A couple of days back, representatives of a group that wanted a petition demanding death penalty for all the accused in the Chennai gang rape case sought an appointment with me. I had clarified that I will not be part of any process demanding death penalty and would be glad to meet them on any other discussion they might want on the case. While, I managed to convince those who met me that death penalty cannot be a deterrent against rape, I suggested that instead of the petition they should spend their efforts to energize a change in the current discourse on rape in whatever small ways possible. The meeting ended with plans of a more substantive plan of action to discuss possibilities of advocating accessible spaces for children vulnerable to physical or sexual abuses at least in the neighborhood. I have summed up some of the points that I made at the discussion and I thought it would be important to share them with a wider audience.
The following is a statement by feminist organisations . To add your name to the statement, please sign in the comments section.
In the wake of the protests following the 2012 Delhi gangrape, India had witnessed a welcome sharpening of understanding around sexual violence and consent. Legal reform recognized the principle of affirmative consent – i.e the principle that consent must be nothing short of an unequivocal positive ‘Yes’ (whether through words or gestures) to engage in a sexual act.
In public discourse and popular understanding too, the understanding that ‘No means No’ had been strengthened. Recent Court verdicts and orders have however dealt a deep blow to this hard-won progressive advance.In the wake of the protests following the 2012 Delhi gangrape, India had witnessed a welcome sharpening of understanding around sexual violence and consent. Legal reform recognized the principle of affirmative consent – i.e the principle that consent must be nothing short of an unequivocal positive ‘Yes’ (whether through words or gestures) to engage in a sexual act. In public discourse and popular understanding too, the understanding that ‘No means No’ had been strengthened. Recent Court verdicts and orders have however dealt a deep blow to this hard-won progressive advance.
Dangal literally means the Indian style wrestling competition for male pahalwans (wrestlers). Dangal has been an important form of entertainment for ages, especially in rural (north and west) India. Dangals act in many ways. It works to settle the personal score between different Akharas and pahalwans. It’s a place where honour, reputation and social status are on stakes and personal and political rivalries are fought out, or settled. For example, one of the most important dangals used to happen every Sunday at Eidgahi Maidan, Jama Masjid in Delhi, till very recently. Itwari dangal, as it was fondly called, was the place where pahalwan like Gama, Imam Baksh, Chandgiram used to come and show their talent in front of thousands of wrestling lovers. I remember whenever I used to come to Delhi, I always wanted to win the bout at Eidgahi Maidan, as it meant a lot to win at Eidgahi maidan rather than any other place!
As it was strictly meant for male pahalwans, women were not even allowed to watch them fighting, let alone participating. Something similar to Khap Panchayats, where women still are not welcome. Women are the fairly latecomers in wrestling arena and yet not so welcome. In this context to make a film on the emergence and development of women wrestling in India itself is a fascinating idea.
Dangal, the movie is based on a true story of Mahavir and his firebrand daughters and their ‘quietly’ active mother. It is an important movie to watch for many reasons. Firstly, it portrays a father who wanted his daughters to pursue something (wrestling) which was un-imaginable in those days. It reveals what it took for the first generation of women wrestlers to break those masculine stereotypes and depicts the overall impression of wrestling in the realm of sports culture in India. There are so many moments in the film to cheer about, to get goosebumps (at least I got many). Writing review is an unknown territory for me but there is a personal reason to taking to this venture of writing. The release of this film forced me to say something which, as a former wrestler for almost ten years, is still left with me. Continue reading Dangal and the Phogat Sisters – A Tale of Many Struggles: Praveen Verma→
Sonam Mittal’s recent piece in Kafila, “Kashmir is Feminist Issue” draws upon an oft-cited gendered analogy to describe the Kashmir’s relationship with India and Pakistan. Though it makes a few pertinent points about the nexus of power and patriarchy and the urgent need for Indian feminist solidarity with the Kashmiri resistance, I found the analogy deeply problematic and strongly feel that it needs further unpacking to underline its worrying implications.
Even as the communal cauldron in UP is kept on the boil, there is news that the RSS has launched a campaign to tie Rakhis to lakhs of Hindu men, asking them to pledge to protect their sisters from Muslim men and “love jehad.” The VHP has been running a helpline urging Hindus to approach them “if your daughter is being harassed by Muslim boys.” And a khap panchayat in Muzaffarnagar has imposed a ban on mobile phones and jeans for girls, claiming that these result in ‘eve-teasing’.
Woven into the above events is an old, familiar theme – that of patriarchal restrictions packaged as ‘protection’. In the wake of the anti-rape movement that followed December 16 2012, the streets of Delhi and many other parts of India had resounded with the voices of women declaring ‘Don’t take away our freedoms in the name of ‘protection’ – protect our right to fearless, fullest freedom instead’. Those women had raised their voice demanding freedom from sexual violence – and also freedom from rape culture that advices women to dress decently to avoid rape; and freedom from the khap panchayats, freedom even from the restrictions imposed by one’s own fathers and brothers.
वर्त्तमान परिदृश्य में हमारे इर्द-गिर्द जितने भी विमर्श मंडराते नजर आ रहे हैं उन सबके के आक्रामक शुरुआत को सोलह दिसंबर की बलात्कार की घटना से जोड़े बगैर नहीं देखा जा सकता है। इसमें कोई शक नहीं कि उस रात को दहला देने वाली घटना तक को कई खांचों में रखकर देखा जाता है। उदाहरणस्वरूप, आलोचना के तौर पर यह भी कहा गया कि निर्भया अभिजात वर्ग से आती थी इसलिए उसके बलात्कार ने पूरे देश की राजनीति को झकझोर कर रख दिया। जबकि उसी दरम्यान दिल्ली के करीब हरियाणा में कई दलित और सामाजिक रूप से प्रताड़ित लड़कियों और महिलाओं का निर्ममता से बलात्कार किया गया और मारकर फ़ेंक दिया गया और जिसका आज तक कोई अता-पता तक नहीं है। इससे भी इंकार नहीं किया जा सकता कि दिसंबर की घटना के पहले भी अनगिनत बलात्कार की घटनाएं हररोज हो रही थी और उसके बाद भी हो रही है। मगर कभी भी किसी विरोध ने इतना विकराल रूप धारण नहीं किया जिससे देश की राजनीति को हिलानी तो दूर उससे आजतक न्याय प्रक्रिया में गति तक आ सके। इसके कई कारण हैं।
मेरा उद्देश्य उस तरफ ध्यान खींचना कतई नहीं है। मेरा उद्देश्य है मुख्यधारा में इन मुद्दों से जुड़ती सवालों को उठाये जाने की तरफ ध्यान ले जाना। मैं बात कर रहा हूँ मुख्यधारा में चल रही फिल्मों और उससे जुड़े सवालों के ऊपर। फ़िल्म समीक्षा की दुनिया में ऐसा कम ही देखने को मिलता है जब कोई फ़िल्म अपनी रिलीज के बाद एक चर्चा का विषय हो या विवाद का हिस्सा हो। बल्कि तमाम विचारधारा से जुड़े लोग जब किसी फ़िल्म के ऊपर अपनी प्रतिक्रिया जताने लगे इसका मतलब है कि ऐसी फिल्में लोगों को संवाद करने के लिए विवश कर रही हैं। Continue reading मर्दवादी और असमान सामाजिक व्यवस्था में स्त्री प्रतिरोध – ‘हाईवे’: धर्मराज कुमार→
Saurabh laughs that he had the advantage of knowing what the process of spouse-hunting involves. A year before he went through the drill, his sister did.
However rosy the courting period may be, once you’re married, you get a rude wake-up call when you’re living in the same space. ‘Living with a strange person takes adapting. You could be in love for a few years and then get married, but even that doesn’t prepare you for sharing your personal space with another person. Of the other gender. Who has a different set of bodily smells, and opinions on the way your clothes smell.’
He has an interesting comparison for what men go through after marriage. ‘Remember when you, as a girl, got up close and personal with menstruation. That’s what most guys go through in the first month of marriage, unless they’ve been in a live-in relationship before. The first month is very chaotic because you’re experiencing another gender’s physicality and emotions.
A very young man, who should have been cheerfully devouring the world of ideas over samosas and tea from the canteen, tries instead to hack an equally young woman, his classmate, to death. With an axe, some say. Tries to shoot her too, but the pistol is too stubborn, they say. Then turns the blade and the poison on himself. There he sees success. Succumbs to both.
This leaves behind rivers of blood in the classroom and gashes in the minds of those who witnessed this, bravely intervened, or ran away from it. It leaves everybody entangled in a sea of Gordian knots that are just questions.
Here’s wishing all men and women across borders and boundaries, in New Delhi and New Haven, Ranchi and Russia, Dublin and Damascus, Srinagar and Sri Lanka, Bhutan and the Bermudas, a very happy International Women’s Day. These images are from the ‘I Need Feminism’ Campaign at the Lahore University of Management Sciences
The shameless and cynical Manmohan Singh government has found an easy way out to appear strong, deflect attention from its failures and save itself from the opposition’s questioning. Just hang a death row convict before every Parliament session! It is very likely that if the 16 December Delhi rape-and-murder accused are placed on death row by this time next year, the UPA government will hang them just in time for the 2014 general elections.
I am opposed to death penalty in principle, and there are good reasons why so many democracies have abolished death penalty. But even if you do not agree that death penalty should be abolished, please consider why it should not be applied to the five accused in this case.
About a month ago I visited the Ravi Das “camp”, a slum colony near RK Puram where four of the six accused lived. I met the mother of one of them. Champa Devi’s son Vinay Sharma was the first to plead guilty and say he should be hanged; his father agreed on television. Continue reading Why the Delhi rapists should not be hanged→
(This article began as a rejoinder to Hindi columnist Raj Kishor [Vaam se dakshin tak ek hi tark, (‘The same argument from Left to Right’), Rashtriya Sahara, January 13 2013], but it has also provided an occasion to address some common misconceptions about women’s freedom and capitalism.)
When women demand ‘freedom,’ why does it immediately raise the spectre of ‘licentiousness’?
Why, in other words, is women’s freedom automatically taken by many as equivalent with ‘licence,’ whereas the similar freedom on the part of men is never branded as ‘licence’?
This question arose in my mind after reading a piece by Hindi columnist Raj Kishor. Raj Kishor’s argument is that those – from Left leaders like I, to those whom he sees as representatives of the market – who are calling for women’s freedom are ‘consigning women into the fire of capitalism.’ When he hears me use the word ‘azaadi’ (freedom) he calls such freedom ‘utshrnkhalta’ (literally ‘unbridled-ness’, or licentiousness). He says and I, and the capitalist market alike, are calling for women to be free to ‘break all bounds of licentiousness’ if they so choose. Of course, Raj Kishor anticipates my criticism of his use of the word ‘utshrnkhalta’, since he says that is a word that ‘has feminists up in arms, demanding with red (infuriated) eyes the definition of ‘utshrnkhalta’.
Rarely does a city experience the sort of upheaval that Delhi is witnessing. Everyone is talking about it. Everyone has an opinion. It is impossible to walk down the street without overhearing snatches of conversation. Issues that usually find brief mention in some obscure corner of the newspaper are now being subject to analysis by every passer-by. A rickshaw driver refuses to take any money when he realises I am on my way to a protest. I remember the old man at a photocopy shop who had looked up and asked no one in particular: do you think she will die? The receptionist at the doctor’s clinic is distraught, providing waiting patients her explanation for the recent events. Men huddled around tiny fires littered across the foggy city carp on about the state of politics, the police and the government. Everyone is invested in this moment of reckoning.
Smug patriarchal pronouncements about ‘dented and painted’ women and ‘rape in India and Bharat’ brought back to me an experience I faced in the classroom some years ago.
I teach English in grades 11 and 12 in a co-ed school in Delhi. That year I had this rather ‘difficult’ boy in class. I can’t remember now how the discussion really began. The discussion got to the point where students were talking about the amount of freedom available to girls and boys and why girls have far less ‘freedom’ than boys. It was somewhere at this point that this boy stood up (unlike the regular practice of standing to speak in the classroom, I insist students should sit and talk in my class) and stated with complete confidence that ‘if girls dress so provocatively boys can’t help themselves.’
Another Report on the Gathering of the Night of 31st of December 2012/Ist January 2013 against Patriarchy in Delhi
It was 31st December 2012, city-Delhi, the same Delhi which has gained the infamy of being the Rape-Capital of a country called India, a nation whose ‘dignity’ has been maligned by the increasing cases of sexual assault on women. Around three hours before the clock struck the decisive moment of New Year, many of us gathered at the PVR Anupam complex in Saket to “take back the night”, back from the shackles of misogyny, sexual assault, patriarchy and above all from the banal and real fear of being subjected to crimes meted out by multifarious forms of male-supremacy and power. It was a night when ‘dented and painted’ females as well as males were showing that ‘denting and painting’ are not reasons that ‘invite’ rape or sexual assault and those ‘hormone driven gazes’. Continue reading Come Frolic with Me in the Streets of Delhi: Amrapali Basumatary→
The curious Ways of Indian Democracy,from India Gate to the Slum Habitat
It has taken a horrific tragedy and a precious young life to stir the conscience of a nation. Or so one would like to believe! Reality may not still cater to our wishes. Our grand old civilization is also a culture of billion brutalities on its women and countless other victims. One can only hope that it changes for the better, even if a little, after what it has witnessed through the last fifteen days of the last year. Greater probability, however, is for such hopes to be belied yet again. It may take a lot more to lift the weight of an age-old way of life. After all, one would not have expected that rapes and molestations would be reported from across the country, and even from Delhi itself, right in the middle of anger, sorrow and protests that seemed to engulf the country. One would expect that the rapists and the criminals would lie low for a while till the situation returns to normal. Least of all would have one expected that women would be harassed, and one or two would even be molested, during those very protests that were taking place at the India Gate and Jantar Mantar. Continue reading Run with Gender, Hunt with Class: Prachee Sinha→
This morning The Hindu carries a long piece I wrote on one of Jaipur’s more sensational trials. The idea of “samjhauta” or “compromise” has informed a lot of my work over years, and this instance is particularly heart breaking. Court documents and chargesheets are always interesting things to read; in this instance, it was intriguing how the police accorded one woman – Pushpa – infinite agency when she creates a cycle of repression and exploitation; while the other – Shweta – has zero agency and is thoroughly incapable of independent action.
One dawn in January last year, a young woman slipped out of her house, walked down to the Gandhi Nagar station and stepped into the path of an oncoming train.
She survived, but lost her left leg and all sensation below her waist. Last Wednesday, the woman, Pushpa*, was brought before the Special Judge for Women Atrocities and Dowry Cases to identify the three policemen who, she alleged, had sexually tortured her to the point of suicide. Also in court was Shweta*, a 20-year-old known to Pushpa, who claimed that Pushpa and her cohorts had drugged, raped and blackmailed her in December 2010.
The two women had been friends, meeting occasionally in Pushpa’s room to gossip, experiment with cigarettes and alcohol and on one occasion photographed themselves kissing. In many ways, their twin trials document the contradictory impulses of the small Indian town grown big, where tech-savvy youth shun the contractual new economy for the security of the bureaucracy, the government school, and the government bank, and the sheher’s liberatory promise is tempered by the lingering claustrophobia of the samaj.
Reading Saba Dewan’s post, on patriarchy and St Stephen’s, was a release. For years, I had struggled to make sense of two contradictory things—my years at college were some of the happiest of my life, but the institution that was held up to us as one of the best in India was also built on a flawed and deeply discriminatory set of beliefs.
(It’s hard to write about this in part because it always felt like complaining about what was, in essence, a very privileged life–those of us who went to St Stephen’s were by definition lucky, in our acquisition of English, in our officially liberal families, in our assumption of a secure place in the hierarchies of power in India.) Continue reading What I learned from “The Patriarchy”: Nilanjana S. Roy→
With the coming assembly elections, West Bengal seems to be poised on the edge of a historic upheaval that will, in all probability, enter the collective memory of its people, much like the momentous 1977 elections. The most palpable moment of this churning will manifest in what looks like an unbelievable denouement – that of the thirty-four year old monolithic rule of the Left Front. Equally stunning might be the image of Mamata Banerjee, bringing the red fortress down – a politician, almost bludgeoned to death by CPI-M cadres on 16th August 1990, now transformed into the emblematic face of this extraordinary hour. The 2011 polls may be billed as the great unraveling of West Bengal, its politics and culture – but also, I think, of gender relations. Banerjee is on the verge of acquiring a unique status, becoming the first woman head of a state well known for its misogynist culture, notwithstanding many claims to the contrary.
An important aspect of Banerjee’s ascendancy may be lost if we fail to locate her persona within this grid of power and gender relations; if we do not contextualize her in Bengal’s thriving culture of male chauvinism. The association of West Bengal and its ruling Marxists with the autonomy and radicalization of women – who are supposedly respected in Bengal unlike in other parts of the country – is a well preserved myth. Bengal respects its women, but only if they belong to the hallowed league of ‘Mothers and Sisters’. Like elsewhere, ‘deviant’ women have little place in the land of the Renaissance.
The picture had been circulating on the web, in blogs and email lists for some time, and without comment, as a funny, jokey kind of thing. Autos and trucks (in Delhi anyway,) are renowned, as Aman pointed out in his comment, for pithy, witty, quirky, dolorous, amorous etc. comments on life. Briefly glimpsed, their ability to linger in our minds is a reflection of their literary quality.
When this one was sent to me, the reason I posted it on kafila was initially light-hearted too, since we consider autos to be our mascots, as representing kafila’s philosophy and relationship to the city in some way – small, cheeky, full of “attitude”, winding nimbly through the mass of traffic, a resistant challenge to the idea of a shiny, “world-city-like-paris-and-singapore” that our various governments want to turn all our cities into, by neatly removing the poor, the workers, the slums etc.