Sunday, January 30, 2011

Ravi Sankaran Fellowships in India


The Ravi Sankaran Fellowships is a biodiversity conservation initiative of Inlaks Shivdasani Foundation for young persons who have a passion for wildlife. The fellowships provide an opportunity for selected young persons to use their energy and skills to make a difference to biodiversity conservation in India.

1. The Program funds three major activities:
2. A Master’s degree at a university abroad
3. An internship with an organisation abroad

A short conservation research or implementation project within India (in a Small Grants program)

Fellowship recipients will receive a stipend, travel funds and an amount covering course fees (where relevant). The Small Grants activity provides funding up to a maximum of Rs 200,000 per year.

Each activity is intended to have an explicit conservation focus, with an emphasis on clear on-ground conservation benefits. Successful applicants will ordinarily hold a Bachelor’s degree (in any discipline) and be below the age of 30 on the date of the application deadline. Applicants must hold Indian nationality.

The deadline to submit applications is 15 April 2011.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Donate to WAVE through Culture Unplugged

'Humanity Explored' is the film festival where we gather and explore ‘interconnectedness’ or ‘oneness’ by remembering what fundamental emotions, needs and dreams unite us, and question/contemplate the divisive perception of ‘otherness’. At this festival, we celebrate our collective humane evolution by contemplating the contemporary cultures & societies, through cinema. Please feel free to invite & welcome the viewers, the fellow citizens, our brothers & sisters at :

Upon watching your film/message, joyous & inspired, people may wish to know more about you or contribute financial support to your film or its social cause. To share with the audience your personal story/aspirations and receive contributions from the audience, we request you to visit :

Culture Unplugged festival team truly thanks you and feels grateful for the kind engagement on this mission by all film-makers and organizations. Together, we support our individual talent and collective voice, facilitate further democratization of film/media dissemination, raise our collective consciousness and contribute to humanity, with this festival.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Internship at Magic Lantern Delhi

Dear all,
Magic Lantern Foundation is a registered not-for-profit and has been working with culture and human rights since 1989. Currently we are readying for two film festivals in New Delhi.
We are looking for two interns to start work immediately.

Interns will:
1. Assist with festival related tasks
2. Mange Magic Lantern's social media and websites
3. Hold workshops in colleges on the documentary practice as an invitation to the film festival
4. Help in general administration.
5. Assist in writing and creating festival related publicity material.
6. Coordinate festival logistics - from construction to hospitality
7. Assist in on-going projects.
8. Assist with edits of trailer, and other festival material

We are looking for post graduates and above in any liberal arts subjects. Familiarity with the FCP is desirable but not mandatory.

Magic Lantern doesn't pay interns. If interested please write to: with 'internship' as the subject line and with CV attached.

Gargi Sen

Magic Lantern Foundation
J 1881 Chittaranjan Park, Basement, New Delhi 110019
P: +(91 11) 26273244/ 41605239
W: |

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Individual Female Power in Collectivist Patriarchal Cultures: Across Oceans

I thought of Scarlet O'Hara the moment I put my foot inside the early twentieth century Umar Hayat Mahal (The Palace of Umar Hayat). The palace is located in Pakistan in Chiniot, a small town famous for its architecture and intricate wood work, a celebration of the local unsung and unmatched artists.

True to the vibes, the local guide informed me that Umar Hayat, a wealthy businessman and landowner, had married a prostitute (the guide did not know her name), and that he built the palace on the wish of his wife, the prostitute.

It was striking to notice two women of the same era, one real, one fictitious, geographically and culturally poles apart, yet sharing the same story. Scarlet was born a lady with the heart of a prostitute, was called a prostitute, and despised as a prostitute by the respectable females of her society. Mrs. Umar Hayat was born a prostitute, worked as a prostitute, and managed to achieve wealth, name, recognition, and respect though marriage. It was unheard of for women of Scarlet's stature to enter into the world of business. It was unheard of for women of Mrs. Hayat's station to marry into aristocracy.

True to the narrative, Mrs. Umar Hayat lost her husband to death soon after her magnificent house was finished. Scarlet also lost Rhett at the height of her wealth, though not to death. Scarlet and Rhett's only daughter died young and happy in a horse riding accident. Scarlet was left to mourn her demise alone in spite of Rhett's love for her. The Hayat family's only son died in the palace, young and happy on his wedding night, and Mrs. Umar Hayat mourned alone.

As interesting as it is to notice the similarities between these two women, it is even more interesting to explore the challenges of contradictions within their personalities. On the one hand, despite living in a man's world, they had the audacity and sense of self to look at themselves as people who had every right to possess power. Yet, they were acutely aware of their feminine charms and used them to their advantage. They instinctively understood the submissive position of women in their respective societies. Yet, they also understood the cooption of fellow females to patriarchy. They made alliances with men and gained dominance over men and women alike. They turned the collectivism of their societies on its head for their advantage. While they enjoyed the relative protection that collective society gave to women, they ignored public opinion when it did not suite their desires.


Women's rights in Pakistan

From 'The Dawn' website

By Amna Imam

“WHY has Pakistan not seen a strong feminist movement that is at par with that seen in the West?” a friend asked me. “After all, the country`s women are routinely subjugated, humiliated, violated or killed. Why have we not been able to produce and sustain a strong movement?”

It is true that on the one hand, tradition, culture and religion together served to relegate women to serfdom. Yet on the other hand, they have also empowered Pakistani women.

Pakistani society lives with this apparent contradiction day in and day out. This contradiction, perhaps, is the key to understanding the absence of a strong, unified feminist movement in the country. Though predominantly Muslim, Pakistan is extremely diverse not only in its ethnicities, languages and cultures but also in its norms and value systems. The lines demarcating the value system of empowered women from subjugated women might at times, but not always, correspond to the urban-rural divide in Pakistan.

Public policy in Pakistan under liberal regimes has attempted to provide some relief and rights to women. The laws regarding child marriage, divorce, men`s second or subsequent marriages, the First Women`s Bank, women`s seats in parliament, and the recent bill regarding the protection of women against harassment while at work have all been well-intentioned steps aimed at enhancing the status of Pakistani women.

Although it is still too early to say anything about effectiveness of the anti-harassment law, other laws and public policy initiatives have so far been largely ineffective. Policy implementation, although dependent on policy formulation, is also a function of interpretation. In the generally devout Pakistani society, which values its Islamic identity, the respective positions of women in various Pakistani cultures can be attributed to the various interpretations of Islam as well as various levels of implementation of Islamic tenets within diverse communities. Although there are differences of opinion about how much a Muslim woman can inherit, for example, Islamic scholars agree unanimously that they do have that right.

The level of implementation of this key empowering right in predominantly Muslim Pakistan varies from community to community, tribe to tribe, and family to family. Muslim women in some Pakistani communities enjoy this right to the fullest, in others women are given this right partially, and in still others, women are not given this right at all. The same applies to a woman`s right to choose her husband. In some Pakistani communities, women enjoy this right while in others the choice of a husband for a Muslim woman rests with her closest male relatives. This diversity of interpretation can at least partially be attributed to the lack of implementation of pro-women public policies in Pakistan. While these two rights of choice and inheritance do not guarantee equal status for women in society, arguably they do bestow enough power on women to quiet the flames of intense dissatisfaction with their status. In a society where the body of women is as diverse as in Pakistan, it is highly unlikely that all women will be similarly motivated to start or support a strong, unified feminist movement.

Unlike the West, where once none of the women had the right of inheritance, and where no woman could own property in her name, Pakistani society is a mosaic of rights and obligations. Some women have power, others do not. This explains, at least to some extent, the inception of strong sisterhood and feminism in the West and other homogeneous cultures, and the relative absence of the same unified force in Pakistan.

We cannot expect a highly educated, middle-class woman from Karachi or Islamabad who chose her husband, probably works, and will inherit property to have the same level of intense feeling of deprivation as a poor, rural Pakistani woman. The latter would in all probability not be free to choose her partner, would not receive any education, and would be subjected to her community`s laws and regulations about property rights. If religion can on the one hand be held responsible for such subjugation, then it can also be seen as the empowering element preventing other, more empowered women from whole-heartedly joining their suffering sisters.

It is, therefore, no surprise that Pakistan can simultaneously lay claim to Mohtarma Fatima Jinnah, Begum Rana Liaquat Ali Khan, Lady Abdullah Haroon, Begum Shaista Ikramullah, and to Mukhtaran Mai, Samia Sarwar, and Safia Bibi. The cultural divide is in most cases a manifestation of the socio-economic divide. However, this is not always the case. The roots of these differences lie deeper, in family and community practices, interpretations and beliefs.

Due to this diversity, it is perhaps mistaken to expect a strong, unified feminist movement in Pakistan. It is also a mistake for Pakistan to look to either Islam or national-level public policies to uplift the status of its female citizens. National policy, civic organisations and NGOs dedicated to the cause of women`s rights in Pakistan can spend ages trying to modify the laws; however, those laws cannot be implemented at the grassroots level until they gain local acceptance. The law regarding child marriage is an example. Although a woman cannot be married until she is at least 16 years of age, it is a well-known fact that underage marriages are still a norm in many communities, tribes and families of Pakistan.

Policy makers and NGOs in Pakistan might benefit from a slight shift in how they view this issue. Feminism in Pakistan is a local issue of local communities. Only empowered women and progressive men from within those communities can be expected to make a difference. The change would have to come with education and awareness from within.

The writer is an assistant professor of public administration at the State University of New York and a board member for the Women`s Interfaith Institute of the Finger Lakes, NY.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Article about WAVE videoblogger Kalki's own video training program in Chennai (thanks to Women's Feature Service)

India: The Celluloid Dreams of Transgenders

By Hema Vijay

Chennai (Women's Feature Service) - They are seen as people who harass pedestrians on the streets, collect money by threatening people, kidnap kids, engage in sex work, and so on. But these stereotypes do little justice to transgenders. Like everybody else, they can be dynamic litterateurs, creative artists and, above all, socially committed individuals.

Nine moving documentaries by transgenders networking with the Chennai-based Sahodari Foundation shatter vicious myths and clear misconceptions caused by ignorance. These films provide a glimpse into the real world and minds of transgenders, the sorrow and joys that they experience, the traumas they go through, the ideas and ambitions they harbour. Interestingly, not all these films focus on transgender issues. It is as if the young filmmakers are silently saying: 'Our gender is not our only identity; we are as interested in the rest of the world, as anybody else'.

The documentaries were filmed for over a period of five months in Chennai by Sandhya Chandru, Sandhya, Soundarya, Gomathi, Abinaya, Manu, Monal, Kanchana, and Kalki, a transgender activist and the founder director of Sahodari Foundation, that works for transgender issues. In fact, the documentary film project is Kalki's brainchild, sparked off during a workshop 'Women Aloud: Videoblogging for Empowerment (WAVE)' conducted in Pune last year by filmmakers Sapna Shahani and Angana Jhaveri. Kalki was given a small Canon Legria FS 200 handycam to make a film every month on community issues. She made five short films. Among them was 'Sisters on the street: A day in the life of two transgender women', a five-minute film on the sexual harassment transgenders face when they go begging. The film received a good response, and Kalki realised the importance of video documentation as a tool of empowerment. That was when she decided to teach video documenting to others at Sahodari as well.

So, armed with a camcorder, which the group shared between themselves, they made films on issues that touched their hearts. This was an opportunity for them to speak out and be heard. And what is seen and heard through these celluloid stories brings a tear to the eye and a smile to the lips all at once. "These films would be an eye opener for many. They deserve to be screened at international film festivals," says Tara Navneeth, a social activist and artist based in Chennai, who has been campaigning for rights of sexual minorities.

Sandhya's film 'Odukkappatta Aatmakal' (Abandoned Souls) is about the plight of abandoned elderly persons. She says, "I want to start my own old age home." Abinaya, who happens to be a classical dancer, brings to our view through 'Ippadikku Abinaya' (This is Abinaya), the talents possessed by transgenders that go untapped and ignored by the world. Sandhya Chandru's film 'Kadal Nanbargal' (Sea Friends) explores the life of fisherfolk. Monal's film is on garbage pickers; Gomathi's on the street children whom she sees every day on her way to work.

In 'Nambikkai' (Faith), Kanchana trains her lens on the plight of the physically challenged. Says she, "My mother wanted a girl, and so when I was born, she raised me as a girl. When I was about five, they decided to raise me as a boy, and tried to crop my hair. Until then I wore pig-tails. But my mind was set on girlish things. Then my uncle tried to force me into sex. I ran away from home, and was rescued by Childline and lodged at the Don Bosco Anbu Illam in Chennai. Although the chief Pastor there was very kind to me, I was humiliated again by teachers and others, and I ran away and fended for myself." Now, Kanchana makes a living as a dancer.

The other films in this project are about the difficulties the community as a whole inevitably faces. Soundarya's film, 'My Mother', is on the hardships of abandoned transgender kids. "As a child I was a rank holder at school, but ridiculed by the family, my father especially. My uncle tried to force me into having sex with him, but when I complained to my father he only whipped me and put the blame on me. I was 14 then. I ran away, was raped by drug addicts on the street and now, after so many years of trauma, I am here doing a responsible job thanks to the Sahodari Foundation. Most transgenders are abandoned by their families, and are forced to run away and fend for themselves on the streets. Parents need counselling first. If parents are sensitised, transgenders would not be left on the streets and become victims or perpetrators of street crimes," says Soundarya Gopi. Agrees Kalki, who incidentally has two Masters' degrees - one in journalism and mass communication and the other in international relations, "Despite my education, I have been discriminated against at school, university, profession... by friends, by relatives... It made me shudder to think of the plight of those who are uneducated, who come from villages and small towns."

Can things ever change for them? "The ordinary person can do a lot to salvage the situation by just being non-discriminatory; and by offering acceptance. It's really that simple," she says.

Meanwhile, Kalki's 'Punnagai' (Smile) is a happy film, filled with moments of joy on the faces of these women. "We have been ridiculed, harassed, tortured, tormented and laughed at. My film shows that despite all this we still retain our smile." Manu's film, too, is very sensitive and gracefully narrated. It tells the story about how she re-established contact and renewed friendship with two childhood friends after leaving home to get her sex change operation done and returning to Chennai. "My friends and their families have accepted me, and I treasure this friendship," she says.

Efforts are on to showcase the films in other cities, and at film festivals around the world. This documentary film project is not the culmination of a process but hopefully the beginning of bigger things. Sahodari will be training these six women and other interested transgenders in multimedia skills like photography, videography, film editing, audio and sound, internet and web media technologies. By 2011, the Foundation plans to start a training and production house for visual media and communication, an education project for transgenders that would also be open to under-privileged students from other communities too.

"People feel sorry for the physically challenged, they accept drunkards, but they ridicule and torment people challenged by gender issues. We didn't choose to be this way. God created us like this," says Soundarya. It is because transgenders are denied education and employment that some of them are driven into begging, crime and prostitution, Tara Navneeth adds.

These sensitive and intelligent films will, hopefully, go some way in changing social responses, that remains apathetic at best and abusive at worst, towards transgenders in India.

(To know more on Sahodari Foundation's work log on to

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

My relationship with India: It's complicated (journal entry written for

When I think about my relationship with India, I think of the Facebook relationship status ‘It’s complicated’. But like other complicated relationships, I feel like I’ve weathered the ups and downs in recent years, and am now sailing in less stormy waters.

On the one hand, there is no shortage of attitudes to dislike, especially as a woman: being discouraged from playing the more enjoyable ‘boy’ games, getting a ‘bad reputation’ when I used to stay out late dancing as a teenager, being molested several times and then learning from girlfriends that was a common experience, or being stared at by men in public constantly for wearing ‘Western clothes’ which I believe has lead to my often feeling asexual as an adult. The list would get much longer if I talked about politics, Bollywood, or our hierarchical society.

On the other hand, I returned to live in India after nine years in the US because I appreciate our generally warm nature (getting a government official to grant a minor favour through an emotional appeal), our deeply spiritual roots (reflected in my grandfather’s iron-clad ethics), the mind-boggling diversity of cultures to experience across the country, and our delectable food!

After spending some time back home in Bombay and contemplating the dislikes far more than the likes, I realized that I could only be happy if I committed my life to changing the things that most of the people I spoke to dislike. Now it makes me feel better every time I experience an instance of sexism that I run a social venture that empowers women.

But to speak more of the things I would like to change, here is my laundry list:
- Being made to feel ashamed for smoking a cigarette as a woman.
- Being considered XXL at size 16 (US) and having salesmen always tell me as I enter a store, “Madam, we have clothes in YOUR size also”.
- A general intolerance towards dating even though every Hindi movie glorifies romance, which leads to a general social awkwardness between young men and women.
- Being considered ‘past it’ as a single woman over 30.
- Feeling unsafe traveling alone in Delhi (our capital city!) at night.
- Having only one female Member of the Legislative Assembly in the state where I live.
- People assuming I am a bad driver because I am a woman.

I am interested in discussion and theoretical research about changing core social attitudes that cause sexist behaviour in countries like India where patriarchal beliefs are deeply embedded and dissent is discouraged. Since I work in the field of media for social change, I am particularly interested in case studies about successful gender justice media campaigns such as the 'Pink Chaddi' movement. Please comment if you know of case studies, research, writings, etc in this area.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Event: WAVE screening at Jaaga in Bangalore January 17 at 8.30 pm

Sapna Shahani will host a screening of several online video shorts created by young women from around India followed by a brief Q&A and discussion. Videos include:
1. What is WAVE?
2. In Limbo: Kashmir's Half Widows - Lebul Nisa, Jammu and Kashmir.
3. Campaign Reservation Express - Vandana, Himachal Pradesh.
4. Eki - Apoorva Shaligram, Maharashtra.
5. Toxic Neglect - Moushumi Basu, Jharkhand.
6. Girija - Vinitha D'Souza, Karnataka.
7. In Her Friends Words - Sakshi Saini, Delhi.
8. Power to the People - Nyapi Bomjen, Arunachal Pradesh.
9. Whose Honour? - Neha Sehgal, Haryana.
10. Census and the Others - Kalki Subramaniam, Tamil Nadu.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

UN population fund seeking youth fellows - deadlne 20 Jan

See full info on the website:

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) is currently open to accepting applications for the Special Youth Fellowship Programme.

This fellowship provides an opportunity to young people from developing countries to engage in policy development and programming, help build the capacity of young people and to sensitize young people and UNFPA staff on joint addressing young people’s issues.

The programme is open young people (20-24 years) from developing countries in Africa, Arab States, Asia and the Pacific, Eastern Europe and Central Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean.

All selected candidates will be provided return travel from country of origin, assistance with travel documents and visa requirements, health insurance, housing arrangements, a minimum subsistence allowance (for meals and other basic needs), a workstation and internet access, opportunities to be mentored by UNFPA staff on issues of interest and administrative assistance as may be required. A salary is not paid under this programme.

The deadline to apply is 20 January 2011.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

'The lady who put gender on her state's agenda' by Sapna Shahani

Sabina Martins knew she had finally won her family’s approval of her activism work when her mother came home one day and proudly related that she finally got her passport after being given a runaround by officials for days. The words that intimidated them into action were, “Do you know who I am? I am Sabina Martins’ mother.”

The appreciation was long overdue but never dampened Sabina’s conviction. “I got a whacking once. My mother grounded me to the bed and said you are not going to go (to a protest event)… Sometimes when I came home late from meetings, my siblings would not open the door saying, 'stay out, you're late,’ or put water in the rice, saying ‘if you don't get food, then next time you'll come home on time’.”

It was in circumstances like these that she founded Bailancho Saad (Women’s Wake Up Call), 25 years ago. Beginning at age 15 in the Progressive Students Union at college, Sabina’s resolve got stronger with instances of being knocked unconscious by a police baton, going on a hunger strike, or facing preventive arrests.

The stitches were not got in vain though. “We fought for a women's police station and got it after 10 years. We fought for the women's commission and got it… Today, if gender is on the agenda in Goa, Bailancho Saad has had a significant role to play in that process.” But more than the tangible institutions created, Sabina feels that her greatest achievement is the sense of security women feel in Goa because of the various awareness-building activities they have carried out. “An 80-year-old lady called me up and said ‘Today, I did Bailancho Saad.’ I asked her what she meant and she said she protested outside the house of those who wanted to dispossess her of her own home and got her key back. To me, that is empowerment.”

Sabina explains that all their work began with women in distress approaching them for help, such as the lady who needed help requesting the court to grant her sewing machine from her former marital home, when our conversation began. “We take on individual cases and from these, you get insights into problems, lobby for policy changes, legal amendments, putting systems in place... There are issues like violence, bigamy, the impact of development, alcoholism, casinos, trafficking, sexual harassment at the workplace, single women, HIV positive women, orphans…”

In 2006, although Sabina was busy enough with Bailancho Saad, earning her living as a schoolteacher and pursuing a PhD in chemistry, she felt compelled to join others voicing their objections to a potentially disastrous Regional Plan. Public resentment had grown as corrupt government officials were allegedly taking bribes from wealthy builders to convert protected agricultural land into commercial land where they could build vacation homes for the urban rich.

“If you look at Goa, there are three parts - the coastal area, the main land and the hinterland. On the coast, you had five star hotels buying up land and blocking access to public beaches, in effect privatizing them. In the main land, you had Special Economic Zones (SEZs), (controlled from out of state) where local people would need a permit to go in. In the hinterland, you have the mining belt, where silt from iron and manganese mines entered people’s rice paddies so they lost their sustainable occupations... Finally, what will be left of Goa for the people?”

With this gift for putting issues into perspective, especially through a gender lens, she plugged into the movement which saw an historic turnout of 8000 people to the mass agitation called by the newly formed Goa Bachao Andolan or Save Goa campaign, under the leadership of a well-known doctor, Oscar Rebello and herself. Eventually the government buckled under the pressure, fearing backlash in the forthcoming elections and withdrew the Plan. “Now, rebuilding the plan is difficult. Throwing it out was easy. We're talking about transparency, participatory processes, equity and sustainable development. So we need all kinds of help to disseminate this information.”

Having recently started my own journey highlighting women’s rights issues in India, I ask Sabina what other women activists can learn from her experience. She cautions that it’s a long road ahead because although we feel empowered in our own spaces, gender sensitivity is still not there even in mixed-gender progressive circles. There were no women on the Regional Plan’s task force. Even though women were doing all the “donkeywork”, they were being relegated to assistant’s roles. “If you look at photos from the agitations, you'll see a sea of women. But decision-making is still not a domain of women.”

Sabina has come a long way from earlier times when she had to resist family and social disapproval of her work. Today, her friends regard her family life as enviable. Her husband of 17 years, Subhas Naik George is also an activist for workers rights and is very supportive of Sabina's work.

This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future, which is providing rigorous web 2.0 and new media training for 30 emerging women leaders. We are speaking out for social change from some of the most unheard regions of the world.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Lebul Nisa wins a Laadli award for her video In Limbo: Kashmir's Half-Widows

The award was for gender sensitivity in the media, conferred by Population First and UNFPA for the Western region of India (where WAVE is based) at a ceremony in Ahmedabad on December 18.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

WAVE videos screened at Madurai Film Festival

From an email by festival organiser Amudhan RP:

More than 100 people watched the videos. Most of them were students from the colleges in and around Madurai.

The students felt that the videos and the stories were inspiring as they talked
about women from different backgrounds and the videos were taken by

The general public found the videos interesting as they were true examples
of democratization of media.

We are planning to screen it again the smaller festivals in near future.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

An old story to inspire new women entrepreneurs

It is for you dear friend to decide whether the tale I am about to relate is true or otherwise. Long ago we were a prosperous middle class family with five shops in a land near Hong Kong.

One day my father died without leaving a will. The case went to court for the division of the property my dad left. The judge ruled the division be: 50% to my uncle who was a partner with my dad. 25% to the widow (my mom). The balance 25% be divided equally among three children (my two sisters and myself).

Business prospered. Every year we showed a profit, except for 1932, the year my father died. That year we showed zero profit. But the next year we showed double profit. So I figured my uncle had cooked the balance sheet. Anyway everything was fine till the day the Japs bombed Pearl Harbor, Manila and other places. Business declined, till the period (3 Feb - 14 Feb) that the Japs set fire to Manila (and three of our shops). Nothing was to be seen other than ashes.

My younger sister U has in 1942 married her cousin A. At first the marriage went okay because A's company was the biggest foreign company operating in India. Their nearest competition was Burmah-Shell.

One fine day, A who was a weak character, took to drinking. As is that were not enough, he drove under the influence. One evening he drank and drove over a poor man sleeping on the footpath (a beggar). Frightened, A ran home and related his adventure. At that time, A's family had living with them a blind sadhu who listened to the story and declared "Kuch nahin hota". And really nothing happened. Are the police going to waste their time over the death of a beggar? They promptly closed the file.

A's company had a broad-minded policy. They believed that drinking was a problem that needed medical attention and not punishment. But the middle managers believed differently. They went after A hammer and tongs. Called A to Delhi 5, 10, 15, 20 times and questioned him. A cracked under the incessant questions. He had been advised by his family "Stand firm. Admit nothing. Do not sign any paper!" A cracked under the hundreds of questions and signed the papers. And one of them turned out to be his letter of resignation. Resignation means no salary coming for a while. The family lived on its savings.

But U started worrying. And she remembered her 8 and 1/3 share in the Manila shops. She would not believe me when I tried to explain that the shops had been burned down and only ashes were left. She bought a ticket and went to Manila. And what did she find. She found the elder sister running a small shop in an out-of-the-way place. Barely enough money coming to pay the simple home expenses. Elder sister defends herself thus: I gave her shelter, fed her all those years. I did not charge her a single paisa.

U did not lose heart. She borrowed her elder sister's sewing machine and started stitching. She stitched bedsheets, pillow cases, pyjamas, you name it, she stitched it. Slowly, her work got better and better until one day she invented something called a brassiere cut… A coatee so tight-fitting the wearer did not have to wear a brassiere underneath. When the ladies in Hong Kong found out what she could do, they beat a path to her door, "Please U, my daughter's wedding is on such and such date. Please, please stitch her trousseau". A little sister never said no. Her income got better and better. From her income, she married off one daughter, she educated two sons, she purchased a flat in Worli, which some years later was said to be worth 73 lakhs.

The day came that she retired from Manila and came to Worli and continued her stitching. The ladies from Hong Kong to Manila came to Worli and asked her to stitch her daughters trousseaus. She is now fully retired and lives with her daughter in Miami.

- The writer who is now over 90 years old, prefers to remain anonymous, so as not to hurt the sentiments of family members described in this story. His aim in sharing this story is to inspire other young women to start their own businesses.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Another instance of state censorship to cover own wrongdoings

NWMI statement on charges against Shahina KK

11 December 2010


Shri Hans Raj Bhardwaj

Honorable Governor of Karnataka Raj Bhavan, Raj Bhavan Road Bangalore 560 001

Respected Sir,

The Network of Women in Media, India, is deeply concerned about the charges framed by the Karnataka Police against Shahina KK, a journalist working for the Tehelka magazine. Charges were drawn up after she conducted interviews and filed a story titled “Why is this man still in jail?” on the case relating to Abdul Nasar Madani, Chairman of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), one of the accused in the Bangalore bomb blasts.

After the publication of her report in the December 4, 2010 issue of Tehelka, Shahina has been facing harassment and intimidation from the Karnataka Police. A case has been registered against her at the Somawarpet Police Station (No. 199/10) and Siddhapura Police Station (No. 241/10) under Section 506 for allegedly intimidating witnesses. A team from the Crime Branch has reportedly left for Kerala to carry out further investigations.

As working journalists, we are gravely concerned about what appears to be a clamp down on journalists doing their duty to investigate events and issues in their attempt to uncover the truth and keep the public informed. We believe the false charges framed against Shahina KK is an attempt to silence the press and to dissuade the media from delving into such matters. The trumped up charges against Shahina KK appears to be yet another instance of social profiling based on religious identity that has become all too common in recent years. We think it is imperative to uphold the right and duty of journalists to probe issues relating to human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minority communities who are accused of criminal acts, in the public interest.

By slapping charges of criminal intimidation (which carries a seven-year jail term as punishment) against a journalist the Karnataka Police has attacked the very basis of the freedom of expression, which is vital for the functioning of democracy. That the charges are cooked up is apparent from the fact that the police claimed that they were not sure of her identity, even though Shahina showed them her press identity card, issued by Tehelka. The authorities’ misuse of all means – both fair and foul – purportedly in the ‘war on terror’ is fast becoming a war on minorities, and the freedom of press.

We therefore demand the following:

1. Withdraw all cases against KK Shahina and recall the Crime Branch team immediately.

2. Conduct an independent enquiry into the harassment of Shahina by the police

3. Allow journalists to investigate and report on cases relating to “terrorism,” including the Madani case, without further harassment


On behalf of the Network of Women in Media, India.

1. Pushpa Achanta, Journalist, Bangalore

2. Anita Cheria, Journalist and Activist, Bangalore

3. Rajashri Dasgupta, Independent Journalist, Kolkata

4. Ammu Joseph, Independent Journalist, Bangalore

5. Sameera Khan, Independent Journalist, Mumbai

6. Laxmi Murthy, Consulting Editor, Himal Southasian, Bangalore

7. Susmitha Narayanan, Journalist, Bangalore

8. Jyoti Punwani, Independent Journalist, Mumbai

9. Kalpana Sharma, Independent Journalist and columnist, Mumbai


Shri B S Yeddyurappa, Chief Minister of Karnataka

Justice Shri K G Balakrishnan, Chairperson, National Human Rights Commission

Justice Shri Subray Rama Nayak, Chairperson, Karnataka State Human Rights Commission

Shri P Chidambaram, Union Minister of Home Affairs

Shri Gopal Pillai, Home Secretary, Government of India

Director General of Police, Karnataka

Chairperson,Press Council of India

For readers, also of interest: 'Investigate' the police at your own peril, a commentary published in The Hoot

WAVE joins the protest against Binayak Sen's life imprisonment

The Second Additional Sessions Judge, Raipur B.P. Verma has sentenced human rights defender Dr. Binayak Sen, Kolkata businessman Pijush Guha and Maoist ideologue Narayan Sanyal for rigorous life imprisonment and shorter prison terms, to run concurrently under Sections 124A read with Section 120B of the Indian Penal Code, Sections 8(1), 8(2), 8(3) and 8(5) of the Chhattisgarh Vishesh Jan Suraksha Adhiniyam, 2005 (Chhattisgarh Special Public Safety Act) and Section 39(2) of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 1967. Narayan Sanyal has been additionally sentenced under Section 20 of the UAPA Act, 1967. Briefly put Section 124A read with Section 120B of IPC pertains to sedition and conspiracy for sedition; CSPSA, 2005 makes culpable membership of, association with, and furthering the interests, financially or otherwise, of organizations notified and banned under the Act as unlawful. UAPA, 1967 seeks to penalize membership of a terrorist gang or association, holding proceeds of terrorism, or support given to a terrorist organization.

To hold the three accused guilty under the above mentioned laws, the judgment had to establish beyond reasonable doubt that the accused were either directly indulging in seditious activities as individuals or as members of an organization, or conspiring to abet and further seditious activities of individuals or organization. Also, the judgment was to establish beyond reasonable doubt that the accused were either members of organizations notified as unlawful under CSPSA or/ and UAPA, or conspiring to abet and further the activities of such unlawful organizations. Judge Verma’s verdict weaves a flawed legal narrative trying to establish the aforementioned links.

Judge Verma’s narrative hinges on the following points:

• Narayan Sanyal is a member of the highest decision making body, Politburo, of CPI (Maoist) a seditious organization and notified as unlawful under the CSPSA and UAPA. As a basis for this, the judgment cites the content of certain journals purported to be organs of the CPI (Maoist) and certain cases lodged against him for Maoist activities in the states of Andhra Pradesh and Jharkhand. The above-mentioned magazines have been reportedly seized from co-accused Pijush Guha who has contended that they were planted on him by the police. The judge has unquestioningly accepted the version of the police on the basis of the supposed testimony of the seizure witness Anil Singh, ignoring the objections of Pijush Guha and co-accused Binayak Sen to the effect that the seizure witness had claimed to overhear a conversation between Guha and the police in a situation where the police had Guha in their custody, and any statement made by Guha to the police in a custodial situation is inadmissible as evidence under the Indian Evidence Act, 1872. It should not be forgotten that the seizure witness Anil Singh did not accompany the police when they came to apprehend and search Guha, but was supposedly a passerby, who was stopped by the police when Guha was already in their custody. The judge has held Narayan Sanyal to be a member of CPI (Maoist) on the basis of cases against him in other states in which he has not yet been pronounced guilty.

• The central point around which the verdict’s narrative is woven is the arrest and seizure of certain articles, including the abovementioned journals and three letters supposedly written by Narayan Sanyal to his party comrades, handed over to Binayak Sen when he met Sanyal in jail, and then handed over by Sen to Pijush Guha who was supposed to pass it on to Sanyal’s party comrades. This supposedly establishes a chain binding the three in a conspiratorial relationship. According to this supposed conspiratorial chain, Narayan Sanyal is a leader of a seditious organization also notified as unlawful and as such banned; Binayak Sen conspires with Sanyal to pass on his letters to his party comrades through Guha, thus both Sen and Guha assist in the activities of a seditious and unlawful organization. In constructing this conspiratorial chain, the Judge has relied on forensic evidence testifying that the letters were indeed written by Sanyal, but for them being in possession of Pijush Guha, he has relied solely on the evidence of police officers and seizure witness Anil Singh whose versions have been contested by Guha but ignored by the Judge. Guha’s testimony says that he was arrested on 1.5.2007 from Mahindra Hotel, kept in illegal custody blindfolded for six days and finally produced before a Magistrate only on 6.5.2007. The Judge has ignored even Guha’s statement to this effect made before the Magistrate as soon as he was produced. Judge Verma has said in his verdict that Guha has failed to produce any evidence in favour of his statement, thereby putting the onus of proof on the accused and not the prosecution, which is bad in law. The Judge has also ignored the contradiction between the police affidavit filed before the Supreme Court while opposing the bail application of Binayak Sen and the police version presented in the charge sheet filed in the sessions court. In the Supreme Court the police said that Guha had been arrested from Mahindra Hotel (which Guha has alleged in his testimony) but in the sessions court the police have said that Guha was arrested from Station Road where the police supposedly seized the aforementioned incriminating articles in the presence of seizure witness Anil Singh. The police’s flimsy argument, that the discrepancy was because of a typographical error in the affidavit filed before the Supreme Court, has been accepted by Judge Verma. Actually, the police officer responsible should be tried for either filing a false affidavit in the Apex Court, or lying in the sessions court under oath. Accepting Guha’s testimony would have rendered the seizure witness’s statement implausible on which the Judge has centrally relied for his narrative. This would have in turn resulted in a complete collapse of the case against all the accused, especially so against Guha and Binayak Sen, against whom there was no material evidence of either being a member of CPI (Maoist) or being in conspiratorial relationship with Narayan Sanyal, the principal Maoist character in Judge Verma’s narrative.
• Once the central conspiratorial point and incident has been constructed in the judicial narrative, conspiratorial linkages between the three accused and their common causes and actions before the incident also needed to be established. This has been attempted in Pijush Guha’s case by a reference to his frequent visits to Raipur and a case pending in district Purulia, West Bengal. Judge Verma has ignored the fact that Guha was made an accused in the Purulia case after 6.5.2007, the date on which he is said to have been arrested in Raipur. This fact strongly generates a suspicion of afterthought by the police of the two states acting in collusion. Judge Verma’s verdict also naturally ignores the fact that Pijush Guha’s frequent visits are explained by his being a tendu leaf trader trading in the areas of Chhattisgarh.

• Binayak Sen’s supposed conspiratorial relationship with Narayan Sanyal and his seditious Maoist causes is sought to be established by the following:

1. Deepak Choubey’s testimony that he accepted Narayan Sanyal as a tenant in his house on the recommendation of Binayak Sen a few months before Sanyal’s arrest.

The Judge has ignored the fact that Deepak Choubey did not own the house but acted on behalf of his brother in law. More crucially, the Judge set aside Sen’s objection that Choubey’s assertion came in response to a leading question by the Public Prosecutor. Judge Verma’s verdict makes no reference as to why he rejected Sen’s contention that Choubey’s statement was made under duress because the police threatened to implicate him. It also does not take into account the contradiction with the police’s own version that Narayan Sanyal was arrested from Bhadrachalam in Andhra Pradesh to which effect police officers of Andhra Pradesh have testified.

2. Binayak Sen’s 33 meetings in 1.5 years with jailed Narayan Sanyal.

The judge without giving any reason has ignored Sen’s contention that he was merely performing his duty as a human rights activist and a physician in addressing the legal and health issues of an ailing undertrial prisoner on the request of the undertrial’s family. Instead, Judge Verma’s verdict makes a convoluted argument by holding that Sanyal’s sister-in-law’s (Bula Sanyal’s) phone calls to Binayak Sen in this regard proved a conspiratorial relationship between him and Narayan Sanyal. Since the prosecution failed to produce even a single jail official or any other eye witness testifying to any letter or message, oral or written, being passed by Narayan Sanyal to Binayak Sen in their jail meetings, the verdict makes much fuss about certain entries in jail registers referring to Sen being Sanyal’s relative, ignoring the defence contention that these entries were filled in by the jail officials, and not by either the visited or visitor, as apparent from the face of the record. On the contrary, all the applications Binayak Sen submitted to the jail officials, requesting a meeting with Sanyal, were written on the letterhead of his organization - PUCL (a Civil Liberties and Democratic Rights organization founded by leading Sarvodaya leader Jayprakash Narayan). These visits were duly permitted by the jail officials and transpired in their full view and hearing.

3. That Binayak Sen had a close relationship with CPI (Maoist) is sought to be established by the unsubstantiated testimonies of police officials claiming that Sen and his wife Ilina Sen had assisted alleged hard core Maoists Shankar Singh and Amita Srivastava. Sen has not disputed that Shankar was employed by Rupantar – an NGO founded by his wife Ilina. Nor has he disputed that he and Ilina knew Amita Srivastava whom the latter, on the recommendation of a friend, had helped find a job in a school. But the Judge has just accepted the police’s word, without any other testimony or material evidence whatsoever that Shankar and Amita were Maoists.

4. Judge Verma has also wrongly concluded, on the basis of hearsay by the police, that one Malati employed by Rupantar was the same person as Shantipriya, also using the alias Malati, a Maoist leader’s wife convicted for 10 years in a case tried in another court in Raipur. The judge has not even mentioned or verified the defence evidence put on record that the Malati employed by Rupantar was actually Malati Yadav.

5. Judge Verma’s narrative seems to have a particular fondness for police hearsay as he has blindly accepted, without any corroboration by another witness or any material evidence, wild allegations made by police officials Vijay Thakur and Sher Singh Bande, officer in charge of Konta and Chhuria police stations respectively that Binayak Sen, his wife Ilina Sen and other PUCL members and human rights activists attended the meetings of Maoists in their respective areas. These officials have gone well beyond their Section 161 statements introducing documents not earlier annexed with the charge sheet, and all defence objections in this regard were overruled by the Judge.

6. But a certain planted letter, exhibit A-37, takes the cake in Judge Verma’s narrative. This unsigned letter, supposedly written by the Central Committee of CPI (Maoist) to Binayak Sen, was claimed by the police to have been seized from Sen’s house when the police ran a search there. But this letter finds no mention in the seizure list, neither has it been signed by Sen nor the investigating officers nor the search witnesses as per proper procedural requirement. The said letter was also not part of the copy of the charge sheet received by Sen in the court. But the Judge has completely overlooked this obvious planting of evidence, accepting the ridiculous explanation provided by investigating officers BS Jagrit and BBS Rajput that the Article A-37 probably stuck to another article (chipak gaya tha) and hence could not get signed by either Sen or the investigating officer or search witnesses. It is no surprise that the judge has also ignored the very valid testimonies of defence witnesses Amit Bannerji and Mahesh Mahobe in this context.

7. The verdict lets the cat of its ideological bias out of the bag , however, when it accepts above the Supreme Court’s wise judicial pronouncements which were brought on record in the case by Sen, the testimony of a mere district collector KR Pisda in charge of Dantewada district that Salwa Judum was a peaceful and spontaneous protest movement of the tribals against the atrocities committed by the Maoists, and not a brutal and armed vigilante operation sponsored by the state. Later in his judgment Judge Verma insinuates that Binayak Sen’s principled opposition as a human rights defender to such a non-legal, repressive, brutal vigilante operation indulging in mayhem and violence put him in the Maoist camp against whom the Salwa Judum was targeted.

While weaving a narrative of sedition against Binayak Sen and other accused in the case, the sessions court verdict violates a well laid judicial principle of the Supreme Court in matters of sedition. In Kedarnath Singh Vs State of Bihar the Supreme Court has held that the provision of sedition in the Indian Penal Code must be interpreted in a manner consistent with the fundamental freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by the Indian Constitution. In this regard the Supreme Court held that the offence of sedition, which is defined as spreading disaffection against the state, should be considered as having been committed only if the said disaffection is a direct incitement to violence or will lead to serious public disorder. No speech or deed milder than this should be considered seditious. The sessions court verdict in the case against Binayak Sen and others fails to establish that the words or deeds of the accused were a direct incitement to violence or would lead to serious public disorder. This would be the case even if it was established beyond doubt that Binayak Sen had passed on Narayan Sanyal’s letters to Pijush Guha, or Pijush Guha was likely to pass on these letters to other members of the CPI (Maoist), or that Narayan Sanyal was a politburo member of the CPI (Maoist).