Monday, December 31, 2018

The last post

Every single time, that last post is so hard to write. Campaign season is such a special time at Prajnya. It is the busiest, most stressful and most strenuous time, fraught almost always with financial anxiety. But as we close the ninth campaign, the third campaign of the third campaign cycle, we can say we have also benefited from doing this for so many years. We now have wonderful, reliable partners, and people we can really count on. And this is also the time the extended team comes home to work together, when we laugh the most and spend the most time together. Sort of like a family wedding that takes place every year.

We are also lucky every time in the Campaign Coordinator we get. Nafeesa was our top choice this year and we more or less offered her a job within fifteen minutes of her walking into the interview. She has only been with us 10 weeks, but has become a part of the team as if she has been there for ten years.

Meticulous and quick, she willingly and patiently read all our blogposts and reports, replicating much of the memory she says I have, and readily bringing our past experiences to work for this campaign. She has made this one of the easiest campaigns we have done, with flawless first drafts, endless lists and patient phone calls.

And Sudaroli and Santha have supported her to the fullest extent. Nafeesa rightly also points to our stalwarts--Nandhini, Sweta, Michelle and Shakthi, who have answered questions, brainstormed, shown up and done whatever we needed.

Nine years, and while planning and executing the campaign gets easier, fundraising is getting harder for us. Around us, everyone else is organizing 16 days of activism. We have to ask whether it is worth continuing with this exercise and whether we are effective in a way that is so unique as to continuing this. Questions like this buzzed through the conversations in the campaign and remain unresolved.

2019 is a campaign sabbatical year so we get a year off from campaign activities, a break that allows us to evaluate our effectiveness and utility. We may be back in 2020, we may not. Until then, or even then, we leave you with an archive of all our work over nine campaigns. We hope you find this interesting and useful.

Goodbye from the
2018 Prajnya 16 Days Campaign
against Gender Violence
team!

Farewell to 2018

It seems like only yesterday I wrote my first blog post here welcoming you all to the 2018 Campaign and it is already time for the last post and for me to officially sign off as Campaign Coordinator. Personally, the last 2.5 months has been an exciting experience. At every turn, I was challenged to do more, to persevere, and to give my best to this opportunity I was given. Observing people is by far my most favourite thing to do, and throughout this campaign watching and listening to different perspectives on gender violence has in a way revived my energy for this sector. I have learnt so much, had the opportunity to work and connect with some great people, found so much joy in my work and finished the campaign feeling a deep sense of accomplishment. As I sign off, I am taking this with me.

The 2018 campaign, in my opinion, was a grand success because almost all the events went the way we had planned, we didn't have to cancel any major events, we didn't have to reschedule or adapt any event but this could also be because the majority of the events this year were closed events and the rains and cyclones were merciful and didn't threaten to cancel any event.


It takes a village to pull off a successful campaign, and I want to send out my special thanks to 'my village';


Dr Swarna Rajagopalan who carries with her the memories of eight successful campaigns was the best mentor and partner a campaign coordinator could ask for. When not dishing out instructions, she would roll up her sleeves and jump into even the most boring work of the campaign without a second thought. Her infectious energy and enthusiasm kept us all going. She has wielded my panicked messages and phone calls with ease constantly assuring me that this is how it goes. I am grateful for her confidence in me and for the mentor I have earned for life.

Ms Sudaroli Ramasamy whose steady presence, expertise, and energy was a huge asset to this campaign. She has lent her ears innumerable times to my anxiety-driven ranting and has often shared my load of campaign work to make things easy for me. I am grateful for her support and friendship.

Ms Shantha Nallathanmbi, our administrator whose help ensured a smooth campaign. Without her, we wouldn't have been able to bring back the mannequins for the dummies' guide to sexual harassment for our public event, The Counterpoint. She took the sole responsibility for organising it and she made sure throughout the campaign that everything was in the right place.

The friends of Prajnya - Nandhini Shanmugham, our trustee, without her we wouldn't have had our sisterhood chit activity at two retail outlets. She was also my go-to person for almost everything throughout the campaign. Michelle Ann James, who helped me a great deal in the initial brainstorming stage; Shakthi S, Sweta Narayanan, Ragamalika Karthikeyan, who all generously offered me their time and their ears to bounce off ideas and pitched in wherever they could. Most of all, I want to thank these wonderful women for replying to my texts and being there.

Ms Shyamala Rajagopalan, for opening her home to me and generously offering tea every single time.

Lastly, a big thank you goes to all the partners, donors, volunteers whose contribution went a long way in making this campaign a success.

As I finish writing this, I realise its time to say my goodbyes. I am going to say my goodbye to the 2018 Prajnya 16 days Campaign, but not to Prajnya.

- Nafeesa



Saturday, December 29, 2018

The 2018 Campaign Report is Now Online!

After one month of diligent planning and running a 16 days Campaign which had 21 events, the 9th Prajnya 16 days Campaign against Gender Violence Report is now online!

You can read the report here - http://prajnya.in/storage/app/media/16d18report.pdf


Take a look at our report to read about the successful events, activities and the highlights of this year's campaign. 

We would like to thank each and every one of our supporters for making the 2018 Prajnya 16 days Campaign against Gender Violence a success! This would not have been possible without you!

No Place for Us in Chennai - A Symposium: Report


No Place for Us in Chennai - A Symposium Report





As part of the 2018 Prajnya 16 days Campaign against Gender Violence, in partnership with Penn Thozhilalar Sangam, we organised a half-day symposium on the gendered impact of forced evictions at Asha Nivas Chennai on November 30th 2018.

Forced evictions are defined by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights as “the involuntary removal of persons from their homes or land, directly or indirectly attributable to the State. It entails the effective elimination of the possibility of an individual or group living in a particular house, residence or place, and the assisted (in the case of resettlement) or unassisted (without resettlement) movement of evicted persons or groups to other areas.”

Governments in a hurry to check off contemporary development indicators sanction public and private sector projects that too often require the vacation of land where people live and which they may also use for subsistence farming. This land is acquired for a variety of purposes with one major consequence: displacement. It is also acquired either without the consent of its residents or with such minimal consultation and compensation that they are left with little or nothing.

Forced evictions contribute significantly to the feminization of poverty and displacement, and alongside that, a host of negative consequences for women and girls. By extension, they also impact others genders in particular ways.

The objective of this half-day symposium was:

  • To raise awareness about forced evictions as a gender equality problem;
  • To provide a platform for those whose work engages with this issue directly or peripherally to share their perspectives; and,
  • To challenge this predatory model of development that depends on the disruption and destruction of lives and community, highlighting alternative paths.

The first session of the symposium was kickstarted by Ms Satyarupa Shekhar from Citizen Consumer and CivicAction Group whose presentation 'Invisible Impacts' covered the Smart City model, throwing light into the monitoring of smart cities mission. Satyarupa’s presentation highlighted the successes of the smart city mission as well as the drawbacks. She pointed out areas in which smart city mission has overlooked the consequences of evictions and vulnerabilities of slum communities. Her presentation also covered the assessment of flood risks in Chennai especially the high-risk slum communities.


Post this informative presentation, the PTS members from evicted communities took to the floor to talk about their problems.

Around 20 members from Penn Thozhilalar Sangam turned up for the symposium from the evicted communities of Gudapakkam, Morai, and Perumbakkam. Each community representative listed their problems which included the lack of basic facilities like drinking water, difficulty to access resources like the grocery store, school, hospital. Lack of proper lighting and drainage, a common problem across all communities. Women who earlier had street vendor jobs were forced to quit due to the deserted nature of their relocated area and have to return home early due to safety issues. More complaints were raised against the government and housing secretary who promised them land in exchange for eviction but nothing materialised out of it.


This community experience session was followed by Ms Vanessa Peter’s presentation where she talked about her research with evicted communities. The communities evicted from Cooum area who were relocated to township style accommodations in the outskirts of the city continue to live the facade. The reality shows lack of school, toilets, leaking roofs and no proper action from the government. In addition to these physical problems, lack of safety for women and young girls remain a major problem in these areas and the reason why a majority of the women stay home and make their daughters quit school as well.

This session was followed by an open forum discussion with Ms Katheeja Talha an architect who shared her experiences of working with slum and evicted communities. She shared best practices and ideas she had learnt from her work to guide these evicted community members to find a better solution for their woes.

At the end of the event, Chennai Housing Secretary Mr S. Krishnan IAS participated in the discussion and spent some quality time listening to the problems and issues of the community members. He noted down the complaints and assured immediate action.




Note: A special thanks to Mr S. Krishnan for taking time off his busy schedule to attend our event and participate in the discussion.

No Recourse - A Symposium: Report

No Recourse - A Symposium Report
As part of the 2018 Prajnya 16 days Campaign against Gender violence in partnership with Friedrich Ebert Stiftung we organised No Recourse - A Symposium on Workplace Safety and Rights for Women Workers in the Informal and Unorganised Sectors on November 27th 2018 at ICSA Egmore. The objective of this day-long symposium was to bring together the spectrum of women workers’ experiences and challenges in accessing a safe work environment, notwithstanding the provisions of the law. It was designed as a day for sharing and learning, with a view to acquiring a clear understanding of pressing problems and preferred solutions.
The symposium was scheduled to have two sessions before lunch on the challenges faced by the women workers in the informal sector including street vendors, domestic workers, construction workers and garment sector workers. Post-lunch a brainstorming panel was scheduled to discuss the solutions and way forward. Due to the late arrival of the speakers, the morning session was adapted as open floor session where women were given 10 minutes and men were given 5 minutes to talk about their perspective on the issue.

First Session: Challenges faced by Women Working in Unorganised Sectors

Mr Maheshwaran the State Secretary of National Association of Street Vendors of India, opened the session by talking about the widows and destitute women who work as street vendors to make a living but are met with police atrocities every day. The police sexually and verbally abuse these women but nobody questions this illegal police harassment. He then narrated a story of a woman who was arrested under false prostitution case and who was later proved innocent by the union.
Dr Catherine Bansi, State Treasurer of NASVI added to Maheshwaran’s brief by talking about the organisational support in terms of entrepreneurship training given by NASVI to destitute women.
Muthulakshmi, another member of NASVI in her talk listed the challenges women street vendors face like unavailability of toilet facilities, police abuse in terms of expecting bribe or confiscation of goods. The city corporation also turns a deaf ear to the street vendors as proper permissions are not sanctioned.
Post this, Ms Sujata Mody, President of Penn Thozhilalar Sangam spoke about how 'The Committee on Status of Women' by Dr Vina Majumdar called "Towards Equality" in 1970 set the women movement in momentum. Sujata gave a brief rundown of the past and the present status of the women working in unorganized sectors stressing on the point that this unorganised work done by women is yet to be recognised as work. She insisted on the unions coming together and working towards establishing a framework as there are enough laws and policies to protect the unorganised workers but the lack of a framework on how to access it remains a hurdle.

Ms Puspa a domestic worker and a member of the National Domestic Workers’ Movement narrated her experience as a domestic worker and the problems she faces. Her main concern was job insecurity as domestic workers are known to be dismissed if they raise questions. The employees never give them a job description and keep adding to the work, but the wages do not match the work extracted from them. Another interesting point she made was the availability of low wage labourers who come from other states thus raising the competition.
Sister Valarmathi who is the state coordinator of National Domestic Workers’ Movement spoke about the activism work done by NDWM to get domestic workers their due recognition. Domestic work is not recognised as a profession due to the stigma associated with it but it is overlooked that domestic workers contribute to the country’s economy because many families cannot go to work if the domestic worker doesn’t contribute.
This stigma surrounding domestic workers is the reason behind these women facing sexual abuse. She talked about a girl in Virudhunagar who was sexually abused and murdered but as there are no witnesses inside a house, no proper action was taken. She gave a couple of more examples of the kind of harassment domestic workers face, like the case where a webcam was kept inside the bathroom where the domestic worker takes bath and she was blackmailed with the recorded video. There was a girl who had worked at a house for five years but just because she didn’t take proper care of the dog hot water was poured on her.
Sister Valarmathi said when the Sexual Harassment Bill was drafted, unorganized sectors were not included and later it was included due to the efforts of many activists and organisations. Minimum wage recognition is another ongoing battle. Rs. 75 for one hour is the minimum wage demanded by many associations but only Rs. 35 is recognized as the minimum wage. Another point she made was about International Labour Organization convention not ratified by the Government of India whereas if it were ratified it would benefit the unorganized sector workers.

Ms Renuka, founder of the Center for Women’s Development and Research focused on the lack of regulations in cases of sexual harassment faced by domestic workers. There is no Internal Complaints Committee and if the women report the sexual violence they will be blamed with theft and dismissed or worse get arrested. Another main point she made was that domestic workers should be included in the realm of #MeToo which is currently elitist.
Following this, women continued to come up to talk about their challenges and problems. One of the PTS members from the garment sector said how women are generally perceived as biologically weak and hence treated inferior. She talked about Penn Thozhilalar Sangam’s seven cases in the high court against sexual harassment in the garment sector.
Another domestic worker, Sheela, made a point that domestic workers don’t get systematic leaves thus leaving them with no time to spend with their families. One of the PTS members narrated a story of a 40-year-old woman who faced sexual abuse from her supervisor but didn’t want to file a complaint because she was scared of social stigma. When PTS dealt with the case the victim was transferred but her abuser continues to work at the same place. The garment employees face abuse at all levels said one of the PTS member, even complaints to the supervisor and HR doesn’t work. If such cases are reported to even Director he or she asks the employee to adjust.
Sister Valarmathi of Tamil Nadu Domestic Worker Association talked about labourers who go abroad for job depend on the agents who send them abroad. These agents sell domestic workers to the customers abroad and the workers are not given enough information about the salary, laws etc. The auction of domestic workers also happen and the auction rates are fixed depending on their complexion, beauty etc. These agents also sexually abuse them. Once they reach the other country, they will be locked in the apartment. They will be isolated so as to not let them approach the embassy and sometimes are forced to commit suicide. NDWM has demanded to set up a Rescue Committee but there is no step taken yet. They have also stressed that MOU between the two countries where the workers go for work and grievances cell should be formed.
The Way Forward
Post-lunch, the speakers and participants sat together to discuss the way forward. Ms Geetha Narayanan listed down areas to look into:
  • The countries should allocate more funds for social protection such as Health, Education etc;
  • As we all sell the land and water to the corporates there is no security circle for us.
  • At the WTO level, we should demand to stop online commercial platform and open up channels for small farmers and vendors' to sell their commodities;
  • We should bring awareness to the women about the Local Compliance Committee;
  • #Metoo should bring solidarity among all of us. 

Ms  Selvi, an advocate at Chennai High Court said:
  • Definition of Workplace should be broadened;
  • The ICC set up should also be strengthened in all workplaces;
  • Need to have a dialogue with the government and their accountability should be taken up seriously. There are many laws but there is no accountability;
  • #Metoo should catch up and expand enough to include more women;
  • Documentation should be necessary to approach the government, it will help challenge the government.

Areas of Improvement
The speakers and participants took part in a discussion where they decided on the following points as the areas to work on and improve:
  • Taking forward and creating a similar platform in the villages (awareness in the villages).
  • Documenting the experiences of women through the survey.
  • This meeting should be the seed for the future campaigning of Economic Justice and Gender Justice together.
  • Stigma related to the unorganized and informal sectors among the women workers need to be removed.
  • All basic needs such as Bus passes for the informal and unorganized women workers have to be met.
  • Campaigning such as #MeToo has to be brought down to the women of these sectors.
  • Memes can be positively portrayed in such a way to capture the related laws.
  • Life Skill training to girls on "How to say No?"
  • Tagging the related women organisation with the issues shared in the social media.
  • Shooting short movies related to the issues and laws.
  • Wall paintings about the Violence Against Women all over the public spaces.
  • Should be branched out to include more people into the stream.
  • Getting slot in the visual media exclusive for Women Trade Unions.
  • Having a digital Directory of the women organizations 
  • Making short video teaching modules on laws and made viral
  • Litigation to question the ways to utilize the unutilized Nirbhaya Fund.
  • Teach the children how to stand against the harassment boldly.

Future Agenda
  • Campaign once in three months by Sujata Mody
  • Law Literacy programmes by Advocate Selvi
  • Survey of the women worker's experiences by Sister Clara.
  • The area of work should be focussed - not generally VAW but Violence against Working Women
  • Formation of Working Group: Members are Muthulakshmi, Geetha Narayanan, Sister Clara, Renuka, Advocate Selvi, Sujata Mody, Sudaroli, Hemalatha.
  • We can work on one component once in three months

Ms Damyanty Sridharan of Friedrich Ebert Stiftung delivered the valedictory note in which she mentioned FES’s effort to include Gender as one of the agenda in all their programmes. She suggested that more men should be involved in the Gender Justice related conversations. Though we work on women issues, we should have discussions about other issues with various stakeholders to broaden our perspectives and knowledge in order to achieve Gender Justice.




Thursday, December 20, 2018

Short Takes: What Women Write - Writing from the Shadows

This is a post of the talk given the students who participated in the event Short Takes: What Women Write held at Women's Christian College on 1st December 2018 as part of the 2018 Prajnya 16 days Campaign against Gender Violence. Read about the event here:

Two speakers spoke as a pair on the topic of Writing from the Shadows. The first speaker threw light on gay literature through the ages and the second speaker focused on the LGBTQ literary panorama in India.

1.
Writing from the Shadows: Writing that brings other Gender and Sexuality Perspectives to Life
Gay literature Throughout The Ages
Gay literature is a collective term for literature produced by or for LGBTQ community which involves characters, plot lines, or themes portraying all modes of variants from society’s normative model of sexual identity, orientation and activities.  Representation of lgbtq+ individuals in literature is important because they often turn to literature for the solace of being validated and understood. Literature not only helps in expressing the depth and beauty of queer relationships but also documents the psychological stresses and alienation suffered by these people.
Many mythologies and religious narratives have stories of gay relationships and portray different genders. Greek gods and heroes like Zeus, Apollo and Heracles validate pederasty. A gay relationship between Achilles and Patroclus is subtextually expressed in Homer’s ‘Illiad’. Latin work, ‘Satyricon’ by Petronius and Japanese work, ‘The Tale of Genji’ by Murasaki Shikibu is examples of some other early works.
In the 18th and 19th century authors included allusions to these mythological characters to express their sympathy with gay readers and gay themes, these references might be overlooked by the straight readers. Authors used such clandestine ways to express such themes to avoid facing legal action or public condemnation or even prosecution in some countries. Many early Gothic fiction writers like Mathew Lewis, William Beckford, Francis Lathom were homosexuals and used gothic and horror fiction to express gay themes. Sheridan Le Fanu’s ‘Carmilla’ invented the lesbian vampire story and even inspired Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’ which has its own homoerotic aspects. The first American gay novel was ‘Joseph and His Friend: A Story of Pennsylvania’ by Bayard Taylor. The protagonist in Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ is one of the first characters who secured a terrible fate for his or her homoerotic tendencies. The ‘atmosphere of frankness’ created Enlightenment gave way for a lot more works.
A lot of novels with explicit gay themes and characters came in the 20th century. An assumption which existed then was that gay characters in literature must come to a tragic end but later many works came up defying this notion. Edward Prime Stevenson’s ‘Imre: A Memorandum’ was the first in which the homosexual couple were happy and united in the end. Forster’s ‘Maurice’, Forman Brown’s ‘Better Angel’, Gore Vidal’s ‘The City and The Pillar’ are examples of some notable works of that period.
In the 21st century, much of LGBTQ+ literary works have earned mainstream acclaim. Notable authors include Sarah Waters, Jamie O’ Neill, Michael Cunningham, Pablo Frost. LGBTQ+ themes have also become more visible in a growing body of young adult literature. Speculative fiction especially gives authors and readers the freedom to imagine societies that are different from real-life cultures, therefore readers can be given an opportunity to examine sexual bias by making them reconsider his or her cultural assumptions.

- Rhema Sara Varkey, IInd year B.A in English, Women's Christian College

2.

WRITING FROM THE SHADOWS: WRITING THAT BRINGS OTHER GENDER AND SEXUALITY PERSPECTIVES TO LIFE

It may seem strange to recognize an LGBTQIA literary panorama in India. Yet, this topic takes root in the literary tradition and Indian philosophy: the Indian traditional literature is so ripe with sexually ambiguous characters and gender variance that this could suggest the existence of a third gender and the co-existence of many sexual identities.

In the context of reworking the national identity that was forming within the post-Independence India, literature was subject to severe censorship by the supporters of nationalist movements. Therefore, in the process of collecting literary works and constituting an Indian literature”, many texts were despised and censored.

Regarding Gay Literature in India, many works prospered in states like Maharashtra. In 1957, “Ek Sarak Sattavan Galiyam” by Kamlesvar, a bisexual truck driver divides his erotic-love living between a traditional Indian dancer and the young truck cleaning man.

It is easy to imagine that most of the stories that dealt with lesbianism were censored. Only one famous Urdu tale, “Lihaaf” (“The blanket”) by Ismat Chughtai, set in a traditional Muslim house, survived the censorship. “My Story” by Kamala Das was another piece of literature that took the publishing industry by storm. She not only wrote novels that had lesbian plot lines but unabashedly shared her desires for women- her same-sex desires that she witnessed during her days in boarding school and the attraction she felt towards her female teachers and one of her doctors.

In 2010, one of the first publishing houses for LGBTQ literature, Queer Ink, was established in India, giving this community an exclusive space for writing.

Around the world, there is an increasing popularity of introducing LGBTQ writers and diversifying this genre of literature. Transgender teenage girl Jazz Jennings co-authored a 2014 children's book called I Am Jazz about her experience discovering her identity. The popular Japanese manga tradition has included genres of girls' comics that have featured homosexual relationships since the 1970s. The most famous book released this year concerning Gay literature was released by TV host John Oliver, titled “A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo,” a satire aimed at the Vice President of USA Mike Pence, one of the many homophobic politicians in the Trump administration, and had written a children’s book based on his bunny named Marlon Bundo.  Oliver’s parody has topped the Amazon best-seller list. Finally, with the advent of recognition of such diverse communities existing in our world, acceptance is a long and tedious process. Only by understanding their perspective will it lose its strangeness; it will just be another way of living. Gay books will just be books, gay movies just movies.

- H.Varsha, IInd year B.A in English, Women's Christian College.



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Short Takes: What Women Write - Truth or Dare: Gender-Based Violence defines women's possibilities; Does it have to feature in literature in order to authenticate a woman's voice?

This is a post of the talk given the students who participated in the event Short Takes: What Women Write held at Women's Christian College on 1st December 2018 as part of the 2018 Prajnya 16 days Campaign against Gender Violence. Read about the event here:
Truth or Dare: Gender-based violence defines women's possibilities; Does it have to feature in literature in order to authenticate a woman's voice?  - Two speakers spoke on this topic as a pair. The first speaker handled the question of women's possibilities being defined by the violence she faces, while the second speaker discussed the need for gender-based violence to be featured in literature.
1.

The term "Gender" is often misunderstood and misinterpreted. The dictionary defines "Gender" as "The state of being male or female. ( Typically with reference to social and cultural differences rather than biological ones.)" So "Gender-based Violence"  is nothing but violence directed against a person because of their gender. People of every gender go through this type of violence, but the majority of the victims are women and girls. The very fact that a person takes advantage of another and tries to assert their superiority over them just because they belong to a certain "gender" is rather disturbing but very prevalent in today's society.

To answer the question of whether or not Gender-based Violence defines a woman's possibilities, it is important to understand what a woman goes through after the traumatic experience. Violence to a woman can cause a variety of long-term and short-term physical and mental issues, the most fatal of which is death where the woman is either killed by the perpetrator or in the long run, she turns suicidal. But this is not the only effect on a woman, she is physically injured and mentally traumatised, as a result of which, she is rendered incapable of performing her everyday tasks. When it comes to work, the woman is either thrown out of her workplace or she herself quits her job in fear and shame because the humiliation and judgements thrown at her by the society are far worse than the actual violence. This is also the reason why girls don't talk to their parents about what they've been through, because often times, the actions taken by the parents are extreme: the girls are made to terminate their education and are never let outside their houses, or they are thrown out of their houses because they've brought "shame" to the family. Many girls and young women grow up to be uneducated and unemployed, and statistics prove that nearly 67% of unemployed women are victims of domestic abuse.


If a woman rises to the top or at least tries to make a name for herself even after enduring all the above-mentioned struggles, she is always seen with an invisible tag around her neck, which reads "abuse victim", and that is somehow enough for people around her to dismiss her and never take her seriously; and so a women victim is denied many opportunities in life and many of her dreams and goals remain unfulfilled. Therefore it is true that Gender-based violence defines a woman's possibilities.

- D. Angeline Nikita, II year B.A in English, Women's Christian College

2.

Does gender-based violence have to feature in literature in order to authenticate a woman's voice?

It is rather disturbing that this question even arises as it only seems to prove that women are more readily dismissed than heard and helped in our society.
Women are ambitious, inspiring, hilarious, and much more. Their worth is defined by so much more than their victimhood or the violence perpetrated against them. While the fact that a woman's voice needs “authentication” itself is saddening, it does not have to be done only through the presence of gender-based violence in literature. Social media, television and the internet have emerged as promising platforms for women to voice out themselves to the world and gain solidarity and support.
Traditionally, some authors refer to gender-based violence with misnomers such as “normalized violence” which is violence against women that is naturalized by particularly gendered constructs of heroism, nationalism or domestic space and therefore ignored as a normal part of life. In literature, female characters are most commonly made to meet with any one of the following familiar tropes after she is a victim of a violent crime:  She either becomes an unbalanced person, losing her sense of self and identity, or, she gets rescued by someone else, who is usually a male character. Or, she turns into a revenge-seeking vigilante, working outside the bounds of law in order to obtain justice.
What is interesting to observe in this pattern is how shallow the female's character is painted to be before the occurrence of the violence. She is usually described to be a naive, sweet, romantic and submissive character suddenly changing to become a completely different, more logical and more rational being, all because of the violence committed against her.
Yes, it is true that women are often victims of violence but must that be the only reason for their voices to be heard?
In conclusion, while the presence of gender-based violence in literature may catalyze raising awareness and educating readers of the violence acted against women, it shouldn't be limited to be the only channel through which women's voices are authenticated.
- Betsy Jenifer, II year B.A in English, Women's Christian College






Saturday, December 15, 2018

2018 Gender Violence in India Report

On Human Rights Day, we launched the 2018 Gender Violence in India Report, compiled this year by 2018 Rajaram Fellow, Jhuma Sen.

2018 was a year of landmark judgments, horrific reports of sexual violence especially targeting children and #MeToo revelations, and this report provides definitions, data, legal FAQ and a review of recent case law.

As the Introduction notes:
2018 has been a remarkable year in many ways. ‘Gender violence’ has been at the forefront of conversations with #MeToo taking shape in India. In September, several women from the entertainment industry and media publicly accused men in position of power of sexually harassing them; of abusing their positions of power. As testimonies emerged and entered the juridical realm from the social and the political, solidarities too were forged between women cutting across class, caste, gender and other axes of marginality. Significant developments took place in the legislative and the judicial arena as well. Several landmark judgments were delivered by the apex court, leading to decriminalisation of India’s colonial law, especially Indian Penal Code Section 377, which criminalised consensual sexual relationships between same sex adults; decriminalisation of yet another colonial relic, Section 497 or India’s adultery law, recognising that wives were not chattels, allowing entry of women of menstruating age to Sabarimala temple, to name a few. Patriarchy however did not give in without a fight, and as this report was being prepared, feminist movement also saw a tremendous backlash from men’s rights groups and conservative clerics, be it, in opposing women’s entry to temple, or to make the domestic violence law a toothless legislation.
Prajnya’s Gender Violence in India Report has been taking stock of the state of gender violence in India since 2009. This year, the Gender Violence Report has been prepared by R. Rajaram Gender Violence Research and Information Taskforce (GRIT) fellow Jhuma Sen. The Report is meant to be used as a ready reference for activists, journalists, students, lawyers and anyone with an interest in gender justice. The report in addition includes definitions of the various forms of violence, defined internationally as well as in national laws and policies. The data is primarily collected from the National Crime Records Bureau, but wherever possible, other relevant statistics by other state agencies, NGOs, international as well as domestic have been relied upon. Finally, the report also reviews the last year’s significant developments in law, policy as well as important judicial decisions.

We hope you will find this report useful.
Access the report here: http://prajnya.in/storage/app/media/gvr18final.pdf

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Day 16: Human, Woman, Citizen, But - A Panel Discussion

On the last day of the 2018 Prajnya 16 days campaign against Gender Violence, we organised a panel discussion on caste and gender violence at Ethiraj College for Women.

On the 10th of December which also happens to be the Human Rights Day, our panel discussion was aimed to create awareness among young women about caste-based gender violence and human rights violations in the name of caste in India. Through this discussion, we wanted to initiate conversations over a topic hardly ever discussed - the caste politics of Indian society.

On the day of the event, two of our panellists couldn't make it to the event due to unforeseen personal reasons. But our panellist, Semmalar Selvi, Assistant Professor, Department of Social Work, Loyola College turned up on time and presented an interactive talk on the prevalent caste system in India and it's influence on gender-based violence, mainly violence against women.


She walked to and fro the aisle of the auditorium, peppering her talk with questions to the students, and keeping the event lively. Post her talk, she took questions from the students and answered them with utmost patience despite not keeping a good health.


Around 200 students from various departments such as postgraduate studies in human rights, Visual Communications, English, and Arts attended the event. Most of the students were interactive and weren't hesitant to answer Semmalar's questions or raise questions of their own. Semmalar covered a wide range of topics related to caste, culture, and gender; she ended her talk by stressing on the need for questioning - questioning our culture, our elders, and the practices we blindly believe and follow in our Indian society.


With this event, the 2018 Prajnya 16 days Campaign against Gender Violence ended on a great note!






Day 15: Streetside Stories (Podhuveli Kadaigal)

As the title suggests, we wanted to collect stories from the streetside, mainly from women on how they feel coming out to public places, and what they experience and what could improve their experiences. We wanted to reach out to women in public places like markets, parks, bus stands and more and hear their stories.


So, we decided to conduct a volunteer-based research activity as part of the 2018 Prajnya 16 days campaign against Gender Violence. On the 9th of December, when this event was scheduled to happen, we found we couldn't mobilise a large number of volunteers. This being a volunteer-based activity the scope of the project was dependent on the number of data collectors. Owing to the small size of the group - only 5 data collectors in total, we decided to split into two teams and head to one of the popular areas of Chennai - the T Nagar.

One of the teams went to Natesan Park and the roadside shops outside the park, while the other team went to Panagal Park and the area around it. At the end of the half-day activity, around 2 pm, we could only interview 18 women, but what a diverse group it was! We interviewed women from diverse socio-economic backgrounds and age groups. At the end of the day, interacting with women from different walks of life on a particular kind of gender violence gave us all a unique insight into the problem.

This research activity just doesn't end here. We are transcribing the interviews and putting together a detailed report of our findings and observations. We will soon be adding a link to the report here.