. Can we de-link these issues from what Delhi protests today? Surely we must make these connections since we have benefited from the courageous litigation by women whose lives have been made absolutely abject.We must then equally resist the politics, which institutes public amnesia about these voices of suffering.

Alas, the brutality that Delhi witnessed is the effect of the toleration and celebration of rape cultures in India. Men and women, alike, from all classes, castes and communities must adopt a stance of solidarity that will not tolerate politicians, police officers, planners, judges and lawyers who build their careers on silencing the voices of raped women. Only a heightened intolerance for any kind of sexual violence as a social force will begin to chip away at the monumentalisation of rape cultures in India. Our collective melancholia must be far more productive.

Pratiksha Baxi is Assistant Professor, Centre for the Study of Law and Governance, Jawaharlal Nehru University

#India- Besides #Delhigangrape , there are rapes in #Kashmir #Vaw #Torture

Raped Twice

By Inshah Malik

21 December, 2012

The gruesome gang rape that happened recently in the capital city New Delhi of India has knocked off the imagination of Indian Nation. The college going ‘girl’ was gang raped in a private bus, six men reportedly in a drunken state are involved in the crime. The barbarity of the incident of shoving iron rod in the private organs of the girl has sent jitters down the spine of conscious young people in the country. This news perturbed me quite irately. I went on to pour condemnation messages all over social media, very emotionally until I remembered Shabnam.

Shabnam was standing near the bus stop, when I arrived in a small local car. She was dim, her face was pale and wrinkled while she was just in her late thirties. In north of Kashmir, a twin village site, Konan-Poshpora which is known for the ‘mass rape’ of some 62 women in early 1990’s by the Indian army, every woman here has a gruesome spine chilling story to share. But Shabnam, She is a symbol of ‘existence’, she exists, quite plainly and different from the rest of the ‘mass’.

She escorted me to her tiny little house by the edge of the green fields that belong to the farming villagers. As I entered, a strange sense of apathy overwhelmed me, Shabnam’s five year old son sat across the room. The room was cold, dark and a repugnant smell engulfed it. This is a room, where Shabnam has lived all her married life, her best and probably the worst moments happened under this roof. As I was sensing it, Shabnam intervened, “I hate this house, i never want to live here. Last year, I had a terrible fight with my husband and first thing I wanted to do is burn this house down”. I almost did, she laughs and continues, “Just five minutes on this straight road from here is an army camp”, and she abruptly fell silent staring the road from the hole in her wooden window. I didn’t know how to progress the conversation in such a situation and I asked, ‘you fight with your husband’. She said in an irritated way, ‘of course, men never understand what happens to us’ and in the same breath, but my husband is an angel, if he was not there for me, I would have killed myself. No man can accept his wife back, after she is ‘raped’.

I was silent for a while, trying to imagine, what must have happened in this place, when in late hours the Indian army men entered each and every house, when there were shrieks of women coming from all the corners. Women were calling all the higher spiritual forces to come to their aid, as I am thinking now of the helplessness of a Delhi girl clutched by barbarians lone in a moving bus while hurt her friend severely.

Shabnam continued sharing her ordeal, ‘how can a man be happy with a woman who can no-longer satisfy his sexual urges, a woman whose genitals are electrocuted’. This detail surprised me because in the mass rape there were no reported instances of torture. She continued, “I was interrogated and raped again, a year after the mass rape happened in this village, they arrested me because my husband’s brother was a militant. Twelve army men raped me and after then gave electric shocks in my genitals. Even after this my husband took me back, for me, isn’t he a prophet? But, I am no longer an able person; he earns little and pays all for my medical treatments”
I was speechless; this was first time for me to face the reality of our political situation as well as my feminine self. I had by now forgotten all lessons of research and knowledge generation that my university prepared me with. I sat unmoved, thinking and listening.

She continued, “that year when the mass rape happened, it was my second year of marriage, a day before that myr husband brought me some gifts and we were still in love, now perhaps I don’t know what we mean by love, it has become such a grave realization. That night they dragged all the men of the village out in a crackdown to hunt militants fighting them for freedom, and they dragged my husband out of the house, it was winter they made him sleep on a six feet high heap of snow. I was watching from the window, I could not see my husband in this condition. I came out of my house and told the army men to leave my husband. My husband became furious and shouted at me, “don’t you see what they are doing to women? Get inside and lock the door. Let me die”.

‘A strange realization dawned on me, my sister who was still unmarried was in the house, I asked her at once to leave the house from the window. This irritated the army men. I ran inside and closed the door, they broke open the door, they were ten or twenty or more, I have no consciousness of that, I just remember, I was bleeding all through the way to hospital. I wish, they assaulted my memory too. I did not have the burden to remember it or narrate it’, she said
I slowly made my way out of that room, which was beginning to appear a hole of dingy darkness; I walked slowly, leaving behind Shabnam with her constant struggle with her memory.

The incident in Delhi that has perturbed us all alike, rape is not merely an assault on a body. Every such violation is an assault on memory which often forces women to shift from ‘living’ to merely ‘existing’. In fact when a woman is raped, she is raped twice: one of her body and another by silence of others. Today, the conscious young women of India must ask questions for Shabnam too because uniform does not remove the barbarity of neither the masculine militaristic state nor the patriarchal mind. In fact, Uniform furthers just these very aspects of cannibalistic colonialism

Inshah Malik is a PhD scholar at Jawaharlal Nehru university


Immediate Release- POSCO and its sponsored goons threatening villagers

Dear Friends,


We had to confront with yet another pre-planned strategy of POSCO and its sponsored goons who were determined to threaten and humiliate our innocent villagers and almost forced us to give up our struggle against the forceful land acquisition by POSCO. On 5th December 2012, few POSCO sponsored goons and villagers started to ring the bell to convene a village meeting in order to force us to extend our cooperation to start the land acquisition process. When our villagers opposed this undemocratic and uncalled for move, the sponsored goons started beating our people. Not surprisingly, the police have filed 12 more fabricated false cases against our people.


Out of desperation POSCO is following a divide and rule strategy in  Gobindpur village. The Posco officials are trying to allure and divide our people by bribing the goons for acquiring the forest land adjacent to Gobindpur. However, our people are strongly determined to fight back and would not make it success at all.


As you know, in the course of our peaceful and democratic non-violent struggle to prevent our lands from being forcibly acquired by POSCO, our people have been brutally attacked by paid goons of the company and subjected to grueling economic blockades by the local administration. Several of our leaders have been put behind bars. False charges have been foisted on over 200 activists, both men and women.


On November 29, 2012, more than 3000 people had observed anti-violence day at Dhinkia village. You may remember that on November 29th of 2007, the state government has unleashed series of brutal repression against our people. Again the police has made repression on our people on May 15th 2010. We are attaching herewith the link of a videohttp://www.videorepublic.tv/2011/12/25/the-big-fat-brutal-lie/ where the state police is burning the huts, beating and firing at the villagers.


On 30th November 2012, the anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare attended a farmer’s rally at Jagatsinghpur and condemned the state government’s attempts to hand over 4,000 acre of land to the South Korean steel major POSCO. He said that “Instead of a policy to ensure the rights of farmers and make use of our natural resources, the government is busy appeasing and promoting foreign companies,”. He also said that “problems faced by farmers cannot be solved by bringing foreign currency into India. Laws need to be changed for their betterment”.


In a desperate damage controlling mode, POSCO started to distribute the POSCO TJ Park Foundation Scholarship to 10 students of BPUT (Biju Patnaik University of Technology) and KIIT (Kalinga Institute of Industrial Technology) University on 27th November 2012. Besides, POSCO distribute fellowships at Delhi University, OUAT, Bhubaneswar and the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi every year. Needless to say that this is an initiative to develop it’s goodwill among the intelligentsia and get sympathy from these institutions.


At this juncture, we strongly urge the students and faculties of the above esteemed institutions to discard this award. We also earnestly request these institutions to compel POSCO to respect the unanimous resolution on Dhinkia gram sabha ( Panchayat level assembly of adult members) i.e. on 18th of October 2012 , where more than 2000 people participated in the meeting and  refused to grant consent to the proposed diversion of land for POSCO under the rights provided to the Gram Sabha under the Forest Rights Act, 2006.


Kindly circulate this mail widely.


In Solidarity,


Prashant Paikary


Spokesperson, POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti


Mobile no-09437571547


E-Mail – prashantpaikary@gmail.com


#India- Jammed Wheels #disability #rights

Outlook Magazine | Oct 29, 2012


Sanjay Rawat
Disabled girl in a wheelchair crossing the road in New Delhi
rights: disabled people
Jammed Wheels
Out in our streets, disabled people feel the pain everyday

The Gaping Holes

  • India yet to get a cohesive, standardised sign language
  • Barrier-free infrastructure yet to be implemented in public areas like bus stations, railway stations, schools, cinema halls
  • Lack of basic, inclusive civic facilities: no audio-enabled traffic signals, pavements with ramps, few disability-friendly toilets, negligible penalties
  • Poor functional entertainment accessibility, like no subtitling on local language TV channels
  • Reservation for disabled persons in govt posts is 3%, but only 0.5% utilised


Most of Ummul Kher’s childhood memories involve incidents of fractures—17 in all, and seven surgeries to fix them. The frequent accidents, spurred by a rare bone disease, had a plus though—it prodded her to deal with her insecurities by taking to books with a zeal never seen before in her family; neither of her parents, from an urban Delhi slum area, had even gone to school. And so she excelled at academics, served as headgirl at school, won numerous scholarships.

Six months ago, though, 22-year-old Ummul’s legs gave way and she landed up in a wheelchair. As a post-graduate student majoring in politics at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, Ummul’s affection for books has only grown, except for one detail: a trip to the library, her “favourite” haunt on campus, is barely accessible anymore. “To get to class and the library, I need to take an autorickshaw, which I can’t afford everyday. So I step out of hostel only a few days a month.”

Pol science post-graduate student Ummul Kher’s biggest regret is that she can’t visit the JNU library as often as she wants. (Photograph by Tribhuvan Tiwari)

At the other end of town, in Delhi’s Rohini locality, 19-year-old Riya Gupta feels just as helpless, cooped up in front of the computer all day long. Except for one day a month, when she is driven to a spinal injuries centre which has counselling sessions for quadriplegics like her. An ace swimmer at 13, she was forced into a dive in a shallow swimming pool by her teachers, and that caused permanent damage to her spine. “I have been in a wheelchair for the last five years and in all this time accessibility has not improved one bit in public spaces, at least not enough to enable me to venture out on my own. People on the road still stare, awareness continues to be limited,” rues Riya.

Riya and Ummul both have a pressing, valid question: why has so little changed for disabled persons in India? Why does their lot, and they number roughly 70 million in the country, continue to be an ‘invisible minority’? Right now, a new disability bill draft submitted to the ministry of social justice is under consideration. Among other updated provisions, it speaks of widening the definition of disability, aims to ‘recognise legal capacity, establish national and state disability rights authorities’ and provide better access to information to the differently abled.

Meanwhile, the Indian Sign Language Research & Training Centre (ISLRTC) at IGNOU has been set in place just this month to ‘create a linguistic record/analysis of the Indian Sign Language’, the first effort of its kind in India. A few months ago, the ministry of social justice also set up a disability division (empowerment of persons with disabilities), to streamline all kinds of planning and integration in the area.

Bhola Nath Dolui, by turns autorickshaw driver and swimming coach in Calcutta. (Photograph by Sandipan Chatterjee)

In 2010-11, the percentage of students with disabilities in govt-run schools dropped from 0.75% to a dismal 0.26%.

But after decades of neglect and continued stigma, it’s just not enough, say disabled rights activists, calling it just more meaningless laws and regulations on paper. “Disability did not even get factored into the census till 2001. And even though the 1995 Disability Law clearly states that public spaces should be made accessible for persons with disabilities, how many in reality are actually accessible even now? How many of the new buildings that have come up post-1995 are barrier-free?” asks Javed Abidi, founder of the National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People, and Disability Rights Group. “Isn’t it appalling that India is yet to get a standardised sign language? The nuances of sign language in one city are different from that in another city,” points out Abhijit Dasgupta, who spearheads the Sukriti Foundation for disabled people in Calcutta.Even supporters of the current disability law, like ex-chief commissioner for persons with disability and founder of Amar Jyoti School in Delhi, Uma Tuli, admit that “while this law is currently the best in Asia, a drawback is the lack of provision for penalties for those who do not follow the rules”.

At a very basic level, the concerns go back to inclusion in the barest of daily activity. Shivani Gupta, founder of AccessAbility, ticks off all the places in India’s big cities that are inaccessible to her as a quadriplegic, and that the ‘abled’ take for granted: “None of the traffic lights are audio-enabled. Pavements are not smooth enough for a wheelchair. Even in supposedly inclusive systems like the Delhi Metro, there is only one entry-exit that has an elevator. What if you need to cross the road? The metro feeder buses are inaccessible. At most bus stops, there is no seamless movement from the platform into the bus. The Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system too is flawed—how will a person with physical disability get to a bus stop planted in the middle of the road? And now there is talk of replicating it, despite protests. Plus any movement towards better accessibility is sporadic, there is no sense of civic agencies coming together to build long-term, large-scale barrier-free infrastructure.”

Hearing-impaired Anurag Tripathi takes orders at Gurgaon’s Lemon Tree Hotel. (Photograph by Sanjay Rawat)

In Mumbai, Mahesh Umrania, 26, who lost his vision to glaucoma 15 years ago, faces a similar issue with the city’s local railway, where incidents of vision-impaired persons falling on the tracks are not uncommon. Worse, the sitarist and photographer continues to face discrimination each time he hunts for a new home to rent in the suburbs. “The landlords ask the strangest questions: how will you keep the place clean, what if you get robbed? How will you eat? How will you dress?” Asha Singha, a sign language interpreter in Delhi, has more subtle concerns. She wonders why TV programmes are still not subtitled.

Now here’s a shocker: in 2010-11, the percentage of students with disabilities in government-run schools dropped to 0.26 per cent, a sharp decline from 0.75 per cent the previous year, as revealed in an HRD ministry survey. “There is a systemic problem, in every aspect of nation-building, people with disabilities are always ignored. There is no strong law, no real planning, it’s all token charity,” feels Javed Abidi.

The annual Employability Fair will have about 45 companies this year to select nearly 900 people with disabilities.

Still, gradually today there is a sense that the private sector may be opening up to inclusion. The Deaf Way Foundation’s Namrata Patro reports that they have an increasing number of corporate employees signing up to learn sign language, to be able to communicate with colleagues with hearing disabilities. A range of fast food joints and hotels are signing up the differently abled to be part of their staff, even seeking out hearing- and speech-impaired people. Like Anurag Tripathi, 24, who’s been waiting tables at a star hotel cafe for the last four years. He keeps a special notepad designed for hearing-impaired employees close at hand, and places it in front of customers, where they can scribble in their order. “It’s difficult to adjust with new staff members, because it takes time for them to come to terms working with colleagues with hearing impairment but, yes, there are far more employment opportunities than before,” says Tripathi.Many private firms have approached organisations like Ability Foundation to look at their building plans and suggest changes. “But employers still need to look at giving jobs to disabled persons as an effective and compelling workforce, not just CSR,” says Jayshree Raveendran, founder, Ability Foundation, Chennai. In other words, there is movement, though slow. The annual EmployABILITY Fair, put together by Raveendran’s organisation, which will have about 45 companies this year to select nearly 900 people with disabilities, also challenges “tokenism”.

Mahesh Umrania, a vision-impaired musician and photographer in big, bad Mumbai. (Photograph by Apoorva Salkade)

There is an attempt to break other barriers too, however sporadic they may be. “In the last 15-20 years, we have had more social acceptance. Plus, with events like the Special Olympics, Paralympics, Abelympics etc that highlight their skills, there is a move towards integration,” feels Tuli. Technology has also tipped the scales, feels Bangalore-based G.K. Mahantesh, who is vision-impaired and runs Samarthanam, a centre for persons like him. “It has simplified life a little, especially tools like screen-reading software, educational and recreational devices, like the audio cricket ball.”

Meanwhile, in Calcutta, Dasgupta invites differently abled participants to an annual adventure expedition, likewise Partho Bhowmick of Beyond Sight Foundation trains blind people to take photographs with still cameras. “Learning photography gives them a certain confidence…to do something others believe they can’t,” the latter says. But these positive stories are too few and far between, often the result of a few individuals’ lifelong struggle. The state as a whole, and its people, continue to be prejudiced and unfeeling towards people who just need a little bit more attention.

Some Bright Spots, Some Less Dark Places

  • Blind With Camera Started by photographer Partho Bhowmick of the Mumbai-based Beyond Sight Foundation, Blind With Camera works with a simple idea: to provide vision-impaired people an artistic platform. In 48-hour workshops held in Pune, Mumbai, Bangalore and Delhi, Bhowmick helps collate their work for display at exhibitions held across the country. The project also offers an online photography course; the plan is to introduce photography courses in blind schools. The Blind With Camera E-school, in compliance with web accessibility standard for the visually impaired, throws up basic and advanced tutorials, info about adaptive tools and a platform for students to upload and share their photographic work.
  • Beyond Belief Every year, young men like Bhola Nath Dolui, an autorickshaw driver in Calcutta with a lower limb disability, get together for the Beyond Belief project, a series of adventure programs and survival training that resembles a television reality show. Led by documentary filmmaker Abhijit Dasgupta, a team of differently abled persons undertake challenges that include scaling high mountains, hiking through deep forests, river rafting in West Bengal, all to prove that people with physical disabilities are differently abled, not ‘disabled’. The project also seeks to boost their employment opportunities.
  • Travel Another India This unusual travel outfit runs a ‘Journey Without Barriers’ initiative, reaching out to physically disabled persons across the world who may want to visit popular tourist hotspots in India, like Ladakh, Spiti, Mysore, Goa, and even lets you work out your own itinerary. One of the few such ventures in the travel sector in India, the idea is to “develop accessible tourism opportunities”, still in its infancy here. The team at Travel Another India works closely with AccessAbility consultancy firm to improve accessibility at various locations. Himalaya On Wheels, another one of their initiatives, makes mountains more accessible to tourists using wheelchairs.
  • EmployABILITY A one-of-its-kind professional annual employment fair, conceived by Ability Foundation in Chennai, it challenges the view that for the corporate sector, hiring persons with disability is merely good CSR. This one is a job fair for disabled persons with educational qualifications, which are duly matched with the vacancies available in 35-45 companies across banking, hospitality, retail, IT sectors. Nearly 900 disabled persons will take part in the fair this year, to be held in the first week of November in Hyderabad. The participants will also be trained beforehand on how to face job interviews. “The fair opens the corporate world up to a whole new pool of skilled persons,” says Jayshree Raveendran of Ability Foundation.



27th Ramanadham Memorial Meeting: Public Health, Inequality and Democratic Rights

The late sixties marked the first major crisis of independent India at all levels of its
economy and polity. This crisis gave birth to radical movements. Among these
were the tribal and peasant struggles led by Marxist Leninist parties. Brutal state
repression was launched on these movements. Regional civil rights
organisations arose as a response to the various illegal modes of repression. Thus in
1974 Andhra Pradesh Civil Liberties Committee [APCLC] was founded in
Andhra Pradesh.

Those were the times when A. Ramanadham, a medical doctor by profession,
founded one of the district units of APCLC in Warangal town.
Born in Mustikuntla, a small village in Khamman district in 1933, he started his
career as a government doctor. Dissatisfied with the unethical medical practices, he
left his job and set up his own Children’s Clinic in 1968 in Warangal. That year
marked the beginning of his involvement in various social issues. The clinic was to
become, perhaps, the only democratic centre in the entire town.
In June 1975, Emergency was imposed institutionalising the ongoing repression. Dr.
Ramanadham, along with other activists, were arrested. After lifting of
Emergency APCLC was able to function again. Dr. Ramanadham became its
Vice President.
Civil rights organisations that had earlier been confined to their own regions and
histories, began to share information and experiences. Joint investigations into
repression on worker and peasant struggles and joint campaigns on repressive
laws. In this process of building fraternal relations PUDR came to know the work of
Dr. Ramanadham. And to appreciate his gentle friendliness and modesty

Dr. Ramanadham’s involvement with civil liberties was inseparable from his
professional role as a doctor. In fact, his professional role helped the civil rights
movement which, in turn, made him a better doctor. It helped him to understand
the social origins of the diseases of his patients He did not confine himself to
giving medicines but tried to spread a scientific outlook. Out of this came his
famous book in Telugu, Medical Guide which was addressed to the people and not
to health workers.
Dr. Ramanadham tried to create a space for democratic values wherever he went
and in whatever he did. Struggling against corrupt medical practices in a health
centre in Husnabad, helping friends to bring out a revolutionary literary journal in
Warangal, helping a young girl and conducting her marriage against the will of her
influential parents, organising a people’s clinic with the help of doctors on strike in
front of Warangal -Government Hospital, are examples of Dr. Ramanadliam’s
involvement and initiative in democratic concerns

In the late seventies peasant struggles for higher agricultural wages and against
landlord repression spread in Warangal and other districts Police was given extensive illegal powersto repress these struggles. Governments kept changing  but state violence continued. With APCLC, Dr. Ramanadham was actively involved in investigating fake encounters, custodial torture and deaths. This earned  them the wrath of the police

On 2nd September 1985, at Kazipet railway station, SI Yadagiri Reddy was shot
dead by unidentified assailants, believed to be naxalites. Next morning his body
was carried in a funeral procession in which a number of armed policemen
participated. The procession was led by the district Superintendent and the Deputy
General of Police. When it neared the Children’s Clinic, a group of policemen
broke into the clinic. They ransacked the clinic and assaulted the compounder and
waiting patients. Then they went into the neighbouring shop, Kalpana Opticals,
where they found Dr. Ramanadham and shot him at point blank range.
Immediately after, a neighbouring doctor took him to Mahatama Gandhi Memorial
Hospital, about two kilometres away. Soon after he was declared dead. With his
death the Warangal unit of APCLC” ceased to function
Four days after his death, police filed a second FIR in the Yadagiri Reddy murder
case, the first murder case to be registered under TADA in Warangal. Dr
Ramanadham was named as accused. However, in the case of the murder of Dr.
Ramanadham, no accused were named. Police maintained that naxalites were
responsible and they had used snatched police revolvers. Two policemen were
suspended for dereliction of duty as their revolvers had been snatched
Barely a year later J. Laxmareddy, President of the Karmmagar unit of APCLC
was killed by police on 7 November 1986. The Warangal unit was revived with
the efforts of N. Prabhakar Reddy who became its convenor. A lawyer by
profession, he was instrumental in obtaining bail for hundreds of rural youth
charged under TADA. On 7 December 1991, police came to his house and shot
him dead.
The murders of civil rights activists are not random acts of violence by a few
deviant policemen. These are part of a larger political policy of the government
against the people. Perhaps the only meaningful way of remembering Dr
Ramanadham is by committing oneself to the movement for democratic rights
and affirming our faith in people’s struggles to implement and extend these

People’s Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR), Delhi

Invites you to attend

27th Ramanadham Memorial Meeting

Public Health, Inequality and

Democratic Rights


Dr. Yogesh Jain

Jan Swasthya Sahyog

Topic: Social Inequality and Public Health

Dr. Jacob Puliyal

St. Stephens Hospital, Delhi

Topic: Immunization Programmes and Public Health

Dr. Amit Sen Gupta

People’s Health Movement

Topic: Drug Policy, Pricing and Public Health


Dr. Ritu Priya Mehrotra

Centre for Social Medicine & Community Health, JNU

8th September, 2012

5 pm – 8pm

Conference Hall

Indian Law Institute

Opp Supreme Court

Bhagwan Das Road

New Delhi

Gloria Steinem “Feminist approaches to combating sex trafficking and prostitution”- Responses

 Gloria Steinem, renowned feminist, writer and activist at a press conference in New Delhi on Sunday. Photo: V.V. Krishnan

Up against the epidemic of trafficking-Neha Alawadhi, April3, 2012

“Prostitution is not inevitable, it is only about unequal distribution of power,” said author/activist Gloria Steinem talking about “Feminist approaches to combating sex trafficking and prostitution” here on Monday.

Speaking at a Press conference and later at an interaction with students of Jawaharlal Nehru University, she spoke about the dynamics of human trafficking based on her experiences. “Today we face an epidemic of sex trafficking. More people are being pushed into it than even the slave trade,” said Ms. Steinem.

According to the statistics provided by Apne Aap, an NGO that fights sex trafficking worldwide, the number of child victims trafficked globally for sexual exploitation or cheap labour is 1.2 million annually. The National Human Rights Commission estimates that almost half the children trafficked within India are between the ages of 11 and 14.

Corroborating these facts, Ms. Steinem said: “The average age for children to be pushed into sex trafficking is between 12 and 13 in the United States and between 9 and 12 in India. The perception is that very young children are less likely to have AIDS.” Quoting from her experiences in different countries, she said women who are trafficked suffer a great deal because of patriarchal structures and religions.

Speaking about the situation in India, Apne Aap Women Worldwide founder president Ruchira Gupta pointed out that socio-economic causes contribute a great deal towards sexual exploitation and trafficking of women in India. “Ninety per cent of trafficking in India is internal, and those from India’s most disadvantaged social economic strata including the lowest castes are particularly vulnerable to forced or bonded labour and sex trafficking,” she said.

Ms. Steinem agreed saying that the less “valuable” women who are not expected to maintain the “purity” of a class, caste or race are the ones most likely to fall prey to human trafficking worldwide.

Speaking about the legal aspect of human trafficking and the legalisation of prostitution in some regions, Ms. Steinem said: “Body invasion is the most traumatising act…it should not be legal to sell the bodies of other people.” She also rubbished the idea that prostitution was the oldest profession, which is propounded by supporters of legalising prostitution. “It is one of the oldest oppressions, not oldest professions,” she said.

An Apne Aap fact-sheet pointed out that in India trafficking laws are not comprehensively laid out, especially with regard to the trafficking of children. “The Indian Penal Code addresses issues of buying and sale of minors, importation of girls etc…The Goa Children’s Act (2003) is the only Indian statute that provides a legal definition of trafficking and is child specific,” it said.

Ms. Steinem plans to travel to parts of villages in Bihar and in Kolkata with Apne Aap to look at issues of sex trafficking and prostitution in these are

Legalising has not helped globally—Ruchira Gupta

April 6, The Hindu– Apne Aap believes that sex is different from sexual exploitation and as feminists we have a right to sex without domination. Apne Aap organises women and girls, who are victims and survivors of prostitution in numerous small groups of ten to resist the sexual exploitation of themselves and their daughters. These women are from poor, low-caste families and do not see their prostitution as “work” or a “choice.” At best it is a survival strategy.

Body invasion is inherent to prostitution and differentiates it from livelihoods in the unorganised sector like agriculture and domestic work that Ms Ghosh talks about. In addition, I would like to point out to both Ms Ghosh and Ms Roy the uniformly disastrous results whereever the selling or renting of human beings for sexual purposes has been legalised and normalised. In Australia and the Netherlands where prostitution has been legalised, for instance, trafficking and the harms that come with prostitution have not decreased but increased. In Victoria, Australia, it not only allowed legal brothels to proliferate, but illegal brothels increased by 300 per cent in one year. A hospitable environment for sex tourists and other buyers drove up demand, local women and girls had too many alternatives to becoming the supply, and women and girls were trafficked from South East Asia. The same is true of Amsterdam where trafficked Eastern European and North African girls outnumber Dutch citizens in brothels.

The Mayor of Amsterdam reports that the red-light district has become a centre for illegal immigration and money laundering. In Germany and in an area near Las Vegas in the US where prostitution has been legalised, government agencies tried to make applicants for unemployment benefits show that they had attempted to find “work” in the so-called “hospitality industry” of prostitution in order to become eligible for such benefits.

In the few countries that have legalized prostitution — with the idea that it would reduce harm to prostituted women themselves, as is now being argued by some in India — rates of assault and rape against prostituted persons have not dropped at all. In an upscale legal brothel in Australia, for example, rooms are equipped with panic buttons, but a bouncer reports that the women’s calls for help can never be answered quickly enough to prevent violence by clients, which occurs regularly.

Finally, we must remember that the commodification of human beings focuses on women and children, usually poor or low-caste, and creates a separate class of human beings whose bodies can be rented or sold. It is the very opposite of the universal protection of human dignity enshrined in the body of the Indian Constitution.

Moralistic assumptions–Shohini Ghosh

April 6, The Hindu–Gloria Steinem’s “feminist approach” to trafficking and prostitution is not shared by all feminists. Many of us do not believe that abolishing sex work will stop trafficking, nor do we think that the two are synonymous. The conflation of sex-work with ‘trafficking’ stems from the moralistic assumption that women can never voluntarily choose sex work as a profession and are always ‘trafficked’ into it.

This idea has been conclusively challenged by the sex workers rights movement that has tirelessly argued that trafficking (that is induction into the trade through force, coercion or deception) is a crime whereas the exchange of sexual services between two consenting adults is not.

Just as all sex work is not linked to trafficking, all trafficking is also not linked to sex work. While it is certainly true that many women (and children) enter sex-work under violent and exploitative conditions, this is no different from other livelihood occupations in the unorganized sector such as agricultural and domestic work, construction and industrial labour. Ironically, those who demand the abolition of sex work to stop trafficking do not make the same argument for domestic work despite the fact that conditions, wages, working hours, levels of exhaustion are far worse for domestic workers.

It has been repeatedly pointed out that the statistics on `trafficking’ have no basis in a rigorous methodology, scientific evidence or primary research. A study undertaken by the Special Rappateur on Violence Against Women demonstrated the extreme difficulty of finding reliable statistics since so much of the activity happens underground. Consequently, ‘trafficking’ statistics are derived from figures relating to sex-work, migration and even numbers of “missing persons”. By failing to distinguish between sex-work, migration and trafficking, ‘abolitionists’ like Steinem only serve to make the gender-neutral term synonymous with the female migrant.

Ironically, some of the best work on ‘trafficking’ in India is being done by the Self Regulatory Boards of the Durbar Mahila Swamanyay Committee (DMSC) which emerged out of the famous STD/HIV Intervention Project (SHIP) in Sonagachi, now an internationally acclaimed model sexual health project. The DMSC considers sex-work to be a contractual sexual service negotiated between consenting sexual adults and demands decriminalization of adult sex-work. If feminists like Gloria Steinem and organizations like Apne Aap want to end trafficking in sex-work, their best bet is to recognize sex-work as labour, support its decriminalization and empower the sex-worker to fight exploitation, coercion and stigma.

Ms Shohini Ghosh is the Professor Zakir Hussain Chair at the AJK Mass Communication Research Centre, Jamia Millia Islamia

 Need for a nuanced debate–Kumkum Roy

April 6, The Hindu –Gloria Steinem’s talk was organised by the Women’s Studies Programme, JNU, in collaboration with Apne Aap, and we had hoped that it would be an occasion for discussing the complexities of the issues involved. However, there were clearly differences in perspective—while there can be no disagreement that involuntary trafficking is a serious issue, the fact that women (and men) may have few choices in several situations, and may then ‘choose’ options that may not be in tune with the ideals of middle-class/upper caste women (and men) needed to be explored rather than dismissed.

In the open discussion that followed Ms Steinem’s presentation, there were several participants who agreed with her positions. However, others pointed out that there were certain simplistic assumptions involved. For instance, Ms Steinem and Ruchira Gupta of Apne Aap refuse to recognize that unionized sex workers are voicing their own opinions—these women are dismissed as puppets of pimps and brothel owners—a gross simplification in view of the sheer numbers of women across the country who have unionised in a bid to claim human rights and dignity.

Other voices of dissent pointed out to the need to look at issues of poverty and labour in general, and locate sex work within that context, and/ or within a larger context of violence rather than homogenise all prostitutes/ sex workers. While side-stepping rather than engaging with these questions, one of Ms Steinem’s responses was that she would not mind if prostitutes, as she chooses to designate all sex workers, paid income tax—at the same time she advocated a strategy of penalizing but not criminalizing the client—how these were to be achieved remained unclear.

We, in the Women’s Studies Programme, feel the need for a far more nuanced discussion and debate on these issues—one in which women who express a different point of view are not dismissed as being in a denial mode. Given that some of these issues were raised in the open discussion and in the concluding remarks, it would have only been fair that some of these found reflection in the reporting on the event.

Dr Kumkum Roy is Director of the Women’s Studies Programme at the JNU

 Body invasion is de-humanising–Gloria Steinem

April 7, The Hindu –When I’m meeting with women and girls in prostitution in my own country as well as some countries of Europe, Africa and here in India, I’ve always asked what they would like for their daughter. So far, the answers have not included prostitution.

That’s especially striking given the profound differences in their lives, from Manhattan call girls to women in the brothel line-ups of Sonagachi; from women in the counties around Las Vegas, the only places in the US where prostitution is legal, to bar girls from the villages of Ghana and the scheduled castes in Bihar where women are consigned to prostitution by birth. Indeed, the same seems to be true of prostituted males who serve male clients.

The truth seems to be that the invasion of the human body by another person – whether empowered by money or violence or authority — is de-humanising in itself. Yes, there are many other jobs in which people are exploited, but prostitution is the only one that by definition crosses boundary of our skin and invades our most central sense of self. I know this is a subject that needs much more exploring, but I want to indicate it in shorthand because I think it’s the source of the misunderstanding in these two letters in response to a lecture I gave at Jawaharlal Nehru University on April 2.

I did not say — nor do I think, as Shohini Ghosh supposes — that sex trafficking and prostitution are “synonymous.” Though both are created by the same customers who want unequal sex, they represent crucial differences in a woman’s ability to escape or control her own life. However, I would not equate prostitution with domestic work, as she does. That ignores the damage and trauma of the body invasion that is intrinsic to the former and should never be part of the latter. Also I don’t think “consenting adults” is practical answer to structural inequality. Even sexual harassment law requires that sexual attention be “welcome,” not just “consensual.” It recognizes that consent can be coerced.

In addition, Kumkum Roy criticizes me for not using the term “sex worker.” I know this term is common in AIDS policy and academia, but it turned out to be dangerous in real life. For instance, in places as disparate as Germany and Nevada in the US, government used the idea that prostitution is “a job like any other” to withhold welfare and unemployment benefits from women who failed to try it. Only protests by women’s movements ended this form of procurement. As a popular term, I notice that prostituted girls and women say “survival sex,” as more descriptive as well as a breach of human rights.

Finally, I devoutly wish that unions had improved conditions in brothels, kept children out of prostitution and lessened disease and violence, as they promised to do, but in fact, there has been a huge increase in trafficking, girls in prostitution have become younger and younger, and there is no independent evidence of lowering rates of AIDS. What the idea of unions has done is to enhance the ability of the sex industry to attract millions of dollars from the Gates Foundation for the distribution on condoms, despite the fact that customers often pay more for sex without condoms, and it has created a big new source of income for brothel owners, pimps and traffickers who are called “peer educators,” I understand that that the traffic of women and girls into Sonagachi has greatly increased.

But there is good news. The old polarization into legalization and criminalization is giving way to a more practical, woman-centered and successful Third Way: De-criminalize the prostituted persons, offer them meaningful choices, prosecute traffickers, pimps and all who sell the bodies of others, and also penalize the customers who create the market while educating them about its tragic human consequences.

Those are turning out to be goals on which many people work together.

Gloria Steinem’s   approach  is evacuated of all political economy – Geeta Patel

April11, 2011–I’d like to begin my salvo in response to Gloria Steinem’s letter with the closing sentences of her opening paragraph, one that is evacuated of every vestige of nuanced analysis, and turns instead to sentiment to make her point. “I’ve always asked what they would like for their daughter.  So far, the answers have not included prostitution.” A series of sentences guaranteed to appeal to knee jerk liberals.  So why does this bother me?  It bothers me because the entire set of claims that Steinem makes – which I would not call an analysis— is evacuated of all political economy.  In other words none of the statements in Steinem’s response actually scrutinize the conditions under which women who do sex work live, work, organize, conditions that, even if not explicitly stated, would enable Steinem to actually interrogate how sex work measures up or is laid out or understood in relation to other kinds of labor.  Instead Steinem resorts to feeling, sentimentality to orchestrate her scattered speculations. All this feeling that gives people the illusion of politics makes readers feel as though, through Steinem, they have actually grasped the real issues at stake for these ‘poor women we have to help.’  Steinem’s letter has made me, as someone who has worked as a domestic laborer, worked in a massage parlor, helped start the first battered women’s shelter in the U.S. as a young feminist in the late 1970s, and have been teaching courses on gender and sexuality, or including them in my research since that same time, so irate that I could wax eloquent on every claim she produces as truth.  I will restrict myself to three.


The first:  So, for example, in New York now, in the current economy in which banks have lost some moral capital and are downsizing rapaciously to protect their financial capital, while continuing to make their employees work egregiously long hours many women bankers do not encourage their girl children to go into banking.  Doctors in the United States laboring under circumstances where care for the patient and their health is suffering under the demands of insurance company mandates are discouraging their children from training in medicine.   In Delhi at this contemporary moment with soaring inflation, no domestic worker I know would suggest that their children follow in their footsteps and work in households that do not pay them a living wage.  The two best mistrys, carpenters, that I know in Delhi, who come from a long lineage of carpenters, have made sure that their children do not follow their trade.  This despite the fact that as master carpenters the children could perhaps move to the United States and make more money than they would as drivers (which some of those children have become, and the U.S. is where they imagine a glorious future for themselves.)  Why am I bringing all these sorts of seemingly incommensurate forms of labor together poised in this particular way?  Because making decisions on behalf of children is tied to critiques of working conditions.  Because I respect sex workers enough to actually understand that they, like all the other working parents, are dealing with the exigencies of a better future for their children.  Which reasonable parent would not?   If one looks at local and global conditions, and imagines them as mattering, each location producing slightly different responses even as they are tied together.  If one addresses these in rigorous ways, the ways in which the best analysts who try to speak to trafficking do, then one also has to think about these conditions, in general, as ones that produce how sex workers think, make decisions (and all decisions must be constrained—this is after all a lesson feminist analysis has encouraged in the past ten years).  Otherwise Steinem allows sex workers no autonomy as subjects; they have been reduced to the body of sex – the prostitute’s violated body that Steinem assigns them.


The second:  clearly Steinem does not grasp the emotional and sometimes brutal physical violence that attends domestic labor.  I have interviewed domestic workers in Sri Lanka who work outside (by constrained choice) their country of origin.  They have been burned, maimed, raped, emotionally violated.  If one lays bodily and psychic violation in a long history of the political economy of labor conditions one quickly comes to see that all labor can be attended by extreme violence.  And unions were one of the places that workers went to address issues of equity and violence.  That however does not mean that this violence is true of all instances of any one kind of labor, such as that of domestic workers (or workers who work in free trade zones).  The informal union I helped set up in New York when I was a domestic was one that attempted to enable workers to argue for better per hour wages, better treatment in daily encounters, better work hours, protection in case of accidents at work.  As do sex workers unions.  Unions are not perfect; they are an attempt to produce more equitable, better organized protective conditions.  But then, I understood that my work in a massage parlor was precisely that, work.  And I could have argued, with other people, for better conditions and health care benefits, had I had a union to help me craft a different, community politics.  That might in fact permit me to encourage my daughter, had I had one, to work in a massage parlor rather than at a Macdonald’s  or a Wal-Mart in the United States.   She would make better money and would not have to stand in a government line for food stamps so that she could actually eat a decent meal, would have had access to health care.  A situation that many young people in the area I lived in Boston were facing.


The third:  Steinem seems to have succumbed to what has been known since the beginning of the century (the 20th that is) as union busting.  Steinem’s claims about unions tell me more about her position on unions and nothing about what unions for sex workers do or don’t do, can or cannot do.  To accuse a union of being responsible for making conditions worse for people, for sex workers, to accuse a union of being a kind of magic magnet that attracts money rapaciously, sounds remarkably like the revitalized anti-union, anti-poor rhetoric that is currently rampant in the United States.  This rhetoric, from its inception, has always been attended by subtle trenchant critiques, including those by women who were arguing on behalf of their own and other people’s labor.  Steinem could well have said that unions gave people an eight hour day, they fought for wages that people could afford to live on, they fought for safe working conditions, so that people would not have to hazard their bodies at work. The living wage campaigns in the United States at this moment are about fighting for people to work only one job so that they do not have to destroy their health and even die young working on double shifts.  This sort of analysis would have actually attended to Steinem’s claim that she is making an argument that addresses bodily violation.  However Steinem seems to have lost both the critique and the history of women’s organizing and class analysis.  Instead, insinuated into her language are hackneyed versions of anti-union sentiment.    They take our money, they make things so much more difficult, they are in fact responsible for the degradation of workers’ lives, they encourage criminal elements:  these are only four of many rhetorical volleys that are directed at gutting the only protections that people have had against the ravages that the current economy is making of working lives.

 Geeta Patel, Associate Professor, Studies in Women and Gender, Department of Middle Eastern and South Asian Languages and Cultures, University of Virginia.



There was release of first pan india survey of sex workers in Mumbai Last Year , interesting discussion

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