Recent Resources for Feminists
Monday September 11, 2017
Telangana to issue ordinance to ban unlawful marriages
Foreigners who simply come to the country as tourists on visitors’ visas will not be granted permission to marry.
READ ALSO from August 2005 HERE
Those found violating the ordinance could face seven years’ imprisonment.
Hyderabad: The state government plans to enact an ordinance banning the unlawful marriage of foreign nationals with local girls. Those found violating the ordinance could face seven years’ imprisonment.
According to Syed Omer Jaleel, special secretary of the minority welfare department, the ordinance will eventually be converted into legislation. He says that as per the new rules, it will be mandatory for foreign nationals wishing to marry in India to obtain no objection certificates from their respective countries.
They will also have to provide proof of their economic status and give undertakings to the immigration authorities, promising to take care of their wives.
Foreigners who simply come to the country as tourists on visitors’ visas will not be granted permission to marry. Qazis will not be allowed to perform nikaah ceremonies without letters of permission from either the police commissioner of the district superintendent of police.
A clause which states that the age difference between the bride and the groom cannot be over ten years has also been included. The ordinance is being drafted in consultation with the law offcials, home and police departments. Suggestions have been invited from Muslim scholars as well.
Thursday September 21, 2017
20 held for child marriages involving Arab Sheikhs
Police presenting to the media Oman and Qatar nationals involved in child marriages in Hyderabad on Wednesday. (K.V.S. Giri)
Hyderabad police crack the whip on ‘sale’ of minors
Cracking the whip on the ‘sale’ of minor girls from old city of Hyderabad to Arab Shaikhs in the guise of marriages, the police arrested 20 persons – including five Omanis and three Qataris – here on Wednesday.
While the eight foreigners arrested were presented before the court and remanded in judicial custody, the antecedents of eight more Omanis, who allegedly had come to Hyderabad to marry minors, were being verified. “They are suspected to have landed here to marry the girls on a contract basis by paying off Qazis and brokers,” Hyderabad Police Commissioner M. Mahender Reddy said.
The arrested persons included three qazis, including a chief qazi from Mumbai, four lodge owners, who used to provide accommodation to foreigners, and five brokers. The Hyderabad police kept tabs on the brokers, qazis and foreigners coming to old city after the instances of marriage of minor girls to Arab Shaikhs were reported a month ago.
“We found that many brokers from the Gulf countries, especially Oman and Qatar, are maintaining links with Arab Shaikhs to arrange minors from poor families for marriages,” Mr. Reddy said. Some such agents even married Hyderabadi women and use their connections in the city to identify girls who can be sold to Arab Shaikhs in the name of marriage.
“These Arab Shaikhs take the married girls to the Gulf countries where they are sexually exploited by others,” the Commissioner said. Investigation revealed that Farid Ahmed Khan, the chief qazi of Mumbai, was the kingpin in the child marriage racket.
Khan allegedly used to charge from Rs. 1 lakh to Rs. 3 lakh for each marriage depending on the foreigner’s capacity to pay. He would arrange forged documents for safe passage of the married minor girls (mentioning that they were adults) from India to the Arab Shaikhs’ respective countries.
On learning about Khan, a special team of the Hyderabad police went to Mumbai and brought him here. “Khan emerged as the key player in this illegal activity as he was arranging fabricated documents,” South Zone DCP V. Satyanarayana said.
The Hyderabad police identified that 38 brokers, including some women, were involved in the child marriages involving Arab Shaikhs. Suspect sheets were opened against them to keep track of their movements.
Thursday September 21, 2017
Hyderabad: Local politicians rush to save qazis, foreigners
Leaders say highlighting women trafficking will bring bad name to city.
By ASIF YAR KHAN
Eight Omani and Qatari nationals, three qazis including chief qazi of Mumbai, lodge owners and brokers detained by the police in connection with the human trafficking of women case in the Old City.
Hyderabad: Even as the police is cracking down on human trafficking of women in the Old City and conducting raids at several places, politicians have appeared at the Falaknuma police complex, the epicentre of police action, and some have rang up police officials to ask them to go ‘carefully’ with the investigation.
At least two GHMC corporators rushed to the Falaknuma police complex to secure the release of the Qatari nationals who have been arrested. One corporator went so far as to say he would not leave until the arrested person was released. “We had to request him to allow us to do our work,” said a police officer.
Another corporator came to the police station in the middle of the night to get the release of a qazi wanted in connection with a marriage case registered with the Chandrayangutta police. When the police asked if he knew on what charges the qazi was picked up, he feigned ignorance.
In last two days, the Falaknuma police complex has been frequented by small leaders of various political parties. “Huge money is involved. The brokers, who lured the foreigners, were ready to shell out lakhs of rupees. Right from leading advocates to leaders, they sought help from almost all the people,” said a police officer.
The politicians said that the Old City would get a bad name if such issues were highlighted. Some even said that the image of the government would be affected. Social activist say cases relating to trafficking in women and drugs should be assigned to special agencies like the crime investigation department.
“The local police have to maintain a good rapport with local politicians as they require their help to maintain peace during political meets and religious processions. Such high profile cases should be handled by specialised agencies where the officers are seldom in contact with local politicians,” said S.Q. Masood.
He says the next job for the police is to track down the brokers who are absconding and break the network. "Only if there is no political interference can the menace be full curbed. How can any government or geographical area get a bad name if vices are curbed?" asks Lubna Sarwath, an activist.
Hyderabad police to up vigil
The city police has begun to crack down on repeated cases of ‘contract’ marriages in the city, where women are sold to foreign nationals, usually from the Middle East. The women are usually very young and often they are just used by the so-called husbands for a few months and then abandoned. Sometimes they are taken back to the husband’s country where they are exploited by others.
A new team will keep tabs on the activities of ‘brokers’ known to be facilitating these marriages. In the last few months, there has been a drastic increase in such cases of trafficking in the Old City. Hyderabad commissioner M. Mahender Reddy said that an informer’s network will be put in place.
The police have identified 38 brokers, including 24 women, and will be monitoring their activities. They will ‘geo-tag’ the locations where these suspects stay. Following, raids on lodges, some people have converted their homes into guesthouses and renting them to brokers to accommodate foreigners from the Middle East. The police have identified 20 such guest houses.
Saturday September 09, 2017
Marriage most foul
K. Venkateshwarlu reports from the old city of Hyderabad on child brides
They are married to Arab men old enough to be their fathers.
Noorjahan (name changed) was like any other 15-year-old Muslim girl from the old city of Hyderabad bound by tradition, and coy, but as impetuous as the average teenager. She wore a burqa to the government school where she studied and the garment helped hide her torn school bag, a mark of poverty. Noorjahan and her friends were pranksters and the one kilometre walk to school was never short on adventure.
Both Noorjahan’s house and school are located in the Muslim-dominated Nawab Saheb Kunta, a ghetto of labyrinthine lanes. This squatter settlement that came up on the bed of a pond is only a stone’s throw away from the Nizam-era’s opulent hilltop palace named Falaknuma, now a five-star hotel belonging to the Taj group. Wealth and poverty sit side by side in this area of the old city.
Noorjahan was different from her classmates. While everyone dreamt of lucrative careers post studies in professional courses, the young girl, perhaps acutely conscious of her modest family background, harboured dreams of becoming a schoolteacher. Though rated average by her class teachers, Noorjahan tried hard to score better marks, recalls her primary schoolteacher, Amtul Habeeb.
Little Noorjahan was shocked to hear the groom’s age. He was 65, twenty years older than her father. But as her aunt and uncle hammered away, she gave in. After all, her father was not getting any younger and his meagre daily wage of 300 troubled her. Noorjahan became quiet and withdrawn. All that was required now was for her to say ‘Nikah qubool hai’ (I agree to the marriage) in the presence of a qazi (who performs a marriage), after which a bundle of notes would be pressed into her father’s hand and she would be required to sign on blank papers which would be used later in the event of a divorce. A file of fake documents, including a voter identity card and an Aadhaar card, would be furnished to show her age as 18, and a video of a grand lifestyle she could lead in West Asia would be passed around for her relatives to see.
The modus operandi
Noorjahan is not an isolated case of ‘Arab nikah’, as this type of Muslim marriage is known in Hyderabad. The modus operandi is the same. Detailed conversations with multiple sources in the police and the community reveal the sad picture of how a group of dalals (touts) persuade vulnerable, impoverished families with three or four minor daughters with a story of how sheikhs hold the promise of altering their lives for the better. In some cases, they say this is a ‘short-term marriage of convenience’ in exchange for money.
Once convinced, the family pressures their young daughters. Touts produce documents to show the girl as an adult and her signature is taken on blank bond papers, to come in useful later in the case of a divorce. Meanwhile, the touts enter into a deal with the sheikhs, who fly into the country and camp in local hotels and guest houses once the deal is sealed. A pliable qazi is located, and the marriage solemnised within minutes. In most cases, the sheikh spends some time with the little girl and leaves for home after divorcing her. In the last seven years, over a dozen such child marriages to wealthy Arabs have been performed, at least two to three a year, most of these marriages lasting from a few days to a few months.
Such marriages have become public largely on account of cases registered in five police station limits in Hyderabad. Many more may have escaped the radar, such as the case of a 17-year-old girl who had approached the Santoshnagar Police Station stating that her parents and touts were trying to perform her marriage for the sixth time in January 2014. Her five marriages in the previous two years had ended in divorce, she had said in her statement.
The girl’s ordeal began soon after she completed tenth grade. She was first married to Basheer of Nagpur, an NRI, and then to Jamal of Pune, both for 30,000 each. Next in line were two Saudi sheikhs after payments ranging from 50,000 to 1 lakh were made. Her fifth marriage was to a Bahrain national, and the sixth to a Sudanese, both weddings together bringing home her parents 2 lakh. But it was before the sixth marriage that she fled, and with the help of a local NGO, filed a complaint against her parents. In the complaint, she narrated how her parents spent all the money they received in leading a luxurious lifestyle. Her father, who had four wives, got her two sisters married in the same way in return for money.
But unlike her, not many Hyderabadi Muslims want to speak about this child bride bazaar, let alone acknowledge it as commonplace. With a close vigil on such practices, however, the Arab nikahs appear to have come down, even if they show no signs of ending.
The heyday of such marriages was in the late 1970s and ’80s, and the chosen months were July, August and September when wealthy Arab sheikhs would dash to Hyderabad, indulge in multiple marriages with the help of touts, and then scoot home.
When the marriages did not work back home, the sheikh would simply say ‘talaq, talaq, talaq’ and dispatch the young girl to Hyderabad with the promise of sending maintenance, which would never come. The police estimate hundreds of such contract marriages. A few years ago, Hyderabad saw the unusual spectacle of these hapless women left behind by sheikhs hitting the road seeking support for their livelihood. Many of them have ended up as domestic helps.
In the 1990s, ten-year-old child bride Ameena’s case shot into the limelight when flight attendant Amrita Ahluwalia rescued her from Yahya al-Sagih, a 60-year-old Saudi who married her and was taking her to his country. Asked why she was married off like that, her father, Badruddin, an autorickshaw driver, had this to say: “I earn 20 to 40 a day, which is hardly enough to feed my wife, six daughters, and two sons.”
Duped by relatives and touts
Noorjahan’s case is somewhat different. While a majority of those who got married to sheikhs were left behind after short-term contract marriages, her husband, Ahmed, took her to Oman. But even before the wedding mehndi on her palms dried, she ran into problems.
Noorjahan frantically made calls to her parents to rescue her, often crying that she was treated worse than a slave. When her father called Ahmed, the sheikh made it clear that he would not send the girl back till the family returned the mehr of 5 lakh. By now it was evident to the family that they had been duped not only by the sheikh, but also by their own relatives and a ring of touts.
With no trace of Sikander, Ghousia, or their friends, Noorjahan’s mother knocked on the doors of the Falaknuma Police Station. Police investigations have so far revealed that Sikander has arranged the marriages of several women with Arabs. “I made a mistake by marrying her off like that and relying on Sikander,” laments Noorjahan’s father. “A poor but young rickshaw-puller would have been better. All he has given us so far is 7,000, a used Honda Activa, and an air cooler.”
Falaknuma Inspector of Police P. Yadagiri says they have booked cases under provisions of the Child Marriage Act, POCSO (Protection of Children Against Sexual Offences Act), and Sections of the Indian Penal Code relating to rape, trafficking, and cheating by the people named by Noorjahan’s parents. Though the parents are equally culpable, the police is taking a sympathetic view in this case.
But the case got bigger and bigger. Given the gravity of the situation, the Assistant Commissioner of Police, Mohammed Tajuddin Ahmed, was appointed as the investigating officer. As the news spread via national TV channels and social media, Union Welfare Minister Maneka Gandhi tweeted seeking the help of External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj. Even as the Indian Embassy, the Government of India, and the Government of Telangana try their best to get her back, Noorjahan’s plight has once again brought into focus the poor economic and living conditions of Muslims in the old city of Hyderabad.
Why are there child brides?
The narratives here have common elements: illiteracy, religious beliefs, and a desperation to earn money, with the dubious role of qazis thrown in. Families who marry off their minor girls often disappear to escape detection. “Among a section of Muslims, there is this belief that attaining puberty is enough to marry off the girls, not when the girls turn 18. There are families in Hafeez Baba Nagar who find nothing wrong in minor girls being married off to elderly Arab sheikhs. Then there are qazis who advocate marriage at the age of 16, their contention being that sexual desires start around that age,” says Jameela Nishat, a social activist who runs an NGO called Shaheen that works for gender justice and rehabilitation of child brides deserted by sheikhs.
But not many are as outspoken as Jameela and no Muslim politician has come forward to offer his or her views on this regressive practice, let alone condemn the marriages. Neither has the practice of child marriage to sheikhs found political traction, nor has it entered popular discourse. Mazher Hussain, executive director of the Confederation of Voluntary Associations, a national network of voluntary organisations working for communal harmony and empowerment, says the trend is “nothing but trafficking in the garb of nikah.” He says it is a “gross misuse of nikah”. Though poverty is a factor, the bigger danger is the acceptance of this practice as a norm, Mazher says.
A ritual left behind
Hyderabad had a long history of Nizams hiring Chaush Arabs, mostly from Yemen, as military guards who were lodged in barracks (now known by the corrupted colloquial name of Barkas). These Arabs brought along with them the ritual of paying dowry and offering gifts to families who gave their girls in marriage. When oil was struck in Saudi Arabia and other parts of West Asia, and the situation turned tumultuous in Hyderabad in the late 1940s, a number of Chaush Arabs preferred to return to their country, taking with them their local wives and relatives. But the ritual stayed behind. Payment for brides became the vogue, although at that time the intention for this was supposedly good. It was meant to help the families of the brides and prevent the decline of economic status of Muslims after the rule of the seventh Nizam, Mir Osman Ali Khan, ended in 1948, resulting in the merger of the erstwhile Hyderabad State with the Indian Union. “This has now degenerated into this practice of buying child brides,” Mazher says. “We need to attack this norm by discrediting it much like how the practice of Sati was discredited.” Also a section of qazis, who follow a system of appointing naib qazis (assistant qazis) who perform these child marriages, have to be blamed, he says.
The qazis don’t agree. “Qazis are being blamed unnecessarily. We go by the documents submitted to us and not by the people who request us to perform the marriage. Will it be proper to lift the veil and see how old the bride is?” asks Syed Shakir Ali, a qazi from Nampally. “Yes, there are some unscrupulous qazis, but to say everyone is like that is wrong. The onus is on the parents of the bride. They ought to be careful. Before performing the nikah, I insist on seeing the passport, or the Aadhaar card, or the voter identity card and (conduct the marriage) in the presence of the father or the guardian and two witnesses. If somebody forges one of these documents, how can the qazi be held responsible? What is the Telangana government doing to end the social menace?” he asks.
In response, the Secretary of the Minorities Welfare Department of the Telangana government, Syed Omar Jaleel, says, “The government plans to bring out an ordinance and later a legislation banning all foreigners from marrying girls here unless they come with proper documents or a declaration before immigration authorities stating that their purpose of visit is to marry a woman of statutorily mandated marriageable age and that they would take care of them,” he says. “The man will be liable to undergo imprisonment of seven years under Section 196 of the IPC (if found guilty).”
To address poverty, which is at the root of this problem, the government is proposing to launch a women empowerment programme. This will involve extending loans for women and offering financial assistance of 50,000 to each family to perform the marriage of their daughter. Mr. Jaleel also spoke of revamping the outdated Qazis Act of 1880 and changing rules to make the qazis more accountable.
Economic support to the poor and compulsory education of girls could address this issue, says a young girl who was married off at the age of 12 to a 70-year-old man from Oman. She described to this correspondent her marriage that lasted all of three months, the whole time during which the old man stayed with her in a hotel room before leaving her.
“I was helpless,” she said. “My father was an alcoholic and my mother worked as a domestic help. Under the influence of dalals, they married me off to an elderly Arab. He promised to take me with him soon after the marriage. But he failed to keep his promise. One day he uttered talaq thrice over the phone and slammed the phone down. That was the last time I heard from him.”
She now has a baby to look after and works as a domestic help. She also attends tailoring classes in the hope of securing a future for her child. At least her daughter must get an education that she had to sadly forgo. Dreams of the next generation must not die young.
Wednesday September 6 2017
Obituary: The fearless journalist-activist Gauri Lankesh
Soutik Biswas India correspondent
Gauri Lankesh inherited a newspaper from her father
"What are we going to fight over today?" a journalist friend of Gauri Lankesh would usually ask her whenever she made an early morning call to him. "What's your grudge?"
In her breathless, high-pitched voice, Lankesh would usually ask her editor friend why his newspaper hadn't taken a stronger stand on an issue close to her heart. "If you big guys can't take a more robust stand, how are we going to do it?"
In the southern Indian city of Bangalore where she lived, Lankesh edited an eponymous weekly tabloid she inherited from her father in the local Kannada language. Financed entirely by subscriptions - part of an activist tabloid culture in the state of Karnataka, which shunned adverts - Gauri Lankesh Patrike was known for its feisty leftist views. It also reflected the editor's view and ideology.
Lankesh was a trenchant critic of the Hindu right-wing. She believed religious and majoritarian politics would tear India apart. When Malleshappa Kalburgi, a leading Indian scholar and a well-known rationalist thinker, was shot dead at his home in Dharwad following death threats from right-wing Hindu groups two years ago, she told a friend: "I don't care what happens to me, they even called me a slut. But I really worry for the country. These guys will break it up."
She had other causes too. Lankesh was openly sympathetic to Maoist rebels who have long waged war against the Indian government and she fought hard to bring them into the mainstream. She also campaigned for the rights of Dalits, formerly known as untouchables.
She made no bones about her dislike for Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his ruling Hindu nationalist BJP either. Her Facebook posts often contained unflattering memes of the prime minister. In a recent post she lauded India's stand-up comics for "successfully doing more than most to destroy the Modi myth". Typically, she lent her support to them, saying "We are all with you together and we shall reclaim our secular India."
Lankesh was a feisty social activist (Kashif Masood)
Discarding impartiality, Lankesh's newspaper was often shrill and bristling with rhetoric. Sometimes the stories would give short shrift to facts, discomforting many of her friends. To be fair, Lankesh never concealed her choices: she introduced herself as "journalist-activist" in her Twitter profile.
Not surprisingly, her paper attracted a raft of defamation cases. Last year she was convicted of defamation for a report she published on local BJP leaders. The chief of the BJP's information technology cell then sent out an ominous-sounding tweet hoping "other journalists take note" of her conviction, prompting accusations of dog-whistle politics. This had not daunted Lankesh. Despite falling circulation and revenues, her tabloid continued to take on formidable adversaries.
Along with the tabloid, Lankesh possibly inherited her grit from her father P Lankesh, a versatile cultural icon from Karnataka. He ran a lively, high-circulation tabloid, wrote award-winning novels and made films, all infused with a vibrant cosmopolitan favour. He was also a fearless activist.
Gauri Lankesh, the oldest of three siblings, had decided on a career in journalism early on. She went to a journalism school in Delhi, where a classmate found her "tough, uncompromising and radical". She worked with a leading newspaper, a now-defunct magazine and a fledgling English news channel.
When her father died in 2000, she was initially reluctant to take over his 20-year-old newspaper. Kannada, her friends said, was not her strongest point. But when she finally decided to take it over, she turned completely political and began taking radical political positions.
Lankesh 'adopted' student leader Kanaiya Kumar last year
Friends found Lankesh at once a belligerent and loving personality. She fought and made up easily. She "adopted" two student leaders - one who belonged to the Dalit community, the other charged with sedition - and invited them home. When she wanted to gift them T-shirts, she called a male friend and asked: "What colours would they like, you think?"
In recent months, Lankesh wrote on rising attacks on the freedom of press, local politics and how her city and India's info-tech capital had become unsafe for women. She wrote she was appalled by rising domestic violence, dowry murders and acid attacks on women in what was once a genteel pensioners paradise.
"What can women of Bangalore do to reclaim their rights to live the way they used to?" she wrote in January.
In a way, it was a chillingly prescient thought. The motorcycle-borne gunmen who shot Lankesh outside her home on Monday night probably killed her for her work.
Thursday September 7 2017
Murder of dissent
Gauri Lankesh died for free speech
Until the identity and motive of the killers of journalist Gauri Lankesh is established, it would be premature to hold any party or grouping responsible. Social media warriors are entitled to draw conclusions that suit them but the unfortunate death of the fiercely independent and outspoken journalist is certainly a calculated attack on the constitutional freedom of speech and expression. And it is but natural for all those who value the right to dissent to recall in this context the assassination of rationalist MM Kalburgi two years ago. Gauri was known to hold far left views and build peace bridges between the Maoists and the State. She treated the likes of Kanhaiya Kumar, Shehla Rashid and Jignesh Mewani as her “children”.
Gauri Lankesh had the option to play the conformist. She, however, chose to work for the cause she felt was right. Individuals like her, maybe small in number, cannot keep silent when faced with any wrong or injustice. The countrywide outrage that her killing has evoked shows how fiercely so many from so diverse cultures and regions have stood up for her right to express her opinion. That is a sign of a vibrant democracy. By sticking to her views in the face of death threats and paying the ultimate price, Gauri Lankesh has set an inspirational example for other upholders of just causes. Her message is clear: stand up for what you believe in, regardless of the consequences. Her death has brought to the national centre stage issues she had lived to fight religious fundamentalism, caste discrimination and communal politics.
There is a choice everyone is called upon to make at some point of time: to honestly speak out what one really feels agitated about or play safe and keep one’s opinion to oneself. We as a society have to decide whether we have to allow a free run to exchange of ideas or to extremists and gun-wielding thugs. There is a growing culture of intolerance and hate. Politics of division on the basis of identity, ideology, religion and caste should not be allowed to come in the way of liberal values and individual rights and freedoms.
Monday September 11, 2017
Lankesh, Gauri and their world of alternative journalism
BY Nataraj Huliyar
Perhaps Gauri believed Karnataka still had a democratic space where the criticism would be met with criticism, and not violence.
January 26, 2000. Prof K. Ramdas, the well-known rationalist, was among the many who attended Lankesh’s funeral. He described Lankesh Patrike as a unique social movement in the history of Karnataka, and lamented the time had come to give it a burial with its mentor.
I was part of Lankesh’s team then. If Lankesh Patrike was a movement, I argued, it had to be kept alive through collective effort. Gauri was nowhere in the picture. I expected Ravindra Reshme or T K Tyagaraj, fearless reporters who had taken on corrupt politicians and bureaucrats, to step into Lankesh’s shoes. Gauri had not written anything in her father’s paper till then, and was a novice to Kannada journalism. Yet, within a few minutes of the staff meeting that week, Gauri had become editor.
Not a good choice, I thought like many others. Yet, as a Lohiaite, I supported her for ideological reasons. Lankesh had instilled in me a pro-Dalit, pro-Muslim, pro-women attitude. I still remember the Sunday Gauri wrote and rewrote her first editorial note. It was an issue to pay tribute to Lankesh. Articles, poems, letters were pouring in. When the issue came out, it sold well. The movement was alive and the paper’s well-wishers were relieved.
I had been a staunch ‘Lankeshite’ since my college days. Lankesh Patrike had introduced a new idiom to Kannada journalism. For those tired of the impersonal, dull style of the dailies, here was an eight-page tabloid for 60 paise. No ads. No space-filling stories. From politics to cinema, everything was covered in a lively style. The headlines were fresh and unpredictable. We read it again and again till the next issue came out!
For my friends in theatre, journalism and literature, Lankesh Patrike was an addiction. We learnt about political analysis, book reviewing, column writing, and reporting through the paper. When some of us started writing, the influence was apparent. The tabloid shaped the sensibility of at least two generations and taught them to think and be anti-establishment. For two decades, Lankesh Patrike was a true university for me as a reader and later contributor and a columnist.
Three months after Gauri took over, I got a call from the paper. I was told my column would be stopped. I said, ‘Fine!’ I stopped following the paper, but was aware Gauri continued the anti-establishment positions of her father. Gauri did not have her father’s finesse or creative genius. She had to discover her own strengths. She became an activist. She became a product of the times, when the progressive forces of Karnataka were trying to come together. After launching her own weekly, she was in search of a distinct identity and hence became a willing voice of several activist forums. She made brief, matter-of-fact and hard-hitting speeches. She was clearly anti-RSS, anti-BJP and pro-minorities.
By then tabloid journalism in Karnataka was in a crisis, with 24x7 news channels becoming more tabloid than tabloids. Gauri had inherited a paper without ads, and had to continue to run it that way. After some years, she started a magazine for those taking competitive exams to cross-subsidise Gauri Lankesh Patrike. The new magazine, coupled with the sale of her father’s books, helped her keep Gauri Lankesh Patrike going.
Lankesh had also seen many ups and downs. But he had a network of faithful news agents who were his admirers. Though leading Kannada writers were hurt by his acid comments, younger writers would avidly follow him. When he criticised the leaders of the Dalit and the farmers’ movements, they would stop reading Lankesh Patrike, but would still be curious about Lankesh’s take on some crisis. This was true of politicians too. Even the BJP leaders stung by him felt they were educated by his criticism. Lankesh would say, ‘As long as I am around, the BJP can’t come to power in Karnataka.’ And he was proved right.
Gauri shared most of her father’s concerns except Lankesh’s rediscovery of Gandhi which made his writing introspective and meditative. He was truly progressive but would never spout the movement’s jargon. It is unfair to expect all of this from his daughter, who grew up in a different atmosphere. But she fought. and bravely. Gauri had to jump into the fray, and fought with conviction.
But the Karnataka of her father’s time had changed. The obscene letters he used to get had turned into vicious social media posts. Perhaps Gauri believed Karnataka still had a democratic space where the criticism would be met with criticism, and not violence. But she was too visible and became the target of a larger conspiracy. The ploy is to shoot one and silence thousands. But history tells us not everyone can be silenced for ever.
The author is a well-known Kannada writer and culture critic.
Friday September 08, 2017
All that Gauri Lankesh stood for
Her murder is an attempt to kill an idea
By Yogendra Yadav
What killed Gauri Lankesh? This is not the same question as “who killed Gauri Lankesh?” This is deeper and a more rewarding question. In any case, this is the only question we can meaningfully answer in the public domain.
A murder involves four categories of culpability: those who carry out assassination, those who conspire, those who encourage or benefit from it, and those who are involved in its acquiescence. We must leave the first two for the police to determine. Instead of rushing to conclusions about the assassins and conspirators, let us focus on the larger context that encouraged and acquiesced to, indeed celebrated, her murder.
This is particularly relevant in the case of Gauri. She was not just a person. She represented an idea. It is reasonable to assume that her assassination is an attempt to shut down that idea. It is also meant to convey a signal to everyone else to shut up, or else. Since these signals are in the public domain, we can and must decode these in order to understand the context that led to her assassination.
A word about the ‘whodunnit’. So far, we know only a few relevant facts. Gauri Lankesh was a journalist, a fearless editor of an extraordinary paper called Gauri Lankesh Patrike. She had been carrying out a crusade against the Hindutva politics of the Bharatiya Janata Party and its allies through the paper she edited, and organisations like Komu Souharda Vedike. Last year she lost a defamation suit by a BJP leader; her appeal against it was pending. She had received several threats from Sangh Parivar affiliates. As far as we know, there was no personal enmity angle to this murder.
The killing of ideas
This information is good to draw a reasonable inference: she was killed because of her ideas and her determination to speak her mind. But this information is not adequate to reach a definite conclusion about the identity of the killers and the conspirators. It is only fair that the criminal investigation must not be carried out in TV studios. This is not to say that we must trust the police. Indeed, police investigations in similar cases, whether under the Congress or the BJP regime, have been perfunctory. Still we cannot pre-empt the investigation, even if we scrutinise it later.
While we do not have evidence of who planned her murder, we have lots of evidence concerning those who celebrated and justified her murder. Social media was abuzz with comments that mocked, abused and blamed a woman who had been killed a few hours ago. Most of them were well-established BJP trolls. Some of them were followed by none other than the Prime Minister. In this context, it was vital for the ruling party to dissociate itself from this campaign. But except Ravi Shankar Prasad, no senior BJP leader spoke unequivocally against such comments. The PM is yet to ‘unfollow’ any of these trolls.
We also know the eerie pattern that was replicated in three murders prior to hers. The murder of rationalist Narendra Dabholkar in 2013, that of Govind Pansare, another campaigner against superstition, in 2015, and academic M.M. Kalburgi in 2015 followed identical patterns. In each of these cases, unidentified killers shot down intellectual crusaders inimical to the ideology of the Sangh Parivar. These were not murders to avenge any other act of violence. Nor were these attempts to eliminate a political rival. These were aimed at silencing an idea. Let us not forget that these three ‘rationalists’ were not promoting some idiosyncratic idea: cultivation of ‘scientific temper’ is very much our constitutional ideal. They were killed by an ideology inimical to our Constitution. Prima facie, Gauri’s killing fits into this pattern.
From a rooted tradition
Her ideas were, of course, not the same as the other three. Everyone, supporter as well as detractor, has assumed that she was a ‘leftist’. There has been some loose talk of her being Naxalite. This is not true. Gauri represented an illustrious intellectual tradition of Karnataka that does not fit into any of these categories. As the editor of Gauri Lankesh Patrike, she carried forward the legacy of her father P. Lankesh, the founder o fLankesh Patrikeand one of the three iconic writers of the ‘Navya’ school of Kannada literature. Inspired by Ram Manohar Lohia, these writers from Shimoga P. Lankesh, Poornachandra Tejaswi and U.R. Ananthamurthy combined a strident anti-caste stance with the socialist brand of egalitarian politics and culturally rooted secularism. They mentored the next generation of Kannada intellectuals like Devanur Mahadeva, Siddalingaiah and D.R. Nagaraj whose writings have inspired ‘progressive’ activists in Karnataka.
This socialist tradition is ‘left’ in the sense of being pro-people and egalitarian, but very different from the communist ‘left’ in terms of its cultural orientation. This tradition is rooted in Kannada egalitarian thought that goes back to Basavanna. Although on some issues Gauri was closer to the orthodox left than her father, her secularism was a continuity of this tradition. Like her father, she chose to write in Kannada and in a popular idiom. This form of culturally rooted secularism is in line with the secularism of our freedom struggle. The Sangh Parivar fears this most, as this form of secularism cannot be brushed aside as deracinated, westernised intellectualism.
Her very name carried a challenge to what is now being presented as Hindutva. This is the time of the year to welcome the arrival of ‘Gauri’ also known as Durga, Parvathi, Bhavani or Shakti in many regions of the country. ‘Lankesh’ is, of course, Ravana, the ultimate devotee of Lord Shiva. Her name invokes the tradition of Ravana worship among Shaivites, a practice that upsets the project of homogenous Hindutva.
Gauri lived a life of ideas. It is unsurprising that she was killed by an ideology one that stands in opposition to our Constitution, denies the values of our freedom struggle, fears our intellectual traditions and is threatened by the multiple strands of Hinduism. She was killed by the ruling ideology of our times.
Yogendra Yadav is President of Swaraj India
Wednesday September 13 2017
Thousands protest Lankesh murder
Writers, students and Left wing supporters take out a rally against journalist Gauri Lankesh's killing in Bengaluru on Tuesday. PTI
Bengaluru: Thousands of social activists, journalists, people's forums and political party workers from across the country today organised a protest rally here, condemning the murder of journalist-activist Gauri Lankesh a week ago. The protesters gathered at the city's railway station before taking to the streets.
Members of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist), Karnataka Janashakthi, Aam Aadmi Party and several student groups were also part of the rally. The 55-year-old editor of Kannada weekly "Gauri Lankesh Patrike" was gunned down outside her home in a city suburb on September 5.
Those marching were seen singing protest songs, raising slogans such as "Gauri Lankesh Amar Rahe" and demanding that Lankesh's assailants be brought to book. Wearing black head bands that read "I am Gauri", the protesters took out the march from the city railway station to the Central College Grounds. Among the participants were CPI-M general secretary Sitaram Yechury, social activist Medha Patkar, journalists P Sainath and Sagarika Ghose, Swaraj India leaders Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav, documentary producers Anand Patwardhan and Rakesh Sharma and civil rights activists Teesta Setalvad, Kavitha Krishnan and Jignesh Mevani, besides film producer Prakash Rai.
"The forum of progressive thinkers, writers, social activists, artistes and intellectuals was formed on Friday to fight against Lankesh killing and decided to hold the national-level 'resistance convention'," the forum convenor K Leela had said. IANS
~ Monday August 28 2017
Nazha Saad 1960 - 2017
Nazha Saad, woman of influence helped thousands of homeless
By Marie Persson
Nazha Saad was named as one of Australia's Women of Influence by Westpac and The Australian Financial Review. She was a leader in the Australian community housing sector and was widely acknowledged as an innovator, activist and humanitarian. Before she became ill, Saad was CEO of St George Community Housing, providing accommodation for more than 8000 homeless people.
Saad was the daughter of Emile and Hasyby Saad, Lebanese immigrants who came to Australia with little to their name but their commitment to hard work and a hunger to succeed. Her family was a traditional one and it is testimony to Saad's determination and drive that she achieved so much in her short life.
Nazha Saad (centre), CEO of St George Community Housing, at a permaculture garden created by St George Community Housing for residents. (Jane Dyson)
To say Saad was a high achiever is to underplay her abilities. Wherever she was she shone. She was school captain at Burwood Public School and a prefect at Strathfield Girls High. As well as completing an executive course at Harvard Business School, Saad topped her MBA class. She trained with her brother Joseph for many years at the Australian Tae Kwon Do Academy and despite being an average swimmer – not that she would admit it – she attained her underwater divers licence.
Saad was fearless and not afraid to stand up to any sort of bias, prejudice or misogyny. As a senior executive in the NSW Public Service she didn't hold back. In one memorable incident, in a very public forum, she playfully (but with meaning) slapped the minister of the day on the arm when he made a sexist remark. There was a hushed silence until he laughed it off. He knew not to mess with her.
Nazha Saad, CEO of St George Community Housing, was a leader in the Australian community housing sector and was widely acknowledged as an innovator, activist and humanitarian. (Supplied Photo)
Ross MacRae was the great love of her life along with their poodle cross, Maddie. For many years she enjoyed sailing holidays in exotic places with MacRae and a small group of friends, despite suffering from appalling seasickness. Every morning she would take copious pills and disappear below. At the end of the day she was half carried onto a dock, a beach – anywhere that didn't rock. MacRae was always there for her at the end of the day.
Saad always said that she would like to have left this world having made it a better place for her sister, brothers, colleagues, friends and those less fortunate than her. She wanted to face whatever is next with her head held high, knowing she had lived a good life and had done her best.
She was beautiful and caring and lit up any room she entered. She was authentic, vulnerable, strong and wise. Throughout her life she united all who met her with her infectious personality and her ferocious commitment to social justice. She faced death as she faced life – with grace and gratitude, kindness, genuine curiosity, a sense of hopefulness and a concern that was always for others.
Nazha Saad is survived by MacRae, her mother Hasyby, her brothers Joseph and Richard and her sister Najette.
Thursday August 31 2017
Fiona Richardson remembered as principled, passionate politician at state memorial
By state political reporter Richard Willingham
Video: Brunswick MP Jane Garrett gives an emotional tribute to her friend and colleague. (Fairfax Media: Joe Armao) (ABC News)
A treasured friend, a determined advocate, a formidable political operator and proud mother and partner is how Australia's first minister for the prevention of family violence has been remembered.
The state memorial for Fiona Richardson, who died last week aged 50, heard about her tenacious work ethic and care for her community and family.
Held at Northcote's Regal Ballroom, the venue that launched her 2014 defence of her seat, the room was packed beyond capacity by her family, friends, Labor colleagues and political rivals.
Realising a past of abuse
When she was a minister, Fiona Richardson bravely revealed her own family's trauma at the hands of an abusive father.
Former prime minister Julia Gillard headed an impressive list of Labor luminaries and people from the wider Labor movement, including union bosses and former premiers.
Ms Richardson's close friend, Brunswick MP Jane Garrett, gave an emotional tribute detailing how Ms Richardson had helped her during own fight against breast cancer.
Ms Garrett recalled Ms Richardson bringing her a blanket when she was first diagnosed, and telling her to use it to be with her family to absorb all their smells and memories.
She later used it when she was in hospital, and Ms Richardson was buried in a similar blanket.
The Brunswick MP said in a political world where MPs spewed out thousands of words and scripted sound bites, Ms Richardson stood out for always speaking with brevity and wit.
: Former Victorian premier John Brumby and former prime minister Julia Gillard paid tribute to the MP. (Fairfax Media: Joe Armao)
And it was her words in her maiden speech that rang most true: that her greatest achievement was her partnership with husband Stephen Newnham the pair forming "a mighty couple" and her two children, Marcus and Catherine.
Her fierce intellect, compassion and blonde hair were all apparent in her children, Ms Garrett said.
"[She was] principled, brilliant, driven, passionate,'' she said.
: Fiona Richardson was remembered for giving a voice to those suffering family violence. (AAP: Mal Fairclough)
Former police chief commissioner Ken Lay said Ms Richardson was so many government departments' and agencies' favourite minister, and a woman who showed compassion and wit.
He said she would be remembered for giving a voice to those suffering injustice and a "trailblazer driven by a fierce determination for change".
"Mediocrity was not part of Fiona's vocabulary,'' he said.
Tears were shed as Imagine was sung to images of Ms Richardson with her family and friends.
Northcote High School principal Kate Morris remembered the inspiration, advice and advocacy efforts Ms Richardson provided to the community.
"She didn't always tell you what you wanted to hear, but she told what you needed to know,'' Ms Morris said.
: Politicians from all sides, including Federal Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, gathered for the service. (Fairfax Media: Joe Armao)
Her work ensuring that netball courts were built across Melbourne was highlighted for empowering women to active.
MC Steve Bracks told mourners that Ms Richardson wanted the memorial to be a celebration.
"And I'm not brave enough to cross Fiona,'' Mr Bracks said to laughter.
Ms Richardson was always political. She first entered politics when, at age nine, she protested against the dismissal of Gough Whitlam.
At 12, she became a vegetarian.
She met her husband, Mr Newnham, when the pair shared a coffee about how to resolve a Labor problem.
They quickly became a formidable duo. Mr Newnham is a former state secretary of the ALP.
: Fiona Richardson was remembered for her love of her family. (Fairfax Media: Joe Armao)
Throughout the tributes, Ms Richardson was remembered for her fearless work to eradicate family violence, but Mr Bracks also highlighted her tremendous work driving Labor's policy to remove 50 level crossings.
Mr Bracks proudly highlighted Ms Richardson's pivotal role in getting Ms Gillard preselected and helping her become Australia's first female prime minister.
Her work to get Bill Shorten, who attended with his wife Chloe, preselected for his seat was also acknowledged.
Other mourners included anti-violence campaigners Rosie Batty and Phil Cleary, the Labor state Cabinet and caucus, Liberal MPs and the crossbench.
Mr Lay ended his tribute with a simple message to Ms Richardson's grieving family: "Your partner and mum didn't observe history, she made history."
Melbourne ~ Wednesday August 23 2017
Anti-domestic violence campaigner Rosie Batty pays tribute to Labor minister Fiona Richardson
By Melissa Cunningham
Rosie Batty, former Australian of the year and family violence survivor, has paid tribute to the nation's first minister for the prevention of family violence, Fiona Richardson.
Ms Batty said Ms Richardson, who died on Wednesday afternoon after battling cancer, was a tireless campaigner who made it her mission to stand up for the safety of women and children.
Premier Daniel Andrews with Rosie Batty and Fiona Richardson in March 2016. (Eddie Jim )
She said, however, that the greatest gift Ms Richardson she gave to victims of family violence was hope.
"She not only gave victims a voice, but she gave them a voice in parliament and that was really such a unique thing," a grief-stricken Ms Batty said.
"She gave them hope things could change. She reached the hearts of politicians from both sides of politics. But what she really set out to achieve, was to make them understand that victims need to be part of the solution, that their stories are essential, that they can help inform the government, lead reforms and change society and the world."
But to Ms Batty, Ms Richardson more than just a politician, she was a friend, mentor and confidant who Ms Batty said was always there in difficult moments to offer comforting words or a hug.
"It was really hard in the earlier days, I just found myself sort of thrust into the public realm and you can feel quite alone, but she swept in, she understood, and she was such a huge support to me on my journey," Ms Batty said.
"She would always be so encouraging and filled with praise of me, almost like a proud mum. She really helped me to find the confidence to continue what I am doing."
Behind closed doors, Ms Richardson was a mighty-hearted woman, adored by her staff, and known for her many endearing quirks including walking around her office barefooted, Ms Batty said.
"She had all these wonderful elements, she was a very alternative type of person, she loved being barefooted," Ms Batty said.
"She was lovely, dynamic, fun and so very, very caring. There was no limit to her kindness."
Ms Batty said she would remember Ms Richardson as a formidable force who challenged the system and then helped rebuild it.
"Because of her own lived experiences she was passionate and she knew exactly what surivors needed," she said.
"We shared a mission and there was a deep trust between us and a deep appreciation."
Ms Batty said Ms Richardson's legacy would be her unwavering desire to change the lives of victims of family violence.
"She was somebody who had the confidence and the drive to dance to the beat of her own drum," Ms Batty said.
"She had the passion and confidence to challenge wherever she wanted to challenge and that's not always an easy thing to do, to confront people, to challenge our leaders to push to change the system.
"There are going to be so many people, including myself, who will make sure her vision continues and who will see through all she wanted to achieve but didn't live long enough to."
Domestic Violence Victoria chief executive Fiona McCormack said Ms Richardson had been a fearless advocate for women and children.
Ms McCormack said Ms Richardson had drawn on her painful experience to advocate for and empower survivors of family violence.
"This is such a huge loss," she said. "She wanted to work to create change, she dedicated her life to protecting women and children.
"Central to her effort was ensuring that the voice of survivors of family violence was at the heart of any reform, of any new systems or models of development.
"I can speak on behalf of the entire family sector in paying our condolences to her family when I say we are so terribly shocked and sad at the news, but that we're very grateful for the incredible work she undertook."
Volume 34 Issue 17 September 1, 2017
A silent struggle against inequality
Rabh tribal women carry firewood in the Boko area of Kamrup (Rural) district in Assam. Low recorded work participation of women is often a reflection of the low status of women in society, since the huge amount of unpaid labour that they perform is simply not recognised. (Ritu Raj Konwar)
A salt pan near Ramanathapuram in Tamil Nadu. (L. Balachandar)
The promises that inspired the enthusiastic participation of women in the national movement have remained unfulfilled, as a deep and pervasive gender inequality, making the position of women inferior in Indian society, still persists.
By JAYATI GHOSH
WOMEN were significant participants in the national movement. Leaders such as Sarojini Naidu, Sucheta Kripalani, Kalpana Dutt Joshi, Bhikaji Cama and Aruna Asaf Ali became emblematic of the freedom struggle. But even more than their presence, there was widespread involvement of ordinary women from different walks of life in different regions. Many of them came out of their homes into “public life” for the first time, often inspired by Mahatma Gandhi, who made their participation an important part of his own political strategy of non-violent non-cooperation.
Inevitably, these women would have had their own notions of freedom: their goals would have been somewhat different from those of their male counterparts, and their expectations of living in a newly independent country must have been coloured by their very unequal and often oppressive social and economic circumstances. But it may still be safe to say that the writers of the Constitution did manage to encapsulate many of the hopes and dreams of the women of the time.
Consider what the Constitution offered: explicit recognition of equality before law and rejection of any kind of discrimination, including on grounds of gender, along with empowering the state to adopt measures of positive discrimination in favour of women, to neutralise the cumulative socio-economic, educational and political disadvantages they faced. Article 16 promised equality of opportunity for all citizens (and, therefore, for all women) in matters relating to employment or appointment to any office under the state; Article 39(a) noted that the state should direct its policy towards securing for men and women equally the right to an adequate means of livelihood; and Article 39(d) stressed equal pay for equal work for both men and women. Several other provisions took note of the need to provide dignity and empower women in various ways. Over time, other legislation banned traditional customs and practices that were clearly unjust and discriminatory, such as dowry and child marriage.
So far, so positive, and if these declarations had been mostly or even substantially fulfilled, the granddaughters of those millions of women of 1947 would today be living their dream. After all, seven decades is a reasonably long time in the life of a country, and should be more than enough to effect significant progress along the lines of the announced social contract. So how far have things actually changed for Indian women in this period?
Equality before law has certainly existed as a basic principle, but it has not been accompanied by equally just implementation; and both the letter of the law and its functioning have not conformed to the basic spirit of the Constitution. In the absence of a systematically codified set of laws recognising and providing remedies for various kinds of gender discrimination, women’s equality before law has had to be interpreted through case law, which has on occasion provided surprising and unfavourable outcomes. This has been true of the personal laws affecting marriage and divorce, as well as laws relating to inheritance and property. It is true that over the years various laws have been enacted for equal remuneration, maternity benefits for working women, rape, dowry deaths and the like. But it is also unfortunately true that these laws are still honoured mostly in the breach, and a sense of impunity still characterises many perpetrators of such crimes.
The workings of the criminal justice system, and indeed of the civil courts, are replete with instances of blatant gender discrimination that severely limit women’s access to justice, especially for women from poor and disadvantaged contexts. Meanwhile, the persistence and even increase in acts of violence against women may be partly a result of increased awareness and willingness of the survivors to go public, but the apparent increase in the brutality of such crimes suggests that other darker social forces may also be at work. Certainly, we must admit that in India, we are still very far from ensuring safe, free and just legal and social spaces for most women and girls to live, work and achieve their potential as creative and empowered human beings.
In terms of some of the most basic demographic indicators, there is obvious improvement. Average life expectancy at birth has more than doubled for women, from an estimated 32 years around 1950 to nearly 70 years today. In fact, women’s life expectancy at birth was actually lower than that for men until the late 1970s; thereafter it changed, with higher numbers for women. But women are known to have better survival chances than men, and the gap in India is still lower than in developed countries or even countries with similar per capita income.
Much of this decline in mortality rates is due to the decline in infant mortality rates, which have fallen from more than 150 per 1,000 live births in 1950 to around 40 in recent years. But gender gaps in neonatal mortality (before the age of one month) remain high, and have even increased slightly over the past decade.
Maternal mortality rates (MMR) have also fallen; they were estimated to be around 1,300 per 100,000 live births but are now around 170. This is certainly a big decline, but in fact it is not nearly big enough: India is one of the few countries to have failed to achieve the Millennium Development Goals of reducing maternal mortality by 75 per cent compared to its 1990 level, which would have implied an MMR (at the national level) of 103 at most. The country has the shameful distinction of accounting for the highest number of maternal deaths in the world (around 17 per cent), 10 times the number in China, even though China still has a larger population of women of child-bearing age.
This poor performance in maternal mortality is an indicator of broader failures that show that progress in improving the conditions and status of Indian women has been limited and uneven. Indeed, other human development indicators show the persistently low status of women and girls in society, which is then reflected in many related features. Death due to childbirth is often related not just to lack of adequate medical facilities and prenatal care, but also to poor nutrition. The relative paucity of proper and affordable health care is one of the big failures of Indian development, but it also has a strong gender dimension, with women, especially poorer women in rural and more backward areas, routinely denied access to these basic services, including for reproductive health.
Women and girl children in India continue to exhibit some of the worst nutritional outcomes, similar to or worse than some least developed countries where per capita incomes are much lower. The proportion of women with anaemia is nearly double the global average. This is obviously related not only to the aggregate insufficient calorie consumption among poor households, but to disparate intra-household consumption patterns, through which women and girl children eat less in terms of quantity and quality, not only because of deprivation but because of self-denial.
Another reason for high maternal mortality is early age at childbirth and this remains a persistent concern because of early marriage of girls. The average age at marriage has certainly gone up in India. Yet, even now 61 per cent of all women are married before the age of 16 and half of them have their first pregnancy before 19.2 years.
Sex ratio and son preference
Perhaps the demographic indicator that reveals most starkly the continued inferior position of women in Indian society is the sex ratio (the number of women per 1,000 men). Globally, the sex ratio stands at around 984. But in India, it was an abysmal 940 in 2011. What is even more shocking is that this sex ratio has actually deteriorated since Independence; it was estimated to be 946 in the 1951 Census. The ratio is worse in urban areas (926) than in rural areas (947) and typically lower in higher income locations and among upper castes compared with Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. The child sex ratio (for the age group 0-6 years) is even worse, and has fallen further from 927 in 2001 to 914 in 2011, pointing to the effects of the combination of son preference among families across the subcontinent and newly available technologies that have combined to prevent female births, and greater neglect of girl infants compared to boys in the early phases of life. Incidentally, son preference also casts a shadow on other institutions like marriage: data from the India Human Development Surveys reveal that women with no children or only daughters were twice as likely to face divorce or separation than women with only sons.
Education appears to be one area of progress compared to 70 years ago, but here too the progress has been far too delayed, limited and slow, and indeed very poor compared to most developing countries. Female literacy rates have improved over the past decades, but at 65 per cent in 2011, they were still well below the global average of 80 per cent. Girls’ enrolment in primary education has improved significantly to be near-universal today, but around one-third of girls now in their teens and early 20s were never enrolled in schools. Dropout rates remain high and there are significant gender gaps in dropout, especially by the time the age of middle school is reached. Most surveys suggest that families find that schooling for girls beyond the most basic level is “not necessary” or “too expensive”, or that “the school is too far away”, while some simply claim that the child “is not interested”. The inability to ensure that every child receives full good-quality elementary education, despite all the grandiose promises made immediately after Independence, is shocking in any case, but it affects girls and young women severely.
But if all these were not proof enough of the deep and pervasive gender inequality that still persists in India, the evidence on employment must be clinching. India always had a very low recorded work participation rate for women by global standards, including when the first employment surveys were conducted in the early 1950s. Thereafter, successive surveys by the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) have shown hardly any increase in these low rates, which have been marked by a depressing stability over the “socialist planning” as well as the neoliberal reforms phases of economic and social policy. But shockingly, for the most recent period for which such data are available, women’s work participation rates actually showed a significant decline from 28.2 per cent of women aged 15 years or more in 2004-05, to as low as 21.6 per cent in 2011-12. This was mostly because of a decline in the number of recorded rural women workers, particularly those classified as self-employed in agriculture.
This makes India truly unusual, possibly even unique, in both comparative terms as well as in historical terms. It is hard to think of any other society whose economy has apparently been growing rapidly for nearly three decades, where women’s work participation has not only not increased but actually fallen.
Various explanations have been offered for this, including rising real wages that have allowed women in poor households to avoid or reduce involvement in very physically arduous and demanding work with relatively low wages and instead focus more on “domestic duties”. There have also been arguments about the loss of access to common property resources that allowed women to work collecting plants and herbs, as well as mechanisation of agriculture that is paradoxically typically associated with women losing work once it becomes less physically demanding and arduous. In any case, there is the point that whatever occurred in agriculture, other forms of recognised employment for women in other sectors like industry and services simply did not increase enough to make a dent.
But there is another deeper point. Work, including paid and unpaid work, defines the conditions of human existence in fundamental ways. Social recognition and valuation of the work that is performed by different categories of people is an important reflection of the value that societies attach to the people who perform it. So, low recorded work participation of women is often a reflection of the low status of women in society, since the huge amount of unpaid labour that they perform is simply not recognised.
This is confirmed by the same NSSO surveys that recognise various categories of people who are described as “not in the labour force”. These include (in addition to those in educational institutions and those who are too old or sick to work) those engaged in what has been called social reproduction. Specifically, two categories are of relevance here: Code 92, which refers to those who attend to domestic duties in unpaid fashion within the home, and Code 93, covering those who attend to domestic duties and are also engaged in free collection of goods (vegetables, roots, firewood, cattle feed, etc.), sewing, tailoring, weaving, etc. for household use. It is obvious that these are all economic activities, and would be recognised as employment, if they led to any payment. But since they are unpaid, those who do such work are not even recognised as being productively employed.
Once these categories are included in the definition of work, then the picture changes dramatically. Firstly, instead of women’s participation rates being less than half those of men, they turn out to be higher (at 86.2 per cent, compared to 79.8 per cent for men). Secondly, there is less evidence of a significant decline in women’s work participation in recent times. Indeed, the decline in male work participation appears to be stronger than that for women, and both declines can then be explained dominantly by increasing involvement in education. So the basic shift in recent times has been the shift of women from paid or recognised employment to unpaid work. And most of this shift has been in Code 93, that is, women are forced to engage in various activities such as fetching firewood and water for household consumption, because of the failure of the state to provide basic infrastructure and amenities, in addition to the denial of adequate affordable care services.
This provides a huge, and unnoticed, subsidy to the economy, whereby the unsung contributions of women workers are critical in underwriting the very existence of society as well as the rapid output growth. But it also has adverse implications for those women who do engage in paid work. Where there is a large amount of unpaid work that is performed in a society and where the bulk of that is performed by women, the participation of women in paid work tends to be much more disadvantaged. Since the unpaid labour performed by women in “domestic duties” is not remunerated, and often not even recognised, it is easier for society to undervalue such work in general as well as other paid work performed by women. And this, in turn, leads to lower wages and worse working conditions, so the very existence of the unpaid-paid work continuum affects not only the bargaining power of paid women workers, but also social attitudes towards them and to their work, and indeed their own reservation wages and self-perception. So it is hardly surprising that the gender gap in wages in India is among the highest in the world and that women workers tend to be concentrated in the most low-paid, vulnerable and insecure jobs with poor working conditions.
This is not to say that conditions are so stark for all women in the country. There is a huge amount of diversity, not only across urban and rural areas but across different States, socio-cultural groups and income classes. And there has been substantial progress for particular groups of more privileged women and girls. But in a broader sense, the promises that inspired the enthusiastic participation of so many women in the national movement have remained unfulfilled.
The question then must be: why has this been the case? Some of this reflects deep patriarchal structures in Indian society, which combine with other forms of social discrimination and hierarchy (such as caste) to create complex inequalities that are not easy to change. But Indian capitalism has also relied on such inequality and used the segmented labour markets that it provides to benefit from cheaper labour and allow greater surplus extraction. That is why, even in the more recent phase of liberalised markets and rampant profit orientation, the system has continued to perpetuate, both explicitly and implicitly, some of the more egregious forms of gender discrimination.
Changing this requires much more than pious statements about women’s empowerment: it would require not just changes in mindset but a huge transformation in the approach to economic development and policies.
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