Carol Rossetti’s Women Series Now Available In Hindi, Marathi And Bengali

Brazilian artist Carol Rossetti is popularly known as the creator of a fantastic, hand-drawn illustration series titled ‘Women‘,  depicting powerful, empowering and inclusive messages of identity and choice. She started the series in April 2014 and within a year, she drew 130 illustrations. Her initial goal was just to practice her technique with coloured pencils, but she opted for intersectionality as her theme. The world’s constant attempts to control women’s bodies, behaviours and identities bothered her. Rossetti believes, it is vital to discussracism, homophobia, transphobia, classicism, xenophobia and abelism and says, this project is not just for girls, but for anyone and everyone who identifies with it. Though started as a personal project, the images took off from her Facebook page and now have an international audience of more than 221k people (May 2015).

In her latest blog post on Tumblr, Rossetti says the project is coming to an end, the official series is complete, but exclusive postcards and prints will be available on her store. A book on the project will come out in October and new projects are already in the pipeline.

“I hope I made some difference in some peoples’ lives and inspired other artists and graphic professionals to be inclusive and diverse when representing people in their own projects.” – Carol Rossetti

Read the entire post here.

This article was originally published on Feminism In India.com and is cross-posted here for documentation purposes.

50 Shades Of Feminism: A Panel Discussion On Feminism And Pornography

I was recently invited to be part of a panel discussion by the Debating Society of Netaji Subhash Institute of Technology, University of Delhi as part of their Debating and Literary Festival of NSIT – Colloquium.

This year’s Panel Discussion was centred on the theme:

“50 Shades of Feminism”

A discourse on the coexistence of feminism and pornography

Pornography, both in the Indian and global context, is viewed as a taboo, and has been at the centre of a raging debate for a while now. An interesting contributor to this fulmination is the dichotomy that exists between the sects of who are considered to be women’s greatest proponents – feminists. With feminists dividing themselves as sex-positive and anti-pornography feminists, insight into their opposing and myriad views highlights a panorama of the moralistic considerations pornography engenders, and raises the question of whether pornography can coexist with feminism.

Apart from me, other panelists included Bishakha Datta, a feminist, filmmaker and the founder of pointofview.org, Vaishna Roy, the Senior Dy. Editor of The Hindu and Rajni Palriwala, a Professor of Sociology at Delhi University, specializing in Gender Studies. The discussion explored the following sub-topics:

    • The belief that pornographic objectification isn’t limited to females, but extends to men as well?
    • The thought that there’s a very fine line between the expression of a woman’s sexuality and objectifying her
    • Human trafficking ties to pornography.
    • Influence of pornography on sexual crimes such as rape, violence, eave teasing?
    • Women who watch porn.
    • Pornography empowering women?
    • Idea of feminist or women-centric pornography or erotica and the lack of it.

Here are some of the pictures from the discussion.

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Youth In Haryana Discuss Women’s Rights and Child Sex Ratio

Recently, I have been on multiple visits to Haryana for Breakthrough India‘s campaign against gender-biased sex selection called #‎MissionHazaar‬ (love the name). I wrote a short post on its blog on one of the training where we showed some videos to the students and then opened the room for debate. The blogpost is cross-posted here for archival purposes. Read how the youth talked about women’s rights and the skewed child sex ratio.

As a kick-start to Breakthrough’s campaign Mission Hazaar on gender-biased sex selection and gender-based discrimination, film screenings were organized in various colleges across districts in Haryana. Although being a part of the digital media team at BT, I was fortunate enough to attend one of these film screenings.

It was a cold January day and three of us from BT huddled in a car set off to Rohtak. We arrived at Neki Ram College around 10 AM and I was pleasantly surprised when I entered the classroom where the screening was scheduled. It was a huge classroom, but apparently not big enough for the swarm of students inside. There were more girls than boys and the students were searching for any available tiny spot in every nook and corner of the classroom. The very enthusiastic teacher, Ms. Uma Avasthi, professor of history and in-charge of the women’s cell, was trying to make sense of space shortage and eager students. I had an opportunity to talk to her before we dwelled into the session and asked, how come there are more girls in the classroom given the general ratio of the college is somewhat skewed. To which Prof. Avasthi replied, she had purposefully put a notice only for the girls so that they are more visible and that the boys do not outnumber them given the number in the college is 1200-5000. But the boys eventually came due to curiosity (which we learned later was for the better) and hence it was balanced.

Prof. Uma Avasthi with some students outside the classroom.

Prof. Uma Avasthi with some students outside the classroom.

The classroom was jam-packed and some students were peeping in from outside. We started with Satyamev Jayate’s episode on gender-biased sex selection. The students were very receptive and watched in rapt attention. They clapped at the impact stories, had tears in their eyes listening to the sorry state of affairs and laughed at another clip. Simply put, they were touched. After the episode ended, they watched a video presentation on Mission Hazaar and were introduced to the IVRS game. I noticed a lot of students taking down the IVRS no. After this they watched three short films from Jagori on gender-based discrimination and violence.

BT Trainer Roki taking the session.

BT Trainer Roki taking the session.

Once the screenings were over, the room was opened for debate. At first, the boys came in the front and spoke how one must end gender-biased sex selection and gender-based discrimination, but still putting the onus on women how they need to become stronger. However, after a few hesitations some girls stood up and started to speak. They were still not very comfortable to come forward and preferred to talk from their allocated seats. Although less in number, the boys were somewhat aggressive and clearly steering the conversation. The debate was becoming heftier in nature and there were some confrontations among the sexes. Sensing trouble the BT trainers took over the debate and brought forward a nuanced discussion to the larger issue.

Students actively taking part in the discussion.

Students actively taking part in the discussion.

Although receiving an overtly positive response from the students and the general atmosphere during the training, it is quite evident that our journey is very long even with the youth. Young adolescents are our future and will take the way forward, but even they need to be further sensitized on gender issues and any biases stemming from age-old patriarchal mindsets need to be nipped in the bud.

Meet The Woman Behind The Children’s Book ‘My Chacha Is Gay’

unnamed3The first thing you notice when you click on Eiynah’s blog Nice Mangos, is a disclaimer warning you ‘The blog that you are about to view may contain content only suitable for adults’. In her own words, Eiynah, a pseudonym that she uses, is a Pakistani-Canadian blogger illustrator who blogs and draws about sexuality in South Asia (Pakistan mostly). She also writes/illustrates children’s books in the hopes of promoting more inclusivity, diversity and secular values and also to create resources where South Asian children are featured as characters, because she feels they are very underrepresented in international children’s literature. Its important for kids from all over the world to have characters to relate to, for books to tell their stories too…

Please tell us about your blog and the idea behind the name.

unnamed2It started as a blog about Pakistani sexuality (the first of its kind I believe), discussing the few candid interviews I had managed to get, despite major roadblocks. As word spread more and more people reached out with questions and concerns they had regarding sex or sexuality in Pakistan (and sometimes India too), I started including messages and emails from my readers, and answering them through blog posts (all anonymously of course) – and discovered that many people had similar concerns/thoughts/questions, and that many were just intrigued to read about others. Since sexuality is such a taboo topic in our culture, there is not much discussion around it. Which results in a lot of misinformation. Its important to provide a platform where people can discuss it openly, without experiencing the backlash. The blog has grown to include discussions about sexuality and religion, sexuality and politics, etc. Its main purpose is still discussion about sex and sexuality within South Asian and Muslim culture.
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I chose nice mangos because of the popularity of Pakistani mangos, and for the usage of mangos as a euphemism for breasts. I thought it was apt because I write about sex. Its also meant to be a subtle statement about the objectification of women.

What are some of the interesting projects you have worked on?

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#BearOurBreasts was a very interesting project and I plan to get back to it soon, and in fact open it up to women not just from Pakistan but all over South Asia. I would feature a pair of breasts every week combined with a quote from the person featured to express some of the sexism, misogyny they experienced as a woman in Pakistan. Got some really interesting feedback of course, many people – mostly men were not thrilled with women freely expressing themselves in such a way, or exposing their breasts.

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ABC’s for Pakistanis was a joke children’s book I created to highlight some of the issues our community faces. There was F for fundamentalist, and O for oppress for example…

I tend to be viewed as someone who is ‘airing the country’s dirty laundry in public’ a lot of the time. I get a lot of negative feedback from ‘patriots’ who are unwilling to acknowledge any issues.

How did the concept behind ‘My Chacha is Gay’ emerge?

It was something I had been planning for a long time. I write about sex, and sexuality. Homosexuality is something that comes up often. I always wanted to do a children’s book tackling homophobia because I think it’s a way of breaking down and simplifying the issue, to possibly speak to some adults too.

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Why did you choose to write a Children’s book and not one for adults?

Who says this book is not for adults 😉

In all seriousness though, I used this medium because simplifying the issue was the idea. I wanted to make a picture book. I think as an illustrator, it a great medium for me to express myself. And it’s actually been used in classrooms with older children too, so it’s not necessarily just for under 5 year olds.

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How has the response been so far, especially in Pakistan? How do you plan to take it forward?

Generally Pakistani media has been very silent on the book, despite the fact that it has been covered all over the world, in some major international papers too. The general response from Pakistan hasn’t been great, unsurprisingly. But there have been some groups of people who have been incredibly supportive. Most of my funding for the crowd-funding campaign that published the book came from Pakistan. So there is support, even if its from a small number of people. Internationally the response has been phenomenal, I received more support for this than I could have ever dreamed possible.

Did you also receive threats/hate emails? How do you deal with them?

I receive a lot of hate mail and threats. So much of it, that I’ve become quite used to it, I usually don’t take it seriously, some of the things people get mad about are really quite entertaining. But of course, there is a very serious element to the hate, even though it might be funny on the surface, I am aware of the risks involved.

What other kind of support have you received from individuals and/or organisations?

Well, my book, My Chacha is Gay was crowd-funded from all over the world. It was a tremendous help to get that support.

Some individuals have helped by writing stories about the project and about my blog, spreading the word through media is always helpful as well, so I’m thankful to those who have done that. Other than that, I haven’t really received any support.

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How has the journey been, given you hail from Pakistan and talk about Gender & Sexuality?

Its been a long roller coaster ride. A lot of it has been uphill, a lot of road blocks, and issues. People not wanting to associate with me because of the topics I speak about, or people not wanting to acknowledge that they read my work because of the content…Its been tough, because I have a large readership, but a lot of them are very silent and unsupportive. I feel like I run a one-woman media company sometimes, with no pay and no support. It gets exhausting.

What message would you like to give out to your fans & supporters?

Please don’t ever be afraid to speak up for yourself and for others you feel are being treated unjustly. That is the only way we can bring change. And if you like my work please help to spread the message by sharing it. There are many who like it, but feel it is taboo to publicly associate with work about sexuality – those people are only helping to perpetuate the mentality I am struggling against. Sexuality is an important and natural part of life. The amount of hurt that misinformation about sexuality causes people is immeasurable. Women suffer the most in our culture. This needs to change. Please don’t be a silent observer. Do something. Whether that just involves sharing a story on social media, sharing your story, or standing up for someone in real life… no matter how big or small, each step counts.

Eiynah’s book My Chacha is Gay can be purchased online here.

Disclaimer: All the images have been used from the author’s blog with due permission. 

P.S. This is an interview I did for Feminism in India. The interview was originally published here on 18 October, 2014.

11.12.13: A black day for the Indian Judiciary and Human Rights

Today is a black day in the history of Indian Judiciary. The Supreme Court has criminalized homosexuality again and set aside Delhi High Court’s ruling in 2009. The SC judgement on Article 377 is a step backwards and is a barbaric and medieval act. It only shows how regressive world’s largest democracy is. We are going back to Barbarism in 2014 when we deny basic human rights to all the citizens irrespective of their gender and sexuality. Shame on you Supreme Court, shame on you.

Section 377 was introduced by the British Rulers 153 years back, who were under the influence of Victorian morality and values in regard to family and the procreative nature of sex. The Indian society prevalent before the enactment of the IPC had a much greater tolerance of homosexuality than its British counterpart, as it was not a reflection of the existing Indian values and traditions. Although the British read down this section and decriminalized homosexuality in 1967, it took India 62 years after independence to take this landmark decision. It was still a welcome and historic moment when the Delhi High Court read down Section 377 and decriminalized homosexuality in 2009. After such a progressive act by the Delhi HC in 2009, the Supreme Court’s decision was expected to be positive till yesterday. It was hoped that after SC reads down Section 377, it will just take a couple of years when same sex marriages would be legalized in India and the future of LGBTQI community seemed to be bright. After all, we saw Pride Marches happening in every big city, more people coming out and joining in, parents, relatives, friends, supporting their loved ones and the various state police departments being tolerant and in some cases also supportive.

But, alas, we hoped too much. Too much from the world’s largest democracy. Too much from an emerging economic power. Too much from a country that is proud of it’s rich culture. Yesterday was Human Rights Day, and today the Supreme Court showed us “all humans are equal, but some are less equal than others”. The constitution calls our nation a secular state and still we succumb to the pressure of various religious leaders and take such a retrograde step. Why is it that religion likes to control sex? What one does in private with a consenting adult shouldn’t be a matter of religion. Then we have those who claim to ‘cure’ homosexuality. Baba Ramdev has greeted the judgement and asked all homosexuals to visit him and attend his sessions to have a ‘better’ life and get rid of this ‘bad addiction’.

As John Lennon once said, “We live in a world where we have to hide to make love, while violence is practiced in broad daylight”. So homosexual sex between two consenting adults is illegal while it is perfectly legal to rape your legally married wife. The SC doesn’t want to recognize marital rape as domestic violence because it contradicts with our traditions and culture. This is what happens when a bunch of patriarchal bigots sit on our heads and have the power to tell us what to do with our genitals. Maybe, we shouldn’t call them private parts anymore as we can see, there isn’t any privacy left. They want to control whom we love and with whom we have sex. Then, why call yourself a democracy, be open and upfront about it, say it out loud that we are turning into a regressive society and a monarchy. The minimum sentence for rape is seven years while for homosexual sex life imprisonment. This says a lot about our justice system. Maybe, all women and queer people should mass apply for asylum in more tolerant countries with better human rights. The SC has proved, India: no country for women and homosexuals.

The verdict has come as a shock and exploits the fundamental right to equality and freedom from discrimination, violence and harassment. But today’s verdict is not the last verdict on Section 377. There will be more unless and until the SC completely reads down and deletes Section 377 from the Indian Penal Code. The verdict is a huge setback for the entire LGBTQI community but it is not just a gay issue anymore. This has become an issue of violation of human rights and people will stand up to it, be it straight or queer. One positive thing that comes out of this verdict is that more and more people will support homosexuality now, they will turn up in large numbers and the queer community will grow even stronger.

Dear SC, we are queer and we are here to stay.

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