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) (Image Credit: World Inequality Report / Quartz)

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)

In India, the Bihar “stampede” was a planned massacre of elder women

Kartik Purnima is a holy festival celebrated by Sikh, Jain and Hindu people. Yesterday, thousands gathered in the village of Simaria, in Bihar, to celebrate. They went to Simaria to dip into the Ganges River. Something happened. The press and the State called it a stampede. Three elderly women, each reported to be in their 80s, were killed. The State says the women died of suffocation. That may be the forensic determination, but those women, and so many others in stampedes – from Jakarta to New Delhi to KwaNongoma to Karachi to Abidjan to Valley Stream to Lahore to Johannesburg to Mymensingh to Khayelitsha – were part of the plan. Yet again, the gender of stampede is women, and yet again, the world takes little or no notice. Just another sudden rush, just another panic, just another day in which women `naturally’ dominate morbidity and mortality rates. Just another day.

In 1999, a “high powered committee”, established by the Indian government, released a report on disasters. They determined five categories: water and climate; geological; biological; nuclear and industrial; and accidental. They described accidental catastrophe as “urban and forest fires, oil spill, mine flooding incidents, collapse of huge building structures, bomb blasts, air, road and rail mishaps, boat capsizing and stampede during congregations.” None of these are “accidental”, since all are preventable. Since that report, the State has done less than nothing to “mitigate” the possibility of “stampedes”. In the intervening eighteen years, they have expressed “concern” at “the recurring stampedes at places of mass gathering, including religious places, and typically ad-hoc responses to those”, and issued “crowd managementguidelines, with absolutely no force and little promotion. At the same time, India’s National Management Authority lists three categories under “Man-Made Disaster”: nuclear, biological, chemical. No stampede, no crowd control, and no concern.

Yesterday, in Bihar, thousands of devotees passed through capillary alleys barely wide enough to allow passage to hundreds. The result was predictable, and the State did nothing. That was not a stampede in Bihar yesterday. Instead, three elderly women were massacred. Now, after decades of doing nothing, the State claims concern and pretends to act, but it will not acknowledge its own guilt. There was no accident. There was no stampede. Just another day.

Scattered slippers after the event

 

(Photo Credit 1: The Tribune of India / PTI) (Photo Credit 2: Scroll / PTI)

A Band-Aid on a Gaping Wound: Limits of the Law in Domestic Work in India

Domestic workers fighting abuse and slave-like conditions need legal protection. While India’s labor ministry has begun preparations to provide social security for domestic workers, further protections for workers to demand better treatment from their employers and justice for abuse and mistreatment are still needed.

Recent instances of severe abuse of domestic workers in India include a 26-year-old domestic worker from Bangladesh who was held captive by her employer, based on false accusations that she had stolen from them. She had not been paid in two months. Elsewhere, a domestic worker was tortured and then murdered by her employers, a legislator and his wife.

Even if workers organize and rights have been won, the threat of retaliation from employers remains. For example, domestic workers in a complex in Mumbai went on strike for their underpayment by employers. The, employers conceded defeat and then months later fired the maids.

Domestic workers are vulnerable because of their lack of other employment choices. According to social activist Pratchi Talwar, “Many resort to domestic work because of decline in employment opportunities in the agriculture and manufacturing sectors.”

A poll in India conducted about workplace harassment highlights domestic workers’ vulnerability, claiming that these women do not retaliate from employment abuses because of the fear of losing their jobs, fear of being stigmatized, the absence of a means of filing complaints at the workplace, and the lack of awareness about redressal mechanism. These reasons, and the lack of means to address these problems, produce a continued pool of workers vulnerable to abuse and mistreatment form their employers.

India’s labor ministry has begun the process of addressing the concerns over the mistreatment of domestic workers by defining domestic workers as workers and providing the legal protection and social security that comes with the new legal status. The introduction of the policy is intended to “set up an institutional mechanism for social security coverage, fair terms of employment, addressing grievances and resolving disputes.”

According to Sonia Rani, project coordinator of the Self-employed Women’s Association, “These are just guidelines which are not legally enforceable. What happens when there is sexual abuse, withholding salaries and denying leave? Can the workers go to court? There also has to be a non-negotiable salary regime.’

Domestic workers continue to experience higher turnover rates and can be fired at will because there is no legal protection and no national law documenting domestic work as work, giving them all the protections of workers from such legal status. There are only two laws in India concerning domestic workers, the Unorganized Workers’ Social Security Act of 2008 and the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act of 2013. Neither law recognizes domestic workers as having legal rights. Though India is a signatory to the International Labor Organization’s 189th convention on Domestic Workers, the country has not yet ratified it.

Policy shifts concerning domestic workers do not become concrete implemented law unless domestic workers are recognized as part of the labor force. Only when domestic work has been recognized as work can there be legal protections for women and girls employed as maids. Unions and organization have argued “that the mindset of regarding domestic workers must shift from a policy paradigm to one that focuses on workers’ rights. Only then, can domestic workers’ rights be defined and protected.” Until then, the actions are but a Band-Aid on a nationwide gaping wound.

 

(Photo Credit: PBS News Hour / YouTube) (Image Credit: The Economic Times)

India’s Supreme Court Says NO! to rape in “child marriage”


Today, Wednesday, October 11, 2017, is International Day of the Girl Child, inaugurated by the United Nations in 2012. According to UN Women, “There are 1.1 billion girls in the world, and every one of them deserves equal opportunities for a better future.” In India today, the Supreme Court took a small step towards empowering girls when it declared that sex with a “child bride” is still rape. This decision overturned Exception 2 of Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code, which declared that, although 18 is the age of consent, sex with a 15- to 18-year-old girl who is one’s wife is … just marriage. A better future begins with a better present.

There are 1.1 billion girls in the world. According to a recent report, around 12 million children in India were married before the age of 10. Of that 12 million, 7.84 million were girls; 65% of those in India married under the age of 10 are girls. Meanwhile, in 1978, India outlawed so-called “child marriages”, and did so again in 2006.  In many areas of the country, little to nothing has been done to enforce the ban.

Kriti Bharti is a children’s rights advocate and rehabilitation psychologist, based in Rajasthan, which in any given year has among the highest rates of so-called “child marriage” in the world. In 2011, Bharti established the Saarthi Trust, to help young girls figure out ways to avoid being married off. Quickly, she realized that education was not enough, and so she developed a new, additional strategy: child marriage annulment. Since 2011, Kriti Bharti has annulled and prevented hundreds of child marriages. In response to today’s court decision, Bharti says it’s a start but there’s more work to be done: “A minor girl being abused by her husband will tell her mother: ‘I’m feeling pain. [Sex] is uncomfortable. Please help me’. But mothers say: ‘It’s your destiny. You are a female so you have to go through this.’”

It’s not destiny, and it’s not marriage. Under the old law, if a 17-year-old boy and girl engaged in consensual sex, that was statutory rape, but if a 50-year-old man raped his 15-year-old “wife”, that was all fine. That is not marriage.

Women’s groups have announced that they will now focus on marital rape. Poonam Muttreja, Executive Director of the Population Foundation of India, said, “This is a timely and positive step in the right direction for the discourse on marital rape and the subject of consent. I would urge the courts to take cognisance of the predicament of adult women who live in fear of rape or sexual violence at the hands of their spouse and in the security of her home.”

Today is International Day of the Girl Child. After decades of struggle, harm, and femicide, the Indian Supreme Court decided that raping girls is wrong. It is a small step forward … for millions and millions of girls. When millions and millions of girls step forward as one, the earth trembles.

 

(Photo Credit: Girls Not Brides)

What made Gauri Lankesh so dangerous?

Gauri Lankesh

Recently, India has experienced a spike in violence against journalists, women and critics of the increasingly dominant religious right.  On Tuesday, September 5, that violence claimed the life of feminist activist and journalist Gauri Lankesh as she entered her home, in Bengaluru, in the south of India. Protests exploded across India, partly because of the murder of Gauri Lankesh herself and partly because of its familiarity. Men on motorcycles drove past and fired seven shots, three of which hit and killed Gauri Lankesh. That was exactly the fate of three other prominent so-called secularists: Narendra Dabholkar in 2013, Govind Pansare and M.M. Kalburgi, both in 2015. What made Gauri Lankesh so dangerous?

Gauri Lankesh was 55 years old, the editor and publisher of Gauri Lankesh Patrike, a Kannada-language weekly paper which served, and roused, the local populations across the state of Karnataka. A “feisty leftist” and “staunch and vocal critic of the ruling BJP government and of Hindu right-wing extremism”, Gauri Lankesh “raged like a fire”. “Known for her vocal stand against India’s growing right-wing ideology, communal politics and majoritarian policies”, Gauri Lankesh was “one of India’s most outspoken journalists.” She was “fearless” and “fearfully courageous.” Gauri Lankesh was an “imperfectly perfect feminist icon – courageous, independent, contradictory, inspiring … to always do what is right; an inspiration in otherwise tiring, scary times.”

Gauri Lankesh railed against the rise of fascist, communalist, right wing religious zealots as she insisted on the centrality of building inter-caste and inter-faith unions rather than walls. In “Highest Good and Lowest Lives”, Gauri Lankesh described the lives of those who clean sewers: “According to estimates, there are about one million manual scavengers in India. Needless to say most of them – if not all – are ‘untouchables’. They live and work in shit for a measly monthly pay of about three or four thousand rupees. Because of their jobs, they suffer from skin and organ infections. In order to overcome the horror of their ‘profession’, they find succour in alcoholism. They cannot form a union to fight for their rights since these days most city corporations or municipalities have outsourced scavenging jobs to private contractors.”

The feudalism of caste embraces the neoliberalism of outsourcing, and the result is 20,000 “scavengers” die every year in the manholes of India. And the response? Silence. Where is the uproar? Where is the concern? Why does no one care? Gauri Lankesh made her readers ask those questions and then act in response.

In writing about the rising tide of violence against women, in her home town of Bengaluru, or the long history of attacks on freedom of the press, in her home state of Karnataka, Gauri Lankesh pointed to the intersection of modernity’s toxic masculinity of the Big Man at Home and the colonial legacy of the Big Man in the State House, and in each instance, her verdict was straightforward: “This … should not even exist in a democracy.”

The murder of Gauri Lankesh was not surprising. She had received death threats every day, and she persisted. She was attacked by the State, and she persisted. In a world built increasingly on rising violence against women, journalists, and critics, martyrdom has become our daily bread. Gauri Lankesh was a woman who chose to write, speak, dissent, analyze, research, and believe in democracy. Gauri Lankesh chose to work locally and regionally, chose to write primarily in Kannada rather than English, and chose to believe that democracy comes up from the sewers and is a song sung by the chorus of little voices: “Little voices, like that of a Gauri Lankesh, will not be allowed to defy. That is why she had to be killed.” This should not even exist in a democracy.

Protest in Karnataka

 

(Photo Credit 1: FeminismInIndia / Facebook) (Photo Credit 2: The Wire / PTI)

Women’s Month 2017: Victories for women in Chile, Lebanon, Jordan, India

Wafa Bani Mustafa

In South Africa, August 9 is Women’s Day, a national holiday that commemorates the 1956 women’s anti-pass march on the Union Buildings in Pretoria: “Now you have touched the women you have struck a rock: you have dislodged a boulder: you will be crushed.”Wathint’ abafazi, Strijdom! wathint’ abafazi,wathint’ imbokodo,uza kufa!” The women, 20,000 strong, sang that song on that historic day, and it has inspired, and continues to inspire. August is Women’s Month in South Africa and so, with that in mind, globally this month, and along with bad and terrible news, there’s still much to celebrate, especially in Jordan, Lebanon, Chile and India. Within 48 hours this week, Chile eased its ban on abortion and India eliminated the triple talaq instant divorce. Earlier in the month, building on the passage of a progressive law in Tunisia, both Jordan and Lebanon repealed laws that allowed rapists to avoid criminal prosecution by marrying their victims. From Asia to Africa to South America, women are on the move.

On August 4, 2017, Jordanian lawmakers voted to repeal Article 308 of the Jordanian Penal Code. This article was one of the many “marry-your-rapist” laws around the world. Tunisia abolished its version of that law in late July. While many women mobilized over years to end the law, the current leader of the movement to abolish Article 308 has been Wafa Bani Mustafa, a lawyer and Member of the Parliament, head of the Women’s Caucus and Chairperson of the Coalition of Women MPs to Combat Violence against Women. According to Wafa Bani Mustafa, “Article 308 has its roots in French and Latin laws. European countries only fairly recently abolished similar clauses. In France, that happened in 1994; in Italy, 1981. The introduction of such laws in the Arab world happened largely through a mix of colonialism and through the experiences of other countries in the region. Many of the countries used Egypt as an example, which got its laws through the Ottomans and the French colonial involvement in Egypt. But in essence, it is a European product. The important thing to focus on is that such articles have no religious or societal justification – they only discriminate against women.”

For Wafa Bani Mustafa, abolition of Article 308 is part of a multinational feminist decolonization project. Two weeks after the Jordanian lawmakers’ vote, on August 16, 2017, Lebanese lawmakers abolished Article 522 of Lebanon’s penal code, which also allowed a rapist to escape prosecution and punishment if he married his victim.

On Monday, August 21, 2017, a Chilean court ruled that a law easing restrictions on abortion is Constitutional. Michele Bachelet had promised and worked hard to pass the law. According to Bachelet, who had introduced the first version of the law in 2015, “Today, women have won, democracy has won, all of Chile has won.” The law allows women to seek abortions if the fetus is not violable, if the woman’s life is in danger, or if the pregnancy is the result of rape.

The next day, August 22, 2017, India’s Supreme Court ruled that the so-called triple talaq, which allowed men the power to instantly divorce their wives, unconstitutional. Five women brought this case forward. One of them, Shayara Bano, said, “Finally, I feel free today. I have the order that will liberate many Muslim women.”

From Jordan to Lebanon to Chile to India and beyond, women pushed the State to revoke prohibitions that endangered women’s lives. In every instance, the victory this month is both landmark and partial. As Wafa Bani Mustafa explained, “This issue isn’t specific to Jordan or to the Arab world. There are countries around the world that continue to stigmatise women. There are countries that have very developed legislation, yet in practice do not treat women equally. There are countries out there where women suffer way more than they do in the Arab world in similar crimes.” The struggle continues, and women are taking it forward. Now you have touched the women you have struck a rock: you have dislodged a boulder: you will be crushed … in all the languages of the world.

Celebrations in Chile

 

(Photo Credit 1: Al Jazeera / Wafa Bani Mustafa) (Photo Credit 2: Guardian / Esteban Felix / AP)