November 21, 2013
“NWMI Demands Institutional Redress of Sexual Harassment and Assault”
Recent developments at the weekly news magazine Tehelka demonstrate that media houses have a long way to go in ensuring safety for women media professionals.
A journalist working with Tehelka revealed that she was sexually assaulted by the editor, Tarun Tejpal, on two occasions on 7 and 8 November 2013. The repeated harassment and assault over two days took place during Tehelka’s “Think” festival in Goa where the journalist was carrying out her professional duties. While Tarun Tejpal is purportedly “atoning” for what he terms “an error of judgement” by stepping down as editor for six months, we believe that this is simply not enough. Institutional mechanisms must be set in place to investigate the complaint of sexual assault, prosecute the perpetrator, and deal with future cases.
Sexual harassment of women journalists at the workplace is not new. The NWMI has issued several statements over the years in response to specific cases but also calling upon all media houses to comply with the law, which has been in existence since the Vishaka Guidelines were issued by the Supreme Court of India in 1997. There has been plenty of time and opportunity for media houses to establish the necessary mechanisms, as required by the law.
More recently, the Sexual Harassment at the Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, which was signed into law on 22 April, is a significant civil remedy that recognises women’s right to a safe work environment free of sexual harassment. The onus is on the employer, who is responsible for ensuring such an environment and is to be held liable in case of any violations. If the complainant wishes to pursue criminal prosecution, the employer is also duty bound to assist her in doing so.
In this case it appears that Tarun Tejpal’s actions go beyond sexual harassment and fall under the definition of sexual assault, according the new Criminal Law Amendment, 2013.
More and more courageous women are speaking out about sexual harassment at the workplace, by judges, politicians, and senior journalists. It is high time that mechanisms were set put in place, as required under the law, to ensure that the rule of law operates and perpetrators are brought to justice. Recent experiences in Sun TV, Doordarshan and All India Radio, to name just a few, revealed that not only private media organisations but even the state/public broadcasters were not compliant with the law.
The NWMI demands that media houses across the country comply with the law by setting up of sexual harassment complaints and redressal committees within the workplace that include at least one member external to the organisation with relevant knowledge and experience in dealing with such matters. It should be noted that the internal complaint mechanism is to be set in place and its existence made known to all employees irrespective of whether or not a complaint has been made or is anticipated. Compliance with the law is the very least that mediawomen expect of the media which are, after all, supposed to be the watchdogs of society.
While Tarun Tejpal and senior management at Tehelka
may prefer to view the matter of sexual assault on a colleague as an “internal” issue to be compensated for with “atonement and penance,” we demand institutional action that will not only ensure justice for the complainant in this particular instance but also lead to real organisational reform that will benefit all employees in the future.
- Setting up of a Complaints Committee by all media houses, including Tehelka, to deal with sexual harassment at the workplace
- An independent inquiry into the incident of sexual harassment/assault during the “Think” festival and punishment for the guilty in accordance with the law
- Assistance from the organisation in filing a case under the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013, should the survivor in this instance wish to initiate criminal proceedings.
We believe the news media, which cover the transgressions of other members/sections of society, have a responsibility to look within, too. At the same time we think it is important for the media to refrain from circulating details that could reveal the survivor’s identity and/or are merely titillating and do not serve any public purpose.
Ammu Joseph, Bangalore
Laxmi Murthy, Bangalore
Kalpana Sharma, Mumbai
Sameera Khan, Mumbai
Rajashri Dasgupta, Kolkata
Neha Dixit, New Delhi
Kavin Malar, Chennai
Kavitha Muralidharan, Chennai
On behalf of the Network of Women in Media, India
November 18, 2013
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A few days back the social networks were heralding Anurag Kashyap as the newest feminist on the block. Curious, I decided to click the link on my friend’s Facebook timeline that lead me to watch the cause of such praises- his short film. Titled ‘That Day after Everyday’, the synopsis of the film described it as dealing with the serious issue of ‘eve teasing’. Therein began my reservations about the film. I think women have debated, ad nauseum, about terms like ‘eve teasing’ which do nothing but trivialize the issue of sexual harassment. Such terms break down the harsh reality of the phenomenon to bite-sized morsels that easily slip into the prevalent social psyche, to be easily digested and burped out.
To watch on Youtube, click here: That Day After Everyday
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The film shows three middle-class working women, two of whom we see come from families that are not very supportive of them going out of their homes to work. While one has a husband who keeps spouting age-old clichés of how women should not argue with men on the road or retaliate when someone says something, the other has a mother-in-law who thinks she should stay home and look after her son and exclaims at how her hands used to be soft before she started working. They go to work with another woman, whose family we have no clue about, and the film traces how they are harassed at every step of their commute from home to work and back- there are young boys in the locality who (not so secretly) take videos of these women on their mobile phones, men on the bus who fall on them each time the brakes are applied, men at the workplace who secretly record the movements of one of the women and pass lewd comments and, most seriously, there is a group of local goons who regularly harass them on their way to and from work.
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On the said ‘that day’, the leader of the goons physically assaults one of them. While the two other women run away from the scene, the third only manages to escape later and runs for her dear honour. It is on the same day that one of them decides to hit back at a man’s genitals when he throws himself at her in a crowded bus. Later that evening, we see the three women coming out of a self-defence class and asking the instructor when they’d be ready to fight the goons- they are answered in the shape of a cliché ‘jab tum darna bandh karoge, tab (when you stop being scared, then).’ On the way back to their homes, they encounter the goons and decide that ‘that day’ has come. Out come their knuckle dusters and the three women manage to take on the goons with a fine display of their newly acquired moves and kicks- obviously in front of a group of men who just watch but do nothing. Their trainer ‘didi’ too watches on, feeling like a proud mother of a six-year-old who has just won the lemon and spoon race. The film ends with the lecturing husband making tea for the wife who is now a hero, for the first time in his life (as is made evident by the fact that he does not know how much sugar she takes) and lecturing her now instead on how she did the right thing and how such things should be done.
I will go back to what I started with. The film comes from a person who refers to ‘sexual harassment’ as ‘eve teasing’. His perspective is coloured by this. Like the absolutely revolting Delhi Police advertisement featuring Farhan Akhtar, this film sets out to raise a voice against gender-based violence but gets caught within the rut of the same parochial thought. For starters, it fails to provide an answer beyond the paradigm of violence. It says that these things will happen, so get your knuckle dusters out; never once does it say that we should do things differently for them to not happen at all.
The prevalent discourse surrounding any gender-based violence says that women ask for it- their skirts are too short, they talk too loudly, they roam around at night, they walk alone etc. The onus is on the woman to avoid being harassed. With all the talk around rape for the last one year, the onus, weirdly, has just been strengthened and curiously enough, we have begun asking questions like ‘why wasn’t she carrying a pepper spray?’ and ‘why couldn’t she call a cab?’ If the film is to be followed and heralded as the ‘How to Avoid Rape 101’, we will soon be asking even weirder questions like ‘Where was her knuckle duster?’ and ‘Why didn’t she train in taekwondo?’ What we don’t realise is that these things never help in addressing patriarchy but only add to the ever-growing fear psychosis in society and its people- especially amongst women. What kind of a country are we trying to build if we are saying that women can’t move around on the streets safely if they aren’t trained in martial arts? Are we not indirectly propagating the ‘Stay Home or Get Raped’ idea even more strongly? Why should it take the fear of a bunch of angry, kicking women for men to stop jumping on to them on deserted streets, and why should this fear be the only way to prevent men from groping them in crowded buses?
I must clarify that I am not against women learning self defence at all- what I am against is the hammering in of the idea that this knowledge is now their only saviour from sexual harassment; what I am against is telling my three-year-old niece that when she grows up, she necessarily needs to be a shouting, shrieking, kicking, violent person just so she can walk to her friend’s house in the adjoining neighbourhood safely. I am against the idea of being made to consider all men as threats, as subjects of fury who I will need to vanquish in order to just be safe (of course, one of the women in the film is called Durga).
After December 16 last year we have spoken of un-learning fear, we have taken back nights and claimed our streets but what does it reduce women to if we fall back into the same frame of thought which tells us to forever wear our knuckle dusters and hold on tight to our pepper sprays? If these are our streets, why should we fight to be walking on them? Most importantly, what does it reduce men to? People who are naturally programmed to harass, whose natural states of being thrive on groping, whistling, throwing acid, raping, inserting rods, killing and so on; people who necessarily have to be scared into behaving themselves, into keeping their pants on. What we often forget is that the only way we can bring down gender-based violence is by having the two sexes co-exist symbiotically, with mutual respect between them. Speaking for myself, I will never respect someone who I am forever being taught to see as a threat. Conversely, why will a man respect a woman whose anger he is taught to fear but whose refusal he isn’t taught to consider important?
Continuing with its love for clichés and absolutely hackneyed representations, the trainer ‘didi’s’ portrayal ticks off every box in the book of ‘feminist’ stereotypes. She obviously has short hair, smokes and is the brooding sort who doesn’t talk much beyond mouthing clichéd advice. More disturbingly here, there is a distinct class divide too- she owns an SUV which she uses to drop these women home and is dressed in track pants while the women continue to be in their salwar kameezes even post the martial arts training class. Her class position allows her to negotiate the streets in her track pants which leaves her in a position where she can stand and freely patronize these women with her clichés. When the three women fight the goons, she stands aside- letting ‘them’ fight their own little battle. My biggest problem with the film is that it never becomes her battle. Like the crowd of men (one of whom is the woman’s lecturing husband), she too becomes an audience to the fight- only looking on proudly at the warriors she has made out of the upma-making, forehead-massaging women. There is an inherent sense of condescension that disturbs me. If she can walk up to the scene of the fight from her car, why can’t she join in too?
I believe it is time we thought beyond these set paradigms and vocabularies. We don’t need to be the Madonna, we don’t need to be the Whore and neither do we need to be the Lara Croft, in order to demand to be safe in our own cities. The answer to rape is not an ever-growing fear psychosis, the answer does not lie in the little sprays we carry in our bags everyday; it lies in the not-so-radical and extremely simple practice of respecting sexes- both your own and the other. It starts with little things like letting the woman feel that she doesn’t need to sit there with her heart in her mouth just because the only other passenger on the bus is a man and letting the man on the road know that he isn’t any less of a man if he doesn’t keep sidelining your car to the pavement. I may be talking of a utopia here- something that filmmakers don’t even see a point in attempting to portray- but then, what are we even living for if there isn’t any hope?
Till then, I am quite all right with making my own tea and putting my own sugar in it.
November 14, 2013
Some educational institutions in India follow a policy of gender equality, but in practice there exist subtle forms of gender power relations and a disciplining of the female body. Despite the fact that boys and girls study together, play together, have access to the same resources, gender socialisation plays a role in ways in which certain disciplinary norms are at work.
When I turned 21, in my final year of college, I was gifted my first mobile phone. It was a very basic model and only allowed me to make and receive calls and messages among a few other basic functions like the calculator, alarm clock etc. Some of my friends too had a mobile, and as young people in the first decade of the 21st
century, we gladly exchanged jokes via the medium of messages. Some of these jokes which circulated among my friends and me during that time – mostly girl friends and a select few boys – were ‘non-veg jokes’ or jokes with a certain degree of sexual content. One day I sent one such joke, a witty one at that, to a girl friend. When she received my message, she was intercepted by a male friend who on reading the message, immediately exclaimed with much shock along the following lines “what a dirty joke, oh my god, she sends these kinds of jokes!” And the news spread.
Before I knew, everyone knew that I sent and received non-veg jokes via sms. I was immediately told by some friends that the jokes that I sent to a male friend in the hostel was read by all the boys there. Boys started telling me that I sent dirty jokes, and that they would not communicate with me through sms. It came to the point where boys refused to have my mobile number because I sent ‘dirty jokes’!
At that time I was amused at the whole incident. It did not really strike me as basically problematic. But now I can read the complexities of the whole ‘harmless little’ incident.
The reaction to the message came from the young men. And suddenly these same young men who would watch porn slyly on the side, were scandalised by a young woman exchanging a witty joke with sexual material with another woman. It was almost as if, for the men in question, the woman who was worth keeping in touch with or considering part of one’s social circle was someone who was devoid of any interest in sexuality or sexual material. It was a subtle process of ‘slut shaming’
and excluding women who have any interest in sexuality. It brought to light the Madonna-whore complex at work in the young men’s minds and how this binary of the good woman/bad woman orders everyday interactions.
And this took place in a college which prided itself on being ‘equal’ to men and women, which believed that gender identity was not imposed on any of its students. If one were to ask the women, I am certain one would hear of of many more such incidents. But because of the gender neutral policy, the space to talk meaningfully about prejudices was missing.
Merely having a policy about equal access to resources does not make any space gender-neutral or even gender-less, or equal. The socialisation of students among themselves often betrays some amount of misogyny. It does not change how a boy perceives women and categorises them into the binaries of the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ woman, or the Madonna-whore complex. For instance in a heterogeneous group comprised of boys and girls, boys might prefer the fairer girls and thinner ones and might exclude or shame the ones who do not adhere to a normative sense of the feminine. When this happens, the space to protest, resist or seek some form of equality and justice is suddenly missing. This is so because the school space, which is supposed to be ‘gender-neutral’ or ‘gender-transcendental’ does not recognise these every day acts of the disciplining of the female body. At the same time, having a gender-neutral policy makes one incapable of literally speaking about what has recently been coined ‘slut shaming’. ‘Slut shaming’ in a gender-neutral college then renders the very act unspeakable. Those who protest or dissent then carry the burden of being gendered, or worrying too much about gender in a gender-less world, just like those who talk about caste discrimination suddenly carry the burden of caste, absolving the higher castes of any caste identity.
One way to think about such acts of “slut shaming” that one cannot name is by thinking through the ideas associated with postfeminism. Postfeminism is a term used to herald a time when equality is supposedly reached and when feminism is then no longer required. Postfeminism can be thought of as an epistemic break from the second wave, but most importantly it is played out in the context of media culture and is often bemoaned as lacking a political agenda. Postfeminism is contextually located in a neoliberal and globalised first world space where there is a constant emphasis on choice and empowerment through a language of the media and globalisation (Gill 2007a). Rosalind Gill and Angela McRobbie warn us against taking this ‘choice’ discourse at face value and try to critically think about the problems and implications of the constant occupations with the self and the body. This move from sexual object to sexual subject is not totally unproblematic (Gill 2007a). Rosalind Gill (2007b) argues that one needs to look at the way power works in these contexts. One needs to be wary of being celebratory of this media discourse of ‘choice’ and unpack the ways in which it interpellates women into normalised roles.
Following from Bartky’s reading of Foucault’s modernisation of power, Rosalind Gill (2007a) looks at how the female body is overly sexualised and why one needs to be critical of this move. At the same time, Gill observes a returning to the traditional pleasures of femininity: the heterosexual family, giving up work, taking the husband’s name among a few other things. Gill sees this as telling us two things: one, the 'return of the repressed' and second, as prefeminist ideas being repackaged as postfeminism. These do not challenge normative heterosexual femininity. The danger that Gill reads into it is that all of this is packaged in the language of neoliberal individualism.
It is in this postfeminist context that Rosalind Gill (2011a) argues that it’s time to use the word sexism again and recover it from its previous meanings. She looks at the new forms that sexism takes in the present context, where equality is assumed and yet where men are privileged in various ways. These inequalities are those which exist outside the strategies which are used to challenge these inequalities: like anti-discrimination laws etc. Rosalind Gill calls them unspeakable inequalities: “largely unnoticed and unspoken about even by those most adversely affected by them” (Gill, 2011: 5). Talking about it in the contemporary media workplace, she says that the new and mutated form of sexism which exists works precisely through “the invalidation and annihilation of any language for talking about structural inequalities. The potency of sexism lies in its very unspeakability” (Gill, 2011: 5).
My own experiences of the unspeakable inequalities that play out in spaces which have a gender-neutral policy, especially in educational spaces reflect precisely such postfeminist notions. What happens when one has formal equality between boys and girls in educational institutions? What are the spaces for resistance then based on gender discrimination? How do women and men negotiate with these in such an environment?
Gill, Rosalind (2007a) “Postfeminist Media Culture: Elements of a Sensibility”. European Journal of Cultural Studies
, 10 (2): 147-166.
Gill, Rosalind. (2007b). “Critical Respect: The Difficulties and Dilemmas of Agency and ‘Choice’ for Feminism”. European Journal of Women’s Studies
. 14(1): 69–80.
Gill, Rosalind. (2011) “Sexism Reloaded, or, It’s Time to Get Angry Again”. Feminist Media Studies
‘Slut shaming’ is a way in which women who do not confirm to gender expectations or who act on/acknowledge sexual feelings are made to feel inferior and/or are discriminated against. This is done in multiple ways and needn’t involve the use of the word ‘slut’ or any other related word.
November 10, 2013
In times not very different from our own, there were three girls. 'Good' girls, all of them. They came from middle-class families. They dressed up 'decently' and had 'respectable' jobs. Almost as a routine practice, however, they were sexually harassed- on the street, on their way to work and even at work. Not surprisingly, their families feared ill consequences and were of the opinion that the girls should learn to ignore it all. But then, our girls were different. They took charge. And guess what? They joined a self defence class! And then the miracle happened. Thanks to the physical and mental strength induced by their liberated, cigarette smoking instructor, they did not only beat up the bad men on the street but also caused a magical transformation of their conservative families, even the man at home who endorsed chowmein's role in the perpetuation of sexual crimes against women. Well, that in short, is Anurag Kashyap's 'That Day after Everyday'
, the film which is being touted as a powerful narrative on sexual harassment in recent times.
By the time, I watched ‘That Day After Everyday’, it had already been tagged as a 'must-watch' film on an issue as sensitive and complex as sexual harassment. And my news feed on facebook seemed to have religiously dedicated itself to the task of selling the film to me, with laudatory posts from a lot of my friends, many of whom I hold in high regard. With great expectations then, I prepared myself for Kashyap's masterpiece on an issue that I feel strongly about.
After watching the film, however, I am not just mildly disappointed but exceptionally angry. Angry, because, with one stroke, Kashyap and his film seem to have rendered illegitimate and almost silly, the fear I and so many other women have experienced each time we have been sexually harassed- all the times I have frozen at the touch of a man who threw himself on me in a bus, or looked around awkwardly when I saw a man staring at my chest, or have been paralyzed at the recollection of the man who masturbated at an arm's distance from me when I was nine years old and too young to even register what was happening. Much less to render a sharp blow, like the young women in Kashyap's film. 'That Day after Everyday' seems to be telling me that I could have avoided all of that if only I had been proactive, perhaps taken self-defence classes myself. In other words, that the onus of protecting myself lies squarely on my shoulders. Most significantly, it tells me that I should accept the complicity of the state and our social order at large and move on.
I wish to clarify here that I have nothing against self defence classes or women who choose to attend them. One must understand, however, that advocating a 'solution' like this is fundamentally based on the age-old premise that asks women to 'protect' themselves against rape and can very conveniently lead to or blend with victim-blaming. In a sense then, it is not very different from asking women to wear the 'right' clothes. But then, the women in Kashyap's film wear the 'right' clothes. And this is another area where Kashyap takes the easy route. He creates for us a vision of 'good' middle-class women, who therefore do nothing to 'invite' harassment, and the audience can safely sympathize with them without being compelled to question their own ideas about women’s proper place
. Though the film does tell us that women in salwar-kameez can also be abused and thus, to some extent, challenges the oft-made connect between dressing and harassment, it would have been interesting to see a 'provocatively-dressed' woman being posited as the one who is just as 'worthy' as the 'respectable, middle class woman' of not getting sexually violated. By not doing that, however, the film has reinforced the ‘good girl and the slut’ binary.
My biggest apprehension at this point stems from the way in which the film is masquerading as being 'progressive' which tends to obfuscate the fact that women continue to be seen as responsible for their own well being. This obfuscation makes the film particularly dangerous. On the surface, it appears to be lending women some agency by telling them that they are not docile or submissive creatures and can stand up to the gross injustices against them. Some women also feel that the film has been able to make them feel more confident about themselves. While I do not intend to strip the film off any merit at all, I wish for the surface to be scratched a little so that the limited nature of the so-called agency can be exposed. 'That Day after Everyday' is founded on the same old logic of transfer of responsibility from the perpetrator or the state to the victim. It is just as leery of asking difficult, important questions. And the danger lies in the fact that it makes these questions seem almost irrelevant. I wonder if it occurred to many to dwell upon the sheer absence of the police from the film's narrative except the tokenistic symbolic appearance towards the end, in 1970s Bollywood style.
The film invites complacency with the fact that the state machinery has little business with questions of women's abuse. It invites a complacency with the fact that we live in a society where self-defence for women seems to be a better idea than gender-sensitization for men. And inspite of being incredibly conformist in so many ways, the film is able to present itself as a ‘progressive’ take on the issue. The manner in which the film is being perceived perhaps has a lot to do with the fact that it is directed by someone like Anurag Kashyap, the man who holds the claim to “do” realism like nobody else in the industry. He is believed to be the one who pushes boundaries, experiments with new ideas and challenges the established ones. And with a reputation like that in place, it becomes all the more difficult to question the not-so-visible biases in his film. His work enjoys a certain legitimacy which also makes it appear like something radically new or progressive. While this is by no means a comment on Kashyap's larger body of work, I will certainly take the liberty of saying that 'That Day after Everyday' is the same old wine in a bottle that manages to look new. It is at best redundant, at worst counter-productive. It is a subtle mockery of fear that women continue to face at the hands of men not just on the street but those residing in posh bungalows too. It is one of the many attempts to absolve the perpetrator and the state of any responsibility. And it is certainly not THAT film after every film.
November 06, 2013
New Perspectives on Sexual Offenses in India: Examining Laws and Public Discourse
Date and time
: Monday, November 11, 2013; 6.30 pm to 8 pm.
Wiegan Room, Arts & Sciences Building, Santa Clara University, California
About the event and lecturer:
This event is free and open to the public.
October 10, 2013
[Editor's note: One helping of healthy feminism, please! What's your flavour of choice? :) Tell us! Oh, and click on the image to enlarge it. ~ Dilnavaz Bamboat]
September 24, 2013
Reclaiming Rights: Challenging Gender-based Violence in South Asia
Date and time:
Wednesday, September 25, 2013; 6 to 8 pm
International Development Exchange (IDEX), 333 Valencia St., Suite 250, San Francisco
About the event:
The Delhi and Mumbai gangrapes have garnered critical public attention, outrage, and mobilising in India and beyond. But these are just two incidents in a larger patriarchal context where rapes, harassment, and violence happen routinely across big and small cities, rural and urban areas. We need to dialogue, build solidarity and work together to challenge structures that perpetuate and enable sexual violence - from the everyday street harassment to brutal gang rapes. This panel discussion, featuring activists from India, Sri Lanka, and the San Francisco Bay Area, hopes to surface the vital analysis and workable solutions needed to shift the current paradigm that normalises violence.
This event is also a tribute to the incredibly inspiring life and work of renowned Sri Lankan human rights activist Sunila Abeysekara, who passed away earlier this month on September 9.
About the panelists:
is Secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association (AIPWA), a women’s group that is especially active among women workers, agricultural laborers, and other sections of poor laboring women in rural and urban India. The AIPWA has a record of resistance against feudal violence on women and state repression against women. Kavita has been a student activist, helping to organise women students on many campuses to demand mechanisms against sexual harassment. Kavita is also editor of ‘Liberation’, the monthly publication of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist).
is the Assistant Dean for International Partnerships and Alliances at the Goldman School of Public Policy. For the past five years she has served as the Director of the International Fellowship Program and a graduate faculty at the University of Minnesota’s Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs. Ms. Shetty speaks and writes extensively on domestic violence issues facing immigrant women and women of color. She has been a consultant to the law firm of Dorsey & Whitney, L.L.P. on diversity issues, and, in her former role as Director of the Seattle University Law School’s Access to Justice Institute, she developed a variety of legal access projects focused on battered women. She was a founding member and chair of Chaya, a grass-roots South Asian domestic violence prevention program in Seattle. Ms. Shetty received a Bachelors Degree in Sociology and Psychology from Sophia College in Bombay, India, and a Juris Doctor from the University of Bombay, India.
is the Founder and CEO of Dignity Index Fund - a new fund set up to provide resources to South Asia to advance the leadership of women and utilize the Dignity Index to reduce discrimination and violence. Previously, she was Principal of the SamasaMdhi Initiative, focusing on realizing a just and equitable world through the progressive measurement of human rights. SamasaMdhi refers to “peace on equal terms”. She is also the co–founder of Children’s Fund for Peace, an organization providing resources to children affected by armed conflict in South Asia. Ms. Dharmaraj is the former founding Executive Director of Women’s Institute for Leadership Development for Human Rights (WILD for Human Rights). With her leadership, San Francisco became the first city in the United States to pass legislation implementing an international human rights treaty—the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). Ms. Dharmaraj also helped initiate the US Human Rights Network, the US NGO Steering Committee to the World Conference Against Racism (2001) and the Women’s Human Rights Caucus for WCAR, and co–founded the Sri Lanka Children’s Fund to support children affected by the tsunami and civil war in Sri Lanka.
About the panel moderator:
Former Executive Director at Narika, Preeti Shekar
holds a double Master's degree in Journalism and Women’s Studies. Preeti has previously worked with the Global Fund for Women for four years, as part of their communications team. She has served on the board of Media Alliance, and has been an advisory member of Women, Action and Media (WAM), a Cambridge-based group committed to increase women’s positive representation in US media. Preeti is also a radio producer and works on two radio shows on KPFA 94.1 FM (Pacifica Radio), focused on increasing the voices of women of color and the Asian Pacific Islander communities. Her radio work prioritizes the voices and perspectives of marginalized voices, in the Bay Area and the Global South.
This event is free and open to the public. However, please be aware that seating is limited and on a first-come first-served basis.
September 16, 2013
THE RAPE OF THE 23-year old medical student, Ms. Jyoti Singh Pandey, in New Delhi in December 2012 outraged many around the world. Sadly, for those of us with ties to India, this crime, as horrific and shocking as it was, did not come as a complete surprise. More recently, the same act was perpetrated on a young woman doing her job in Mumbai—in the daytime and accompanied by a male colleague. We did not even have time to recover from the shock waves when news of an infant being sexually abused elsewhere in the country filtered through. Babies, young girls, older women, nobody has been spared.
Hardly a day passes when the nation’s dailies do not carry stories of domestic violence, the rape, stripping, and parading naked of mostly lower caste women, dowry deaths, acid attacks on unsuspecting housewives, and the harassment of women everywhere. Ignorant politicians, village leaders, police officials, even magistrates are quick to assign blame to the victim. If only the woman had stayed home that night instead of accessing the public space as an equal citizen, if only her skirt had been a few inches longer, or her dowry a little fatter.
Such misguided palliatives only obfuscate the real issue – there has been a gender war unfolding in India for millennia now. This war is deeply rooted in patriarchy, culture, religion, and reinforced by globalization. Long, long before the sun never set on the British Empire, men constructed elaborate societal norms that colonized one half of the subcontinent’s citizens. This “original” colonization would have been the envy of any of the European empires. And, like any oppressive power system, this brutal war of colonization disproportionately impacts the most vulnerable – women, lower castes, sexual, ethnic and religious minorities, refugees and migrants, and still others from economically depressed classes.
Men have succeeded in colonizing the imagination of the “second sex”. For too long, women have been force-fed narratives of their own inferiority. The process begins even before they are born, as the alarmingly high rate of female foeticide in India – about 11-12 million a year, a systematic and unrecorded femicide – testifies. After birth, men create barriers for women’s self-realization – they keep women away from education, gainful employment, objectify and infantilize them, confine them to homes, dictate their dress, morals, marriage, and life choices, and code of conduct, especially their sexual behavior. As if this weren’t enough, men repeatedly, and proudly, violate the most inviolable – women’s bodies. Just like the British did to the Indians during the bad old days of the Raj, men have succeeded in doing to women – relegating them to second-class citizens in their own homeland.
Sadly, sexual violence and gender discrimination is not new, nor is it confined only to India or South Asia. It turns out that the war against women is also globalized and it has already come home to many of us. 1 in 3 women on this planet will be raped or beaten. That’s 1 billion women.
This war transcends class, caste, language, and geography and, like the harmful pesticides sprayed in our foods, it has invaded our internal ecosystem, leading to a cancer of the mind. The bruises, pain, intolerance, and humiliation are a part of everyday life for women worldwide, both in poorer countries and in the so-called developed western world. While there will always be men who advocate the feminist cause, just like there were Britons who opposed the horrid excesses of Empire, the one cardinal rule of progressive social change is that the people who suffer injustice are crucial to overcoming it.
But where there is injustice, there is also courage, resistance, hope, and resilience. And women resist every day in quiet ways, in personal ways, in public ways. They show their resistance by going to school and learning to read, by daring to not marry, or by not having children, by coming “out” and loving whom they want to love, by showing up in clubs, restaurants, or other public places from which they are excluded, by showing their faces without veils, by playing sports and being stronger than men in some cases, by speaking in public, managing natural resources, becoming leaders, and demanding public services from authorities.
For most men, carrying out these acts may seem “natural,” but to women, these are acts of defiance. In fact, had a woman written this article she may have been attacked with pejoratives and gender stereotypes; she may even have been punished, fired from her job, physically harmed even. I am fortunate, and humbled, by the privilege that allows me to reflect on gender violence. The medical student in New Delhi did not have this choice. The photojournalist in Mumbai did not have it either. Theirs was an existential struggle, which one ultimately lost and the other fights to get past.
Fortunately, a new, young generation of Indian women, standing on the shoulders of the activist-sisters who fought long and hard before them, is strengthening women’s rights and opportunities every day. They are assuming positions of authority and making decisions that give women access to choices, resources, autonomy and power. More importantly, these avant-garde leaders are becoming role models for the next generation of girls, increasing their self-worth and choices.
The time is overdue for meeting the aspirations of women for their empowerment. History has taught us that self-determination movements have overpowered even great empires. Ask the British. And the moment has never been better. There is a groundswell of support that is making our Earth reverberate.
I invite our fathers, brothers, husbands, employers, male leaders, boyfriends, and uncles to welcome women in their full power as equals, to create an axis of affirmation, not discrimination. At stake is our humanity, our dignity, freedom, and justice. I dare my brothers to speak up, to not stand by while women fight this war alone, so that when our daughters ask us, “Daddy, what did you do when the revolution came?” we can say, “I did the right thing.”
September 10, 2013
I RECENTLY RECEIVED a comment from a reader of another blog I write, stating that she didn't believe patriarchy was such a menace in America. I read the comment, took a deep breath, and pondered on the gentlest possible way to dispel that notion without mailing her a dossier of statistics. Turns out I didn't have to wait too long or look too far. Consider this latest addition
to a long and endless series of media depicting the abuse of women without comment or apology.
Patriarchy--which encompasses culturally accepted attitudes toward the abuse of women--is robust and kicking, and not going away anytime soon. Thankfully, neither are some sensible people who find it offensive
and won't let it slide.
If you will recall, there was another misogynistic advertisement
in the Indian news earlier this year, that went viral prior to publication because it showed scantily clad women gagged and bound in the trunk of the car the ad agency was hoping to sell. Ford, the car manufacturer, has since apologized and several people associated with the copy's creation at JWT were fired. Obviously, we have a long way to go before the message of inappropriateness sinks into all the thick skulls of the world.
Domestically and abroad, violating women continues to be a popular theme, not just in advertising, but in all forms of pop culture.
What are your thoughts? Do you see this as an excellent marketing gimmick beyond its offense value? What would your reaction be if you came across a similar public message?
Updated to add:
Less than 10 hours after this post went up, news filtered in
that the company who created the ad above has destroyed the decal in the face of criticism and backlash.