Women’s Studies: A Threat to The Political Right-Wing?

On March 12th, the University Grants Commission (UGC), the statutory body in charge of determining and maintaining the standards of higher education in India, released new guidelines that drastically cut funds up to 40% for Women Studies Centers across the nation. Why is Women’s Studies (WS) the target of the current government? How does the budget cut affect the discipline of WS? How is feminism a political threat?

Women’s Studies emerged in India as a discipline in the 1970s from the women’s movement which attempted to make women visible in history through the interdisciplinary frameworks of gender, race, and class. It extended feminist ideas in the university and explored issues such as violence, caste and religious discriminations, female feticide, dowry deaths, and pay disparity. It questioned the production and distribution of patriarchal knowledge and refuted the gender binary reinforcing the idea of gender performativity. Centers for WS were set up across India and funded by the UGC under the 12thYear Plan (2012-2017); WS was recognized as an important discipline that needed to be institutionalized and supported for changing the perception of women and highlighting their contribution in socio-economic development.

Despite the UGC recognizing WS as an important discipline, there has been a recurring disapproval of the discipline by critics from right-wing politics. Critics of WS believe that the discipline is an indulgence for women. In 2003, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), a party led by the Bharatiya Janat Party (BJP), a right-wing political party heading the current Indian government, sought to rename Women Studies Centers across the nation as Women and Family Studies Centers as part of the 10th Year Plan, hoping that a change in name would deter feminist agendas. A few years later, a survey in the state of Tamilnadu in 2006, under the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIDMK) government, an ally to the NDA, examined WS in many universities across the state and concluded that WS courses were often regarded as “soft options”. It stated that WS ended up getting students who did not get admissions into core disciplines while questioning the discipline’s significance and impact in the real world. 

It is indeed distressing to see how the right-wing questions the significance of WS in a culture where sexual harassment is normalized and trivialized. When Indian women broke their silence on social media with the #MeTooMovement in 2018, the government remained silent and refused to take action on sexual harassers, endorsing male supremacy. With thousands of women, like the journalist Priya Ramani and the actress Tanushree Dutta, shaking the skeletons out of their closets, the #MeToo movement drew attention to patriarchal oppression at home and at the workplace. However, the fundamentalist non-secular right-wing dismissed the cases focusing instead on the “saffronization” of the nation and the glorification of Hinduism.

In the present political scenario, it is not surprising that WS suffers a drastic budget cut. Women and minority studies are a threat to the political right-wing as they question patriarchy and casteism, which are the fundamental tenets of the party. With a cut in funds in higher education, admissions will be limited, and tuition will increase; education will become unaffordable for students from underprivileged backgrounds and higher education will become elitist. The temporariness accorded to Women’s Studies and Dalit Studies, among other social science disciplines, through UGC funds, is a way of institutional marginalization. By withholding funds, the government controls the circulation of feminist thought and reinforces patriarchal oppression. 

The government’s nationalistic vision of “New India” as a superpower with global hegemony is an extension of upper-class Hindu patriarchal ideology; it is imperative therefore that WS is recognized as an important discipline, and women are viewed as equal, in times that celebrate inequality as power. Let’s hope that the upcoming election in May 2019 will bring about an equal and diverse India.

(Photo Credit: She the People)

On the funding cuts looming over Women’s Studies Centers across India

I love India; it is my home, a very old home that has seen and endured so much. Like most old homes there are many cracks signaling structural and foundational damage, the kind of damage which takes more than a trip to Home Depot on a Sunday afternoon. As someone who doesn’t live at home anymore, I have seen it from outside and have seen its beauty from afar. I am a transnational Indian woman whose sense of belonging is shared by the United States and India. With that in mind, I want to share my views on the funding cuts looming over Women’s Studies Centers across India.

Research and the women of India have a long history; she has been the subject of civilizing missions and she has been the subject of “white men saving brown women from brown men” campaigns. She is included in a group of sisters who inspired Linda Tuhiwai Smith to say that research is a dirty word. These are different ways of emphasizing why Women’s Studies in India is important. We need to acknowledge the vital role Indian researchers play in bringing to light the issues that are faced by girls, young women and women who have been invisible for far too long. Their stories need to be told; their issues need to be addressed. 

We are all familiar with funding cuts, and we know every such decision sends a message about priorities. What is the message with this current proposed decision? It says: “Yes, of course, we care about Women’s Empowerment, we have snazzy catchy slogans about the importance of the girl child. However, we are also afraid of the kind of research you conduct, the questions you ask of us, the government, and also the changes you wish to see through your research. You take aim at patriarchy, capitalism, and fundamentalism. We aren’t sure if we want that.”

The proposed decision to cut funding is signaling to the educated Indian woman and to the world that women are not a priority. At the end of the day, we belong to the world’s largest democracy, a political system in which votes count more than research initiatives. This is especially true if the research focuses on shedding light on the systemic problems that sustain and maintain attitudes that place different values on lives based on gender. If implemented, these cuts propose to paint over the problem and create an illusion that women and women’s issues matter because women vote and their votes matter.Votes are generated though the messages of empowerment and government sponsored  women’s empowerment campaigns. For example, the most recent such campaign is called ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao” which translated means “Save the daughter, Educate the daughter”. The irony of the slogan is not lost on me, nor is it lost on researchers and future scholars who want to make a difference. According to news outlets, the decision is not final, a final decision will made after April 5th regarding this issue. However, they are also taking suggestions about how to resolve this issue. If the women of India had the ability to speak as a collective, I wonder what her message would say?

(Photo Credit: She the People)

In India, women forest dwellers saved the trees, lost the woods, saved the woods, lost the forest

In 2006, India passed The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers Act, known as the Recognition of Forest Rights Act. While not perfect, the Act was a step in the right direction. It was “a weapon for democracy in the forest”, because, for the first time, the State recognized and secured community and individual rights over common property resources; rights in and over disputed land rights concerning land use; right to protect, regenerate or conserve or manage the forest; right to intellectual property and traditional knowledge related to biodiversity and cultural diversity; rights of displaced communities; and, finally, rights over developmental activities. That act came after decades of struggle by forest dependent communities. Women were at the core of those struggles. This week, with one court decisionmillions of forest dependent communities, often called the most vulnerable of thevulnerable, were informed that they were to be evicted by July 24. It is estimated that as many as 2,300,000 families will ultimately be affected by this decision. Who are the most vulnerable of the vulnerable? Women and children.

From the moment its inception, the Act was challenged by mining, agricultural and so-called development interests. More recently, some conservationists argued that the forests were dwindling and that the forest dependent populations had to be moved to save the forests. In the case decided this week, the key was the provision of the act by which forest dependent families had to formally lay claim to land. This proved difficult given low levels of formal literacy and often impossible bureaucratic processes. For women, the issue of land titles was complicated by even lower levels of literacy and local traditions that precluded women having title to land. The State colluded with those local traditions. For example, many, if not most, forest households are women-led, because male partners have left, for work or just because, or have died. The State never addressed the particularities of women-headed forest households.

While the conditions for women forest dwellers have been particularly harsh, with increased industrial and State violence against forest-dependent women, women have consistently engaged in individual and collective direct action and mobilization for tribal rights and for tribal women’s rights. From Odisha to Chhattisgarhto Rajasthanand beyond, women self-organized to defend their commons. They carry the legacy of the women’s Chipko movement, from the 1970s in Uttarakhand. On March 25, 1974, Gaura Devi, the leader of the Chipko movement, led local women to confront logging companies about to chop down the trees. Calling the forest her mother’s home, Devi wrapped her body around the trees. The women persisted, and the loggers left. That was the early 1970s. In 2013, a reporter returned to the site and saw that the women had saved the trees … but lost the woods. Now only elders, women, and children live there, since the men have gone, either to find work or just because. Six years later … 

Forty five years, almost to the day, after Gaura Devi and the women of Reni village stood up for the dignity of Niluribhur forest, those women, their daughters and granddaughters have been informed they have five months to vacate. While the world press is paying some attention to this crisis, thus far almost none have noted, or wondered, “Where are the women?” 

Feminist activist scholar Swarna Rajagopalan has asked and answered: “What does it really mean to be an internally displaced person—or a refugee, for those who cross borders in flight? … As a woman, you did not get to go to school for long and you studied another language. How are you to navigate this state’s administrative offices and claim the paperwork, the food and medical assistance and other entitlements that are your due? You fled to survive, but now you have to fight to survive each day … As a woman, maybe stepping out of the house for the first to find employment, you can do domestic or care work. Sometimes you beg; sometimes you trade sexual favours to feed your family. Living on the margins, crowded by strangers, you are visible and vulnerable in so many ways—on the way to a communal toilet; to fetch water; to earn a living; and in your interactions with officials and house-owners. But disadvantaged as you are as a woman, you are not weak. You and your sisters asked questions, protested and stood your ground until the ground itself shifted. Now, after one… two… three displacements, the fight is going out of you …. Some women will miscarry en route; some will give birth in camps. Those children may grow up as ‘IDPs’ or ‘refugees,’ living in camps or IDP settlements all their lives. Small gardens will be planted, rangolis drawn, makeshift temples and churches set up. But they will always remember home. They were once from somewhere else—a lost forest home where they belonged and which truly belonged to them.”

Where are the forest dependent women in the Indian Supreme Court’s decision, in national and regional policies, in press accounts? Everywhere and nowhere. The Forest Dwellers Act recognized the rights of over 200 million individuals living in more than 170,000 villages. This week’s decision is a step in the removal of all 200 million. At every step of that plan and at every instance of resistance, ask, and demand to be answered, “Where are the women?” Everywhere and nowhere is not good enough.

(Infograph Credit: Business Standard) (Photo Credit: Guardian / Anupam Nath / AP)

In Assam, India, Safiya Khatun spent two years in detention for the crime of being … a citizen?

In July, the Indian state of Assam dropped four million people from its registers, identifying them as “foreigners.” Women comprise the overwhelming majority of the four million. Call it witch hunt? Call it femicide? Yes to both. Call it as well part of an ongoing nationalist campaign against the “foreigners in our midst”, a campaign that targets poor women. One such woman, Safiya Khatun, spent the last two years in the “Kokrajhar detention camp”, a jail designed to hold women “foreigners” in the Kokrajhar district of Assam. Assam boasts six detention camps. The detention camps were established in 2010, “to shelter women declared foreigners.” If this is shelter, give us the storm, please.

What is Safiya Khatun’s crime? A “mismatch” appeared with her father’s name on different voters’ lists. That misspelling brought Safiya Khatun before a “Foreigner’s Tribunal”, or FT, where she was found to be foreign. Assam has 100 FTs, and, by all appearances, they are models of poor process. Safiya Khatun’s FT hearing occurred in October 2016. She’s been “sheltered” by the State since.

Safiya Khatun is a poor, 50-year-old woman from an area declared, by the Indian government, one of the “most backward districts” in the country. Safiya Khatun’s father is a citizen; Safiya Khatun’s mother is a citizen; Safiya Khatun’s five brothers are citizens; Safiya Khatun’s husband is a citizen. Nevertheless, the FT found Safiya Khatun to be an immigrant foreigner. So did the Guwahati High Court. The Court argued that there were omissions in Safiya Khatun’s application, and so she is a foreigner. Finally, on September 12, the Supreme Court of India demanded that Safiya Khatun be released on bail. The Supreme Court decided that the State had not conducted a full inquiry and so had imprisoned wrongfully. Safiya Khatun’s attorney said, “You claim to trace and oust every ‘infiltrator’, but we will ensure that every Indian citizen gets the right guaranteed by the Constitution.”

The real crime is revealed in the language, where prison becomes camp becomes shelter; where foreigner becomes infiltrator; where omission and misspelling become crimes. Safiya Khatun spent two years in the Kokrajhar detention camp, the same prison where, in August, more than 150 women prisoners went on indefinite hunger strike to protest the inhumane conditions. Kokrajhar detention camp houses elder women, many of whom have stories identical with that of Safiya Khatun, and young pregnant women. In most cases, the women’s extended families are all Indian citizens, but the women somehow are dangerously foreign non-citizens, and so packed off to prison … for shelter.

What is going on in Assam is a campaign, a war, against women, and Assam is a testing ground, and not only for India. Around the world, in so-called liberal democracies, citizenship is under assault, and the first line of that assault is women. Women are identified as dangerously foreign non-citizens, despite layers of evidence testifying to their citizenship. Citizenship is the criterion for the new global witch hunt, from the United States to the United Kingdom to Australia and beyond. Meanwhile, two months ago, 19-year-old Somiron Nessa, of Goroimari, in Assam, was informed, out of the blue, that she is a “foreigner”. The struggle continues.

 

(Photo Credit: DailyO)

India strips millions of women in Assam of their citizenship. Call it femicide

The documents these women presented were deemed invalid.

What’s it called when, with one sweep of a pen or publication of a report, millions of people `lose’ their citizenship. Today, India dropped over four million people living in the resource-rich state of Assam, in northeast India, from the citizenship lists. Poof. Gone. Four million. In one state. And, to no one’s surprise, the majority of the four million are women. Even if women weren’t overrepresented in the rollcall of the suddenly disappeared, the impact on women, individually and collectively, is particularly deep and vicious, and is particular to policy formation in patriarchal states and societies.

Today, the Indian government published the final draft of the National Register of Citizens, NRC, for Assam. Assam has been experiencing a considerable population growth over the last decade. About two-thirds of the state is Hindu, and one third is Muslim. For over seventy years, Indigenous Assamese, in particular the Bodo, and Bengali Muslims have opposed each other, often violently.

Those dropped from today’s citizenship lists are largely, almost exclusively, Bengali Muslims. Many view this as part of the national government’s saffron policies, turning secular multicultural India into Hindu India. Whatever the reasons, the NRC predictably targets, and eliminates, Bengali Muslim women. Shorbhanu Nessa’s story is typical of many Bengali Muslim women in Assam … and typical of many women across India and beyond.

Shorbhanu Nessa married before she was 18. She is surrounded by nevers that result in her elimination from the NRC: never went to school, never owned property, never had a bank account, never thought she needed to. She is the mother of five adult children. As far as Shorbhanu Nessa knew, being married to her husband was sufficient. Not any longer.

Shorbhanu Nessa’s son, Hussain Ahmad Madani, explains, “Because she never voted in her maiden home, she had no way to prove now that she was her father’s daughter. Her father’s legacy data is there, but she has no document to establish her linkage to him. There is no school certificate which would have mentioned his name. Her family settled in this char (a sand bar by a river in Assamese) when she was one-and-a-half years old after their char (Majarlega Char) was swallowed by the Brahmaputra. She was married off to my father in this same char. Though her father passed away, everyone in the neighbourhood knew whose daughter she was; trouble began when documentary evidence was sought by the NRC authorities to prove who her father was.”

Everyone knew, but this particular category of everyone doesn’t count.

Many of those who were dropped from the rolls are women. Almost all of them are Muslim. Most, if not all, are married. As of yet, there’s not an exact gender breakdown of the disappeared, but the stories are everywhere, repeating one another.

No matter how one cuts it, the design for the data collection for the NCR predictably attacked Muslim individuals and communities, who, for various reasons, would not have the documentary evidence to prove what everyone in the neighborhood knew and had known for years, decades and generations. What is it called when millions of people are stripped of their citizenship? Genocide.

But there’s something else here. The NRC structures specifically targeted Bengali Muslim women of Shorbhanu Nessa’s generation. In 1988, the voting age was lowered from 21 to 18. Bengali Muslim women, like Shorbhanu Nessa, were `encouraged’ to marry before they turned 18. Thus, they never voted using their birth, or maiden, names, and so now they can’t prove they are, and were, who they are, and were, precisely because they were dutiful daughters. None of this is surprising. It’s part of publicly and widely known culture in Assam, and it’s equally part of the NRC plan. The way the data was collected meant Bengali Muslim women would be disappeared, in large numbers, and that was perfectly fine with both Assamese officials and those in the national government. What’s it called when millions of women are disappeared in a single day? Femicide. In this world, citizenship is life. In one fell swoop, India created the single largest stateless population ever, and at the heart of that effort is the nation-State assault on women.

 

 

(Photo Credit: The Wire / Sangeeta Barooah Pisharoty)

From Palestine to Kashmir, women are taking their space against occupation and patriarchy

Reversing decades of foreign policy tradition, Donald Trump announced the U.S. will recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. In so doing, Trump fanned the flames of a region already embroiled in intense conflict. Muslim leaders from 57 countries condemned the decision, calling on the world to recognize “Palestine and East Jerusalem as its occupied capital.” Protests erupted worldwide in solidarity with the Palestinian nation, whose de-jure territories—Gaza, the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Golan Heights—are treated as illegitimate by both Trump and Israel. Protests erupted within the walls of occupied Palestine following the pronouncement. In the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza, Palestinians are fighting the declaration, which they see as further legitimizing Israel’s apartheid takeover. Israel responded with its usual destructive military violence.

In colonized states, military violence is commonplace. Crackdowns, disappearances, violence, and intimidation are the norm. Palestine is no exception. Since 1948, Israel has routinely practiced human rights abuses in attempts to quell the Palestinian State. What do these crackdowns mean for the women of Palestine?

In 2010, journalist Freny Manecksha asked a similar question regarding Kashmir, a region occupied by Indian military police. For seven years, Manecksha collected and compiled dozens of first-hand accounts from women of Kashmir. She details how space is lost to women subjected to military violence.

Torture, rape, sexual violence, enforced disappearances, and extra-judicial killings are tools the Indian military police use to deny Kashmir political sovereignty. To women in Kashmir, crackdowns are synonymous with sexual violence. The once free-roaming, awe-inspiring hills of Kashmir have transformed into a cold, barbaric warning. Kashmir was once a land of mysticism. Its breathtaking natural landscape inspired poets like Habba Khatun to write of girls picking chinar leaves, of wandering spaces, and of the wild flowers that dotted the hillsides.

Those verses are reminders of a time of freedom stolen from women. Cold metal, tear gas, and military uniforms proliferate amongst the cities and trees. Mysticism was transformed into barbarism. Women are no longer free to gather violets – doing so risks sexual harassment, violence, or abduction. Privacy is lost. Riflemen “legally” barge into homes, smash pots and pans, take up common rooms, and destroy the sanctity of the home. Only in shrines do women find the sacred space “just to be.” Shrines serve as places of “secrets, fears, and angst”, places of “abreaction.” They are the last accessible places that allow women to release their emotions while offering an important “spiritual anchor.” They are the last spaces still reminiscent of Habba Khatun’s Kashmir.

In Palestine, women face a similar problem. Since 1948, the Israeli military has asserted its dominance through borders, checkpoints, and brute displays of force. Along with the military colonizing their spaces, Israeli developers have capitalized on the forced removal of Palestinian citizens. Old olive orchards, the source of income for many families, are now white, concrete eyesores. Checkpoints dictate how women maneuver through the land, deciding if they can access schools, hospitals, relatives: “Occupying the material space of the frontline, these women must often carry the burdens of the outcome of the fighting. These women survive both the daily assaults against their quotidian activities and the psychological warfare that is endemic to a militarized zone.”

Movement and security are luxuries. Like the women of Kashmir, Palestinian women find themselves suffocated by military occupation. They are without legal rights, government help, or societal help. Internalized colonization and the weaponization of their bodies has increased the strength of the patriarchy. Palestinian authorities view sexual abuse as a national issue—speaking about that abuse makes the woman complicit with the outside forces aimed at destroying the nation. More so, Palestine sees sexual violence as a direct confrontation with its honor. In the need to defend national honor from invaders, women who are sexually abused are treated as dishonorable, often ostracized from their communities.

This is colonialism, the occupation of space by an invader, and it is patriarchy, the need to assert dominance over a feminine body: “This  is  the  point  where  two  systems  of  subordination – occupation  and  patriarchy – converge  in  the  Occupied Palestinian Territories: women in confronting the former submit to the latter.” War, conquest, and the hunger for land work in tandem with the worst types of oppression. Denial of state freedom is denial of women’s freedom.

Despite the reality of occupation, Palestine should have hope. In Kashmir, young women are actively fighting against both patriarchal and military occupation. Women like Essar Batool, Natasha Rather, Farhana Latief, and Inshah Malik question Kashmiri societal predispositions and how gender, sexuality, and freedom of expression are linked to the Azadi movement. These women promote a fiery new hope, recentering the activist conversation on those who most need Azadi—women. For them, it is not enough to have freedom from India. They demand freedom from patriarchy.

Palestinian women are also not backing down. Determined to “create their own meaning and build agency, sometimes literally from the nothingness around them; all the while being cognizant of their roots and history, they offer counter-discourses, counter-spaces, and counter-narratives.” They are taking their space by force, both within Palestine itself and in the greater activist movement.

In the words of feminist peace activist legislator Jihad Abu Zneid, “This is our country and we will save it. We will save our capital and our sovereignty here in Jerusalem.”

 

(Photo Credit 1: Al Jazeera / Mohammed Salem / Reuters) (Photo Credit 2: Women’s Media Center / Bilal Bahadur)

The factory fire in New Delhi was a planned massacre of women workers

Add Bawana Industrial Area firecracker factory, just outside New Delhi, India, to the list of factory fire “tragedies”: Tangerang, Indonesia;  Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, United States; Kader Toy Factory, Thailand; Zhili Handicraft Factory, China; Tazreen Fashions Factory, Bangladesh; Kentex Manufacturing Corporation; Philippines; House Technologies Industries, Philippines. The sacrificial pyre built of women’s bodies continues to grow and light up the night sky of global economic development. In this instance, on Saturday, an illegal but altogether known firecracker factory burst into flames. Seventeen people were burned or suffocated to death, ten women, seven men. Earlier in the day, three women workers protested “hazardous” working conditions. They complained that they couldn’t breathe because the air was so thick with gunpowder. They refused to work, took their day’s pay and left. As they left, they tried to persuade two other women to leave. The two women refused. They needed the money. A couple hours later, the building exploded.

The factory was registered as a plastics factory. In fact, it made gunpowder. The workers had no idea what they were producing, nor did they know the owners were in violation of the law. They knew the work was hard, the pay low, but it was a job. Until it wasn’t.

The workers’ stories, those who died and those who survived, are heartrending as they are familiar. The story of the factory is familiar as well. There were no fire safeguards, nor were their occupational safeguards. There was only one exit. The three women who left initially demanded masks, so they could breathe and continue to work. It was only when the manager refused that request that the three took their money and left.

The story of Bawana Industrial Area is the overarching story of national and metropolitan economic development. New Delhi is a congested, polluted city. In response, many factories have moved to so-called industrial parks just outside the city. In 2016, Bawana Industrial Area had around 18,000 industrial units. At last count, Bawana Industrial Area has 51,697 industrial units. They are almost never inspected. The licensing processes are a lethal joke: “In Bawana, industrial units range from drugs and pharmaceuticals, petroleum-based products, chemical products, rubber products. In the absence of any random inspection, many units flout industrial norms, even as work continues unabated.” You can get anything you want …

And now? The factory owner is detained and under investigation. Families, friends and neighbors keen and mourn. The world perhaps stares, for a moment, at the pictures of grieving mothers, and reads of the loss and sorrow. None of this is new or unforeseen. There is nothing exceptional about Bawana Industrial Area. The authorities expect the same conditions exist across New Delhi’s suburban industrial landscape.  Industrial fire codes are prominent discussed, and every day workers, mostly women, entered a fireworks factory that had no proper exit and no fire safety equipment. That factory wasn’t a factory; it was a slaughterhouse. When the flames burst and the women workers’ bodies exploded, there was no accident. That fire was an indiscriminate and brutal slaughter of people, a massacre, and it was part of the plan. The shape of global capital development today is a burning pyre composed of women workers’ bodies. It lights the sky. We have never left the age of primitive accumulation, “and the history of this … is written in the annals of mankind in letters of blood and fire.”

 

(Photo Credit: NDTV)

Around the world, domestic workers demand decent, living wage and work conditions NOW!

Across the globe, domestic workers are struggling and organizing for decent work conditions, a living wage, respect and dignity. In 2011, the International Labour Organization passed C189, Convention concerning decent work for domestic workers. In 2013, the Convention went into effect. As of now, 24 countries have ratified the Convention. And yet … Yesterday, domestic workers in Tamil Nadu, in India, gathered to demand a living wage and legally enforced protections. Yesterday, in Mexico, the ILO reported that 1% of domestic workers in Mexico have any kind of social security. Yesterday, a report from England argued that the way to end exploitation of migrant workers, and in particular domestic workers, is a fair and living wage. Today, an article in South Africa argued that Black women domestic workers bear the brunt of “persistent inequality”. Today, an article in France argued that economic indicators systematically exclude “domestic labor” and so exclude women. What’s going here? In a word, inequality. Women bear the brunt of urban, national, regional and global inequality, and domestic workers sit in the dead center of the maelstrom.

Today, the inaugural World Inequality Report was issued. Since 1980, income inequality has increased almost everywhere, but the United States has led the way to astronomic, and catastrophic, income inequality. In the 1980s, inequality in western Europe and the United States was more or less the same. At that time, the top 1% of adults earned about 10% of national income in both western Europe and the United States. Today in western Europe, the top 1% of adults earns 12% of the national income. In the United States, the top 1% earns 20% of the national income. It gets worse. In Europe, economic growth has been generally the same at all levels. In the United States, the top half has been growing, while the bottom half, 117 million adults, has seen no income growth.

According to the report, the United States “experiment” has led the a global economic, and state, capture: “The global top 1% earners has captured twice as much of that growth as the 50% poorest individuals …. The top 1% richest individuals in the world captured twice as much growth as the bottom 50% individuals since 1980.” The authors note, “The global middle class (which contains all of the poorest 90% income groups in the EU and the United States) has been squeezed.”

Call it global wealth – state capture relies on expanding “opportunities” for the global poor – particularly in countries like China, India, and Brazil – while squeezing the global middle class, and that’s where domestic workers come in. Paid domestic labor has been one of the fastest growing global labor sectors for the past four decades. Women have entered the paid labor force thanks to other women who have tended to the household work. After its preamble, the ILO C189 opens, “Recognizing the significant contribution of domestic workers to the global economy, which includes increasing paid job opportunities for women and men workers with family responsibilities, greater scope for caring for ageing populations, children and persons with a disability, and substantial income transfers within and between countries …”

That language was formally accepted in 2011. Six years later, domestic workers are still waiting, and struggling, for that recognition. In Mexico, groups are organizing to include domestic workers into Social Security programs as well as to ensure that employers pay the end of year bonus that all decent, and not so decent, employers in Mexico pay. In India, domestic workers are marching and demanding protections as well as a living wage. Domestic workers are women workers are workers, period. Today’s Inequality Report reminds us that the extraordinary wealth of those at the very top has been ripped from the collective labor and individual bodies of domestic workers. Structured, programmatic ever widening inequality, at the national and global level, begins and ends with the hyper-exploitation of domestic workers, through employers’ actions and State inaction. Who built today’s version of the seven gates of Thebes? Domestic workers. It’s past time to pay the piper. NOW is the time!

(Photo Credit: El Sie7e de Chiapas)

In India, 24-year-old Hadiya Jahan says, “I want freedom”

Hadiya Jahan at today’s Supreme Court hearing

Today, November 17, 2017, Hadiya Jahan spoke … or better, was “allowed” to speak and perhaps be heard. Hadiya is a 24-year-old woman, who for the past year has been caught in a web of “protections” “for her own good.” Throughout, Hadiya has tried to speak in her own voice, and has been thwarted. Today, she spoke, and she was partly listened to. More people should be listening, because Hadiya Jahan’s story haunts women, and womanhood, everywhere.

Hadiya’s story is both straightforward and complicated. She was born in Kerala to an atheist father and Hindu mother. Her birth name was Akhila Ashokan. In 2010, at 18 years of age, she went off to study homeopathy. In 2015, she publicly declared she was considering converting to Islam. In January, she attended school, wearing a hijab. Her Hindu “friends” reported this to her parents. Her father rushed to the school, did not find his daughter, and filed a missing person’s complaint. Meanwhile, his daughter had gone to Sathya Sarani, a self-described Islamic educational and charitable trust. They provided her with shelter. Akhila changed her name to Hadiya. When the missing person’s case came to court, Akhila showed up and said she was neither missing nor abducted. The court agreed.

In August 2016, Hadiya’s father filed a second petition, claiming there was a plan to move his daughter out of India. The implicit claim was trafficking. Hadiya denied this. The court placed her in a women’s hostel. At the next hearing, on December 19, 2016, the Court said Hadiya must be allowed to return to college and complete her studies. Meanwhile, also on December 19, Hadiya married Shefin Jehan. When the Court was informed that Hadiya had married, they returned her to the hostel. The Court told Jehan to keep away from Hadiya. No interaction whatsoever. On May 24, 2017, the Kerala High Court annulled the marriage, and sent Hadiya to “live” with her parents. Hadiya appealed to India’s Supreme Court, and that’s who heard her today.

Since May, Hadiya has been under house arrest, at her parents’ house. She has been forbidden from talking with the world. Everyone has spoken for, and even as, Hadiya, but Hadiya has been silenced. Finally, the Supreme Court demanded that Hadiya be produced.

Much has swirled around this case, from claims of “love jihad” to “mental kidnapping.” Hadiya’s story has split women along predictable lines. In a smuggled video, shot in August, Hadiya said, “You need to get me out. I will be killed anytime, tomorrow or the day after, I am sure. I know my father is getting angry. When I walk, he is hitting and kicking me.” She begged for freedom. Who listened?

Today, Hadiya spoke, and not only to the Court. She said, “I want freedom… I want to complete my studies and live my life according to my faith and as a good citizen.” The Court released Hadiya from her parents’ custody and sent her back to homeopathy college to complete her studies. In late January, the Court will hear the couple’s appeal to undo the annulment of their marriage. Hadiya, a 24-year-old woman, wants to be free. It’s not complicated.

 

(Photo Credit: Vipin Kumar / Hindustan Times)

In India, Janak Anand said NO to forced widow marriage and, yesterday, she won!

Janak and Dipak Anand

Soldiers go to war. Often, they die in war. Some receive medals of bravery. In India, the medal of bravery is the Vir Chakra. It’s called a gallantry award. Those who died “gallantly” are called martyrs. Decades ago, India created a special hell for martyr’s widows. Widows received a gallantry award, but it came with strings attached: “The widow will continue to receive the allowance until her re-marriage or death. The payment of the allowance will, however, continue to a widow who re-marries the late husband’s brother and lives a communal life with the living heir eligible for family pension.” If the widow wanted, or needed, to continue to receive the award and if she were to re-marry, she could only marry her dead husband’s brother. Janak Anand, a martyr’s widow, said NO to forced widow marriage, and to all the structures that support and normalize it, and yesterday … she, and women across India, won!

Janak Anand’s story is straightforward. In 1971, she and Captain S C Sehgal were married. In December 1971, the Indo – Pakistani War broke out. Captain Sehgal was killed, and posthumously awarded the Vir Chakra. Janak Anand received gallantry benefits, along with the regular family pension. In October 1974, Janak Anand re-married. She married Major Dipak Anand. At that point, she lost her gallantry benefits. Janak Anand protested. Finally, after 43 years of protests, inquiries and litigation, the Armed Forces Tribunal, in September, agreed with Janak Anand, and strongly criticized the government for its policy. Yesterday, the Ministry of Defence suspended the policy. After 43 years of pushing and prodding, Janak Anand will receive her gallantry award payments plus 10%. Additionally, she will have some sense of dignity as a woman recognized formally by the State.

The story of the policy itself is equally straightforward. Janak Anand was not the first to contest it, and each time it was contested, the State fortified the policy. For example, the language of the current rule, cited above, was issued in 1995 by the Minister of Defense. According to Janak Anand, the officials had no sense of urgency in deciding the matter or issuing her any relief.

In September, the Armed Forces Tribunal concluded, “We cannot have a policy which dictates as to whom a widow must marry if she wants to earn financial benefits of her martyred husband. It is nothing but an affront on the dignity of the war widow whose husband sacrificed his life for the country and earned the Vir Chakra. On one hand, the President of India confers the gallantry award to the lady as a mark of respect for her husband’s sacrifice for the country. On the other, our derogatory policies like that of January 31, 1995, humiliate the widow by denying her rightful dues. We are saddened to observe such slipshod treatment to a war widow of 1971.”

Yesterday, the Ministry of Defence said, “The government, after considering the issue and receiving several representations, has now been decided to remove the condition of the widow’s remarriage with her late husband’s brother for continuation of the monetary allowance.”

As Sharanya Gopinathan noted, “It’s great news that this bizarre rule has been scrapped, but it also makes you wonder how many more insanities we’re left to find in all our rulebooks and statutes, and how long it will take to clean our laws up.”

After more than four decades of struggling and pushing for her rightful due, both as money and dignity, Janak Anand has forced the unwilling State to begin to face its patriarchy, misogyny, and routine humiliation of women. We were saddened by the slipshod treatment of Janak Anand, and other war widows and other widows and other women, and are delighted and encouraged that, after a lifetime of struggle, yesterday, finally, she won. The struggle for women’s justice continues.

 

(Photo Credit: India Today)