Chhattisgarh is everywhere: The global state of forced sterilization of women

The news this week from Chhattisgarh, India, is tragic. At latest count, 15 women have died in a `sterilization camp’. Fifty others are in hospital, with at least 20 in critical condition. At first the operations were widely described as `botched.’ After only preliminary investigations, the response moved from `botched’ to `criminal’ and `corrupt’. Finally, the reporting has landed on how Indian this all is. It’s not. Forced sterilization of women is a global phenomenon, actually a global campaign, and it needs to be addressed, immediately. The women, all poor, of Chhattisgarh are part of a global public policy in which women’s bodies are, at best, disposable and, more often, detritus.

Consider the last two months from the perspective of forced sterilization of women.

In November, the Namibian Supreme Court upheld a 2012 High Court decision that health workers sterilized HIV-positive women without their consent. Switzerland was called upon to consider compensation for survivors of its “contract children” program, which included forced sterilization of girls.

In October, Belgium faced UN scrutiny, under the CEDAW procedures, concerning forced sterilization of women living with disabilities. Women in Peru complained that, eighteen years after the formal cessation of forced sterilization programs, they have seen no justice. Promises, yes. Justice, no. North Carolina began paying compensation to survivors, poor and minority women, of its forced sterilization program. After much debate, the California legislature passed a bill formally banning the forced sterilization of women prisoners.

And this doesn’t take into account ongoing inquiries and discussions of forced sterilization of Aboriginal and Indigenous women across the Americas as well as Australia. This list is not even the tip of the global iceberg.

And so the charge of coercion, as raised by Kerry McBroom, director of the Reproductive Rights Initiative at the Human Rights Law Network in New Delhi, comes as no surprise. That the coercion flows through cash incentives to desperately poor women rather than cudgels and batons is merely a facet of the current world order. There is no informed consent in so-called sterilisation camps. There are quotas, cash incentives, and the occasional pile up of women’s corpses. Monetizing and incentivizing the assault on women’s bodies is key to the modern democratic nation-state, thanks to the Washington Consensus.

Along with local investigation into the individual cases, as in Chhattisgarh, what is called for is immediate global action to change the global public policy that trashes women’s bodies and lives. The global state of forced sterilization of women is dire, and it’s expanding. It’s past time to address the global crisis of forced sterilization of women: impose an immediate moratorium on all programs of mass sterilization, everywhere; codify just compensation for survivors of such programs; pay just compensation to survivors of such programs; and establish serious global structures to enforce informed consent. Remember, Chhattisgarh is everywhere.

 

(Photo Credit: Indian Express)

Soni Sori continues to haunt more than India

Soni Sori, an Adivasi woman, was once a primary school teacher in Chhattisgarh. In 2011, she was arrested, in Delhi, on trumped up charges, shipped back to Chhattisgarh where she was subjected to torture and sexual violence in police custody. Two women officers present were threatened to remain silent. After some protest, Soni Sori was finally sent to hospital and then back to prison. In November 2013, she was released on bail. Earlier this year, Soni Sori ran, unsuccessfully, for Parliament, on the Aam Admi Party slate.

On October 10, 2014, a film crew from a German television channel went from Delhi to Chhattisgarh to interview Soni Sori about her experiences of custodial torture. She took them to her village, Palnar, where they met the police. After the interview, Soni Sori returned to her home in Geedam. That night, plainclothes agents barged into her home and interrogated her concerning the identities of the film crew. As noted in a recent press release by Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression, or WSS: “Soni’s household is an all woman household along with three of her children the eldest of whom is only 13 and the youngest is just 8. While Soni did not recognize all of them she did recognize a few of them as members of the local police of Geedam. Some of the members kept questioning Soni, few of the others barged into the other rooms including the bathroom and started searching and looking around. Despite Soni’s demands asking them to leave her house they continued with the questioning. Furthermore, these persons refused to answer all questions of Soni regarding their identity, but continued their questions regarding the crew. The team then went on to state that Soni should have immediately informed the police regarding the coming of the team and in future she should inform them about any people visiting her and provide details regarding the purpose of the visit. By the time the team left, Soni’s family was quite shaken up, especially her children, as they had thought that the team had come to once again arrest Soni and put her in jail.”

Why can’t Chhattisgarh leave Soni Sori alone? What’s so important about this one woman, surrounded by women, that she’s worth all the investment of broken doors, bones and promises?

Chhattisgarh is rich in resources, forest, tribal people, and women. It’s one of the few places in India where the population is more or less equally divided between women and men. Women have participated in every aspect of agricultural production, of labor, and of public life. With the arrival of the global market, the areas women dominated, in particular that of food security and food sovereignty, don’t carry the same value in a global economy, and now men receive positions of authority, from both multinationals and the national government, in the new local world order where women are meant to become ghosts, reminders of a bygone era that is bought, sold, and gone.

Soni Sori has refused that narrative. When released from prison, she immediately thanked the women’s movements, formal and informal, and prodded them to do more, especially for rural women. She returned, in full force, to the struggle, despite State-run “security campaigns” that wreak havoc on the lives and well being of women.

The State can’t afford autonomous rural, indigenous women, nor can it afford fierce women schoolteachers. India wants ghost women, and is willing to pay heavily to get them. Stop the harassment of Soni Sori, and support the women who refuse to be ghosts.

 

(Photo credit: WSS)

Soni Sori haunts more than India

Soni Sori

Sometimes the colonizer becomes the colonist. For some, this is what has happened to India, specifically as regards land grabs in Ethiopia and elsewhere.

But the transformation doesn’t stop at “colonialism”. Colonialism is more than settlers and mass and brutal extraction of other peoples’ natural resources. Colonialism involves imperialism, empire building, and not only abroad. Welcome to Chhattisgarh … again.

Chattisgarh has been in the news the last few years for a series of “curious adventures” on the part of police, security, and military forces, responding to a purported Maoist “crisis”. Binayak Sen spent three years and some in prison, for no real reason. Earlier this year, Ilina Sen, a prominent feminist scholar and activist, was charged with organizing an international Women’s Studies conference without proper registration of “foreign nationals.” Kopa Kunjam, a Ghandian human rights and development worker, has also been in prison for years for similarly spurious reasons. Himanshu Kumar worked for almost two decades in the jungles of Chhattisgarh, teaching the poorest of the poor how to vote, how to access better food and any health care. His reward? His ashram was burned to the ground, two years ago. As is so often the case, when security forces occupy a zone, they bring sexual violence as part of the package. For women, the price of national security is high.

And so is the price of national “wealth”. Ask Soni Sori, recently arrested last week in Delhi, shipped back to Chhattisgarh, interrogated there, and sent to hospital yesterday, unconscious and with back and head injuries. Police claim she slipped in the bathroom There’s no real evidence against Soni Sori, nothing that actually links her with any Maoist group or identifies her as a Maoist. Instead, there are “suspicions.”

What is going on in Chhattisgarh? The State would tell us that these stories are part of the larger “security” narrative, that there is a Naxalite, or Maoist, emergency in Chhattisgarh that necessitates the infamous state of exception. Dangerous times require dangerous men … with even more dangerous guns and techniques, including torture.

This is not a story of “poverty”. Rather it is a story of wealth. Chhattisgarh is rich in resources, has an extensive forest, and a large tribal population. The women of Chhattisgarh historically have enjoyed a unique position in India … and beyond. The population is more or less equally divided between women and men. Women have participated in every aspect of agricultural production, of labor, and of public life. Chhattisgarh is a place in which gender equity and female subservience have always been in tension.

With the arrival of the global market, that tension has increased. The areas women dominated, in particular that of food security and food sovereignty, don’t carry the same value in a global economy. Both multinationals and the national government have given men positions of authority in the new economies.

Soni Sori is a primary school teacher. Thanks to “security” campaigns, Chhattisgarh has one of the lowest literacy levels in India. State security forces and their paramilitary brethren occupied schools. Then they were attacked by Maoists. The State then closed the schools and moved them to State-controlled areas. For village children, those are impossibly distant areas, both in miles and in culture. And so, literacy levels, never high, plummeted. And what is the shining solution? Build a residential complex, even further away, for the few high school students who are preparing for engineering and medicine.

The rest, and especially the girls, can simply work the fields, build the roads and bridges and malls, watch the distance between rich and poor grow greater and greater, and more and more violent. This is the crisis in Chhattisgarh. Chhattisgarh doesn’t need more troops. It needs more teachers, more schools, more women like Soni Sori. Soni Sori haunts more than India. Soni Sori haunts the world economy.

 

(Photo Credit: Tehelka / Garima Jain)

 

Kavita Srivastava is not a saint, she’s a feminist

 

Kavita Srivastava addresses the press

Dom Hélder Pessoa Câmara was a Brazilian Archbishop, a liberation theologian, who famously said, “When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why are they poor, they call me a Communist.” Kavita Srivastava could take that a step further. She might say, “If I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why are the poor hungry, they call me a Maoist … and send the riot squads to my house.”

Today, October 3, 2011, the Indian government sent a truckload of Special Task Force police to the home of Kavita Srivastava, allegedly to find a woman who had aided the Naxalite movement. The implications, for Srivastava and for many others, were clear. This was meant as a threat, as intimidation, for her leading role in the Right to Food Campaign; for her leading role in questioning the draconian, and worse, conditions in Chhattisgarh, all in the name of rooting out the Maoists, the Naxalites, the `dangerous ones’; for her leading role in the pursuits of women’s rights, civil right, human rights, democracy. In fact, right now, Kavita Srivastava is locked in battle with the State around the very issue of how poverty itself is to be determined. Who’s poor? Ask that, and truckload of heavily armed men may visit your house early some morning.

Kavita Srivastava is the General Secretary of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, a 35-year-old Ghandian-socialist (of sorts) organization. In that capacity, she witnessed, and documented, the trial of Binayak Sen, also charged with complicity with Maoists, in a highly publicized trial. Srivatasa wrote of the “sinister ways of the Chhattisgarh Police”. She described the climate of threat, violence, and vindictiveness the local police create. Even in a very public trial, the police assumed they could tamper with evidence and never be found out, or if found out, never be punished. Never is a long time, but it seems that in the long arc of the short term, the police may have been right.

Kavita Srivastava is a feminist researcher and activist who has researched the intricacies of so-called women-centered development program in Rajasthan; who has researched, and challenged, the impact of irrigation mega-projects, again in Rajasthan, on rural women and men, focused a laser beam on the ways in which such so-called development projects further marginalized women in particular; has researched gender politics, development, and women’s agency. Kavita Srivatasa has advised and counseled on ways to take the Right to Food to court … and beyond.

And that is why Kavita Srivastava is a dangerous woman, because of her simple and radical refusal. She refuses to accept hunger. She refuses to accept starvation. She refuses to accept anything less than justice, for women, for men, for all beings. No Naxalite was found in Kavita Srivastava’s home. No one, including the police, ever thought one would be found. But there was, and is, something there, something dangerous, more dangerous than the State can imagine or control. The question and practice of justice. Kavita Srivastava is not a saint, she’s a feminist.

 

(Video Credit: The Hindu / Rohit Jain Paras)