In the name of honour: Book explores nature of honour crimes and domestic violence


KARACHI:
The first step in fighting honour crimes is to accept their existence in the society and understand the nature of the crime.

“We need to accept that such crimes exist and that they are more prevalent in certain cultures than others,” said Manisha Gupte, one of the co-editors of the book “Honour and Women’s Rights: South Asian Perspectives” at its launch at the Karachi Press Club on Sunday.

“Honour exists in every society but we need to struggle against the structures of dominance, such as caste and sex, which instigate honour killings.”

The book has been co-edited by Gupte, Ramesh Awasthi and Shraddha Chickerur. It comprises 15 papers by authors from South Asian countries, including Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Nepal, who are either settled in their respective countries or living abroad.

“The most prevalent form of violence against women among South Asian people is domestic violence and the fear of extended families,” said Gupte, who is also the founder of MASUM, an organisation working for the rural women in India since 1987. “Domestic violence and honour killings are interlinked.”

From Pakistan, Akmal Wasim, Faiza Haswary, Nazish Brohi, Afiya Zia and Saima Husain contributed their papers to the book, which was completed over a period of three years.

Discussing the different forms of honour crimes, Gupte said domestic violence also takes place in western cultures.

She clarified that the book has no answers but only offers insight into such crimes.

The National Commission on the Status of Women chairperson, Anis Haroon, said that illiteracy and extremism are the main obstacles which are stalling women’s development in the region.

One of the authors, Afiya Zia, who co-authored a paper with researcher Nazish Brohi on “Agentive defiance to honour codes in Pakistan”, called for focus on the empirical studies conducted by organisations. She crticised them as being flawed, saying that they are entirely based on media reports. “These crimes are not limited to only villages but exist in urban cities as well.”

Published in The Express Tribune, April 30th, 2012.

Mumbai Man found in Lahore Jail after eight years


Letter from Pakistan – I want to return home

Vile Parle man who went missing in ’05 found in Lahore jail

After his father passed away, Bhavesh left home for Amritsar, hopped on to Samjhauta Express and crossed into Pakistan without any papers

Nazia Sayed, Mumbai Mirror
Thursday, May 03, 2012 at 09:39:40 PM

The man in the photograph is 32-year-old Bhavesh Kumar. He went missing from Mumbai eight years ago. The letter you see is one he wrote to his mother – 57-year-old Hansa Kantilal Parmar – in February this year. She got the letter from a man called from Ram Rajji, who described Bhavesh as being “very quiet”, as being a man who cried when he thought of home but at most times recalled nothing.

Rajji had spent time with Bhavesh in jail; a jail in Lahore, where Bhavesh has spent the last eight years remembering and forgetting the past. For Hansa, the letter has brought fresh hope that she may yet see her long-lost son.

Bhavesh’s and his mother’s story reads like a melodramatic film script, even if no one’s sure how it will end. According to the version the police managed to piece together, Bhavesh had drifted into depression after his father’s death. He stole money from home before boarding a train to Amritsar.

There, though it’s unclear how, he managed to board the high-security Samjhauta Express, and once he got to Pakistan, he was detained because he had neither a visa nor any documents to prove who he was.

It’s hard to believe how smoothly things were going for him back in 2004. A bright student, Bhavesh had graduated from NIIT and landed himself a decent job. He lived with his family in Vile Parle, and like many parents of 24-year-old boys, his were on the look-out for a suitable bride.

Then his father lost a prolonged battle against cancer. “He was very close to his father, and after his death he went into depression,” Hansa told Mumbai Mirror. “He had not only lost his father but a friend as well. After that he also lost his job. The family fell into financial trouble and he blamed himself for not being able to look after us.”

Hansa had gone to her maternal home to perform some rituals when the next tragedy struck.

She got a call from her neighbours saying that Bhavesh had not returned home for a few weeks. Hansa returned immediately and when she couldn’t find him anywhere, registered a missing complaint with the police. “Some people told me he must’ve died or committed suicide, others said he had run away. I didn’t know what to do so I decided to wait,” she said.

She waited four years before she heard about her son: the good news was Bhavesh was alive; the bad news that he was in jail in Pakistan, and that getting him back would not be easy.

“In October 2008, officers from the Mumbai Police special branch came looking for me. They told me my son was being held in Kot Lakpath jail in Lahore,” Hansa said. “The cops also told me that he was mentally unstable, and that all he did was mutter the name of his college and call out for his mother. The police got my address from his college records,” Hansa said.

With this information in hand, she started the long battle to get her son released. She wrote to the Home Ministry and to the Ministry of External Affairs pleading with them to get her son back.

A few months later, there came another glimmer of hope. In July 2009, she got a letter from the Indian High Commission in Pakistan confirming that her son was indeed lodged in one of their jails.

The letter also stated that a team from the High Commission had met him, and that they had confirmed his nationality status to the government of Pakistan. The letter said that they were in touch with the Pakistani government and were seeking Bhavesh’s release and repatriation to India at the earliest.

Once again, Hansa was left with nothing else to do but wait; this time, for another two-and-a-half years (more painful, considering she knew where her son was but could do nothing to help him).

Out of the blue, on February 24 this year, she got a call – not from a police station or an embassy, as she had been expecting. It was from a man called Ram Rajji, Bhavesh’s fellow prisoner who had returned to India bearing a letter from her son.

Unlike Bhavesh, Rajji was the victim of a con. In 2004, an agent in Amritsar had told him he had arranged a job for him in Lahore, and that he would meet his point-of-contact when he reached that city. There was no one waiting for him and Rajji found himself in jail. He was released in February this year as part of a group of 19 Indian prisoners who were sent back home.

When Mumbai Mirror contacted Rajji, he said that Bhavesh seldom spoke about his home or his family. “For many years, he was very quiet. He used to break into tears when he remembered things from his past but at most times he recalled nothing. On the day I was getting released, he pushed a piece of paper in my hand and told me to give it to his mother. He also asked me to click a photograph of his and show it to his mother as proof that he was alive.”

Rajji was taken aback, mainly because of how quiet Bhavesh had been until then. “But I was moved by his sudden emotional outburst. I promised him that I would personally meet his mother and tell her that her son was alive.”

After receiving the letter, Hansa once again approached the authorities. Vile Parle (East) MLA Krishna Hegde, who is helping Hansa out, said, “I have written to the Ministry of External affairs explaining the situation. We are now waiting for their reply.”

For Hansa, the letter has brought with it fresh strength to fight. “For the first time in eight years my son remembered me. He scribbled his address on a piece of paper, he gave Rajji a message for me.”

And what was the message? “He said he wants to come back home.”

Snapshots- May 3, World Press Freedom Day 2012


Theme 2012:
New Voices: Media Freedom Helping to Transform Societies

World Press Freedom Day was proclaimed by the UN General Assembly in December 1993, following the recommendation of UNESCO’s General Conference. Since then, 3 May, the anniversary of the Declaration of Windhoekis celebrated worldwide as World Press Freedom Day. It is an opportunity to:

  • celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom;
  • assess the state of press freedom throughout the world;
  • defend the media from attacks on their independence;
  • pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the line of duty.

The recent uprisings in some Arab States have highlighted the power of the media, the human quest for freedom of expression and the confluence of press freedom and freedom of expression through various traditional and new media.

This has given rise to an unprecedented level of media freedom. New media have enabled civil society, young people and communities to bring about massive social and political transformations by self-organizing, and engaging the global youth in the fight to be able to freely express themselves and the aspirations of their wider communities.

Yet, media freedom is fragile, and it is also not yet within the reach of everyone. Furthermore, as more reporting is transmitted online, more and more online journalists including bloggers are being harnessed, attacked and even killed for their work.

SAFMA, SAMC appeal for safeguarding media freedom

In a joint statement issued ahead of the World Press Freedom Day which falls on May 3, the South Asian Free Media Association (SAFMA) and the South Asia Media Commission (SAMC) have urged governments in South Asia to safeguard the freedom of expression against repressive provisions, measures or groups.

The two media bodies termed the commemoration of this year’s Press Freedom Day, with its theme as “New Voices: Media Freedom Helping to Transform Societies,” an opportunity to celebrate the fundamental principles of media freedom. It would also serve as an occasion to evaluate media freedom, to defend the media from attacks on their independence, and to pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the line of duty.

Freedom of expression is a precious right that bolsters every other freedom and provides a foundation for human dignity. Free, pluralistic and independent media is essential for exercising this right,” said SAFMA secretary-general Imtiaz Alam and SAMC president Kumar Ketkar.

The SAFMA and the SAMC called on the governments in the region to commit themselves to supporting and expanding press freedom and the free flow of information in the digital age. “New media have enabled people to bring about massive social and political transformations. Yet, media freedom is fragile, and it is also not yet within the reach of everyone. Furthermore, as more reporting is transmitted online, more and more online journalists including bloggers are being attacked and even killed for their work,” Mr. Alam and Mr. Ketkar said.

According to statistics with the two media bodies, 185 journalists have been killed since 1992 for their work. Of these, Pakistan tops the tally with 58 followed by India 39, Afghanistan 28, Sri Lanka 25, Bangladesh 18, and Nepal 17.

A free press is a form of freedom of expression, providing citizens with access to knowledge and information, thus safeguarding any political system based on the will of the people.

Photo: Reuters
Members of the media tape their mouth as they protest against the arrest of journalists in Panama. (file)

A free press is a form of freedom of expression, providing citizens with access to knowledge and information, thus safeguarding any political system based on the will of the people.  On May 3rd, we celebrate World Press Freedom Day.   It is a day to consider the importance of freedom of the press, and to remind governments of their duty to respect and uphold the right to freedom of expression as stipulated in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

But Freedom of the Press Day serves not only to highlight the importance of an uncensored press: it also serves as a reminder that in dozens of countries around the world, publications are censored, fined, suspended and closed down; that in many countries, journalists, editors and publishers and bloggers are harassed, attacked, jailed and even murdered.  It aims to remind governments of the need to respect their commitment to Press Freedom, and to journalists

This day also serves as a reminder to professionals of their responsibility to society, and of the importance of maintaining professional ethics. It is a day of support for media which are targets for the censorship, or abolition of press freedom. And it is also a day of remembrance for those journalists who lost their lives in the exercise of their profession.

Former Philippine President Corazon Aquino once said that “Freedom of the press guarantees popular participation in the decisions and actions of government, and popular participation is the essence of democracy.”

A free press is sometimes called the Fourth Pillar of Democracy.  That is because a free press reports abuses of power by public officials.  It shines a spotlight on government decision makers and those who influence them.  It keeps the citizens informed of news critical of the government, gives them the opportunity to exchange information and opinions about public affairs without interference by government officials. It spurs them into pressuring the government to right wrongs.

As one-time U.S. Supreme Court Judge Felix Frankfurter once said, “Freedom of the press is not an end in itself but a means to the end of [achieving] a free society.”

A silent press means the end of democracy.

Call for code of ethics for citizen journalism

The theme for this year’s World Press Freedom day is “New Voices: Media Freedom Helping to Transform Societies”.

In the open letter, Smith and Achtelstetter draw attention to the transformative power of new media technologies and social media. They cite the ongoing uprisings in the Middle-East which highlight “the potential of citizen journalism to counter attacks on freedom of expression and freedom of the press.”

However, they caution that while emerging media technologies and social media platforms offer new channels for increased information flows and strengthening communication rights, using them demands greater responsibility. “Part of that responsibility is developing and adapting professional standards to guide journalistic practice,” they say.

WACC believes that freedom of expression and freedom of the press are basic human rights. Media independence and pluralism strengthen democratic processes and promote both government accountability and citizen participation. WACC’s new Strategic Plan 2012-2016 focuses especially on the role communication rights play in giving voice to poor, marginalized, excluded and dispossessed people and communities.

Read full letter here

‘Censorship on Journalists a Threat to Democracy’

New Delhi, May 2 (IANS): Violence and censorship against mediapersons are a “threat” to democracy and also constrains their ability to operate freely, an international body of journalists said Wednesday.The Commonwealth Journalists Association (CJA) also condemned state repression against media in countries like Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

“Without a free press and freedom of expression, governments can impose bad policy and abuse power with impunity,” said Rita Payne, president of CJA, underlining the consensus at a meet on ‘Threats to Democracy’.

Violence and censorship remains an everyday threat for many journalists and such constraints their ability to operate, the CJA said in a statement to mark World Press Freedom Day May 3.

“The CJA unanimously condemns instances of state repression against media reported out of Pakistan, Sri Lanka and some African member states of the Commonwealth,” Payne said.

“With some Commonwealth countries, including India and Pakistan resisting a draft UN Action Plan on safety of journalists, the CJA warned that democracy itself is under threat due to constraints on the ability of journalists to operate,” she added.

Putting action to words, the CJA has endorsed the Table Mountain Declaration, aimed at abolishing criminal defamation and promoting a free press in Africa.

In 2011, 179 journalists were imprisoned worldwide, up from 145 the previous year while another 67 were killed last year; 17 more so far this year. They were murdered, killed on dangerous assignments or died in crossfire, Payne said.

Pakistan is rated among the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists. South Africa has enacted strict censorship measures that limit reporting on corruption and attempt to control the press.

The CJA’s efforts are global, with its branches in Pakistan, Sarawak, Uganda, Cameroon, India and Britain among those holding educational workshops and awareness-raising events to mark World Press Freedom Day.

“It is time for all Commonwealth countries to uphold the same values of a civil society. The onus here is on governments. Press freedom and freedom of speech must be protected and promoted,” Payne said.

Endless wait for return of a ‘martyr’ from Pakistan


Gautam Dheer, Apr 28, 2012 : Deccan Herald —For over three decades, 61-year old and ailing Angrez Kaur lived a life in tremulous dilemma unsure if her husband was alive or if she was a widow. 

Angrez Kaur with her son Amrik Singh (left) and grandson Ramandeep Singh.Her son Amrik Singh has only seen his father Surjit Kumar, a Border Security Force constable, in pictures hung on the walls in the house.

He was barely a month-old when Surjit went ‘missing’ in the 1971 war with Pakistan from Jaisalmer in Rajasthan.

He was a Prisoner of War (Pow) in Pakistan. Three years after the war, the BSF declared Singh dead, a martyr in records.

But then the unexpected happened.

Indian prisoners repatriated from Pakistan jails in 2004 revealed that Surjit Singh was still alive and languishing in a Pakistan jail. Seven years later, the family’s endless wait for Surjit to return continues.

Kaur and his son Amrik have little choice but to cling on to hope of being one with Singh in this lifetime. BSF records still read him as a martyr and the Indian authorities haven’t been able to make tangible headway to secure the release of a martyr”.

“It has been over 40 years of pain. It’s not entirely impossible to reconcile with the loss of a loved one if you are sure of it. But it’s the prolonged uncertainty over your husband’s life that haunts me everyday,’’ Kaur said.

Ferozepur resident Satish Kumar Marwaha vouches for the fact that Surijit is alive. Surjit and Satish were in the same barrack for several years until Satish was released from a Pakistan jail.

But Surjit’s family hasn’t given up. And hope comes from Pakistan’s former
Federal Minister for Human Rights Ansar Burney.

Amrik and his uncle Dr Ajay Mehra, a medical practitioner in Faridkot, met Burney a few days ago. Hope rekindled after Burney assured them of all possible help to secure Surjit’s release.

Talking to Deccan Herald, Amrik said:

“ My mother at times gets up past midnight and wants me to talk to her about my father. She feels happy when I tell her that her prayers will be heard soon. She tells me to visit every Baba (godman) who comes to the village.’’

Kaur’s marriage was just two years old when her world fell apart after Surjit Singh went missing.

All she was then told by the BSF that her husband could have been captured as a PoW by Pakistan, or perhaps, may have even died in gunfire. His fate was sealed in 1974 when the BSF officially declared him dead, a martyr in their records.

Burney has been pursuing the matter in Pakistan since last year. In fact, it was Burney who called up Surjit’s family last year to reconfirm that the Indian soldier was alive and in a jail. Singh was awarded death penalty as a PoW in Pakistan. But, his sentence was eventually converted into life imprisonment.

All these decades he was kept at the Kot Lakhpat Jail in Lahore. His jail term ended in December last year, said sources. The family has repeatedly taken up the matter with the BSF. The organisation says it has held meetings with the Pakistani Rangers to facilitate Singh’s deportation.

After Surjit did not return from the border and news of Surjit going missing poured in, Kaur returned to her parents in Faridkot town in Punjab. Kaur chose not to remarry. Amrik said, he has appro­ached all agencies for help, but his father still languishes in Pakistan jail.

The Ministry of External Affairs had told Kaur in August 2005 that the BSF had taken up the matter with the Pakistan Rangers in October 2004. But nothing worked out.
Burney said he would meet Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani for the early release of Surjit.

Angrez Kaur recalls the ordeal when her husband went missing in 1971. The government told her that Surjit went missing on December 3, 1971 night from Jaisalmer in Rajasthan.

“Amrik was in my lap when my world crashed. Nobody was sure where my husband was. Something kept my belief that my husband was alive, despite the BSF formally declaring him dead in 1974. His photographs are the only memories. My son Amrik has picked up photography to make a living,” Kaur said.

Ashes of Indians in Pakistan

Ashes of at least 53 Indians, who died languishing in Pakistan jails, are still kept in Pakistan prisons.

The revelation was made by Ansar Burney during his recent visit to India last week.

Burney said he will take up the matter with the Pakistan government so that the ashes are brought to India and last rites can be performed by families here.

Prof. Sarah Hodges on Reproductive Health in colonial India


Prof. Sarah Hodges, University of Warwick, explains her research on “family planning” and reproductive health in colonial India. Her  work  is on the social and cultural history of modern South Asia, specifically the politics of health in colonial and postcolonial India (particularly the Tamil-speaking south). Her  interests lie at the intersection of a number of fields: modern South Asian history, gender studies, anthropology, and the history of science, technology and medicine.

She is  currently at work on a book about the contemporary history of medical garbage in Chennai, India, provisionally titled, Biotrash: The Urban Metabolism of Medical Tourism in India.

Dr Mohan Rao  interviews  Sarah Hodges.

 

Becoming an abuse statistic in patriarchal India


Journalist Nita Bhalla recounts the lingering scars – physical and mental – from an assault on her and draws a wider lesson about violence against women in patriarchal India.

I stand in front of the mirror, surveying my face and body – still in shock at how it could have happened to me.

Six days on, the swelling on the right side of my face which he banged into the wall has subsided, the bruise under my right eye where he punched me has turned deep purple and those on my arms and legs where he grabbed and kicked me are fading.

The marks around my neck from when he tried to choke me, I conclude, are healing the fastest. Yet I still decide to wrap a scarf around my neck before leaving for work.

Globally, six out of 10 women experience physical and/or sexual violence – mostly committed by a husband or an intimate partner, says UN Women.

And India, the country I am based in, is not much better.

Around 37% of Indian women have experienced some form of abuse by their husbands – pushing, slapping and hair pulling, punching, kicking, choking or burning – according to the Indian government‘s last National Family Health Survey.

Activists say the actual figures are likely to be more than double this, but despite greater awareness and more gender-sensitive laws, few women are willing to come out and talk openly about the violence they face by those who purport to love them.
Continue reading the main story

Start Quote

I still keep thinking: ‘This did not happen. This does not happen to women like me’”

The statistics are not surprising for me. But being a statistic is.
Raped and set alight

Reporting on women’s rights issues in South Asia over the last three years, I have covered the plethora of threats which haunt the millions of women who live in this deeply patriarchal region.

The violations are vast and varied – from the illegal abortions of female foetuses to the immolation of young brides by their in-laws for not fulfilling dowry demands, to brothers who murder their sisters for falling in love with “unsuitable” men.

I have visited villages in northern India where women hide behind veils and weep as they recount their stories of being sold and trafficked as brides, kept as slaves and beaten and raped by their husbands and “shared” among brothers.

I have spent hours in women’s shelters buried in New Delhi‘s slums, interviewing battered women with blackened and burnt arms, after their drunken husbands’ poured kerosene over them and set them alight.

Not entirely silent: Indian women protest violence against their sex

I have spoken to health workers, gender experts, women’s activists, and government officials on numerous issues – from the psychological reasons of “power and control” that lie behind gender abuse to the adverse impacts of the low status of women on India’s development efforts.

While physical and sexual violence against women is unfortunately something that afflicts every society, the high levels to which it is acceptable in India are sometimes unfathomable.

The National Family Health Survey found that 51% of Indian men and 54% of Indian women found it justifiable for a man to beat his wife.

And the silence that surrounds such abuse helps perpetuate that acceptability.
‘Objects’

Not the understandable silence of victims who are afraid or not empowered enough to speak out, but the incomprehensible silence of others – family, friends, neighbours and even passers-by – who choose to turn a blind eye.

Interviewing victims and hearing of how their families and friends knew, but did nothing, was something that I never really understood.

But now I have experienced that silence.

When he pulled my hair and kicked me as I lay on the pavement, there was a deafening silence from my neighbours who heard my screams but were reluctant to intervene.

I heard it from the group of young men walking past, who stopped a few feet away to watch as he beat me. And I heard it from the auto-rickshaw drivers who were parked at the stand across the road in the early hours of that morning.

Read full BBC story here

Piyush Pandey and the Vedanta open letter


 

English: Piyush Pandey

Image via Wikipedia

Anant Rangaswami Feb 22, 2012FIRST POST, Feb 22, 2012

Kamayani Bali Mahabal, an activist-blogger, has posted an impassioned open letter to Ogilvy South Asia executive chairman and national creative director Piyush Pandey in the context of the campaign created by his agency for Vedanta and his role in the communication.

“After so many socially responsible ad campaigns by you I was aghast to see Vedanta’s “Creating Happiness” ad. Recently unveiling the campaign you said: “The Vedanta ‘Creating Happiness’ campaign is extremely close to my heart for it’s all about enabling India. I have worked on this campaign along with my team as an excited young copywriter and I look forward to the people of India not just appreciating Vedanta’s efforts, but getting inspired to do something on their own to make India a happier place.”

 

Read more here

 

India has the most toxic air: Study


It is official: India has the world’s most toxic air.

In a study by Yale and Columbia Universities, India holds the very last rank among 132 nations in terms of air quality with regard to its effect on human health.

India scored a miniscule 3.73 out of a possible 100 points in the analysis, lagging far behind the next worst performer, Bangladesh, which scored 13.66. In fact, the entire South Asian region fares badly, with Nepal, Pakistan and China taking up the remaining spots in the bottom five of the rankings.

These rankings are part of a wider study to index the nations of the world in terms of their overall environmental performance. The Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy and Columbia’s Center for International Earth Science Information Network have brought out the Environment Performance Index rankings every two years since 2006.

In the overall rankings — which takes 22 policy indicators into account — India fared minimally better, but still stuck in the last ten ranks along with environmental laggards such as Iraq, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. At the other end of the scale, the European nations of Switzerland, Latvia and Norway captured the top slots in the index.

India’s performance over the last two years was relatively good in sectors such as forests, fisheries, biodiversity and climate change. However, in the case of water — both in terms of the ecosystem effects to water resources and the human health effects of water quality — the Indian performance is very poor.

The Index report was presented at the World Economic Forum currently taking place in Davos, where it’s being pitched as a means to identify the leaders and the laggards on energy and environmental challenges prior to the iconic Rio+20 summit on sustainable development to be held in Brazil this June.

By- Priscilla Jebaraj- The Hindu

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