Recent Resources for Feminists
India: Women & Girls hindered by fear of sexual harassment & violence epidemics in public spaces Print E-mail
 (V0LUME 33, #21) October 28 2015

Gender Issues

No country for women

Some young men being arrested for harassing women, on M.G. Road in Gurugram, Haryana, on September 4. (PTI )
Distribution of pepper sprays to girls as a self-defence tool

Harassment of women in public spaces is a major problem in India that needs urgent addressing.


POONA MOBILE (name changed), 15, had to drop out of school because of the incessant harassment she faced while returning home. Poona, who lives in a Mumbai slum, was just a year short of writing her 10th standard examinations. But her parents, fearing for her safety, decided that she should stay within the safe confines of her home and nearby lanes until the issue was resolved.

Public harassment of girls and women and violence against them is a widespread problem. It is well documented that women across the globe fear and experience all manner of sexual violence in public spaces. From lewd and verbally abusive remarks, touching and groping to rape, there are innumerable instances even in some of the safest cities. Such harassment has far-reaching consequences. It can curtail a girl’s (or woman’s) freedom of movement, leading to inability to study, work and participate in the community and in recreational activities, women’s rights activists said. “The enormity of the problem has to be understood, and the issue has to be addressed on a mature and massive scale,” said Medhavinee Namjoshi from Vacha, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) that works with adolescent girls.

A survey conducted across four countries by Action Aid UK this year has some shocking data on India. It says four in five women in India experience some form of sexual harassment or violence. Respondents in the 18-24 and 25-34 age groups have emerged as the most vulnerable: 92 per cent and 87 per cent of them, respectively, have said that they feel at risk in their cities. Additionally, 84 per cent of women between 25 and 34 experience some manner of public harassment. Seventy-nine per cent of the women surveyed in the age group of 18 to 55 say they have been publicly harassed.

The survey reached out to 502 women living in cities across India. “The fact that women wanted to speak out and were willing to go on record to say they had experienced sexual harassment and even violence in public spaces is a good sign. The numbers are not registered cases, but direct responses,” said Sehjo Singh, director, programmes and policy, ActionAid India. “A girl’s or woman’s movements are seriously hampered by unsafe public areas. This can have an effect on many aspects, including the main one of earning an income.” Sehjo Singh said that it required a collaborative effort between the state and volunteer agencies to ensure safer spaces. “The system and processes have to reform for us to see improvement,” she said.

The survey was set in two categories: location of harassment and type of harassment. Public transport was the most unsafe of public spaces, said close to 65 per cent of the respondents. Among working women (18-24 and 25-35), 67 per cent and 70 per cent said this. The next most unsafe thing was returning home from work after dark: 58 per cent of the respondents said they had bad experiences. Fifty-eight per cent said they had been harassed while walking on streets. In this category, 74 per cent in the 18-24 age group had experienced abuse. Approximately 40 per cent of the respondents felt unsafe and had experienced harassment in parks and other public spaces for leisure activities. About 30 per cent of the student categories polled said they dealt with harassment on university campuses; 42 per cent said they had to tackle harassment on the way to schools and colleges and back.

The north of the country is the least safe for women in the overall figures. The average shows a staggering 74 per cent of women in the north having experienced harassment. At 67 per cent, the south is not far behind. Seventy per cent of the women in the north were harassed on the street, says the study. In the north-eastern region, 63 per cent of the respondents said they faced harassment while returning home after dark.

Staring seems to the most common form of harassment. Sixty-two per cent of the respondents had experienced it. It may be a relatively mild form of abuse, yet it is uncomfortable and should not be dismissed. Being followed came in second at 53 per cent. Insults­name-calling and wolf-whistling polled 43 per cent and 44 per cent respectively. Sexual comments polled 38 per cent, groping 38 per cent, and indecent exposure 34 per cent. The north recorded the highest percentages in all categories.

A public problem
Clearly the numbers indicate that it is a situation across cities and that the state needs to address the problem. Mumbai and Chennai have been listed among the safest cities in India. A Quality of Living survey conducted by a private consultancy firm released in February 2016 rates Chennai as the number one among Indian cities. Mumbai has held the “safest city” position for decades but is now grappling with the problem of women’s safety. Frontline spoke to members of citizens’ groups, activists, urban planners and government officials to understand the issue and how it is being addressed. All of them said that women feared public transport and the prospect of being out after dark. Unless this is dealt with, along with widespread awareness campaigns, Mumbai will lose its safe city tag.

Snehal Velkar, programme coordinator for the Youth for Change and Safe City projects of Akshara, an NGO in Mumbai, said: “When we interviewed 5,000 women in Mumbai as part of a study on women and public safety in 2011, 95 per cent of them said they had experienced staring, pushing, lewd comments and groping in public transport. The problem is that most of the time the woman ignores it and so it is not addressed.”

She added: “Of the women we interviewed, 46 per cent said they experienced harassment on buses. We never thought in Mumbai we would hear this.” She said that Akshara had approached Mumbai’s bus transport service, BEST. “BEST was extremely interested in helpingand even passed an order saying that bus conductors could intervene if a woman complained. Additionally, they have instituted a gender module within their training programmes. These small moves appear to have helped. However, the larger issue comes down to the police backing up the complaint. This is where it fails. Nobody wants to go through the lengthy process of dealing with the law,” Snehal Velkar said. Akshara has also conducted safe city audits in the past two years.

Snehal Velkar said that since public transport was a critical area of concern, Akshara decided to look at Mumbai’s famed local railway network. In a study conducted in 2015, Akshara created a database of 522 women and interviewed them extensively on their travelling experiences; 347 were regular commuters, while 175 said that they were occasional commuters. Here are the results: staring, 56.13 per cent; commenting, 51.34 per cent; unwanted touch, 60.92 per cent. Some women also named more serious forms of sexual harassment: stalking, 29.69 per cent; flashing, 14.37 per cent; pinching, 20.50 per cent; and groping, 15.52 per cent.

The Akshara report says that the percentage of women who preferred to ignore the harassment was quite high at 41.15 per cent. “It sadly reflects how women have become immune to the harassment meted against them in public places. Many women would also hesitate to take action against the harasser for fear that their actions might provoke even more harassment,” the report says.

It emerged from the study that the way in which railway stations were designed with their tapering stairs, narrow and cramped bridges and congested platforms contributed to the insecurity and discomfort among women, Snehal Velkar said. Additionally, public toilets are badly lit and located. Skywalks have entire sections that are dark. “Our city planners need to realise the fact that infrastructure plays an important part in women’s safety,” she said. “They need to view planning from a woman’s perspective now.”

Nearly everyone involved with the problem agrees that the city’s infrastructure is crucial in ensuring safety. Thankfully, the Revised Draft Development Plan (DP) 2034 has an entire chapter dedicated to provisions for women in public spaces. Concepts such as housing for single working women, homeless shelters, adhar kendras, skill centres and care centres for children are part of the plans. They may seem too ambitious given the city’s real estate problems, but activists are happy that there is some thinking going on. Better and more toilets, women-exclusive hawker areas and special timings for women sellers in local markets are also in the DP.

A different approach
“I think the issue of harassment in public spaces has registered with the state, but I don’t really think the enormity has sunk in,” said Sameera Khan, one of the authors of Why Loiter, a book on women and their negotiations of public spaces in India’s urban centres. “Even though we talk of smart cities and say women’s needs are in infrastructure plans, it’s lip service. To begin with the approach and basic attitude is skewed,” she said.

Sameera Khan pointed out that much of the public spaces in Mumbai was being privatised. Also, removing hawkers or throwing out pavement-dwellers does not solve anything. Law enforcement agencies advise young women to stay at home after dark, but this approach does not produce solutions. “We have to understand that public spaces are part of exhibiting our citizenry. Everyone in spite of class has to have a vested interest in their public space and therefore has to be included in the city’s planning. Unless you allow people to build a relationship with their space, they will not notice it and that will make it worse. For instance, if there is a park nearby, it won’t serve any purpose if you put a gate and lock it up. If you include people, and especially women, they become vigilantes and this will immediately improve the neighbourhood.”

Most women today strategise their lives and plan their commute and daily schedule, largely from a felt need to be safe, Sameera Khan said. “It would be liberating to be able to go freely and do what they want when they want. This is what we need to achieve.”

Change in perceptions
Harish Sadani, who works with young men on gender issues through the organisation Men Against Violence and Abuse (MAVA), said the absence of gender and sexual education for young people is among the most important factors that have created the present situation. Unless men change their attitude towards women, there will be little change, he said. MAVA works closely with college students and helps both men and women work towards gender equality.

Sadani added that women were now much more empowered than before, and many women had often told him that women’s problems should be explained to boys. Only that form of sensitisation will help improve the situation. “If we teach our boys the proper facts with sensitivity, it will go a long way in protecting girls and preventing harassment,” said Sadani, pointing out that boys often get their sex education from pornography.

He said one of MAVA’s projects in collaboration with UNICEF was to work with eighth and ninth standard boys in 100 schools in Chandrapur, one of Maharashtra’s poorest districts.

“We conduct simple sessions on love, infatuation, attraction, the need to respect a girl’s lack of interest, and so on. These programmes, if done across class and income levels, will see a change in attitude and in turn an improvement in this bleak scenario,” said Sadani.

India: Nation-wide rejection of claims touting advantages of genetically-modified Mustard Print E-mail

 Thursday October 6 2016

Vandana Shiva tells of loopholes in mustard biosafety report

Tribune News Service

Dehradun: Environmentalist and biosafety scientist Dr Vandana Shiva has submitted her evaluation on genetically modified mustard biosafety report.

The Union Ministry for Environment, Forests and Climate Change had placed some sections of the genetically modified biosafety report on its website and had invited the civil society organisations and experts to submit their comments by October 5.

Dr Shiva has raised several vital objections against the biosafety report and pointed out key loopholes in the report. “Far from providing food sovereignty, the herbicide absorbing mustard plant will destroy companion planting in India. Mustard is planted with wheat and gram and once the herbicide will be sprayed in the fields, it will kill wheat and gram, thus reducing overall yield and nutrition,” Dr Shiva said.

She said the report lacks information and evidence on patents and has no analysis to herbicide tolerance traits and further no socio-economic assessments had been carried out along with other health and biosafety tests.

It is noteworthy that the release of the biosafety report has started a heated debate among scientists, environmentalists, medical community and non-government organisations as many of the scientific and biosafety procedures have not been followed.
 Thursday September 29, 2016


To increase oilseed production, relaunch 'Yellow Revolution'

By Devinder Sharma

As India’s first genetically modified food crop – GM mustard – is under the Union government’s consideration, it has now become clear that the claims that transgenic mustard will boost production and reduce our burden of a huge import bill of edible oils, are largely unfounded.

Five existing hybrid varieties outperform the transgenic variety DMH-11 developed by Delhi University, for which approval is pending
. Among the five higher yielding mustard varieties are three in the same DMH series. The productivity of DMH-1 is higher by 11.35%; DMH-4 by 14.70% and DMH-3 by 3.54%.

No wonder, the civil society groups under the banner of Coalition for GM-Free India that made a presentation before the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), the nodal agency whose clearance is obligatory, had rubbished the productivity claims of 26% higher yield being made for GM mustard. They had accused the developers of falsifying the data and comparing the yield performance of GM mustard with some of the useless varieties.

I therefore can’t understand how will a GM variety with low productivity eventually help in cutting down on edible oil imports? In any case, the reason why India turned into world’s second biggest importer of edible oils over the years is not because of any shortfall in domestic production but because the country had encouraged cheaper imports by lowering the import tariffs.

Thirty years ago, then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi had laid the foundation for what was later called `Yellow Revolution’. The Oilseeds Technology Mission he launched in 1986 converted India from a major importer to become almost self-sufficient in edible oil production by 1993-94, in less than 10 years. In 1993-94, India was producing 97% of its edible oil requirement within the country. Only 3% of its edible oils need was being imported.

And then began the downslide. India happily bowed to World Trade Organisation (WTO) pressures to kill its Yellow Revolution. In fact, the demise of the Yellow Revolution is a classic case of how a promising domestic edible oil sector was sacrificed at the altar of economic liberalisation.

Severe cuts in import tariffs brought in a flood of cheap imports thereby pushing farmers out of cultivation. Import duties from a bound level of 300% were slashed to almost zero in a phased manner. As a result, farmers abandoned cultivation of oilseed crops and the processing industry too pulled down the shutters. India today imports more than 67% of its edible oil requirement costing a whopping Rs 66,000 crore.

Let us therefore be clear. It’s not because of any shortfall in oilseeds production that India imported Rs 66,000-crore of edible oils in 2015. It’s simply because we wanted imports to be encouraged that the country is finally saddled with a huge import bill.

Although the sub-committee of the GEAC has cleared three varieties of GM Mustard (including DMH-11 and two parental lines) as being ‘safe’, the fact remains that the safety data is being kept hidden. This had prompted the Central Information Commission (CIC) to direct the GEAC to share safety data with the public.

The safety data has since then been partly uploaded on the GEAC website and people have been asked to travel to New Delhi, seek permission, if they want to view the complete dossier. In addition, public comments are sought in a period of 30 days and too in a truncated manner in a proforma that has been posted on the net.

Interestingly, the GEAC members are not at all perturbed that GM mustard will increase the usage of chemical herbicides. They agreed that technically speaking, DMH-11 is a herbicide tolerant mustard crop which means it will require the application of only one brand of herbicide to eradicate weeds but they feel that herbicide being expensive will not be used by the farmers.

Herbicide tolerant genes
In fact, what is not being explained is the clever stacking of herbicide tolerant genes in GM mustard favouring the herbicide being sold by a multinational company, Bayer. Even Bt cotton had increased the application of chemical pesticides. Regardless of what the industry claims, the fact remains that the usage of pesticides has gone up in India.

According to the Central Institute of Cotton Research (CICR), in 2005, Rs 649 crore worth of chemical pesticides was used on cotton in India. In 2010, when roughly 92% of the area under cotton shifted to Bt cotton varieties, the usage in terms of value increased to Rs 880.40 crore.

In China, where Bt cotton was promoted as a silver bullet case, farmers apply 20 times more chemicals to control cotton pests. In Brazil, which has recently taken over Argentina as far as the spread of GM crops is concerned, pesticide usage has gone up by 190% in the past decade.

At a time when cotton farmers in India have moved away en bloc from the genetically modified Bt cotton after the 2015 debacle with whitefly attack and the crop becoming susceptible to bollworms, I thought the Ministry of Environment would have learnt a lesson. The harmful impact of GM food for human health and environment notwithstanding, I see no reason why the controversial GM technology be introduced in food.

There is no shortage of mustard in the country and if the government is keen to reduce the import bill of edible oils it needs to bring back the policies and approaches that helped India launch the Yellow Revolution. Raising import tariffs to at least 70% and providing farmers with an attractive procurement price is what will help India turn the corner.

  Monday October 3, 2016

Delhi Govt opposes GM mustard policy

Tribune News Service

New Delhi:
Joining the nationwide protest against the Union government's GM mustard policy, the Delhi Government today celebrated the cultural richness of organic mustard during a programme called "Jashn-e-Sarson" wherein JD(U) MP KC Tyagi too supported the cause of farmers. The stage was shared by activists from ASHA, Swadeshi Jagran Manch, Bharatiya Kisaan Sangh and Bhartiya Kisaan Sangh.

The government stands by the farmers and consumers of this country, said Tourism Minister Kapil Mishra while adding that Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia had earlier written a letter to the Prime Minister in January this year urging the Centre not to approve GM mustard.

The government will send public feedback and videos opposing GM mustard to the BJP-led Centre.

Bhartiya Kisaan Union and Bhartiya Kisaan Sangh too joined hands with the Kejriwal government at a time when various farmer groups are protesting against the GM mustard.

KC Tyagi, Rajya Sabha MP and senior leader of JD (U) stressed the need for everyone to rise above the party lines to ensure that the government understands the true issue of the GM mustard. Vested interests or poor science must not ruin the decision that will affect crores of farmers and consumers, he said.

According to MM Mishra, Bharitya Kisan Sangh, GM mustard is yet another way through which the farmer will lose his livelihood and multinational companies will gain at their expense.

"We appeal to the citizens to ensure that the government doesn't go through with this policy of GM mustard. It was BT-Brinjal last time and people mobilised. History will repeat itself," said Mishra


 Tuesday October 4 2016

Progressive farmers protest GM mustard

Rohtak: Progressive farmers and supporters of natural farming/organic agriculture have launched a state-wide campaign titled ‘sarson satyagrah’ against the government’s move to allow genetically modified (GM) mustard.

As part of the demonstration, the protesters observed a 24-hour fast which ended this morning. Following that, a delegation of the protesters met the DC and submitted a memorandum addressed to the Prime Minister against GM mustard .

Prof Rajinder Chaudhary, Adviser to Kudarti Kheti Abhiyaan, Haryana, said the danger of GM seeds is that they were likely to pollute the existing organic varieties as wind, bees and butterflies inadvertently caused cross-fertilisation.

“As a result, farmers as well as consumers lose their right to decide whether to sow/consume GM products or not. Once produced, it will be impossible to separate GM mustard oil from non-GM mustard oil. So the people will either have to stop using mustard oil or be compelled to use GM variety,” he added. ­ TNS

Poland: Thousands of black-clad women protest against proposed near-total abortion ban Print E-mail
~ Tuesday October 4, 2016, page A7

Protesters in Poland Rally Against Proposal for Total Abortion Ban

Video "Voices from the Abortion-Bill Protest" by NATALIA V. OSIPOVA

A proposal to ban abortions in Poland, even in cases of rape and when a woman’s life is in danger, sparked so-called Black Monday rallies in several European cities.
WARSAW ­ Despite pouring rain and a chill in the air, Anna Pietruszka-Drozdz, together with as many as 24,000 other Polish women and men, skipped work on Monday and instead came to Castle Square in Warsaw, dressed in black, to protest a sweeping new anti-abortion bill.

“A complete and total abortion ban? This is beyond my wildest nightmares,” said Ms. Pietruszka-Drozdz, 37, a mother of two. “Women don’t have abortions because they are promiscuous and it’s convenient. They do it because they need to, and it’s often the most traumatic decision ever.”

On Black Monday, as it was called, huge protests against the new legislation swept through 90 Polish cities. The Warsaw mayor’s office said 24,000 Poles took to the streets of the capital, waving black flags to draw international attention to the proposed restrictions. On the event’s Facebook page, organizers said the protest drew up to 116,000 participants nationwide.

Poland’s existing abortion law is already one of the most restrictive in Europe. Abortion is permitted in only three cases: a severe fetal anomaly, a threat to the mother’s health and life, or a pregnancy from rape or sexual abuse.

Under the proposed legislation, written by an organization called Stop Abortion, all abortions would be criminalized. Women, doctors and anyone who assisted with the procedure could face up to five years in prison.

“This is a barbarian proposal that will move Poland back to medieval times,” Barbara Nowacka, the leader of a liberal initiative, Save Women, said in a telephone interview. “The worst thing is that this barbarity finds approval in the eyes of those in power.”

Black Monday was the high point of protests that began two weeks ago. On social media, tens of thousands of Poles have posted pictures of themselves wearing black and staging demonstrations.

Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski dismissed the protesters, saying, “Let them have their fun.”

“There is no such problem as a threat to women’s rights,” he said in an interview with a private radio station, RMF-FM. “If someone thinks that there are no greater concerns in Poland at the moment, let them be.”

The protests have won the approval of numerous Polish employers, including restaurant owners, museum and gallery directors, the deans of several universities and mayors of a couple of large cities, all of whom allowed their female workers to take a day off.

The protest idea was inspired by the story of Icelandic women who paralyzed their country in 1975 by not going to work, and skipping housework and child-rearing tasks, to protest unfair employment practices and wage discrepancies. The women who participated in those protests sent the women in Poland a video message of solidarity, encouraging them to stand up for themselves and telling them in Polish, “Jestesmy z wami” (“we are with you”). On Facebook, Kenyan women also sent a message of solidarity.

The solidarity protests were also staged in other European cities, including Berlin, Brussels, London, Paris and Barcelona, Spain.

Poland introduced a restrictive abortion law, known as the “abortion compromise” and championed by the Roman Catholic Church, in 1993 after the collapse of Communism.

The church, which continues to be a powerful influence in this predominantly Catholic country, is often accused of exerting pressure on politicians. It actively supports the proposed legislation, though church leaders have said they oppose punishing women.

According to official figures, around 1,000 legal abortions are performed in Poland every year. Estimates of the number of illegal terminations vary widely, from 10,000 to 120,000, from anti-abortion and abortion rights groups.

“The abortion compromise was supposed to curb the number of illegal terminations and increase the number of births in Poland,” Ms. Nowacka said. “It has failed miserably on both accounts. We need a new law that actually corresponds with reality.”

Critics of the legislation, which is supported by senior members of the right-wing government, argue that if the bill is passed, doctors will stop performing invasive procedures on pregnant women, even to correct a fetal defect, unless the woman’s life is directly threatened. That is the only exception under which doctors could undertake a procedure and avoid prosecution if it ended in a miscarriage.

Dr. Romuald Debski, the head of gynecology and obstetrics at Bielanski Hospital in Warsaw, said every invasive procedure carries a minor risk of miscarriage.

“This would be the end of prenatal diagnostics,” Dr. Debski said in an interview. “I couldn’t do basic prenatal tests, like the amniotic fluid test that allows me to determine whether I’m dealing with certain genetic disorders, such as Down syndrome. Should the procedure go wrong, I could end up in jail. I won’t risk that.”

Tomasz Latos, a member of the governing Law and Justice party and head of the Health Committee in the Polish Sejm, or lower house of Parliament, said viewing the legislation as a threat to prenatal diagnostics was “either an act of ill will or incompetence.”

“No one is saying that this bill will be even passed in the end,” he said. “Our senators are preparing a separate bill.”

Katarzyna Plutowska, 44, and Malgorzata Zyra, 39, took a day off from their accounting jobs to join a demonstration held near the Palace of Science and Culture in Warsaw.

“Due to the protest, our entire office is closed today,” Ms. Plutowska said. “You cannot change the world from your couch, you know.”
 Monday October 3, 2016

Polish women strike against abortion ban

Warsaw: Thousands of black-clad women protested across Poland today against a proposed near-total abortion ban in the devoutly Catholic country, where the law is already among the most restrictive in Europe.

Pro-choice activists used social media to launch the country-wide "Women strike" protest, urging women to stay away from work and school to attend street protests.

Around 2,000 people rallied outside the Warsaw headquarters of the governing rightwing Law and Justice (PiS) party, forming a "wall of fury" human chain, an AFP journalist saw.

PiS lawmakers in late September pushed ahead with a controversial bill that would allow terminations only if the mother's life is at risk and increase the maximum jail term for practitioners from two years to five.

The citizen's initiative tabled in parliament by the Stop Abortion coalition would also make women who have terminations liable to prison terms, though judges could waive punishment in their case.

Poland's influential Catholic Church gave the initiative its seal of approval earlier this year, though its bishops have since opposed jailing women.

"I don't like what the Polish government is doing to women," protester Jolanta Bienicka told AFP.

"Unfortunately, we're going in the direction of countries like Afghanistan and the worst countries in the world."

Protester Katazyna Goluch, a 17-year-old high school student, told AFP that "no one has the right to decide what I am supposed to do with my uterus".

"If this law comes into effect and I'm raped and I get pregnant, I'll have to give birth. It's the same thing if the foetus is deformed, so we just have to say no."

Passed in 1993, the current law bans all terminations unless there was rape or incest, the pregnancy poses a health risk to the mother or the foetus is severely deformed.

A poll published this week by the Newsweek Polska magazine showed that 74 per cent of Poles want to keep the existing law.

The European Parliament is expected to debate women's rights in Poland on Wednesday.

Leena Yadav: Parched, a meditation on the treatment of women as objects of recreation & contempt Print E-mail
~ Thursday 22 September 2016

Review: 'Parched' is much more than a film

Film: "Parched"

Writer-Director: Leena Yadav

Cast: Tannishtha Chatterjee, Radhika Apte, Surveen Chawla, Lehar Khan, Adil Hussain
Long after "Parched" played out its poignant plot, I kept thinking about the four women at the forefront of Leena Yadav's sparkling saga of patriarchal tyranny. The enduring grief and the brief bouts of buoyancy that Rani (Tannishtha Chatterjee), Lajjo (Radhika Apte), Bijlee (Surveen Chawla) and Janaki (Lehar Khan) carry with themselves, lingers in our hearts and minds long after the last frame of this luminous work dies down.

The film is shot with such inescapable beauty by Russell Carpenter (who moves with fluent fecundity from the soggy sappiness of "Titanic" to the parched desertscape of this walloping work on women's empowerment), that you fear for the inner lives of the characters. Would their emotional existence be able to withstand the sheer extraneous splendor of the storytelling?

The answer, my friend, is blowing passionately in the winds. The winds of change, if you will. "Parched" is shot on location in the hearts of a glorious gallery of women who seem to have emerged from generations of oppression and longing into a tremulous, dim yet restorative and nourishing light to claim a place in the blue open skies.

"Parched" is a melancholic yet sunny meditation on feudal mindsets where women are treated as objects of recreation and contempt, to be used and discarded world. It's a brutal life for the childless Lajjo who gets thrashed by her sodden husband regularly, for Bijlee the 'nautanki' sex worker who satisfies masculine lustful urges at the drop of a ghagra, Rani a mother at 14 a widow at 17 and now a discarded hag at 35-plus, and tender little child-bride Janaki who is yanked from her parental home and raped by her randy drunken teenage husband (Riddhi Sen, outstandingly loutish) who visits prostitutes, discusses his wife's breasts with his friends and brags, "I am fulfilling my husbandly duties even when I don't like my wife."

Significantly, the writer-director creates two parallel universes for her women heroes. They are crestfallen shriveled dying flowers in their stifling domain of domesticity, but they blossom like summer flowers once together on joyrides in the outdoors, navigated into surreptitious excursions into ecstasy by the feisty Bijlee.

The bustling cosmos that "Parched" creates, comes dangerously close to over-reaching itself. Leena Yadav exercises enormous control and a profound empathy over the narrative. In this endeavour, she is vastly aided by editor Kevin Tent who displays remarkable ruthlessness over the cluttered material, leaving room for not a single superfluous moment.

"Parched" mirrors harsh home truths and dares to delve into areas of rural oppression and gender brutality that are normally not seen to be "relevant", or seen to be too relevant to matter.

In a sense, "Parched" mirrors the other side of the truth about sexism and the single girl from what we saw last week in "Pink". The women in this film are not sophisticated or urbane enough to fully fathom, let alone deal with their horrendous plight. Their sexual oppression goes hand in hand with their sexual innocence.

The way these women discuss their bodies and the sex act, or reach out for tenderness to countermand male brutality (I am sure they don't know the word 'lesbian') has never been seen in any Indian film, at least not the ones I've seen.

There is also a curious reversal of societal ground-rules where women are often seen to be the worst enemies of their own gender. In "Parched", all the women share a terrific kinship including Tannishtha's character with her bed-ridden dying mother-in-law.

Moving and counter-enforcing gender stereotypes, there is a stirring stimulating energetic and erotic energy flowing out of "Parched", as though the storyteller decides to pull out all stops to let her women characters speak their minds and act out their innermost fantasies, including one of the female heroes strange visit to a 'Mystic Baba' (Adil Hussain, suitably magnetic) who impregnates her. The sequence, a highpoint in the hoary history of female eroticism in Hindi cinema, is shot with a spiritual grace.

Curiously, the film's physical look reminded me of Kalpana Lajmi's "Rudali", while its spiritual personality echoes Shyam Benegal's "Ankur", especially the preamble where Sayani Gupta in a heartrending cameo, is forced by her parents to return to her sadistic 'sasural'.

A lot of the movie's tradition-scoffing narrative works because of her actors. The ever-dependable Tannishtha and Radhika are magnificent. Their empathetic erotic sisterhood is heartbreaking in its desperation. Radhika's comfort level with her physicality is stunningly refreshing for an Indian actress. When was the last time you saw an Indian actress slip out of her blouse facing the camera?

But the real surprise and the firecracker performer is Surveen Chawla. She furnishes her character of the devil-may-care prostitute with a quality of sublime seductiveness and unbridled sassiness.

I am not too happy with the way some of the male characters are painted in red, hastily relegated to a brutal zone just to play up the heroines' stunning sisterhood, which per se, is enchanting.

"Parched" celebrates the joie de vivre of shared grief among women who live their wretched lives on the edge and are only too happily to topple over when pushed and provoked. Sometimes, feminism doesn't need a full-blown messianic clarion call. A little tug, a firm push, will do. "Parched" hits us where it hurts the most.
 Thursday September 22, 2016

‘I don’t fit into Bollywood formula films’


There was a five-year gap between her films Shabd and Teen Patti . Now director Leena Yadav is ready with Parched . Leena says that she takes long breaks after each film, “It’s very difficult for me to make films. I don’t fit into the typical Bollywood formula films.”

“Initially, my films were criticised. But by the time I was making Teen Patti , people were calling Shabd a cult film. I was trying to find my audience and I think I’ve found them with Parched .”

Parched traces the life of four women. The cast includes Tannishtha Chatterjee, Radhika Apte, Surveen Chawla, Adil Hussain, Lehar Khan and Sayani Gupta.

Leena says it is for a universal audience. “I don’t think Parched is for a niche audience at all. It’s Everyone can relate to the film. I have seen the film with a diverse audience and yet it’s so rooted in India.”

The Ajay Devgn-produced film, releasing in theatres on September 23, highlights the way society sees a widow and a sex worker, and also touches upon marital rape.
~ Wednesday September 21 2016

Parched Movie Review

By Meena Iyer, TNN

Cast: Tannishtha Chatterjee, Radhika Apte, Surveen Chawla and Adil Hussain
Direction: Leena Yadav
Genre: Drama
Duration: 1 hour 58 minutes

Story: A widow, Rani (Tannishtha), a childless woman, Lajjo (Radhika) and a sex worker Bijli (Surveen) from a village in a North Western Region in India are victims of age-old traditions like child marriage, physical abuse, alcoholic husbands and social apathy. Will they be able to break the shackles?

Review: Leena Yadav's Parched takes you into a disturbing and thought-provoking territory. Even as it cleverly intertwines the stories of the three protagonists all of who have had a raw deal in life, it simultaneously puts the spotlight on how there is still an India where a woman is treated as a sex object; where her only role is to serve her man. Rani who was married off at 15 to an alcoholic Shankar has been widowed for 17 years and has to fend for herself and her callous son.

Lajjo, a village beauty, is declared 'barren' by her drunken husband and is subjected to physical abuse each day. Lajjo and Rani often seek solace in each other's company. When they get a break from making handicrafts, their rozi-roti, they bond with a sex worker called Biji (Surveen), who's had it rough for no fault of hers. The common ground for their bonding is a need for love, sex and compassion in that order.

The film addresses how there is nothing shameful about a woman's need for sex or ownership of her body. As the village women talk about their carnal desires, you empathise. Like last week's matinee offering Pink, you raise a toast to the director for raising some hard-hitting questions on the double standards of society. When Bijli asks, How come there are only abuses of the MC, BC variety or gaalis named only after women and none after men, you applaud. Frankly, like the film suggests, perhaps it is time to coin expletives after men too.

Academy-Award winning cinematographer, Russell Carpenter has captured the arid landscape beautifully. Parched is a roadmap for our oppressed female population who have been victims of a misogynist mindset for eons.

Tannishtha and Radhika are terrific, but it is Surveen who your heart bleeds for.

Australia: Pauline Hanson adds family violence & Muslims to Asian bigotry on return to parlaiment Print E-mail
 Thursday September 15 2016

Rosie Batty slams Pauline Hanson over maiden speech family violence comments

By Michael Koziol

Domestic violence campaigner Rosie Batty has slammed Pauline Hanson over her inflammatory maiden speech, branding the senator's tirade against the family law system an example of victim-blaming.

The One Nation leader made headlines for her claim that Australia was being "swamped by Muslims". But she also railed against the "discriminatory, biased and unworkable" family law system, and accused mothers of making "frivolous claims" to get sole custody of their children.

Family law leads to murders of 'frustration': Hanson

In her controversial maiden speech, Senator Pauline Hanson says the family court systems discriminate towards men.

Fathers were taking their own lives or murdering family members out of "sheer frustration" at the system, Senator Hanson claimed.

"Children have two parents and until we treat mums and dads with the same courtesy and rights, we will continue to see murders due to sheer frustration, depression and mental illness caused by their unworkable scheme," she said.
Rosie Batty says Pauline Hanson's claims about family violence were disappointing and wrong. (Getty Images)

Ms Batty, whose son Luke was killed by her ex-partner Greg Anderson in 2014, said those remarks fell into a well-established tradition of blaming the victim.

"People are not murdering because of the family law system. That idea is just another example of our victim-blaming mentality," she said.

"If Australia is being swamped by anything it's family violence. That's the real threat. One in four children are traumatised from being exposed to family violence and that's the emergency."

Ms Batty said the senator's comments were "very disappointing" at a time when family violence was receiving national attention and people were more familiar with the system's real shortcomings.
Senator Pauline Hanson delivers her first speech in the Senate. (Alex Ellinghausen)

"The safety and wellbeing of children must be the overriding priority," she told Fairfax Media. "Turning family law issues into men versus women, or mums versus dads, does nothing but make complex situations more challenging for all involved."

The 54-year-old was in Canberra this week to discuss the family law system with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and Greens leader Richard Di Natale.

Through the Luke Batty Foundation, Ms Batty is promoting a five-step reform agenda that would prioritise children's safety, early intervention and financial support for women and children.

Ms Batty said she would welcome the opportunity to discuss the family law system with Senator Hanson.

The One Nation leader targeted single mothers numerous times during her speech, claiming they were rorting the welfare system by having multiple children, and calling on the government to provide support for a maximum of one child only.

Minister for Women Michaelia Cash controversially hugged Senator Hanson following her first speech, and was forced to distance herself from the remarks on Thursday.

"I will never justify the murder of a female or a male. That is unacceptable and especially in situations of domestic violence," Senator Cash said.

"It was her maiden speech and I offered her goodwill as I do every other person in the chamber when they give their maiden speech."

Fairfax Media approached Senator Hanson for comment.

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