Sunday, June 17, 2012

Roli Mahajan blogs from Rio 20 on Ecocide

Youth Blast is the place one should visit if you want to learn about concepts (old and new, abstract and concrete). This is the time when there will be multiple events with (generally) young people conducting small workshops in spaces where their soft voices might not always be heard but their passion is. While running around the venue and trying to choose a workshop, people (young and old) end up attending sessions that would increase their knowledge quotient or give them an opportunity to advocate as well as mobilize people.

One such workshop which I happened to peep in on when it was about to conclude was being led by a very passionate young lady, Louise. She was leading this discussion on ECOCIDE. I had heard of the concept but was hazy on details so meeting Louise was a boon. She allowed me to dig a bit deeper and understand the concept. She also speaks of what they aim for through their presence at Rio+20.

Watch the video here.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Moushumi Basu's Toxic Neglect Selected for Film Festival in Rio

Moushumi Basu's video 'Toxic Neglect' created for WAVE has been selected to screen at the 
2nd INTERNATIONAL URANIUM FILM FESTIVAL in RIO DE JANERIO,  June 28 - July 14, 2012. Get more information at

Congratulations Moushumi! 

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The enemy within - Moniza Inam analyses the growing phenomenon of ‘feminisation’ of Aids

Now a widow and a mother of three young children, Najma Bano’s life changed last year after the death of her husband from whom she contracted the HIV virus. Her deteriorating health is coupled with no steady source of income and consequential social isolation and stigma.

A former pilot, who expired from Aids soon after his marriage, also has a widow Meher Ali in her 20s, who too has contracted the virus. Meher’s in-laws hold her responsible for their son’s death and have banished her from their home. She is currently in a prolonged legal battle to receive her rightful share of inheritance.

Now divorced, Naila Baloch, a 30-year-old woman living in Gwadar, has contracted the virus from her husband who worked in the Gulf. Upon learning of her health status, he divorced her and remarried a younger woman.

These women are casualties of the feminisation of Aids, a state of affairs where poverty, cultural practices and bigotry supplement one another to undermine the well-being of women. Dr Naseem Salahuddin, an infectious diseases specialist at Indus Hospital, Karachi, considers these women as the innocent bystanders as they acquired the disease passively through transmission from their spouses.

A recent study estimates that in the South Asia a staggering 40 per cent of the new HIV/Aids cases are women. Social exclusion, discrimination and denial of rights have contributed to this rising menace, whereas solution for reducing HIV statistics cannot be approached in seclusion to these issues.

Important factors including poverty, cultural practices, promiscuity, violence, legal structures and physiological factors, all contribute to rising numbers of HIV female patients. Perhaps more important than these factors is the issue of gender equality and disparity of power between men and women. A research by World Bank strongly concludes that ‘the more unequal the relations between men and women in a country or region, the higher its HIV prevalence rate; as it is largely fuelled by gender-based vulnerabilities and risks’.

Huma Khawar, a development journalist adds to this view, “Gender inequality, poverty and HIV/Aids are closely associated with each other. Young women from the age bracket of 15-24 years are more prone to the infection compared to the men from the same age group due to many reasons.”

Girls and young women usually lack access to appropriate information and resources to take preventive measures. Violation of women’s rights and asymmetrical power relations result in exerting less control over their bodies, and choices regarding sexual and reproductive health and rights. Being economically dependent, they are deprived of the liberty and control needed to make informed decisions about their health.

Research has proved and confirmed a strong correlation between various forms of abuse and its link to contracting the virus.
Violence against women often results in non-consensual, unsafe sex which increases the likelihood of transmission. Inequality in relationships and power dynamics prevent women from asking their partners to use safe measures, get tested and seek treatment, explains Khawar.

This phenomenon is a direct consequence of unequal power and gender relations prevalent in our society, whereby women receive less education, healthcare, employment and decision making power in an average household. Elaborating the issue, Farhat Firdous, senior manager communication at Aahung, adds, “Apart from pervasive discrimination, women face gender subordination in marital life. They are supposed to submit their body and soul to their husbands even if they are terminally ill, suffering form STIs (sexually transmitted infections) or in the extreme cases, Aids.”

Dr Tahira Aftab, former Director of Women Studies Centre and founding editor of Journal for Women Studies/ Alam-i-Niswan, describes such marital relations as sexual slavery, and adds, “The emerging epidemic of the HIV/Aids is a direct result of this school of thought in which women have no control or rights over their own bodies.”

Economic and social empowerment is yet another factor in the prevention of the virus among women. Due to the patriarchal organisation of society, girls are provided with little or no education and are married off at an early age. This dependence can force women to accept the sexual demands of unfaithful husbands and even if they are aware that their husbands are infected they cannot move out of the relationship.

Dr Nashmia Mahmood, a health officer with Unicef, says, “Financially independent women who are aware of their rights, and can make their own decisions are much more capable of protecting themselves against the virus.” However, Mahmood has also stressed the importance of legal protection as it would help the vulnerable groups, including women, significantly. She cites the Malaysian model as a best example in which men are legally bound to disclose their HIV/Aids positive status to their wives.

Dr Shazra Abbass, a health officer on HIV/Aids with Unicef, concurs with this model and adds that the disease, in fact, has become an issue of gender equity and equality as women’s rights are, by and large, violated in our society. Initially information about reproductive health and the virus is not given to them due to social and cultural taboos and eventually if they are infected the treatment is denied and female patients have to face prejudice, exclusion and in some cases they are even thrown out of the house.

Gender inequality is indeed an overriding issue which has aggravated the spread of HIV, and stalled controlling the feminisation of HIV/Aids. Women’s health should not be compartmentalised and it should be looked at on a broader and structural level keeping in view all such underlying factors.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Journalists unanimous that conflict coverage is less than optimal in South Asia... Observations from Media Summit

Another South Asian Media Summit was held in Goa Nov 23-25, 2011, sponsored by Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, a German government funded organisation. The theme of this year's summit was 'Inter-State Conflict and the role of the media'.

I was a bit disheartened that more than two-thirds of experienced journalists from almost all South Asian countries (except Bangladesh and the Maldives) were male, as compared to last year's summit which had more women journalists attending, predictably because the theme was 'gender'.

Nonetheless, very insightful experiences were shared and impassioned arguments made, which prompted me to share my thoughts (in no particular order) in this blog post...

- The first session implied that South Asia has the most protracted inter-state conflicts and this made me curious. Do we know which region of the world has had the most conflicts within its own peoples? Might be a good research topic...

- Mohsin Babbar, a journalist and one of the few experts on the Indus water dispute in Pakistan, mentioned that the Aman ki Asha program was a good India-Pak peace initiative.

- Have you heard the term proxy war? I never really understood what it meant until someone at the summit explained it as militant groups that fight each other on behalf of governments so that actual governments don't look bad. What a sham!

- How do you see the link between politics and media? Do you think the media is politicised or do you think there is a mediaisation of politics? I guess both are true today...

- It was suggested to watch the Wikileaks video of the journalist being gunned down by a helicopter pilot in Iraq to hamper his coverage of the conflict. An act that proves the US is embarrassed about their bloody activities in Iraq?

- A Sri Lankan academic at the University of Peredeniya 'Carmen Wickramagamage' astutely pointed to Louis Althuser, a French Marxist's observation years ago that the State perpetuates dominant ideology through the media. I'm sure the same can be argued for the corporate world.

- She also pointed out an unfortunate editorial about a Lesbian conference in Colombo, which incited rape to 'show them the right way'. When a gay rights organisation complained to the press council, they responded that the newspaper was right to publish the offensive editorial because lesbians are 'sadistic'.

- Snigdhendu Bhattacharya, a reporter who spent several years telling the story of the people of Lalgarh said 'One percent of Jharkhand rule and one percent of the state's population engage in armed conflict. Reporters need to represent the remaining 98%. Reporters need to be activists representing the people's voices'. Bravo!

- Vipul Mudgal presented an 'inclusive media for change' website that provides analysis the press can use to better cover development issues.

Also here are some of my suggestions that came out of the summit, do comment if you agree or disagree...

- It struck me when someone mentioned how it was perhaps difficult to find sources willing to speak on the record while reporting about conflict issues, that we need to have a witness protection program in India and the media needs to be a vociferous watchdog when it comes to protecting whistle-blowers. That would encourage more people to speak out for justice.

- Media literacy needs to be popularised in South Asia so that ordinary viewers understand how the media can be manipulated and so they don't take everything as gospel truth. This will also lead to greater public demands for an accountable media.

- Advocate Ashraj Wani from Kashmir also argued for a journalists code of ethics and I agree. I was surprised that the body language of most of the senior reporters in the room implied there was no code of ethics being mandated in their newsrooms! I hope all the journalism curricula in India/ South Asia have ethics as a required course, as I know is required to study in a Master's degree syllabus in the U.S.

- I think the media also needs to elucidate audiences about their country's legal obligations under the UN's human rights framework as this is a good way to hold the State accountable for their human rights record. The public should be made aware of which international covenants have been ratified and concluding observations should be tracked.

- Sustainability is a huge obstacle for citizen journalism models, which are needed so that alternative information and marginalised voices are allowed to bubble up to the surface. This will ensure a healthy democracy, for if marginalised voices are not heard, then revolution brews. We also need alternative media to balance the mainstream hegemonic view of society.

- Women can support solutions-oriented reporting. In my experience, this garners more eyeballs.

- We need to organise a conference on online journalism/ new media in India.

- Journalists need to be trained in critical analyses so that they are making more than mundane observations. This may sound oversimplified but if you were watching the news around 26/11, you would agree that we never heard any discussion about 'why they want to attack us', only when/ where/ how. I was really interested in hearing people's thoughts on what perceptions are floating around in Pakistan that are being used to conjure up hatred for India, to provoke young boys to heinous crimes?

Sunday, September 4, 2011


“When life wants to bless you, it gives you a teacher”, this quote stands so true for a group of kids at a small school named AKSHAR in Chandigarh. In spite of lacking adequate means of attending a regular school, these kids are getting necessary basic education, thanks to the efforts of Mrs. Vandana Aggarwal.

She has been managing the school, on her own, for more than one and a half year now, but according to her, she has just started. Rome might not have been built in a day, but the school definitely was! As Vandana tells her story, on one day she came up with the idea of starting the school and the very next day, there it was – complete with books, blackboard , a teacher and of course, the students. After a year and a half, there are three teachers who take classes for Nursery and KG in English, Hindi, Mathematics, Art and Moral Science.

Taking a break from regular studies, students are encouraged to take part in extracurricular activities and events. One such event included a talent show, where the students exhibited all sorts of skill by enacting a skit, reciting poems and singing songs. Each and every student participated to make the show a grand success.

All work and no play would make the kids dull, so the school arranges frequent trips for the kids to nearby places like Chhatbir, Sukhna Lake, Rock Garden, Pinjore Garden or any latest movie, giving them a fun-filled break from their routine. Since the children belong to the very poor backgrounds, and there are hardly any medical facilities available to them, the school organizes regular health check-ups for the kids in collaboration with the Fortis Hospital, Chandigarh. The staff visits the school once a month for general health, eye check up etc. It was one such routine checkup that helped save the life of one of the students, Robin, who otherwise might not have survived.

Adding yet another feather to its cap, the school hosted a meditation camp on 3rd September, where “Brahm Kumaris” from a nearby Ashram visited the school.

They talked about the importance of good manners and values in life and played a game to demonstrate the need of being focused in life. And now the school plans to make this a monthly feature.

Vandana has lots of dreams for the school and kids like incorporating a library and a “playroom”, starting vocational classes for young girls and lots more. Her endless energy and enthusiasm is highly contagious and inspiring. She sparkles with excitement every time she talks about her ideas. And why not, she knows she’ll be making a difference, a positive one, in someone’s life….

Friday, September 2, 2011

Fewer Asian women marrying - trend must be growing in India too?

This Economist article says China and India are not visibly affected by the trend of fewer women choosing to marry and have children in Asia. But I think it depends on which class you're looking at. It seems that a growing number of career-minded urban middle class women are single. Surprisingly it says there will be 60m (million?) more men than women in China and India by 2050!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

15 of the First Female Professors in History

Jasmine Hall writes in sharing this great new blog post from her site...Inspiring read - about Greek, other European and American professors.

Can someone research this in India? Nalanda University must have had some female professors?