My Experiences of Travelling Solo In India

They say the world is a book and those who do not travel only read a page. I had a very un-travel-ish childhood. Like every other middle-class Indian family, my parents did not believe in travelling or even holidaying for that matter. The only vacation we used to take as an annual trip was to visit my maternal grandparents who thankfully lived in Dehradun – away from bad and polluted Delhi (my hometown).

I remember once complaining to my mother that I was sick and tired of going to Dehradun and Mussoorie year after year, at which my mother pointed out that my cousins didn’t even get to do that since their grandparents lived in Delhi itself. I was suddenly made aware of the immense luxury I had because of my mother’s hometown and the vast open lush green spaces it offered.

Trying to find my feet in romanticised Paris. The Louvre, January 2010

I therefore realised quite early that I have to take it upon myself if I want to ‘see’ the world. I started solo travelling at the age of 19 and haven’t stopped since then. I started travelling while on a study scholarship to Germany and visited most of the European cities with ease. Actually, it didn’t strike me that I was a female solo traveller and that’s somewhat a big deal until I made my first solo trip outside Europe – Istanbul. The usual ‘single woman in a Muslim country in the Middle East’ excuse that was used by my parents to ensure that I’m ‘careful and alert all the time’ didn’t deter me from embarking on my first true solo trip to a beautiful city – where East meets West. Apart from the usual flirting and tourist-harassing, I never felt unsafe in the city. I actually felt safer than I usually do in Delhi.

Embarking on my first true solo trip in Istanbul; nervous, excited, scared, exhilarated are some of the words that can describe what I felt at that time. At the Topkapi Palace with the Prince Islands in the background, September 2013

I’m also into adventure sports and had my first experience at the age of 19 in Berlin. I jumped from a 120 metre high building in the heart of the city. Later, I went on to do scuba diving and sky diving in Spain. I’m glad that when I approached these places and expressed my interest in jumping off from crazy heights, I was not met with the usual “You’re a small woman, can you do it?” scepticism, but was respected and encouraged for my decision.

‘Flying’ with my Argentinean instructor in Empuria Brava, Spain. August 2013

I know there are a lot of clichés about how travelling ‘changes’ your life and how everyone should travel. I understand travel is a privilege and not many can undertake it. This privilege might not always be monetary but also in terms of one’s mental and physical health, supportive family and friends (my parents have made peace with the fact that I travel solo) and ability to access places, among others.

After my foreign escapades, I decided to give my country a shot and embarked on my first solo trip in India to Goa. The pristine beaches at Palolem couldn’t have been a better place for starting on a journey which would change my perspective towards travelling and life in general.

Holiday Essentials. Goa, March, 2014

Another interesting travel I undertook was when I lived in a nunnery for a month. Most people have a very fixed image of what a nunnery looks like: austere and minimalistic living, strict and silent environment, conservative and orthodox. But Dolma Ling Nunnery & Institute, which is situated in Sidhpur in lower Dharamshala was a pleasant surprise. Dolma Ling has been built and fully supported by the Tibetan Nuns Project, a project set out to provide facilities for education and to empower and improve the overall status of ordained Tibetan women. When I first arrived at the nunnery, I was sceptical. But as time passed, I started loving this place. The joy of living your life differently, something which you’d have never imagined before is ecstasy-inducing..

The Prayer Room, Dolma Ling Nunnery. June, 2014

I don’t know if travelling has changed my life, but I can definitely say that it has altered my thought process for the better. Especially, solo travelling has given me a lot of courage and determination to do things I had thought I’d be unable to do. In 2015, I went on quite a few solo trips starting with Srinagar, Goa, Kuala Lumpur, Stockholm, and ending the year in Hampi. Early this year, I embarked on a three-week solo trip in the south of India and visited eight cities backpacking my way from one to the other. My experience till now has been more or less positive; people have welcomed me into their homes, fed me, clothed me and treated me as one of their own. I have travelled with locals in local transport while exploring the hill stations outside of Srinagar. I have taken lifts from unknown men and felt completely safe. I have been offered help without asking for it. I have made friends with the old and young and met fellow travellers and many other interesting people on my journey.

With my ski guide and his friends in Gulmarg, Kashmir. June, 2015

However, this one time in Hyderabad I was denied entry at the Charminar. The reason stated was that single women cannot go up to the Charminar. I could only go up if I agreed to be accompanied by a security guard, which I refused. I was told that single women are not allowed to go up alone because in the past a woman had committed suicide and this is their solution to prevent more suicides. When asked if the same rule applies for men, they outrightly said no. I obviously didn’t let it go without a fight, and sensing trouble, the man at the ticket counter asked me if I’m a local. Upon learning that I’m not, he allowed me to climb up the Charminar on my own. I wrote about the incident, complained to the ASI via email and telephone and this issue was also covered by some news channels, but to no avail.

With another solo traveller in Pondicherry. February, 2016

Personally, I find solo travelling very empowering. However, one should also be prepared for the low points. I have also felt depressed during my solo travels and have had moments where I felt “this entire trip was a bad idea”. Or when you see a group of friends or a couple travelling together, you wonder why you don’t have anyone to travel along with. All such insecurities do and will get to you. It’s up to you how you deal with them and overpower them. All my travels, solo or otherwise, have had both high and low points. Eventually I’ve come to the conclusion that I like and enjoy solo travelling a lot and will continue to do it. However, it’s nice to travel with your loved ones once in a while. I now balance my travel among friends, family and ‘me’ time.

Disclaimer: This article was originally published for TARSHI’s Travel and Sexuality issue here.

Nominated For Femina Women Awards 2015 Under Online Influencer Category

Hello everyone, I’m happy to announce that I was nominated for Femina Women Awards 2015 under the Online Influencer category for initiating the feminist platform Feminism In India.com

Though I did not win the award, Shradha Sharma of YourStory did (many congratulations to her), a nomination next to such established and successful people was also a good thing. Feminism In India.com is just eight months old and has already received such recognition and appreciation, I’m overwhelmed.

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I Was Part Of A Report By France 2, French National Channel

Hello everyone, I was part of this super report by the national French channel, France 2, on gender and activism in India. I talk about my experience of molestation in the Delhi metro, the status of women’s safety in India and the feminist platform Feminism in India that I have initiated also features right at the end with me signing off. Do check it out, although it’s in French. I appear at 0:56

Deux portraits de femmes, deux visages de l’Inde d’aujourd’hui au féminin : Ishrat Praveen est mère au foyer et ne se voit pas sortir de son rôle traditionnel, Japleen Pasricha est une jeune féministe engagée dans le combat pour l’égalité. (Two portraits of women, two faces of India today for women: Ishrat Praveen is a housewife and is not seen out of its traditional role. Japleen Pasricha is a young feminist engaged in the fight for equality.)

Happy Independence Day?

Yep, you read that right! Another critical I-day special article floating around the web and appearing on your social media timelines. And yet another cynic who likes to ruin your festival by writing big fancy words and trying to engage you in a pseudo intellectual dialogue.

However, I’ll try my best to ruin your festival as less as I may be capable of and zip up the do’s and don’ts. After all, let’s be honest, we all will celebrate our “freedom” by flying kites, dressing in funky tri-color combinations and trying to get passes of one or another “Independence Day” special party.

Next day, major newspapers will cover the top-notch parties on Page 3, there will be a few cases of street harassment or sexual assault on women by some drunken men (the blame would be of course why women were roaming around the streets on a national holiday), a gigantic lot of litter created by people “celebrating” I-day in Lodhi Garden or Nehru Park, a few cases of road brawls created due to huge amounts of cars trying to get away from the city and as far as possible and the day will go on.

If it would have been so easy to celebrate and more importantly, commemorate I-day and be truly happy about it, I wouldn’t be writing this post, right? But, how can I truly be independent when I don’t even feel free from within? When will I feel free? Will it be when my country would become a rape-free country, when I won’t have to consider to settle abroad to secure mine and my children’s safety, when other people won’t curtail my freedom to walk around the streets anytime day or night without any fear of harassment, when boys could be home makers and girls could work as mechanics without being judged, when I’d be free from the shackles of stereotypes of being a militant, anti-men feminist?

Credits: Must Bol

Credits: Must Bol

Or will it be when urinating in public would be a crime and not couples holding hands? When people would be fined for throwing waste on the streets, when one would obey traffic rules because one should and not because a cop is nearby, when people will help the needy/elders and people with special needs without the need for posters, bill boards and reserved seats in the public transport?

When religion won’t restrict you to view the larger socio-economic, cultural and diverse image of your country? When even though you love your country, you’d still be able to criticize it without being or feeling offended? When love would mean improving our country’s situation and not turning a blind eye to it in the name of patriotism? When nationalists would see a child selling the national flag on the road as a sign of poverty instead of patriotism?

Too many questions, not enough answers and so little time. I, in my capacity may not be able to answer all these and many more. But, I can certainly do something to amend some of these issues plaguing my country. My freedom can only come from within me and only I can take action to bring the change I wish to see: Change Myself!

Hence, I pledge. I pledge to break my silence. I pledge to raise my voice. I pledge to stand up and take action. I pledge to publicly shame the person who is harassing me. I pledge not to judge someone by their appearance. I pledge to wear the seat belt ALL the time and throw the litter ONLY in the dustbin. I pledge to reclaim my day, my night, and my space. I pledge not to be afraid. I pledge to smile more. I pledge to look for happiness during gloomy days. I pledge to be more patient with children and elders. I pledge to show my gratitude to the door man, the guard, the peon, the auto-walla, and my domestic help and smile some more, smile to them.

To write and promise is easy, but to change your words into action is no child’s play. And forgive me, for I’m mere human. I will be true to my words, even if I’m not always able to turn them into reality. I will try my best and be my change.

Anyhow, I’m going to a potluck picnic in Nehru Park (Delhi) on I-Day. The idea usually is that everyone will cook and get their dishes and we all will sit together, fly kites, sing songs and basically enjoy. However, I had some concerns in mind and volunteered to clean the park after we are done littering it. To my utter pleasure, many people on that Facebook event raised similar concern and joined in to help me. So, I’d be doing all the above but also cleaning my mess afterwards. This is my way of celebrating Independence Day. Let me know what you plan to do and please feel welcome to join me if you are in the vicinity.

Oh, and yes, happy Independence Day!

 

India’s first ever “I Need Feminism” campaign at IGIT and AUD

Feminism in India Project is an initiative started by me last year to learn, educate and develop a feminist consciousness among the youth. It is a social media movement required to unravel the F-word and demystify all the negativity surrounding it. I have been working on this project since a year now and plan to take it forward by holding campaigns and events and providing sex education workshops in schools and universities.

One such campaign was held on 15th April 2014, i.e. last Tuesday when I with a group of close friends and volunteers organised a ‘I Need Feminism’ campaign at Indira Gandhi Institute of Technology and Ambedkar University Delhi.

Poster for INF campaign

‘I need Feminism’ campaign is a public awareness campaign aimed at asking people why and how feminism is important to them. The campaign is directly inspired from a similar campaign organised at the Oxford University and at the Cambridge University, which later became a rage at many campuses across the globe. The INF campaign is a collection of photographs of people using words to voice their opinions about feminism. Both young men and women hold placards, which through the written word raises their voice against gender discrimination and baseless societal and cultural stereotypes. A similar campaign was also organised by the Feminist society at LUMS, a university in Lahore, Pakistan and it was a remarkable success.

We need feminism because we need to bring so many issues to light. There are too many of us getting groped in public, stared at, catcalled, insulted, teased and abused. There are too many headlines about girls getting raped. Too many people are trying to fit both the male and female genders in a box. Too much of “girls can’t do this” and “boys should do this”.  We initiated the ‘I Need Feminism’ campaign to set a platform for both women and men to voice out their opinions and beliefs.

Our team reached IGIT at 10 AM and started preparing for the long eventful day. We began by asking people what they understand by the term ‘feminism’ to break the ice. Once the discussion got into gear people started warming up to the idea. After that it was one slogan after another, we were running from one group of excited students to another. We made it clear right at the beginning that these photographs will be published on our Facebook page and those who were shy held the posters right in front of their faces. We did not convince anyone forcefully to participate as quite a number of students turned down the offer. After collecting a good amount of 45-50 posters from IGIT, we then rushed to AUD where we got an even better response and quality conversations on related topics like gender, patriarchy and women’s rights. Some of the students were skeptic and some didn’t want to include the term ‘feminism’ in their slogans but almost everyone wanted to participate. We even crashed a Gender Studies class and after due permission from the professor requested all the students to participate. The friendly professor also wrote a slogan and got herself clicked. The campaign ended around 4 PM when we started counting our posters and realised that we have crossed our target of interviewing 100 people. The overwhelmed team then as a closing shot wrote our slogans.

It was our first ever offline campaign which is also India’s first ever ‘I Need Feminism’ campaign successfully organized and executed. We received an overwhelming response both at IGIT and AUD. We talked to 100+ people, got posters and photographs of their personal slogans clicked and documented. We plan to do more such events in future and hold INF campaigns at University of Delhi and JNU during the upcoming semester.

Equality is not a concept. It’s not something we should be striving for. It’s a necessity. Equality is like gravity. We need it to stand on this earth as men and women, and the misogyny that is in every culture is not a true part of the human condition. It is life out of balance, and that imbalance is sucking something out of the soul of every man and woman who’s confronted with it. We need equality. Kinda now.” -Joss Whedon

All the posters along with the photographs can be accessed on our Facebook page here. Below is a collection of some of my top favorites, although it was a little difficult to choose, as everyone who participated in the campaign wrote what they felt and experienced. Some of them even narrated true incidents of street/sexual harassment. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did and I wish to see you in the next round. Cheers!

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Update: Since its initiation, the campaign has been a huge success, a lot of people who could not directly take part in the this particular campaign due to time and space constraints, requested for an online one. And therefore, we have organised an online campaign on our Facebook page where one can send in their photos with their slogans and posters.  Another great news is that we have been featured on various online magazines who loved what we did and wanted to write about us. The voice of our campaign can be found at Life Beyond Numbers, Women’s Web and The Alternative. Hoping for more love and support. Peace.

In Photos: Feminist Artwork in JNU

Walls that speak: India’s campus graffiti

Graffiti or the art of writing/painting on walls is not yet a big concept in India, though one can many new young artists picking up from their counterparts from the West and gearing up for Street Art festivals. Jawaharlal Nehru University, one of the most politically active universities based in New Delhi follows the tradition of graffiti or more accurately said wall art since ages. JNU has an old culture of open debates and intellectual discourse.

One can find wall art literally everywhere, ranging from hostel canteens to university library to various departments. Every inch of JNU walls scream art and social issues which can vary from mundane price rise to gender rights, from Naxal politics to international issues such as occupation of Palestine and rise of the global left. The wall art also serves as a running commentary on current affairs in the country and the world. To see and know more about artwork in JNU, check out this page on Facebook here.

1. Speak up/ Awaaz uthao! 

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2. WHO reports that worldwide 35% of women have experienced violence. In 21st century. Shame!

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3. Around 30 middle-aged women walked naked through Imphal to the Assam Rifles headquarters, shouting: “Indian Army, rape us too… We are all Manorama’s mothers.”

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4. A woman’s struggle in India starts right from the moment she is conceived in the womb till she dies. Female infanticide is still rampant in India.

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5. On 2 November 2000, Irom Sharmila began a hunger strike which is still ongoing. Ironically, she is also currently on trial for attempted suicide.

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6. The revolution will be feminist or it won’t be. Occupy patriarchy.

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7. We produce, we eat, we earn, we live.
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8. Sinful women will rise.
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9. We will fight till the very end.
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10. “Irrespective of how much you break me, I will rise from my own ashes.”
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Disclaimer: I do not lay claim to the artwork and neither do I support nor promote any political party.

On legalization and regulation of prostitution in India

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Prostitution has been described as the world’s oldest profession. One of the first forms of prostitution is sacred prostitution where each woman had to reach the sanctuary of Aphrodite and have sex with a foreigner as a sign of hospitality for a symbolic price. In India, it was practiced extensively, so much so that Kautilya mentions it in his master piece ‘Arthashastra’ written around the 4th and 3rd century BC.

In South Asia, a tawaif was a courtesan who catered to noble men, especially during the Mughal Period. The tawaifswould sing, dance, recite poetry and entertain their suitors at mehfils. Their main purpose was to entertain their guests and sex was not always a part of the contract. High-class or the most popular tawaifs could often pick and choose between the best of their suitors. They contributed to music, dance, theatre, film, and the Urdu literary tradition.

Today the world’s oldest profession remains sketchily legal in India. Prostitution is legal under certain conditions but, a number of related activities including soliciting in a public place, kerb crawling, owning or managing a brothel, pimping and pandering are crimes. The current law allows prostitution to thrive but attempts to hide it from public.

The primary law dealing with the status of sex workers is the 1956 law referred to as The Immoral Traffic (Suppression) Act (SITA). According to this law, sex workers can practice their trade privately but cannot legally solicit customers in public. As long as it is done individually, voluntarily, sex workers can use their bodies’ attributes in exchange for material benefit. The Indian Penal Code (IPC) which predates the SITA is often used to charge sex workers with vague crimes such as “public indecency” or being a “public nuisance” without explicitly defining what these consist of. Recently the old law has been amended as The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act or PITA.

Currently, prostitution is not regulated. Soliciting sex is an offence though practicing it ‘in private’ isn’t. And more often than not, clients are criminalized and prosecuted. Organised prostitution isn’t allowed either. Also, Indian law doesn’t recognize male prostitution. Unlike the case with other professions, sex workers are not protected under labor laws thus, making it uncontrolled, unregulated and very unsafe. And this is not counting the huge amounts of human rights violations and human trafficking that is a part of this illegal state of happenings.

Prohibiting prostitution isn’t going to stop it from existing. Until and unless it is completely eradicated, which by and large is a very far stretched idea considering its existence and practice since ancient times, proper legalization and regulation of prostitution will not only benefit sex workers but also the society as a whole.

Most of the girls in various brothels come in through human trafficking. A firm, liable to the higher authorities, must be established, where every sex worker would undergo an interview with which her views, ideas, choice would be taken into consideration and only then can she she work in such an environment. If found forced, then the dealer who brought her could land up in jail. Secondly, regular and surprise inspection must take place. During such inspections, if revealed during conversations with sex workers that appropriate money is not being given then the brothel could be shut down and the license cancelled. Thirdly, as they also constitute under the domain of ‘ workers’ so they must be protected under labour laws, given aadhar cards, various rights under the law, voter identity card, etc. Fourth, they shouldn’t be denied the basic human rights conferred by the constitution and various central govt schemes.

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If prostitution is ‘properly’ legalised, it will help control illegal human trafficking, help fight HIV/AIDS and other STDs which are rampant in India. It will ensure better living conditions for sex workers as well as their children. Most importantly, it will give sex workers protection under labour laws. At present, they don’t have any rights and as such are forced to lead miserable lives. If the law recognised it as any other profession, violent clients could be taken to court which at present, is not possible. Brothels could be issued proper licenses and therefore regulated. Other positive points are revenue generation, choice of profession, less trafficking, better health conditions due to awareness, acceptance to achieve equality in the society, optimum satisfaction level of living in a country, employment, more of external finance to overcome the deficit, security, tax revenue and many more! Legalising prostitution will regulate the trade and help in curbing down the way HIV spreads in our country. It will officially recognise those practising it and entail them to basic human rights which they are denied till now.

Sex workers will be more respected and less abused. They will be raped less and there will be less number of reported rapes. They will be pimped less and will receive better health care. They can openly talk about their profession and not be ashamed about it. They will receive benefits from the central vis-à-vis state government. They will no longer be treated as second-class citizens because legally they will be bearer of rights. Regulation must be implemented properly in consultation with the sex workers. This will ensure good working conditions can be legally enforced, thus reducing exploitation. It will improve public health, increase tax revenue, help people out of poverty and get sex workers off the streets.

It will drive a lot of pimps out of business; women and men alike will work of their own accord and not against their wills and desires. It may also lower some forms of crime. Without legal protection, exploitation will remain unpunished, just like in any other unregulated industry. Sex workers must be directly involved in this process, they have a right to political participation.

When abortion is legal, so should be prostitution. The ‘my body, my right’ argument should apply here too. Moreover, morality is subjective and as long as no one is being forced, it shouldn’t disturb anyone. Sex work is a human right; it’s as respectable as anything else.

 

Disclaimer: This article has also been published on Women’s Web and Youth Ki Awaaz

Post Dec 16: Has Anything Changed For Women In India?

After the fatal gang rape of Jyoti Singh Pandey on December 16 last year sent shock waves around the world, India has done some self-analysis on how it treats its women. Stricter laws on sexual violence have been implemented, but even a year later, a lot needs to be done to make women feel safer.

Legal changes

The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013, recommended by Justice Verma Committee was passed by Lok Sabha on March 19, 2013 and by Rajya Sabha on March 21, 2013 and replaced an Ordinance promulgated on February 3. The Centre also amended various sections of the Indian Penal Code, the Code of Criminal Procedure, the Indian Evidence Act and the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act.

The new law stated that an offender can be sentenced to a minimum of 20year prison sentence for rape and, in the event the victim dies, death penalty. Perpetrators of acid attack will get a 10-year jail term. But the law refused to criminalize marital rape, which disappointed many activists. Ranjana Kumari, a women’s activist and director of the Center for Social Research think-tank, said, “If bodily integrity is the issue, and consent is the issue, than certainly rape in marriage should be included.”

The definition of rape was expanded to include penetration by objects or any body part. “Sexual abuse in all its forms including sexual harassment was made illegal,” said India’s additional solicitor general, Indira Jaising. New laws aimed at safeguarding women were passed; the Parliament overhauled its criminal code and criminalized offences such as stalking, sexual harassment and voyeurism.

Fast-track courts were established to speed up trials in sexual assault cases which earlier took years to conclude. Some ten months after the crime, such a court found four of the adult suspects guilty on all counts and sentenced the men to death by hanging.

“We have a collective responsibility to ensure the dignity and safety of women”, said Finance Minister P. Chidambaram, while announcing women’s-focused initiatives as part of the 2013 federal budget.

Delhi Police set up women help desks at police stations and a Crime Against Women Cell was established for redressal of complaints and grievances of women in distress.

In the spotlight

The gang rape triggered a wave of nation-wide protests demanding stricter laws and better safeguards to combat violence against women. The widespread media coverage of the case has also led to an increased awareness of the issue. The assault sparked public dialogue on patriarchy, which many blamed to be the crux for lack of respect of women in India. It helped alter the way many perceive victims of sexual violence as well as women who are victims of sexual violence see themselves.

“Rape victims are no longer considered outcasts. Stories of rape survivors are now being used as a medium to instil courage to fight sex crimes in India,” said Ranjana Kumari.

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“Women have been forthcoming in reporting crimes against them. They have been empowered by law and the response of civil society,” said Jaising. This view is shared by K. T. S. Tulsi, a senior lawyer practicing in the Supreme Court of India. According to the lawyer, the social stigma associated with rape is getting reduced. “Girls are becoming more assertive and they are open to complaining. They don’t feel that the society is going to stigmatize them.”

This development is supported by the latest government figures. According to local media reports, 1,330 cases of rape were reported to police in New Delhi this year until October, against 706 cases for the whole of 2012 (via The Hindu).

Safeguarding women at work

“The sense of security at the workplace will improve women’s participation in work, resulting in their economic empowerment and inclusive growth,” said the Indian government in a statement after the law was passed. The Supreme Court is one of the most high-profile bodies to have set up an internal committee to combat sexual harassment. Many other private and state-run companies have now setup a mechanism to address violence in the workplace, although many more are yet to.

Challenges ahead

Experts say that a lot still needs to be done to make women feel safe in the country, as there has been little progress made in addressing the attitudes that legitimize violence and discrimination against women. “Rape cultures are nourished by norms, attitudes, and practices that trivialize, tolerate, or even condone violence against women,” Ranjana Kumari explains.

“The subject of gender sensitization must be introduced from the grass root level in schools, colleges and the workplace. We need to educate men and women on women’s rights under the law and work with communities to develop a gender sensitive society that is underpinned by respect and equality,” the rights activist said.

This view is supported by Kamini Jaiswal, a legal expert and lawyer at India’s Supreme Court, who believes that in order to bring about real change, it is imperative to empower all women, most of whom are still financially and emotionally dependent on their male relatives. “What we see in the bigger cities and metros is not the true picture. Women can barely raise their head and voice in most households. This needs to be dealt with literacy because most women don’t even know their rights.”

Despite the increased attention on women’s issues, crimes against women are on the rise. In the latest high profile case, police arrested the editor-in-chief of India’s leading investigative magazine, Tehelka, after a female colleague accused him of sexually assaulting her. Following this was a similar case where an intern filed accusations of sexual assault against a retired Supreme Court judge.

“The concern for personal security and perceived increase danger to women as a result of the rape cases was perhaps a factor in US students’ decision regarding study in India,” said Nancy Powell, U.S. ambassador to India. Fear of violence has even deterred some students and tourists from travelling to India.

But, this is not enough. India still needs to go a long way if it wants its women to feel safe, respected and socially accepted.

 

Disclaimer: This article has also been published on Women’s Web

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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The vicious circle of menstrual taboos

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“Today I learned something new at school. Periods. Mamma says I’m a big girl now. I should be careful and should not talk about it in front of Papa and my brother. I should also sit with closed legs and behave properly.”

These are some of the eternal statements that young girls usually get to hear from their mothers. I don’t really remember the story of my first menses, but they were a few taboos that I found unacceptable even back then as a teen and upon which I would now like to throw some light.

I find it very problematic that most of the mothers don’t discuss this with their daughters before they begin to menstruate. This discussion always takes place after the shock and for a girl between the ages of 10-14 or even younger, it really does come as a shock to see their favourite dress stained with blood one fine day all of a sudden. Some might even think that they are sick or got themselves hurt ‘in the place where they pee from’. Yes, that’s what it’s called. I have had experiences of mothers either pointing downwards or using the phrase above but never really explaining things the right way.

Then there is the school which plays its part in further hushing up the topic and creating more confusion in the minds of young girls and majorly in boys as well. I remember when we once had a seminar on menses when I was in the seventh grade. Mine hadn’t started yet, but I had a vague idea about them. While the boys were sent out to play, the girls were made to gather in a room where they were introduced to menstruation and sanitary napkins for the first time. As expected later, the girls were all giggly and the boys were seen strutting around, hinting that they knew what it was all about and additionally shouting out the names of popular sanitary napkin companies in order to embarrass the girls. Schools really do a great job in messing up young girls and boys in this regard because Instead of having a co-ed seminar and focusing on sensitising the topic, they go for the most convenient route they can find, which is by segregation.

Another thing that I remember during those first years was how I and/or the other girls were taught to keep this hushed up. So you should not mention it in front of your father, uncles, brothers, elders and such. Again, this kind of attitude just reinforces the fact that menstruation is something to be embarrassed about and should be kept a secret. Or the time when you go to buy a packet of sanitary napkin, the discomfort you feel to tell the man standing behind the counter that you need Whisper Ultra which is then compounded by the fact that he in turn puts it into a black polythene bag. So nobody should see what a girl is carrying because it is shameful, right? In the later years that follow, boys again make fun of girls which further forces them to go inside their shells.

There was another incident where I got to know about yet another taboo around menses and this not time, it was not by an adult, but by a female friend who belonged to my age group. When I wanted to accompany my friend to a temple, I was prevented from doing so because according to the reason furnished by her, I was not allowed to enter the temple because I was menstruating. Since I am not a Hindu, I was not aware of this fact and apologised appropriately as I didn’t want to hurt the religious sentiments of my friend. Later I was explained that in Hinduism, as women are considered unclean during this period anything they touch is also believed to lose its power. So if they touch anything in the prayer room for instance, the deity that is being worshipped will leave and evil will take over the idol. One will then be praying to some spirit and not the deity one has in their mind and faith and the whole area would then have to be cleansed by calling a priest or a saint. Same goes for the kitchen. Menstruating women and girls should not enter the kitchen, touch the utensils or cook because yes, you’ve got it right, they are considered to be unclean and impure. At that time and during that age I did not realise that I was not doing something wrong, rather being wronged or that my brainwashed friend should be the one who should apologise in the first place. However, I don’t see it as her fault, she only reproduced what she had been taught was right.

Sadly, there are still a lot of women and not just middle-ages mothers and elderly grandmas but also many educated women who still contribute to the tabooing of menstruation and the process of shaming and embarrassing young girls on its account. We still do not take our ability to menstruate as a pride.

On this note, I would like to end my take on people’s attitude towards menstruation and the taboos surrounding it and would additionally recommend everyone to read Gloria Steinem’s If Men Could Menstruate for a hearty laugh and for taking pride in your monthly struggle.

Image courtesy: Menstrupedia
P.S. This article was originally published on Menstrupedia’s blog and later on The Alternative and Youth Ki Awaaz.