The daughter of impoverished parents is India’s first openly gay athlete. But what we will remember and judge her for is being a first-rate athlete.
Dutee Chand is not known to shy away from a challenge. One of seven children born to impoverished weavers in Jajpur, Odisha, the sprinter was barely 20 years old when she challenged the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) on its rule on hyperandrogenism, a condition she is born with and one that causes naturally high levels of testosterone in women.
The IAAF suggested she opt for corrective surgery or hormone treatment. She went to court instead.
Questions about her gender were played out in humiliating public view. At Switzerland’s Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), she argued that her privacy and human rights had been violated.
Continue reading “The remarkable rebellion of Dutee Chand”
In a country where 52% of women say it’s ok to be beaten by a husband and one in three experience violence at the hands of a partner, the views of Kabir Singh director, Sandeep Reddy Vanga that physical violence is a sign of true love are dangerous, I write in my Hindustan Times column.
In a country where 52% of women believe it is okay to be beaten by their husbands, the views of Sandeep Reddy Vanga, director Kabir Singh, apparently endorsing physical violence as a sign of love, are deeply disturbing.
“When you are deeply in love … if you don’t have the liberty of slapping each other, then I don’t see anything there,” Vanga told Anupama Chopra in an interview.
I am not sure the one in three married women who have experienced physical violence – slapping, choking, punching and burning — by their husbands, according to the National Family Health Survey 4, would agree. In the first 10 years since the Domestic Violence Act came into force in 2006, over 10 lakh cases of domestic violence have been registered. And, yet, domestic violence remains vastly underreported primarily because of the victim’s relationship with a husband or a partner.
Mainstream Hindi cinema has not been known for its affirmative messages of women’s empowerment. A 2017 study on gender stereotyping by Nishtha Madaan and others shows that the percentage of female-centric films has gone up only marginally since the 1970s and remains in the low teens. Certainly, Kabir Singh’s female lead played by Kiara Advani is no more vacuous than the character played by Sonakshi Sinha who says in Dabangg: “Thappad se darr nahin lagta saab, pyaar se lagta hai.” (I’m not scared of your slap, but of your love).
Continue reading “No. Physical violence is NOT a demonstration of true love.”
There are many words — cheat, lowlife, scoundrel — that describe men who lie to women and promise them marriage just in order to have sex with them. Rapist is not one of them. My Hindustan Times column:
He was a doctor, she was studying pharmacy. They met in 2009 and fell in love, or so she thought. They lived in different cities. He said he wanted to marry her. In April 2013, she boarded a train to come and meet him. They had sex.
He dilly-dallied about marriage. In June, she learned that he had married someone else. She accused him of rape; he was arrested; and a long trial began.
If rape is about consent — or the lack of it — then can consent obtained on false information truly be consent? And if it’s not true consent, then isn’t it rape? This past week, the Supreme Court weighed in and said it was indeed.
As many as 70-80% of the rape complaints received by Delhi’s Rape Crisis Centre fall in this grey category, says Zeenat Malick, a lawyer who was with the centre until October 2018 and now has her own practice. “We need to have some kind of separate provision for these types of cases where adult women agree to sex only because men have promised to marry them,” she says. Continue reading “This isn’t rape!”
Women voters are turning up in record numbers, outnumbering male voters in 16 states. Yet political parties, with just two exceptions, remain loathe to field them in the elections as contestants. My deep dive for IndiaSpend examines the data:
To understand how some political parties seem to have woken up to the need for greater women’s political representation ahead of the general elections scheduled for April and May 2019, you have only to look at the millennial female voter.
Anju Baa, a 20-year-old tribal girl from Rajgampur village in Sundergarh district in northwestern Odisha, has completed her graduation. She is enrolled in a computer class and says she will apply for a job once her course is over. Marriage? She shrugs, first comes the job.
When Anju was just a baby, her mother, Rani Secundra Baa, class 12 pass and employed as a domestic worker in Delhi, voted in her first–and so far only–election. The candidate for Birmitrapur, her assembly seat in the year 2000, was tribal leader George Tirkey, who recently joined the Congress party. Why did she vote for Tirkey? Because, said Rani, her village had taken a collective decision to support him.
But nobody tells Anju who to vote for. Like her friends, she is guided by her marzi (choice). Would she prefer a woman candidate? “I will see who the candidate is. But so far, women have done good work in my village. Our sarpanch [elected head of the village council] is a woman and she is accessible and hard-working. She got a lot of road works done for us. So, yes, women are more dedicated than men when it comes to serving the community,” she told IndiaSpendover the phone.
Continue reading “As women voters surge, number of women candidates tells the same, sad story”
An announcement by two political parties, the TMC and BJD to earmark a significant number of seats for the 2019 general election to women has not been an example for other political parties. Despite talk of ‘women’s empowerment’ both the BJP and the Congress continue to be miserly when it comes to fielding women candidates.
When Naveen Patnaik’s Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress (TMC) announced they would be fielding an unprecedented number of women for the 2019 parliamentary elections, there was a general sense of euphoria at a historic imbalance being set right.
Would other parties be inspired? The answer wasn’t long in coming. It was no. For both the BJP and Congress, it’s business as usual.
An analysis of the initial lists of both parties by Gilles Verniers, who teaches politics at Ashoka University, shows just 23 of the BJP’s 184 candidates are women. That’s a paltry 12.5%. The Congress is only marginally worse with just 17 women of 143 candidates analysed so far. That’s 11.9% — a long way from the 41% women candidates of the TMC and the 33% promised by the BJD.
Continue reading “Election 2019: Where on earth are the women candidates?”
Men tend to over-estimate their ability and performance, while women tend to downplay both (from a Cornell University study). Men are four times more likely than women to ask for a raise (Linda Babcock, author of Women Don’t Ask). Why do so many really smart, talented women come across as diffident at the workplace? Understanding the gender confidence gap:
I often attend gender conferences where women outnumber men roughly 20 to one. The gender world’s like that, I guess. Yet, even amongst us, there will always be the one who begins apologetically, “I didn’t come prepared,” and then go on to astound the room with her brilliance.
Women struggle to talk about themselves positively, says Aparna Jain, diversity and leadership coach and author of Own It and, more recently, Like a Girl. At her leadership workshops, she says, “There’s so much self-doubt. Women just want to be perfect.”
We talk of the gender pay gap readily enough. Perhaps we need to talk a bit more of the gender confidence gap.
Research bears testimony to it. Men tend to over-estimate their abilities and performance while women downplay both, finds a Cornell University study. “The ‘gender confidence gap’ is real and closing it is as much a lynchpin to addressing gender inequity as the many other forces that have contributed to it,” writes Margie Warrell in Forbes. Continue reading “Understanding the gender confidence gap”
The world’s longest and largest march by survivors of rape and sexual assault covering 24 states over 10,000 km in India seeks to break the silence and stigma around rape. My Hindustan Times column.
Y’s husband beat her senseless when he found out that she had been raped by three men in the fields where she had been working. Then he threw her out of the house and told her to go back to her parents. “I had done nothing wrong. I was just trying to earn a living,” she says.
When M managed to escape from three male captors, who told her they had bought her for Rs 2 lakh, her family barred her from seeing her kids. That was in 2016.
Just two out of an estimated 15,000 women and men who have taken part in what is perhaps the world’s largest and longest march of rape survivors, Y and M are finally at the end of a two-month, 10,000 km journey covering 200 districts in 24 states. Along the way, they have met police, judges, doctors, administrators, students, lawyers, teachers. They want to change the way you see them. They want to end the silence that continues to shroud survivors of sexual assault.
Continue reading “The long march to justice”
In Hindustan Times, I argue for the need fathers to take a far more meaningful role in bringing up their children by taking paternity leave.
It was after his son Viggo was born that Swedish photographer, Johan Bavman, then on parental leave, began looking for information about stay-at-home-dads. He found nothing. What he did find was a study that asked children who they turned to when they needed to be comforted. Their mums, said the children. Dads came at fifth place — below the option of not going to anyone at all.
Sweden has among the world’s most generous parental leave policies — 480 days with 90 days earmarked for each parent, and the balance of 300 days to be worked out between the parents. Yet, says Bavman, who took nine months off for Viggo, only 14% of Sweden’s fathers choose to equally share parental leave.
In India to inaugurate his photo project on Swedish dads, already exhibited in 50 countries and now in India along with portraits of Indian dads, Bavman said: “I wanted to find out why these fathers had chosen to stay at home; what it had done for them and their relationship with their partners and children.”
Continue reading “Bringing up father”
In Hindustan Times, I argue for the need to commemorate the memory of more women, whether by building their statues or naming roads or institutions after them. Why? Because it’s crucial to remember who we are as a people and that our legacy includes not just powerful men in public life but also women who, despite the odds they faced, still surged ahead.
The conference room at the National Commission for Women (NCW), a statutory body that advises government on policies for women, is remarkable for one feature: The absence of women on its walls.
There are standard-issue portraits of the prime minister and president, yet when I recently pointed out that a few additional portraits of inspirational women might not be out of place, the suggestion was brushed off.
But why blame the NCW? Across India, how many women do we honour by naming streets after them or building their statues and hanging their portraits? Indira Gandhi gets an international airport. Rani of Jhansi is valourised in statues. Savitribai Phule’s portrait very often hangs along side that of her husband. Anyone else?
In New Delhi, women barely get more than a half dozen roads. There’s the artist Amrita Shergill, Gandhiji’s wife, Kasturba Gandhi, freedom fighter, Aruna Asaf Ali, and Mother Teresa.
Continue reading “Whitewashing women out of public memory”
Can we even begin to understand the courage and grit it takes for a woman to speak up against her sexual assault? In a climate that is changing, we still continue to shine a spotlight on the victim, not her predator. My column in Hindustan Times:
The complainant in one of India’s most high profile sexual harassment cases is telling me about the price of speaking up. A hostile work environment, mental stress, failing health, long and costly litigation and, despite it all, loss of a job, says the woman researcher who filed a complaint against RK Pachauri in February 2015 when he was still boss at TERI.
“Even today I worry about entering an office room and am scared to open my email,” she says.
Three years later, trial is yet to begin. But, says the researcher, “Sexual harassment by powerful bosses continues because we have a culture that turns a blind eye to it.”
Continue reading “The courage to speak up”