If you ask me, this cover is not of a woman breastfeeding, but of one who is declaring her determination to be comfortable while breastfeeding, thereby reinforcing her commitment to breastfeed her baby. I think this difference is important. Breastfeeding is a very intimate act; it is highly physical. If the mother and child are well, happy, and don’t have issues that may make this feel like a chore or hard to do, then it is very highly pleasurable too. As a woman who has breastfed continuously for 9 years with just a short break of a few months during my second pregnancy, I can say this: breastfeeding is also ‘breastfeeling’, so your attention is on the act, and you really don’t want to focus on anything else, especially irritating stares. It is as pleasurable as lovemaking. Many years later (my daughters are 25 and 20 this year), when I remember the act, my nipples rise, tingling. Breastfeeding was also play time, when the little one played with her mum’s breast with her tiny fingers feeling and squeezing it; and my younger one was especially playful, twisting her tiny body in sheer pleasure, and sometimes, remaining still and then naughtily sinking her little tooth into the nipple, rolling her eyes up to check the reaction from her mum! So when we traveled, I always carried a big, opaque duppatta with which I made a ‘tent’ over our heads that covered us completely. We would be sitting in a corner seat in the train, and having fun, she sitting on my lap (and later the tent would be big enough for the three of us, myself, my six-year-old, and one-year-old, the former listening to a story, and the latter happily suckling). We would sing, tickle, do what not. Demanding the freedom to breastfeed without being too bothered about modesty and in public without anyone staring, for me, then, is demanding the right to such intimate pleasure in public. In that sense, this should have been one of the afterlives of Kerala’s Kiss of Love protests.
This is a guest post by TANNISTHA SAMAMTHA and MUKTA GUNDI
With the success of “PadMan”, Akshay Kumar has established himself to be a bleeding-heart ‘feminist’. News channels are pouring praises for a film that introduces a ‘bold’ topic while regurgitating the crucial link between safe menstrual practices and women’s health. While the message is old (and important), the euphoria around it is new. Continue reading PadMan, Patriarchy and the Poor Man’s Innovation: Tannistha Samantha and Mukta Gundi
The almost insoluble task is to let neither the power of others, not our own powerlessness, stupefy us.
As frightening spectres of untouchability and unseeability hover around the festering sore of the ‘caste-wall’ at Vadayambady in Kerala, as the so-called mainstream left-led government here continues to pour its energy and resources into aiding and abetting caste devils there, as most mainstream media turns a blind eye, as the Kerala police continues its mad-dog-left-loose act, many friends ask me: why have you not yet written about the struggle there of dalit people fighting of the demon of caste now completely, shamelessly ,in the public once more? Continue reading Malayali Feminism 2018: In the Light of Vadayambady and Hadiya’s Struggle
The recent reference to how the distribution of food in Malayali homes is often skewed against women by the actor Rima Kallingal in a recent talk has sparked off yet another round of attacks against feminists in Kerala. It is interesting to see how this seems to have brought together men of all political stripes and colours (may I say, from pro- and anti-Hadiya camps!). The attacks range from mild smirking to outright abuse, but are equally revealing of the fear of women’s feminist self-assertion. So even those men who supported Hadiya’s decision to choose her faith and community find it hard to swallow when women start laying bare the injustices of the ubiquitous patriarchal family, fearing that there may be an implicit choice in this criticism, to move away from the patriarchal family, and indeed, craft other non-patriarchal forms of intimate connection and commitment. After all, whatever be the community, the patriarchal family is acknowledged by patriarchal authorities everywhere as the foundation Continue reading From Nangeli to Rima Kallingal: Who are fit to claim Nangeli’s Legacy?
I can hardly describe the joy and relief I felt reading your piece on the Hadiya case in the Hindu yesterday. By now I am nearly deaf from the cacophony of misogyny, islamophobia, and sheer short-sighted rage that CPM supporters on Facebook are unleashing against this young woman.
Your voice of sanity, Comrade, is therefore a great restorative. If not for your writing, one could have well thought that the CPM was nothing more than a bunch of short sighted, power hungry, strategisers, whose total lack of ethics and values is covered up by a vapid, outdated rationalism and an equally problematic liberalism. You refuse to condemn Hadiya for choosing Islam. You acknowledge that she is brave. You unequivocally reject the father and other minions of patriarchy. You rightly criticise state patriarchy evident in the Supreme Court. Unlike many CPM supporters here, you have no illusions about the times we live in; you are clearly aware that the NIA is not something which will spare us if we stay good. Importantly, you put paid to the idea that the High Court judgement that sanctioned her illegal custody was justified — an idea assiduously nurtured by certain public figures allied with the CPM against religious Muslims. Comrade, thank you again for being so forthright and in the face of snarling islamophobes in your own ranks actually gunning for the voice you raised against her illegal custody long back.
This is a GUEST POST by DEBADITYA BHATTACHARYA and RINA RAMDEV
The past few years have not allowed us the respite to prepare for a fight. We were perpetually donning our war-gear – often forced without necessary ammunition into a battle that raged through parliaments and streets and colleges and colonies and our doorsteps. There was no time to strategise, no time to theorize, no time to bargain and no time to compose ourselves for the next day’s onslaughts. And yet, the onslaughts never abated. The mundane was coupled with the spectacular, the anti-national with the terrorist, the intellectual with the condom-user, the dissenter with the stone-pelter, and the everyday with the genocidal. Continue reading Sexual Harassment in the Academia – What the Hitlist Misses: Debaditya Bhattacharya and Rina Ramdev
Guest post by R. SRIVATSAN
It is with a recognition of a failing foretold that I read the different posts, letters and conversations around the list (the unmistakable one today). That one’s teachers, seniors, peers and respected fellow academics have been named as having sexually harassed women cannot be digested without trouble. I struggled to comprehend what had happened and went through all the emotions of denial and outrage, followed by shock, acceptance and hopefully a slowly emerging wisdom.
It then came back to memory that I too have sexually harassed women on three occasions. However, I was in anonymous situations which were not explicitly relationships of power or authority. And I did withdraw an overture (or a pass, to call it out by its name) when rejected. Perhaps I have been cautious in not letting my shenanigans come back from the past to bite me. Or perhaps I cleverly chose occasions and situations that would not be traceable to me. Also, most importantly, perhaps those women who could have named and shamed me have been kinder and gentler than I deserved. Finally, if I were a successful teacher today, perhaps my name too would have been on the list. This response is based on the recognition that I virtually am.
(This is the text of the open letter from leading women’s studies scholar and renowned feminist intellectual, Prof. Samita Sen, to the Chief Minister of Kerala on the Hadiya case) Continue reading Restore Hadiya’s Dignity as an Adult: Prof. Samita Sen to the Chief Minister of Kerala
On October 3, students, human rights activists, muslim-dalit-adivasi-bahujan organisations from all over India are converging in Thiruvananthapuram to march for the freedom of the twenty-four-year-old Hadiya, who is under virtual house arrest in the home of her father, Mr Asokan after the shocking annulment of her marriage to her chosen partner by the Kerala HC. The march will begin from the Martyr’s Column, Palayam, at 11 AM and end at the Kerala State Government Secretariat junction. Through this we hope to draw the attention of the public to the grave dangers posed by these decisions of the judiciary and by the shameful silence and criminal inaction of the Kerala government , which claims leftist and secular credentials. We invite all to participate in this march and strengthen the hands of those who are fighting to undo this unspeakable violation of justice to an Indian citizen and the gross attack on the fundamentals of Indian democracy. We also request you to kindly change your Facebook profile pictures to Citizens for Hadiya and/or write supporting posts.
It looks like the CPM’s enmity towards the Muslim organizations is such that they do not mind sacrificing women’s human rights and reinforcing the patriarchal family just to teach them a lesson. So they are happy to stick with the Sanghi understanding of conversion as necessarily forced in some way, ideological or physical. Media One broke news yesterday about a Sanghi torture camp for Hindu women who marry Christians or Muslims concealed as a yoga center. A woman incarcerated there for marrying a Christian managed to escape and complain to the police. Sixty-five women were reportedly incarcerated there when she was an inmate (a later report, after the place was shut down today on the order of the High Court, said 22 women and 23 men were allegedly for reconversion) . The reconversion therapy includes physical assault and threats. This 28-year-old woman married a Christian man without converting and her family seems to have initially accepted it. However, she was taken to this yoga cum counseling center by her own family without her consent and they left her there to the mercy of the criminals who ran the place. She also confirms that a young woman, Athira from Kasaragod, who had chosen to convert to Islam on her own who recently ‘returned’ to ‘Sanatana dharma’ with much fanfare, was in this place for twenty-two days and that she had continued to insist on her preference for Islam.
This place is in Tripunithura, in the heart of urban Kerala quite near the High Court at Ernakulam, which damned Hadiya’s right to choose her faith and a partner. Apparently, it is the Sanghi gang from this place who visited Hadiya at her father’s house. Here is the story:
So it appears that the Sangh is clearly seeking to reverse what is an outcome of long-term social processes shaped by increasing access to higher education for most social groups in Kerala. Women entered higher education here in larger numbers in the 1980s and Muslims, men and women, since the 1990s till now. The expansion of the media and cellphones is such that young people are not influenced solely by their parents or community. In other words, there is a greater livelihood of women and men choosing partners actors communities. Even sensible people here whisper about how zealous Muslims are about conversion away from Islam but the discourse of Hindu tolerance is so pervasive that it lets concentration camp proliferate in secret. The response of the CPM participant is truly revealing — indeed, this is cutting the nose to spite the face. Whatever be their position about welfare and economic development, the CPM in Kerala seems appallingly on the side of the Hindutva security state. And the questions this raises for the fabled autonomy of women here that the CPM ideologues never ceases to claim credit for, are huge.
This is probably the calculation of utility that underlies the chilling indifference/ outright contempt of the CPM leadership towards the plight of the Muslims: the average CPM and CPI supporter is the middle-caste ex-avarna middle-aged male of the middle or lower middle class. This gentleman’s preferences are such that his utility is maximised by staying with the organized dominant left in matters related to securing public resources to private ends (because the mobilization for that, given Kerala’s demographics and history needs to be necessarily by a multi-community mix) and by sticking to community/caste organizations for family matters. This choice has always been detrimental to women’s personal rights, particularly personal choices. The community/caste organizations of the 20th century are becoming more of economic institutions than social — and they manage the vast community assets once secured from governments for public ends now securing mainly the interests of the community elite. The social, however, is undergoing rapid transformation, and indeed, sections of the young now even dare to define the social for themselves. Into this gap steps the Sangh, desperate to make an entry, now that their efforts to secure the ex-avarnas have failed (because of their own irremediable casteism). The above-mentioned gentleman finds it prudent to use their services in making sure that the young stay under his patriarchal thumb. Especially young women, for they have nobody to really defend their rights. Thus arise the thriving if silent business of reconversion, well-protected from public view by the pervasive Islamophobia of the Right and Left, believers and rationalists. Also remember that in a post-demographic society, children are few and they are more akin to trophies that future labour for the family. The dominant left sees that as long as they don’t disturb this gentleman’s efforts to secure his patriarchal authority through whatever means, however violent, crude, and abhorrent to democracy they may be, they retain influence. In other words, the tattered influence of the dominant left — no longer hegemonic — endures through, among other things, looking away from the social and the familial as hierarchical institutions and the abuses. This is why a sexual attack on a film actor elicits a huge response from the feminist supporters of the CPM, while the unlawful confinement of a far less privileged young woman is largely ignored or supported ‘personally’. The dominant left leadership reasons this to be its best strategy, since it loses nothing by letting the Sanghis handle family affairs. The presence of the Sangh works well for it too, since very many Muslims and Christians, who are sizeable in demographic and economic terms, will turn to it for protection from the Sangh!! This strategy has worked hitherto, and the sole risk lies in the gentleman ceasing to remain a Rational Agent and joining the ranks of the Indo-Gangetic barbarians, essentially irrational in the Kerala context (I keep urging them to leave for Haryana in pursuit of what must be their choices if they choose to become such barbarians). But this has been largely limited to the upper caste Hindus and some sections of elite Christians who regret the loss of traditional power and hope that the Sangh will restore it. They are not the growing power, demographically or economically. Meanwhile, the effete rationalists generate a ‘secularised’ Islamophobia that serves as a neutral-sounding justification for the government’s inactivity.
There are very few moments in which I have felt so lonely. Almost everyone I know seems to be a player, a rational agent, in this game, either participating or creating justifications for the strategy or participating by simply looking away and remaining silent. But this loneliness is so much more dignified — and indeed, more human. I stand with the six young women who braved the Sangh and the police trying to reach Hadiya; I condemn those who serve up her father’s sickening sentimental patriarchal shit in the public in a way that renders them vulnerable. Hadiya’s father who had not the slightest compunction in approaching the High Court and painting his own daughter a potential terrorist such that her entire life promises to be hell (even if she escapes his confinement), is showered with sympathy by our critical intellects for being a poor worried father. Meanwhile, a radical student who claims to be on Hadiya’s side flings abuse on me for wearing a sleeveless blouse, for leaving my hair untied – she does not even notice that her tirade is so like a Brahmanical patriarch’s diatribe against the well-known signs of Kali — immodest women with their hair open — such missiles seem convenient for all, radical Ambedkarites even, to use against those they dislike. The only silver lining in this mess is that it reveals with unprecedented and astounding clarity, the enormous risks, dangers, and material losses ahead of anyone who wants to remain human, and not what is substitutable with Artificial Intelligence. And that in order to be popular, you must swim with some tide or the other. But I’d rather be human than popular, still.
Shame on all of you — AIDWA leaders, Brinda Karat, M S Josephine, C K Asha, Geeta Nazir, Sreemathi teacher, Shylaja teacher — all of you women adherents of the CPM and CPI. If Hadiya dies in that horrible hell, her blood is on your hands. Her rights are already dead and you have done precious little.
If there is one thing, besides the pervasive Islamophobia in Kerala in both the Left and Right, that the Hadiya case reveals, it is the deeply entrenched commitment to patriarchy everywhere — on the Right, Left, the radical civil society, wherever. Continue reading Judicial Ghar Wapsi : Update on the Hadiya Case
This is a guest post by RINA RAMDEV
Public discourse on Delhi University’s staging of student union elections typically picks the ubiquitary narratives of money, muscle power and its floutings of Lyngdoh guidelines, year after clamorous year. College campuses, arterial roads and their flooding by posters, both in excess of their expenditure limit (Rs 5000 per candidate) and their prescribed nature (printed, as against handmade), as also the prohibited yet brazen processioneering of SUV armies, are experiences annually played out in tedious familiarity. Mainly configured as a contest between the NSUI and the ABVP (even as the AISA has in its recent resurgence, negotiated a space for Left politics beyond the two party dominance), the Presidential wins and panel sweeps are usually congruent with the dips and surges experienced by their parent political party on the national stage. Continue reading Delhi University’s Students Union Elections and the Discreet Charm of Exceptionalism: Rina Ramdev
It appears that for women in India, the modern judiciary is fading and in its place, the terrifying face of Brahmanical Dandaneethi is emerging. A ten year old rape victim is denied abortion, women fleeing dowry harassment are to submit to the rule of local elders and leaders of ‘family welfare committees’, and now, in the Hadiya case, the judges declared that unmarried daughters should be under their parents according to ‘Indian tradition’.
Read more: https://thewire.in/169543/hadiya-islam-conversion-supreme-court/
Guest post by JANAKI SRINIVASAN
If you are a resident of Chandigarh and came across pictures of the Bekhauf Azaadi Reclaim the Night and the Streets march of August 11 in the newspapers, it is most likely that you assumed it to be just another routine protest. Protests in ‘the city beautiful’ do tend to follow a standard template. A small number gather in the Sector 17 plaza, banners are held, a few speeches made, photographs taken and a brief news report gets generated for the inner pages of the city supplement. In a small city, finding a mention in the newspapers is no indicator of the importance of one cause or one protest over others. Over the past decade, the administration has ensured this indifference, by physically redirecting political rallies- any event with the potential for large numbers- away from both government offices and public spaces to the outer perimeter of a severely gridlined map. The ‘Rally Ground’ neighbours the crematorium and the garbage landfill. Yet just as Le Corbusier’s monotonous plan and strict guidelines have been subverted by its residents to infuse vitality and uniqueness to the city, the protest template too sees a rare upheaval. Continue reading No to ‘Geri Route’, Bekhauf Azadi/ Reclaim the Night in Chandigarh: Janaki Srinivasan
Guest post by DEBADITYA BHATTACHARYA and RINA RAMDEV
*Disclaimer: Even as news pours in of Pahlaj Nihalani’s ouster as CBFC chief, consider this essay an earnest tribute to the man who is ‘alleged’ to have beeped sense out of Indian cinema. We repeat, merely ‘alleged’ – since we go on to prove otherwise.*
Let us start out with a basic methodological premise – that forms and effects of ideological mensuration cannot exhaust the life of cinema, or even be adequate to an understanding of the ways in which a film-text lives. To that extent, the ferocious debates around how much or how little of Lipstick Under My Burkha qualifies as feminist material have only generated a fair share of readings. While acknowledging the need and value of these aligned readings, we would also urge a look at cinema’s ‘coming into being’ as something more than an image or a text or a performative medium. Often, in our haste for neat hermeneutic closures, reading a film as cognitive-critical material could tend to a negation of the very relationship between the cinematic object and the everyday. The site of a film’s meaning is necessarily in excess of its narrative unfolding as viewing experience. It lies in the negotiations of its object-world – which includes the plot, the actors, the techniques of representation, the exhibition-settings, the infrastructures of distribution and marketing strategies, discourses around its production and release, celebrity-scandals or pre-release promotions, box-office statistics, publicity routines and review ratings, as well as non-audience expectations – with the other object-worlds of thought, feeling and belief. With that note of ‘methodological caution’, as one might call it, we would argue that a movie like Lipstick is also more than just a story of four women as desiring subjects, grappling with their own bodies to secure the most intimately ‘fundamental’ right to dream.
This is a guest post by SURABHI SHUKLA
Playing for the Oxford University Women’s team and the Oxford Cricket Club, I have noticed three different rules for women’s cricket. These may be observed in other countries as well. I argue that these rules are based only on gender stereotypes about women’s inferior sporting abilities and even if were once instituted to encourage them to join the game, have now outlived their utility. 1. The women’s match ball is lighter than the men’s ball (also true at the international level). 2. The women’s match boundary is smaller than the men’s and; 3. One of my coaches here told me that the men’s bat is different from the women’s. This is incorrect, and the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) website states that both men and women are entitled to use Type A bats for one-day internationals. However, I include this point in my analysis because regardless of a rule, these kinds of statements from a coach translate into the lived experience of a female cricketer, and act as a rule for them. Continue reading Women’s Cricket – Rules Based Only on Gender Stereotypes Need to Go: Surabhi Shukla
Guest Post by V. SUJATHA
That the first woman to win the Fields Medal for mathematics in 2014 was an Iranian is important to note. Not only because Maryam Mirzakhani is the first woman to make it in the field of mathematics which is considered to be a male bastion, but also because her Persian background deserves some attention. There are certain enabling factors in Eastern cultures that facilitate women excel in the hard sciences, in spite of entrenched patriarchy. The point is not that everything is great in the East versus the West, but that cultural stereotypes about women are not homogenous; they vary from culture to culture and produce gender asymmetries with different effects. This is a sociologist’s
delight; let me explain.
During a literature survey in sociology of science, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the figures on women’s entry and achievements in science and technology education (S&T) in the global south were not only not bad, but were better than the countries in the Anglo-Saxon world that offered better civil liberties for women (Sujatha 2015). While there were fewer women in apex positions in the S&T sector and even lesser numbers to receive prestigious awards everywhere in the world, it is a fact that women from erstwhile socialist countries and from Asian and Latin American societies enrolled in larger numbers in science and technology courses and also made it higher in the career ladder in S&T than their counterparts in western Europe and North America. The literature on women in science however, attributed everything to the ‘glass ceiling effect’ i.e., soft variables like gender bias in the organisational processes. I do not deny it, but it seems to me that this does not explain why the glass ceiling worked differently in some countries. Continue reading Scientism, familism and women scientists: V Sujatha
Guest post by BAIDIK BHATTACHARYA
[While the media worked overtime to present the developments in Ramjas College and Delhi University as a clash between two student organizations and two political formations, Baidik Bhattacharya here reflects on the new kinds of politics, rooted in the everyday and in love, that found expression in the University.- AN]
On 28 February, 2017, thousands of students and teachers of Delhi University and other academic institutions of the NCR region marched across the North Campus, protesting against the recent acts of vandalism and violence at Ramjas College. As the march progressed through the winding roads, touching various colleges and departments of the university, feisty students raised several slogans to oppose the perpetrators of such violence, the student organization of the RSS—the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad or ABVP. Some of these slogans were well-known, some predictable, but some were really creative. I want to briefly discuss one such creative slogan, and its implications: “Karenge politics karenge pyar, ABVP hoshiyar.” Chanted primarily by groups of women and queer activists, this innovative rendering of one’s rights across the university campuses captured some of the pressing issues that have surfaced in the last couple of years in student politics.
Kozhikode, Hotel Alakapuri, 4-5 March, 2017.
Kozhikode has always upturned my feelings about the male gaze. It is of course a cheerful, bustling, place, full of fabulously good-looking people of all genders. The cheeriness has a certain effortlessly defiant quality – already evident when you look out of the window as the train from the south pulls into the railway station, and see bright, healthy, merrily-swaying wild flowers raise their heads undefeated by the ferocious summer sun– wild sunflowers in hundreds, magnificent vines of kulamariyan flowers ( literally, ‘over-the-top’ flowers, but known here also, interestingly enough, as Antigone vines), creepers happily, constantly, and untiringly winding over little piles of rubbish and covering them with short-lived if emphatic trumpets of mauve, lavender, red, yellow, and white. You pass this eternal artwork-in-progress of the flowers and vines and city trash and enter Kozhikode, but realise that it actually tells you a bit about the men there only when you meet them. Continue reading Longing for the Future – Two Days with Penkoottu and AMTU at Kozhikode, Kerala
We, the undersigned, wish to express our dismay and deep concern about the recent violent events at University College, Thiruvananthapuram, which seem to indicate that the rights of college students, especially women students, are seriously compromised in this venerable institution. As women researchers, academics and teachers of Malayali origin, we are deeply disappointed by the responses of the police, the concerned college authorities, and the teachers there. Continue reading An Appeal to the Education Minister of Kerala and the Teachers of the University College, Thiruvananthapuram
This is my Malayalam opinion piece for iemalayalam, on something despite the outcry against the CPM in the mess around Kerala Law Academy. The public discussion has been, not unexpectedly, on the line of Kerala’s well-entrenched scandal journalism, which has a history of a hundred years, at least. This is a form of journalism that highlights the sexual lives – proper or improper – of powerful male politicians which accompanies the attack on their public failings directly or indirectly- a very highly successful tactic, hitherto, to undermine even the seemingly unassailable. When women began to figure in this kind of journalism as something more than just passive sexual objects, as active agents of corruption and manipulation – most markedly, in the controversy over the businesswoman Sarita Nair – scandal journalism worked by highlighting the huge contrast between their ‘feminine-respectable’ names, sartorial styles, behaviour, and so on, and the despicable manipulations they indulged in. This is the case also with much media discussion of the principal of the Kerala Law Academy, Lekshmi Nair.
However, this tactic is not only misogynist, it also lets the elite-femininity that she represents escape critique. This is a very contemporary form of respectable femininity that presents itself as essentially domestic, but wields delegated masculine power to vicious ends, and it is almost all-pervasive in disciplinary institutions in Kerala now. Not surprisingly perhaps, the CPM’s mishandling of the issue has not just shown how poorly committed the party is to women’s rights, but also how soft it is on this elite-feminine power.
The full essay, in Malayalam: