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Sign the Petition & Demand Justice for Rashmi Who Was Murdered For #Dowry During the Covid Lockdown

August 3, 2020

Dear friends,

The Covid lockdown has been particularly dangerous time for women in India.  We have seen an escalation in all forms of violence against women during the lockdown, with the police not responding to calls for help or taking action when crimes are committed.

We were approached for help on twitter by Swarn Bhaskar Upadhyay,whose sister was murdered for dowry.  (click for the tweet). We are posting his  letter below. Please support him by retweeting his tweet and demanding action from the police.

THE FAMILY HAS ALSO PUT OUT A PUBLIC PETITION ASKING THE NATIONAL COMMISSION FOR WOMEN TO TAKE ACTION. PLEASE SIGN IT AND SHOW YOUR SUPPORT. CLICK HERE FOR THE PETITION.

Here is the letter from Swarn Bhaskar Upadhyay

I am writing to ask for your support for justice for my sister Rashmi who was brutally murdered by her husband and in-laws, just 16 months after her wedding.  At the time of her death, she was two months pregnant.

Rashmi was a very bright and ambitious girl from her childhood. She was great in her studies and was in her M.A. final year. She wanted to be an IAS officer so she could help others.  We are four brothers and she was our only sister. She loved us very much and was very close to our parents. She loved singing and cooking.

On 10th December 2018, my sister, Rashmi was married to Shivkishan Upadhyay, who worked as a police constable in Sultanpur, Uttar Pradesh.  Shivkishan belongs to a very powerful and reputed family from Sultanpur. Shivkishan’s family had demanded a dowry during the time of the wedding. Since my parents wanted to give my sister a gift to start her new family life, we gave her a Stri Dhan (bride’s wealth) according to our capacity. After the wedding Rashmi had been living at her in-laws’ place.

Then, we heard Rashmi is pregnant and we were very happy for her.  But soon after Rashmi’s husband (Shivkishan Upadhyay) along with his father (Nagendra Prasad Upadhyay), his paternal uncle (Mahendra Upadhyay), his brother(Jaikishan Upadhyay), his mother and his uncle’s wife had been torturing and beating her due to my parent’s inability to fulfill their increasing dowry demand. Amidst all this, my sister somehow managed to call us and inform us about what had been happening and told us that her in-laws were now demanding Rs 10,00,000 (Ten Lakh) more as dowry. Listening to which we went straight to her place and pleaded them that we will be trying to fulfill their demand at the earliest and begged them not to torture our daughter anymore. We were miserable and downhearted because we were helpless and incapable of helping her.

On the 4th of April, 2020 at around 09:19 am we received a call from the in-laws asking us to come to their place as soon as possible because Rashmi was very ill. We reached her place and found out that the bedroom door, which had a two-sided lock, was locked and they claimed it was locked from the inside. The police came and broke the door and her body was found hanging from the ceiling fan. We are sure that his family members Shivkishan, Nagendra, Mahendra, Jaikishan and her mother in law brutely murdered her till death and then hanged her body with the fan to make it a  fake suicide case.

We have filed an FIR (police complaint), but the police have taken no action.  They claim that the accused,  Rashmi’s husband and in-laws who had been arrested, have escaped from jail. It has been four months  but despite our repeated pleas, the UP police has made no attempt to track them down and arrest them.

My family wants these men arrested and tried for murder in the court of justice.  We want justice for our sister and daughter.  Please support us in our fight for justice. Please sign this petition (click here).

Swarn Bhaskar Upadhyay

s/o Rabinder Upadhyay

Contact no. 9038301783

Twitter : https://twitter.com/prince_swarn 

A Teenager’s Analysis of Menstrual Health in the Indian Society

June 15, 2020
 by Samriddhi Sharma
[Editor’s note: We are thrilled to have 13-year-old Samriddhi Sharma write this article for us and speak so confidently about a taboo subject that Indian girls, even now, cannot openly discuss].
File:Amra Padatik India.jpg - Wikimedia Commons

Source: Wikimedia

As girls and women, we face numerous challenges and obstacles that our societies throw at us. A lot of these challenges are born of social and cultural impositions. In a society like ours that has been prominently patriarchal throughout history, women have always been kept on the sidelines and marginalised.
From the Hindu religious text of Manusmriti to the works of Shakespeare and Dickens, there is literary evidence that women were controlled and made submissive to the male patriarchy. A woman was considered to be an asset of man, just like his land, animals and crops. In the modern world, the situation has changed for the better. Women have progressed to claim what should have been given to them naturally. The world did not accept this change in status quo and the shifting scales of a male dominated society with any ease. Earliest advocates for women’s rights and the precursors to the modern feminist movement such as Mary Wollstonecraft (author of
A Vindication of the Rights of Woman) and Elizabeth Cady Stanton (first signatory of Declaration of Sentiments) had to fight battles against the patriarchy for the future
generations of women to have the basic rights of voting, education, property, and marriage, among many other rights.
But for addressing the battles and struggles led by women against patriarchy and primitive, amoral & misogynistic orthodoxy, we do not necessarily have to turn to the
reformers from the west. In India, the fight for women’s rights was, and still is, very different from that of the western world. As a matter of fact, any civil and human
rights movement significantly depends on the geography, society, politics and economy of a country. In India, the brave women reformers and women’s rights activists had to battle the deeply seated patriarchy along with the associated religious and cultural orthodox practices that were, and still are, a part of the Indian people. The great Savitri Bai Phule and Pandita Ramabai Ranade, among many other brave women, are rightly considered to be the harbingers of the Indian women’s rights movement. They fought patriarchy that was embedded in every aspect in the life of an Indian woman- in her birth, her body, her mind, her marriage, her disposition, and in her education.
One such issue in India that still has widespread ambiguity, silence and secrecy around it is Menstruation. This silence about a naturally occurring process in a woman’s body is the evidence of the taboo that the female sexual health and sexuality is considered to be. To delve deep into this topic, let us first learn about the phenomenon.
What is Menstruation?
Menstruation is the process of shedding of the uterine lining which is accompanied by bleeding on a regular monthly basis in the female body. It begins in girls at the onset of puberty around the age of 12-15 and ends with Menopause which occurs around the age of 45-50. The first “periods”, as they are referred to, are known as menarche and last periods are known as menopause. Periods also stop when a woman becomes pregnant; they do not resume until the initial stage of breastfeeding.
Duration of Periods 
Usually, the menstrual cycle gets renewed in 28-45 days, varying from person to person. The bleeding lasts for 5-7 days, it also varies from person to person.
What is the reason behind Periods?
Menstruation occurs to mark the onset of puberty in a girl’s life, which also means that she is capable of reproduction. Every month her body is prepared for pregnancy. The uterus lining thickens for the embryo to get embedded after the egg is released from the ovaries. In the event of fertilization, the future fetus would rest here until childbirth. But if there is no such event, this uterus lining sheds off in the form of blood through the vagina.
What happens and how does it feel?
When a girl gets her period for the first time, she might feel some changes occurring in her body, like moodiness, lethargy, and fatigue. These emotional and
physical symptoms are known as Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS). Many girls are unable to understand the normalcy of these changes and end up feeling ashamed and shy. This is due to the total lack of information as the important information about menstruation has customarily been withheld from girls and women in India.
Health issues related to menstruation
Regular periods are a sign that the female body is working normally and it is healthy. But, there are some symptoms that indicate the malfunctioning in a woman’s body
which could cause serious problems.
Some of these symptoms are Painful cramps, Absent periods, Infrequent periods,Short or light periods, Frequent periods, Heavy or long periods. In any such case, a doctor should immediately be consulted. But, due to lack of information, girls are often unable to recognise any of these symptoms and end up suffering serious health
problems.
Myths and Taboos about Menstruation in the Indian Society
A woman in New Delhi supports the Happy to Bleed campaign

Source: The Guardian. Photo by K Fayaz Ahmad

Despite centuries of work towards women’s social upliftment and empowerment by the likes of Phule and Ranade, in the present system, menstruation is still considered to be ‘impure’ and ‘dirty’. This taboo against a natural biological process has been carried as a cultural practice from the past. The origin of this myth dates back to the Vedic times and is often linked to Indra’s ( a Hindu deity) slaying of Vritras, a demon. It has been written in the Vedas that the guilt of killing a Brahmana (the uppermost varna in the Hindu caste system) appears every month as the menstrual flow in women’s body, as women had taken upon themselves a part of Indra’s guilt.

This archaic and baseless theory has disrupted the normal lives of Indian women. In India, women who are menstruating are not allowed to live a normal life as they are prohibited from performing several day-to-day chores.
Many girls and women in rural and even urban India are restricted from entering temples from the fear of ruining the “puja” led by male brahmins. They are also prevented from offering prayers and touching holy books. They are prohibited from entering the kitchen- the supposed “territory” of the Indian woman. It is a widespread
belief across rural and urban India that girls and women who are ovulating are impure, dirty and unhygienic, and anything they touch and possess is contaminated .
The many misconceptions about menstruation such as its association with evil spirits leads to shame and embarrassment about any issue surrounding female sexual health. In some parts of India, women bury the cloths they used during their menstruation to prevent the “evil spirits” from using them. Some believe that menstrual blood is dangerous and can be maliciously used to cause harm using “Kala Jaadu” (black magic). The misinformation and orthodox beliefs are so prevalent that it is alleged that a woman can use another woman’s menstrual blood to “impose her will” on her husband. It is also believed that if a girl touches a cow while she is menstruating, the cow becomes infertile.
These beliefs are widely popular and faithfully practised in a majority of India. There is no scientific explanation and logic behind these beliefs, and yet a majority of Indian
population goes on to practice these amoral and discriminatory practices as the patriarchal and misogynistic society dictates them to.
Amidst the primitive beliefs and extremely inhuman practices that are an outcome of the traditional patriarchal Indian society, the only individual that suffers the most is the girl/woman. Her sexual health has been put behind a lakshman rekha (demarcation) of obscurity and ambiguity and there seems to be no escape from centuries old traditions. These real obstacles in a woman’s life make her already difficult survival more unfortunate and inconvenient.
Such beliefs and practices take a serious toll on girls and women’s health. An environment of shame and guilt has been built over the centuries about menstruating women. And as a result, today’s adolescent girls and women feel insecure, ashamed and stigmatized about menstruating.  Most girls are not provided with the basic and necessary health product that is the Sanitary Napkin or Pad. Pads are the most hygienic means to provide comfort to a woman’s body while she menstruates. This results in girls using unhygienic ways to handle their menstrual blood flow like filling up old socks with cotton and old rags and using them to absorb blood. This rather risks their health and increases the possibility of infections like Herpes and Hepatitis.
Even if they overcome societal and familial shame to try to procure sanitary napkins, they feel embarrassed to buy them from pharmacy stores run by men. Another reason for young girls and women not using sanitary napkins and pads is its high cost. High cost and taxes on hygiene products make them unattainable for poor girls and women. Requests must be made to the government to reduce the cost of menstrual pads and make them easily accessible.
In a television report on ‘Menstrual Hygiene, Women’s Day Special’ by NDTV, it was put forth that the percentage of girls and women using sanitary napkins in India is less than 20%. The report also mentioned that every year, 23 million girls drop out of school when they start menstruating- some are forced by their families to do so and some do it with their  own will. The Indian Council for Medical Research’s 2011-12 report stated that only 38% menstruating girls in India spoke to their mothers about menstruation. 70% of mothers with menstruating daughters considered menstruation as “dirty” and didn’t know how to manage menstruation in a hygienic manner. The research also said that schools are also not that helpful as there are many schools which don’t educate their students about menstruation and sexual health.
Inspiration can be taken from countries such as New Zealand and Scotland which are amongst the first countries to provide sanitary products free in all schools, universities and colleges. Such models will ensure that proper sanitary accessories are provided to every single girl child and women in the remotest parts of the country.
The lack of knowledge is costing young girls and women their futures. It is a topic about which  adults at home and school are not too keen to talk about. They feel uncomfortable talking about sexual and reproductive health. These same people feel that there is no need of making teenage girls aware about sex education and menstruation.
A key issue that is associated with menstruation is the disposal of the sanitary waste generated in the process. The old practices dictate that women burn the already old,
dirty and unhygienic cloth rag, used by women at the cost of endangering their lives, be burnt in utmost secrecy post its use. It is a huge problem that needs to be addressed urgently. Data by government health organisations show that every month, 353 million women and adolescent girls across India use sanitary products and generate menstrual waste. In urban areas, girls and females dispose of the used sanitary napkins by flushing in toilets or by throwing them normally in trash with other waste. But in rural areas, women are still commanded to follow the old ritual of disposing by burning or burying in secrecy, away from the eyes of people.
So, along with generating awareness and giving the vital information to all girls, boys, women and men, proper steps should be initiated towards addressing the issue of
sanitary waste disposal. Steps like special bins for menstrual waste and the use of incinerators are a few suggestions for adopting a healthier and hygienic approach for disposing the sanitary waste.
There is an urgent need for these reforms because it is high time to discard the centuries old traditions that put the baseless customs and beliefs above the health, life
and well-being of girls and women. Menstrual Health and Hygiene (MHH) must be an open topic, and information about menstrual hygiene and the sanitary products must be accessible to every girl and woman. In fact, men should be educated about this issue too.
Modern technology should be used by the government and authorities to create awareness about sexual health and menstruation. Applications and video based
platforms should be used to spread the message of discarding taboos and orthodox customs and embracing healthy ways to maintain hygiene in regards to the sexual
health of women.
Thus, in this 21st century, we must look back to Savitribai Phule, Pandita Ramabai Ranade, Tarabai Shinde, Raja Ram Mohan Roy and all the great Indian reformers who dedicated their lives to uplift the poor, empower women and give equal strength to every individual who had been crushed by the vices of old customs, patriarchy and orthodoxy. They abolished the inhumane Sati Pratha and other misogynistic practices; and so now it is our chance to abolish the stigmatisation of menstruation. Let us all embrace their teachings, and together we must fight to defeat the enemy that resides in the archaic and obsolete customs of the patriarchal society.
BIBLIOGRAPHY
1. Levy, J., Romo-Avilés, N. “A good little tool to get to know yourself a bit
better”: a qualitative study on users’ experiences of app-supported menstrual
tracking in Europe. BMC Public Health 19, 1213 (2019).
https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-019-7549-8
2. Menstrual Hygiene – The Present Scenario and Adverse Effects
http://www.vims.ac.in/blog/menstrual-hygiene/
3. 23 Million Women Drop Out Of School Every Year When They Start
Menstruating In India
https://swachhindia.ndtv.com/23-million-women-drop-out-of-school-every-yea
r-when-they-start-menstruating-in-india-17838/

About the Author: Samriddhi Sharma is a Class 9 student at Delhi Public School.

 

How Aadhaar, India’s New Biometric ID, Is Wrecking Women’s Lives

September 1, 2018

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In 2009, the Indian government launched a new, biometric national ID called Aadhaar. Though its use by citizens is supposed to be voluntary, and the Supreme court has said so too, of recent the government and private companies have begun to make it mandatory.

However the Aadhaar database is hugely compromised. Firstly, it was not collected NOR VERIFIED, by any government officer. Hence, at the points of collection, by the government's own admission, 50,000 vendors faked, replaced, sold, and compromised citizen's data. More so, there have been massive data leaks from various websites. And media investigation has revealed that there is a black market for citizens data, that is buying and selling the data for as little as $6.00

Probably one of the most dangerous aspects of Aadhaar is that it functions like a centrally controlled, tracking device, a biometric dog-tag for each citizen, that also determines whether or not a citizen exists and whether or not a citizen is entitled to goods and services via a process called authentication. To avail any goods, services, and government subsidies, in fact to even access and operate your own bank account, you have to place your finger in a biometric machine, which determines whether or not it is you and if you have permission to avail of the service or your rights.  Due to the massive compromise of data and other factors, like poor technology and internet connectivity, millions of people have been denied basic goods and services.  As the government turns deaf, dumb and blind to widespread crises of exclusions due to Aadhaar, there have been multiple reports of deaths due to starvation. As 68% of adult illiterates in India are women, who are also poor, they have been most vulnerable to the predatory, corruption ridden, abusive system of Aadhaar.

We have started a campaign with the hashtag #AadhaarWarOnWomen on twitter to raise awareness about this human rights crises.  We share some of these tweets below.  Please RT and visit our twitter handle @50millionmissin for more.

 

Here’s Why India’s ‘Save The Girl’ Campaign Will Not Stop Female Gendercide

March 7, 2017

by Rita Banerji

Prime Minister Modi’s ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padao’ (Save the Girl, Educate the Girl) programme, launched in January 2015, was the first time since independence that the Indian government had raised the issue of female genocide in a public campaign. British census data in the 18th century had attributed India’s skewed sex ratio to female infanticide and other forms of femicide, such as sati, but after independence subsequent governments remained bizarrely indifferent to the issue even as it reached epidemic proportions.

photo by Rita Banerji

Modi’s initiative was all the more surprising, given that Gujarat had recorded the lowest Child Sex Ratio (CSR) for girls under his stewardship as state minister.  Mr. Modi’s views on women often infuriated women’s activists, for example when he attributed  the high rate of malnutrition among girls under five in his state to dieting and fashion consciousness.  However, as Prime Minister, his Save the Girl campaign appears to have the imprint of Maneka Gandhi’s (the Women and Child Development Minister) independent thinking on women’s issues.  Mr. Modi observed that female genocide  is a national “crisis” although his plea to let girls live and to educate them was framed as the ‘Prime Minister… begging for the lives of daughters’ rather than in the language of rights.

India’s female genocide is widely attributed to poverty and illiteracy even though data and facts say otherwise. As India’s most recent census data from 2011 shows, the CSR, which is the ratio of girls to boys from birth to six years, is best among the poorest and least educated communities. Globally a CSR of 950 girls to 1000 boys is considered ‘normal’.  CSR in India gets worse in proportion to increases in wealth and education. The wealthiest states have a CSR of 850 and below, much lower than the national CSR of 914 in the 2011 census, itself the lowest since India’s independence. This correlation between increase in wealth and a corresponding increase in the rate of killing of girls in the 0-6years age group is repeated across the spectrum in neighbourhoods, districts, villages, cities and states.  Even a religion wise comparison reveals that the worst CSRs are to be found among the wealthiest communities: the Sikhs and the Jains. Conversely, the highest CSRs are among the tribal and lower caste communities who are also the poorest and least educated.  Yet even among the tribals, when there’s access to wealth through education and jobs, there is a corresponding decline in CSR.  Kerala, with its matrilineal past and no history of female infanticide, had a higher than national average CSR which was always attributed to its high literacy rate (almost 92%). However by the 2011 census Kerala too showed a drop of 8.44% in CSR with reports of rampant foeticide and infanticide. This corresponded with an influx of wealth (almost $20 billion/year) into this historically communist state from Indians working overseas.

What is this driving compulsion to be rid of daughters, particularly with upward social mobility? The answer is dowry – the insidious, misogynist, patriarchal politics of wealth ownership and distribution. The more wealth a family accrues, the more invested it becomes in the patriarchal retention of that wealth and views daughters as a threat to that goal.  Indeed, the more educated a daughter is, and wealthier her family, the bigger the dowry she is expected to bring. Dowry is seen as a way of dispensing with a daughter who then can make no further claims on the family’s inheritance, but because of their education daughters are increasingly fighting for their legal share of parental property. On the other hand, a man not only has an inherent right to his own parents’ property but to his wife’s parents’ wealth too. A son is an easy means of wealth acquisition; the more educated he is, the larger the dowry the family feels entitled to demand. Indeed there are openly exchanged dowry rate charts that list copious amounts of cash, luxury cars, property and gold and diamond jewellery by the kilos.  In fact wealthier neighbourhoods record the highest rates of dowry violence and dowry related murders and suicides.

Nonetheless, this clear correlation of wealth and education with female genocide is anything but an evil-rich and pious-poor divide. The factors that save girls in poorer and illiterate communities, or at least don’t kill them in the same high proportions, are an inverted extension of the same patriarchal system in which women are simply dehumanised and turned into buyable, sellable, usable and disposable commodities. Daughters in poorer homes are allowed to live because as children they can be put to the economic servitude of their families. Poor families use daughters for cleaning, cooking, fetching fuel and water, and for earning an income for the family.  Millions of girls are leased or sold by their families for work as domestic help in urban areas, as labour in fields and factories, and to the sex industry. Another thriving business involves the sale of thousands of girls as ’brides’ through a network of agents to wealthier states with low sex ratios. These girls are kept as slaves, to sexually abuse, to bear babies, and are abused and exploited by all the men of the house, before they are resold as ‘bride’ to another family. In Hyderabad, there’s a flourishing business where wealthy paedophiles from Gulf countries pay poor Muslim families handsomely to arrange a temporary “marriage” with their underage daughters, who they enslave, abuse and divorce before returning to their countries. There are also thriving baby trafficking networks, often operating out of government orphanages, where the babies, all girls, can be bought for as little as Rs 5000/- (approx. £60) from poor tribal communities.

However, there are also numerous tribal communities like the Bedia, the Banchada, Kanjar, Sansi and Nut, where traditionally the sex trafficking of daughters and sisters has been a primary source of income for families and is considered a ‘family trade.’ These communities are also known to openly auction the virginities of their daughters as young as ten, for large sums to the highest bidders. The 2011 census’s CSR for the Bedia population shows an interesting anomaly.  While tribal communities generally have normal CSRs of about 950, census data shows the Bedia community with a CSR of 1276, which is abnormally high.  Investigations reveal that tribal communities like the Bedia and Nut have interstate networks to traffic girl babies, who they  adopt and raise as their own ‘daughters’ and prep for the ‘family trade’ by injecting them with hormones to sexually develop them by the time they are seven and eight.

Although the ‘Save the Girl, Educate the Girl’ campaign is well-funded, its emphasis on rhetoric instead of strategic and well thought out projects puts into question its ability to accomplish its goals. Common sense says that the focus needs to be on the middle and upper classes where census data shows CSR to be the worst. Yet, the campaign focuses on rural and poorer districts, instead of targeting the more powerful classes for fear of a political backlash.

photo by Rita Banerji

A popular rural project that’s been massively funded by this campaign is the planting of trees at the birth of a daughter. The logic behind planting trees is that fathers of girls can harvest these trees to pay dowry. Encouraging the custom of dowry, the very factor contributing to female genocide, contradicts the campaign’s aims. Two of the most important and likely to be effective projects suggested at the campaign’s inauguration unfortunately have not yet seen the light of day, and must be implemented.  One of these projects is putting up public boards that note the CSR of every neighbourhood, on a monthly basis, thereby forcing members of communities to be watchful of and accountable to each other. These particularly must be set up in urban, middle and upper class areas in coordination with police and legal cells for effective action.

The second recommended project that must be implemented is the compulsory registration of all births and deaths of girl children. Additionally, there must be a system of compulsory monitoring of all girls till they reach the age of 15, as 95 % of girls are killed or go missing between the ages of 1-15 years. Indeed, the low CSR is often falsely assumed to be due to sex-selective abortion. The breakdown of the CSR census data shows that more than 84% girls are actually killed from age one to six years.  Less than one million girls were eliminated through sex selection and/or killed as infants after birth and up to age one. But by age six, that number escalated and  7 million girls were exterminated. 

In order to save girls, the implementation of these two projects must be the campaign’s number one priority.

This article was first published on OpenDemocracy 50.50 under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International licence. It was published under the title ‘A Deadly Politics of Wealth: Femicide in India’

Rita Banerji is an author, feminist and founder of The 50 Million Missing Campaign, a global campaign to end India’s female genocide. Her book ‘Sex and Power: Defining History, Shaping Societies‘ is a historical study of the relationship between sex, power and female gendercide in India. She tweets at @rita_banerji

A Brother Begs @PMOIndia & @MinistryWCD To Help w/ His Sister’s #Dowry #Murder Case

January 9, 2017

More than 106,000 young women are burnt to death in India every year. Uma, who was only 23 years old was one of them. We are sharing the following letter and photo that we received from Uma’s brother, Rajesh. Please CLICK HERE and sign and support his petition for justice for his sister. Anyone who can help the family legally or in any other way, please contact Rajesh at bjpnishad@gmail.com; mobile: 7895980071.

 

To,

Mr. Narendra Modi (Prime Minister of India) and Ms. Maneka Gandhi (Woman and Child Development Minister),

I am writing to beg for your help  with my sister Uma Kumari’s dowry murder case.

My sister Uma was married to Omprakash on 12th June, 2012.  Omprakash is the younger son of Mr. Baijnath of Kanpur district which comes under the Mushanagar police station.   For the wedding my family gave Rs.3,50,000 in cash and Rs. 7,50,000 in jewelry and household items as bridal gifts.  

However, soon after the wedding, Uma’s husband and in-laws began to pressurize her for dowry and would verbally and physically abuse her.  They wanted a Rs. 400,000/- four wheel vehicle and a house that my family had built.  When we did not give in to their demands, all of Omprakash’s family including his brothers, sisters-in-law, and uncles began to beat and abuse Uma and threatened to kill her.  My family complained about this dowry abuse to various offices, including the National Commission of Women.  However, Uma’s in-laws would bribe the police and get away. 

Then they hatched a plan to murder Uma.  Since they have more influence on the police and locals in their village than in the city, and can easily escape the law, they planned to murder Uma in their village house. So they first moved my sister from the town to their house in the village. Then on 25th November 2016, Omprakash and all his family members gathered there and began to beat my sister and attempted to kill her. When she didn’t die, they poured 4 liters of kerosene on her and set her on fire. Uma was in the hospital for 20 days and every second there she suffered tremendous pain. She died on 15th December, 2016.  

Uma’s in-laws did not care what happened to her. They’ve only been trying various means to escape the law and protect themselves. My mother has not stopped crying since Uma died and my family has been extremely distressed not just by the terrible and painful death of my sister but the fear that her in-laws will once again influence the police and locals and escape the law.  We want justice for Uma, and we won’t rest till all the members of her husband’s family, including—Ompraksh, Kisingopal, Rambabu, Baijnath, Ramkhilawan, Guddan, Durga, Ramvati—are  all arrested, jailed and hanged. Please, please help us get justice for Uma.

From a grieving brother,

Rajesh Baboo Nishad

mobile: 7895980071

bjpnishad@gmail.com

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Five Favorite Feminist Moments From the Film Parched

October 8, 2016

parched_film_posterby Rita Banerji

As a feminist activist who has worked on systemic violence on Indian women for over fifteen years, I have long waited for India to produce a film like Parched.  Directed by Leena Yadav with a strong, all-female, central cast, there is a cinematic beauty and integrity to the film’s narrative that undoubtedly are among the factors that have earned it eighteen international awards and a place in the Oscar library.  But what makes this film particularly memorable, is how without cringing it makes a number of explicit and discomforting statements on how women need to deal with male violence which, even if presented within an Indian cultural context, have universal relevance.

Parched is the story of three women, Lajjo, Rani and Bijli, in an Indian village and how their friendship helps them triumph misogyny and male violence in their personal lives. Lajjo (played by Radhika Apte), is a talented seamstress whose drunken husband grudges her being barren, and beats her up daily.  Rani, (played by Tannishtha Chatterjee), was widowed young and spent all her life supporting her mother-in-law and unruly son. She takes a loan on her house to buy a child bride, Janaki (played by Lehar Khan) for her son.  And then there’s Bijli (played by Surveen Chawla), who works for the local adult entertainment company as a dancer and a prostitute. She seems the most worldly-wise and resourceful of the friends, and in control of how she negotiates her life.

Below I share my five favorite feminist takeaways from Parched in no particular order:

  1. Men who are sexual predators outside are the same men who are predators at home.

Rani’s hooligan son who roams the streets with his male friends stalking and sexually harassing women, and soliciting prostitutes he can’t pay, also violently rapes his child bride whenever the mood suits him.  One-third of the world’s child brides live in India, and this is perhaps one of the very few mainstream Indian films that unflinchingly shows the kind of sexual and other abuse under-age married girls are subject to.  However, even in adult marriages about 60% of Indian men admit to physically abusing and raping their wives. Indian women are also particularly vulnerable to sexual violence from other family men, as shown at the start of the film where a woman begs the village to not force her to return to her husband, as her brothers-in-law and father-in-law were sexually abusing her.

  1. Women often unthinkingly or as a survival strategy, perpetuate the system that enables male violence.

Rani who was herself a child bride robotically perpetuates the cycle of violence she endured by buying a child bride for her son, silently witnessing his sexual abuse of her, and justifying it through her own passive abuse of the girl.  Rani is initially resentful of her friends being critical of her son’s behavior, but eventually she makes the connection between the violence she has endured and the violence she is perpetuating.  In helping her daughter-in-law escape, Rani finds the courage to seek her own path of freedom.  She also recognizes her own role in the perpetuation of an oppressive, patriarchal system in how she raised her son. In a parting shot to her son, Rani delivers one of the most important lines of the film “Don’t try to be a man. Learn to be human first.”

  1. How men and women define their individual sexual identities directly impacts on their response to male violence.

Men whose individual identities are invested in the collective, hierarchical, patriarchal order, are more likely to use sexual violence as a weapon of power. Often it’s a means of establishing their position in the pecking order by asserting their ‘malehood.’  Rani’s son and his gang of friends who stalk and harass women, and find their entertainment in porn and prostitution, bond by asserting their sexual prowess over each other. Conversely, women are socially conditioned to define their sexuality in terms of how they serve the patriarchy’s needs, and so they are virgin, wife, mother and whore.  The more aware a woman is about sex as her personal identity, need, expression and choice, the more likely she is to reject behavior that reduces her to an ‘owned good’ to be labeled, used and abused at will.  We see Lajjo routinely and silently enduring extreme physical brutality from her husband who faults her for being barren.  However, when Bijli convinces Lajjo that likely it’s her husband who is infertile, it’s an eye-opener for Lajjo.  When Bijli arranges her meeting with a certain mystic lover, Lajjo not only gets pregnant but for the first time experiences sexual ecstasy, and discovers a confidence about her own needs which helps her stand up to her husband.  Similarly, Rani as a young widow, in keeping with social expectations has long squashed her libido.  She owns a mobile phone which the village committee had objected to for all women.  Through the phone Rani connects with an unknown admirer who she never meets, but through whom she experiences an awakening of her sexuality which she secretly relishes.  In a subtle act of symbolic sexual rebellion the women giggle over their use of that mobile as a vibrator.  While mobile phones have been banned in many Indian villages because the men believe it ‘ruins’ women, it is a pointer to how social restrictions set on women through clothing, behavior, movement and laws are always a means of controlling women’s sexuality, and thereby a revolution.

  1. It is an illusion for women to assume they can exert bodily agency and choice within the framework of a patriarchal system for which women are commodity.

At the start of the film Bijli, who works for the local adult entertainment company as a pole dancer and a prostitute, is shown to be in control of her life and choices as she negotiates the terms of her work with her boss.  She refused clients if they didn’t suit her liking and asserted that it did not matter if they had good money, as her shop was ‘closed.’ This is shown in sharp contrast with Rani’s daughter-in-law, who has no choice but to submit to her husband’s sexual abuse as he believes that by having paid a dowry he has bought the right to use her as and when he wants.  Bijli though understands only too well that for the men, she, as all women, is only a sexual product. But even as she regards this view with contempt, she’s confident of her ability to hold her place in their misogynistic world.  However, when one of the company’s workers who she assumed was in love with her, turns out to be only interested in stealing her from the company to become her pimp, she decides to chuck the system and strike out independently.  When her new client subjects her extreme sexual violence, she realizes that her belief in her agency and choice was only an illusion.  Her protection was guaranteed only as long as she was a product whose use was negotiated between men.

  1. Freedom from male violence should never be a lonely and frightening journey for any woman. When women connect and pool their resources, they’ll be able to combat male violence and break free of its prison.

If one goes through stories of women who struggle against gender violence and injustice, from any part of the world, we often find these women to be alone and vulnerable. This is particularly true for when that violence happens within a family or community. The film puts the onus on women to reach out to each other, share their stories, and pool their energies and resources to fight the system of male violence.  The final segment of the film shows the three women driving off into the open space in a quirkily painted open, three-wheeler, discussing their plans and options, as they leave their houses and village behind.

This conclusion was particularly interesting to me, because it almost inverted the classic approach of the feminist movement. Much of feminist outrage today is outwardly directed.  We take our slogans out onto the streets demanding safety in our public and work spaces. But the message of the film that women everywhere need to heed is that we must, first, bring the feminist revolution into our homes where male violence is bred.  If women cannot be safe from male violence at home, they cannot expect to be safe from the same men outside.

 Rita Banerji is the founder and Director of The 50 Million Missing Campaign to end female genocide. Her website is www.ritabanerji.com Follow her on twitter @rita_banerji

 

30-yr-old Aradhana’s Letter to the Indian Prime Minister Regarding #Dowry

December 1, 2015

Nov 28, 2015

Aradhana is a 30-yr-old woman from Noida in northern India who recently wrote to the Indian Prime Minister about the distress she felt each time a prospective groom turned her down because her family couldn’t give him the dowry he demanded. She wants the Prime Minister to give her financial help to ensure she gets married on Dec 02, as planned, or else she has threatened to commit suicide. Aradhana because of her family’s poverty could not study beyond class 10, and had to help by doing menial jobs. In her letter to the PM she wrote:

“My wedding was fixed several times in the past few years, but it never happened as my family could not meet dowry demands. With great difficulty, my father (a gardener) found a match for me about 10 months ago. He is a driver and lives in Dankaur, Greater Noida. However, I am afraid that this time too my wedding may not take place as it has already been postponed once. If this time something goes wrong, I will kill myself as I don’t want to be a burden on my family. I am trying to educate my siblings but it is tough.”

The question is how should the government help Aradhana?  Should the Indian government give her family the dowry money, even though dowry is illegal in India, and the demands keep escalating and thousands of women get killed even after paying dowry?  Or should the government take legal action against this and all the prospective grooms and their families for making an illegal and criminal demand?  If Aradhana is bent on paying dowry to get married, will either of these steps prevent her from getting killed?

26-yr-old Pinki Burnt to Death for #Dowry: #SayHerNameIndia

November 30, 2015

26 Nov, 2015, UP,

26-year-old Pinki was burnt to death for dowry by her husband and in-laws in Rudauli village. A case has been registered against Pinki’s husband Ram Samujh Nishad and his mother by the victim’s mother at Aserwa police station. Police say investigations are on. http://www.business-standard.com/article/pti-stories/26-year-old-woman-burnt-to-death-over-dowry-115112900774_1.html

More than 106,000 women were estimated to be burnt to death for dowry in one year. Most of these cases are dismissed as accidents and suicides and the women never get justice. Read the report here: https://genderbytes.wordpress.com/2011/10/02/video-murder-by-fire-100000-women-a-year/

 

Beaten to Death for Not Cooking for Her Husband

November 27, 2015

Maharashtra, 4 Nov 2015

35 year old Sakhu Dangda was beaten to death by her husband for refusing to cook the mutton dish he wanted for dinner.

http://www.dnaindia.com/mumbai/report-woman-killed-by-husband-for-not-cooking-mutton-sukka-2031872

Indian Women Protest Menstrual Taboos With #HappyToBleed Campaign

November 26, 2015

An Indian college student, Nikita Azad, started an online campaign ‘Happy to Bleed,‘ to protest against extreme cultural taboos that menstruating girls and women are subject to in India. She launched the campaign after a temple announced that women would be allowed to enter only after the invention of a machine to detect whether or not they are having their periods! Many young women have supported this campaign by posting photos of themselves with menstrual pads or tampons and signs with the hashtag #HappyToBleed. Some Hindu temples in India have notices displayed prohibiting menstruating women. Of course there is no way to tell whether or not a woman is menstruating, and many Hindu women voluntarily don’t enter when they are menstruating. A few years ago, a prominent actress was arrested and taken to court, because she confessed to someone that she had on one instance entered a temple while she was menstruating. Read that post here https://genderbytes.wordpress.com/2010/12/17/is-it-a-crime-to-menstruate/

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