“Activists of a local Hindutva brigade attempted to barge into a leading star hotel in the city on Wednesday demanding to stop its plan to hold New Year party in ‘western style’. What provoked the Hindutva outfit was the announcement of the hotel that alcoholic beverages would be served free to women who accompany men to the New Year party. Police have arrested and removed 27 activists of the little-known Hindu Makkal Katchi (Tamizhagam).
“They told the management of the hotel not to engage in attempts to infuse Western values into Indian minds.
“‘The Le Meridian hotel has announced ballroom dance party on the occasion of New Year. By inviting couples to the party, the hotel is trying to popularise drinking culture among women. While the younger generation is already addicted to alcohol, the star hotel is now trying to spoil our culture and such parties are encouraging alcoholism among the youths,’ said Arjun Sampath, founder-president of Hindu Makkal Katchi (Tamizhagam).”
“It is important to mention that any unmarried, sane, consenting adults (where the bridegroom is over 21 years of age and the bride is over 18 and who are unrelated within the degrees of prohibited relationship), irrespective of faith or caste, can get married under the Special Marriage Act. The couple from Rajasthan, who come from an inter-caste background, could have done so too. So why did they decide to have a religious marriage ceremony? It was almost certainly because they wanted to make sure their parents did not receive any intimation about their marriage through the official notice – as would any couple who anticipated threats to their life and liberty. [...]
“Barring Delhi, all other states follow the dangerous practice of sending a copy of the notice of intended marriage to the permanent addresses of the marrying couples [in non-religious ceremonies under the Special Marriages Act]. Thanks to the initiatives of the Delhi government and a landmark judgement by Justice S. Ravindra Bhat of the Delhi high court in April 2009, the practice of sending notices to the homes of couples desirous of solemnising their marriage under the Special Marriage Act was curbed. However, it has not been completely discontinued, as the officials fear the wrath of the parents of marrying couples.
“The administrations in Ghaziabad, Noida and Gurgaon in the states of Uttar Pradesh and Haryana are not even willing to bear the expenses of dispatching notices and they insist that couples provide pre-addressed, pre-stamped envelopes beforehand. Couples also have to publish an advertisement of their proposed marriage in a leading newspaper and submit a copy of the published advertisement to the marriage officer’s office. In Gurgaon, the concerned deputy commissioner’s office has taken the pains to add a column for specifying the applicants’ religion in the ‘Intent to Marry’ form and an additional point about the citizenship of the applicants in the declaration form. I wonder why religion should be mentioned at all in the one legally recognised marriage procedure intended to be outside the realms of faith or caste.
“The Gurgaon office also requires that couples provide envelopes bearing the names and designations of the marriage officers in districts where the applicants permanently reside. I can only speculate on the amount of homework a couple has to do before they file their application. A marriage cannot be solemnised under the Special Marriage Act without receipt of a verification report from the concerned tehsildar; and the report will not, of course, be issued as a matter of routine. The couple has to take great pains to ensure that the report is in fact released by the tehsildar’s office.
“Looking at just a few of the requirements essential for marriage under the Special Marriage Act, one can safely say that no couple would choose to go through the traumatic experience on its own. So those couples who are still determined to get married under the Special Marriage Act are forced to engage an advocate and shell out a large sum of money for his/her fees. Unfortunately, the majority of couples cannot afford the services of an advocate and thus, confronted by various hostile and complex sociopolitical pressures, they are forced to opt for a religious form of marriage.”
A married woman who tried to elope with her Dalit lover met a gruesome death when her husband and in-laws tried to hang her, then set her on fire in Madhya Pradesh.[...]
Guddi, who was married to Dhaniram, was trying to escape from their village with her lover. Her husband and his parents tried to hang her from a tree. When she survived, they allegedly beat her up, poured kerosene over her, and then tried to set her on fire. When that attempt to kill her also proved unsuccessful, they placed her on a wooden pyre and then lit a match.
She was finally killed near a temple while the whole village watched, police said.
Guddi's younger sister Brijesh is married into the same family. She remained a mute spectator while Guddi was tortured to death. Police were surprised that Brijesh, an eyewitness to her elder sister's murder, refused to give a statement or talk about the incident. [...]
Guddi was married into the influential family of farmers more than a decade ago. She was about 15 years younger than her husband. She fell in love with a dalit youth Kamal Valmiki, who visited their village often. On October 2, Guddi eloped with Kamal to Delhi so that her husband and in-laws could not find her.
“On June 5, in the city of Dhaka, Bangladesh, 33-year-old Rumana Monzur was permanently blinded and disfigured by her husband.[...]
“[S]ome feminists insisted that the attack had nothing to do with religion and was purely a ‘domestic violence’ issue, claiming that to say otherwise would be racist. It is true that violence against women occurs in all societies, crossing class, religious and national bounds, but what happened to Rumana had all the markings of an attempted ‘honour killing.’ There have been countless such murders in the Near East, in South and Central Asia as well as in many imperialist countries. These brutal crimes grow out of the clash between a woman’s desire for independence from ‘traditional’ culture and the legacy of pre-capitalist social and economic norms that persist in large swathes of the world.[...]
“We sharply oppose this racist ruling-class drive against Muslims and other minorities. At the same time we strongly solidarize with women who seek to throw off the strictures of religious traditionalism. Bangladesh, like the rest of the Indian subcontinent, bears the imprint of pre-capitalist social and economic norms. This neocolonial country is dominated by the dictates of the imperialist order while also subject to the tyranny of religious obscurantism; capitalist exploitation manipulates and deepens the ancient traditions and taboos.
“The concept of ‘family honour’—control of a woman’s sexuality by her family—is not the exclusive purview of Islam but occurs in a number of religions, including Christianity. It is the reflection of the treatment of women as the property of their husbands or fathers. This was powerfully captured by Friedrich Engels in his classic work The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State (1884): “In order to make certain of the wife’s fidelity and therefore of the paternity of the children, she is delivered over unconditionally into the power of the husband; if he kills her, he is only exercising his rights.” [...]
“Christianity and Judaism, in their many variants, also preach stifling moral codes to uphold the patriarchal family, the main social institution oppressing women. But these religions, though they had roots in pre-capitalist society, adapted to conform with rising industrial capitalism and the bourgeois democratic nation-states where they existed. The radical democratic principles of the Enlightenment were the ideological reflection of historical material advances over a backward, feudal society. As a religion Islam has not had to adapt, largely because it is rooted in those parts of the world where the imperialists have reinforced social backwardness as a prop to their domination.
“The emancipation of women as part of the liberation of all the downtrodden of Bangladesh and the entire subcontinent requires a struggle for permanent revolution—the working class seizing power at the head of the peasantry and oppressed masses through socialist revolution, reorganizing society on the basis of collectivized property and fighting to extend the revolution internationally, especially to the imperialist centres.”
“An increasing number of Dalit women in Banke district are attracted towardsan annual labour contract called Balighare Partha locally under which so-called high caste people give food in return to their hard work and service.
“Until recently the age-old Balighare occupation was dominated by Dalit men. Prem Kala BK of Chisapani-9 is an example of increasing number of women taking up this profession mainly by women from Bishwokarma community among other Dalit castes.
“Lately she has started working in her forge, where only her husband used to work till some time ago. She melts metal in the forage and crafts kitchen utensils and sickles, knives, hoes and other traditional weapons of neighbours. In return, she gets rice, maize or millets (as per her choice) for her whole year’s works from them.
“Sewing clothes as well making hand drums and other musical instruments are also part of Balighare system in existence in the district from ages taken up by Dalit people as their one of the major sources of livelihood.”
anti-caste: In the balighare partha system, one of several traditional forms of caste-based labor extraction in Nepal, members of (low-ranking) artisan castes provide services to upper-caste landholders in exchange for one meager allotment (perhaps ten, fifteen, or twenty-five kilograms) of inferior food grain annually at harvest time.
“Dal Man Bishwokarma, a resident of Rautaha village in Udayapur, not only manufactures domestic weapons and equipments used in farming but also repairs them. He provides his service to 21 Bishta families. However, he gets only 10 pathis [about 50 kilograms] of maize once a year from each of them.
“During festivals like Dashain and Tihar, Bishta families provide Dal Man with a mana (one mana is roughly equal to half a kilogram) of rice and Rs 20 each. His family has to survive on this meager income for the whole year. ‘With this income, I find it difficult to make ends meet even for six months,’ he said. ‘For the rest of the year, I have to go somewhere else to work as a laborer.’
“The tradition, which exploits Dalits’ labor, is still in fashion mainly in Bhutar, Nametar, Bhalayodada, Panchawoti, Dumre, Barre, Iname, Jante, Thanagau and Laphagau villages. Harka Bahadur Pariyar, a resident of Jaate village where 24 Dalit families are stuck in this tradition, said, ‘We have been surviving like this for generations.’”
“In a case bearing resemblance to honour killings elsewhere in the country, a 30-year-old woman was killed by relatives for deciding to re-marry. Shabana Khan, a resident of Shivaji Nagar, Govandi, was strangulated in the wee hours of Monday. The police arrested the suspects on Tuesday.
“According to the police, Shabana, a mother of two, had reportedly separated from her husband a few years ago. She had planned to get married to a person named Ali. ‘Her cousins were not happy about her decision,’ B Pardeshi, inspector of the Shivaji Nagar police station said. [...]
“Her ten-year-old daughter woke up on hearing the commotion and saw the suspects fleeing. ‘She immediately raised an alarm and alerted the neighbours, who rushed Khan to a nearby hospital,’ the officer said. Khan was declared dead before admission.”
“Following a complaint by Joshua and Kalaivani that they feared for their lives as her family was against their marriage, Red Hills police inspector K Kumaran called Ezhumalai for talks. ‘Ezhumalai, a real estate businessman, came to the station dressed in a pair of trousers and shirt. As soon as he entered, he walked towards Kalaivani, pulled out a knife from his pocket and slit her throat,’ Kumaran said.
“Kalaivani, an undergraduate student, fled home on January 21 to get married to Joshua in a city church. She had met Joshua, an employee of a private firm in Ambattur, some 18 months ago through a common friend. Fearing opposition, she did not disclose her relationship to her family and registered her marriage at the sub-registrar's office in Egmore last week.”
“The 10,000-odd villagers—who make Shahabpur a medium-sized settlement in crowded north India—are arranged largely on the basis of caste. They live in caste-based ghettos; rarely socialise across caste lines, and never inter-marry. And the village dalits, as the former untouchables are now called, are often abused.
“The chamars, the biggest of Shahabpur’s half-dozen dalit caste-groups get the worst of it. They are, not coincidentally, the village’s poorest people. And several villagers—including from Shahabpur’s small Muslim community, well-informed observers of Hindu wiles—say they are routinely bullied and beaten. The worst dalit-bashers are said to be the patels, Shahabpur’s biggest community, which is about 3,000-strong. They are typical bullies: of a low-caste peasant order, the patels are just a rung or two higher up the caste ladder, which makes them jealous guardians of their perceived superiority.
“There is an exception to the caste divide in Shahabpur, which many Muslim and Hindu men enjoy. For a few rupees or handfuls of rice, they are said to demand and get sex with dalit women, typically just after sundown, when the villagers troop out to the fields to ablute. At an informal gathering of Muslim men outside the house of Anwar Ali—an upstanding clerk, who also housed your correspondent—it was estimated that perhaps 40% of the village’s non-dalit men upheld this ancient tradition. According to Sarju, until Sushila lost her youthful good looks, he suffered near-nightly terrors from drunken patel youths, who came clamouring for her outside his hut.
“This practice recalls a famous condemnation of village India by one of the country’s founding fathers, B.R. Ambedkar. The architect of the country’s 1949 constitution and a dalit, Ambedkar asked: ‘What is the village but a sink of localism, a den of ignorance, narrow-mindedness and communalism?’ (Mohandas Gandhi, by contrast, considered the villages to be India’s ideal social units.)”
Former Independent journalist Sarah Harris has made a documentary about India's temple prostitutes – Devadasi are young girls who are dedicated to a Hindu deity at a young age and support their families as sex workers.
The first instalment of the four-part exclusively online documentary “Prostitutes of God” goes live today on VBS.tv.
Harris talked to The Independent Online about making the film:
“I first went to India after I left The Independent three years ago. I wanted to run away and do something really different, so I went to volunteer with a charity in southern India which rescues victims of sex trafficking.
“On my very first day there I stumbled into a meeting of Devadasi prostitutes. I was told that they were temple prostitutes, but didn’t have any understanding of what that meant. [...]
“The only thing that has changed since the Devadasi practise was made illegal in 1988 is that the ceremonies have been driven underground. It’s still very common in some parts of India. A Westerner wouldn’t know to look at the girls that they are Devadasi, but Indians know on sight who they are and what they do. Really it comes down to caste. [...]
“Girls from the Madiga caste, otherwise known as the ‘untouchable caste,’ have really limited prospects. They can be agricultural labourers, sewage collectors or prostitutes, essentially. As prostitution is the most lucrative, a lot of Madiga women get into sex work.”
“New cases of killings or harassment appear in the Indian news media almost every week. Last month, the police arrested three men for the honor killings of a couple in New Delhi who had married outside their castes, as well as the murder of a woman who eloped with a man from another caste.
“Two of the suspects are accused of murdering their sisters, and an uncle of the slain couple spoke of their murders as justifiable.
“‘What is wrong in it?’ the uncle, Dharmaveer Nagar, told the Indian news media. ‘Murder is wrong, but this is socially the best thing that has been done.’
“Intercaste marriages are protected under Indian law, yet social attitudes remain largely resistant. In a 2006 survey cited in a United Nations report, 76 percent of respondents deemed the practice unacceptable. An overwhelming majority of Hindu couples continue to marry within their castes, and newspapers are filled with marital advertisements in which parents, seeking to arrange a marriage for a son or daughter, specify caste among lists of desired attributes like profession and educational achievement.”
“The latest in a series of such attacks on women in the state, the Megala case dispels the popular notion that 'honour killings' are confined to Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh in the north; southern states such as Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh too witness similar incidents periodically. Many of them are sparked off when educated single women walk out of their homes and choose their own partners, sometimes from another community or caste. [...]
“A study by the National Commission for Women (NCW), still underway, shows that of the 326 cases of conflict surveyed so far nationwide, 72% were because the couple crossed caste barriers and only 3% were because the couple were from the same gotra. ‘Women are making their own choices and in a patriarchal set-up this causes problems,’ says Ravi Kant, Supreme Court advocate and president of Shakti Vahini, the organisation that is conducting the study for NCW.
“Activists in Tamil Nadu endorse this view. ‘Honour killings are not unheard of in Tamil Nadu. The basis is usually caste, more often than not a Dalit boy marrying an upper caste girl,’ says U Vasuki, general secretary, All-India Democratic Women's Association.”
“Police protection hardly helps, say activists. Standard operating procedure in the case of a runaway man and woman ends up with the woman’s family filing a case of kidnapping and/or rape against the man or his family. The woman shows up as ‘missing’ in Haryana police’s records. From November 2009 to May 2010, of the 686 people filed as ‘missing’ on Haryana police’s website, a largish 30% are females aged between 15 and 28 years.
“Police hunt the couple down. If the girl is under 18, she is forcibly returned to her family. If her age is suspect, and she refuses her family, she is packed off to a nari niketan and the guy is jailed. This usually takes place in the month between a couple’s registering their wish to marry and the registration, which has mandatory month in-between: a provision begging to be altered. ‘Fear of cases filed under section 363 (kidnapping) and 366 (compelling/inducing woman into marriage) against the “husband” drives the couple to court. If registration is immediate, such cases can’t proceed,’ says advocate Kulbir Singh Dhaliwal. Jaipur-based activist Kavita Srivastava moots the idea of same-day registration. ‘The more time you give, more the problems for the couple,’ she says. Many couples also surface to protect their families. In the headline-grabbing Manoj-Babli murder, for instance, the posed picture of the two garlanding each other was taken for Babli to prove that she married Manoj of her own accord. This was the only way to ensure that the kidnapping case against her mother-in-law Chandrapati, of Karora village in Kaithal, could be quashed. It was on that visit that the two were murdered.
“As is clear, not every couple is killed. Activists say barely a handful are murdered: what determines the fate of the target is the couple’s financial independence, political clout or wherewithal to pay off the khap. Lawyers say 90% cases are ‘solved.’‘Nobody says a word when a politician’s children decide to marry against norms. It’s very selective,’ says Aidwa’s Sudha Sundararaman. Or when couples can pay the “fines” khaps impose, in short paying their way out. Matters come to a head if the woman marries a lower caste guy. Her succession rights can mean property going—via the girl—into a lower-caste family. Inter-caste, intra-village, intra-gotra are the big daddies frowned upon. But again, selective. ‘A khap had declared a couple brother-sister recently and nullified their marriage. We intervened and as the boy was Delhi-based and had clout, their khap revoked the decision,’ says Sundararaman.”
“In a case that has stunned India's capital, [a young man] and his teenage girlfriend were tortured and murdered in a so-called honour killing, allegedly by the young woman's family, who objected to the relationship.
“Over a period of several hours, the young couple were bound, beaten and given electric shocks before they died. All that time, the woman screamed and begged with her assailants–apparently her uncle and father–to spare the life of the young man whom she so wanted to marry.
“‘When we found the bodies, the couple's legs and hands were tied and they were bleeding,’ the deputy commissioner of Delhi police, NS Bundela, told a press conference yesterday. ‘The couple were electrocuted as well, but we will wait for the full post-mortem report.’
“The killing of young couples who challenge the wishes of their families is not uncommon in rural India where the centuries-old traditions of caste and tribe remain little diluted. But this incident has triggered an unusual degree of outrage, both for its brutality and for its location in a city that is gearing up for October’s Commonwealth Games and a chance to showcase itself to the world.
“The couple, Yogesh Kumar Jatav, 21, and 19-year-old Asha Saini, lived just streets from each other in the crowded, claustrophobic Gokulpuri neighbourhood on the edge of the city and had started their relationship two years ago. Yet despite such geographic proximity, in the eyes of Ms Saini's family, the pair were from worlds apart; her father owned and operated a successful vegetable wholesale business, while Mr Jatav, whose parents are dead, worked as a taxi driver. More importantly, it seems, Mr Jatav was from a lower caste. [...]
“When he was brought before court yesterday, Ms Saini's uncle apparently confessed to the crime and told reporters: ‘We killed them using an electric shock. Yogesh had come to our house. We don't feel any remorse.’”
“Cousin Lokesh Kumar Saini says: ‘We had talked to Yogesh and his family in the past and told them to stay away. We had also found a good match for Asha and she was engaged.
“‘What will any parent do if they see their daughter in a compromising position with a man? What would you do if you were in the same situation?’ he asks me angrily. ‘That's why my uncles killed them.’
“Another of Asha's uncles, Titoo Saini, is convinced ‘the killings were justified.’
“‘We did it for our honour. Honour in our community and society is paramount to us,’ he says.
“I ask them what honour the family has now that they are accused of murdering their own daughter?
“‘If she had run away with Yogesh, what honour would we have left then?’ he asks.
“‘Moreover, that would have set a bad precedent for the other children in the family. They would have done the same. Then it would have been a slow and painful death for us every living moment. This is better,’ he says.
“‘Asha played in my arms as a baby. I carried her for her funeral. Did that not make me unhappy?”
“But Titoo Saini is clear that marriage outside of caste is a bigger evil than murder.
“‘How can we marry outside the caste? This cannot be tolerated. Only an impotent man will accept this. If I was in their place, I would have done the same,’ he says.
“A newly-wed bride and her mother-in-law were killed and the groom seriously injured by the girl's relatives in the Tarn Taran district of Punjab on May 11. According to the police, 19-year-old Gurleen Kaur's naked body had deep cuts in the neck area, and her shoulder and fingers had been mutilated. Her father, brothers and uncles obviously thought this was fit punishment for her crime: marrying 25-year-old Amarpreet Singh against their wishes. [...]
“Will such so-called ‘honour killings’ stop if the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 is amended to prohibit marriages within the same gotra? Unlikely. That may be the most publicised of the demands and threats issued by the Khap Mahapanchayat–a congregation of caste Panchayats from Jat strongholds in Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan–in Kurukshetra on April 13, and subsequently elsewhere. But it was not the only one. They have also reportedly called for a ban on marriages within the same village and contiguous villages, as well as de-recognition of temple weddings uniting runaway couples.
“The mythical gotra factor may have come to the fore because the Kurukshetra gathering was clearly triggered by the recent landmark judgment delivered by District and Sessions Judge Vani Gopal Sharma in Karnal (Haryana) in the case of Manoj and Babli Banwala, a young couple belonging to the same caste and gotra, who were murdered in 2007 because they dared to marry each other.
“But, as scholar and activist Jagmati Sangwan has pointed out, not all honour killings even within Haryana involve same-gotra couples. According to her, the majority of the marriages condemned by Khap Panchayats are of couples who do not share a gotra.
“Most victims of ‘honour killings’ reported from various parts of the country are young people who choose to love or marry outside their caste, sub-caste or religion. Not surprisingly, the socially and economically dominant castes are usually responsible for acts of reprisal against inter-caste relationships. [...] In the name of preserving ‘social order’ and saving the ‘honour’ of the community, caste or family, all kinds of justifications are pressed into service. If the same-village or -gotra obstacle does not apply, there is always something else: a man was killed in Haryana last year for violating the ‘customary’ proscription of marriage between residents of neighbouring villages. [...]
“The recent spate of deaths attributed to ‘honour killing’ and the aggressive, unrepentant posturing of Khap leaders seem to have pushed at least some in the government into taking a more decisive stand on the issue than was common in the past (under any political dispensation). However, it is no secret that these caste-based, extra-legal bodies enjoy at least tacit support from a number of political leaders, civil servants, police officers, lawyers and even judges. Already two politicians from Haryana–one supposedly enlightened, the other definitely old-school–have publicly sought to make peace with the increasingly combative Khaps, albeit with riders (which ring rather hollow).”
“India is about the only country in the world where you actually see human adults defecating. When traveling by road or rail you can be struck by the image of men squatting openly, impervious to the public gaze. The UN estimates that 638 million people—or 55 percent of the Indian population—still defecate out of doors. The practice is clearly born of necessity in a crowded country where the development of public amenities has conspicuously failed to keep pace with economic and demographic growth.
“Conspicuous defecation, however, is restricted to males. Female modesty—enjoined by Hinduism, Islam, and Sikhism alongside age-old patriarchal codes—dictates that women may relieve themselves only after dark or in the most secluded reaches of the forest, a practice that exposes them to violence or even snakebites. The consequences for women’s health can be devastating. Women of the poorest classes notoriously suffer from a range of urinary and bowel disorders born of taboos about pollution and other social constraints applied to the most basic and banal of bodily functions.”
“India’s treasured painter Maqbool Fida Hussain officially handed over his Indian passport and became a Qatari citizen yesterday. He is never returning home and Indians should not have let him go.
“Forced into exile five years ago due to death threats from Hindu hardliners, Hussain told interviewers that Qatar is his home now. While he loves India, the 94-year-old artist said, the country didn’t need him or want him. All over Bharatmata, the Mother India painting.
“I wonder if the Hindu fundamentalists who made death threats and lodged criminal complaints against Hussain had actually seen the painting in question. It is a stunning piece of art that does everything a great work should–it inspires and provokes; offers a point of view and forces you to question yours; it offers a window to the painter’s psyche; most of all, it is quite beautiful.
“The right-wing rebellion against Hussain boils down to a single and tragically polarising factor: MF Hussain is a Muslim painter portraying nude Hindu goddesses. How dare he?”
“Late on Tuesday night, about 15 unidentified men attacked the offices of Kannada daily Kannada Prabha and an eveninger with petrol bombs in Mangalore, injuring a person and leaving computers and office furniture smashed. The latest attacks came even as the Karnataka Police registered cases against Kannada Prabha and Urdu daily Siasat for ‘hurting religious sentiments’ after communal violence erupted in parts of the state over the publication of a translation of an article purportedly written by exiled Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen. [...]
“At the root of the protests and violence was a full-page Sunday supplement feature published in Kannada Prabha, entitled ‘Purdah hai Purdah.’ The article was described as a translation of a 2007 Nasreen piece published in sections of the media with the title ‘Let’s think again about the burqa.’”
"In recent months, cases of honour killing in Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh have claimed public attention and triggered demands from civil society for expeditious legislation to curb such crimes. Unconventional alliances, involving couples from different castes and clans, or of the same gotra, provide the pretext for medieval village-level, caste-linked governing bodies, called khap panchayats, to pronounce judgement and award punishment that can only be termed barbaric. Errant parties are hounded out of the villages, driven to suicide or killed. Their kin may also be persecuted by community members. Such events are accepted as being permissible for upholding the status quo in terms of social and caste relations. Outside rabidly feudal areas, alliances that do not meet family and community approval are unlikely to end in death. The errant couple might at worst be shunned by relatives. [...]
"Sati, though rare now in view of the vigilance maintained against the practice by local administrations, can also be considered honour killing since the hapless widow, more often than not, is forced to burn along with the body of her deceased spouse as a point of misplaced family pride. It is also a convenient way to keep property and assets within the marital family.
"Sociological studies indicate that in cases of honour killings of the kind rampant in Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh—and also Delhi, Punjab, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and other northern regions—the motivation usually hinges on purely material factors. Marriage between dissimilar groups holds the real danger of family property and wealth passing out of the community into alien hands, and consequent loss of social precedence. It is for this reason that wealthy landholders and farmers zealously guard their females along with their land. The phrase, ‘Jiski laathi uski bhains’ [He who wields the stick owns the buffalo], popular in these northern States, succinctly sums up this ethos."
"The comparative study between Dalits and non-Dalits showed that Dalits felt anguish to a greater degree of intensity. They often see rape as "something ordained" by virtue of a double disadvantage: being Dalit and woman. "Whenever a Dalit woman is raped, it gets connected to all other sufferings and discriminations. Dalits being in a disadvantaged position and there's no resilience, no bouncing back," says [researcher Rajat] Mitra.
"'The women shared that during the attack, the men seemed to have more pleasure in humiliating their origins and background,' adds Mitra. The report details their almost-ritualistic ostracism after the rape where older Dalit women also attempt to explain rape as 'tradition'.
"In a qualitative assessment, the report says girls are almost prepared to expect assault. It says, 'Allusions to rape by upper castes begin to appear in subtle conversations and often inflate their anxiety and depressive symptoms that begin to mark (rape) as inevitable in the mind of young Dalit girls.'"
"'Only whores choose their own partners.... Recently an educated couple married against the samaj’s (community’s) wishes in Jhajjar. We hail the panchayat’s decision to execute them...The government cannot protect this atyachar (immoral behaviour).... (The law of the land) is the root of all problems... That’s your Constitution, ours is different.' – Mahendra Singh Tikait, farmers’ leader of Western UP
"'Yahan izzatdar woh hain jo ladki ko marte hain (Those who kill their girls are respected here).' – a teacher in rural Haryana
"'Khap leaders are keepers of Jat tradition.' - Justice (ret'd) Devi Singh Teotia, a former judge of the Punjab & Haryana HC, active member of the Sarv Khap Panchayat, demanding legalising of the khap panchayats
"Mahendra Singh Tikait’s outrageous and offensive remarks once again raise the question: why do the khaap panchayats of Haryana and Western UP which issue open ‘death sentences’ for couples who defy their caste-diktats on love and marriage, enjoy impunity?
"In the context of such executions, Congress MP from Rohtak Deepender Hooda (whom the Congress proudly counts among its contingent of ‘young MPs’) had expressed sympathy for the 'sentiments and local customs of khap panchayats.' Will the Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh tell us why leaders of their party endorse such “sentiments” that mock the constitution and openly call for lynching?
"Tikait says women who choose their own partners are ‘whores’. The ‘dishonour’ of ‘whoring’, in his eyes, does not lie, it seems, in the act of buying sexual services. After all, men in the same region openly buy their wives (as reproductive machines) from other states, because women are in short supply due to female foeticide. The ‘dishonour’ according to him lies primarily in women choosing their own partners. This choice threatens the structures of property and land, and with it, the very edifice of the feudal order."
"Honour killings are not always committed by the family, often the announcement of the brutal punishment is done by a Khap Panchayat (prominent in western UP and Haryana) or a Caste Panchayat, a court which protects traditional norms of caste in a village. Even if a household agrees to the will of their children, this panchayat does not go with the decision of the family; instead such families are asked to leave the village.
"Ravinder Singh Gehlout’s family is the recent target of Khap Panchayat in Dharana village in Haryana’s Jhajjar district. Gehlout's family has been asked to leave the village as Ravinder has married a girl named Shilpa, who is of the same gotra.
"Being from same gotra means sibling like relationship, so according to the Khap, the marriage in the same category is equivalent to incest."
"Khaps are traditional area-based community organizations whose rulings have no legal sanction. In keeping with tradition, khap panchayats oppose marriages within the same 'gotra' (lineage) and are known to have meted out harsh punishments to 'erring' young couples.
"At a two-day meeting in Rohtak that ended on Sunday, the Sarv Khap Panchayat, a conglomerate of various khaps, decided to set up a core committee to suggest amendments to the Act to disallow same-gotra and same-village marriages as per Jat tradition.
"[Justice (ret'd) Devi Singh Teotia, a former judge of the Punjab & Haryana High Court, said:] 'One of the sections of the Hindu Marriage Act says that you can’t marry your brother or sister, unless custom permits.' This exception clause was added for some south Indian customs where sibling marriages are allowed under extreme circumstances. 'Since Jat custom doesn’t permit marriage within the same gotra and in the gotra of one’s parents, we can seek a similar clause.'
"'With mobile phones and television, milna-julna (interaction between the sexes) is too much. What can parents do except kill a daughter who disobeys?' says a local teacher defensively.
"Girls who survive their mother’s womb are brought up as daughters of the village. Not just [one village's] daughters, but of 12 neighbouring villages, says a khap member. All 12 villages form the Khidwali Bara khap, a Jat territorial unit. It decrees that boys and girls within these 12 villages cannot marry. Interestingly, the entire onus of ‘siblinghood’ rests on the girl. She is the keeper of village honour. Exceptions may be made for a boy, if the khap decides, but a girl is never allowed to bend the rules. 'If a girl married in her community’s villages, she will be in purdah in her own house. How can we allow that?' asks middle-aged Bedo.
"Vidya, who teaches at a government school in Sanghi, says she has had students who died in mysterious circumstances. 'We are only told so-and-so is dead,' she says. The physical trainer in her school adds, 'Kaaran koi nai batata (No one gives reasons).' On average, 10 to 12 healthy girls die every year, locals reckon, but there are no reliable figures.
"Generally, it’s the parents or father-brother duos who kill ‘wayward’ girls. A sympathetic mother may plead with a daughter to take the goli herself. A protesting daughter may be force-fed a pesticide pill, the preferred mode. The other route is death by hanging, all the better to ‘show’ it as suicide. No police, no complaint, no records. 'Yahan izzatdar woh hain jo ladki ko marte hain (Those who kill their girls are respected here),' says another teacher.
"If a couple runs away, the women in their families run the risk of being raped, gang-raped, and boycotted. At times, khaps also ‘fine’ the families lakhs of rupees. For the locals, that is par for the course. 'What else can be done?' asks an old woman."
"For its part, the state government grants them legitimacy. Its website reads: 'Khap Panchayats... would be requested to use their influence in combating various social evils.' Even CM Bhupinder Singh Hooda has defended them, saying they’re needed in times of crisis.
"But Ranbir Singh says the khap panchayats’ increasing assertiveness is a sign of the identity crisis within the Jat community. 'Their landholdings are fragmenting and many fear that they would lose their zamindar status.'"
"The victory of the Channar Lahala or the Upper Cloth Mutiny (Maaru Marakkal Samaram), after half-a-century of violent struggle, is widely seen as the transformative event that triggered a wave of renaissance movements that shaped modern Kerala.
"'Cries for equality began to rise not just from various parts of Kerala, but from the whole of South India after the Channar Mutiny. The agitation to end ‘oozhiyam vela’ or work without pay, the agitation to secure entry into temples, the agitation to secure the right to walk on public roads, all these struggles that went on to change the face of Kerala were inspired by the success of the Upper Cloth Mutiny,' writes historian Joy Balan Vlaathangara in his book ‘Vaikuntaswamiyum Samoohika Navothanavum’. [...]
"It was western influence and the work of Christian missionaries like Charles Meed and Malt during the early part of the 19th century that revealed to the Nadars the indignity of their existence.
"There are historical accounts of labourers who had migrated to Sri Lanka to work in colonial tea plantations returning with enough money to lead European lifestyles. Converted Nadars, too, started wearing upper clothes and saw it as a sign of social progress.
"The upper castes, including the royalty, did not take kindly to these progressive thoughts. An account says that a lower caste lady who went to the palace of the Attingal Rani wearing an upper cloth had her breasts chopped off by royal decree. Out on the streets, the upper castes unleashed violence on Christian Nadar women who had their breasts covered."
July 26, 1859: declaration by ruler of the princely state of Travancore (modern Kerala)
(Re)Reading Taslima Nasrin: Contexts, Contents & Constructions
Edited by Ali Riaz
"Taslima Nasrin is one of the most controversial authors to emerge from South Asia in recent decades. She has been exiled twice — first from her home country, Bangladesh, in 1994 and then from her adopted home, India, in 2008. Both her work and personal life have attracted media attention in South Asia and worldwide.
"The articles of this edited volume give importance to the content of Nasrin’s work, but also to the contexts in which her poems, novels, short stories and newspaper columns were written. The overriding issue, however, is the construction placed upon her words and deeds by the many people who have used her story for their own ends."
"The discovery of the women's bodies triggered widespread anger in Shopian, where the residents believed the killings were carried out by security forces. Two people were killed and more than 400 injured in weeklong violent demonstrations and clashes between residents and police in Shopian [a town outside of Srinagar, the main city of Indian-controlled Kashmir].
"On Wednesday, Ghosh asked Shopian residents to end the complete shutdown that has paralyzed normal life in the town since the bodies were found.
"Human rights groups and separatist leaders have long accused Indian security forces of using rape and sexual molestation to intimidate the local population. Rights groups say investigations into such crimes rarely yield results and are often meant only to calm public anger."
"While investigations have emphasized the procedural conduct of the police in their handling of the investigation, they failed to focus on the actual crimes that were committed, or the conduct of state institutions. The investigations in Shopian have not focused on the identification and prosecution of perpetrators or on addressing structural realities of militarization in Kashmir that foster and perpetuate gendered and sexualized violences, and undermine rule of law and justice. The investigations have instead concentrated on locating ‘collaborators’ and manufacturing scapegoats to subdue public outcry. ‘Control’ rather than ‘justice’ has organized the focus of the state apparatus, including all processes related to civic, criminal, and judicial matters."
"Hundreds, possibly thousands, of Baluch were rounded up in a harsh regime of secret detentions and torture under President Pervez Musharraf, who left office last year. Human rights groups and Baluch activists say those abuses have continued under President Asif Ali Zardari, despite promises to heal tensions.
"The discovery of the bodies [of three Balochi political leaders believed to be assassinated by Pakistani intelligence agencies] on April 8 set off days of rioting and weeks of strikes, demonstrations and civil resistance. In schools and colleges, students pulled down the Pakistani flag and put up the pale blue, red and green Baluch nationalist flag.
"Schoolchildren still refuse to sing the national anthem at assemblies, instead breaking into a nationalist Baluch song championing the armed struggle for independence, teachers and parents said.
"For the first time, women, traditionally secluded in Baluch society, have joined street protests against the continuing detentions of nationalist figures. Graffiti daubed on walls around this town call for independence and guerrilla war, which persists in large parts of the province.
"The nationalist opposition stems from what it sees as the forcible annexation of Baluchistan by Pakistan 62 years ago at Pakistan’s creation. But much of the popular resentment stems from years of economic and political marginalization, something President Zardari promised to remedy but has done little to actually address."
"Tensions between tribes are not uncommon in Pakistan, and Balochi tribes such as the Jatoi consider it a particular dishonour if their women marry into another group. The groups are strictly feudal and religiously conservative, with justice meted out by tribal courts or jirgas: illegitimate gatherings of elders, in which women have no voice and hearsay more often than not, replaces evidence. In cases of female dishonour these cases often result in a woman being marked as Kari. A Kari or 'black marked' woman can be killed by any member of the tribe with impunity, for the sake of honour.
"Recent statistics have reported that about 300 women are killed every year in Pakistan because of Kari, often in land distribution disputes, and often by male relatives. This kind of rural vigilante justice is generally tolerated by local police, due to the influence of powerful tribal leaders, and few cases reach the courts."
A short documentary profiling an 11-year-old Pakistani girl on the last day before the Taliban close down her school.
In the course of this moving video, a young girl, her face veiled to conceal her identity, bravely reads the following speech at a school rally:
"Swat Valley: the land of waterfalls. Lush green hills and other gifts bestowed upon it by the nature. But my dear friends, today Swat has in the past few years become a heartland for Pakistan Islamic militancy. Today, this idyllic valley of peace is burning. Why the peace of this valley is destroyed? Why our future is targeted? Schools are not places of learning but places of fear and violence. Our dreams are shattered. And let me say, we are destroyed."
"Much media attention has focused on the worsening plight of women in Swat, particularly after the video-taped public flogging of a 17 year-old girl. Unfortunately, the kinds of atrocities perpetrated by the TNSM against women also occur in the feudal holdings of many of the "secular" political elite of Pakistan. Yet these incidents do not make headlines in the same way. Few Pakistanis can ignore the fact that restricting women's mobility and reducing their educational opportunities (as the TNSM intend to do) along with gang rape, abduction, and honour killing have a long history in southern Punjab and Sind, areas where both President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani have vast landholdings."
"The young customers at Amnesia: The Lounge were enjoying a Saturday afternoon of drinking and dancing in one of the hippest spots in the city of Mangalore when a mob of 40 Hindu radicals barged in.
"The activists from Sri Ram Sena (SRS) – or Lord Ram’s Army – screamed abuse and attacked several dozen men and women, mostly students, and smashed up the bar.
"They chased the girls into the street, slapping them, pulling their hair and pushing at least two to the ground. The incident was recorded on CCTV.
"Their reason? 'We are the custodians of Indian culture,' said Pramod Mutalik, the founder of SRS, who claimed responsibility for the assault.
"The incident, which was broadcast across India, was one of many recent cases of Hindu moral policing that has also focused on Valentine’s Day, kissing in Bollywood films and cheer-leaders at cricket matches.
"The attack shocked middle-class India and prompted one Government minister to decry the 'Talebanisation' of the country. It has also brought attention to the links between violent Hindu militants and the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)."
"Conflicts over dowries are such a serious problem in India that the crime of 'dowry death' was created in 1986 just to deal with the suspicious deaths of women within the first seven years of their marriage. Newly married brides are often subjected to vicious demands from their husbands and in-laws for additional money or gifts after the wedding and the abuse becomes so intolerable that some women choose suicide while others are eventually murdered for not complying with their new family's demands.
"According to India's National Crime Bureau, an estimated 6,000 to 7,000 women die annually in dowry deaths. Few of the perpetrators are ever brought to justice, and the grooms' families go on to secure new dowries as the sons marry again."
"The festival of lights snuffed out the two young lives as villagers of Kaluvas set upon the girls with machetes, axes and stones and later set them on fire.
"They had waited for them on the night of Oct.28 after getting wind of their movements. The fathers of the two girls too were part of the hysterical mob, it is reported.
"When they found the battered girls were still alive though unconscious, some rushed to fetch kerosene cans. The bodies were then promptly doused and set on fire.
"One of the villagers, Rajender Shivran, who says he couldn’t sleep under the weight of the unspeakable crime, eventually ventured to make it to the office of the Bhiwani Superintendent of Police with a complaint.
"However authorities have remained indifferent, reports the Times of India."
In this commentary S. Anand, publisher of Navayana books, sets the long-awaited verdict against those accused of taking part in the Khairlanji massacre (see anti-caste: KHAIRLANJI MASSACRE (September 29, 2006)) in perspective, and abhors the use of the death penalty—of which untouchables are disproportionate victims—even to punish a crime as inhuman as this one.
"The Khairlanji Verdict, in which six persons were awarded the death penalty for the massacre of dalits, is anything but historic. In treating the massacre as a purely criminal act, it actually masks caste realities."
"A Pakistani lawmaker defended a decision by southwestern tribesmen to bury five women alive because they wanted to choose their own husbands, telling stunned members of Parliament this week to spare him their outrage.
"'These are centuries-old traditions and I will continue to defend them,' Israr Ullah Zehri, who represents Baluchistan province, said Saturday. 'Only those who indulge in immoral acts should be afraid.'
"The women, three of whom were teenagers, were first shot and then thrown into a ditch."
"A prisoner of societal and familial pressure, Taslim was forced to continue being a manual scavenger. Her family threatened to throw her out of the house if she dared desist. 'If you do any other work you will have to work in the company of men. Women of our community carry night soil and stay at home. We shall leave you if you refuse. Don't play with our honour,' threatened her family members."
"Their crime to deserve such treatment was that Phooli Bai resisted two Jat men, who wanted to forcibly take away her 16-year-old daughter, Ramkanya on Monday evening.
"Besides thrashing them, Phooli Bai said that they were stripped in full public view at Sihaar village in Ajmer.
"Phooli Bai said, 'They tore off my daughter's clothes and tried to drag her outside our home. When I tried to save her, they tore off my clothes also. They not only beat us badly but also shamed us in front of the whole village.'
"The tormentors even threw out the Dalit family from the village, threatening them with worse punishment if they told their plight to anyone.
"Since Tuesday the frightened Dalit family is sitting at the office of the Deputy Superintendent of police in Ajmer's Kekri town and they refuse to go back to their village for fear of losing their lives.
"Satya Narayan Kamad, Phooli Bai's husband said, 'As we have complained against them, our fear is that they will kill us. They won't spare us now.'"
"Their bodies, half-stripped, were laid out on the dirt outside Sunita's father's house for all to see, a sign that the family's 'honor' had been restored by her cold-blooded murder.
"A week later, the village of Balla, just a couple of hours drive from India's capital New Delhi, stands united behind the act, proud, defiant almost to a man.
"Among the Jat caste of the conservative northern state of Haryana, it is taboo for a man and woman of the same village to marry. Although the couple were not related, they were seen in this deeply traditional society as brother and sister.
"'From society's point of view, this is a very good thing,' said 62-year-old farmer Balwan Arya, sitting smoking a hookah in the shade of a tree in a square with other elders from the village council or panchayat. 'We have removed the blot.'
"Growing economic opportunities for young people and lower castes in Haryana have made 'love marriages' more common, experts say, and the violent repression of them has risen in tandem as upper caste Jat men fight to hold on to power, status and property.
"[T]he legalization of property rights for women in 1956 made love marriages within a village even more dangerous for this elite, as daughters living close to home could in theory claim a part of the family land, sociologist Prem Chowdhry says."
"The exiled Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasrin has announced that she will leave India, claiming the conditions she has been living under in Delhi amount to 'virtual house arrest' and that she has been denied urgent medical attention."
"I was born in a Muslim family, but I became an atheist. In course of my training in science, I developed the powers of observation, experiment, analysis, and reasoning. Without reasoning, I found, nothing should be accepted as fact. I have been fighting against injustice, unreason, and prejudice. I exposed the crimes of religion, particularly the injustice and oppression against women."
"Mr Rahman, 30, was a computer graphics teacher from a Muslim family of modest means. His widow, Priyanka Todi, 23, is the daughter of a wealthy Hindu clothing manufacturer.
Investigators are now trying to determine whether Mr Rahman, 30, who was discovered in September lying dead on a city railway track with a head wound, committed suicide or was murdered.
"Their doomed relationship began after Miss Todi began attending the bookish Mr Rahman's computer classes at a private academy.
"They secretly married in August and she left her family's lavish suburban villa for his cramped apartment in a poor Muslim area of Calcutta.
"In response, her father, Ashok Todi, a prominent businessman, went to Mr Rahman's house with relatives. There, he dropped to his knees and clutched his daughter's feet, begging her to save him from the 'humiliation', saying: 'I cannot take a Muslim son-in-law'.
The young couple wrote to the city's police force, seeking protection. 'Some anti-socials are coming to our place and threatening us with dire consequences if we continue to stay together,' their letter said.
Senior officers, however, sided with Mr Todi, and even warned Mr Rahman that he would be charged with kidnap unless he relinquished his wife.
"In the aftermath, the Calcutta police commissioner, Prasun Mukherjee, sided with conservatives, suggesting that it was his force's job to help Mr Todi lure his daughter back.
"'After taking care of the daughter for 23 years, if the family finds one morning that she has left them to start a new life with an unknown youth, parents cannot accept it,' Mr Mukherjee said.
"His comments caused further public outcry and the city's authorities have now removed the police commissioner and four other senior officers from their posts."
"The Democratic Party primaries have been putting me in mind of politics in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh.
"The chief minister of Uttar Pradesh is an untouchable woman. Aside from being the first of her caste and sex to have reached this office anywhere in the country, she is perhaps best known for putting up statues of herself and throwing ludicrously extravagant parties for her birthday at public expense.
"The ever-worsening conditions of untouchables in the state, which is one of the poorest and most socially backward in India, have not diminished her popularity among them. It’s as though, despairing of general upliftment, they’ve settled on the obscene aggrandizement of one among them. The statues, the billboards, the diamonds and feasts and rare bouquets for her birthday only enhance the chief minister’s appeal in their eyes. Having long given up on anyone using power on their behalf, much less their partaking of it themselves, their highest wish is merely to see one of their own enjoy it to the fullest.
"So it is with supporters of the low-caste candidates in the Democratic race. No one really expects that the actual policies of a President Obama would do anything to lighten the oppression of black people in this country, or that a second Clinton presidency would do any more for women than the first one did.
"The pathetic hope is that simply having one or the other of them raised to such an office will in itself give his or her respective section a little more dignity."
"In the case of Taslima Nasreen it was the CPI(M) and not any religious or sectarian group who first tried to ban her book Dwikhondito some years ago. The ban was lifted by the Calcutta High Court and the book was in the market and on best-seller lists in West Bengal for several years. During those years Taslima Nasreen lived and worked as a free person in Kolkata without any threat to her person, without being the cause of public disorder, protests or demonstrations.
"Ironically, Taslima Nasreen’s troubles in India began immediately after the Nandigram uprising when the people of Nandigram, mostly Dalits and Muslims, rose to resist the West Bengal government’s attempt to take over their land and tens of thousands of people marched in Kolkata to protest the government’s actions. Within days a little known group claiming to speak for the Muslim community asked for a ban on Dwikhondito and demanded that Taslima Nasreen be deported. The CPI(M)-led government of West Bengal immediately caved in to the demand, informed her that it could not offer her security and lost no time in deporting her from West Bengal against her will. The Congress-led UPA government has condoned this act by holding her in custody in Delhi and refusing, thus far, to extend her visa and relieve her of her public humiliation. They have once again played the suicidal card of pitting minority communalism against majority communalism, a game that can only end in disaster.
"Inevitably, hoping to make political capital out of the situation, the BJP is publicly shedding crocodile tears over Taslima Nasreen, going to the extent of offering her asylum in Gujarat. It seems to expect people to forget that the BJP, VHP and RSS cadres have been at the forefront of harassing, persecuting, threatening and vandalising newspaper offices, television studios, galleries, cinema halls, filmmakers, artists and writers. Or that they have forced MF Husain, one of India’s best known painters, into exile.
"Meanwhile, in states like Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, away from the public glare of press conferences and television cameras, journalists are being threatened and even imprisoned. Prashant Rahi from Uttarakhand, Praful Jha from Chhattisgarh, Srisailum from Andhra Pradesh, P. Govind Kutty from Kerala, are a few examples. As we speak, Govind Kutty, who is on a hunger strike in prison, is being force-fed, bound hand and foot. Scores of ordinary people, including people like civil rights activist Binayak Sen, have been arrested and held illegally under false charges."
"I am a Bengali within and without; I live, breathe, and dream in Bengali. I find it hard to believe that I am no longer wanted in Bengal.
"I know I have not been condemned by the masses. If their opinion had been sought, I am certain the majority would have wanted me to stay on in Bengal. But when has a democracy reflected the voice of the masses? A democracy is run by those who hold the reins of power, who do exactly what they think fit. An insignificant individual, I must now live life on my own terms and write about what I believe in and hold dear. It is not my desire to harm, malign, or deceive. I do not lie. I try not to be offensive. I am but a simple writer who neither knows nor understands the dynamics of politics. The way in which I was turned into a political pawn, however, and treated at the hands of base politicians, beggars belief. For what end, you may well ask. A few measly votes. The force of fundamentalism, which I have opposed and fought for many years, has only been strengthened by my defeat."
writers and activists defend Nasrin:
"'I oppose the [Left-Front] West Bengal government despite being a Leftist. I oppose it because I am a Leftist,' said veteran playwright and activist Habib Tanvir. His word summed up the spirit of a forum of writers and intellectuals that came together to protest the clamping of 'free speech and expression', in the aftermath of the Taslima Nasreen episode.
"Author-activists Mahashweta Devi, Arundhati Roy, Ashis Nandy and Girish Karnad were also part of the forum.
"Nineteen-year-old Poonam's blank look speaks of the trauma she has suffered at the hands of her family. Her relatives, threw her into a canal at Tibbi, near Haryana's border with Rajasthan, and left her to die. All because she, a Jat girl, married a Dalit boy."
"When I heard the news the other day that Benazir Bhutto had been killed, my second or third thought was: which member of the Bhutto family are they going to put in now? Two days later I read a headline: 'Bhutto’s husband, son to lead party.'
"Benazir herself had of course been put in after her father was hanged by the military in 1979. Just as in India when Nehru died they put in his daughter, Indira, and when Indira was killed they put in her son Rajiv, and when he was killed in turn they put in his Italian-born wife, wrapped in a sari. That’s how these Eastern dynasties work. Good thing it’s not like that here in the United States, where you would never have two people from the same family holding or seeking the presidency.
"If Ms. Bhutto had a tragic flaw, it was her lack of thrift. Had she and her husband not squandered the money they stole during her first administration, she would not have been forced to seek power a second time in 1993, and recently for yet a third time. This was a clear case of returning to the cookie jar one too many times. One and a half billion dollars, carefully managed, can be enough for a couple to retire on, even comfortably. With budgeting, avoidance of credit-card debt, and a little common sense, this story might have had quite a different ending."
"A man set a fire last weekend that killed his pregnant daughter, his son-in-law and his 3-year-old grandson, prosecutors say, because he disapproved of his daughter’s marriage.
"The man, Subhash Chander, who lives in Oak Forest, a suburb south of here, told investigators that he was upset with his daughter, Monika Rani, and her husband, Rajesh Kumar, for what he saw as 'a cultural slight,' said Robert J. Milan, the first assistant state’s attorney of Cook County.
"Mr. Chander said that the couple had married without his consent and that Mr. Kumar was from a lower caste in India than Ms. Rani’s family, Mr. Milan said."
"In a violent protest on Wednesday in Kolkata [Calcutta] of umbrella organization of several small Islamic outfits All-India Minority Forum set up roadblocks in the city and demanded cancellation of 45-year-old Nasreen's visa, which expires on February 17, 2008.
"Protestors torched cars, at least 43 people were hurt, more than 100 arrests were made, and soldiers of the Indian army patrolled the streets to control the protest.
"'The Kolkata police have advised me to leave the city on grounds of my security, which is why I have come to Jaipur,' Nasreen told The Hindu, adding: 'I have no place to go. India is my home, and I would like to keep living in this country till I die.'
"The state secretary Biman Bose of West Bengal's ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist) had said on Wednesday that the author's visa should be cancelled if her presence was causing problems, a statement he backtracked on Thursday saying that only the federal government had the power to deny a visa extension."
On what the new exile means for Nasrin personally and as a writer:
Nasrin: "East [Bengal] has already closed the doors to me... so I want to stay in West Bengal where I feel at home."
fellow writer Shib Narain Ray: "Like us, she is a Bengali, and she only writes in Bengali. She cannot enter Bangladesh, so her only option is to live amongst Bengalis in Calcutta if she has to exist as a writer of some consequence."
On the role of the Left-Front government of West Bengal:
Fall & fall of Buddha [Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee] by Sugata Roy (Times of India, November 25, 2007):
"The role reversal didn't come in a day. It began the day when the CM banned Nasreen's novel Dwikhandita on grounds that some of its passages (pg 49-50) contained some 'deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any group by insulting its religion or religious belief.' What's worse is Buddha banned its printing at the behest of some city 'intellectuals' close to him. This was the first assault on a writer's freedom in the post-Emergency period. Later, a division bench of the Calcutta High Court lifted the ban.
"But the court order was not enough to repair the damage. [...] And when fundamentalists took the Taslima to the streets, they were at a loss. Or else, why should Left Front chairman Biman Bose lose his senses and say that Taslima should leave the state for the sake of peace? Or, senior CPM leaders like West Bengal Assembly Speaker Hashim Abdul Halim say that Taslima was becoming a threat to peace? Even worse, former police commissioner Prasun Mukherjee — now in the dog house for his alleged role in the Rizwanur death — went to Taslima's Kolkata residence and put pressure on her to leave the state. This was before last week's violence in Kolkata."
"The violence was rooted in the CPM's decision to 'capture' two of Nandigram's three blocks, over which it lost control. Their people had got disenchanted with it because it tried to impose a Special Economic Zone on them. The 25,000-acre SEZ was to be created by forcibly acquiring land for Indonesia's Salim group—a front for the super-corrupt dictator Gen Suharto.
"A particularly disgraceful part of the operation was sexual violence. Another was the treatment of political adversaries as an alien enemy population. Most egregious was the state machinery's complete subordination to party interests."
"In November, CPI-M supporters and armed thugs forcibly ended the blockade. In retribution for the protest, they attacked villagers supporting the BUPC, burned down their homes, threatened further violence if villagers went to the authorities, and humiliated them by compelling them to join CPI-M rallies. The state administration removed police posts before CPI-M supporters advanced into the area, strongly suggesting governmental complicity in the abuses."
"By November there had been a clear gathering of CPI(M) cadres and militia in the area, as well as stockpiling of arms. In early November 2007, the armed Harmad Bahini struck back with the full support of the state. They violently 'reclaimed' the 'lost' villages in Nandigram that had come under the control of the BUPC. The police was conspicuous by its inaction even as frightened villagers, caught in the violent crossfire between the two main contending political parties, fled their homes for fear of death or injury.
"On November 12, when the CRPF [Central Reserve Police Force—India's national guard] finally entered Nandigram, the CRPF director S.I.S. Ahmed said, 'The private armies, comprised CPI(M) cadres, have already captured the area. It was only after that the CRPF personnel were allowed in. Now there is not much that the CRPF can do, except the maintain status quo and protect the private armies.' Finally, ‘peace’ reigned in Nandigram, hooded, bloodied and mauled, witness to the terror writ large on people’s faces.
"The CPI(M) has resorted to rampant sexual violence, using it as a weapon of power and intimidation to browbeat all the women of Nandigram who participated in large numbers in the movement against land acquisition."
"'The only good thing with regard to Muslims is that in the last 30 years of Left rule in West Bengal, they were safe. What happened in Nandigram now puts question mark on that, too.'—Manzoor Alam, general secretary, All India Milli Council
"This is, perhaps, the worst-kept secret of the Nandigram violence that’s now being talked about openly. And is reason for embarrassment to the CPM which swears by its secular credentials: a majority of those targeted by its party cadres as they reclaim their turf are Muslim."
"More than 17,000 workers at these tea estates have been struggling; there are no other means of livelihood. An estimated 1,000 people—workers and family members—have died of malnutrition and related diseases since 2003 in the Dooars region.
"Most of the affected gardens are far from towns and villages, limiting employment options and healthcare services for the unskilled workers. Public transport to towns is infrequent and expensive—it costs Rs 60 for a 30-km bus trip to Jalpaiguri town from Raipur. The Plantation Labour Act of 1951 makes it the estate owners’ responsibility to provide the workers basic needs—food, education, healthcare. With the tea estates becoming unprofitable after the late 1990s, the owners abandoned their responsibility.
"Ethnicity of the workers has also been a crucial reason why this abysmal situation has been allowed to drag on for so long, human rights activists allege. More than 85 per cent of the workers are tribals—fourth generation immigrants of migrants brought in by the British from Jharkhand, Bihar and Chhattisgarh or low-caste refugees from Bangladesh’s Jassore, Khulna and Barishal regions."
Study on Closed and Re-opened Tea Gardens in North Bengal by Anuradha Talwar, Debasish Chakraborty and Sarmishtha Biswas for Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity and International Union of Food, Agriculture, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco, Plantation and Allied Workers’ Associations (IUF) (September 2005):
"In spite of the spate of re-openings that have taken place in the past one year, the 22 gardens seem to still be crisis ridden. Many may be on the verge of closing down once again. Huge amounts of money are owed to the workers. This is a criminal offence, but action has not been taken on this by the Government and/or union leaders against the rogue employers. At the same time there has been little long term planning by any of the stakeholders to ensure that these gardens become viable in the long run.
"Owners on the other hand in the closed gardens and in the industry in general are taking advantage of the closed gardens and the defensiveness of the workers and the unions to gradually cut down on the workers’ benefits."
"The 'burra sahib'—the big boss—still lives in a cavernous house, overseeing nearly every aspect of life for thousands of employees, from housing to schools to medical care. Planters still gather from far-flung estates to drink at century-old clubs, and their wives still pass their days tending elaborate flower gardens.
"The laborers—tea plantations employ nearly 3 million, mostly women, in jobs often handed down through families for generations—are unionized these days, but most live just a few steps above the poverty line. In Assam, tea workers earn about $1.25 a day, plus free housing and subsidized food. According to union leaders, only about a third are literate."
"On Thursday, lawmakers and members of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen party attacked her at the press club in Hyderabad at the launch of a Telugu translation of one of her novels.
"An uneasy-looking Nasreen backed into a corner as several middle-aged men threw a leather case, bunches of flowers and other objects at her head and threatened her with a chair, according to a Reuters witness and television pictures.
"Some of the mob shouted for her death."
In response, Hyderabad police book a charge against Nasrin. See:
Interview with Bangladeshi Writer Taslima Nasrin (Frontline, August 29-September 7, 2007): "Threats and attempts on my life are not new to me. But the anger is not against this five-and-half-feet-tall person sitting in front of you; the anger is against my ideas. But it is ridiculous to think that I am alone in having such ideas."