‘Gavahi’ – A WSS Book on Sexual Violence in South Chhattisgarh

 

This book is a comprehensive compilation of the incidents of sexual violence in South Chhattisgarh, drawing on independent investigations or joint fact findings by WSS.

Pre-order your copy by writing to booksbywss@gmail.com

Title – Gavahi
Language – Hindi
Cost – Rs100/- + Rs40/- postal charges if required.
Bulk orders accepted. Postal charges will be confirmed according to the quantity ordered.
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WSS Statement On The Sukma Encounter On August 6th 2018.

Immediate and independent probe of the alleged encounter killing of 15 ‘Naxals’ in Sukma

The morning of August 6th 2018, preliminary news reports indicated that 15 ‘Naxals’ had been gunned down by the Chhattisgarh police in Sukma district. This encounter, the reports claimed, also included injuries to two others, a man and a woman, who were then arrested. This encounter happened near Nalkatong village in the Mika Tong forests near Gollapalli and Konta Block of South Sukma. It was conducted by two teams of District Reserve Guard (DRG), Special Task Force (STF), Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and the elite Commando Battalion for Resolute Action (CoBRA) at roughly 6:30 am and it continued for roughly an hour. As per the SP of Sukma, this combined force numbering 200 personnel encircled and cordoned off a Maoist camp which appeared to have 20-25 militia members. The militia members, it is claimed, belonged to the tri-junction of Gollapalli, Konta and Bhejji areas. Bastar range Inspector General of Police Vivekananda Sinha has claimed that the exchange of fire lasted two hours and the Maoists had initiated the firing forcing the security forces to retaliate. According to Chhattisgarh’s Special Director General of Police (Anti-Naxal operations) DM Awasthi, the recovery of a large cache of arms, explosives and bodies of 15 Naxals along with the arrest of two is evidence of the success of the “biggest anti-Naxal operation in the history of Chhattisgarh”. Meanwhile, the police claim that they faced no setbacks in this operation and all their personnel returned safely to the base camp in Konta.

A day after all these claims, in Kistaram hundreds of women protested against this police action by calling it a ‘fake encounter’. The women protesting police action claim that all those killed were villagers working in their fields and none of them are Naxals. Following a visit to the site by Soni Sori and Lingaram Kodopi, it was revealed that the police force, in order to show their efficiency in combating Naxals in the area, shot and killed villagers. The villagers, harassed by intrusive search and combing operations in the area, were encircled and killed in indiscriminate firing. It seems some of the people killed are villagers from Gompad, the very village where two years ago a woman was raped and killed by the police and then declared a ‘Naxal’. The claim that any of them were Naxals was strongly opposed by the people resulting in questions about police action in the area. None of the villagers were armed. AAP leader and member of WSS, Soni Sori has asked, “If they were really Maoists, how come none of them had a single automatic weapon in a group of 15? The 15 dead included two brother and seven teenagers.” Soni Sori, Lingaram Kodopi and Ramdev Baghel, representatives of Aam Aadmi Party in the area, have raised serious doubts about the veracity of police claims by speaking with the villagers and have demanded an independent probe. Most crucially, the villagers have claimed that out of the 15 killed, six were minors aged between 14 and 17 years. All those killed were working in their fields when they were killed. The police encircled them in their fields and shot indiscriminately.

As per reports from the ground, villagers from four villages belonging to Mehta Panchayat – Nalkatong, Gompad, Kindrampada and Velpocha – including children between the ages of 14-17 from Nalkatong village were killed by the combined police team. Two people arrested include Madkam Budri, a woman from Nalkatong village who was shot in the leg and Vanjam Hunga from Velpocha village; both are now declared ‘Naxals’. The police are claiming both of them were apprehended during the operation. But the villagers claim that besides these two villagers, three more young adivasis are in police custody. Meanwhile, the villagers are being repeatedly beaten up, including pregnant women, in an effort to keep them quiet. The people from all these villages are clearly stating that there were no Naxals present among them and have invited independent probes to see for itself. It is crucial to note that Gompad is the very same village where two years ago Madkam Hidme, a young adivasi woman, was raped and killed after being declared a Naxal by the police. At that time too the villagers had come together and condemned the police action.

Meanwhile, Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh, Raman Singh, has called it a “big, successful and clean operation”. Just days before this operation, the chief minister had claimed that “either they should surrender and join the mainstream, or our forces are ready and Naxals will no longer be spared”. Minister for Home Affairs, Rajnath Singh, has also congratulated the police forces for this operation. The police claim that further search and combing operations are underway. On the one hand, DM Awasthi has claimed that the two teams were sent to the area following intelligence reports and, on the other, the SP of Sukma Abhishek Meena has claimed that “it was sheer chance that our forces spotted a Maoist camp along their route of operation and targeted the cadres. In the gun-battle, our men killed 15 Maoists on the spot”. Even as more questions are being raised regarding the incident on August 6th, the CRPF is planning to set up 17 more police camps in Sukma, Bijapur and Balrampur with two companies of CRPF in each wherein each company will roughly have 110 personnel.

In light of the contradictions in the police narrative and, more importantly, the claims made by the people of Nalkatong and the adjoining villages, it is clear that an immediate and independent probe is needed to ascertain the events in the night and morning of 5th and 6th August 2018. The history of sexual violence and police excess in the area raises apprehensions of an orchestrated operation meant to project ‘success’ for the Chhattisgarh police and boost the morale of the forces in the area. The impact of such operations on the people of Chhattisgarh, especially the adivasis of Bastar region, needs to seen in light of increasing repression on people, the easy and convenient branding of adivasis as ‘Naxals’ and the policy of killing villagers during the monsoons in the days leading up to the Independence Day creating an environment of police terror in the region. WSS condemns the beating up of the villagers including pregnant women by the Chhattisgarh police and paramilitary, all efforts made to silence the people of Sukma, and demand an immediate end to such practices including setting up of camps, intrusive combing operations, harassment of villagers, and threats to the lives of people daring to protest police excess. WSS is alarmed by reports of seven minors being killed in this operation and demands that the police and CRPF immediately cease actions wherein people are shot in cold blood in the name of combating Naxalism. Civil Liberties Committee (CLC) has filed a PIL in the Supreme Court with a prayer to file 302 IPC against paramilitary forces who have killed villagers, asked for the constitution of a judicial enquiry, a review of the post-mortem, called for a stay of auxiliary promotions to the paramilitary personnel, and appealed for the establishment of a criminal investigation by the CBI or set up SIT to investigate the killings. WSS stands in solidarity and supports this petition by CLC. Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS) calls on all democratic forces to take note of the appeal made by the villagers of the Mehta Panchayat in Sukma and probe the incident immediately and judiciously.

Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS)

Conveners: Ajita, Nisha, Rinchin and Shalini; Contact: againstsexualviolence@gmail.com

Statement Of Solidarity For Prof. Shoma Sen From The Academic Community

RELEASE PROFESSOR SHOMA SEN!

Statement of Solidarity from the Academic Community

On the Occasion of Prof. Sen’s 60th Birthday

We, the undersigned members of the academic community, are shocked and outraged at the arrest and detention of Professor Shoma Sen on 6 June 2018. The arrests of Prof Sen and four other activist intellectuals were carefully coordinated across states, and come in the wake of the assertion of Dalit, Adivasi, OBC, Muslim unity during the Bhima Koregaon Shaurya Din Prerna Abhiyan organised by the ‘Elgaar Parishad’ in Shaniwarwada in Pune on 31st December 2017. Prof Shoma Sen, who heads the Department of English at Nagpur University, has been charged under various stringent sections of the UAPA, and has been accused of, among other things, inciting the violence in January through her speeches; of doing so on behalf of the banned CPI (Maoist); of having links with, and harbouring fugitive members of this party at various times; and of fundraising for them. Following her arrest just six weeks before she was due to retire, Prof Sen was suspended from duty at Nagpur University, pending the result of her trial. Currently lodged in the Yerwada Central Jail in Pune under inhumane conditions, she is suffering from severe arthritis and other medical complications and continues to be denied basic facilities like a cot to sleep on and a commode.

Prof Shoma Sen is a respected intellectual and has been an active scholar in the fields of post-colonialism and women’s studies for several  decades. She has also been a long time Dalit and women’s rights  activist, and has advocated the rights of the underprivileged, the deprived, the poor and the powerless. She is a valued member of the  University community, and an important voice in the struggle to uphold human rights. She has travelled to deliver lectures and talks, and is a popular teacher, with a passionate interest in reading, researching and teaching literature and women’s studies. She is also a member of the collective Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS). A respected intellectual active in the fields of post-colonialism and women’s studies for over three decades, Prof Sen was to retire on August 1st, her 60th birthday, with the release of a festschrift in her honour, an edited volume of writings by several friends and colleagues. Instead, it seems, she will spend her 60th in a jail cell without basic medical care or friends and family. After decades of advocating for the rights of the marginalised, standing in solidarity with democratic voices in this country, and ardently fighting for the rights of women  everywhere, Shoma Sen is now one more voice of democracy imprisoned.

Prof Shoma Sen’s arrest is part of the State’s ongoing efforts to intimidate and silence people who have been outspoken or critical of its anti-people policies. It is a matter of considerable concern that dissenting intellectuals and activists are being targetted for arrest under the draconian UAPA. After all the University is a space for dialogue, the exploration and critique of ideas and society, and for creative action. If Shoma Sen was resisting inequalities, it is her constitutional right as a citizen and a crucial part of her job as an intellectual to do so. Dialogue and dissent must remain a crucial part of  any democratic society. The repression of these is a giant step toward fascism. Vindictive and excessive state action is completely unacceptable in a democracy.

We condemn these arrests unequivocally and call for the immediate, unconditional release of Prof Sen and the others who were arrested with her. We demand that her suspension be revoked at once.

1.  A. Mangai (Dr. V. Padma), Associate Professor in English (Retd),
Stella Maris College, Chennai
2.  Abha Sur, Lecturer, Program in Women’s & Gender Studies,
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA 02139
3.  Abhijit Sen, Professor (Retd), Jawaharlal Nehru University
4.  Adiyta Nigam, Professor, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi
5.  Amber Habib, Professor, Department of Mathematics, Shiv Nadar University
6.  Amit Bhaduri, Professor Emeritus, Jawaharlal Nehru University
7.  Amrita Pande, Associate Professor, University of Cape Town, South Africa
8.  Anand Chakravarti, Retired Professor, Delhi University
9.  Anandhi S., Professor, Madras Institute of Development Studies, Chennai
10.  Angela Y. Davis, Distinguished Professor Emerita, History of
Consciousness and Feminist Studies, University of California, Santa
Cruz
11.  Anirban Kar, Associate Professor, Delhi School of Economics,
Delhi University
12.  Aniruddha Das, Associate Professor, Dept of Neuroscience &
Zuckerman Institute, Columbia University, New York
13.  Anita Ghai, Ambedkar University, Delhi
14.  Anjali Monteiro, Professor, Tata Institute of Social Sciences
15.  Anupama Potluri, Assistant Professor, University of Hyderabad
16.  Anuradha Banerji, Researcher, New Delhi
17.  Anushka Singh, Ambedkar University, Delhi
18.  Ashley Tellis, Associate Professor in English Literature and
Gender Studies, Independent Scholar
19.  Ashok Prasad, Associate Professor, Colorado State University,
Fort Collins, USA
20.  Atul Sood, Professor, Centre for the Study of Regional
Development, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi
21.  Balmurli Natrajan, Professor, William Paterson University of New Jersey
22.  Bela Bhatia, Independent Researcher, Bastar, Chhattisgarh
23.  Bittu K., Associate Professor, Ashoka University
24.  Brinelle D’Souza, Faculty Member, Tata Institute of Social Sciences
25.  C.P. Chandrasekhar, Professor, Centre for Economic Studies &
Planning, Jawaharlal Nehru University
26.  Carmel Christy K J, Assistant Professor, Kamla Nehru College,
Delhi University
27.  David Ludden, Professor and Chair, Department of History, New
York University
28.  Debjani Sengupta, IP College, Delhi University
29.  Deepika Tandon, Associate Professor, Department of English,
Miranda House, Delhi University
30.  Dolly Kikon, Lecturer, University of Melbourne
31.  Drago Župarić-Iljić, PhD, Researcher, Institute for Migration and
Ethnic Studies, Zagreb
32.  Elizabeth Abraham, Research Fellow, Inter University Centre For
Social Science Research, Mahatama Gandhi Universty, Kottayam
33.  G. Vijay, Member of Faculty, School of Economics, University of Hyderabad
34.  Geetam Tiwari, Professor, Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi
35.  Hari Sen, Associate Professor in History, Ramjas College,
University of Delhi
36.  Harjinder (Laltu) Singh, Professor, IIIT Hyderabad
37.  Himanshu, Phd Student, Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Education, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai
38.  Inderpal Grewal, Professor, Yale University
39.  Indira Vijaysimha, Associate Professor, Azim Premji University, Bangalore
40.  Indira C, Researcher, Public Health, Pune and Delhi
41.  J Devika, Professor, Center for Development Studies, Kerala
42.  Jayati Ghosh, Professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University New Delhi
43.  K.P. Jayasankar, Professor, Tata Institute of Social Sciences
44.  Karen Gabriel, Associate Professor, Dept of English, Director,
Centre for Gender, Culture and Social Processes, St. Stephen’s
College, Delhi University
45.  Karuna DW, Independent Researcher, Chennai
46.  Kavita Punjabi, Jadavpur University
47.  Kranti Saran, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Ashoka University
48.  Lata Singh, Centre for Women’s Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University
49.  Mamatha Karollil, Assistant Professor, Ambedkar University, Delhi
50.  Manpreet Kaur Kang, Professor of English, School of Humanities & Social Sciences, Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, New Delhi
51.  Manu Bhagavan, Professor of History and Human Rights, Hunter
College and the Graduate Center-The City University of New York
52.  Mary E. John, Centre for Women’s Development Studies, New Delhi
53.  Meena Alexander, Distinguished Professor of English, Hunter
College and the Graduate Center, CUNY
54.  Meena Gopal, Professor, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai
55.  Nalini Nayak, Associate Professor (Retd), Delhi University
56.  Nandini Sundar, Professor of Sociology, Delhi School of
Economics, Delhi University
57.  Nandini Manjrekar, Professor, TISS Mumbai
58.  Nandini Nayak, Assistant Professor, Ambedkar University, Delhi
59.  Nandita Narain, Associate Professor, St. Stephen’s College, Delhi
University (Former President, DUTA and FEDCUTA)
60.  Navjeevan Singh, Retired Director, Professor of Pathology,
University College of Medical Sciences, Delhi University
61.  Navsharan Singh, Senior Researcher, Delhi
62.  Neeraj Malik, Retired Professor, Delhi University
63.  Nisha Biswas, Scientist, CSIR
64.  Niti Saxena, Independent Researcher, Lucknow
65.  Nivedita Menon, Professor, Jawaharlal Nehri University, New Delhi
66.  Padmaja Shaw, Retd Professor, Journalism, Osmania University, Hyderabad
67.  Panchali Ray, Assistant Professor, School of Women’s Studies,
Jadavpur University
68.  Paula Chakravartty, Associate Professor , Department of Media,
Culture and Communication and the Gallatin School, New York University
69.  Prabhat Patnaik, Professor Emeritus, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi
70.  Pradeep Kumar Datta, Professor, Centre for Comparative Politics
and Political Theory, Jawaharlal Nehru University
71.  Probal Dasgupta, Professor, Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata
72.  Queeny Pradhan, Professor, GGS Indraprastha University, Delhi
73.  R Robinson, Faculty Member, Indian Institute of Technology
74.  Rachana Johri, Professor, Ambedkar University, Delhi
75.  Radha Ramaswamy, Founder Trustee, Centre for Commuity Dialogue and Change, Bangalore
76.  Ragini Shah, Clinical Professor of Law, Suffolk University
77.  Rahul Govind, Assistant Professor, University of Delhi
78.  Rajeshwari Sunder Rajan, Professor, New York University
79.  Rajiv Jha, Associate Professor, Shri Ram College of Commerce,
University of Delhi
80.  Rajni Palriwala, Professor of Sociology, Delhi School of
Economics, Delhi University
81.  Rakesh Ranjan, Assistant Professor, Shri Ram College of Commerce, University of Delhi
82.  Ranjana Padhi, Independent Researcher, Odisha
83.  Rina Ramdev, Associate Professor, Department of English, Sri
Venkateswara College, Delhi University
84.  Rita Kothari, Professor (English), Ashoka University
85.  Rochelle Pinto, Independent Researcher
86.  Ruchi Chaturvedi, Senior Lecturer, University of Cape Town
87.  Rupal Oza, Associate Professor, The Department of Women and
Gender Studies, Hunter College, CUNY, New York
88.  S. Durga Bhavani, Associate Professor, School of Computer and
Info Sciences, University of Hyderabad
89.  Sabeena Gadihoke, Professor, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi
90.  Sadhna Saxena, Professor, Delhi University
91.  Sadhna Arya, Associate Professor, Satywati College, University of Delhi
92.  Sandeep Kumar Pattnaik, Researcher, Bhubaneswar, Odisha
93.  Sangeeta Luthra Sharma, Associate Professor, Department of
History, St. Stephens College, Delhi University
94.  Sanghamitra Misra, Assistant Professor, University of Delh
95.  Sanjay Palshikar, Professor, University of Hyderabad
96.  Sanjay (Xonxoi) Barbora, Professor, Tata Institute of Social Sciences
97.  Sasha Karma Yangchen, Assistant Professor of English, University of Delhi
98.  Satish Kolluri, Associate Professor, Pace University, New York
99.  Satish Deshpande, Department of Sociology, Delhi University
100.  Shefali Chandra, Associate Professor of History, Washington
University in St. Louis
101.  Shirin M. Rai, Phd, FAcSS, Professor,, Department of Politics
and International Studies, University of Warwick, Coventry
102.  Shobha R, Law Student, Sheshadripuram Law College, Karnataka
State Law University
103.  Shobha Ghosh, Professor, Unversity of Mumbai
104.  Soniya Munshi, Assistant Professor, City University of New York
105.  Sujata Patel, Professor and National Fellow, Institute of
Advanced Study, Shimla
106.  Sujatha Surepally, Professor, Dept of Sociology, Satavahana University
107.  Sumit Sarkar, Retired Professor of History, Delhi University
108.  Sunanda Sen, Retired Professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University New Delhi
109.  Susie Tharu, Professor (Retd.), English and Foreign Languages
University, Hyderabad
110.  Svati Shah, Associate Professor, University of Massachusetts
111.  T M Thomas, Associate Professor (Retd), Deshbandhu College,
University of Delhi
112.  T. Sobha Rani, Associate Professor, University of Hyderabad
113.  Tanika Sarkar, Retired Professor of History, Jawaharlal Nehru
University, New Delhi
114.  Tulsi Srinivasan, Assistant Professor, Ashoka University
115.  Ujjwal Kumar Singh, Professor, Department of Political Science,
University of Delhi
116.  Uma Chakravarti, Retired Professor, Delhi University
117.  Utsa Patnaik, Professor Emeritus, Jawaharlal Nehru University New Delhi
118.  V. Geetha, Feminist Historian
119.  Vaibhav Vaish, INSPIRE Faculty Fellow, Indian Statistical
Institute, Bangalore Centre
120.  Vanessa Chishti, Assistant Professor, Jindal Law School
121.  Vikas Bajpai, Assistant Professor, Centre for Social Medicine
and Community Health, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi
122.  Vilas Ghogre, Masters student, University of Hyderabad
123.  Virginia Saldanha, Theologian, Indian Christian Womens’ Movement
124.  Zoya Hasan, Professor (Retd.), Jawaharlal Nehru University

WSS Statement On The Gender Discrimination And Transphobia Faced By Shanavi Ponnusamy

JUSTICE FOR SHANAVI PONNUSAMY
CONDEMN GENDER DISCRIMINATION AND TRANSPHOBIA

4 th Aug, 2018: Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS) strongly condemns the denial of a job by Air India to Shanavi Ponnusamy on account of her identifying herself as a transwoman. In a shameful but sadly commonplace instance of gender discrimination and transphobia, Shanavi was rejected multiple times by Air India for the cabin crew post once her identity as a transwoman was revealed.  Twenty six year old Shanavi comes from a deprived background and is the first graduate from her family in Tiruchendur in Thoothukudi district of Tamil Nadu. She graduated as an electronics and communication engineer in 2010 and had been denied employment  almost twenty four times because of her gender identity before she managed to secure a job with a private company, Sutherland Global Services (airline sector). She worked for over a year to gain experience during which she also served in customer care services for Air India (domestic and international) in Chennai, before applying for the post of female cabin crew in Air India for its Northern Region. Shanavi applied to the cabin crew post in Air India four times within a span of two years and has been repeatedly denied the job without any explanation, despite her possessing all the necessary qualifications and fulfilling the eligibility criteria.

Since Shanavi identifies as a woman, it is in this category that she applied for the job. As per the NALSA judgement “transgender persons’ right to decide their self-identified gender” is upheld. However, most education boards are in violation of the NALSA judgment because they have not changed the names and genders on the educational documents of transgender people to reflect their preferred name and gender. It is saddening that Shanavi was forced to disclose her personal history as a transgender woman to Air India, just by submitting her documents. From this point onward, she was subjected to enormous ridicule and hostility for identifying as transgender during the qualifying process for the job. In the context of this ridicule, is it any surprise that the examiners gave her a low score in the entirely subjective category of “personality”? When Shanavi wrote to the Prime Minister’s Office for redressal, her complaint was forwarded to the Ministry for Civil Aviation to seek redressal where she was blatantly told that the transgender category “does not exist in the recruitment policy and if this category is introduced anytime in future we will advertised vacancies accordingly”! This is in clear violation of the landmark NALSA judgment of the Supreme Court of India passed in 2014 which unequivocally directs ‘the Centre and the State Governments to extend all kinds of reservation in cases of admission in educational institutions and for public appointments’ to transgender persons in an effort to remedy the extreme marginalization and oppression experienced by the community. In Shanavi’s case, where she identifies herself primarily as a woman, applying under transgender category becomes important in order to avail of the affirmative action programme as promised by the landmark NALSA judgment of the Supreme Court of India passed in 2014. However, the absence of such a category can not be cited as a barrier to her employment. Significantly, the NALSA judgment also upholds the right to identify with the gender of one’s choice. Therefore, we believe that people should be 1able to apply as women/men /transgender based on their self-declared gender identity, regardless of whether they were assigned that gender at birth. Secondly, if there is any discrepancy with the name and gender on education certificates, or if the candidate were to reveal their transgender identity, they should be considered for affirmative action – that is, hired in preference over other applicants who have similar qualifications. Hiring under such affirmative action policies should not be revealed in the workplace by the employer after the employee is hired so that they can work in a stigma-free environment if they choose, and persons hired in the transgender category should be able to chose the gender of their choice to function in the workplace without being forced to stick to the transgender category. Finally, some employees may transition after joining a workplace under a different gender category and the workplace should support this transition.

With no scope for redressal in sight, Shanavi eventually approached the Supreme Court in November 2017 following which the apex court sent a notice to the Ministry of Civil Aviation and Air India directing them to respond to Shanavi’s grievances within four weeks. However, in utter disregard to the court directive, both the Ministry of Civil Aviation and  Air India continued to remain apathetic and unresponsive which compelled Shanavi to take a drastic step and write a letter to the President of India seeking mercy killing. In the letter, which was written in February 2018, Shanavi describes her inability to continue with this arduous legal battle especially since she is struggling to meet even her daily expenses due to lack of employment. Most importantly, she asserts that by denying her employment, the government is also denying her the fundamental constitutionally guaranteed right to live  her life with dignity and self- respect. Shanavi’s ordeal was only exacerbated when Air India made public statements citing her low scores on the entirely subjective “personality test” as an excuse for not hiring her, despite the fact that any subjective measure would be subject to bias and prejudice against transgender persons. They further began a vicious slander campaign against Shanavi, debunking her case as an attempt to “arm twist” Air India and a “gross abuse of the process of law”. In their abhorrent counter-affidavit filed months past the stipulated time in the Supreme Court as a response to Shanavi’s petition, Air India disparagingly described Shanavi as “inefficient” and “lacking in merit”. The meritocratic argument has been used historically against the assertions made by the socially oppressed groups and it only goes on to expose the deeply pervasive casteist and brahminical attitudes prevalent in our society.

They even stated they would want to file a defamation case for damages against her over the perceived loss to their reputation. Do they even imagine what it means for a transwoman, who has suffered indignity, discrimination and rejection all her life to assert herself and struggle and come to this stage!? Here’s the country’s first ever transperson, in  our 70 years of independence, who could be a potential cabin crew and this is how AI seeks to treat her! Is this how the Central Govt. seeks to implement the directions of the Supreme Court in the NALSA Judgement, 2014, that states that transgender persons must not be discriminated against and that the State must take all possible measures to pro-actively provide employment through affirmative action and even reservations?

Shanavi’s ordeal is indicative of the larger oppression faced by the transgender community within the country. The discriminatory practices against them have continued unabated despite the presence of progressive legislations such as the NALSA judgment. The judgment significantly posits gender identification as an ‘essential component required for enjoying civil rights’. Due to their stigmatized and disadvantaged position in society, a widespread exclusion from most forms of employment, and the lack of recognition of their chosen gender identities, transgender persons have been historically deprived of their legitimate natural and constitutional rights. Transgender persons are most vulnerable to sexual violence and other forms of discrimination and social exclusion which include lack of access to education, employment, housing, basic medical facilities, etc. The degree of vulnerability increases in case of individuals belonging to the bottom of the caste and class hierarchy and many transgender women are left with no option but to self organize and eke out stigmatized livelihoods such as sex work and begging for basic subsistence. Furthermore, vast numbers of transgender people are driven out by their families and the lack of familial and peer support aggravates their precarious social existence. In addition, persistent experiences of misgendering, shame, stigma, lack of recognition, rejection and a general lack of sensitization and awareness about their lives increases the risk of severe mental illnesses and suicide within the transgender population.

It is, therefore, shocking that despite being one of the most vulnerable and marginalized groups requiring legal protections, the transgender community has become a subject of mockery by the lawmakers themselves. On July 31, Alka Lamba, the serving MLA from the Aam  Aadmi Party (AAP) derisively described transgender persons as ‘beech wale’ (middle- ones) who clap loudly (“thaali peetna”) in a tweet. The remark was made in her apparent criticism of a political rival on Twitter in which she condescendingly stated that, “Even the ‘middle ones’ don’t clap so much as this person does single handedly… Clever people understand by a mere gesture”. For her to reiterate stereotypes in a bid to insult someone, and to further describe the hijra community as “beech vale” smacks of bigotry. This comes at a time when her party, AAP, has pushed for a transgender welfare board to be created in Delhi, and her stand flies in the face of the stand of the Delhi government. A few days prior to this in July, Maneka Gandhi disparagingly referred to the transgender persons as the ‘other ones’ during the parliamentary debate on the Anti- Trafficking Bill, 2018. Her comment was received with widespread laughter by the male Members of Parliament who were also seen smirking and thumping the tables. The comments made by Ms. Gandhi, who is ironically the Minister for Women and Child Development, are reflective of how the legislature is deeply implicated  in perpetuating the worst kind of stereotypes against transgender persons. Ms. Gandhi had to later issue a public apology and retract her statements following huge outrage over her comments. WSS condemns in the strongest possible terms the crude and irresponsible remarks made by Ms. Gandhi which not only serve to trivialize the dehumanizing treatment routinely meted out to transgender persons but also reinforces the existing prejudices and the social exclusion which they face as a stigmatized community.

The comments made by Ms. Gandhi and Ms. Lamba are reflective of how the legislature is deeply implicated in perpetuating the worst conceivable stereotypes against transgender 3persons. The ‘Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill, 2018’ which was passed in the Lok Sabha on 26 th July 2018, criminalizes sex work and begging, which are very often the only source of livelihood for transgender persons owing to their precarious socio-economic condition. The Bill creates a new category of ‘aggravated trafficking’ which elevates begging as a crime over other forms of trafficking and  also criminalizes the supply of hormone therapy commonly used by transgender persons while transitioning. The punishment for ‘aggravated trafficking’ offences is rigorous imprisonment ranging from ten years to life imprisonment along with a minimum fine of one lakh rupees. The bill also criminalizes “fraud for procuring or producing, printing, issuing or distributing unissued, tampered or fake certificates”, which could be used to penalize transgender persons whose gender or name doesn’t not match with that on the legal and ID documents they have acquired in good faith. The Bill also recommends patronizing solutions under the garb of ‘protection and rehabilitation’ such as sending adult victims to rehabilitation homes or repatriating them to the places of their origin within the country. The Bill calls for  creation of additional bureaucratic apparatuses and gives arbitrary powers to the judiciary and the police. It must be noted that the drafting of the anti-trafficking bill was not preceded by any study or research conveying the ground realities and was passed hurriedly without holding any discussions with the stakeholders. The recommendations made by the Supreme Court- appointed panel suggesting community-based approach to rehabilitation and revising outmoded laws such as Immoral Trafficking Prevention Act (ITPA) were also ignored entirely in the course of the drafting. The Anti-Trafficking Bill, thus, reduces trafficking to a law and order problem by ignoring its socio-economic dimensions and grossly violates the dignity and autonomy of the persons identified as ‘victims’. WSS demands that this bill should be referred to a standing committee of the Parliament and not allowed to pass the Rajya Sabha without extensively consultations with begging and sex work communities, including transgender and cisgender members of these communities.

The ‘Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2016’ which is pending in the parliament displays an extremely problematic understanding of transgender identity and calls for the creation of lengthy and bureaucratic hurdles for the recognition of transgender  identity by the state. The Bill even encodes discrimination by prescribing lower punishments for physical and sexual assaults upon transgender persons than upon cisgender women. While not providing any reservations or anti-discriminatory punitive measures for  transgender persons, in complete violation of the leaps made by the NALSA judgment, the bill criminalizes the tradition of community begging and community living which sustains the transgender community in the wake of exclusion from all other spaces and sources  of livelihood. WSS demands that the ‘Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2016’ be revisited in the framework of NALSA and should be extensively discussed with the transgender community before it is passed in haste.

WSS reiterates its support to Shanavi Ponnusamy and upholds her constitutionally guaranteed right to identify with the gender of her choice. We also extend our solidarity with Shanavi’s struggle for trans-inclusive and non-discriminatory workplaces in both public and private sectors.

We demand that:
• The NALSA judgment must be implemented and upheld in both letter and spirit in the court of law not only through the recognition of the discrimination by Air India but also by assuring Shanavi of her livelihood and her right to live with dignity as already enshrined in Article 21 of the Constitution of India.
• We demand that transgender persons be allowed to select the category of their choice while applying for jobs and that a transgender category be provided instead of just male or female while seeking employment in accordance with the NALSA judgment passed by the Supreme Court of India in 2014.
• All educational boards should immediately comply with the spirit of the NALSA judgment and change the name and gender of the past education certificates issued to transgender persons, upon receipt of their changed government identity documents.
• Shanavi’s fundamental right to privacy and that of all transgender persons applying for jobs, with respect to the revelation of their transgender identity, should be upheld. The outing of Shanavi’s identity as a transwoman in the course of the struggle has already hampered her prospects of seeking alternative employment, thereby exacerbating her vulnerability.
• The ‘Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and  Rehabilitation) Bill, 2018’ in its current form must be withdrawn and should be reviewed by the Standing Committee of the parliament in deliberation with all the stakeholders.
• The ‘Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2016’ must be revisited in the framework of NALSA and should be extensively discussed with the transgender community before it is passed in haste.
• AAP MLA Alka Lamba must issue a public apology and withdraw the insensitive and highly problematic comments made by her against the transgender community.
• Reporters who cover these stories are urged to move beyond describing all transgender persons as “third gender” and instead use “transgender persons”, with an understanding that these persons’ primary identity may or may not be transgender – they must be asked the preferred name and gender and be consistently referred to in that name and gender. The media should please note that transgender people do not “become” the gender of their choice and stop using the wrong pronouns to refer to transgender people prior to any medical transition – transgender persons may have identified with the gender of their choice for years before any medical intervention and when they choose to have medical procedures is a deeply personal decision that is irrelevant to reporting on transgender persons.

Vasantha Kumari’s Statement Of Defence Against Fabricated News

I condemn and firmly deny the false statements made by Ankur Sharma of www.mynation.com in an article updated on 8th July 2018 on the same website. This article, without citing any reference, says that the Ministry of Home Affairs has released a report wherein it has been stated that I have “met Jharkhand officials and ministers asking them to lift the ban imposed on the PFI and Mazdoor Sangathan Samiti (MSS)”. This is completely false. Though there is nothing wrong in anyone approaching officials and ministers to lift any ban, the fact is that I have never even been to Jharkhand in more than a decade and have not approached anybody, whether ministers or officials, anywhere, whether in Jharkhand or elsewhere in this regard. I strongly deny this claim and condemn such dubious news reports aiming to accuse me of false allegations.
This false statement has been made with the malicious intent to target me, my family and particularly, my husband, Prof. GN Saibaba. In the current atmosphere of intolerance and abuse of law, I fear for the well-being and safety of my family. I request all activists, friends, concerned citizens and democratic organizations to condemn these fabrications and support me.
AS Vasantha Kumari
WSS
New Delhi
9th July 2018

Statement Condemning The Attack On Advocate Sudha Bharadwaj

Statement condemning the attack on Advocate Sudha Bhardwaj

We the undersigned wish to place on record our utter disgust, contempt and outrage at the latest in the series of machinations by Republic TV, working to its brief as a propagandist for the ongoing crusade against all those who take public stands in defence of democracy, secularism, human rights, Constitutional propriety and rule of law.

Republic TV’s latest target is Advocate Sudha Bharadwaj, National Secretary of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, Vice President of the Indian Association of Progressive Lawyers and Visiting Professor at the National Law University Delhi. She is widely-known for her three decades of work as a trade unionist, human rights defender, environmental lawyer and a respected advisor to several state institutions including the state legal aid bodies and the National Human Rights Commission. Continue reading

Public Statement By Advocate Sudha Bharadwaj In Response To Republic TV’s False, Malicious And Defamatory Allegations

PUBLIC STATEMENT BY ADVOCATE SUDHA BHARADWAJ,
Visiting Professor, National Law University Delhi and National Secretary, Peoples’ Union for Civil Liberties

I have been informed that Republic TV aired a programme on 4 July 2018, presented by anchor and MD Arnab Goswami as “Super Exclusive Breaking News”.

The programme, which is being repeatedly shown, contains a long list of ridiculous, scurrilous, false and completely unsubstantiated allegations against me. Goswami has claimed that I have written a letter (identifying myself as “Comrade Advocate Sudha Bharadwaj”) to a Maoist – one “Comrade Prakash” – stating that a “Kashmir like  situation” has to be created. I am also accused of having received money from Maoists. I am also said to have confirmed that various advocates, some of whom I know as excellent human rights lawyers and others whom I do not know at all, had some sort of Maoist link.

I firmly and categorically deny that the letter referred to by Goswami –  if at all such a document exists – has ever been written by me. I firmly refute all the allegations that the Republic TV has made against me, defaming me, causing me professional and personal injury. In its programme, the Republic TV has not revealed the source of such a letter. I find it curious that a document purporting to contain evidence of such serious crimes should first surface in the studio of Arnab Goswami. Continue reading

Shoma Sen – Demonising a Beloved Teacher and Life-long Activist

Shoma Sen – Demonising a Beloved Teacher and Life-long Activist

A teacher, a reader and learner, an intellectual, an activist and a human rights defender. Shoma Sen is all of the above, and more. The state would like the world to believe that she is involved in ‘anti-national’ activities, but that’s the price that many citizens are paying today for asserting their right to speak out, to dissent, and understand and articulate the world around them.

The early years

Social institutions, thriving on feudal patriarchal notions are disapproving of women’s participation in production and laud her reproductive roles; violence against women at the familial and societal level is given social sanction and women are confined to a dependent life within the domestic space. Therefore, women’s access to economic and political activity itself is a first step to their participation in decision making processes rather than the symbolic steps towards their “empowerment” that are seen in this system.

Shoma Sen, Contemporary Anti-Displacement Struggles and Women’s Resistance: A Commentary, Sanhati, November 3, 2010

Shoma spent her early years in Bandra in what was then Bombay. The 1970’s were a turbulent period. At that time, almost everyone had sympathies with the Left. While in college, she was with the Vidyarthi Pragati Sanghatana (VPS) and she edited Kalam, the student magazine. She was involved in supporting the workers during the textile strike in Mumbai of the 1980’s. During this time, Shoma became a lecturer in Mumbai and a part of Committee for the Protection of Democratic Rights (CPDR), and helping bring out the CPDR magazine, Adhikar Raksha.

Shoma moved from Bombay to Nagpur, where her daughter Koel was born. Shoma spent the next few decades of her life living in Nagpur with her partner and daughter, teaching in colleges and working to build a democratic movement that recognises and fights for the rights of the most marginalised and vulnerable sections of society. Shoma and Koel stood by her partner throughout the difficult times that he was arrested and released between 2007 and 2017. 

Working with women

As Shoma says (ibid), “If democracy and development are to be really meaningful to women in India, then ways must be evolved to include women in these processes and not simply make symbolic gestures for their empowerment.”

Shoma’s home has always been a refuge for women struggling to survive and make ends meet; she has done everything in her power to help them fight an unjust system. She is an active member of the national collective, Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS). She was an early member of the Nagpur-based Stree Chetna. She later became the founder convener of the Committee against Violence on Women (CAVOW) and edited its magazine, Stree Garjana. The organisation took part in fact finding visits to examine the implementation of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in Manipur after Thangjam Manorama’s brutal killing in 2004 and the allegations of sexual violence by the Salwa Judum in South Bastar in Chhattisgarh. CAVOW also played a role in organising legal aid for many women political prisoners during the early 2000s. Shoma also convened an adivasi mahila sammelan at Ranchi in March 2006. She has been a long-time Dalit and women’s rights activist, advocating for the rights of the marginalised and powerless. In an essay titled ‘The Village and the City: Dalit Feminisms in the Autobiographies of Baby Kamble and Urmila Pawar’, she looks at the ways in which mainstream feminism has tended to ignore the problems of caste, resulting in a distinct Dalit feminism that acknowledges patriarchal oppression from outside and within communities. In 2011, she was a part of Indian Association of Women’s Studies (IAWS) national conference in Wardha. In recent years, Shoma has been involved with Committee for the Protection of Democratic Rights (CPDR) in Nagpur. She has been helping voices of resistance be heard, voices that are being silenced everywhere in the current socio-political climate.

A life spent teaching

We are appalled and outraged by the arrest of Sen, one of our most distinguished and popular teachers in English. She is also a scholar of national repute in the domains of culture studies and critical theory.”

Supantha Bhattacharya, associate professor & colleague, Nagpur University, Times of India, June 20, 2018

Shoma got involved with the Women’s Studies department at Wardha’s Hindi Vishwavidyalaya, and being fluent in Hindi, often helped cover the shortage of teachers and examiners. She taught in ad hoc positions in several colleges, like the People’s Welfare Society (PWS) College in Indora, Nagpur, leaving home (and her then young daughter) early in the morning to get to work. After college hours, she would visit women (many of them Dalits and victims of domestic violence) in the slums and ghettos of Nagpur to discuss their issues and concerns.

She joined Rashtrasant Tukadoji Maharaj Nagpur University, heading its English department. As a teacher, she was appreciated by both students and seniors. Promoted as Head of Department and respected for her intellect, Shoma has been an active scholar in the fields of post-colonialism and women’s studies for several decades. Her articles have appeared in scholarly publications such as the Economic and Political Weekly (EPW) and The Journal of Commonwealth Literature. She is a valued member of the University community and an important voice in the struggle to uphold human rights. She has travelled to deliver lectures and talks and is a popular teacher, with a passionate interest in reading, researching and teaching literature and women’s studies. Shoma is due to retire in July 2018 after more than three decades of exemplary service. Today, after all these years, her friends and colleagues are in shock at this brazen display of force by the police on her and the other four arrested, and wonder if this is the fate that awaits all those who speak out against poverty, inequalities and injustice.

Now, days before she was scheduled to retire in June 2018, the university, where she spent so many years of her professional life, suspended her for being detained by the police under various sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

The state that confronts its own citizens

With fifty per cent of the population largely deprived from economic and political activity, such a democracy cannot be real in any sense and the participation of women in struggles is a process of democratisation. If the gender axis of such struggles is sharpened then this trajectory is more likely to lead to equality and women’s liberation.”

Shoma Sen, Contemporary Anti-Displacement Struggles and Women’s Resistance: A Commentary, November 3, 2010 in Sanhati

Shoma was arrested in pre-dawn raids conducted simultaneously across four cities along with four others. They were Surendra Gadling, a respected lawyer who fought multiple pro bono cases for adivasis, dalits and political prisoners and General Secretary, Indian Association of Peoples’ Lawyers (IAPL); Sudhir Dhawale, founder, Republican Panthers Jaatiya Antachi Chalwal (Republican Panthers Caste Annihilation Movement) and editor, Vidrohi magazine; Rona Wilson, public relations secretary of Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners (CRPP) and Mahesh Raut, anti-displacement activist and former Prime Minister Rural Development Fellow (PMRDF). All those arrested have at various times spoken against the brutalities committed by state forces and the police against its citizens and have fought for the release of political prisoners. These arrests come in the wake of the assertion of dalit, adivasi, OBC and Muslim unity during the Bhima Koregaon Shaurya Din Prerna Abhiyan organised by the ‘Elgaar Parishad’ in Pune on December 31, 2017, and the attack by right wing organisations following the extraordinary unity among the communities.

Shoma has been charged under various stringent sections of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), and has been accused of, among other things, inciting the violence in January 2018 through speeches; of doing so on behalf of the banned CPI (Maoist); of having links with and harbouring fugitive members of this party at various times; and of fundraising for them. By charging her with extraordinary number of sections of the IPC and UAPA, the police want to project her as a “dreaded criminal” and this legal overreach is intended to ensure a prolonged stint in police and judicial custody, irrespective of the validity of the claims. These charges are meant to serve as a life sentence to the arrested by the police, reaffirmed through the media, even if the judicial system finds them innocent in the days to come. Her arrest is part of the State’s ongoing efforts to intimidate and silence people who have been outspoken or critical of its anti-people policies.

It is a matter of grave concern that dissenting intellectuals and activists are being targeted in this manner by the state. Most of the media too is playing its role as an “arm” of the government, instead of doing what it is supposed to do, i.e., to conduct independent investigation before publishing its stories and refraining from sensationalism and media trials.

After a lifetime of working for others, people like Shoma Sen are branded ‘anti-national’ by the Indian State. Humane and perceptive people who have spent their lives working to recognise, transform and build a more democratic society, are being treated as criminals waging war against ‘national interests’. Here, we must ask, whose interests are being served? Dialogue and dissent is a crucial part of any democratic society. The repression of these voices and vindictive and excessive state action is completely unacceptable in a free democracy.

Women against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS), a network of women working for a democratic society, against patriarchy, caste discrimination, communalism and bigotry, stands in solidarity with Shoma Sen and all those arrested under these unconscionable conditions and demands their immediate and unconditional release.