Skip to main content

Feminist uprisings challenging communal, forces amidst right-wing offensive

A National Alliance of People’s Movement (NAPM) note, prepared during the Feminist Week of Resistance and Reflections (March 7 to 14) marking the International Women’s Day and the Savitri Bai Phule’s Death Anniversary, on (a) recognition of personhood by the state and judiciary through legal frameworks; (b) implementation and lived Experience: some ground realities; and (c) claiming agency in resistance:
There is no doubt that negotiating with the State is time consuming and difficult, but especially since 2014 due to an overall right-wing entrenchment in legislative, institutional and societal spaces, many of the struggles we are part of, which have been asking for recognition of personhood, equal citizenship and human rights to be ensured, have become increasingly wary of state intervention.
From NALSA to the Transgender Persons Act: The NALSA judgement (2014) drew on community consultation and took important steps in upholding self-identification rights to gender non-conforming people as constitutionally mandated by Articles 14, 15, 19 and 21. It viewed the insistence on gender confirming surgery by the State as illegal, and directed the Centre and State Governments to address issues of sanitation and health, social welfare (through reservations and schemes, seeing the community as part of the socially and educationally backward classes) and social awareness. The Transgender Persons Act (2019), on the other hand, has been passed without adequate and fair community consultation, in spite of repeated protests and appeals.
The Act denies the right to self-identification, subjecting the person who applies for the certificate to medical and District Magistrate scrutiny for ‘correctness’, and also disallows self-identification as male / female without a surgery, thus brazenly contravening NALSA. Additionally, the Act requires trans* persons to furnish intimate details and produce multiple documents which many trans* persons may not be able to access. Once obtained, the Act does not indicate whether such a certificate will guarantee access to welfare schemes.
Even more horrifyingly, the Act does not acknowledge and address discrimination against transgender persons. It does not treat sexual harassment and rape at par with penal provisions under existing legislation. Instead, it establishes transgender persons as second-class citizens who are not entitled to the basic constitutional safeguards that cisgender women are. While the Act mandates the formation of a National Council for Transgender Persons, tasked with reviewing policy and implementation in line with the Act and the Rules (2020), the actual appointments to the national council reflect an attempt to bring Hindutva ideology into the institutional frame.
In this disturbing context, occasional judgements like that of the Bombay High Court (Jan, 2021) upholding the constitutional right to self-identification of a transgender woman contesting the polls under the women’s seats, are a significant affirmation of an inalienable right.
Anti-Conversion: A similar ideological leaning is evident in the attempt to bring in a legal framework severely restricting inter-religious marriage, through anti-conversion ordinances. Already passed in states like UP, and promised within BJP campaigning in West Bengal and Gujarat, as well as Karnataka, the proposed ordinances are proof of state supported communal hatred and patriarchal attitudes towards women. The need for the ordinances is argued on the myth of ‘love jihad’, further demonizing Muslim men, and on an understanding of women, especially of SC/ST communities, as ‘victims’, lacking a will and agency of their own.
The ordinances prescribe severe punishment for couples perceived as converting for marriage, and allow for any relative of a woman to dispute her agency in choosing her partner. Moreover, they go against the provisions of the Special Marriage Act, by requiring an additional notice period. The ordinances have already led to arrests which clearly target people of the minority and working classes, who do not have access to legal support. Reports indicate that police violence while in custody is common, including on pregnant women.
Triple Talaq: While the anti-conversion ordinances focus on ‘saving’ Hindu women, seen as property of the community, the grossly unconstitutional Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Act, 2019 goes beyond criminalizing triple talaq, by selectively demonizing Muslim men and presenting Muslim women as victims in need of rescuing from their own community. This too, was an Act passed in spite of significant protests by many muslim women and feminist groups who only feared further backlash. The legislation further limits the scope of redressal for Muslim women.
Equal Marriage: In one of the latest hearings asking for ‘equal marriage’ for members of the LGBTQAI+ community, the Delhi Government’s stand has been that the reading down of Section 377 IPC has merely indicated a de-criminalization of homosexuality, not a condoning of it, while ‘marriage’ as an institution needs to maintain its conventional, discriminatory understanding as being between a ‘biological man’ and a ‘biological woman’. This stand is clearly in violation of the Navtej Singh Johar judgement. Be this as it may, it is worth pointing out that the grounds of the writ petition before the Delhi High Court are a departure from the feminist principles which challenged the casteist, oppressive institution of marriage itself, which informed the struggle for de-criminalization since the 1990s through significant community participation. While it is important to uphold civil liberties, it is a worrying sign that some sections within the queer community are raising demands towards the same patriarchal family structures.
State and family discrimination: If the legal frameworks themselves show these biases, the actual struggles of people marginalized on grounds of gender and sexuality are even more complex. Sex workers and transgender people in particular are criminalized by the police and are subjected to violence, including sexual violence, extortion and threats. This comes in addition to the discrimination already faced from families. Women living with disabilities are often treated as burdens, and denied access to education and other basic rights accessible to ‘able-bodied’ persons.
Violence within natal families compels young people to leave their homes to escape it. In the attempt to find acceptance and community, women who claim their agency through relationships with people of different religious communities, trans* persons and people who identify as genderqueer, agender, gender non-conforming, as well as LGBTQIA+ people end up living precarious lives. These lives are further complicated when they attempt to claim bodily integrity, through access to sexual and reproductive health services and termination of pregnancies.
Livelihoods and social security: Finding work when faced with discrimination is close to impossible; when people earn through sex work, especially single women and trans* persons, finding a place to live opens them up to further discrimination. Lack of recognition of sex work as informal work means that provisions for informal workers are not accessible, in situations like the pandemic or during floods and other times where livelihoods are threatened.
Where provisions are made, such as direct cash transfers to informal workers during the beginning of the pandemic, these are impossible to access in practice by people living on the margins, who do not have the required documents. The technocratic approach and the demand for means of identification which are not available to young people who leave their natal homes to escape violence, and to people who migrate for work which is not recognized, cuts the most vulnerable people from access to basic necessities, denying healthcare, education, food rations, etc.
In this context, women and girls with disabilities face multiple layers of discrimination. Thanks to inaccessibility of roads, infrastructure, public utilities and public transport, a huge number of disabled women are confined to their homes and subjected to abuse. They lag behind in education, employment and have very poor visibility. The global literacy rate is as low as one per cent for women with disabilities, according to a UNDP study. Women with disabilities often experience unequal hiring and promotion standards, and they are half as likely as men with disabilities to find jobs.
The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 mandates that women enjoy their rights equally with others; it guarantees them the right to information on reproductive rights, priority in allotment of agricultural land, housing, poverty alleviation and various other development schemes. However, these mandates have remained on paper.
Forced rescue interventions: Women and gender non-conforming people must be entitled to state support through interest free loans, skill development and other facilities to undertake livelihoods of their choice. In practice, there are very few proactive support systems available for women in the informal sector, in particular for those whose livelihoods are already neglected or criminalized, like rag pickers, sex workers and transgender persons.
Instead, raids and forced rescue stemming from a conflation of sex work with sexual trafficking leads to imprisonment in the garb of ‘rehabilitation’. This also has severe consequences on actual instances of trafficking, which can be addressed with the help of the community itself.
Institutional Violence and Intimate Partner Violence: Facing daily discrimination and oppression, more so when also belonging to other oppressed communities on grounds of caste, religion, ethnicity, or when living with disabilities, people who identify as women, trans* persons and other gender-nonconforming people also lack access to sensitive and aware mental healthcare. Conversion therapy continues to be practised, at the insistence of ‘families’, even to the point of leading to the death by suicide of people subjected to it, fundamentally amounting to institutional murder. The lack of access to resources, continuous violence by external forces are also factors contributing to violence between intimate partners, within chosen families, and among the communities themselves. In the present political context, any such instance opens the community itself up to state intervention, likely to be as discriminatory and oppressive.
Domestic Violence: Despite attacks from many fronts, the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 remains a crucial piece of legislation for women in distress. However, it suffers because of woefully inadequate budgets, infrastructural and human resource support, and multiple orders from sections of the judiciary that attempt to read down the protections and purpose of the Act. These have led to making the process of relief and redress difficult for the women who were supposed to benefit from this legislation.
The DV Act is also the only piece of legislation which can be considered to cover instances of marital rape, which are otherwise rendered impossible to address. Marital rape needs to be acknowledged and treated instead as a punishable offence, commensurate with penalties under Sec. 376 IPC. Likewise, the Act should move beyond its limited reference to cis-women, to provide relief to all transgender and gender non-conforming persons who face natal and domestic violence.
Gender-based Sexual Violence: Domestic workers, migrant workers, construction workers, hawkers and others engaged in informal labour are subjected to sexual harassment which is even more impossible to address than the one rampant and much more visible in educational institutions. Lacking resources and often forced to live in shelters, women face sexual violence there as well, as indicated by worryingly high numbers of deaths, in the states where these are visible.
Even 7 years after the Jst. Verma Committee recommendations and Criminal Law Amendment, 2013, there has been little respite for women on the ground who continue to face many forms of sexual assault and brutal rape. There is a sharp increase in the instances of gang rape, especially of dalit, adivasi women, in rapes and sexual assault within ‘shelter homes’, rapes by men in positions of political, administrative and religious power, enjoying impunity. Over the decades, there also have been numerous instances of sexual assault, rape, including mass rapes, of women in conflict regions (Kashmir, Central-Indian Adivasi regions and states of the NER), with barely any support for the survivors and no accountability fixed on the perpetrators. The abysmal convictions and point to the absolute lack of commitment of the State and often even the judiciary in dealing with the crime of sexual violence with all the seriousness it deserves.
According to reports, women living with disabilities are three times more vulnerable to sexual assaults as compared to other women. They are at higher risk of gender-based violence, sexual abuse, neglect, maltreatment and exploitation. There are multiple hurdles that they face while accessing the criminal justice system, which is compounded by a total lack of sensitivity to their needs and concerns at various levels. The NCRB does not maintain disaggregated data on violence against disabled women. Feminist movements and other struggles need to acknowledge the specific marginalities faced by women with disabilities, and ensure support, means of redress and fixing accountability of the perpetrators.
Faced with an abject denial of recognition of personhood, and a lack of the bare minimum provisions for survival, and legal protections, sex workers have been working together for decades now, making sharp demands for recognition of sex work as dignified work, and for social security and human rights.
Similarly, while opposing the discriminatory core of legislation like the Transgender Persons Act (2019) and the consequent rules, there has also been an ongoing attempt by members of the transgender community to seek implementation of the directives in the NALSA judgement and access limited benefits under policies in certain states.
At another level, the past few years have witnessed remarkable feminist uprisings, be it in the form of the numerous Shaheenbaghs or the Farmers’ Movement, where women are leading from the front, challenging communal and corporate forces. At the same time, we have also seen a disturbing trend: regressive right-wing forces vilify, question and deny women’s agency as political beings, even as the ‘highest judicial authority, the CJI, asks why women are ‘kept’ in protests. That women continue to provide able leadership to movements, braving the many patriarchal assaults, is testimony to their strength and faith in struggle.



Mental health: We talk of poverty figures, but not increase in suicides since 2014

By IMPRI Team Highlighting  the issue of mental health and addressing the challenges involved, # IMPRI Gender Impact Studies Center (GISC) , IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi organized a panel discussion on Institutional Support for Mental Health and Wellbeing under the #WebPolicyTalk series The State of Gender Equality – #GenderGaps . The discussion was chaired by Prof Vibhuti Patel, Visiting Professor, IMPRI and Former Professor, Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai . The distinguished panel included – Prof Anuradha Sovani, Former Professor and Head, Department of Psychology, and Former Dean, Faculty of Humanities at SNDT Women’s University, Mumbai and National Core Committee member and Ethics Committee Chairperson, Association of Adolescent and Child Care India ; Dr Soumitra Pathare, Director, Centre for Mental Health Law & Policy at Indian Law Society, Pune ; Dr Swati Rane, Founder CEO at SevaShakti Healthcare Consultancy, Mumbai and Founder V

How India, Bangladesh perceive, manage Sunderbans amidst climate change

By IMRPI Team The effects of climate change have been evident, and there have been a lot of debates around the changes to be made locally to help and save the earth. In this light, the nations met at the COP 26 conference recently. To discuss this further, the Center for Environment, Climate Change and Sustainable Development (CECCSD) , IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi , organized a panel discussion on “COP 26 and Locally Led Adaptations in India and Bangladesh Sunderbans” under the #WebPolicyTalk series- The State of the Environment – #PlanetTalks . The talk was chaired by Dr Jayanta Basu, Director, Non-profit EnGIO, Faculty at Calcutta University and an Environmental Journalist, The Telegraph , ABP . The Moderator of the event, Dr Simi Mehta, CEO and Editorial Director, IMPRI , started the discussion by stressing the talk on the living conditions of people living in the Sunderbans Delta from both the countries, i.e. India and Bangladesh. According to the report

Dishonesty, corruption, manipulation and sustainable growth of mediocrity

By Arup Mitra* The theory of mediocrity would suggest that the meritorious who are always small in number as a nature’s gift will be dominated by a vast number of mediocre as the latter cannot withstand the inferiority they suffer from. By subjugating the merit, they derive a pleasure of having established their superiority. Such processes are functional in all spheres in life though the field of art is the worst sufferer. An artist mind is most sensitive and those who are meritorious in this lot possess exceptionally different traits. This makes them more vulnerable and, on the other hand, it paves the path of the mediocre to cast their shadows all around. Unjust and strong criticisms are sufficient to detract many. In developing countries, the modes of subjugation are many. Individuals do not hesitate to take recourse to criminal means as the subconscious prevalent with vengeance, accesses easily the outlets for execution. The lack of civility and the power of money form a unique com

NEP: Education must shift away from knowledge, move to teaching students

Dr Anjusha Gawande* The Education sector in the globe is changing dramatically. Many manual jobs may be captured over by machines as a consequence of multiple spectacular advances in science and technology, including the machine learning, and artificial intelligence. A professional workforce, particularly one that includes mathematics, computer science, and data science, as well as multidisciplinary competencies in the sciences, social sciences, and humanities, will be in incredibly popular. As a result, education must shift away from knowledge and toward teaching students, how to be creative and transdisciplinary, and how to innovate, adapt, and process information differently in innovative and rapidly changing sectors. The education development agenda at the global level is represented in Goal 4 (SDG4) of India's 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which was adopted in 2015. Ministry of Education has announced the National Education Policy 2020 (NEP 2020) on 29.07.2020. In J

Migrant problem during Covid and the role of equality for cohesive development

By IMPRI Team  The covid-19 pandemic has deepened the pre-existing inequalities across socio-economic groups, the distressing images of migrants’ exposure remained attached in our minds but not a lot has changed in terms of data collection and policy making since then to understand the role of equality for cohesive development. Cohesive development also means that human beings should respect the boundaries of nature which they cross at their own peril and the peril of other living beings on earth. In lieu to this, The State of Development Discourses – #CohesiveDevelopment, #IMPRI Center for Human Dignity and Development (CHDD) , #IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute , New Delhi organized #WebPolicyTalk with Prof Amiya Kumar Bagchi, on The Role of Equality for Cohesive Development. The session is inaugurated by Ms Mahima Kapoor, researcher and assistant editor at IMPRI. Ms Mahima Kapoor extended her gratitude to the speaker, moderator and the discussant. The moderator for the eve

Parallel govts: How unity of various streams of freedom movements took shape in India

By Bharat Dogra  In one of the most inspiring examples of highly courageous spontaneous actions based on the unity of people, parallel governments were formed by freedom fighters in several parts of India in the course of the Quit India Movement in 1942. Although generally four such leading efforts have been identified in Satara (Maharashtra), Talcher (Odisha), Tamluk (West Bengal) and Ballia (Uttar Pradesh), there were some other smaller efforts as well such as those in Bhagalpur (Bihar) and Gurpal (Balasore, Odisha). It is very interesting to see in most of these efforts (also very significant for understanding the freedom movement) that there was constant merging of the various streams of the freedom movement, with more militant activities openly taking place with the help of quickly mobilized militias and this being combined with various constructive programs emphasized by Mahatma Gandhi such as anti-liquor efforts and anti-untouchability movements. In addition we see actions in

West Bengal police inaction in immoral trafficking case of a Muslim woman

Kirity Roy, Secretary, Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (MASUM) writes to the Chairman, National Human Rights Commission, on Muslim woman victim trafficking, police inaction, and need immediate rescue: I am writing to inform you about a case of illegal trafficking and profuse police inaction regarding the same of a marginalized Muslim teenager named Anima Khatun (name changed), daughter of Mr. Osman Ali. The victim and her husband had been residents of the village Daribas, under Dinhata police station Cooch Behar district since their marriage in 2014. Six months following their marriage, Anima Khatun along with her husband, sister-in-law, sister-in-law's husband as well as her in-laws shifted to Delhi in search of work. They stayed there for 2 years after which they all came back to their native village. They stayed at their native residence for about one month and then they went back to Delhi. In Delhi, Anima was in touch with her family till the next six months, after which t

Impact of climate change on Gujarat pastoralists' traditional livelihood

By Varsha Bhagat-Ganguly, Karen Pinerio* We are sharing a study[1] based learning on climate resilience and adaptation strategies of pastoralists of Kachchh district, Gujarat. There are two objectives of the study: (i) to examine the impact of climate on traditional livelihood of pastoralists of Gujarat state; and (ii) to explore and document the adaptation strategies of pastoralists in mitigating climate adversities, with a focus on the role of women in it. In order to meet these objectives, the research inquiries focused on how pastoralists perceive climate change, how climate change has impacted their traditional livelihood, i.e., pastoralism in drylands (Kr├Ątli 2015), and how these pastoral families have evolved adaptation strategies that address climate change (CC)/ variabilities, i.e., traditional livelihood of pastoralists of Kachchh district, Gujarat state. Pastoralism is more than 5,000 years old land-use strategy in India; it is practised by nomadic (their entire livelihood r

Bangladesh sets shining example of communal peace, harmony in South Asia

By Dr. Abantika Kumari Bangladesh is made up of 160 million people who are multi-religious, multi-ethnic, and multi-lingual. The Constitution of Bangladesh guarantees all citizens the freedom to freely and peacefully practice their chosen religions. Religious minorities make up roughly 12% of Bangladesh's present population, according to conservative estimates . Hindus account for 10% of the population, Buddhists for 1%, Christians at 0.50 percent, and ethnic minorities for less than 1%. As an example of how people of different religions can live together, cooperate together, and simply be together, Bangladesh is regarded. Bangladesh is a country that values religious liberty, harmony, and tolerance. Bangladesh's population is made up of a diverse spectrum of religious groupings and ethnic groups. Such communities and groups live in harmony, putting aside their differences and learning to embrace and respect the diverse and diversified culture that has contributed to Bangladesh

Political leaders' actions are causing decontextualisation of democracy

By Harasankar Adhikari In India, does democracy become a matter of prescription, i.e., to follow the footpath left? Isn't it, in some ways, the adoption of certain prescribed procedures and mechanisms, such as timely election and populist schemes for the poor, etc.? In some cases, acts of government and governance turn democracy into a myth. It is full of political party-based agendas. This continuous hegemonic practise creates a conditional situation for the people of India. People elect their representatives who are not their representatives. They are only representatives of a particular political party that nominated them in the election. Democratic decentralisation of power is undoubtedly a unique step towards the grass roots. But a Panchayat member has no free will to act without the party’s instruction and approval. Michael Saward, a political philosopher, defines democracy as a matter of correspondence in state-society relationships. But India’s parliamentary democracy is un