Recent Resources for Feminists
September 16, 2016
Acid victims During a felicitation ceremony for acid attack survivors in Lucknow on March 8. (Rajeev Bhatt)
At a candlelight vigil in Kolkata on August 13, after a rally for a deaf and mute woman who died in an acid attack at Nadia district. (PTI)
A spurt in acid attacks against women has become a cause for concern in rural and urban West Bengal. By SUHRID SANKAR CHATTOPADHYAY
ON the afternoon of August 18, Raqibur Mandal of Nowda in Murshidabad district went to meet the girl he wanted to marry, carrying with him a bottle of acid. The girl, a student of class 12, had gone to the local panchayat office and was walking back alone when he waylaid her. The two were seen having a heated argument, and Raqibur suddenly hurled acid on the girl’s face. He tried to escape on his motorbike but was caught by the local people. Like all acid attacks, it was a cold premeditated assault. He knew very well that she would reject him and had armed himself to avenge the insult to his ego.
The same day at Joynagar in South 24 Paraganas district, Uma Chakraborty, a housewife, was attacked with acid allegedly by her neighbour, Bapi Mistri, over a long-standing dispute over land. Uma Chakraborty, in the throes of agony, threw herself into a nearby lake before being rescued by other residents of the neighbourhood.
Just 10 days before these attacks, Jyotsna Das Malik, a 35-year-old widow from Tarakeswar in Hooghly district, and 28-year-old Shikha Ghosh from Nadia succumbed to burn injuries after being attacked with acid. The attack on Jyotsna Das Malik was carried out on July 23, apparently for spurning the advances of one of her attackers. Shikha Ghosh, who was a deaf mute, was in her room on the night of August 6 when miscreants threw acid on her through the window. She died of burns two days later. According to her family, the attack was instigated by a neighbour who had allegedly raped Shikha earlier.
On August 3, yet another woman, this time a housewife from Bardhaman, was attacked with acid.
Between July 23 and August 18, West Bengal was witness to five acid attacks that resulted in two deaths. In the face of increasing incidence of violence on women in the State, the spurt in acid attacks over the last few years has become a cause for concern in Bengal’s rural and urban societies.
According to data available with Acid Survivors Foundation India (ASFI), a non-governmental organisation that works with survivors for their rehabilitation, from 2010 to mid 2014, as many as 65 people from West Bengal fell victim to acid attacks, the third highest in the country after Delhi (90) and Uttar Pradesh (71). The eastern region of the country alone accounts for around 21 per cent of acid violence in India. “Though we have not yet got the final figures, our preliminary findings show that the trend of acid attacks has been rising in the last one and a half years,” Avijit Kumar, assistant director (headquarters), ASFI, told Frontline.
With more than 75 per cent of the victims being women, acid attacks have emerged as a terrifying new threat to the women of West Bengal. The vast majority of the attacks are precipitated by rejection of sexual advances or declaration of love or marriage proposals; some instances relate to personal disputes or dowry. There was even an instance of gratuitous cruelty; in August 2010, 10 women were injured when miscreants hurled acid through the windows of the ladies’ compartment in a moving suburban train in Kolkata.
Until 2010, Bangladesh registered the highest number of cases of acid attacks worldwide. However, by 2014, Bangladesh successfully managed to reduce the number of such attacks, but in India, they have been on the rise. Today, India has the highest number of acid attacks in the world, followed by Pakistan and Bangladesh. According to ASFI, the main reason for Bangladesh’s success is the rigorous enforcement of the law against offenders.
“Bangladesh has really done a commendable job, and for that they have put their laws in place. A person who is caught for acid crime and convicted in Bangladesh is liable to hang. Though not a single person has been hanged, it is still a major deterrent. In our case, our conviction rate is very poor, and [the judicial process] time-consuming,” said Avijit Kumar. According to the ASFI, the all-India conviction rate in acid attack cases in 2013 was 40.2 per cent; in West Bengal it was just 14 per cent.
Malini Bhattacharya, former chairperson of the West Bengal Commission for Women and former member of the National Women’s Commission, said that the increase in acid attacks in the State was a reflection of the increase in different kinds of anti-social activities. “When the general situation in the State is one of lawlessness and increasing assaults on women, it is no surprise that acid attacks also become more frequent,” she said.
Time and again, acid attack victims have voiced their disappointment in their pursuit of redress by law. Polly Debnath (38) of Ranaghat in Nadia district lost an eye in an acid attack in 2013. “Ripon Chandra Das, who lived near my house, had been pursuing me to have a physical relationship with him, but I kept turning him down. Then he started threatening me with acid attack. When I went to the Ranaghat police station to complain, they paid no heed to my situation,” she said. Ripon Chandra Das even tried to kill her mother when she asked him to leave her daughter alone. Once again, according to Polly Debnath, the police did nothing; six months later, one day in June 2013, Ripon Chandra Das followed Polly Debnath when she went out for work and threw acid on her face. “He has still not been caught. Some time back he even came back home. When I complained again to the Ranaghat police station to have him arrested, they again did nothing. He has now gone away,” said Polly Debnath.
Myna Pramanik’s husband and in-laws threw acid on her face over dowry in 2001. “Now my face has improved, but initially when I would venture out of the house, people would be scared of me. I could feel their disgust, while those who did this to me are out on bail,” she said.
According to Dibyaloke Rai Chaudhuri, coordinator (headquarters), ASFI, the fact that the perpetrators of the crime are mostly out on bail and living their lives is particularly demoralising for the victims. “What the victims want most is justice. It is essential that those who commit this heinous crime receive punishment and an example is set. Many of them, after coming out on bail, continue to terrorise the victims. There have been several instances when we had to rehabilitate them,” said Rai Chaudhuri.
After the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 2013, two separate sections were introduced in the Indian Penal Code (IPC) to separately deal with acid attack, Article 326A and Article 326B, but the incidence of attacks has not reduced significantly. Under Article 326A, a person who has caused harm by throwing acid faces an imprisonment sentence of not less than 10 years, which may extend to imprisonment for life. For attempting to throw acid, under Section 326B, a person faces a sentence of at least five years, which may extend to seven years.
However, according to Sayanti Sengupta, an advocate with the Human Rights Law Network (HRLN), which takes up the cases of acid victims, reality presents a different picture. “Though there are now separate sections in the IPC to deal with acid attacks, in none of the cases that we have taken up so far has there been a conviction, and most unfortunately, the trials are also very long-drawn,” she said.
According to the Supreme Court’s direction, the government of West Bengal has set up a scheme of compensation, wherein it pays at least Rs.3 lakh to an acid attack victim. Of this, Rs.1 lakh is to be paid within 15 days of the attack, but most victims do not get the compensation on time. Myna Pramanik has not received any payment to date, though her case dates back to 2001.
Jamir Khan of the HRLN said, “The State government is not proactive in paying the compensation to the victims. In most of the cases that we take up, we have to seek the intervention of the court; and even after that there is delay.” Most victims come from impoverished backgrounds, and in many cases have to sell their belongings and even property to pay for their immediate medical expenses.
With stealth and element of surprise on the one hand and the scope for inflicting permanent damage on the other, acid attack is one of the most lethal forms of criminal assault. The ready availability of acid despite strict guidelines laid down by the Supreme Court regarding its sale is seen as one of the main reasons for this growing crime. “The criminal laws were changed in 2013, and at that time there was a section dealing with acid attack victims and the perpetrators of the crime. However, this legal provision is not enough. There has to be far stricter provisions to regulate the supply and sale of acid. In West Bengal that is not in place,” said Malini Bhattacharya.
According to the directions of the apex court, sale of acid across the counter is prohibited unless the seller maintains a log or a register recording the sale, which contains the details of the person buying the acid and the amount purchased. The purchaser will need to produce an identity card issued by the government, which contains residential address details and the seller, must ascertain the purpose for which the acid is purchased.
However, in most cases, these rules are not adhered to. Strict monitoring is also required in unorganised sectors such as jewellery making and cotton dyeing, where strong acids are used. “Easy availability of acid in these sectors, where there is a high transient working population, is quite dangerous unless monitored. We have seen that Murshidabad is the district where the largest number of acid attacks take place in West Bengal; it is also a place where cotton and silk are vibrant industries where the use of acid is a necessity,” said Avijit Kumar.
Saturday September 3 2016
Bashing of 'domestic violence industry' beyond the pale By Anne Summers
I think most of us would agree that mocking someone for their suffering and attendant misery is a cruel and abhorrent thing to do. Un-Australian even, given we like to think we are the kind of country that extends a hand to those who are down on their luck or who have suffered misfortune of any kind.
Men don stilettos for domestic violence awareness
Dozens of men, including Lieutenant-General David Morrison, took to the streets of Melbourne in heels for the 'Walk a mile in their shoes' campaign. (Vision courtesy Seven News Melbourne)
Such generosity of spirit does not extend to many on the political right in this country who are turning such mockery into what they seem to think is a political art form. They apparently think by using the term "industry" in front of the group they wish to denigrate that they are somehow absolved from the opprobrium that would come if they attacked these groups directly.
To give an example, News Corporation columnist Bettina Arndt recently attacked what she called "the worldwide domestic violence industry" for what she portrayed as its wilful refusal to acknowledge women-initiated violence against men and for allegedly over-simplifying a complex issue.
Campaigning for change: Rosie Batty has been at the forefront of educating the community about family violence. (Eddie Jim)
Arndt's stablemate Miranda Devine likewise gets stuck into the people who are trying to reduce violence and assist those who are its victims.
In The Daily Telegraph last September, Devine attacked "the man-bashing femi-fascists who control the domestic violence industry" for daring to disagree with her assertion: "… the incontrovertible truth about domestic violence, that it is overwhelmingly concentrated in dysfunctional remote Indigenous communities and public housing estates."
This is not borne out by the deaths in Australia so far this year. Of the 46 violent deaths of women reported by Destroy the Joint's Counting Dead Women project, 24 were unambiguously attributed to domestic violence. Of these, three appeared to be Indigenous women and another three lived in poor communities. The other 24 did not fit such categories.
Neither Arndt nor Devine has stooped so low as to attack a woman who has suffered domestic violence – unlike Mark Latham who disparaged Rosie Batty for what he called her "secular sainthood" and disputed Batty's claims of an "epidemic" of domestic violence in this country.
But both are more than happy to get stuck into the people who work to end the epidemic and assist those who are hurt by it.
Similarly, senator Cory Bernardi said on 7.30 last week: "… we need to nip what I call the grievance industry in the bud because they are doing a disservice to so many Australians."
He claimed that the Race Discrimination Commissioner was "encouraging people to lodge grievance claims on the back of a cartoon by a nationally syndicated cartoonist" (referring to a widely criticised Bill Leak cartoon stereotyping Aboriginal fathers that appeared in The Australian recently). He also cited the three Queensland students who face proceedings under S.18C of the Racial Discrimination Act for their responses when asked to leave an Indigenous-only space on campus as victims of grievance.
Yet Bernardi's inference that he invented – "what I call…" – the term "grievance industry" does not stand up to scrutiny. Like so much else of Bernardi's song-sheet, it is an American import. In fact, the term "racial grievance industry" is in such common use in the US it has its own acronym (RGI) and a host of websites and newsletters devoted to dissecting every aspect of the responses to race-based attacks.
Some of these are so over the top that they suggest that attacking the so-called "grievance industry" is in fact an industry in itself. Look, for instance, at this, from a website called American Thinker. It asks the rhetorical question: "Have you noticed the unchanged pattern of outrage that manifests from the black community whenever a black life is taken by a white person?" and contends that the ensuing calls to action "are not spontaneous; they're calculated manoeuvres promoted by an ever-present Race Grievance Industry".
And the explanation for this? "This time-tested equation of Black Victim + White Culprit = Racism has proven to be just as vital to the Race Grievance Industry as E=mc2 was to Einstein," the website claims. "And just as Einstein's Theory of Relativity has revolutionised science, the Theory of Exploitivity has revolutionised the science of victimology while generating untold wealth for its practitioners."
Some of American's most prominent African-Americans are accused of profiting personally from this "race grievance industry". It's not about justice, or rights, it's only about the money.
It's the same with the "domestic violence industry" claims another American publication which, interestingly, has been reprinted on an Australian men's rights website. The assertion is that state and federal monies have turned violence into a huge industry that has unfairly blamed men for violence. Again, no mercy shown for the women who are hourly bashed or killed, or appreciation for those who work on their behalf.
How despicable – and un-Australian – for politicians and journalists to so cruelly mock those who suffer racism or violence with the ugly inference that they are just fodder for an "industry".
Tuesday August 23 2016
Sex ratio set to fall around 800 in U’khand: Study
Girl child ignored
- The sex ratio at birth, as per the Asian Centre for Human Rights, was 861 in 2011-2012 and 867 during 2012-2013 in Uttarakhand.
- Uttarakhand has the seventh lowest child sex ratio (CSR) in the age-group of 0-6 years among 35 states/UTs of India, as per the 2011 census, with CSR of 890 girls per 1,000 boys.
- Not a single conviction was secured from 2009 to December 2014 under the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act (PCPNDT Act), 1994, in Uttarakhand.
- As per the 2011 census, a total of 2,50,803 females in the age-group of 0-2 years or an average of 83,601 girls were born annually in Uttarakhand.
- If only 30,830 beneficiaries were extended benefits under the NDKY from 2009 to 2015, as per state governemnt records, it implies that 6,166 girls were given benefits annually against the birth of 83,601 girls, i.e., 7.37 per cent of the girls born annually.
New Delhi: A study conducted by the Registrar General and Census Commissioner of India has found that the child sex ratio is all set to fall drastically to a little over 800 by 2021 census.
The report “The State of Female Foeticide in Uttarakhand" [Scroll Down to Read in full] has been presented by the Asian Centre for Human Rights.
The sex ratio at birth (SRB) as per the Asian Centre for Human Rights was 861 in 2011-2012 and 867 during 2012-2013 in Uttarakhand, respectively.
If under-five mortality rate (U5MR) of 48 deaths per 1,000 births in India is taken into account in the context of the hill state, the child sex ratio would have reduced to 813 in 2011-2012 and 819 in 2012-2013.
Uttarakhand has the seventh lowest child sex ratio (CSR) in the age-group of 0-6 years among 35 states/UTs of India, as per the 2011 census, with CSR of 890 girls per 1,000 boys.
As per the statement of Health Minister JP Nadda before the Parliament on March 3, 2015, not a single conviction was secured from 2009 to December 2014 under the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act (PCPNDT Act), 1994, in Uttarakhand.
On the implementation of the Nanda Devi Kanya Yojana (NDKY), launched in 2009 and renamed as Hamari Beti Hamara Abhiman (HBHA) in 2014, the report stated that the Uttarakhand Government had failed to achieve its primary objectives of reducing gender imbalance, prevent female foeticide and provide social and economic security to the girl child.
The scheme itself was designed not to have any impact. The NDKY is extended only to Below Poverty Line (BPL) families while the Above Poverty Line (APL) families who use and can afford sex selective abortion are completely left out. Even for the BPL families, the NDKY covered only 4.97 per cent of the BPL families.
As per the BPL survey conducted by the Uttarakhand Government during 2011-2012, there were a total of 6,19,718 BPL families but as per the state government’s own admission, only 30,830 girls or 4.97 per cent of the BPL families were given benefits under the NDKY in five years from 2009 to 2015.
In terms of those born, as per the 2011 census, a total of 2,50,803 females in the age-group of 0–2 years or an average of 83,601 girls were born annually in Uttarakhand.
If only 30,830 beneficiaries were extended benefits under the NDKY from 2009 to 2015, it implies that 6,166 girls were given benefits annually against the birth of 83,601 girls, i.e., 7.37 per cent of the girls born annually.
There are serious doubts whether actual beneficiaries were benefitting at all under the Nanda Devi Kanya Yojana.
The utilisation certificates (UCs) of the NDKY provided to the Asian Centre for Human Rights by the authorities under the Right to Information Act (RTI) seem to have been prepared only to be shared under the RTI Act. Except one UC submitted by District Program Officer (DPO), Almora, all other UCs have no date, reference number and official stamp. In the absence of all these, authenticity of the UCs is highly doubtful.
The ACHR has filed a complaint with the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to address the findings of the report.ANI
Monday August 22 2016
Uttarakhand Child Sex-Ratio a Cause For Worry, Says Human Rights Group
By The Wire Staff
The Asian Centre for Human Rights has found that the Uttarakhand government has been woefully negligent of the plight of female children in the state.
Girls walking home from school in Mussoorie. (Paul Hamilton/Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0)
The Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR), in a recent report titled, ‘The State of Female Foeticide in Uttarakhand’ has found that the child sex ratio (number of girls per 100 boys) in Uttarakhand is set to fall drastically to a little over 800 by the 2021 census. The report was based on figures from the Annual Health Survey (AHS), conducted by the registrar general and the census commissioner of India.
AHS figures suggest that the sex ratio at birth (SRB) in Uttarakhand was 861 in 2011-2012 and 867 in 2012-2013. If the under-five mortality rate of 48 deaths per 100 births in Uttarakhand is taken into account, the child sex ratio reduces to 813 in 2011-2012, and 819 in 2012-2013.
According to the report, Uttarakhand has the 7th lowest child sex ratio in the age-group of 0-6 years within India, if we go by the 2011 census.
Health minister, J.P. Nadda, in a statement in parliament on March 3, 2015 said that not a single conviction was made under the Prohibition of Sex Selection Act (PCPNDT Act) of 1994.
The Nanda Devi Kanya Yojna (NDKY) was launched in 2009, and renamed to Hamari Beti Hamara Abhiman, in 2014. A project report stated that the the Uttarakhand government had failed to reduce gender imbalance, prevent female foeticide and provide social and economic security to female children. The design of the NDKY scheme is not meant to have any protracted impact, being limited to below-poverty-line (BPL) families only. This entirely fails to take into account the fact that those above the poverty line are the ones that can afford to have sex selective abortion and are therefore left outside the ambit of the scheme.
Even within the BPL families, the scheme only benefitted about 4.97%, when there were over 6 lakh BPL families as per a survey conducted by the state government in 2011-2012.
The 2011 cnesus found that an average of 83,601 girls are born annually in Uttarakhand. The rate of benefit under the scheme implies that 6166 girls of the 83,601 born, actually received benefits.
The report by the ACHR voices serious concern as to how beneficial the scheme has been, even for those it managed to cover.
The ACHR suspects that the utilisation certificates that it received from the NDKY under the Right to Information Act, were specifically prepared to be shared in such circumstances. The organisation, in a recent press release said that with the exception of one such certificate submitted by the district programme officer of Almora, all the other certificates are not dated and have no reference number, or any official stamps, making the authenticity of the certificates questionable.
The ACHR has filed a complaint to with the National Human Rights Commission of India with regard to the findings of its report, their statement said.
Wednesday, July 27, 2016
Nenu Ame! (I am She!) - Short Film
Hyderabad, India, July 27, 2016: SillyShots, a production arm of SillyMonks today released their new short film “Nenu…Aame! (I am…she!)” Directed by, Actress & Director Soumya Bollapragada. The film highlights, stories of horrific incest rape and objectionable sexual advances a woman face in her workplace and at home.
Announcing the world wide release on SillyShots Soumya said, “Nenu…Aame! (I am…she!), is a 12 minutes 32 seconds riveting story of a woman played by Shivani, subjected to daily brutal marital including incest rape and her urge to survive. I wanted to highlight these very issues and I thought this movie could bring it to the forefront of conversation” added Soumya.
Sunjith, Bhaggath and Binayak Das feature in the film as supporting actors. The Production, Story, Screenplay and Direction are by Soumya Bollapragada. While the art direction is by Subrata Chakraborty, who had earlier worked in movies like Haider, Hawaizaade and 24, Music Mixing and mastering is by P.A. Deepak (double Grammy winner for slumdog millionaire and winds of Samsara). John.E.Stewart is done the music for “Nenu...aame! (I am...She!) . John had earlier given back ground music for Happy New Year; Humpty Sharma ki dulhaniya is done the music.
~ Wednesday August 03, 2016
A cry against marital rape
By Nivedita Ganguly
A 12-minute short film by Vizag girl deals with sensitive issue
Vizag girl Soumya Bollapragada along with her team during the shooting of the short film 'I am...She!', a film that deals with the sensitive topic of marital rape.
At 30, Ambika (name changed) has spent 10 years of her life silently dreading the next assault amidst the four walls of her house. She vividly recalls each episode of violence - of being slapped, sexually and verbally abused and treated like a maid at home. But she did not have the strength to walk out of her marriage fearing the financial consequences and societal pressure. Statistics alarmingly point out that 98 per cent of the rape cases reported in India were committed by people known to the victim.
Vizag girl Soumya Bollapragada’s first short film titled ‘I am…She!’ which was released on YouTube last week deals with this sensitive issue of ‘marital rape’. The 12-minute film is a bold, brutal and hard hitting attempt by the young debutant filmmaker. “The newspapers are full of reports of marital rape, incest and sexual abuse faced by women at workplaces. I wanted to bring out these issues through a film which was not bound by any language. The film has no dialogues and this was the most challenging part of it – to drive home the point through scenes and dark lightings,” says Soumya. The film is about the main protagonist in the film played by Shivani Rai who is subjected to brutal marital rape, including incest rape and sexual abuse at work place.
The filmmaker faced many challenges during the making of the film. “Most actors I approached were apprehensive about getting typecast. Some of them even walked out of the project two days before the start of the shoot,” she adds. Shivani, who was a part of the Hyderabad based theatre group ‘Sutradhar’, instantly agreed to do the film when she was approached. “This was a subject I felt deeply about. I counselled many of my friends who were going through such phases in their marriage and was very well aware that marital rape was widely prevalent in society. The film gave me a chance to strike a debate on this sensitive issue,” says the actor. The film was made in a shoe-string budget of Rs 15,000 and shot in three days with a Canon 5D camera. The cinematographer was Vizag’s Siri Sri, who had studied cinematography from London’s MET Film School. Soumya plans to showcase the short film in film festivals once the censor board certification is done.
Women activists have been campaigning to bring forced sexual intercourse in marriage within the ambit of definition of rape. Emergency rooms and counselling centres for women in distress have been recording what the country is currently debating - the need to criminalise marital rape. “In the absence of a law, there are many marital rapes cases that go unreported,” says Soumya.
However, Shivani says it is ironical how there is a section of viewers who felt the film should have ended on a happy note. “What is happening in society with many women is far from a happy ending. If you are making no contribution in making this world better for women, how can you expect happy endings in films?” sums up Shivani.
- Short Film 2016 || by Soumya Bollapragada
Tuesday July 26, 2016
The Life and Death of Qandeel Baloch
What one woman’s social media activism and her murder by her own brother means for Pakistan. By Maham Javaid
Qandeel Baloch, Pakistans first female social media celebrity, who belonged to a working class rural family from the province of Punjab and had over 750,000 followers on Facebook alone, was strangled to death by her brother in what the police described as an honor killing last week.
Baloch’s exponential rise to fame began with her posting narcissistic selfies and videos in which she asks viewers how she is looking; she then entered the national consciousness by promising internationally acclaimed cricketer Shahid Afridi a striptease if he defeated India in a regional tournament. For Baloch, things took a dangerous turn when last month she dabbled in the political realm by exposing the religious clergys sexual perversions, which resulted in her receiving numerous death threats.
In the week proceeding murder if one glanced at Pakistans print and online media, it could be seen that while her life impacted the country in abstract ways, her subsequent death affected Pakistan in a potentially tangible manner.
While alive, Baloch celebrated her sexuality in a manner that was unprecedented for Pakistan her impact stemmed from the fact that Baloch’s videos and selfies, and declarations of love and female desire made the country uncomfortable.
Qandeel represented a deep paradox in our society because we want to control and regulate womens bodies but at the same time we want to consume them, explains Sarah Suhail, a doctoral student in women and gender studies at Arizona State University, to The Diplomat. So the same people who judged and abused her simultaneously derived pleasure from her videos, and the same talk show anchors that vilified her, used her for their ratings, said Suhail.
Baloch’s death may be long remembered by those fighting for justice in honor killing cases because in the wake of her death the government has, yet again, promised stricter laws regarding honor killings.
Additionally, the fact that Baloch’s murder is being investigated by a female police officer is no mean feat. Before the murder, Attiya Jaffri, the 52-year-old policewomen in charge of Baloch’s case, had never headed a homicide investigation.
Its common for the Central Police Officer to put at least one or two policewomen in the team that investigates honor killings, said Jaffri to The Diplomat. Because in honor- related cases we often need to engage with the mothers or sisters of the victims. But I’ve never before been made the Investigating Officer of a murder case.
In her opinion she was trusted with this duty because currently her team has the best record of solving murder crimes in the district of Multan. She then adds that this is no ordinary case. Baloch was a female celebrity murdered in a gruesome way and her killing has created a national wave of sorts, so maybe those in charge thought it best that a women head the case.
The Life of Qandeel Baloch
Baloch, born with the name Fauzia Azeem, hailed from Shah Saddardin a little-known village that only entered the national imagination after Baloch was buried there. By her own admission, and that of her parents, she belonged to a conservative family, that she herself supported. In the last year alone, Baloch bought her parents a house in Multan (the same house in which her brother drugged her and her parents and then strangled her while she slept), and financed a younger sister’s wedding.
The fact that Baloch did not come from privilege is one of the reasons she stands out. Qandeel is a feminist in the original sense, says academic Suhail. She explains that according to Baloch’s own narrative, in which she was a victim of an abusive marriage that she walked away from without any financial or emotional support, it can be seen that throughout her life Baloch had to fight the systems of patriarchy that prevented her from achieving her goal of standing on her own two feet.
Baloch’s feminism was also novel because she reclaimed online spaces for Pakistani women in an unprecedented manner.
One of our missions is to teach females that a mobile phone is a tool and it can be used to destroy patriarchy, says Nighat Daad, a lawyer and the founder of Digital Rights Foundation. Qandeel did exactly that; she used her mobile phone to celebrate her sexuality.
It should be noted that Baloch was not the only Pakistani woman to be deemed as bold by the media. There have been others before her: Mathira, Meera, Veena Malik, to name a few. But Baloch was different in that she was unapologetic and unabashed by people calling her out.
In a television interview earlier this year, a TV host asked Baloch why she resorted to being vulgar. She did not shy away from the question. You need to watch my videos again, Baloch challenged. I dont see any vulgarity in my videos. I think I look hot. And sexy.
What Does It Mean to be Killed for Honor in Pakistan?
On the surface, it appears that it was this very celebration of sexuality that got Baloch killed. After all, her brother confessed that he committed the murder because Baloch brought dishonor and disrepute to the family.
Moreover, if the case does make it to court, it will be dealt with as a case of murder in the name or pretext of honor.
But researchers such as Suhail and Nabiha Meher, the founder of Pakistan Feminist Watch, who have been observing patterns of gender based violence in Pakistan, urge that this line of argument is too simplistic.
In Pakistan, and much of the neighboring region, gender based violence becomes (legally and culturally) palatable when put under the umbrella of crimes related to honor. Society has created a justifiable category [honor killing] to place violence against women, said Suhail.
The notion is that the moment women cross a transparent line where they challenge societal norms, their life is endangered.
Until she was sharing videos proposing to Imran Khan or Shahid Afridi and asking her fans how she looked, it was all fun and games, but when she challenged the religious clergy and exposed the Mufti Qavi for what he is, her life changed drastically, says Daad. All of a sudden her anonymity ended, and her past and personal life was splashed on television screens across the country.
Meher agrees: Her death threats began after the episode with Qavi, after she took on the extreme markers of religion in the country.
On June 20, Baloch released videos and selfies of her and Qavi inside a hotel room in Karachi. Local news channels invited Qavi and Baloch to appear on television to ask them what transpired between them. Qavis non-responses strengthened Baloch’s claim that she has exposed the dirty cleric for what he is. Qavis fellow clergymen did not approve of this and he was suspended from his coveted position in Pakistans religions moon-sighting committee.
Media critics say that such talk shows put Baloch’s life is further danger.
It seems that we are living in the twilight zone of journalism, says Suhail. The media simply has no ethics.
Unfortunately, Suhails claim is hardly far from the truth. Two weeks ago when Abdul Sattar Edhi, an international icon of social welfare, passed away, a local TV reporter prepared a news package on Edhis funeral from inside Edhis freshly dug grave.
Daad also claims that describing this murder as an honor killing is unfair.
This was a killing because of a hurt male ego, says Daad. A mix of incidents led to this unfortunate death: the medias treatment of Qandeel; the clergy played a role, especially the Mufti episode; the government that didnt provide her security; and lastly, we, as internet users who enjoyed her but didnt protect her.
A Posthumous Investigation
Honor killings are not exclusive to Pakistan, or even South Asia; according to the Honor Based Violence Awareness Network out of the 5,000 international honor killings every year, 1,000 can be ascribed to Pakistan.
It had been a longstanding demand of womens rights groups for stricter laws to prevent such crimes. Hence the the Criminal Law Amendment Act 2005, which introduced offenses in the name or on the pretext of honor as a specific category of violence, was much lauded.
According to Asad Jamal, a lawyer engaged in drafting amendments to curb crimes committed in the name of honor, because of these amendments an honor killing must necessarily lead to a minimum punishment of 10 years of imprisonment or life imprisonment or death.
He tells The Diplomat that the court has no option but to punish the offender and a waiver or compounding of the offense have no effect on the courts decision.
It appears, however, that lawyers, prosecutors, and even judges in the country do not understand the amendment. Many are critical of the government for not doing enough to bar heirs from from forgiving the perpetrators of honor killings. Even in Baloch’s case this fear is widespread.
They might have lodged a case against him but it is likely that eventually they will forgive him and the court will allow the family to settle the matter privately, said Advocate Sheikh Jamshed Hayat, the president of the Multan High Court, the court where Baloch’s case will be heard.
Even though Baloch’s father, in an interview with the BBC, states outright that his son should be categorically shot to death, Hayat is convinced that if Baloch’s parents have already lost a daughter, why would they want to lose their son as well?
Hayat insists that he has witnessed and dealt with scores of killings since 2005 that were committed due to honor and rarely has the law been able to punish perpetrators. The amount of honor crime suspects that make it behind bars is like a drop in the ocean, he told The Diplomat.
Jaffri, the officer in charge of Baloch’s investigation, agrees with Hayat. Most of such cases end in compromises. We do our job by finding the culprit but mostly the courts allow the family to reach a compromise, says the policewoman.
This shows that despite the fact that in the case of honor killings the court has no option but to punish the offender, from police officers to advocates no one is able to recognize the law and hence the number of prosecutions remain negligible.
According to Jamal, this is because many do not understand the law. Lawyers dont know how to read the law in Urdu, much less in English. And the way the draft was written makes it very complicated for lawyers, judges and prosecutors to understand, he said.
The second reason the amendment is not understood and hence not implemented by courts is because the Islamic laws of Qisas and Diyat are often conflated and confused with amendments in the countrys criminal codes.
Reema Omer, a legal adviser for the International Commission of Jurists, adds that unless there is reform of the entire framework of Qisas and Diyat, there is always a chance for more loopholes to emerge as a result of these piecemeal amendments.
Such low rates of prosecution result in very little fear of retribution and hence suspects like Baloch’s brother fearlessly continue to take lives in the name of honor.
The national conversation Baloch’s murder began acted as a catalyst and just a few days after the killing the government announced that stricter anti honor killing laws would be implemented within weeks.
But it remains to be seen what good these rushed amendments would do. It is time we stop resorting to knee-jerk measures and shortcuts in our pursuit of justice and confront the glaring flaws in our criminal justice system, said Omer.
Maham Javaid is a journalist for The News on Sunday in Lahore, Pakistan. Her work has also appeared in Al Jazeera, Foreign Policy, Refinery29, Timeline, and The Nation.
July 24, 2016 Shawwal 19, 1437 A.H.
A symbol of feminismWaqqas Mir
Qandeel Baloch represented those who make irreverent choices
I hope she stays alive, mused one of my female colleagues about Qandeel Baloch. This was months ago. That hope, like the hopes and dreams of Qandeel as well as millions of other women, is now extinguished.
The very fact that one woman in our society has to fear for the safety of another, who challenges tradition, says a lot. I did not know a lot about Qandeel Baloch, nor did I follow her. All I knew was that she was a rebel, someone challenging the status quo a brave woman who challenged our notions of what is proper and acceptable. She refused to let others define what was honourable for her. She was her own person and hence worthy of admiration.
During her lifetime, she was mocked by many of the people who are now claiming to mourn for her. She was a joke for many except that she was no joke. She was a living breathing woman who challenged both men and women in this society.
What defined Qandeel for me was the one thing that is the essence of human existence, thought and freedom: making your own choices. Her stubborn, irreverent assertion of her freedom to choose and be her own person was what defined her life and actions. Others are free to choose differently but not free to judge or condemn her.
This takes us back to what Adam Smith said in The Theory of Moral Sentiments. Smith broke away from the Kantian tradition of classifying actions as right or wrong and was more interested in the why of human nature. Moreover, he arrived at the conclusion that those who cannot empathise or sympathise lack imagination. Sympathy, Smith said, is an act of imagination because we can never truly feel or go through what another feels. We can merely imagine it in order to lend sympathy and empathy.
And, therefore, those who say that Qandeel was no role model or no feminist must admit their lack of imagination that someone can choose differently and that act of choice is just as legitimate a choice as being a senator. She did not want to fall into your straitjacket of a role model.
I feel sorry for those who are trying to distance themselves from her actions while condemning her death. In effect, many of these individuals are furthering the same retrogressive agenda that got her killed. Passing a judgment on her while saying that the judgment did not extend to killing her does not help in any way. She did not pollute our culture, norms or religion so you need not try so hard to be seen as washing yourself of your association with her.
Yet many are spraying a disinfectant before condemning her murder.
Who is a role model in a society where most people, benefitting from privilege of birth or fortune, condone, aid or profit from some corruption (moral or financial) every single day? How are any of those saying she was no role model themselves worthy of being emulated when they choose to stay silent or be gagged in the face of injustice or naked abuse of power only because they think they need to move ahead in society? This includes me and you.
Qandeel Baloch does not or did not require our approval she only asked for the right to make her own choices, to be tolerated, to be allowed to exist. And we denied her even that.
It is not uncommon for victims of patriarchy to internalise the discourse that furthers it. Many victims of domestic violence blame themselves in some measure as if they are, somehow, responsible for bringing it upon themselves. So it is my contention that Pakistani women who distance themselves from Qandeel are in fact internalising patriarchal discourse instead of arguing that she had a right to live by her choices, they first feel the need to clarify that they disapprove of her actions or do not see that a symbol of feminism has been lost. The conformity expected of Qandeel Baloch, even and especially by women, is rooted in male-defined and male-controlled norms. This is the real problem.
Feminism and the dignity of women is hurt each time a woman is oppressed or killed for making her own choices. That is how Qandeel Baloch was a symbol of feminism she represented all those who are marginalised and make irreverent choices. Any harm that came her way therefore damages the greater cause of being able to break taboos, of indulging in the healthy activity of challenging the thinkable and asserting individual identity.
The threat she posed to what is thinkable is obvious from the statement of a cleric who was embarrassed after being photographed with her. He reportedly thinks that her death, albeit sad (notice the similarities with many women saying the same thing), will serve as a lesson for anyone who shows irreverence towards the self-proclaimed scholars of religion.
This brings us to another contribution by Qandeel Baloch: her refusal to revere those who want us to believe that asking questions of the self-righteous should be discouraged.
Qandeel Baloch spoke for many in Pakistan when she showed irreverence towards the religious right. She was not afraid of exposing hypocrisy and the irony is that even in death she continues to remind us of our hypocrisies.
To go back to Adam Smith again, she held up to us a moral looking glass and we did not like the wrinkles we saw.
Many in Pakistan may feel that unless you march on the streets or brave arrests for your political party, you are not a symbol of feminism. But this is no longer true in the current age. If feminism is about independence, making your own choices and not succumbing to the norms that patriarchy lays down then she was a symbol of feminism. And every woman who defies the path spelled out by patriarchy for her life is a symbol of feminism. That is what we must realise. Feminism lives in every independent woman and the men who help them make those choices. Every casualty therefore hurts women and the larger discourse.
The state, in response, has promised us that a law on honour killing will soon be introduced. Many are celebrating it. But a state that has not been able to prevent thousands of women being murdered (and murder remains a crime in this country) will not miraculously become all-powerful to enforce this new law. The attitude of the state and its agents, defined by patriarchy, will not change.
Things will only change when we look at someone like Qandeel Baloch, respect her choices and move on with our lives. Without feeling the need to spray a disinfectant. That day, however, is not coming any time soon.
Next, she caught the attention and wrath of audiences because she owned and flaunted her sexuality with defiance and abandonment.
Third, she provoked and pushed the boundaries of male-set norms and expectations. She threatened the status quo and, unlike many squeamish women who benefit from feminist progress, Qandeel claimed her modern feminist allegiance with little academic anxiety.
Fourth, she arguably had more male supporters than regular Pakistani womens rights activists or, for that matter, Malala. Despite her mocking of the religious clergy, she was not accused of being a traitor or an Imperialist feminist who exposed Muslim male misogyny. But, the PTI does consider womens sexuality a disease that must be counseled with archaic electric shock therapy.
The murders of Mahmud and Sabri may have been motivated by those who considered them guilty of shirk, bidat or being anti-Islam. And yes, those who create an enabling environment for the extreme act of murdering creative, imaginative and especially, skeptical thinkers are also culpable. But such an anti-progressive milieu has not been exclusively created by fundamentalist or conservative forces.
Censorship of the arts, writing, social and even, the natural sciences has been routine in Pakistan. Proponents of critical thinking have been punished and expelled from relevance systematically. But, liberal thought has been crushed as much within the fraternity itself, through actual and self-censorship, cover-ups and exaggerated self-importance and petty jealousies and ghettoized seminars and conferences. Social media has aided in the neutralising of debates and its members are guilty of remaining silent out of a deep-seated fear of being unfriended by one side or another.
So-called supporters of the liberal arts and human rights have enabled opponents by shrinking and limiting liberal space to the virtual world; by mocking the efforts of those who remain active in the field rather than on keyboards and; by carrying a generic cynicism that is all too ready to play victim and is apologetic about the failures of acclaimed liberal political leaders.
They also turn a blind eye to the sexism and misogyny rampant amongst liberal men the ones who frequent their drawing-rooms. All the extremist needs to do then is to pull a trigger because we have collectively contributed to the culture and pattern that mourns online and then moves on to the next blog that needs commentary. Liberals may support sexual freedoms as a lifestyle but they are equivocating, flippant and unsupportive of the politics of womens sexuality.
War-time Japan used to recruit Comfort Women to gratify the sexual needs of soldiers as part of their national duty. Pakistan needs more women like Qandeel to scale up the discomfort of those privileged hypocrites and morality-mongers who fear sexual women more than its murderous men.
~ July 24, 2016 Shawwal 19, 1437 A.H.
A tragic storyBy Umber Khairi
‘Qandeel’ was tripped up by hurdles of class and gender
Although it’s been over a week since the murder of the outrageous social media celebrity known as Qandeel Baloch, and much has been written about her and her death, the very tragic nature of her real story continues to haunt me.
The glamorous young woman of Instagram and YouTube turned out to be a mere facade. The well turned out, elaborately made up and well-coiffed woman, with all her sexual innuendo and her risqué broadcasts, was revealed as a disadvantaged girl from a poor area of south Punjab. Her social media broadcasts gave little indication of her humble beginnings or the tremendous odds she must have battled in her rise to fame.
The woman who was such a star on social media (over 46,000 Twitter followers and over one million ‘friends’ on Facebook) was killed by her brother, in the house where her parents were staying. This was a house in Multan that she paid the rent on so that her elderly father could receive the medical treatment that she was paying for.
Subsequent to her murder, much was written and much was said about the broader issue of (so-called) honour killings and about the nature of her celebrity, and whether or not her work or brazenness could be classified as in any way as feminist in its assertion of sexual power.
The whole discussion of the life and death of Fauzia Azeem aka ‘Qandeel Baloch’ began to be framed in a discourse on honour killing and feminism. But that actually was not the real story although certainly a part of the story.
This girl’s story is about her journey from poverty and oppression to a form of self-determination and financial betterment that was made possible by the voyeuristic nature of social media. She re-invented herself, developed a bold and shocking persona that gained her a huge following, and was savvy enough to know what to use as material, and when. Indeed, her productions seem to reveal both a canny news sense and an impressive ability to read the public mood in terms of topicality and demand. She was totally outrageous, shameless in her attention-seeking.
And she was an enigma nobody really knew who she was or where she came from.
Alas, as her true story began to come to light, her media persona began to fall apart. Poverty, forced marriage, motherhood, initial work as a bus hostess, unsuccessful attempts to enter the world of show biz all revealed her as all too human and vulnerable. She was no longer the one who was in control of her image, no longer a powerful performer; she was just a poor girl with pretensions, a failure in her attempts to make it big in the world of modelling or acting.
There is certain poignancy to be found in the fact that this girl who actually did a pretty good job of acting out a fictitious character was unable to get a break in television drama. Even more so when you consider that although most TV drama productions today seem to focus extensively on female oppression and social disadvantage, the roles of poverty-stricken, disadvantaged characters are inevitably played by upper middle class actresses. Even the role of a Fauzia Azeem couldn’t be played by a Fauzia Azeem.
One of her last broadcasts was her outrageous tryst with a mullah from the Ruet-e-Hilal committee, which was hilarious in its exposure of how much the cleric seemed to be in her thrall and enjoying her attentions. And she would probably have gotten away with that had she been a star with some social standing or a wealthy family, instead of just a girl of poor stock.
When I looked at ‘Qandeel Baloch’, I saw a shameless attention-seeker, a self-publicist with no great claim to fame. But now when I regard the story of Fauzia Azeem, I see an immensely courageous person who tried her best to rise from poverty and disadvantage, and who was obstructed at every turn by the hurdles of both class and gender. Yes, her death had to do with the deep seated misogyny of Pakistani society but it had as much to do with social oppression and class. The point is not whether she was a “feminist icon” or a “role model for women”; the point is she did the best she could despite immense disadvantages.
Despite the tragic nature of her story, one is filled with admiration for her ambition and her courage, and for the fact that, even at the peak of her celebrity, she continued to support her family.
July 24, 2016 Shawwal 19, 1437 A.H.
What killed her?
By Farman Kakar
Did Qandeel’s disagreement with the dominant culture warrant her murder?
From February 2014 to February 2016, a total of 1276 people were killed in the name of honour.
For many, it is the question of who killed her. I believe the question is what killed her? For many, she deserved the fate of being murdered. For others, she did not. It is in these two competing worldviews that the question of what killed Qandeel Baloch lies. Qandeel’s wilful murder is just a high profile case of otherwise occasional happenings of killing in the name of so-called honour across Pakistan.
For her brother, it was for the sake of Baloch honour that he murdered Qandeel. Nevertheless, killing in the name of restoring honour goes far beyond the confines of ethnicity and is equally shared by other ethnic groups from all across Pakistan. In fact, there is no monolithic culture, characteristic of a particular ethnicity. Every ethnicity has a culture, which has crosscurrents to its mainstream. Thus, if a particular person acts in the name of a particular ethnicity, it should not suggest that all members of a given ethnic group will act in a similar fashion.
Culture is not static. Some cultures are more dynamic than others, however. A culture is not uniform either. We have diverse sub-cultures within an overarching dominant culture. In the context of present article, dominant culture is the one which majority of people ascribe to. This culture justifies the killing of Qandeel in the name of honour. Within the same culture, a myriad set of sub-variant cultures either acquiesces to honour killing or at least condones it. For the majority, which subscribes to the overarching culture, Qandeel’s ‘provocative’ videos warranted her murder.
Unfortunately, in a deadly conservative society like ours, you normally do not have the privilege to decide your own choice. You have to give in to the overarching culture more often than not!
If we put the vast majority of subscribers to the dominant culture into the shoes of Qandeel’s brother, they will probably act in a strikingly similar fashion the way Qandeel’s murderer did. Here is the rub: the society we live in is the main hurdle to our individualistic self. An individual is seen through the prism of his or her family, clan and tribe and ethnicity. Especially a female is considered to be the honour of a family. When her reputation is at stake, the honour of whole family is at risk. The surrounding society taunts the families when a girl elopes with a boy or something else of the sort happens. People use profane language, engage in slander and as a result, it becomes too unbearable for the families to withstand the shame.
When violators of the so-called established norms are caught, they are killed. Only then honour is considered to be restored honourably. No different was Qandeel’s case. Her actions were an affront to family’s honour, at least her brother believed so.
What is noteworthy to mention is that every adherent of the dominant culture does not believe in killing in the name of honour. In Pakistan, from February 2014 to February 2016, a total of 1276 people were killed in the name of honour killing.
In opposition to the ascendant culture is its peripheral counterpart, which challenges Qandeel’s so-called honour killing. From this perspective, we might have disagreed with what Qandeel used to do or what she stood for. That was our choice. Did her disagreement with our choice warrant her murder? Of course not for the subscribers of the nonconformist rival culture who believe that each one of us lives a life of his/her own. They have typical laissez-faire attitude towards fellow human beings and believe that no one should dictate others. Identifying where the militant overarching culture takes its roots is important, in order to effect a positive change in the culture.
Religion is a very important ingredient of culture. In our case, it appears to be the most important component on various occasions. Honour killing is not an exception. Nevertheless, it is not Islam per se that enshrines honour killing but men’s interpretation, deeply rooted in patriarchy, of the religion that either espouses killing in the name of honour or at least condones it. Seen this way, the cultural rules are unambiguously made by men.
In fact, Islam has varied cultural streams. No single, uniform interpretation of Islam informs the Muslim world. The religion is congenial to reinterpretation through Ijtihad, which implies solutions to ever-coming human problems within the light of the Holy Quran and Sunnah of the Prophet (PBUH). The fact that Islam allows for reinterpretation of religion makes it conducive to accepting modernity. However, the problem is that the dominant clergy of Sunni-Deobandi persuasion is averse to ijtihad. Secondly, no two clergymen are open to each other’s interpretation. What are our options then?
There is an ever-increasing need to slowly and gradually separate politics from religion with state having absolute monopoly on the legitimate use of coercive means. In this context, state as a complainant in Qandeel murder case is a welcome step. This has barred the Baloch family to pardon her killer. The same should be the state attitude in every wilful murder case.
July 24, 2016 Shawwal 19, 1437 A.H.
This society killed her
By Daniyal Mirza
One thing that we gather from Qandeel Baloch’s cold-blooded murder, it is that we live in a highly intolerant, patriarchal society
As the smell of coffee wafts throughout the room, my eyes wander to the newspaper, I cant make out the headline and I make no effort to read it. Instead I open Facebook on my phone and the first thing I see on my newsfeed is that Qandeel Baloch has been killed by her brother.
I let the news sink in.
Of all the news in the world this shocked me the most. Did it really, though? With all the attacks on females in our beloved, tolerant society, news of a female star being killed to protect her familys honour was nothing out of the blue, for Pakistan at least.
Baloch’s antics on social media were well-known throughout Pakistan and even beyond, at least for those people who possess a Facebook account. She had been called Pakistans Kim Kardashian, a slut, a whore and a number of other colourful names. Her videos were full of comments abusing her, telling her she must have some respect, that she should die and that she is ruining Pakistans name.
Then she was no more. Strangled to death by her brother who thought he was protecting his familys honour.
It was just another day for Pakistan. A woman who, for all intents and purposes, was doing her own thing, was not afraid to show a bit of skin, and did some things that were far too wrong for this patriarchal society to handle, was killed in cold blood.
There was outrage. People rushed to put up statuses defending Baloch. The same people who had ridiculed her rushed to talk good about her and felt good about themselves. They were supporting a good cause, after all.
These same people tagged their friends on the videos of the late model-turned-actor-turned-social-media celebrity and made jokes about her, but after she was killed all of us started updating FB statuses in her defence and a representation of feminism.
If one thing that the majority of Pakistani people are best at, its hypocrisy. But what they are even better at is barbarity. With the death of Baloch, there came a flood of tweets and sentiments praising the killer for what he had done, that Baloch deserved it.
This is just another instance in a long list of the male gender overpowering the female. A few months back, a bill was being drafted by some religious scholars who believed it was okay to lightly beat your wife.
So, we are condoning domestic violence now. Top-notch stuff this is.
A religious scholar went on national television and refused to let a woman talk because, well, she was a woman. In 2015, there were almost 250 incidents of honour killings in Punjab alone.
I was watching a video of a girl who was singing an Arabic poem while playing the piano, and scrolling down to the comments, I found where hordes of men and women (yes, women also!) were bashing the girl for not wearing a dupatta over her head.
Instead of praising her voice they were shaming her for showing her face.
If one thing that we can learn from the past few months, it is that we live in a very intolerant society driven by men. For the feminine and, for that matter, any other gender to survive in this society, this kind of intolerance must be rid of. Qandeel brother didn't kill her, this society did.
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