Monthly Archives: August 2018

WSS Statement On The Arrests of Sudha Bharadwaj, Vernon Gonsalves, Arun Ferreira, Gautam Navlakha and Varavara Rao

WSS Condemns Arrests of Sudha Bharadwaj, Vernon Gonsalves, Arun Ferreira, Gautam Navlakha and Varavara Rao

WSS strongly condemns targeted attack on democratic rights activists, blatantly retributive actions of Maharashtra Police and demands immediate and unconditional release of all arrested activists, lawyers, writers and journalists

WSS strongly condemns the arrests of its member Advocate Sudha Bharadwaj, and activists Vernon Gonsalves, Arun Ferreira, Gautam Navlakha, Varavara Rao, and the raids at the homes of Father Stan Swamy, Dr. Anand Teltumbde, Prof. K. Satyanarayana, Pavana, Anala, Kurmanath, Kranti Tekula and others conducted by the Maharashtra police along with the state police of Telangana, Jharkhand, Goa and Delhi. These searches and arrests are a diversionary tactic to draw attention away from the spine chilling revelations about Hindu Sanatan Sanstha and Hindu Janjagruti in connection to the assassinations and bomb terror which they have been masterminding. 

On the 28th of August, in a coordinated operation, days before the 90 day period for judicial custody period of the five arrested in the Bhima Koregaon case end, several well known academics, lawyers, writers, poets, priests and journalists have been arrested and their homes raided by the police. Just under three months following the arrests of Professor Shoma Sen, Advocate Surendra Gadling, activists Sudhir Dhawale, Rona Wilson and Mahesh Raut, the Maharashtra police appear to be persistently cracking down on all voices that have stood in solidarity with them. This coordinated effort to harass and malign human rights activists all over the country is intended solely to create a sense of terror amidst the democratic people of this country and must be seen as a war against democracy. Despite the fact that no incriminating evidence has emerged in these cases, with no respect or regard for the law, the police continues to arbitrarily arrest and detain activists, lawyers, writers and professionals who have dedicated their lives to ensure that justice is served where it is due. Continue reading

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WSS Statement On Bihar Shelter Home Violence

Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS) strongly condemns the brutal systemic and systematic patterns of abuse, harassment and violence meted out to residents of Government funded and NGO-run institutions and shelters in Bihar and everywhere else in India.

Furthermore, WSS stands in solidarity with all victims of State sponsored violence, families of the survivors and all those involved in exposing this long running racket in Bihar.

In early June 2018, the entire country was shocked when findings of a TISS social audit of government run shelter homes for the vulnerable revealed patterns of gross sexual violence, abuse and neglect. In particular, the media chose to focus on the testimonies of residents of a shelter home in Muzaffarpur where minor girls, some as young as 8 and 10, reported cases of horrific sexual violence. Many of these media reports, more sensational than sensitive zeroed in on a single home, in spite of the TISS report discussing similar instances of sexual assault in over 6 homes and other forms of abuse and neglect in homes across the state. The danger with this kind of reporting is that it bolsters the illusion that sexual violence within government institutions are one-off incidents as opposed to a systemic pattern in which shelter homes are turned into hubs of abuse and assault. Recent media reports tell us that two women at the Aasra shelter at Nepali Nagar, Patna, were reported dead under mysterious circumstances and two more have had to be hospitalised. Continue reading

Hindi Press Release Of The CDRO and WSS Fact Finding of Khunti, Ghagra, Palamu Tiger Reserve And Sedition Cases

From 17th to 19th of August, a ten member fact finding team of Coordination of Democratic Rights Organisations (CDRO) and Women against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS), along with local activists, travelled across the state of Jharkhand and investigated incidents of violation of human rights in Jharkhand state. Please find a link to the team’s Press Release (Hindi Version) below.

Hindi Press Release Khunti FF 17-19th August 2018

Press Release Of The CDRO and WSS Fact Finding of Khunti, Ghagra, Palamu Tiger Reserve And Sedition Cases

Press Release 19th August 2018

From 17th to 19th of August, a ten member fact finding team of Coordination of Democratic Rights Organisations (CDRO) and Women against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS), along with local activists, travelled across the state of Jharkhand and investigated incidents of violation of human rights in Jharkhand state. The first case was the recent incident of the rape of five women in Khunti district, the second was the Betla Tiger Project and the team tried to speak with several persons on whom the Jharkhand state has filed cases of sedition. Following news coverage and reports from human rights activists in Jharkhand, the fact-finding team reached out to as many people as possible including the villagers, intellectuals, activists, journalists, lawyers and the police. Continue reading

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.