Recent Resources for Feminists
India ~ Monday, April 15, 2013
Wombs and the Wolves
By Swagata Yadavar
Guddi devi, 27: She had sought treatment for a simple stomach ache. The doctor prescribed hysterectomy. Today, with all her vitality sapped, she feels it was the biggest. (Amey Mansabdar)
Sunita devi, 35: She sought treatment for appendicitis. Her doctor removed her uterus, too. She runs this shop for a livelihood, as she cannot work in the fields any longer. (Amey Mansabdar)
Sangita devi, 26: She underwent hysterectomy two years ago. Her husband says the doctor who operated upon her often hassles her for signatures on "some paper". (Amey Mansabdar)
Vimla Devi, 20: Her caesarian section that went wrong was followed by a hysterectomy. The childless couple has filed a police case. But her husband, Mahendra Kumar, says the cops have been threatening him to not pursue the case. (Amey Mansabdar)
“I feel sick.” These words still echo in my ears. They did not come from a dying man or a depressed woman. They were whimpered by scores of 'normal' women in India's rural hinterlands.
The cause lay in two words uttered by their unscrupulous doctors: bacchedani kharaab. These gullible women were told their uteri were faulty, and that they had to be removed.
THE WEEK's journey through some villages in Bihar and Rajasthan revealed the plight of women many of them allegedly unmarried whose wombs were removed as “treatment” for everything, from a simple stomach ache to menstrual issues.
Why? The reason, again, lay in two words: filthy lucre.
Sunita Devi, a 35-year-old labourer of Latbasepur village in Bihar's Samastipur district, would tell us more. It all started with a debilitating stomach pain, which she had ignored for long. Thanks to the Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana, she hoped to finally get proper treatment at a private hospital.
At Krishna Hospital, one of the hospitals empanelled in the rural health scheme, Sunita was told she needed an appendicitis surgery. And a hysterectomy, too.
She underwent both eight months ago. Today, she is feeble. “I often get palpitations,” she said. “I get frequent headaches and gas trouble.”
The mother of five can no longer work in the fields. She now assists at a small shop in the village. The plight of her two sisters-in-law who also underwent hysterectomies is no different.
Three years ago, the RSBY, which entitles families below poverty line to free treatment up to Rs.30,000 a year, was implemented in Samastipur district of Bihar. It was a godsend for the rural masses. But, in the hands of greedy doctors, it became a cruel instrument to siphon off public money.
The Samastipur scam came to fore when District Magistrate Kundan Kumar found an alarming number of hysterectomies conducted by private nursing homes during an RSBY meeting. Of 14,851 procedures conducted under RSBY between 2010 and 2012 in 16 empanelled hospitals in Samastipur, 5,503 were hysterectomies. That is about 37 per cent of all procedures. In some hospitals, more than 50 per cent were hysterectomies, which costs the highest of all procedures under the RSBY scheme.
Kundan Kumar organised a five-day medical camp to ascertain if the procedures conducted were needed. About 2,600 women who had undergone hysterectomy attended the camp. The expert team found 717 cases of unwanted surgery, 124 cases of underage surgery, 320 cases of fleecing and 23 cases of non-surgery.
The magistrate's report clearly pointed to gross unethical practices. For instance, Anita Devi, 23, who complained of abdominal pain and white discharge, had been operated upon. The expert team commented: “Conservative treatment should have done, hysterectomy not justified.” Similar was the case of Ratna Devi, 40, who underwent hysterectomy for appendicitis.
The report noted that many beneficiaries mentioned by the private hospitals could not be traced. In many cases, the hospitals simply swiped their RSBY cards but never conducted the procedures. There were also instances of procedures being marked against the name of dead people. Worse, some hysterectomy 'cases' reportedly turned out to be men!
It was found that many of the private hospitals and nursing homes did not have the requisite infrastructure for the procedures. Only some of them had well-trained surgeons, and in a few cases, operations were conducted by non-medical practitioners.
Subsequently, 12 of 16 nursing homes in Samastipur were de-panelled from the list. FIRs, too, were lodged against five of these guilty hospitals under various sections.
The involved doctors, meanwhile, were doing their best to cover their tracks. “Dr Thakur from Krishna Hospital often comes to our house asking for our signature on some paper,” said the family of Sangita Devi, 26. Sangita underwent hysterectomy two years ago. Since then, she has been battling frequent spells of weakness, dizziness and headaches. She now weighs just 30kg and can hardly manage any work. She has already spent Rs.5,000 on medicine and the frequent trips to the doctors are eating away most of what her husband earns. When THE WEEK contacted, Dr Thakur refused to meet us.
Next, THE WEEK travelled to Rajasthan's Dausa district, where a high number of hysterectomies was reported recently. Guddi Devi, 27, felt sick, though she technically was not. Her bones and joints ached all day. Fatigue bound her to bed. Food did not interest her. And her eyesight was fading. It was nothing but a clear case of premature menopause, courtesy the hysterectomy and oophorectomy she underwent three years ago.
“I had gone to the doctor, complaining of stomach ache. He told me that my uterus should be removed or I would get cancer,” she said. Her family, which owns just a small piece of land, was convinced to go for the “life-saving” surgery costing Rs.16,000.
“I feel weak all the time. I constantly fall ill, and the stomach pain for which I sought treatment initially persists,” said the mother of three. She has already paid another 110,000 on treatment of these symptoms, often travelling two and a half hours by tractors and buses to the nearest hospital. Now, her 12-year-old daughter, Rinki, takes care of all the household responsibilities. “I am upset about spoiling her education,” added a sullen Guddi.
Every village THE WEEK visited had similar stories to tell. “I went to the doctor for excessive menstrual bleeding and he advised hysterectomy,” said Angoori Devi, 34, of Sikandara. “She cannot do anything now; she gets easily tired,” complained her daughter, Guddi. The family had to sell their buffalo to pay for the surgery, which gave her joint aches, indigestion, dizziness and fatigue as companions.
“When I was admitted in the hospital, there were about 40 women who were undergoing the same operation,” Angoori recalled about her stay at Madaan Hospital. Activists in the area said as many as 2,300 women in the region have undergone unwanted hysterectomies at private hospitals in the past two years.
An RTI application filed by advocate Durga Prasad Saini of Dausa revealed that of 385 procedures conducted over six months in three private hospitals of Bandikui town in 2010, at least 226 were hysterectomies. And of them, 185 were below the age of 30.
“Is there an epidemic in Dausa that forces women to undergo hysterectomy?” asked Saini, who is also National General Secretary of Akhil Bharatiya Grahak Panchayat (ABGP). “If there was a suspicion of cancer, why was not a single biopsy done?”
What compounds the issue in such villages is the people have no one else to go to. For instance, the post of a gynaecologist had been lying vacant for many years in the community centre in Bandikui despite repeated requests.
Though the centre got a gynaecologist, it wore a dark and deserted look when we visited. “Tell us how we will manage when such a big centre only has five doctors,” said an employee. On the other hand, there are five big private hospitals in the town, doing well.
“The doctors have an understanding with the rural practitioners, who are promised a commission on referrals,” alleged Dr O.P. Bansal, who runs a hospital in Dausa. Even employees at government hospitals act as agents who take patients to private clinics.
Hysterectomy was so ubiquitous in the town that some households had three generations of women who had gone under the knife. Take the case of Sushila Devi of Maanpur village who had gone to Katta Hospital to meet a relative, Guddi Devi, admitted for hysterectomy. Sushila, too, got caught in the trap and was operated upon three days later.
Guddi Devi, a mother of four, was advised hysterectomy to cure body ache. Now, she can no longer work as a labourer. “I feel dizzy when I am in the sun, I cannot lift heavy loads and get frequent palpitations,” she said.
Surprisingly, despite protests and frequent media reports, no action was taken against erring private hospitals. “They have consent papers from the women, so we cannot do anything unless the Clinical Establishment Act is passed,” said O.P. Baherwa, chief medical and health officer, Dausa.
Many FIRs, too, were lodged in the local police stations against the doctors. Mahendra Kumar filed a case against Madhur Hospital and its owner Dr Rajesh Dhakar, after his 20-year-old wife, Vimla Devi, was subjected to hysterectomy following a failed caesarian section.
The crestfallen childless couple alleged that the police did not investigate the matter properly and threatened 'action' if Kumar pursued the case.
The attitude of officials at Dausa was, indeed, sympathetic towards the doctors. “People here attack the doctors and threaten to destroy the hospital, hoping to get compensation,” said District Collector Pramila Surana. Police Inspector Rohitash Devanda said he had not come across any cases against doctors since he took charge 10 months ago. “These people blackmail doctors to gain money. If some patients die during treatment, it does not mean the doctors are at fault,” he said. A clock bearing Madhur Hospital's name hung on his office wall.
The RSBY triggered a uterus loot in Chhattisgarh, too. Health Minister Amar Agrawal stated that 1,800 hysterectomies were done in just eight months last year. It was estimated that at least 7,000 hysterectomies were conducted in the state over the past three years under the RSBY scheme. The issue, which was noted by the National Human Rights Commission, led to a furore and licences of 22 private hospitals were cancelled.
Down south in Andhra Pradesh, it was the state government's insurance scheme, Arogyashri, that led to rampant exploitation. Ever since the scheme was implemented in 2007, there was an exponential rise in hysterectomy cases.
Hyderabad-based NGO Centre for Action, Research and People's Development found that 171 women under age 40 in just one administrative block of Medak district had undergone hysterectomy. About 95 per cent of them had gone to private clinics for treatment and 33 per cent had their ovaries also removed.
A survey by the Andhra Pradesh Mahila Samatha Society found that as much as 32 per cent of about 1,000 women who underwent hysterectomy were below age 30.
These case studies and statistics point to deep rot in the health care system. In fact, it is disheartening to see a project like the RSBY termed by the World Bank as “path-breaking” being exploited. The RSBY was seen as a prelude to the Centre's ambitious Universal Health Coverage, which is expected to be implemented under the 12th Five-Year Plan (2012-17).
While private health providers bring better infrastructure and quality, they also bring in the risk of greed and exploitation. Without proper monitoring, this kind of public-private partnership is a cause for concern, said Padma Deosthali, coordinator of Centre for Enquiry into Health and Allied Themes, Mumbai. “For instance, there is no mention of quality of care in the empanelment under the RSBY scheme. Not even basic standards like presence of a qualified medical practitioner and nurse,” she pointed out.
“More than treating health problems, the focus is on procedures and surgeries, which was exploited by private nursing homes,” said Dr A.V. Sahay, medical officer and district head of Bihar Swasthya Seva Sangh. He also stressed on the need for enhancing the public health care system and improving the “reproductive hygiene” of women in rural regions.
Dr Yogesh Jain of Jan Swasthya Sahyog said a major flaw in the scheme was that it did not cover out-patient treatment and, hence, encouraged unwanted hospitalisation. Without strict guidelines, doctors cannot be expected to regulate themselves, he added.
Currently, however, the Central government has directed all state nodal agencies of RSBY that approval from the insurance company concerned is mandatory for hysterectomies performed on women under age 40.
But does the issue end there? The brouhaha shall pass. The scam will turn stale. But what about the innocent women who went under the knives for no reason? Sadly, no one, except a few NGOs, has reached out to them.
“The cost of maintaining the health of a woman who had undergone hysterectomy with medicines and supplements is Rs.18,250 a year,” said Dr Prakash Vinjamuri of Hyderabad-based Life HRG, which studied the surgery's impact on women in Medak district of Andhra Pradesh in 2011.
The toll is not just monetary. Loss of vitality and libido affects the psychological and social health of the woman. The study in Medak, for instance, found women whose uteri were removed faced domestic violence over sexual issues, and many husbands had extra-marital affairs. The worst part was the impact on the next generation, as children of these women are forced to quit school to handle household chores.
When and who will compensate for all these losses?
Hysterectomy is the surgical removal of the uterus but may also involve removal of the cervix. A patient may require 3-12 months for full recovery.
Radical hysterectomy: Removal of cervix, upper vagina, lymph nodes, ovaries and fallopian tube. Recommended in case of cancer.
Total hysterectomy: Removal of uterus and cervix.
Subtotal hysterectomy: Removal of the uterus.
* Excessive blood loss, injury to ureter and bladderThe average age of menopause in India is 51 years, and removal of ovaries advances it by 3.7 years. Menopause leads to a drop in oestrogen (female hormone) level, causing calcium loss and bone breakdown.
* Cardiovascular disease
* Decline in psychological well-being
* Decline in libido
* Premature death
* Affects the functioning of ovaries in 40 per cent of womenEarly menopause
When is hysterectomy needed?
Hysterectomy should be a last resort in conditions such as cancers of the reproductive system, severe infections, persistent vaginal bleeding, uterine prolapse, endometriosis and to prevent further conception.
Before undergoing hysterectomy, one should undergo either a hormone test, sonography or a pap smear to test for cancer.
Special Rapporteur on Violence against women, its causes and consequences finalises country mission to India
NEW DELHI (1 May 2013) – At the end of her official country mission to India, the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, Ms. Rashida Manjoo, delivered the following statement:
“I have been mandated by the Human Rights Council to seek and receive information on violence against women, its causes and consequences, and to recommend measures to eliminate all forms of violence against women.
I would like to begin by expressing my thanks to the Government of India for having invited me to visit the country from 22 April to 1 May. The invitation, which was in response to a request from my mandate, was received prior to the events that led to the death of a young woman in Delhi on 16 December 2012. The protest actions and outpouring of sadness and anger; and the extensive coverage by the media, both local and global; has generated a huge focus on the issue of violence against women and girls in India. This mission has generated country-wide interest, and also, demands for the addressing of this systemic problem as an urgent imperative, at both the State and the non-state levels.
During my visit, I held meetings in New Delhi, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Manipur, and gathered information from other states, including Tamil Nadu. I am grateful to all my interlocutors, including Union and State authorities, National Human Rights Institutions, representatives of civil society organisations, and United Nations agencies. Most importantly, I want to thank the individual women who shared their personal experiences of violence and survival with me. The pain and anguish in the testimonies of loss, dispossession, and various human rights violations, was visceral and often difficult to deal with.
The Government of India has signed and ratified numerous international human rights instruments and has also adopted numerous progressive laws and policies at the Union and State levels. Numerous laws, including amendments to existing laws, have been enacted to address various manifestations of violence against women. Among others, these include: the Indian Penal Code which broadly includes crimes against women. This law includes the crimes of rape, kidnapping and abduction for specified purposes, homicide for dowry, torture, molestation, eve teasing, and the importation of girls, among others. More specific laws on crimes against women include: the Criminal Law Amendment Act 2013, the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prohibition, Prevention and Redressal) Act 2013, the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005, the Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act 1986, the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989, the Dowry Prohibition Act 1961, the Commission of Sati Prevention Act 1961, and the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act 1956 among others.
Furthermore, the following Bills are currently under discussion: the Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Amendment Bill 2012, the Readjustment of Representation of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in Parliamentary and Assembly Constituencies Bill 2013, the Removal of Homelessness Bill 2013, the Prevention of Female Infanticide Bill 2013, the Abolition of Child Labour Bill 2013, the Child Welfare Bill 2013, the Indecent or Surrogate Advertisements and Remix Songs (Prohibition) Bill 2013 and among others.
At the institutional level, the realisation of the promotion and protection of human rights broadly, and women’s rights and children’s rights specifically, are vested in numerous Union and state level Ministries, Departments, Commissions, Committees and Missions for the empowerment of women. Furthermore, I was informed about numerous programs and policies that have been put in place in recent years to address the issue of violence against women within a human rights and development framework. These include schemes addressing the needs of victims of rape, trafficking, domestic violence, and so on. Some of these schemes address counselling, support, skills development, access to benefits and also to shelters. Public/private partnerships have been forged within different spheres including the police sector. The laws and schemes highlighted above will be analysed and discussed fully in my mission report.
I welcome the Government of India’s speedy response after the rape incident of 16 December. A judicial committee headed by the late Justice Verma was established, and new legislative measures were adopted earlier this year. While this legislative reform is to be commended, it is regrettable that the amendments do not fully reflect the Verma Committee’s recommendations.
It is unfortunate that the opportunity to establish a substantive and specific equality and non-discrimination rights legislative framework for women, to address de facto inequality and discrimination, and to protect and prevent against all forms of violence against women, was lost. The speedy developments and also the adoption of a law and order approach to sexual wrongs, now includes the death penalty for certain crimes against women. This development foreclosed the opportunity to establish a holistic and remedial framework which is underpinned by transformative norms and standards, including those relating to sexual and bodily integrity rights. Furthermore, the approach adopted fails to address the structural and root causes and consequences of violence against women.
The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act is a positive development in the aspirational goal of protection for victims of family violence. The discrepancy between the provisions of the laws and the effective implementation thereof, whether through the use of the police generally or the Protection Officers in particular, was a recurrent complaint which I heard. Despite provisions intended to offer legal, social and financial assistance to victims, many women are unable to register their complaints. As a result, the vulnerability of women increases, and further, they are also deprived of the benefits prescribed in the law - as proof of registration of cases is required for access to many benefits. Furthermore, prevention of violence, as a core due diligence obligation of the State, does not feature in the implementation of this law.
Despite numerous positive developments, the unfortunate reality is that the rights of many women in India continue to be violated, with impunity as the norm, according to many submissions received. Mediation and compensation measures are often used as redress mechanisms to address cases of violence against women, thus eroding accountability imperatives, and further fostering norms of impunity.
Manifestations of violence against women
Numerous experiences of violence, whether direct or indirect, in different spheres including the home, the community, and in institutions, whether perpetrated by state actors or condoned by the State, was shared with me during the mission. Violence is being experienced in situations of peace, conflict, post-conflict, and displacement among others. The denial of constitutional rights in general, and the violation of the rights of equality, dignity, bodily integrity, life and access to justice in particular, was a theme that was common in many testimonies. Violence against women as a cause and consequence of de facto inequality and discrimination was also a common theme in numerous submissions received.
Violence against women and girls in India manifests in numerous ways and varies in prevalence and forms based on numerous factors including geographic location. Some manifestations include: sexual violence, domestic violence, caste-based discrimination and violence, dowry related deaths, crimes in the name of honour, witch-hunting, sati, sexual harassment, violence against lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people, forced and/or early marriages, deprivation of access to water and basic sanitation, violence against women with disabilities, sexual and reproductive rights violations, sex selection practices, violence in custodial settings and violence in conflict situations, among others. These manifestations of violence are rooted in multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination and inequalities faced by women, and are strongly linked to their social and economic situation. One interlocutor described violence against women and girls as functioning on a continuum that spans the life-cycle from the womb to the tomb.
During my visit, I heard numerous testimonies of many women who are survivors of domestic violence, whether at the hands of their husbands or other family members. Many of these women live in family settings with deeply entrenched norms of patriarchy and cultural practices linked to notions of male superiority and female inferiority. The lack of effective remedies, the failure of the State to protect and prevent violence against women, the economic dependence of many women on the men in their lives, and the social realities of exclusion and marginalization when speaking out, often results in women accepting violence as part of their reality. The current focus by state actors on preserving the unity of the family is manifested in the welfare/social approach and not in the human rights based approach. It does not take into consideration the nature of relationships based on power and powerlessness; of economic and emotional dependency; and also the use of culture, tradition and religion as a defence for abusive behaviour.
Sexual violence and harassment in India is widespread, and is perpetuated in public spaces, in the family or in the workplace. There is a generalized sense of insecurity in public spaces/amenities/transport facilities in particular, and women are often victims of different forms of sexual harassment and assault.
On the issue of conflict-related sexual violence, it is crucial to acknowledge that these violations are occurring at the hands of both state and non-state actors. The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act and the Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act (AFSPA) has mostly resulted in impunity for human rights violations broadly, according to information received. The law protects the armed forces from effective prosecution in non-military courts for human rights violations committed against civilian women among others, and it allows for the overriding of due process rights. Furthermore, in testimonies received, it was clear that the interpretation and implementation of this act, is eroding fundamental rights and freedoms - including freedom of movement, association and peaceful assembly, safety and security, dignity and bodily integrity rights, for women, in Jammu & Kashmir and in the North-Eastern States. Unfortunately in the interests of State security, peaceful and legitimate protests often elicit a military response, which is resulting in both a culture of fear and of resistance within these societies.
In India, women from the Dalit, Adivasi, other Scheduled castes, tribal and indigenous minorities, are often victims of a multiplicity of forms of discrimination and violence. Despite protective legislative and affirmative action laws and policies, their reality is one where they exist at the bottom of the political, economic and social systems, and they experience some of the worst forms of discrimination and oppression - thereby perpetuating their socio-economic vulnerability across generations. They are often forced to live in displacement settings, experience forced labour practices, prostitution and trafficking, and also experience intra-community violations of rights.
In consultations in Manipur, I heard anguished stories from relatives of young women who have disappeared without trace or who were found dead shortly after going missing. The lack of response from the police is the norm in such cases, with the attitude being that these are mostly elopement cases. I am deeply concerned about other consequences of such disappearances of young women, including exposure to sexual abuse, exploitation or trafficking. More generally, many tribal and indigenous women in the region are subjected to continued abuse, ill-treatment and acts of physical and sexual violence. They are denied access to healthcare and other necessary resources, due to the frequency of curfews and blockades imposed on citizens. Moreover, the chronic underdevelopment prevalent in the region, coupled with frequent economic blockades, is having an impact on the overall cost of essential items, and is exacerbating the already vulnerable situation of women and children living in the region.
Customary and religious practices such as child marriages and dowry-related practices, sorcery, honour killings, witch-hunting of women, and communal violence perpetrated against cultural and religious minorities, were highlighted in numerous testimonies. Communal violence, inspired by religious intolerance, does manifest in some parts of India. Indiscriminate attacks by religious majorities on religious minorities, including Christian and Muslim minorities, is frequently explained away by implying that equal aggression was noted on both sides. Also, such violence is sometimes labelled as ‘riots’, thereby denying the lack of security for religious and other minorities, and disregarding their right to equal citizenship. This issue is of particular concern to many, as the wounds of the past are still fresh for women who were beaten, stripped naked, burnt, raped and killed because of their religious identity, in the Gujarat massacre of 2002.
I am also concerned about the declining female sex ratio in India. The deeply entrenched patriarchal social norms, prevailing views of daughter-aversion and son-preference, the dowry-related link, and, tthe general sense of insecurity in light of high prevalence rates of gender-based violence, is fuelling a significant drop in female births throughout the country. The Indian Government's concern about this issue has resulted in the adoption of policies and schemes. The implementation of such interventions is resulting in the policing of pregnancies through tracking/surveillance systems and is resulting in some cases in the denial of legal abortion rights, thereby violating the sexual and reproductive rights of women.
With regard to domestic workers, I am dismayed by the prevalence of numerous violations faced by these women and girls. Many of them, often migrant and unregistered women, work in servitude and even bondage, in frequently hostile environments; performing work that is undervalued, poorly regulated and low-paid. According to testimonies, they are also denied access to essential services and resources provided by the State, as they lack proper identification, and view this as a barrier to access. They are often the victims of various acts of violence, including sexual harassment and victimization by their employers and others.
I have also been informed that women with disabilities experience numerous forms of violence, including sexual violence, forced sterilization and/or abortions and forced medication without their consent. In addition, their experience of discrimination, exclusion and marginalisation reinforces the need for greater attention and specificity.
India has embarked on a journey of aggressive economic growth and this path is viewed as the route to simultaneously addressing its human development challenges. Despite the inclusion of beneficial provisions for women and children in the Five Year Plan, the impact of economic development policies on women is resulting in forced evictions, landlessness, threats to livelihoods, environmental degradation, and the violation of bodily integrity rights, among other violations. The adverse consequence of resulting migration to urban areas is reflected in the living and work conditions of many of these women and children, for example living in slums or on the streets, engaging in scavenging activities and in sex work etc. Some women have committed suicide; others are frequently exposed to acts of harassment and violence, including sexual assault. It was strongly argued by many interlocutors that India’s pursuit of neo-liberal economic growth must not be pursued at the expense of vulnerable women and children, and their right to a healthy and secure environment.
Numerous human rights mechanisms have addressed the violation of women’s human rights in India. The substance of some relevant recommendations addresses the following issues:
1) There is a need for urgent measures to end the alarming decline in sex ratios (CEDAW, CRC)
2) The negative effect of personal status laws on the achievement of overall gender equality (CRC, CCPR, and CEDAW). Such laws need to be reformed to ensure equality in law (CEDAW).
3) The social and cultural patterns of discrimination against women require urgent action by the State (CEDAW).
4) Ensure that all victims of domestic violence are able to benefit from the legislation on domestic violence. Develop a comprehensive plan to combat all forms of violence against women (CEDAW). Domestic violence is endemic. The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act and Section 498-A of the Indian Penal Code must be enforced effectively (CESCR).
5) The implementation of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, the Public Safety Act and the National Security Act, and the Armed Forces (Jammu & Kashmir) Special Powers Act should be repealed (HRC, SR Summary Executions), as it perpetuates impunity (HRC), and is widely used against Human Rights Defenders (SR HRD).
6) Grave concerns are noted as regards the continuing atrocities perpetrated against Dalit women. There is a culture of impunity for violations of the rights of Dalit women (CEDAW). Concerns are further expressed for the failure to properly register and investigate complaints of violations against scheduled castes and tribes, the high rate of acquittals, the low conviction rates, and the alarming backlog of cases related to such atrocities (CRC, CEDAW and CERD).
7) The practice of devadasi is of concern (HRC). The effective enforcement of relevant legislation and the Indian Constitution is required to end this practice (CERD).
8) To expeditiously enact the proposed Communal Violence (Prevention, Control and Rehabilitation of Victims) Bill, 2005 with the incorporation of: sexual and gender-based crimes, including mass crimes against women perpetrated during communal violence; a comprehensive system of reparations for victims of such crimes; and gender-sensitive victim-centred procedural and evidentiary rules, and to ensure that inaction or complicity of State officials in communal violence be urgently addressed under this legislation.
9) Grave concern is expressed about the continued existence of women and girls employed as domestic workers and their experiences of sexual abuse (CEDAW).
10) Harmful practices on women and girls, including forced marriage, dowry and dowry-related violence are of great concern (CEDAW, CRC, CERD, and HRC). Violence and social sanctions due to inter-caste relationships are also of concern (CERD).
11) The impact of mega-projects on the rights of women should be thoroughly studied, including their impact on tribal and rural communities, and safeguards should be instituted (CEDAW).
12) Continuing disparities in literacy levels are of concern, in particular the educational status of scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and Muslim women (CEDAW). Effective measures must be adopted to reduce the drop-out rates among Dalit girls (CERD).
13) More effort is needed to end customary practices which deprive women from underprivileged classes, castes and religious minorities of their rights to human dignity and to non-discrimination (HRC).
I would like to encourage the government of India to ensure specificity in addressing the multiple and intersecting inequalities and discrimination that women face. My mandate has consistently voiced the view that the failure in response and prevention measures stems from Government’s inability and/or unwillingness to acknowledge and address the core structural causes of violence against women. Linkages should be made between violence against women and other systems of oppression and discrimination prevalent within societies. A legislative and policy approach will not bring about substantive change if it is not implemented within a holistic approach that simultaneously targets the empowerment of women, social transformation, and the provision of remedies that ultimately address the continuum of discrimination and violence, and also the pervasive culture of impunity.
My comprehensive findings will be discussed in the report that I will present to the United Nations Human Rights Council in June 2014.”
Ms. Rashida Manjoo (South Africa) was appointed Special Rapporteur on Violence against women, its causes and consequences in June 2009 by the UN Human Rights Council. As Special Rapporteur, she is independent from any government or organization and serves in her individual capacity. Ms. Manjoo also holds a part-time position as a Professor in the Department of Public Law of the University of Cape Town.
May 2, 2013
“Rape law changes welcome, yet an opportunity lost”
By Aarti Dhar
UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women Rashida Manjoo, addressing the media in New Delhi on Wednesday. (S. Subramanium, The Hindu)
The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence Again Women, Rashida Manjoo, on Wednesday regretted that the amendments made to the rape laws in India did not fully reflect the recommendations of the Justice J.S. Verma Committee, set up in the aftermath of the December 16 gang rape that led to the death of a young girl in the national capital.
Addressing reporters at the conclusion of her visit to India, Ms. Manjoo welcomed the Centre’s speedy response after the rape and the legislative reforms based on the Verma Committee recommendations but said it was “an opportunity lost. The Verma Committee was a golden moment to examine whether legislative measures in India were sufficient.” India had an amazing Constitution that granted equality to all but the challenge was to enforce the provisions.
Hoping that India would bring in further legislative measures to address issues such as marital rape, age of consent and rights of transgender people and vulnerable groups, Ms. Manjoo said it was “unfortunate that the opportunity to establish a substantive and specific equality and non-discrimination rights legislative framework for women, to address de facto inequality and discrimination, and to prevent all forms of violence against women, was lost.’’
“Death penalty not a deterrent”
She said the speedy developments and also the adoption of a law and order approach to sexual wrongs, now included the death penalty for certain crimes against women. “This development foreclosed the opportunity to establish a holistic and remedial framework. The new approach fails to address the structural and root causes and consequences of violence against women, she added.
The Special Rapporteur said there was no proof that death penalty was a deterrent. “One needs to look at what purpose it [death penalty] would serve. The need is transformation of society and empowerment of women.’’
Despite the numerous positive developments, the unfortunate reality was that the rights of many women in India continued to be violated with impunity. Ms. Manjoo said she had received numerous submissions to suggest this, and also testimonies to say that mediation and compensation measures were often used as redress mechanisms to address cases of violence against women, thus “eroding accountability imperatives, and further fostering norms of impunity.”
Sexual violence and harassment in India were widespread, and perpetuated in public spaces, in the family and in the workplace.
Armed Forces Act
On the issue of conflict-related sexual violence, Ms. Manjoo said it was crucial to acknowledge that these violations occurred at the hands of both state and non-state actors.
The Special Rapporteur’s report would be officially submitted to the United Nation’s Human Rights Council in June 2014.
Washington, DC ~ Wednesday, May 1, 2013
UN rapporteur: India’s laws not tough enough on violence against women
By Agence France-Presse
India’s new sex crime laws do not go far enough to protect women or tackle gender inequality, the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women said on Wednesday.
The legislation was passed following the fatal gang rape of a student on a Delhi bus in mid-December that sparked nationwide demonstrations over the lack of safety for women.
New measures passed by Indian lawmakers in March increased punishments for sex offenders to include the death penalty if a victim dies, and broadened the definition of sexual assault.
But Rashida Manjoo, the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against women, said the laws were still not tough enough.
She told a news conference it was unfortunate that the opportunity to establish a substantive framework “to protect and prevent against all forms of violence against women, was lost”.
Her comments echoed those of other Indian women’s activists who praised the intent of the legislation but said it still had huge holes.
Campaigners are unhappy about lawmakers’ refusal to criminalise marital rape or increase the punishment for acid attacks on women from a minimum seven-year jail term.
The UN official, who toured several Indian states to obtain first-hand reports about violence against women, said she would release her findings to the world body next year.
She said she had heard on her 10-day visit about “sexual violence, domestic violence, cast-based discrimination and violence, dowry related deaths, crimes in the name of honour” and other offences.
She quoted one person on her trip as describing violence against women as spanning the “life cycle from womb to the tomb”.
Her trip came in the wake of a call in December by UN rights chief Navi Pillay for India to help rid itself of the “scourge” of rape after the 23-year-old bus victim died of injuries inflicted by six drunken men.
Manjoo said demonstrations in the wake of her death seemed not to have had any effect in curbing sex crimes.
“Sexual violence and harassment in India is (still) widespread, and is perpetuated in public spaces, in the family or in the workplace,” she said.
“There is a generalised sense of insecurity in public spaces, amenities, transport facilities in particular, and women are often victims of different forms of sexual harassment and assault.”
A total of 228,650 incidents of crime against women were reported in India during 2011 as compared to 213,585 the previous year, according to the latest figures of the government’s National Crime Records Bureau.
Manjoo said women belonging to minority Muslim and Christian communities are also subjected to “indiscriminate attacks” during religious rioting in India.
“This issue is of particular concern to many as the wounds of the past are still fresh for women who were beaten, stripped naked, burnt, raped and killed because of their religious identity in the Gujarat riots of 2002,” she said.
The anti-Muslim riots in the western state left more than 2,000 mainly Muslim people dead in an orgy of violence and arson, according to rights groups. The Gujarat government puts the death toll at about 1,000.
Wednesday, 1 May 2013
RU 486 comes with potent and unpalatable 'side effects'By Renate Klein
The Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee (PBAC) recommended on 26 April 2013 that the abortion pill Mifepristone Linepharma (better known as RU 486) and the necessary second drug prostaglandin GyMiso® be included in the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS).
The Health Minister, Tanya Plibersek will now make sure that there is "a cost-effective price" and "a steady, good quality supply" (ABC News, 26 April 2013). Indeed, the first thing we need to know is how much the tax payer will have to contribute to the coffers of MS Health – the subsidiary of the abortion provider Marie Stopes International Australia (MSIA) - who obtained registration of the two drugs in August 2012. A previous amount mentioned by a Department of Health and Ageing spokeswoman for Mifepristone was $300: five times higher than the $60 charged by Exelgyn for the same 200 mg of mifepristone, available to 187 TGA Authorised Prescribers since 2006.
MSIA/MS Health sure need to recoup a lot of money, given that the application and evaluation process of including the two drugs in the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods (ARTG) cost them in excess of $335,000 dollars according to the fee schedule on TGA website. At a price of $450 as previously charged by MSIA in one of their Sydney clinics, MSIA clinics would have to perform over 77,000 'medical' abortions at a cost of $450 per termination. This number amounts to the approximated total for all abortions in Australia in one year – suction and chemical abortions combined. If Mifepristone Linepharma (RU 486) is listed on the PBS, it might cost only $36.10. Pill abortions would then have to be considerably cheaper. So more business needs to be raised.
But this is one of the main problems with putting Mifepristone and GyMiso®on the PBS: pill abortions will become cheaper than suction abortions. This will push many more women into using the drugs instead of asking for the much safer suction abortion, preferably with a local anesthetic. I am writing this as a long-term health advocate supportive of women's right to abortion, but I want women to be able to access a safe service, not a second-rate, unpredictable and dangerous drug cocktail. A South Australian woman who had a pill abortion in 2009 commented: "I was *technically * offered the choice of either suction procedure or tablet/RU486. However, I felt I was definitely encouraged towards the latter… Basically, I felt as though I would be causing an annoyance if I were to choose the surgical option."
Contrary to the 'safe, effective and more natural' mantra put forward by the pill abortion promoters, Mifepristone and GyMiso® have a failure rate between 5 and 7 per cent (10 per cent is not unusual), which means that women then need a second suction abortion to ensure complete termination. Instead of spending 15-30 minutes in a safe clinic setting for a suction abortion, the pill abortion takes a minimum of three days as the prostaglandin needs to be taken 24 to 36 hours after the initial mifepristone tablet. In order to exclude an ectopic pregnancy and confirm the time of gestation – only up to 7 weeks since the last period – a (transvaginal) ultrasound should be performed.
So it's a myth that pill abortions are not invasive. It's just easier for doctors to hand out pills rather than doing the abortion themselves. Blood loss can be excessive, sometimes needing blood transfusions; bleeding can last up to 6 weeks. The pain is often severe and is accompanied by chills, fever, nausea and vomiting. Women have died from cardiovascular events and sepsis including a woman in 2010 in Australia in a Marie Stopes Clinic. Difficult also for many women is the fact that they see the small embryo (only about 1 cm but already formed) when it is expelled.
The problem is that no woman will know what adverse effects she will experience and whether she needs emergency treatment – which makes this unpredictable abortion method inherently ill-suited for women living in rural and remote areas. There is a black box warning in the Patient Information for Mifepristone Linepharma:"Even if no adverse events have occurred all patients must receive follow-up 14-21 days after taking mifepristone."
As the South Australian woman remembered:
Overall the worst part of the RU486 was the sheer amount of time it took for me to 'terminate' my baby: with each and every large clot of blood – which I could literally feel passing through my insides and then out of my vagina – was a reminder of the fact I was terminating a baby, for which I felt hugely saddened. More than I realized I would.
It was three days of nausea, high temperature/sweating (I was worried about infection), cramping, lots of blood, distress and swirling emotions, thoughts, etc. I would never ever go through that again.
She also said: "I absolutely support a woman's access to abortion – but I think RU 486 and prostaglandin is the wrong way to go."
Data by the TGA up to 25 June 2012 - with an estimated number of 22,500 women who had undergone a pill abortion in Australia - mentioned a total of 832 adverse events: 132 women ended up with an ongoing pregnancy; 23 required transfusion; 599 had retained products of conception and needed a second abortion (D&C). There were 29 infections and 28 women hemorrhaged (quoted in Australian Public Assessment Reports - AusPAR – for Misoprostol and Mifepristone, 2 October 2012, p. 81 and p. 80).
Not only was MS Health given the right to register Mifepristone and GyMiso® in Australia in 2012, it was also accorded the right – and indeed the mandate - to provide on-line courses to clinics, individual healthcare practitioners and other 'healthcare professionals' who might want to become 'medical' abortion providers. Once these professionals have completed the MS-2 Step™ Program of 11 Training Modules and 5 Case Studies - estimated by MS Health to take 4 hours – as well as the Pre-Course Assessment and Post-Course Assessment – 20 minutes each - they will receive a Certificate and be allowed to register as a bona fide 'medical' abortion provider. And of course, let us not forget, buy the requisite combined blister packs of 1 tablet Mifepristone Linepharma and 4 tablets GyMiso® from MS Health: the only current TGA-endorsed provider. When Tanya Plibersek says she wants to ensure a "steady good-quality supply" she is locked into the TGA registration of Mifepristone Linepharma by MS Health: no other generic (cheaper) mifepristone has been registered.
Is Marie Stopes' monopoly really in the interest of Australian women needing abortions? What about the future of providing low-tech suction abortions? Called, unkindly, an 'abortion chain' by a doctor performing suction abortions at a community clinic, many abortion providers are unhappy about MSIAs increasing power as their names will be included on a Prescriber Registry held by MS Health once they receive their Certification to become a medical abortion provider. This lets MSIA know which locations and clinics are willing to offer 'medical' abortions: a good way, perhaps, to discover untapped markets? In rural areas maybe?
If or most probably when (given we are in an election year and Labor wants to be seen as woman-friendly) Mifepristone Linepharma and GyMiso® will be added to the PBS, it is important to get the message out to women needing abortions that they should think twice before they opt for days of pain, misery and emotional upsets (possibly followed by a second abortion), rather than a 99 per cent effective and safe suction abortion in a controlled clinic environment. This is especially true for women in rural and remote areas for whom this abortion method is especially dangerous.
About the Author: Dr Renate Klein, a biologist and social scientist, is a long-term health researcher and has written extensively on reproductive technologies and feminist theory. She is a former associate professor in Women's Studies at Deakin University in Melbourne, a founder of FINRRAGE (Feminist International Network of Resistance to Reproductive and Genetic Engineering) and an Advisory Board Member of Hands Off Our Ovaries.
April 26, 2013
Little Girls Are Most at Risk: Legislation alone cannot save women trapped in a patriarchal culture
By Meena Kandasamy
Cold-hearted legal system sees no shame in serving the interests of sex offenders
When news of a five-year-old girl's brutalisation and rape in east Delhi was followed by news of the police attempting to bribe her parents to prevent them from filing a complaint and beating up anti-rape protesters, it exposed the police officers as patriarchy's foot soldiers.
Courthouses haven't fared much better than their police station counterparts either. Kirti Singh and Dhivya Kapur's 2001 study on law, violence and the girl child pointed out glaring incidents of the Indian judiciary's misogyny in the case of child rapes: The Delhi High Court considered penetration of a girl child and forced oral sex as 'molestation'; another judge ruled out child rape in the absence of injury to the man's penis; when a woman accused her husband of attempting to rape their three-year-old infant, the Supreme Court said in its opening statement that incredulous, eerie accusations had been made, blamed the mother for manipulation of the child's vagina and refused to believe the victim's assertion that her father violated her. When the police force normalises the occurrence of rape and the cold-hearted legal system sees no shame in serving the interests of sex offenders, it becomes clear that the state machinery has divested itself of the responsibility of protecting children.
Given the high incidence of sexual and physical abuse within families-statistics show that in a majority of the cases, the abusers were known to the children-no one can take shelter in the naive belief that children are safe in their homes or neighbourhoods. The unearthing of skeletons of at least 17 child victims who had been sexually assaulted and murdered in Nithari (Noida) in 2007 sent shockwaves, but it made the middle classes mistakenly assume that such gory things happened only to poor people's children. This February, three Dalit sisters aged 11, nine and six were raped and murdered, their bodies dumped in a well in their native Bhandara, Maharashtra. There was not much noise because 'they' were not 'us'. But when such unchecked sexual violence leaves its safe zones and comes knocking at any random door, people sit up, angry and shell-shocked.
Convenient assumptions such as rape of children is foreign to Hindu/Indian culture or that this perversion is merely a strange import from paedophile pornography is to wilfully forget history. The Age of Consent Bill of 1891 set a minimum age of 12 for girls with regard to cohabitation-a law that was structured because of cases of girl children dying from premature consummation (read rape) on their bridal nights. Nineteenth century religious conservatives raged against this Bill and upheld the marital right of husbands (frequently older men) to have sex with their child brides. They also opposed the Child Marriage Restraint Act of 1929: Raping young girls through the institution of marriage was constructed as a religious obligation in the Hindu framework.
Eighty-odd years later, India is still caught in the tentacles of the same religion-neither its patriarchy, nor its caste system has been dismantled or ruptured. In a society that voids sexual self-determination through its rigid caste system and compromises the bodily integrity of Dalit/Adivasi/Muslim women through its cultural sanction of rape, the commodification of women by treating them as mere tools to perform the acts of reproductive labour and pleasuring men is a natural progression.
Since dear old monster capitalism lurks around absorbing every evil into its own image, this commodification and consumerism spiral out of control. The obsession over virginity provides the market for 18 Again which sells a gel promising tighter vaginas. Tata Sky's ad puts women in the protective custody of their older brothers, seemingly oblivious to but actually celebrating the implicit threat of honour killings. The caste-ridden patriarchal standard is the norm. In this frenzied love-making between capitalism and the caste system, we, as women, are reduced to a mere fragment of our beings. We become less than our bodies. When sexual abuseis allowed to fester within such a culture fixated on sexual purity and the virginity fetish, little girls are the most vulnerable victims.
Even as our search for quick-fixes goes on, we must remember that to eradicate and curtail this crisis in the long run, we must smash the oppressive structure of caste, class and religious patriarchy that regiments our bodies and sanctions our rape. The collective struggle for our liberation will not end with just a piece of legislation.
Meena Kandasamy is a poet and activist.
Z SPACE Saturday, April 27, 2013
We Don’t Need Genetically Engineered Bananas For Iron DeficiencyBy Vandana Shiva
The latest insanity from the genetic engineers is to push GMO bananas on India for reducing iron deficiency in Indian women.
Nature has given us a cornucopia of biodiversity, rich in nutrients. Malnutrition and nutrient deficiency results from destroying biodiversity, and with it rich sources of nutrition.
The Green Revolution has spread monocultures of chemical rice and wheat, driving out biodiversity from our farms and diets.
And what survived as spontaneous crops like the amaranth greens and chenopodium (bathua) which are rich in iron were sprayed with poisons and herbicides. Instead of being seen as iron rich and vitamin rich gifts, they were treated as “weeds”. A Monsanto representative once said that Genetically Engineered crops resistant to their propriety herbicide Roundup killed the weeds that “steal the Sunshine”. And their RoundUp Ads in India tell women “Liberate yourself, use Roundup”. This is not a recipe for liberation, but being trapped in malnutrition.
As the “Monoculture of the Mind” took over, biodiversity disappeared from our farms and our food. The destruction of biodiverse rich cultivation and diets has given us the malnutrition crisis, with 75% women now suffering from iron deficiency.
Our indigenous biodiversity offers rich sources of iron. Amaranth has 11.0 mg per 100gm of food, buckwheat has 15.5,neem has 25.3,bajra has 8.0,rice bran 35.0,rice flakes 20.0bengal gram roasted 9.5,Bengal gram leaves 23.8 ,cowpea 8.6,horse gram6.77, amaranth greens have upto 38.5,karonda 39.1,lotus stem 60.6, coconut meal 69.4,niger seeds 56.7,cloves 11.7,cumin seeds 11.7.mace 12.3,mango powder (amchur) 45.2,pippali 62.1,poppy seeds 15.9,tamarind pulp 17.0,turmeric 67.8, raisins 7.7……..
The knowledge of growing this diversity and transforming it to food is women’s knowledge. That is why in Navdanya we have created the network for food sovereignty in women’s hands - Mahila Anna Swaraj.
The solution to malnutrition lies in growing nutrition, and growing nutrition means growing biodiversity, it means recognizing the knowledge of biodiversity and nutrition among millions of Indian women who have received it over generations as “Grandmothers Knowledge”. For removing iron deficiency, iron rich plants should be grown everywhere, on farms, in kitchen gardens, in community gardens, in school gardens, on roof tops, in balconies….Iron deficiency was not created by Nature. And we can get rid of it by becoming co-creators and co-producers with Nature.
But there is a “creation myth” that is blind to nature’s creativity and biodiversity, and to the creativity, intelligence and knowledge of women. According to this “creation myth” of capitalist patriarchy, rich and powerful men are the “creators”. They can own life through patents and intellectual property. They can tinker with nature’s complex evolution over millennia, and claim their trivial yet destructive acts of gene manipulation “create” life, “create” food, “create” nutrition. In the case of GM bananas it is one rich man, Bill Gates, financing one Australian scientist, Dale, who knows one crop, the banana, to impose inefficient and hazardous GM bananas on millions of people in India and Uganda who have grown hundreds of banana varieties over thousands of years in addition to thousands of other crops.
The project is a waste of money, and a waste of time. It will take 10 years and millions of dollars to complete the research. But meantime, governments, research agencies, scientists will become blind to biodiversity based, low cost, safe, time tested, democratic alternatives in the hands of women.
Bananas only have 0.44mg of iron per 100 grams of edible portion. All the effort to increase iron content of bananas will fall short of the iron content of our indigenous biodiversity.
Not only is the GM banana not the best choice for providing iron in our diet, it will further threaten biodiversity of bananas and iron rich crops, and introduce new ecological risks.
First, the GM banana, if adopted, will be grown as large monocultures, like GM Bt cotton, and the banana plantations in the banana republics of Central America. Since government and Aid agencies will push this false solution, as has happened with every “miracle” in agriculture, our biodiversity of iron rich foods will disappear.
The idea of “nutrient farming” of a few nutrients in monocultures of a few crops has already started to be pushed at the policy level. The finance Minister announced an Rs 200 crore project for “nutri farms” in his 2013 budget speech.
Humans need a biodiversity of nutrients including a full range of micronutrients and trace elements. These come from healthy soils and biodiversity.
Second, our native banana varieties will be displaced, and contaminated. These include Nedunendran, Zanzibar, Chengalikodan, Manjeri Nendran II
Monsmarie, Robusta, Grand Naine, Dwarf Cavendish, Chenkadali, Poovan, Palayankodan,Njalipoovan, Amritsagar, Grosmichel, Karpooravalli, Poomkalli, Koompillakannan, Chinali, Dudhsagar, Poovan, Red banana
Monthan, Batheea Kanchikela Nendrapadathy
Njalipoovan, Palayankodan, Robusta.
(KERALA AGRICULTURAL UNIVERSITY ORGANIC PRODUCTION OF BANANA (Musa spp.)
There is a perverse urge among the biotechnology brigade to declare war against biodiversity in its centre of origin. An attempt was made to introduce Bt brinjal into India which is the centre of diversity for Brinjal. GM corn is being introduced in Mexico, the centre of diversity of corn. The GM banana is being introduced to the two countries where banana is a significant crop and has large diversity. One is India, the other is Uganda, the only country where banana is a staple.
Fourth, as recognized by Harvest Plus, the corporate alliance pushing Biofortification, there could be insurmountable problems with the biofortification of nutrients in foods as they: “... may deliver toxic amounts of nutrients to an individual and also cause its associated side effects (and) the potential that the fortified products will still not be a solution to nutrient deficiencies amongst low income populations who may not be able to afford the new product and children who may not be able to consume adequate amounts." (Food Biofortification: no answer to ill-health, starvation or malnutrition By Bob Phelps - see HERE or scroll down to read)
Fifth, Australian scientists are using a virus that infects the banana as a promoter. This could spread through horizontal gene transfer. All genetic engineering uses genes from bacteria and viruses. Independent studies have shown that there are health risks associated with GM foods.
There is no need for introducing a hazardous technology in a low iron food like bananas (which brings us many other health benefits )when we have so many affordable, accessible, safe and diverse options for meeting our nutritional needs of iron.
We have to grow nutrition by growing biodiversity, not industrially “fortify” nutritionally empty food at high cost, or put one or two nutrients into genetically engineered crops.
We don’t need these irresponsible experiments, that create new threats to biodiversity and our health, imposed by powerful men in distant places, who are totally ignorant of the biodiversity in our fields and thalis, and who never bear the consequences of their destructive power. We need to put food security in women’s hands so that the last woman and the last child can share in nature’s gifts of biodiversity.
Monday April 22, 2013
Are we ready for genetically-modified bananas via Australia?
By Shalini Bhutani
Even before the debate on the safety regime on genetically modified (GM) food crops has been settled in India, there are now new challenges with GM fruit in the pipeline. This time it is with the banana, supposedly modified at the genetic level in the laboratories of Australia being shipped to India. But this is not simply about an Oz connection.
The Australian Queensland University of Technology (QUT) signed a deal with the Government of India's Department of Biotechnology in August 2012 which is to run for six years. Professor James Dale, Director of Centre for Tropical Crops and Biocommodities, heads the project at QUT.
As per the planned first phase of the project, which is in the news now, the technology is being transferred from Australia to the five Indian partner institutes. The first being the National Agri-Food Biotechnology Institute based in Mohali, Punjab.
Then the National Research Centre for Bananas of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research at Tiruchirappalli. Ironically NRCB has one of the Asia’s largest field genebanks with 340 indigenous accessions of banana. The Indian Institute of Horticultural Research near Bangalore. Also, the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre in Trombay, Mumbai and the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University's Centre for Plant Molecular Biology & Biotechnology, Coimbatore.
In stage two the training of Indian scientists will be undertaken. As per previous media reports India's Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC) will provide US$1.44 million towards the QUT component of the project and Rs 80 million (US$1.43 million) towards the cost of the Indian component. The priority areas (2012-2013) for the Oz-India biotech R&D include 'Biotechnological Interventions for improved agricultural productivity'.
Support for biotech R&D is provided under Indo-Australian Fund for S&T Cooperation in Biotechnology (Indo-Australian Biotechnology Fund) for bilateral collaborative research projects and workshops involving Indian and Australian partners. This has been an on going programme since 2006.
That was also the year in which both countries signed a Trade and Economic Framework (TEF). The TEF institutionalises government-to-government collaboration in a range of activities including biotechnology. A specific MoU for a Joint Biotechnology Committee (led by Australia’s Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research and India’s DBT) was also signed in 2006.
In December 2011, the biotech industry propaganda body – ISAAA (International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications) reported that a USD 7.07 million grant was given by the United States Agency for International Development to Cornell University for research on the Matoke banana. The grant is managed by the Agricultural Biotechnology Research Project (ABSP II) in Cornell.
The project is to run from August 2011 to August 2016. It is focused on the Matoke – a GM East African Highland (EAH) banana, which is one of Uganda's primary food staples, apparently feeding more than half of the population. Aside from its good nutritional value, it is also a source of income for most Ugandan farmers.
In 2009 at the G8 Summit in L’Aquila, Italy the US President Obama had announced a US Government initiative Feed the Future (FTF). This is led by USAID. The ABSP II Banana project is part of FTF Uganda and very much part of US facilitated Ugandan government plans for the implementation of the multilateral Uganda Nutrition Action Plan (UNAP).
Through the GM banana project, ABSP II also aims to build the biotech capacity of Uganda's National Agricultural Research Organisation. The Government of India is also keen to embrace modern biotechnology in its mission towards food security. Thus crops and fruits 'bio-fortified' technologically and not naturally seem to be on its menu of things.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) has been supporting Professor Dale and his team at QUT since 2005. This is part of BMGF's Grand Challenges in Global Health Initiative. The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) part of the CGIAR and headquartered in Nigeria held the first Pan-African Banana Conference in 2008. Its main aim was to develop a 10-year R&D strategy to boost the banana industry. The said Conference was also funded by BMGF.
Just as USAID provides support for the GM Bt Brinjal R&D in India, Bangladesh and the Philippines. Likewise, it is doing so for GM Bananas in Africa, which are then also to be used in India. The Australian GM bananas sure have a strong US flavour.
(The writer has been working on issues of biosafety in agriculture)
September 12th, 2012
Food Biofortification: no answer to ill-health, starvation or malnutrition
By Gene Ethics founder and director Bob Phelps
The United Nations and its Special Rapporteur on Food, Olivier de Schutter, assert the universal human right to nourishing foods so everyone can be healthy and achieve our full potential. But micronutrient malnutrition - hidden hunger - and starvation afflict at least a billion members of the human family, through a lack of micronutrients and access to affordable food.
In 1992, 159 countries at an FAO/WHO International Conference on Nutrition pledged to help combat micronutrient deficiencies, especially of iodine, vitamin A, and iron, which then afflicted up to 1 in 3 people world-wide. Though food fortification alone would not end nutrient deficiencies and hunger, it claimed to be a step in the right direction. So a lot of scarce R&D resources have been poured into developing the new technology of biofortification. There are no biofortified foods yet.
Biofortification uses genetic manipulation techniques to cut and paste a gene into a staple crop with the intention that it will make a new or lost micronutrient. It is claimed they will be a solution to nutrient deficiencies, starvation, malnutrition and resultant ill-health, especially in less industrialized countries and regions. For instance, so-called Golden Rice (yellow because it contains beta-carotene) aims to restore Vitamin A to polished rice that has lost the nutrient. Bananas, cassava and sweet potato are also the targets of biofortification research.
But leading global food biofortification R&D organisation, HarvestPlus http://www.harvestplus.org/content/about-harvestplus, also correctly says: "Fruits, vegetables, and animal products are rich in micronutrients, but these foods are often not available to the poor. Their daily diet consists mostly of a few inexpensive staple foods, such as rice or cassava, which have few micronutrients. The consequences, in terms of malnutrition and health, are devastating and can result in blindness, stunting, disease, and even death." So, malnutrition and starvation are really problems of poverty, inequity and social injustice.
The challenge to feed everyone well is much more than adding one or two key nutrients to an impoverished diet dominated by a staple food or two. Yet HarvestPlus and other biofortification enthusiasts such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation do not intend to redress the lack of access to diverse healthy foods for all. They merely propose to add one or two micronutrients to fortify the same few staple foods that most poor people now have to rely on. Biofortification is not a solution to the core problem of access to a good diverse, balanced diet, a human right which would satisfy the health entitlements of all people, everywhere.
Instead of fixing the hidden hunger problem, biofortification defuses and delays the quest for food justice, to meet everyone's right to food. It would further marginalise the world's poor, malnourished and starving people, mostly landless women and children in rural areas or those displaced into urban slums by destruction of their communities. Biofortification would consign poor people permanently to low value, nutrient deficient, staple food ghettos from which they could not escape, permanently denying them the diverse nutritious meals to which they have a right.
Wikipedia notes there could be insurmountable problems with the fortification of nutrients in foods as they: "Š may deliver toxic amounts of nutrients to an individual and also cause its associated side effects (and) the potential that the fortified products will still not be a solution to nutrient deficiencies amongst low income populations who may not be able to afford the new product and children who may not be able to consume adequate amounts." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Food_fortification
Biofortication is, thus, a misallocation of scarce research and development resources that would entrench poor people's lack of access to the balanced nutritious food of which there is an abundance, if only it were fairly distributed to all. But in food systems dominated by global trade in bulk commodities and waste, food goes where it is most profitable rather than where it is most needed. We must work to dispel the inequities which allow nutrient deficiency to remain a chronic problem even though, as de Schutter and others confirm, there is sufficient good food to adequately feed everyone in the world right now.
Thus, biofortified food staples will not ensure people's health is improved, nor that their human rights to food are met. Public resources should be directed to helping empower malnourished and starving people to gain access to the land, water and seeds they need to locally produce the fresh fruits and vegetables that all agree will solve the problem of hidden hunger, starvation and illness.
It's our responsibility to ensure that every child, woman and man has access to the fresh fruits and vegetables needed for childhood growth and development, and adult health.
Bob Phelps is founder and director of Gene Ethics, a public interest advocate for GM-free futures.
~~~~~~~~~~~ March 27, 2013
Scientists Engineer Genetically Modified Bananas Despite Hundreds of Studies on Their Adverse Impactsby DAVE MIHALOVIC
Under the guise of making Indians "super healthy" and preventing iron deficiencies, Indian researchers are preparing to produce genetically-modified (GM) bananas despite hundreds of published scientific papers on the adverse impacts of transgenic foods.
Australian scientists have shared the technology with Indian scientists and farmers they say to help address widespread anemia in the country.
The Queensland University of Technology (QUT) signed an agreement with India's department of biotechnology to invest in a four-year project to develop the iron-rich bananas.
Australia will now hand over the genes to the experts from five Indian institutes for injecting them into the local bananas.
Professor James Dale says the research is an extension of a far north Queensland program backed by Microsoft founder Bill Gates.
Dale and his team had earlier experimented with genetically-modified bananas in Uganda. The banana fortification project in Uganda, he said, was in development stage and would take around six years to come to market. They have also developed the genetically modified bananas in Australia.
The Coalition for a GM-Free India, and informal network of scores of organizations and individuals from across India, campaigning and advocating to keep India GM-Free, has voiced strong concerns for GM technology and has released a compilation of scientific papers titled "ADVERSE IMPACTS OF TRANSGENIC CROPS/FOODS: A Compilation of Scientific References and Abstracts" which showcases the mounting evidence on the adverse impacts of transgenic crops and foods on various fronts.
“While the government does not hesitate to announce even on the floor of the Parliament that there are no adverse impacts from transgenic crops/foods, with this compilation that we are releasing today, we hope that fooling of the public by the proponents would stop. This is by no means an exhaustive compilation but only illustrative”, said the Coalition in a statement accompanying the release of this compilation.
“The implications of this living, irreversible technology have to be understood on different fronts (as much as possible, because there is still a severe dearth of research, that too on long term implications and from independent sources) by policy makers and citizens before GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms) are released into the environment, particularly on a large scale”.
“The debate on GM crops is always peppered with statements that opposition to GM crops stems out of “misguided emotion” or “ignorance” and that there is no “scientific evidence” for the negative effects of the technology. But the reality is that there is significant amount of scientific evidence that shows the problems with GM crops.
Several studies also point out to the need for further, detailed investigations. It is ironical that the scientists promoting GMOs in India do not want to look at such research and deliberately try to avoid discussions on scientific footing. They should understand that they would drive the nation into a deep and irreversible crisis related to food and farming if they continue this blinkered approach. At this juncture we would also like to reiterate that 150 scientists of repute had recently sent a letter to the Minister for Environment & Forests that GM crops have no connection to food security.
“However, we would like to reiterate, as we have always done, that GM crops are not about technical issues alone. It is a much broader and deeper issue which the industry and GM proponents want to circumscribe in the name of science. In that context we want to showcase that there is enough evidence against this technology even on that front”, said a statement of the Coalition.
We would like to point out, “these studies exist despite vehement opposition to independent research (not allowing access to GM seed, not allowing publication of adverse results, attacking unfavourable papers) on GM crops due to intellectual property right barriers, opposition from the companies that own the technology and merciless attacks on, vilification of and threats to independent scientists who have found negative impacts of this technology. This effectively means that if free and independent research were allowed on GM crops many more such studies will come to light, said Sridhar Radhakrishnan, Convener of the Coalition for a GM-Free India.
Dave Mihalovic is a Naturopathic Doctor who specializes in vaccine research, cancer prevention and a natural approach to treatment.
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