Women in Tihar Jail say NO! to the State’s criminal neglect and abuse

612 women refused to accept death in life in Tihar Jail, New Delhi’s Central Jail. 612 women prisoners in Tihar Jail, South Asia’s largest prison, informed the State that they had been in prison awaiting trial for more than half of the maximum sentence for their various crimes. On Thursday, July 8, responding to a letter by Supreme Court Justice Kurian Joseph, the Delhi High Court decided to take over. Justice Joseph had written directly to the Delhi High Court Chief Justice G. Rohini, the High Court’s first woman Chief Justice, “earnestly” requesting her “to take up the matter appropriately so that the cry for justice is answered in accordance with law with the promptitude with which a mother responds to the cry of her child”.

In a plea to Justice Joseph, the 612 women in Tihar Jail described the cruel separation from their children six years and older; the severe overcrowding of the women’s jail; the insufferable delay in disposal of their cases; the unjust bail bonds conditions; the “lack of sympathy” from the jailhouse courts and doctors; and the inadequacy of legal aid made available to women prisoners.

The women asked to be released immediately on personal bond.

On Friday, July 9, testifying before the High Court, the Delhi government agreed: “Out of 622 inmates, 463 are undertrial prisoners, and there are only 159 convicts.” The Delhi government advocate noted that Jail No. 6, the women’s jail, was designed to hold a maximum of 400 women, and currently holds 622. Effectively, one State agency told another State agency it was time to let my non-people go.

From 1993 to 1995, Tihar Jail, under the direction of Kiran Bedi, was, as its current website still claims, a “harbinger of human rights of prisoners.” Kiran Bedi was dumped in 1995, and, twenty years later, here’s Tihar Jail today, or at least in 2013, the most recent accounting. Tihar Central Jail No. 6, the women’s jail, had a capacity of 400, and a population of 615. Of the 615, 471 were awaiting trial. 77 percent of the women in Tihar were remand prisoners, and in the following year it only worsened. 75 percent of the men in Tihar were also awaiting trial. Last year, The Indian Police Journal noted, “Overcrowding in jails has become a normal feature now. For instance, the latest report on India’s largest jail (Tihar Jail) reveals that it has at present anywhere between 9,000-10,000 inmates as against its total capacity to accommodate around 3,300 prisoners. Consequently, no correctional activities can be carried on successfully under such circumstances.”

Overcrowding and paralysis are the new norm for Tihar. The Ministry of Home Affairs 2013 data confirms this. It reports that, at the end of 2013, 45 remand women prisoners were in Tihar with 47 children: “1,252 women undertrials with their 1,518 children were lodged in various prisons in the country at the end of 2013 … A large number of women undertrials … were lodged in women jails.”

None of this is new. That prison is a special hell for women across India is common knowledge, as is the particular hell designed for “released women prisoners”. Why is Tihar Jail criminally overcrowded? The courts are to blame, along with the police and the general public who care for a second and then move on to more dramatic issues. 612 women in Tihar Jail said NO to all of that: the criminal and universal neglect, the violation of their human rights and dignity, the assault on them as women. In the largest prison comlex in the largest democracy in the world, women said YES to justice and women’s power.

 

(Photo Credit: http://indiatoday.intoday.in)

Teesta Setalvad and the miracle of women’s justice

In India, Narendra Modi’s governet is going to extraordinary lengths to silence and crush social justice activist Teesta Setalvad. While the Indian press has taken up the story, the world press, with the exception of Reuters, has chosen to look the other way. Teesta Setalvad has refused to look the other way, and that’s why she’s in trouble.

In February 2002 “intercommunal” violence erupted in the Indian state of Gujarat. Within a week, over 1000 Muslims had been killed. From the outset, Teesta Setalvad fixed everyone’s eyes on the violence and then on the State’s role in the intensity and expanse of that violence. Narendra Modi was Chief Minister of Gujarat at the time.

While the Modi administration was trying to “explain” the violence as communal, Teesta Setalvad wrote, in 2002, “Despite the fact that the minority community was being attacked by huge and well-armed mobs, Muslims seemed to have been the main target of police firing. Of the 40 people killed in police firing at Morarji Chowk and Charodia Chowk in Ahmedabad on 28 February all were Muslim.”

Women and children were targeted with extreme sexual violence and other forms of torture. Again, Teesta Setalvad immediately made sure everyone understood the police participation in this, “Women bore the brunt of police repression. They were subjected to verbal abuse of a highly sexualized nature and often mercilessly beaten. Even pregnant women were brutally beaten; indeed they seemed to have attracted special attention from the police, and in many cases, the beating was accompanied by statements such as `Let it die before it is born’.”

Teesta Setalvad insisted that the facts must first be determined and then adjudicated. She headed the Concerned Citizens Tribunal, which investigated the entire situation, including the initial incidents, and found rampant and systematic violence against women and girls. The Tribunal worked assiduously and at the end of 2002 released its three volume findings, Crime Against Humanity.

Teesta Setalvad then founded the magazine Communalism Combat; the ngo Citizens for Justice and Peace; and the human rights organization Sabrang, and kept the focus on the State’s guilt in the Gujarat pogroms. In 2012, 32 people, including a former state minister, of involvement in the violence. Teesta Setalvad responded, “For the first time, this judgment actually goes beyond neighborhood perpetrators and goes up to the political conspiracy. The fact that convictions have gone that high means the conspiracy charge has been accepted and the political influencing of the mobs has been accepted by the judge. This is a huge victory for justice.”

In April 2015, the Modi national government placed the Ford Foundation on a national security watch list, because of its funding the Sabrang Trust. The State accused Teesta Setalvad of “disturbing the communal harmony here and carrying out anti-national propaganda against India in foreign countries.”

On July 15, the police raided Teesta Setalvad’s home and offices. Many view this shameful hounding as a concerted campaign of intimidation and suppression. Teesta Setalvad’s response to the most recent assaults shows the power of the pursuit of justice: “Despite being agnostic, we do sometimes believe in miracles. Through the work we have committed our lives to … I have believed in the purity of motive and the sincerity of faith …The struggle for justice for the victims of the Gujarat riots has validated this belief. It has been awe-inspiring to watch the raw courage of witness survivors – firm in the belief that truth is on their side – testifying before the courts. It is their audacity that has led to the life imprisonment of 120 people. The fact that they stood with us, and we with them, has made them unflinchingly loyal to us. Even in these hours when state vendetta has been unleashed upon us, they are praying for us.”

Teesta Setalvad has steadfastly refused to look the other way. She argues for the miracle of solidarity and the necessity for justice. Do not let the world look the other way. Stand with Teesta Setalvad, firm in the belief in the audacity and miracle of women’s justice.

(Photo Credit: twocircles.net) (Image Credit: The Indian Express)

Domestic Violence in Urban India: A Middle-Class Story


While international attention to recent incidents of rape in India has generated urgent attention to the issue of sexual violence there, another type of gender violence has received less attention in these media representations: domestic violence. Domestic violence is a global epidemic–less spectacular but equally deadly, in India and around the world. According to BBC reports, every five minutes, 1 incident of domestic violence is reported in India—a fraction of how much actually occurs. How do we counter domestic violence? Who can and should help victims of domestic violence, who often suffer quietly for years before they are so battered that they muster the courage to leave (as the Hindi film star Rati Agnihotri recently did) or they die (as my cousin and namesake Kavita did)? What NGO or state institutional resources exist, in urban and rural areas? How effective are they? How do we change so many men’s and women’s attitudes and behavior, so that they stop the abuse, and so that they speak up when they see another man or woman being abusive?

The Bell Bajao (Ring the Bell) campaign began in India in 2008, broadcasting 30 second ads on TV depicting men stopping domestic violence in their neighborhood or apartment building: they went to the home where they could hear a woman being beaten and abused, rang the doorbell and asked for some milk, or water, or to borrow a phone. The idea was to let the abuser know they were heard, and to interrupt the violence. The ads have stopped running, but the violence goes on.

Nobody rang the bell for my cousin Kavita. Six years ago, Kavita was living with emotional and verbal abuse throughout her four-year marriage in Mumbai. She was cursed and starved by her mother-in-law, sister-in-law, and husband; he even hit on several occasions. They were not poor-they hid bars of gold in bank lockers-just abusive. She kept hoping that things would change, if her sister-in-law got married, or at least when her beautiful daughter was born. It just got worse. In March 2009, emaciated at 34 years, a frail 5’4” Kavita died under suspicious circumstances, of “kidney and respiratory failure” (with no history of the same). She weighed barely 90 lbs. The doctors did not ask her husband any questions. Everyone knows that many married Indian women die of poisoning by a tasteless colorless chemical often used as a farmer’s pesticide, which causes kidney failure; detection is almost impossible.

I write this today, six years after, so that we don’t forget Kavita and millions of women like her. It is everybody’s responsibility—the parents, the siblings, the neighbors, the friends, the community, each one of us—to speak up, to intervene, to help, and stop the violence when we see it, for women’s human right to live with dignity in a violence-free world. Because when I reached out for help to an NGO serving as a resource in Mumbai for domestic violence victims, I was told “We can’t do anything if the victim is dead. If she was alive, we could have helped her, we could give her a lawyer, we could place her in a shelter. Since victim has died, we cannot do anything.” And the two year-old daughter she left behind will always miss the beautiful, loving mother she never got to know.

 

 

(Photo Credit: Centre for Development and Human Rights)

 

Women Writers Speak and Write Despite Calls for their Death or Exile

Last month, Sabeen Mahmud was shot dead in Karachi after she gave a talk for the second part of a conference on Human Rights in Balochistan that she had organized at her T2F, a bookstore and café. Sharmila Seyyid is living in a safehouse in South India, far away from her home in Sri Lanka, hounded by fundamentalist mullahs in both countries for some of her innocuous statements in a BBC interview. These are women who are speaking openly about the rights of people around them so that men and women might treat each other with respect and dignity. Both created safe places where the imagination could reign freely without fear. Sabeen created T2F (The Second Floor) as “an inclusive space where different kinds of people can be comfortable,” a place where arts, culture and dialogue could live freely.

In the last two decades the South Asian women writers who have received vituperative harassment have included Arundhati Roy, Kutti Revathi, Bama, Sukirtharani, and others we know little about. An Indian woman writer and journalist, married to an Afghan citizen was murdered a couple of years back. Despite threats, many women writers have bravely persisted. Kutti Revathi received hate mail, but has continued to write poetry. Bama and Sukirtharani in Tamil Nadu have persisted despite protests about their feminism. Women before them have been exiled for their seemingly rational views on religion and women’s right to be free of violence: Taslima Nasrin still remains exiled from Bangladesh and lives in Germany.

We continue to hear of women’s writing that is questioned, hated, banned, and sometimes, the authors harassed and exiled.

Why do fundamentalists fear women’s writing? Why is there increasing violence against women writers? What are they speaking about that so threatens religious fundamentalists? Fundamentalists believe in the need to keep society’s patriarchal structure intact, and so women are kept in their place within expected traditional roles, without rights to their minds or bodies. If they thought or spoke independently, it would disrupt the status quo and bring uncertainty to the roles of men and women in society and disrupt men’s dominant place in all branches of society—politics, law, religion, and family. Sabeen and her organization T2F supported the cause of an independent Balochistan. She invited Mama Qadeer, the separatist activist, and other panelists for her last series of two conferences entitled “ Unsilencing Balochistan.”

The Pakistani secret services have been accused of being responsible for the disappearance and execution of many activists in Balochistan who were working on restoring justice. Sabeen Mahmud was one of the rare women who had the courage to stand up against this injustice.

Sharmila questioned the system of purdah and freely wrote about rights of sex workers. Kutti Revathi writes uninhibitedly about woman’s bodies. Nasrin is openly atheist and argues for women’s freedom from male oppression within Islam. Bama questions caste and male oppression. Roy argues openly for Adivasi people’s right to live without being murdered by the Indian government. Soni Sori, an Adivasi teacher and organizer, has been tortured under police custody. Why? Because she advocates for minimum wages and for Adivasi women’s rights. Why do the police want her in jail? “[Because] she has taken on powerful companies that want the Adivasis’ land, and the Chhattisgarh government that supports these companies. She has taken on the police for their illegal activities”.

Fundamentalists deliberately refuse to acknowledge the tradition of female outspokenness that is part of literary, artistic, and faith traditions. If they are not literate or educated in history and the arts, perhaps their ignorance plays a role in this blind acceptance of a conventional gender division. Worse yet, government support of neoliberal agendas makes officials the henchmen of corporations, colluding with fundamentalist ideology. Sabeen Mahmud was assassinated at the time China put $46 billion on the table to sign a strategic agreement with Pakistan, creating an energy corridor through Balochistan to the Arabian Sea at the deepwater Port Gwadar, Pakistan.

Neoliberalism and fundamentalism see women’s silence as important to the sovereignty of corporations and organized/structural religion. The woman who talks, questions, imagines, writes, wonders is a nightmare for fundamentalism and neoliberalism. So the only thing that can be done to stop this thinking humanistic female machine is to kill or exile her. But as we see in so many examples around us, women writers, artists, filmmakers continue to do what they think they have to do, because there is no other way they know how to live meaningfully. Death threats cannot stop them from saying what they need to say. They must be heard and read beyond borders!

 

(Photo Credits: tribune.com.pk)

The World Bank is (still) bad for women, children, men, and all living creatures

The World Bank is still bad for women, children, men, and all living creatures. While not surprising news, it is the result of a mammoth research project carried on by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and their partners. Journalists pored through more than 6000 World Bank documents and interviewed past and current World Bank employees and government officials involved in World Bank funded projects. They found that, in the past decade, an investment of over 60 billion dollars directly fueled the loss of land and livelihood for 3.4 million slum dwellers, farmers, and villagers. That’s a pretty impressive rate of non-return, all in the name of modernization, villagization, electrification, and, of course, empowerment. Along with sowing displacement and devastation, the World Bank has also invested heavily in fossil-based fuels. All of this is in violation of its own rules.

Women are at the core of this narrative, and at every stage. There’s Gladys Chepkemoi and Paulina Sanyaga, indigenous Sengwer who lost their homes and houses, livestock and livelihoods, and almost lost their lives to a World Bank-financed forest conservation program in western Kenya’s Cherangani Hills. In 2013, Bimbo Omowole Osobe, a resident of Badia East, a slum in Lagos, lost nearly everything to a World Bank funded urban renewal zone. Osobe was one of thousands who suffered “involuntary resettlement” when Badia East was razed in no time flat. Today, she’s an organizes with Justice and Empowerment Initiatives, a group of slum dwellers fighting mass evictions. Aduma Omot lost everything in the villagization program in Ethiopia, a World Bank funded campaign that has displaced and demeaned untold Anuak women in the state of Gambella. In the highlands of Peru, Elvira Flores watched as her entire herd of sheep suddenly died, thanks to the cyanide that pours out of the World Bank funded Yanachocha Gold mine, the same mine that Maxima Acuña de Chaupe and her family have battled.

The people at ICIJ promise further reports from India, Honduras, and Kosovo. While the vast majority of the 3.4 million people physically or economically displaced by World Bank-backed projects live in Africa or Asia, no continent goes untouched. Here’s the tally of the evicted, in a mere decade: Asia: 2,897,872 people; Africa: 417,363 people; South America: 26,262 people; Europe: 5,524 people; Oceania: 2,483 people; North America: 855 people; and Island States: 90 people. The national leaders of the pack are, in descending order: Vietnam, China, India, Ethiopia, and Bangladesh. It’s one giant global round of hunger games, brought to you by the World Bank.

None of this is new. In 2011, Gender Action and Friends of the Earth reported on the gendered broken promises of the World Bank financed Chad-Cameroon Oil Pipeline and West African Gas Pipelines: “The pipelines increased women’s poverty and dependence on men; caused ecological degradation that destroyed women’s livelihoods; discriminated against women in employment and compensation; excluded women in consultation processes; and led to increased prostitution … Women in developing countries have paid too high a price.” The bill is too damn high.

In 2006, Gender Action and the CEE Bankwatch Network found that women suffered directly from World Bank funded oil pipeline projects in Azerbaijan, Georgia and Sakhalin: “Increased poverty, hindered access to subsistence resources, increased occurrence of still births, prostitution, HIV/AIDS and other diseases in local communities.”

There’s the impact on women of ignoring, or refusing to consider, unpaid care work in Malawi, Mali, Niger, and Rwanda, and the catastrophic impacts on women of World Bank funded austerity programs in Greece. And the list goes on.

So, what is to be done? Past experience suggests that the World Bank is too big to jail. How about beginning by challenging and changing the development paradigms and projects on the ground? No development that begins from outside. Absolutely no development that isn’t run by local women and other vulnerable sectors. While the World Bank refuses to forgive debts, globally women are forced to forgive the World Bank’s extraordinary debt each and every second of each and every day. This must end. Stop all mass evictions. Start listening to the women, all over the world, who say, “We need our voices heard.”

 

(Photo credit: El Pais / SERAC)

Indian rural women say NO! to the theft and devastation of their lands and lives

 

In India, last month, rural women shouted, “Enough is enough!” They marched, organized, and raised a ruckus about proposals to make corporate and State land “acquisition” easier and more “efficient.” They marched by the thousands to Delhi to express more than opposition. They went to articulate the value of their presence. And they promised that if no one in authority listened, they would return by the tens and hundreds of thousands.

In 2013, the Indian government passed a Land Acquisition Act that addressed consent, public purpose and urgency, and social impact. While the 2013 law had issues, it began a process of democratizing land acquisition. Local populations had to be consulted. The State was under stricter guidelines and controls concerning its capacity to declare a public need or urgency and thereby seize land. Social impact, such as mass dislocation, would have to be factored in. These provisions have complicated large scale land purchase, and so the new government has decided to prove its corporate creds by erasing over 65% of the national population. After all, farming communities are surely the source of India’s poverty, not “big capital [which] could get away with unconscionable waste, choke off all credit in the economy, externalise their costs on to society and flout regulation” and certainly not “the state [which] could fritter away vast land resources without any accountability.”

The new bill has been called anti-farmer, anti-Dalit, anti-poor, anti-women, and so Dalit women, tribal women, poor women, and women farmers united and went to Delhi. Kallan, from Uttar Pradesh, explained the women’s mobilization, “You see, men are scared of police. They flee at the first sign of trouble. We do not. Take us anywhere — to the police station, to the court anywhere, we will go… We will only go home when we get out patta (land documents).”

Sabubai, a tribal woman from Madhya Pradesh, agrees, “The farmers near our village sold off their land to the government, they wanted money and the land was to be used for a sugar factory. We are sharecroppers, we never owned the land. But we wrested it back from them. We have it now, but not the patta… we want the patta too.”

Baldiya Rana, an Adivasi from Assam, asked why the State is “so desperate to cease tribal cultivation close to forests, however encourage tree felling for firms”. Adivasis make up 8.6 percent of the Indian population, and 40 percent of those displaced by “improvement tasks.” Of those Adivasis who have been displaced, only 21 percent have been resettled.

Dalit farm laborer Hiranya Devi, from Uttar Pradesh, noted, “If solely the landowner will get a job and rehabilitation in trade, then the lots of like me will come and fill your cities. Anyway, that’s the place all of the street, electrical energy and water goes.”

Konsa Bai, a tribal woman from Madhya Pradesh, put it succinctly, “We have no land. Only big people have land in the village.”

Life for rural women has never been easy, anywhere in South Asia, and the everyday struggle for survival has always been hard. Where the food has been grown, hunger has always stalked women and children first. But recent years have been catastrophic. From 2001 to 2011, the number of women agricultural laborers increased 24 percent, while the total number of women farmers dropped 14 percent. Of nearly 98 million Indian women who have agricultural jobs, around 63% are agricultural laborers, dependent on the farms of others. Force women off their own land and then force them to return as laborers, in order to barely survive. It’s an old story and a very new one, and it’s part of the reason women marched to Delhi. They have seen the cost of `shining development’, and they know it targets women, viciously and violently.

Last month, thousands of women went to Delhi to say NO to the theft and devastation of their lands and lives. They went to say YES to their own dignity, to affirm the value of their presence and lives. That was last month. And next month … ?

 

(Photo Credit: BBC / AFP)

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)

Love and Moral Panic in India

kiss-of-love-protest.jpg.image.784.410-4

A couple kissing inside a police van while they were being taken away by the police from the protest site in Kochi.

In August 2013, a 22-year-old Hindu woman in Meerut, a town India’s Uttar Pradesh (UP) state, claimed she had been abducted, gang-raped, and forcibly converted to Islam. Right-wing Hindu groups held her up as an example of their campaign against love-jihad, or the alleged rape of Hindu girls by Muslim men to force them into marriage and convert them to Islam.

With a national election expected in April 2014, and the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) campaigning in UP, the timing of the Meerut case was significant. It spurred Hindu-Muslim violence in UP in August and September 2013. Around 60 people were killed, 93 injured, and tens of thousands displaced (link opens PDF), many permanently. In the May 2014 election, the BJP made substantial gains not just in UP but nationwide, and its candidate, Narendra Modi, became India’s Prime Minister.

Less than five months into Modi’s tenure, the Meerut woman revealed that the “love-jihad” was in fact a love story. She informed the police that she had not been abducted or gang-raped, but had eloped with a Muslim man. Fearing that her family and society would harm her, she sought refuge in a women’s shelter.

Her dramatic volte face blew a huge hole through the BJP’s election campaign. But it would be naïve to conclude that the “love-jihad” rhetoric will now subside, or that the BJP is substantially weakened. To understand why, we must consider both sides of the hyphen.

The “jihad” part is significant in India’s largely Hindu nationalist, anti-Muslim, and often anti-western context. Prime Minister Modi, often portrayed as modern, forward-looking, and statesman-like has refused to apologize for the pogrom that occurred on his watch in 2002, in which around 1,000 Muslims were killed. Today, Modi enjoys rock-star status at home and among the Indian diaspora (many Indian-Americans, for instance, feel a connection because they share Modi’s Gujarati heritage). However, his party’s growing grassroots base in India consists overwhelmingly of ultra-conservative, often violent, Hindu groups, including the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. Stirring Hindu-Muslim animosity has become a replicable and increasingly efficient political strategy for the BJP. This is, of course, not to deny that Muslims also contribute to growing communalism (in the South Asian context, “communalism” refers to Hindu-Muslim animosity) and violence.

But the other side of the hyphen – love – is perhaps more revealing. The threat is not just jihad; it is as vast and amorphous as love itself. At a recent public meeting on “love-jihad” in New Delhi, film maker Nakul Sawhney shared video footage of election campaigns in riot-affected UP. It showed how the BJP had made a concerted effort to woo khaps (councils of local caste patriarchs). Khaps have long regulated relationship choices in many villages by endorsing child marriage, sentencing women to be raped, murdering defiant couples and persecuting others. Khaps have no legal authority, and their methods are, of course, criminal. Sawhney said the BJP had wooed the khaps – hitherto unconcerned with anti-Muslim politics – to gain mass support for the election, and thus fused violent local patriarchy with its communal agenda.

The other speaker at the event, Kavita Krishnan, secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association, added that if people were free to choose whom they marry, caste boundaries would be erased, and so would the power that maintained them. She likened the fear of this erasure to the Nazis’ fear of miscegenation. She also argued that the collusion of communalism and patriarchy was not confined to Hindus or Muslims. Two decades of economic liberalization in India had increasingly drawn women into the workforce. Their growing independence was a threat to patriarchy, and this has caused the violent backlash that seeks to keep women in a state of dependence and “protection”.

As another example of how love threatened the patriarchy, she noted that leaders of several faiths stood united in their support for Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, a colonial-era law that makes “unnatural” sexual acts illegal and thus makes all homosexual relationships criminal.

On November 2, a protest in Kerala state drew national attention to this fear of love. After a BJP youth group attacked a café where a couple was kissing, a handful of people organized #KissOfLove, a mass kissing event, in Kochi. The goal was to protest “moral policing” and demand the right to express love in public spaces.

Despite demands to ban the protest, the court refused to interfere with the November 2 protest (a legal precedent (PDF) has established that kissing in public is not illegal). Despite this, the protest did not take place, as its opponents reportedly outnumbered the would-be kissers and tried to attack them, and its organizers were arrested as a preventative measure. So although the court saw no reason to intervene, the vigilante “moral police” and the actual police closed ranks against the protest. Those arrested were not charged with any crime.

#KissOfLove did not go as planned, but there have been more such protests in quick succession. Love is becoming a political issue in India, where 46% of the population is 15 to 44 years old. Valentine’s Day – always a fraught occasion in India – is still months away, but it promises to be interesting.

 

(Photo credit: Josekutty Panackal/Manorama)

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)

The scale of India’s “one small incident of rape”

According to India’s National Crime Records Bureau, in 2013, there were, nationally, 33,707 rape cases, up precipitously from 24, 923 in 2012. New Delhi suffered the highest incident of rape, accounting for 1,636 cases in 2013. That’s up from 706 in 2012. Mumbai, Jaipur and Pune, the next three cities with the highest reported incidents of rape, together had 754 rape cases in 2013. In 2013, in 13,304 of the reported cases, the victim was a minor. In 2012, that number was 9,082. Finally, in 94% of the cases, the offender was “familiar to the accused”: a parent, neighbor, relative other than parent, or someone else. 94%.

These numbers are beyond disturbing.

Last month, India’s Finance Minister Arun Jaitley raised a storm of protest when he reflected, “One small incident of rape in Delhi advertised world over is enough to cost us millions of dollars in terms of lower tourism.” The “one small incident” was the 2012 gang-rape and murder of a young woman, now known as the Nirbhaya case. Nirbhaya means fearless.

When protests exploded all around him, the Finance Minister regretted his words, and, of course, the ways in which they had been “misconstrued”. As witness to his recantation, the formal, published version of the Finance Minister’s talk removed the word “small.”

While the diminishment of a terrible event of violence against a woman, and of violence against women, was horrible, and according to many of the responses and critiques much worse, the reduction of sexual violence to an economic equation is equally problematic and wrong. If the `one small incident of rape’ only cost, say, a thousand dollars, would it then be fine? Would it then not be a matter of concern for India’s Finance Minister? Is finance exclusively and only a matter of hard, cold cash, and curiously that of other nations?

There are calls – from the victim’s family, from women’s groups, and from the general citizenry – for the Finance Minister to resign. It’s not enough. Words of repentance and regret are fine, but they do not suffice. Arun Jaitley is part of State power. He has been for years, both in the opposition and now in Cabinet. Let him and his colleagues say less and do more. If they feel they must talk, let them say, publically, that as members of State they take full responsibility for the 33,707 women and girls.

But the place to show real remorse is in the national budget. Invest in those organisations in India that are sisters to organisations such as Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust in South Africa, organisations made up of women and men, made up of individuals and communities, hard at work at the coalface of sexual violence. Incidents of reported rape rose 35% in one year. Raise the budget for prevention of sexual violence and for care for survivors of sexual violence by 70%. Don’t talk about the millions of dollars lost to “one small incident of rape.” Instead, invest in stopping violence against women. Be fearless.

(Photo Credit: Al Jazeera)

(This is part of a collaboration between Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust and Women In and Beyond the Global. The original, in a different version, can be found here. Thanks to the staff and volunteers at Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust for their great and urgent work.)