Obituary: Remembering queer activist Sweet Maria


May 14, 2012 News at http://feministsindia.com
Queer Activist Sweet MariaRemembering queer activist Sweet Maria/Anil Sadanandan who was murdered at his/her quarters in Kerala, last week

By Anil. A

My friend and queer activist, Sweet Maria/Anil Sadanandan was brutally murdered on 10th May 2012, at his quarters in Kollam, Kerala. I cannot comprehend that such a crime was committed against a person who was so loving and lovable.

S/he was a vibrant, pleasant, courageous person, spreading a lot of positive energy around. A companion to many in all social classes. Bold enough to express and establish his/her marginalized and stigmatized identity in every space s/he traversed.

S/he was very active in the fight for the rights of sexual minorities. S/he worked hard to form community based organizations for sexual minorities in Kerala. S/he was the former General Secretary of Loveland Arts Society (LAS), Kollam, a community based organization for queer people. S/he was one of the advisory board members ofPEHCHAN project for Kerala, initiated by Sangama, Bangalore. The warm relationship and friendship s/he nurtured and maintained with community members was indeed the lifeline of these groups.

Anil’s intervention and focus to prevent and control the spread of HIV/AIDS among sexual minorities is commendable. S/he was very concerned about the health issues of those who have multi-partner sexual behavior. His/her unparalleled rapport with community members was very important in the effective implementation of HIV/AIDS prevention programmes, among this high risk group in Kerala.

Sweet Maria proudly revealed his/her identity in his/her family, workplace, every public space and media. To do this s/he had to encounter innumerable problems and had to fight consistently to establish his/her rightful social space. S/he incessantly fought against the injustice of mainstream society towards queer people.

Born on 5th May, 1973, in a lower middle class Malayalee family, Anil struggled hard to become a Govt. employee (Department of Harbor Engineering, Government of Kerala).

Sweet Maria / Anil Sadanandan lived his/her life fully, enjoyed the beauty of his queer nature, displayed it proudly and demonstrated its vibrance. In the queer pride march and in every queer cultural event, her pleasure in dance and the joy she was filled with, still reverberates in those who knew her. It’s still hard to absorb that we can’t rock in laughter at the queer jokes that s/he laid out at every turn, and that we will not be able to see and hear from her any more. S/he will not be there in any more festivals…and the void is unbearable.

S/he dared to face the challenges posed by an intolerant society which normally pushes gays, lesbians or anybody, who even slightly differs from the mainstream, to the limit of committing suicide. S/he faced such a society holding his head high, living his life fully, and standing out for the rights of the fellow queer. And he fell victim to that…

Anil’s murder is a brutal signal from the murdering homophobic patriarchy. We have to gather strength together to fight for the right of all trans/queer/nonconforming people to live with dignity and equality.

Anil.A is a human rights activist living with sex workers’ childrenfor the last 12 years in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala. He is also the Vice-president of Sangama, Banglore.

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Aboriginal Groups Warily Watch Canada Brothel Law


By Sadiya Ansari, Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Groups representing Aboriginal women hope the government will have a partial victory in upholding current prostitution laws. They say female sex workers need to be decriminalized, but they will be endangered if the government stops arresting pimps and johns.

VANCOUVER, Canada (WOMENSENEWS)–The Canadian government is appealing a judge’s decision to decriminalize many aspects of prostitution.

As Aboriginal women’s advocates wait for the decision of the Ontario Court of Appeal, it’s a time of ambivalence.

While they side with the decriminalizing judge when it comes to the treatment of prostitutes, they agree with the federal government on outlawing pimps and johns, because they often commit violence against sex workers.

“It’s not a question of morality,” said Teresa Edwards, in-house counsel for the Native Women’s Association of Canada, which is based in Ottawa and represents 13 Aboriginal women’s organizations across the country. “It’s a question of safety.”

Aboriginal women are over-represented among sex workers, who are often living in poverty, suffering from addiction and have few other choices. Predatory gangs target these women, says Edwards, when they are as young as 9 years old.

A decision on the federal government’s June 2011 appeal–following the Ontario Superior Court‘s September 2010 decision striking down anti-prostitution laws as unconstitutional–is expected early this year from the appeal court in Toronto.

Such rulings are typically published within six months, but the Ontario Court of Appeal has indicated in cases as complex as this one, a ruling may take longer.

Meanwhile in British Columbia, sex workers are trying to launch a constitutional challenge to the prostitution laws. The Supreme Court of Canada will decide on whether the group will be able to initiate a challenge based on arguments presented to the court last week.

Related Activities Illegal

While prostitution is not illegal in Canada, related profits and activities are.

Justice Susan Himel ruled the laws outlawing the keeping of a common bawdy house, communicating for the purposes of prostitution and living off its avails were unconstitutional.

Despite the ruling, these offenses remain illegal during the duration of the appeal.

In Canada, women are more likely to be convicted and incarcerated for prostitution offenses than men. A 2009 government study found 32 percent of women found guilty of prostitution were sent to prison as compared to 9 percent of men found guilty.

Aboriginal women, meanwhile, are suffering skyrocketing incarceration rates. A 2010-2011 federal report of the Office of the Correctional Investigator found that 34 percent of incarcerated women were Aboriginal. Over the last 10 years, the number of incarcerated Aboriginal women increased by 86.4 percent, while the number of Aboriginal men in prison has grown by 25.7 percent.

But advocates say decriminalizing all aspects of prostitution is not a way to reverse this trend. Instead, they say the country should be embracing the Nordic model for addressing prostitution.

Implemented in Sweden, Norway and Iceland, this approach criminalizes buyers and those who profit off the industry while decriminalizing women engaged in prostitution.

“Absolutely you need to decriminalize women in prostitution,” said Janine Benedet, co-counsel of the Intervener Women’s Coalition. “To simply decriminalize and legitimize men’s purchase of women in prostitution goes in exactly the wrong direction if your goal is to protect women.”

The Intervener Women’s Coalition represents seven groups across the country, including the Native Women’s Association of Canada, Canadian Association of Sexual Assault Centers and Vancouver Rape Relief. Its intervener status–given for the purpose of the appeal process–means the court will hear its perspective because the ruling will directly impact its members.

Many Aboriginal advocates echo arguments about risking women’s safety if all aspects of prostitution were decriminalized.
Safer for Some

Decriminalization might make it safer for some prostitutes as they move into brothels and away from some of the dangers of the open streets.

But Samantha Grey, a member of the Vancouver-based Aboriginal Women’s Action Network, doubts this applies to most Aboriginal women.

She says they face more violence, higher rates of HIV, more drug addiction and would probably be excluded from brothels because they would not meet standard criteria for employment.

Benedet says many of these social problems, including prostitution, are a direct result of Canada’s history of colonialism and persisting government policies applying to Aboriginal women. One prime example is residential schools, which were funded by the government and run by churches, aimed at assimilation. Aboriginal children were taken from their families, isolated from their culture and many suffered through physical, emotional and sexual abuse.

Edwards agrees and in particular thinks the legacy of abuse in residential schools has taken a toll on younger generations of Aboriginals whose parents have undergone trauma.

“We are taking a position that the government has an obligation not to confine Aboriginal women to prostitution as their social safety net,” said Benedet, adding that the government needs to acknowledge that prostitution should not be a solution for Aboriginal women to ameliorate poverty, educational disadvantage and addiction.

One group within the Aboriginal community has applauded the decriminalization ruling though.

The Native Youth Sexual Health Network works with indigenous youth across Canada and the United States. In a statement, it said the September 2010 ruling could reduce street-based violence if women have access to indoor working conditions. The statement also said prostitutes may be able to negotiate safer working conditions, such as condom use, with a client or report violence without fear of being arrested.

But Benedet disagrees. “There’s a lot of other reasons those women wouldn’t want to call the police,” she said.

One of those reasons, according to Grey of the Aboriginal Women’s Action Network, is the fear that the police, themselves, can perpetrate sexual violence on prostitutes.

Sadiya Ansari is a Pakistani-Canadian freelance writer, based in Vancouver.

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