Sunday, January 27, 2008

Importance of being Bilkis

The Hindu, Sunday Magazine, January 27, 2007

The Other Half

Kalpana Sharma


It is one of those horror stories from the Gujarat
carnage of 2002 that few can forget. A young Muslim
woman, six months pregnant, runs for her life from
her village when rampaging mobs attack it on
February 28. She has with her a three-year-old
daughter, her mother and other relatives. They move
out of their village under cover of darkness and
hide in a field hoping to escape. Instead, the next
morning they are confronted with a mob of 20 to 30
men carrying swords and sickles who assault and gang
rape the four women, including Bilkis and her
mother, kill many of the others, and kill her
three-year-old daughter by “smashing”
her on the ground. Of the 17 who left the village,
only three survived, the bodies of eight were found
and six are still missing.

The horror does not end there. Bilkis pretends she
is dead and waits till the mob leaves. Then with the
help of a home guard, and with her six-year-old
nephew and a three-year-old boy who have survived,
she trudges to a police station to register a
complaint. On the way she borrows some clothes from
an Adivasi woman to cover herself.

At the police station she receives little sympathy.
Instead the policeman on duty pretends to listen to
what she is saying but writes something completely
different in the First Information Report on which
he gets the illiterate Bilkis’ thumb
impression.

Two days later, local photographers find eight
bodies of the massacred family. This forces the
police to act and post-mortems are conducted. Again,
instead of recording the truth, they conduct what
has now been termed a “shoddy”
post-mortem and bury the bodies. Some years later,
when the bodies are exhumed as part of a fresh
investigation, none of them have skulls. It appears
that they were decapitated after the post-mortem to
prevent identification. In addition, salt was
sprinkled on the bodies so that they would
disintegrate.

(To read the rest of the article, click on the link above)

Sunday, January 13, 2008

An assault on dignity

The Hindu, Sunday Magazine, January 13, 2008

Kalpana Sharma

When 70 to 80 men surround two women, push them,
touch them, pounce on them, it is not
“molestation”; it is sexual assault. So
before we even begin to discuss the incident that
took place in the upmarket Mumbai suburb of Juhu in
the early hours of January 1, 2008, we should call
the crime by its real name.

The assault happened not because a group of
“lustful louts” were indulging in
“Mumbai molestation”, as the media put
it by using sexy shortcuts to describe the incident.
It was in fact an illustration of a range of
assaults on women that take place every day of the
year and in every part of this country. It became
national news because there was visual evidence. The
other thousands of similar and worse crimes get only
a brief mention in the newspapers because cameras
are not positioned to record them.

Other crimes

On the same day that the Juhu attack took place and
a few days later, here is a list of some of the
other crimes against women that occurred in Mumbai
and Maharashtra as reported in the English press:

On December 31, a 28-year-old woman in
Khadegolavali, Kalyan (east) was raped by two men
who entered her first floor room in a chawl, beat up
her husband who is a zari worker, and raped her.
This was at 2.30 pm in the middle of a working day.

On December 31, in Maharashtra Chief Minister
Vilasrao Deshmukh’s constituency of Latur, a
14-year-old girl was found hanging from a tree. When
her body was exhumed, there was a suspicion that the
men who killed her had also raped her. She had
complained about these men “teasing” her
but no one paid heed.

On December 31, the conductor and driver of a state
transport bus raped a woman who was on her way to a
village just north of Mumbai.

On January 5, a 13-year-old girl was gang raped and
burnt alive, her body found in the fields in a
village in Ahmednagar district, Maharashtra. She was
on her way back from school.

Maharashtra is competing with other states in its
record of crimes against women. Last year, Mumbai
police registered 356 cases of
“molestation”, that is almost one a day
and the railway police have a record of 1,068 cases,
almost three a day.

None of these incidents was reported in any detail,
nor did they make it to the front page or
“national news”. Crimes against women
don’t always make news. They hit the headlines
only when they are particularly horrific, or when
they affect women like us (that is urban, middle
class women) or when they are captured on visual
media.

The Mumbai incident has shock value. But that shock
should result in introspection and a reality check.
The reality is that crimes against women occur, have
been occurring and have not stopped just because
there is more money, more education, more
urbanisation, more globalisation, more
liberalisation. The difference is that more of them
are being noticed and reported.

(To read the rest of the article, click on the link)

Friday, January 04, 2008

Invisible women

The Hindu Sunday Magazine, Dec 30, 2007

THE OTHER HALF

They flit in and out of our homes like ghosts in the
night. They sweep and swab, wash and cook, look
after our children, care for the elderly. Yet we
know little about them. Most of us just about know
their first names. We don’t know where they
’re from, where they live, whether they are
married, how many children they have, how many other
homes they work in, what they earn — how they
survive. They are virtually invisible.

We usually wake up to their existence when they
don’t turn up for work. And the first response
is annoyance, because of the inconvenience caused to
us. Many professional women don the title of being
superwomen because they manage jobs and homes
— work life balance. But in fact the real
superwomen are these silent workers, without whom
few professional women in India would be able to
function. Yet, while those in formal employment get
sick leave, casual leave, privileged leave and
weekends, our domestic help is not entitled to any
of this. If she rests too long, she’s lazy. If
she doesn’t turn up for work, she’s a
shirker. It would appear that these women
don’t have the right to relax, to fall sick,
to have some fun. And of course, no one acknowledges
that when they’re done with our homes, they
still have their own homes where they have to do the
very same jobs, sweep and swab, wash clothes, cook
and take care of children and elderly.

Nishtha Jain, a Mumbai-based documentary filmmaker
has done what all of us need to do. She has not just
acknowledged that this silent worker in her home has
a name, but she’s followed her life so that we
see the person behind the name — a person just
like any of us. And instead of viewing the woman
from a distance, the filmmaker has bravely placed
herself in the frame, honestly dissecting her own
relationship as an employer. “Lakshmi and
Me” is a remarkably honest documentary about
21-year-old Lakshmi and the filmmaker, Nishtha.

(To read the rest of the article, click on the link)