Recent Resources for Feminists
Sunday Magazine ~ May 20, 2018
Women of Cannes
BY Namrata Joshi
The figure of 82 Only 82 women directors have been in competition in Cannes’s 71-year history (getty images)
Events, images, people, films, talks everything in Cannes screamed gender this year
The lasting image of Cannes 2018 will be that of 82 women standing hand in hand on the red carpet on May 12 in a silent protest against gender disparity. They represented the 82 female directors who’ve been in competition in Cannes’ 71-year history compared to the almost 1,700 men.
At Cannes last year, Jessica Chastain had questioned the lopsided representation of women. She said that watching all the competition films left her disturbed at how the world viewed us. She said she wanted more of the women that she encountered in daily life to inhabit the screen, women with their own agency rather than those just reacting to men. Last year many of us had also applauded Harvey Weinstein for taking on Donald Trump on the issue of native Americans.
One year has made for a lot of change. With the lid off Weinstein’s sexual harassment offences, with #MeToo and #TimesUp movements gaining ground, the issue had to come knocking at Cannes’ door too, especially when it has had a dismal record of giving space to women filmmakers.
It’s in this context that another telling visual this year has been that of the Palme D’Or jury at the opening press conference. The president of the main competition jury, actor-producer Cate Blanchett, sat between two men (writer-directors Denis Villeneuve and Andrey Zvyagintsev) and two women (writer-director-producer Ava DuVernay and actor Léa Seydoux) to her right and another two men (director-writer-producer Robert Guédiguian and actor Chang Chen) and two women (actor Kristin Stewart and author, composer Khadja Nin) to her left. It was all, quite clearly, about trying to strike a balance of power.
Events, images, people, films, talks and interviews everything in Cannes screamed gender this year. A statement read by Blanchett and documentary filmmaker Agnes Varda on the red carpet said: “Women are not a minority in the world, yet the current state of our industry says otherwise… As women, we all face our own unique challenges, but we stand together on these stairs today as a symbol of our determination and commitment to progress. The stairs of our industry must be accessible to all. Let’s climb.” A helpline has been set up at the festival to report sexual harassment following accusations of four assaults by Weinstein there in the past.
But can these powerful images and statements and initiatives be enough? Can they become more than mere tokenisms? The gender question is loaded with ambiguities and complications in Cannes this year as it has been in the past. As it is in life in general.
For all the women joining hands in protest there have also been some boycotting the festival because of the presence of filmmaker Lars von Trier. Von Trier, who was listed persona non grata by the festival a few years ago for favouring Hitler, returned this year despite sexual harassment charges levelled against him by many, including Björk who was the star of his Dancer in the Dark .
A night with Harvey
Also, the closing film at the festival was Terry Gilliam’s The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. This, when Gilliam is known to have made light of the charges against Weinstein by dismissing his victims as “adults with a lot of ambition.” “Harvey opened the door for a few people, a night with Harvey that’s the price you pay…” he is reported to have said in one of his interviews. And then there are the cold facts. Despite the “female majority” jury and the seeming balance of power, Cannes couldn’t shrug off the fact that of the 21 in the main competition this year only three films are by women directors Girls of the Sun by Eva Husson, Capernaum by Nadine Labaki, and Lazzaro Felice (Happy as Lazzaro) by Alice Rohrwacher.
Meanwhile, this weekend will decide if Jane Campion will continue to remain the only woman to have won the Palme D’Or for her 1993 film The Piano or if she will finally find some company.
Blanchett admitted that she would want to see more women directors but the change can’t happen overnight. “They [women filmmakers] are not there because of their gender. They are there because of the quality of their work. We will assess them as filmmakers, as we should,” she said.
And then there are the larger questions. What were the gender issues in the bunch of films this year and what roles did women play? Is gender a woman’s only thing? Why should only women be expected to make “women-oriented” films?
Kenya’s Wanuri Kahiu, in the centre of controversy in her country for making Rafiki, a film on a lesbian relationship that features in the Un Certain Regard section, wants to make a sci-fi next but refuses to give up her gender-sexuality eye view. “I will always approach the subject with that perspective,” she told us in an interview.
While Kahiu faces a ban on her film, closer home Nandita Das’s Manto dwells on the larger issue of freedom of expression. She shows Saadat Hasan Manto as a brilliant mind, a fallible guy, and also as a feminist, one who shares a great camaraderie with his wife Safiya. Going a step ahead, Das chose the film’s première in a Un Certain Regard to put the spotlight on the two men behind her her father, the “Manto of her family,” artiste Jatin Das; and her son Vihaan, who was a part of the making of the film, sleeping in the editing suite while the film took shape.
If women shouldn’t be boxed into ‘feminist subjects’ then can men render gender issues more compellingly on screen? While Husson’s Girls of the Sun , being pitched as a Palme D’Or contender, disappointed me with its simplistic and manipulative telling of the tale of Kurdish women taking on the IS, playing on the familiar stereotyping of the mother-warrior, it was the quiet subversion and satirising of patriarchy in Jafar Panahi’s Three Faces that reached out, where the filmmaker gently guides the gender question without asserting himself or getting on the driver’s seat.
Two of the strongest women on screen in Cannes have featured in works by men Joanna Kulig as the beautiful Zula, clinging on to her love in politically tough times in Pawel Pawlikowski’s Cold War and Tao Zhao, effortlessly managing the gambling dens and mercurial men in Jia Zhangke’s Ash Is Purest White. Should cinema then be gendered at all?
Mid-way into the festival a new charter was unveiled, aiming at improving gender parity at Cannes, which is expected to be adopted by other leading film festivals. Under the charter, Cannes will record the gender of the cast and crew of all films submitted, make public the names of selection committee members, and work towards gender parity on the Cannes board. Maybe such affirmative action is a better approach.
Meanwhile, what of the viewer? Shouldn’t one have boycotted Lars von Trier? Or walked out rather than be willingly hypnotised by his tremendous craft, despite being conscious of its underlying sadism? This festival has been as much about looking inwards into one’s own feminist heart as it has been about pointing a finger at Cannes, and the world, in general.
If women shouldn’t be boxed into ‘feminist subjects’ then can men render gender issues more compellingly on screen?
~ Tuesday 22 May 2018
Cannes of worms: true gender equality in film will take more than 'just add women'
Women working solo direct 15% of new releases – but many of those films aren’t widely screened. The problem’s not just access, but gatekeeping too
By Deb Verhoeven and Bronwyn Coate
: Kristen Stewart, Ava Duvernay and Cate Blanchett were among the 82 film industry professionals who protested gender inequality at Cannes. (Joel C Ryan/Invision/AP)
Last weekend at the Cannes film festival, eyes were fixed not on the flickering images of a distant screen but on 82 women paused dramatically on the steps of the Palais.
Filmmakers, actors and lobbyists led by jury head Cate Blanchett and veteran filmmaker Agnes Varda took the red carpet opportunity of Eva Husson’s new film, Girls of the Sun, to give stark statistical visibility to a stubborn industrial deficit.
The number of protestors was not coincidental. In the entire 71 year history of Cannes only 82 women directors have climbed the festival’s stairs – in sharp contrast to 1,645 men. The under-representation of women and directors of colour at Cannes has been a longstanding feature of the festival, and despite repeated objections over many years, the numbers have barely moved. This year there were only three women directors out of 21 in the main competition. Spike Lee was the first black filmmaker in competition in four years.
In response, Cannes representatives led by artistic director Thierry Fremaux signed a diversity commitment, which promises more data transparency around film selection processes and outcomes, and improved representation of women on the festival board. But the charter pointedly rejects minimum statistical targets for films directed by women, in deference to existing “merit-based” decision-making practices. In the hands of adjudicators such as Fremaux and Blanchett, the word “merit” acts as a powerful euphemism for evenhandedness and is intended to thwart alternative calls for a numerically defined idea of balance.
The film industry generally, and Cannes in particular, has become a battleground for a galvanised feminism that includes and extends beyond the politics of visibility that has shaped the #MeToo movement. This is an industrial strength struggle that bridges a traditional division between the specific and the systemic; between data that describes the extent of the problem and data that indicates where and how to intervene. The mathematical, the statistical and the quantitative are all pivotal to understanding the operations of contemporary power. New forms of evidence and innovative analytic techniques are the critical weapons in a revitalised feminist arsenal.
At the Kinomatics Project, we have been working with a team of researchers using newly available datasets to understand the intersecting systems of gatekeeping that operate to constrain the advancement of women filmmakers. We collected data for films screening theatrically around the world from November 2012 to June 2015 – around 130 million observations, which revealed that women working as solo directors helmed 15% of all the new release movies that screened in that period. This is higher than the percentage of women directors in many key filmmaking centres at this time; in Hollywood for example, women only directed 7% of the top 250 grossing films. From a purely numerical perspective then, our findings appear to be comparatively positive.
But it’s not the full picture. If we look beyond the supply side (how many women directors) to the exposure side of the industry (how many of these filmmakers’ movies were seen by audiences in a cinema), the data is telling and terrible. Films directed by women constituted only 3% of all the screenings that occurred around the world.
When we break the data down to look at the screenings of films directed by women at a country level, we can see how filmmaker gender is distributed unevenly across the globe. In South America and Great Britain, only slightly over 2% of screenings were of films directed by a woman, while in North America and Asia the situation is only slightly improved, with just under 3% of screenings by sole women directors.
In Scandinavia the situation is markedly better, but still falls far short of parity with around 7% of screenings devoted to films directed by women. In every jurisdiction the proportion of films directed by women exceeds the percentage of screenings.
What this suggests is that strategies limited to “just add women directors and stir” are doomed to fail without attendance to additional and overlapping forms of gatekeeping, where judgements of aesthetic or business value severely impinge on women’s participation. Anna Serner, the compelling CEO of the Swedish Film Institute, has noted how consciously redefining highly gendered industry precepts such as “merit” and “risk” in the decision-making process, combined with methodical statistical verification, sparked her industry’s recent realisation of increased women’s participation: “We do the counting every month but we do the counting after taking the decisions.”
Festivals such as Cannes play a critically important role in organising and amplifying global distribution opportunities for women filmmakers, and because of this they also offer a unique opportunity for redistributing gender throughout the entire industry.
We’ve had more than 70 years of data to show us Cannes has a problem with women filmmakers. If the various directors of the Cannes film festival were truly committed to meaningful change they wouldn’t just agree to make women more countable, they would make themselves and their festival accountable. That’s a red carpet vision worth the price of a festival ticket.
• Deb Verhoeven and Bronwyn Coate are researchers in the Kinomatics Project, an international effort that collects and explores data about the creative industries.
Tuesday 22 May 2018
Cannes film festival's sexual harassment hotline – did it work?
Leading industry women spoke out passionately about sexual harassment – but some female film-makers said they continued to be mistreated
By Anna Smith
: Asia Argento, left, and director Ava DuVernay at the closing ceremony. (Stephane Mahe/Reuters)
In the post- Weinstein era, it looked as if this year’s Cannes film festival was going to be different. A sexual harassment hotline was launched by the festival, and 82 powerful industry women staged a demonstration on the steps of the Palais des Festivals. Two days later, a panel of women from the international #MeToo, Times Up and 5050x2020 movements spoke passionately about their work, before the festival’s director signed a pledge for gender parity. It was a historic moment and strangers smiled and chatted to each other, high on hope.
There was a more uncomfortable atmosphere at the closing ceremony, when actor Asia Argento spoke out. “In 1997, I was raped by Harvey Weinstein here at Cannes. I was 21 years old. This festival was his hunting ground.”
Weinstein denies all allegations of non-consensual sex made against him.
It’s likely the words “hunting ground” chimed with any woman who has been in Cannes during the festival, whether as an actor, producer, journalist or bar staff. The abuse of power in film industry meetings has been well publicised in Weinstein’s wake, but going out and about in Cannes can also be perilous – notably more so than in London, for example.
While I’ve always had a terrific time covering the festival and am treated respectfully by male colleagues, I’ve learned the need to be especially aware at night. Out on the Boulevard de la Croisette, I’ve had drunken/predatory strangers lunge at me. Less crude approaches at parties have still carried a sense of entitlement or expectation, as if any woman in a dress in Cannes were fair game. Many younger attendees I spoke to had similar experiences – or worse.
“Last year was my first time in Cannes,” says one actor and activist. “Let’s just say I mastered the art of declining advances that obviously had nothing to do with work. That includes an invitation to tag along with some people on to Weinstein’s boat – phew!” She had troubling experiences this year, too. “There were times when I still felt vulnerable and objectified. My guard was up, I didn’t drink and I wore unrevealing clothes, so I wonder: what happens when a girl is tipsy, more trusting and wearing whatever she wants?”
Incidents are also taking place in broad daylight. One writer-director had cause to call the hotline this year. “I went to the hotline because [a chauffeur] drove me away against my will and tried to molest me,” she claims. “We spoke on the phone to a lady who arranged for me to be met immediately. I made a statement and she took me to the police, acting as a translator for the whole time. The police acted very swiftly, and he was fired. Without the helpline I don’t honestly think I would have been able to get the same outcome.”
A spokesperson for one of the companies who operate the fleet of cars the chauffeur was driving said: “Her complaint has been closed as a non-case. Nevertheless we are shattered by her allegations and are taking this matter very seriously.”
It seems that the #MeToo message will take time to filter through all aspects of Cannes. Melissa Silverstein of Women and Hollywood says: “Women are still perceived as second-class citizens all across this festival, from the types of movies that are sold in the market, to how women are still eye candy, to how women are sexually harassed, to how few women directors walk up the steps of the Palais. Having a jury led by a woman does nothing to quell the reality that men rule that town.”
That said, initiatives such as the hotline seem like a step in the right direction. Kate Kinninmont, CEO of Women in Film TV (UK), says: “I’m delighted that the festival organised a sexual harassment helpline this year. This is a great way, not only to help the people being harassed, but also to get the message out that the Cannes film festival will not put up with the predatory behaviour of the Harvey Weinsteins of the world.”
The actor also has reason for hope. “I met some men who were really sensitive to and supportive of gender equality,” she says. “One powerful Hollywood businessman told me, ‘Time is up, indeed’, while a British director asked me, ‘How can I join the movement?’”
Let’s hope we can all work together to change Cannes for the better.
Volune 35, Issue 09, May 11, 2018
Beti Bachao, A Stillborn Scheme
: A section of the crowd at the launch of the Beti Bachao scheme on January 22, 2015, in Panipat, Haryana. (AKHILESH KUMAR)
An audit report of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India comes down heavily on the Haryana government for its lax implementation of the Beti Bachao scheme.
By T.K. RAJALAKSHMI
NOTWITHSTANDING the tall claims made by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government at the Centre, a report of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) on the social and economic sectors (for the year ending 2016) of the Haryana government has revealed huge gaps in the implementation of the Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao Yojana, one of the major flagship programmes of the Union government. The scheme, launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Panipat district, Haryana, on January 22, 2015, aimed at ensuring the survival, protection and empowerment of the girl child. The scheme was to be implemented through a mass campaign in 100 “gender-critical” districts, which included 20 districts from Haryana. Clearly, from a “gender-critical” point of view, Haryana, a BJP-governed State, was given top priority.
The CAG report, which focussed on the implementation of the scheme in the three districts of Panipat, Mahendargarh and Sonepat, stated that “the target of improving the sex ratio at birth, increasing girls’ enrolment in secondary education and hundred per cent re-enrolment of dropout girls could not be achieved”. The CAG found evidence of diversion of funds from the scheme, which is wholly financed by the Central government. The audit found that of the Rs.5 lakh released by the District Programme Officer to the Civil Surgeon in Panipat for the fulfilment of the objectives of the scheme, Rs.3 lakh was spent on making a “theme gate” at the entrance to Panipat for the occasion of launching the scheme. A sum of Rs.5 lakh was allocated to each district to strengthen the district Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Technique cells and monitoring, to gather information, for research studies and for information and communication activities. The expenditure on the theme gate, said the report, was “irregular and tantamount to diversion of funds”. Further, the Women and Child Development Department spent Rs.24 lakh on purchasing 1,800 laptop bags and 2,900 mugs even though there was no provision in the scheme for purchasing these.
On the implementation of the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act (PCPNDT Act) in the three test districts, the audit report found that an anonymous online complaint portal that was to be functional from September 2014 was not set up in any of the districts. Only seven complaints under the PCPNDT Act regarding unregistered doctors operating ultrasound machines and conducting illegal tests were received from these districts from 2014 to 2016. “Non-provision of the facility of the online anonymous complaint portal diluted the monitoring capability of the department,” observed the audit report.
The PCPNDT cells were not provided with equipment or technical manpower, and no targets for monthly or quarterly inspections were fixed by the department. The guidelines of the scheme stipulate that review meetings, field inspections and monitoring be carried out once every three months in all the districts by the State Inspection and Monitoring Committee. The audit found that only one meeting was held in the State between January 2015 and March 2016, and no meeting was held in any of the test districts.
The audit found the State wanting in encouraging the education of the girl child. As per the scheme, Rs.1 lakh was to be given to five schools in each gender-critical district to encourage and promote the education of the girl child. The idea was to increase enrolment and to draw dropout girl students back. The audit found that the department had released only Rs.1 lakh for each of the three test districts. The State government pleaded that the Central government had not released the funds, which the audit found was not true. The money had been released but was spent in workshops and seminars at the district headquarters.
The Beti Bachao scheme was launched with much fanfare by the Prime Minister himself. The State government was implementing seven schemes for improving the sex ratio and checking the demographic imbalance that Haryana was notorious for, and to meet the sociological and health needs of the girl child.
It set up State and district task forces for monitoring and implementing these seven schemes. The audit found that very few meetings of these task forces were held in the test districts, instead of the mandated quarterly meetings.
As per the guidelines of the Beti Bachao scheme, an improvement of the sex ratio at birth by 10 points in a year was to be achieved. The audit found to its alarm that the sex ratio had declined further in Panipat and Mahendargarh, though it had improved in Sonepat. This indicated that sex selection at birth was still pretty much rampant. The audit report found major deficiencies in the upkeep and maintenance of shelter homes for destitute women and children; it was also noticed that not enough was done to make the women self-reliant.
The crime statistics of Haryana are equally grave. According to the latest data from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), the State ranks sixth in the country in crimes against women. Between 2014 and 2016, a total of 1,000 rapes were reported.
The Haryana government may have been lax in implementing the guidelines of the Beti Bachao scheme, but it has not been a laggard in cracking down on alleged cow smugglers and traffickers under its stringent Cow Protection Law (Haryana Gauvansh Sanrakshan and Gausamvardhan Act, 2015), which awards a sentence of one year in jail and Rs.10 lakh as fine to those caught smuggling cows.
Volune 35, Issue 09, May 11, 2018
Shock and despair
A protest against the rapes in Kathua and Unnao, at Carter Road in Mumbai on April 15. (Prashant Waydande)
As outrageous as the sexual violence against minor girls in Kathua and Unnao are Bharatiya Janata Party leaders’ involvement in the crimes and defence of the culprits. (Scroll down to also read: "BJP Leaders: Licence to rape?")
By T.K. RAJALAKSHMI
FIVE years ago, a brutal gang rape in Delhi that led to the death of a young physiotherapist drew widespread public attention to the increasing crimes of a heinous nature against women and children. It compelled leading political parties to hold forth on the rising graph of crimes, and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which was then in the opposition, projected the incident as a symbol of the law and order situation under the then United Progressive Alliance regime led by the Congress.
The abduction, gang rape and murder of an eight-year-old in Kathua in Jammu district of Jammu and Kashmir by eight persons in January this year and the almost year-long sexual exploitation of a teenager in Unnao, Uttar Pradesh, allegedly involving a legislator from the ruling BJP are incidents that bring back the horrific memories of the 2012 incident and are symbolic of the violence against women and children in general. In Kathua, 90 kilometres from Jammu, the body of the little girl who had gone missing was found in a forest area on January 17. The Crime Branch of the State police investigated the case, and the charge sheet, close to 500 pages long, was filed and the trial was to begin in the Sessions Court in April when the incident roused public opprobrium because of the open support given to the accused by two BJP MinistersChandra Prakash Ganga and Lal Singhin the coalition government the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is running with the BJP in the State.
What was most galling was the stoic silence of none other than Prime Minister Narendra Modi who refrained from condemning the participation of Ministers from his party in a rally called to support those accused in the Kathua case. His silence in the case involving the prolonged sexual exploitation of a teenager in Unnao allegedly by a BJP MLA and the subsequent death of the victim’s father in suspicious circumstances after being allegedly assaulted by the supporters of the MLA was equally inexplicable.
It was widely observed that the otherwise voluble Prime Minister had been silent on both the incidents throughout much of March and April. On April 13, he broke his silence at a function in New Delhi held to commemorate B.R. Ambedkar’s birth anniversary and said that the culprits would not be spared.
On April 18, when Modi, who was on a visit to London, was greeted with protests over the rape and murder of the eight-year-old, all that he could say was that rape should not be “politicised”. Interacting with the Indian community in Westminster at an event titled “Bharat ki Baat, Sabke Saath”, he made it a point to say that when a child was raped, “we cannot compare these incidents in numbers for different governments”.
Yet it was difficult to overlook the fact that the two incidents of violent crime against women and children had taken place in States governed by the BJP, one by itself, Uttar Pradesh, and the other in coalition with the PDP. The other more shocking feature was that in both cases, elected representatives from the BJP were either directly involved or appeared to be supporting the accused.
Retired civil servants’ missive
On April 14, as many as 49 retired civil servants wrote to the Prime Minister pointing to the “terrifying state of affairs” in the country and sought strong action against the perpetrators of these crimes, saying that it was the “darkest hour in post-Independence India”. The letter says: “The bestiality and the barbarity involved in the rape and murder of an eight-year-old child shows the depths of depravity that we have sunk into. In post-Independence India, this is our darkest hour and we find the response of our government, the leaders of our political parties, inadequate and feeble. At this juncture, we see no light at the end of the tunnel and we hang our heads in shame. Our sense of shame is all the more acute because our younger colleagues who are still in service, especially those working in the districts and are required by law to care for and protect the weak and the vulnerable, also seem to have failed in their duty.”
Former Director General of Police of Gujarat Julio Ribeiro and former Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah were among those who signed the letter, which said: “We had hoped that as someone sworn to upholding the Constitution, the government that you head and the party to which you belong would wake up to this alarming decline, take the lead in stemming the rot and reassure everyone, especially the minorities and vulnerable sections of society, that they need not fear for their life and liberty. This hope has been destroyed. Instead, the unspeakable horror of the Kathua and the Unnao incidents shows that the government has failed in performing the most basic of the responsibilities given to it by the people.”
They said they were writing to give voice to a “collective sense of shame” but wanted to express “rage over the agenda of division and hate your party and its innumerable, often untraceable offshoots that spring up from time to time, have insidiously introduced into the grammar of our politics, our social and cultural life and even our daily discourse. It is that which provides the social sanction and legitimacy for the incidents in Kathua and Unnao.” On April 19, at a function in Katra, Jammu, President Ram Nath Kovind called the Kathua rape “barbaric”.
Kathua rape and intimidation
The gang rape and murder of the eight-year-old from the Bakarwal nomadic community has shocked people’s sensibilities. And the open support given to the accused by one political party has only confirmed suspicions that the heinous act was deliberate and aimed specifically at removing the nomadic community from the area. It also appeared communal in nature as the Bakarwals are Muslims.
Investigations by the Crime Branch, which took over the case on January 22, revealed that the child had been sedated, raped three times, suffocated and bludgeoned to death. Her internal organs, including the uterus, had received severe injuries. The act of rape itself took place in a temple. The caretaker of the temple is the main accused, according to the charge sheet. The others among the eight accused include a juvenile and a former revenue official and a special police officer of Jammu and Kashmir. Two members of the Jammu and Kashmir Police have been named in the charge sheet for taking money to destroy evidence.
The distinctive and yet shocking element in the Kathua incident was the polarisation along communal lines by way of the overt support given to the accused by the two BJP Ministers. They took part in a road show from Jammu to Kathua protesting against the charge sheet filed by the Crime Branch and demanding a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) into the incident. Interestingly, no such demand for a CBI probe has been made to date by the victim’s family, which seemed satisfied with the Crime Branch probe.
Part of a larger conspiracy
A significant difference between the gang rape of the physiotherapist in 2012 and the eight-year-old in 2018 was the direct political intervention in favour of the accused in the case of the latter. The widespread outrage that erupted over the public support given by the BJP to the accused compelled the party’s central leadership to demand their resignation from the State government. It was only after the rally in support of the accused and the speeches of the BJP Ministers were widely publicised that the central leadership swung into action.
Even as violence against women and children has risen exponentially as exemplified by the latest data from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), the Kathua incident has drawn attention to the use of rape as a tool to terrorise and intimidate sections among the population, which is a relatively new phenomenon. Not only was there overt political support for the accused; the Jammu wing of the Jammu and Kashmir Bar Association on April 9 prevented the Crime Branch from submitting its charge sheet. The charge sheet had indicated that the crime was part of a conspiracy to “drive out the Gujjars and Bakarwals from the area”.
Talking to Frontline, Mohammad Yusuf Tarigami, the lone Communist Party of India (Marxist) MLA in the State, said that communal polarisation as an agenda was being assiduously pursued ever since the formation of the PDP-BJP government. He said it was shocking that none of the BJP legislators or Members of Parliament representing Jammu had visited the victim’s family.
In February, Tarigami became the only MLA to give a calling attention motion in the Assembly demanding a status report on the investigation of the rape and murder in Kathua. In his notice, he stated that some anti-social elements were trying to politicise the issue and derive political mileage. The government informed him that the case was with the Crime Branch, which had constituted a Special Investigation Team. No one took the kidnapping of the child seriously, he said. There was no concern for the victim by the elected representatives from the area, all of whom were from the BJP, including the MP from Jammu, Jitendra Singh, who is a Minister at the Centre.
Tarigami told Frontline that an eviction campaign against the Gujjar-Bakarwals in Jammu and Samba districts had been going on ever since the coalition government had taken charge. He had received complaints that the targets of eviction belonged to a certain community. “In Samba, Gujjars were being made to relocate to facilitate the setting up of an AIIMS [All India Institute of Medical Sciences]. We protested against the forcible eviction,” he said, adding that he had organised a meeting of Gujjar-Bakarwals with the Chief Minister on the harassment faced by them.
Clamour for the death penalty
Five years on, the Nirbhaya case, as the Delhi gang-rape case came to be known, has got reduced to a talking point even as incidents of rape and other serious crimes against women and minors soar. The involvement of people from political parties, including elected representatives, in such crimes and the overt and covert forms of support given to the accused in order to influence the outcome of the investigations are the new challenges. The standard response to sexual crimes against children is the demand to award the death penalty to those convicted.
Disturbed by the Kathua incident, Maneka Gandhi, Union Minister for Women and Child Development, asked her department to work out a proposal to amend the Protection of Children Against Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012, in order to include a provision for the death penalty for the rape of a minor below 12 years. The maximum sentence at present is life imprisonment.
Farooq Abdullah, National Conference president, demanded a special session of the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly to pass a law awarding the death penalty to those convicted of child rape. The outcry for the death penalty has been mainly from the BJP; three BJP-ruled States, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana and Rajasthan, had recently amended their criminal laws to introduce the death penalty for child rape in their statutes. On March 16, Arunachal Pradesh became the fourth State to amend the law to include the death penalty for child rape.
According to NCRB data, the incidence of crimes against children went up from 89,423 in 2014 to 1,06,958 in 2016. From 2015, it rose by 13.6 per cent in 2016. The three States of Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh accounted for the highest number of cases filed for kidnapping and abduction and registered under the POCSO Act. Similarly, while there was an overall rise in the incidence of crimes against women from 2014 to 2016, the four States of Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan accounted for the highest number of rape cases in the country. All four States are at present ruled by the BJP.
Role of the police
It is well documented that after the 2012 Nirbhaya case, there has been an unprecedented rise in the reporting of crimes against women. But the role of the police, in both the Unnao and the Kathua cases, has been particularly shocking. In the Unnao case, the police refused to register a complaint and face allegations of torturing the father of the accused to death. In the Kathua case, the police apparently tried to destroy evidence by washing the clothes of the victim. Deepika (’Thusoo’) Rajawat, the advocate who is arguing the case on behalf of the victim’s family, was intimidated by her colleagues in the Bar Association for having taken up the case and was branded anti-Hindu. The Bar Association also wanted the case to be transferred to the CBI, stating that it had no faith in the investigation by the Crime Branch, a demand which has not been entertained by the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, bizarre and fake stories about the “truth of the Kathua rape” are being planted, with one suggesting that Rohingya refugees were behind the heinous crime.
The BJP, after coming to power in 2014, launched with much fanfare the Beti Padhao Beti Bachao scheme, which was aimed at increasing the enrolment of girl children in schools and in addressing the skewed child sex ratio.
However, a Comptroller and Auditor General report of the scheme in States with the worst sex ratio shows that all is not well with the scheme (see story on page 21). It is equally surprising that a good number of persons affiliated to the BJP have been booked, accused or even charge-sheeted over the past few years in incidents involving crimes against women and children. All such cases have been widely reported in the mainstream media.
For instance, in February 2017, four local BJP leaders in Gujarat’s Kutch district were among the accused in a case of a gang rape; the leaders named in the first information report (FIR) were suspended by the party. In June 2016, another BJP leader from Gujarat was booked for raping a nursing student. The accused are still at large. In 2016, a local BJP leader in Gujarat was arrested for allegedly molesting a 13-year-old on a Goa-Ahmedabad flight. He was booked under the POCSO Act, and the State BJP leadership assured action against him.
In 2015, a BJP legislator from Gurugram, Haryana, faced trial for offences of rape, assault, poisoning, criminal intimidation and abetment. A former BJP Minister in Karnataka was arrested following rape charges made by his friend’s wife.
In 2014, a BJP leader and five others were arrested in Madhya Pradesh for alleged sexual assault and trafficking of a minor girl from Assam. In 2013, a senior BJP leader, also the party’s Maharashtra spokesperson, was charged with sexually exploiting an office-bearer of the party. In 2009, the shocking news of a BJP leader from Punjab raping his daughter came to light.
Perhaps the most controversial of all was the induction of Nihal Chand Meghwal, BJP MP from Ganganagar, in the Central Council of Ministers in 2014. Meghwal was a four-time Member of Parliament. At the time of his induction, he was one among 17 persons accused in a case of sexual exploitation in 2011. It was with much difficulty that the victim managed to get an FIR registered (see “Double Standards”, Frontline, July 2014). A Jaipur court had issued him a summons. In 2016, Meghwal was dropped from the Council of Ministers.
The extent of political mileage that the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) received in the aftermath of the Nirbhaya incident in 2012 cannot be gauged in electoral terms. But the Budget cuts to the Nirbhaya fund speak volumes of the sincerity of the government in dealing with crimes against women and children. And though there was a huge outcry from the NDA over the safety and empowerment of women in the aftermath of the Nirbhaya incident, it has failed to pass the long-pending Women’s Reservation Bill despite the numbers it has in the Lok Sabha.
Its attitude towards women is also one of superiority or contempt. The controversial statements by Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) leaders and a few influential religious leaders exhorting Hindus to produce more children have contributed a lot to vitiating the atmosphere. In 2015, it was the Unnao MP, Sakshi Maharaj, who courted controversy with his declaration that Hindu women should produce four children each. No reprimand was issued to the Lok Sabha member.
It may well be that crimes may not be government-specific, but when the response is victim-specific doubts prevail over the impartiality of those at the helm. The context in which there has been an increase in hate crimes against minorities, mostly in the name of cattle vigilantism, and the rising crimes against women and children is significant. In such a scenario, the selective silence or the calibrated response of the BJP’s top leadership appears opportunistic in every sense of the term.
Volune 35, Issue 09, May 11, 2018
BJP Leaders: Licence to rape?
Swami Chinmayananda, a former Union Minister. The Uttar Pradesh government withdrew a rape case against him without giving any explanation. (A. Muralitharan)
An All India Mahila Congress protest in front of the BJP headquarters in New Delhi in February 2017 against a rape incident in Naliya, Kutch. (Shanker Chakravarty)
Many prominent BJP leaders, including legislators, have cases of sexual assault against them, particularly in States ruled by the party.
By PURNIMA S. TRIPATHI
Even as the country watched with shock the grisly details of the Unnao and Kathua gang rape cases unfold, yet another major event, no less grim by any account, and also involving a prominent Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader in a rape case, almost went unnoticed. The Uttar Pradesh government quietly issued orders to withdraw a seven-year-old rape case against Swami Chinmayananda, a former BJP Member of Parliament and Union Minister. The order came on March 6 after Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath visited Chinmayananda at his house in Shahjehanpur and had lunch with him. The two are reported to be close. The Shahjehanpur district administration moved an application to withdraw the case on March 9, 2018. The government has given no explanation.
The victim has written letters to the President, the Prime Minister, the Chief Justice of India and the district judge demanding that an arrest warrant be issued against the Swami immediately. A first information report (FIR) was registered in November 2011 when the girl alleged that she had been raped repeatedly by the Swami at his ashram in Haridwar. She said she had gone to the ashram on her own to take sanyas. But the Swami allegedly kept her confined and raped her. She was not allowed to meet her parents during that time and was threatened that her family would be killed if she disclosed anything. The FIR was lodged by her father after she managed to escape.
Chinmayananda immediately approached the High Court, which stayed his arrest. The case had been pending since then. Chinmayanada has been a prominent member of the BJP. He won in three Lok Sabha elections and was the Minister of State for Home in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government.
Yet another BJP leader, Sakshi Maharaj, who is now the Lok Sabha Member from Unnao and has a penchant for being in the news for all the wrong reasons, had also been accused of rape in the past. A case was registered against him in August 2000 after a college principal from Etah filed a complaint accusing him and two of his nephews, Padam Singh and Shivram Ram, of gang-raping her. The woman and her male colleague were allegedly assaulted while they were driving in a jeep to Agra from Etah. The accused also allegedly took away the woman’s licensed firearm and the jeep. The police said that the woman had been living in Sakshi Maharaj’s ashram for four years. The rape happened when she expressed a desire to marry a colleague, to which Sakshi Maharaj objected. Sakshi Maharaj spent about a month in Tihar jail awaiting trial. He was released in 2001 owing to lack of evidence.
The BJP prides itself on being a party with a difference. In a way it is, because so many of its leaders have been accused of heinous crimes. The Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), which analyses data from election affidavits of MPs and MLAs, published a report in 2017 saying the BJP topped the list of lawmakers accused of rape. It analysed the data of 4,852 out of 4,896 election affidavits of serving legislators: 774 out of 776 affidavits by MPs and 4,078 out of 4,120 by MLAs from across the States.
A total of 1,581 (33 per cent) MPs and MLAs had criminal cases against them. “There are 51 MPs and MLAs who have declared cases of crime against women such as charges related to assault or criminal force to woman with intent to outrage her modesty, kidnapping, abducting or inducing woman to compel her into marriage, rape, buying minor for purposes of prostitution, and word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman,” the ADR study said. The BJP had the highest number (14) of legislators with declared cases relating to crimes against women, followed by the Shiv Sena (seven) and the All India Trinamool Congress (six). Prof. Jagdeep Chhoker, founder member of the ADR, talking to Frontline, said that the fact that people accused of sexual assaults on women were able to become lawmakers emboldened others to commit such crimes. “These are really bad times. There is something seriously wrong with our political system,” he said.
Social media is full of details on several BJP leaders who have been charged with rape. A BJP leader from Delhi, Vijay Jolly, was booked for rape in February last year. The complainant was a party activist who said in the FIR that she had accompanied Jolly for a party meeting to Gurugram, where he sedated and raped her at a resort called Apna Ghar. Jolly said the allegation was politically motivated and was a fallout of a failed extortion bid.
Gurugram MLA Umesh Agrawal and two of his associates were booked for rape on a complaint by a woman who lodged a case against him at Hari Nagar police station in Delhi in January 2015. The woman herself was later arrested for recording a false statement, though she secured bail. The Deputy Mayor of Gurugram, Parminder Kataria, was accused of raping a 36-year-old mother of two.
Intriguingly, such cases seem to occur more in States ruled by the BJP or in States where the party is strong. Most of these cases have been reported from Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh. In February 2017, a 24-year-old woman was raped in Kutch by 10 people, including four BJP leadersShantilal Solanki, the main accused, Govind Parumalani, Ajit Ramvani and Basant Bhanushali. An FIR was registered against them and all of them were suspended from the party.
In June 2016, Jayesh Patel, a BJP leader from Vadodara, was booked for raping a 22-year-old nursing student of a college of which he was the president. Jayesh Patel absconded and was suspended from the party for six years. The warden of the hostel, Bhavna Patel, who allegedly helped in the crime, was arrested.
In May 2016, yet another BJP leader from Gujarat, Ashok Makwana, was booked for molesting a 13-year-old girl on an Indigo flight from Goa to Ahmedabad. The girl was travelling alone and he was seated next to her. The police complaint did not name the leader, but the airline later provided the name.
Approached the accused for help
The victims in the sexual assault cases against BJP leaders in Madhya Pradesh are mostly needy women who approached the accused for help. Recently, on February 19, a senior BJP leader, Rajendra Namdeo, raped an acid attack survivor who met him to seek his help in getting a job in Bhopal. Namdeo, who was the vice chairman of the Silai Kadhai Board, a Cabinet rank post, was removed from his post and expelled from the party.
On March 1, 2017, a senior BJP leader in Morena district and two of his associates were booked for raping a Dalit woman who met him to seek his help to acquire a BPL (below poverty line) card. On December 18, 2016, a tribal girl in Betul who had brought a molestation charge against a local BJP leader was raped by him and five others; they were trying to force her to withdraw her complaint.
In July 2013, shortly before the Assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh, senior BJP leader and Finance Minister Raghavji was accused of sexual exploitation by his domestic worker, and a CD surfaced featuring him and the victim. Raghavji was sent to jail. In August 2014, another senior BJP leader, Hamid Sadar, president of the party’s local minority cell, was arrested along with five others on the charges of rape and trafficking of a minor girl from Assam.
Maharashtra is yet another BJP-ruled State where BJP leaders have cases filed against them. In July last year, senior leader Ravindra Bawanthade was arrested on charges of raping a 19-year-old girl on a bus. The girl had sought his help to get a job. The case was registered after a clip from CCTV footage went viral. Madhu Chavan, who was party vice president and spokesman in the State, was booked for allegedly raping a party worker after promising to marry her. In January 2017, in Kashimira, Mumbai, corporator Anil Bhosle was booked for rape and unnatural sex with a 44-year-old woman whom he had promised help in her divorce case.
In Karnataka in November 2013, the BJP leader D.N. Jeevraj, who was then an MLA from Chikamagalur, was booked for raping a 23-year-old woman. He said the complainant was out to extort money. In May 2010, the then Food and Civil Supplies Minister H. Halappa was arrested for raping a friend’s wife. He, too, had then said it was a political conspiracy.
In BJP-ruled Chhattisgarh, BJP MLA Krishnamurti Bandhi was accused of rape in November 2013. The victim’s charred body was later found at the residence of one of his close associates in Bilaspur.
Harakh Singh Rawat, a political leader from Uttarakhand who crossed over to the BJP from the Congress in 2016, was also booked for rape after a 32-year-old woman lodged a complaint at Safdarjung police station in New Delhi on July 30, 2016. In September 2013, Pramod Gupta, a prominent BJP leader who was chairman of a cooperative bank in Dehradun, and his accomplice were sentenced to life imprisonment for a rape he had committed in April 2008.
In a shocking case, Ashok Taneja, a BJP leader from Punjab, was arrested on March 27, 2009, on the charge of raping his own daughter for eight years.
On June 13, 2014, Nihal Chanda, a newly appointed Minister in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Cabinet, found his name in a rape complaint dating back to 2011. He was issued summons by a court in Jaipur, along with 17 others. Despite a media outcry, no action was taken by the government.
According to political observers, such cases abound because the perpetrators are aware that only a minuscule number of cases ever reach their logical conclusion. Political power seems to come with a licence to rape. Most complaints either get dismissed for lack of evidence or get lost in the long judicial process.
London ~ Friday 27 April 2018
India's abuse of women is the biggest human rights violation on Earth
Tragic rape cases have shocked the country. But the everyday suffering of 650 million Indian women and girls goes unnoticed By Deepa Narayan
Women protest against violence against women and children in Bangalore, April 2018. (Jagadeesh Nv/EPA)
India is at war with its girls and women. The planned rape of eight-year-old Asifa in a temple by several men, including a policeman who later washed the clothes she was wearing to destroy evidence, was particularly horrific. Asifa's rape has outraged and shaken the entire country. Yet sexual abuse in India remains widespread despite tightening of rape laws in 2013. According to the National Crimes Records Bureau, in 2016 the rape of minor girls increased by 82% compared with the previous year. Chillingly, across all rape cases, 95% of rapists were not strangers but family, friends and neighbours.
The culturally sanctioned degradation of women is so complete that the prime minister of India, Narendra Modi, launched a national programme called Beti Bachao (Save Our Girls). India can arguably be accused of the largest-scale human rights violation on Earth: the persistent degradation of the vast majority of its 650 million girls and women. And this includes the middle classes, as I found when interviewing 600 women and men in India's cities.
India's women are traumatised in less obvious ways than by tanks in the streets, bombs and warlords. Our oppression starts innocuously: it occurs in private life, within families, with girls being locked up in their own homes. This everyday violence is the product of a culture that bestows all power on men, and that does not even want women to exist. This is evident in the unbalanced sex ratios at birth, even in wealthy families. But India also kills its women slowly. This violence is buried in the training of women in some deadly habits that invite human rights violations, but that are considered the essence of good womanhood.
The first teaches girls to be afraid of their own bodies. When a girl is not supposed to exist, 1.3 billion people collectively pretend that girls don't have bodies and especially no sexual parts. If girls do not have bodies, sexual molestation is not possible, and if it does happen, it has to be denied, and if it cannot be denied, the girl must be blamed.
Denial of sexuality in homes is another habit that is deadly to girls. Almost every woman I interviewed had experienced some form of sexual molestation. Only two had told their mothers, only to be dismissed, "Yes, this happens in families," or "No, this did not happen." Indian government surveys show that 42% of girls in the country have been sexually abused.
Speech is another basic human right. To have a voice, to speak up, is to be recognised, to belong. But girls are trained in silence. They are told to be quiet, to speak softly, dheere bolo, to have no opinions, no arguments, no conflicts. Silent women disappear. They are easy to ignore, overrule, and violate without repercussions. Impunity flourishes.
It serves a culture of violence to create pleasers, another habit that further erodes a woman's sense of self. Pleasers compromise and sacrifice, all disguised through the ubiquitous phrase beta thora adjust kar lo - "darling, please adjust a little". It means to be punished to force you to fit in, to do what others want you to do and never say no.
Women whose sense of self has been worn down, by definition must depend on others, which only serves to breed fear and violence. Over 50% of Indian men and women still believe that sometimes women deserve a beating. One woman is killed every hour for not bringing enough dowry to a husband. But dependency is still presented as a virtuous habit and independence as a bad characteristic. Dependent women have no separate identity and are legitimate only as mothers, wives and daughters. Such women are trained to put duty over self - the suicide numbers are highest for housewives.
The right to assemble is a right taken away by dictators. In India it is the culture that subverts women's desire to organise. The cultural design of oppression is so clever, that it instils a habit of distrust and trains women to demean, dismiss and discount other women. Almost no woman I interviewed belonged to a women's group. They said, "I don't have time for gossip."
The real genius of this system lies in the fact that oppression has been recast as a virtue. So erasure of self - the most treacherous human rights violation - hides in plain sight, sanctified by loving families, perfumed by our definitions of goodness. And the private sphere, the family, remains impenetrable and untouchable.
We have underestimated the power of culture in creating violence within our families. To reclaim our humanity we need a national conversation about what it means to be a good woman and a good man in India today.
• Deepa Narayan is a social scientist and author of Chup: Breaking the Silence About India's Women
Thursday April 19 2018
Saving the girl child, against all odds
By Giridhara R. Babu
Estimates indicate that for every 100 girls in rural India, only one or two complete class XII. (DH File Photo)
Nearly 40% of girls leave school before completing the fifth standard. (DH file photo)
The misery starts for a girl child even before she is born in India. According to the 2011 Census, Haryana had the worst sex ratio with only 861 females to every 1000 males. Legislation has barely made any effect in stopping female foeticides or in arresting the declining sex ratio in India. The World Bank estimates indicate that compared to 961 women per 1000 men in 1971, it is reduced to 939 in 2011; it is projected to be 904 in 2021, and 898 in 2031.
Of those fortunate girls who do not get killed in the womb, very few get good nutrition and education. Estimates indicate that for every 100 girls in rural India, only one or two complete class XII. Nearly 40% of girls leave school before completing the fifth standard. Evidence also suggests that low maternal literacy is related to the poor nutrition status of young children. Poor nutrition, in turn, is the topmost factor for continuation of malnutrition across generations (in their children and so forth). Low birth weight also predisposes the girls to obesity during adolescence.
Not only malnutrition, young girls are increasingly affected by obesity. India has 14.4 million obese children. Several studies suggest that obesity in girls contributes to the early onset of puberty. Also, the latest study in the American Journal of Epidemiology indicates that the early onset of puberty in girls aged between 6-11 years is related to obesity and high glucose levels in mothers. Obesity in pubertal girls may be associated with higher levels male sex hormones such as testosterone and a high risk of adolescent polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
Polycystic ovary syndrome affects nearly 9 to 25% of Indian women. PCOS leads to insulin resistance and therefore increases the risk of diabetes, abnormal cholesterol levels, heart disease, stroke and cancer of the inner lining of the uterus. Adult women suffer from several health risks. For example, indoor air pollution that peculiarly affects Indian women is also the second largest killer with 1.3 million deaths each year.
In 2017, cardiovascular diseases, cancers and injury (self-harm and violence) constituted the top three causes of death in the women in India. Among the 60 years and older, the women outnumber with 1,028 for every 1,000 men (2011 census). Elderly women have poorer health outcomes compared to men, and yet the hospitalisation rates are higher for elderly men. Nearly one in three elderly in India would have lost their spouses; 50% of female elderly are widows who are most vulnerable to disability, illness and are also less likely to avail any healthcare.
Women remain disadvantaged for many reasons throughout their life. This can change through affirmative actions. For instance, women with higher autonomy, are less likely to have a stunted child or poor health outcomes. Access to money and freedom to choose to go to the market or visit a healthcare facility will constitute such autonomy.
A simple measure to make it happen is equal pay for equal work. The government must ensure it if it believes in equality at all.
Besides, financial incentives and subsidies to women, reduced tax, and providing access to education are some measures that the government can take. To implement all these, the government needs major policy overhaul. And we need to involve women in making policies that will have major implications for women. Moreover, girls should be beneficiaries of modern technology, through which tele-education can be imparted. Representation and role models of successful women can help girls work towards realising their dreams. Besides, we need to empower self-help groups that help women in need.
Even as the country rightfully mourns the grievous atrocities against girls and women, we need to introspect - what are the chances for girls to be born, survive and thrive in this country? As the agony of the daughters, wives, sisters and mothers echoes in the minds of the people, attention is needed on several threats a girl faces through her life.
While it is wishful to think that there are easy solutions, the policymakers need to show clear intent and careful planning to implement specific actions with a deeper perspective. Community participation in the entire process is the key to success. It's not rhetoric, we need to take action, and soon.
(The writer is an additional professor at the Indian Institute of Public Health, PHFI, Bengaluru)
which violate women's bodies to terrorize marginalised communities and deny them their traditional lands and resources
MAKAAM STATEMENT CONDEMNING THE ATROCITIES, RAPE AND MURDER OF A MINOR GIRL FROM PASTORALIST BAKARWAL COMMUNITY IN KATHUA AND THE CONTINUING ATROCITIES AND FORCED DISPOSSESSION OF HER COMMUNITY,
AGAINST ALL SUCH ACTS THAT VIOLATE WOMEN’S BODIES AS SITES TO TERRORIZE MARGINALIZED COMMUNITIES AND GRAB THEIR TRADITIONAL LANDS AND RESOURCES
MAKAAM expresses grave anguish and outrage at the rape and atrocities perpetrated on the 8-year old minor girl of the Bakarwal community from Kathua district of Jammu and Kashmir, as reports pour in of numerous other instances of sexual violence against minors in other cities, towns and villages. We also oppose the forced evictions of the Bakarwals -Gujjars from their customary territories by the J&K administration and condemn the atrocities committed against the community. The deliberate efforts at communalization and land grab forms the social and political backdrop of this heinous atrocity.
The instance of violence against the minor girl in Kathua is not an isolated incident, but one among numerous others that bear evidence to the increasing incidence of rape and brutality against women and girls as sites for the assertion of increasingly masculinized caste- and religion-based patriarchies. In a context of exacerbating vulnerabilities of women, children, dalits, adivasis, minorities the increased resource grab across the country only serves to further worsen their situation. We condemn the marginalization, polarization and dispossession of marginalized minority pastoralist communities in Jammu and Kashmir and their denial of rights in their traditional territories where they have maintained their seasonal livelihoods.
Gendered Sexual Violence as an instrument of oppression
The atrocity, rape and murder of the 8 year old minor girl in Kathua brings to light the manner in which sexual violence against women and children is used as a tool to further subjugate marginalised communities. In this case, the brutalization of the minor girl is evidence of not only the grave physical insecurities within which Bakarwal women in J&K meet sustenance and livelihood needs in the context of communalization and violent dispossession from their traditional forest areas, but also exposes the perpetrators’ attempts to humiliate the community by targeting its most vulnerable members.
While prosecuting perpetrators of sexual violence against women and children is already fraught with challenges in a patriarchal society, the endorsement of violent and exclusionary politics and laws by the present government further compounds these challenges and offers impunity to dominant groups. In this case, these phenomena are evident in the rallies subsequent to the incident of rape and murder by some elements among the settled villagers and lawyers against the filing of the charge-sheet, preventing the community from burying the minor girl in their traditional burial grounds, as well as orders mandating eviction of Bakarwals from their customary forests and refusal to extend the Forest Rights Act to Jammu and Kashmir (details below)
The J&K government has failed in its legal and constitutional duty to secure the life and liberty of the minor girl who was marked by multiple marginalizations of age, gender, religious and tribal identity, and her vulnerable situation compounded by sustained efforts to evict her community from their land,. Instead, the government was instrumental in magnifying her vulnerabilities by attempting to forcefully evict her family and community, jeopardizing their livelihood and way of life, and then failing to provide any form of redress for the sexual violence.
Instead of implementing the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO) and the recommendations of the Justice Verma Committee 2013, the central government has chosen to issue an ordinance, bypassing Parliamentary procedures, to introduce the death penalty in case of rapes of minors, further encouraging cycles of violence upon marginalized communities, despite studies that demonstrate the inefficacy of Death Penalty to curb such incidents of rape, and that a majority of those awarded the death penalty are themselves Scheduled Tribes and Scheduled Castes revealing a further reinforcement of the vicious cycle of oppression and discrimination.
Marginalised and threatened communities and livelihoods
MAKAAM views this heinous crime against the young girl as an aggression against the community and as part of systematic attempts to intimidate, terrorize and drive out the community in response to their growing assertion for forest rights and secure livelihoods, as is in evidence in other parts of the country as well where communities have staked claims to their traditional rights. The Bakarwals- Gujjars are traditionally pastoralist communities, who spend summer in the high altitude pastures of the Kashmir and Ladakh regions. In the winter, they move with their livestock to the Shivaliks and the plains of Jammu province. The community was classified as a Scheduled Tribe in 1991, and continues to remain largely marginalized owing to their nomadic lifestyles and general apathy of policy makers towards their rights and livelihoods. The appropriation of the customary lands of this tribal community by the state and some sections of the neighbouring communities on communal grounds is rendered evident by their refusal to allow the minor girl’s body to be buried on lands owned by her own family!
Owing to the non-recognition of the rights of the community to their customary forest lands, the Bakarwals continue to be viewed as ‘encroachers’ on the same forests where they have been practicing their traditional vocation for centuries, a fact expressly recognized by the Jammu and Kashmir government in 1975 through its executive orders in 1975. However, the control of the colonial-era forest bureaucracy continues to be legally and institutionally entrenched in the region, as the Forest Rights Act 2006 (FRA) does not extend to Jammu and Kashmir, denying traditional rights to the 27 lakh Bakharwal- Gujjar population. In other states in India, the FRA recognizes the authority of the Gram Sabha over Community Forest Resources (CFR) under sections S.3(1)(i) and S.5, and the historical rights of forest-dwelling communities to cultivable land, grazing pastures, minor forest produce under S.3, among others. In the neighbouring states of Himachal Pradesh, the seasonal rights of pastoralists is duly vested and recognized under S.3 (1)(d), FRA. The non-extension of FRA to J&K permits the forest bureaucracy and state administration to prevent the community from using forest land for grazing and restrict access to traditional migratory routes. Areas used by the Bakarwals-Gujjars for seasonal migration have also been cordoned off , rendering habitation, collection of forest produce and water, grazing and movement difficult and also criminalizing them in the eyes of the state. Other issues like infrastructure, development of tourist resorts and linear infrastructure projects on traditional grazing areas have also made pastoralism difficult and risk-fraught for the community, already enmeshed in the midst of the other deeper issues that have plagued the state of Jammu and Kashmir.
Grazing restrictions and lack of access to grazing grounds implies that they have had to wander further off from camps and villages hitherto familiar to them, exposing them to unfamiliar terrains and having to establish new social relationships in an environment fraught with suspicion. This has also created safety issues for women and children who are primarily responsible for tasks like collecting fodder and firewood, while also sometimes helping out with rounding off animals and collection of minor forest produce to augment family incomes.
In defence of their traditional way of life and to secure livelihoods, the community had recently begun to assert their rights to forests and resources, and called for an extension of the Forest Rights Act 2006 (FRA 2006) to J&K. We acknowledge that the implementation of the Forest Rights Act has been a long-standing demand of the Gujjar and Bakarwal associations in the state and join our voice in solidarity with these groups in demanding that the Act be extended to the state as deemed appropriate and necessary within the context of Jammu and Kashmir, in order to secure the lives ,livelihoods and bodily safety of women pastoralists and their brethren and to allow them and other communities to live amicably in the practice of their traditional occupations in the region. We urge the government to take necessary steps to adopt the enactment of the FRA 2006 for the state ensuring that women’s rights to forests and to forest resources and to representation are secured to ensure them their livelihoods and traditional practices. We press for the issue to be taken up and settled to ensure justice urgently in the upcoming assembly session of the state
Communal fault lines and resource contestations
The circumstances described above are affecting the pastoral lifestyle of the community, and have led to many within the community preferring to lead a sedentary lifestyle, choosing to settle down in their villages around Jammu division and in some cases also buying land. This has led to resource contestations between the Bakarwal community and other resident villagers. Since 2014, however, the situation has become increasingly tense, and the community has alleged that selective evictions and anti-encroachment drives against them have increased in the Jammu Division. They have also alleged incendiary speeches by the members of the ruling parties to incite violence against the community. In this case the selective implementation of the order passed in 2015 by the Jammu Development Authority, authorising evictions of pastoralist/ nomadic and forest-dwelling communities from forest areas, has been used for further communalization and exacerbated local conflicts. Subsequently, several settlements belonging to Gujjar and Bakarwal nomadic tribal community were destroyed and the families evicted from their traditional migratory routes. Incidents of desecration of religious structures of the community allegedly by the forest department, police department as well as the Jammu Development Authority for being situated on forest and ‘custodian property’ in the Jammu division have only aggravated the situation, and even led to the death of a Gujjar youth; These same authorities have also been unable to prevent the lynching of members of the Bakharwal- Gujjar community from communal mobs that attacked them on allegations of engaging in cow slaughter.
In this context, where the security, lives and livelihood of the nomadic Bakarwal and Gujjar community are presently in great danger due to the polarization of the local communities, and in the absence of any policy to currently secure their rights of access and stay on forest and grazing land, we appreciate and register our support of the step taken by the Government of Jammu and Kashmir to issuing a directive in February 2018, taking heed of the crimes perpetrated, which states that no member of the nomadic communities will be evicted without prior approval of the Tribal Welfare Department of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. We register our firm opposition to the demand that the order be withdrawn.
We strongly condemn all forms of sexual violence against women and girls, as well as the attempts of the government, Lawyers Bar Association and vigilante groups of the majority population in the region to hinder constitutional access to relief and remedy. The non-extension of FRA to J&K, the eviction and dispossession of Bakarwals from their traditional homelands in a context of increasing communalization compounds the vulnerabilities of women and children to atrocities and violence. We stand in solidarity with the Bakarwal – Gujjar communities for their rights to sustain their pastoral nomadic lives and livelihoods and access to resources to sustain the same.
We call upon the J&K and central governments to:
- 1) Bring perpetrators of the heinous crime of rape and murder of the minor girl to justice
- 2) Extend the implementation of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Forest Rights Act), 2006 to Jammu &Kashmir with full provisions for securing community and individual forest rights and rights to forest produce and to representation of women at least to the extent provided for in the FRA Act 2006.
- 3) Ensure continuance of directive of February 2018 until a policy is in place to safeguard rights of pastoralists.
- 4) Withdraw the Central Government ordinance for the death penalty in cases of sexual violence, and demand that the POCSO be duly implemented to address such crimes against minors.
- 5) The state government should enact a law to protect the rights and livelihoods of the Pastoralist communities
- 6) Restore the Bakarwal- Gujjar community rights to their traditional livelihoods and ensure the security of their community and especially the girls and women as equal citizens
Shubhada Deshmukh Soma KP Radhika Chitkara Nikita Sonavane
NFT MEMBER NFT MEMBER Lawyer, Member Makaam Lawyer, Member Makaam
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