THE BIG STORY: How do we talk about the art of predatory men?

The death of one of India’s most accomplished dancers resulted in a rash of largely laudatory obituaries. Less vocal and visible was a thread that alleged that he was a sexual predator who abused the famous guru-shishya tradition to prey on young female students.

On Twitter and Instagram, a woman kathak dancer posted a thread condemning the dance fraternity for not calling out the maestro. In graphic detail she elaborated on specific instances of sexual abuse by him told to her by young women.

As other voices of dancers and even a volunteer at the cultural non-profit, SPIC-MACAY joined in, the revelations were met in some quarters with both disbelief and denial: Why speak up now when the man is dead and no longer able to defend himself?

“A lot of the time after sexual assault or abuse allegations come out, a lot of the reactions can be very triggering to survivors,” says kathak dancer and New York-based psychologist Sarika Persaud.

In many cases, the outpouring of stories and revelations can also be a backlash to the laudatory obituaries and the selective censoring of the less-savoury ‘open secret’ about the deceased person.

What’s at stake

Beyond the revelations, lie two larger questions. The first concerns the distorted power equation where the guru, or teacher, can make or break his disciples’—student, young artist, fledgling actor–careers.

In late 2018 at the height of the MeToo movement, there were allegations against teachers of the classical arts by students and practitioners. Singer Chinmayi Sripada tweeted a list of names from the classical arts while Carnatic vocalist TM. Krishna noted: “There are some wonderful aspects to the guru-shishya parampara [but]…it is also a convenient platform for abuse in various forms.” In April last year, BBC reported on wide-scale sexual abuse by a trio of brothers who run a music school in Madhya Pradesh.

“Abuse is something we need to be vigilant about in any situation where somebody may feel entitled to use their power to coerce or demean others,” says Persaud. The problem becomes more acute in South Asian society where, she says, there is fear of a “possible backlash or shame that could come with questioning a respected elder”.

The artist as sexual predator

The second is an ethical question that was articulated in 2017 in the light of the #MeToo movement in America. Many of the men named as sexual predators were in fact creative individuals with an impressive body of work: Woody Allen, Bill Cosby and, going back further, Roman Polanski and, further still, Pablo Picasso. These were men with enormous reservoirs of talent. They had built a body of work that was admired all over the work. And they were sexual predators.

How do you separate their art from their actions? Should you? And can you?

(Read Claire Dederer’s 2017 article, What do we do with the art of monstrous men in the Paris Review here.)

Closer home in India, a famous former editor lugged a stack of rooms he had written to the courtroom. His lawyers articulated that he was a man who of learning. But could that claim nullify the charges of sexual harassment made against him by at least a dozen women?

In fact, the former editor was not even defending himself against the charges. The case was instigated by him when he brought criminal defamation charges against one of his accusers. He lost his case in trial court, and has now appealed in the High Court.

The art of silencing women

The use, or more accurately misuse, of criminal defamation laws, to silence women accusers is not new. On January 20, the Madras High Court issued a restraining order on poet and independent film-maker Leena Manimekali, Chinmayi Sripada and journalist Dhanya Rajendran as well as social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter from making allegations against award-winning Tamil film director Susi Ganeshan.

Ganesan has been accused by Manimekalai of sexual harassment. He has responded by filing a slew of cases in various courts, including criminal defamation charges. He also applied to have her passport impounded (it took another high court order for her to get the order revoked) and, according to Manimekalai, has even written to the foreign university where she studies to have her visa revoked.

In covering the case, journalist Srishti Jaswal told me she was harassed, hounded and threatened on the phone by an anonymous caller. She had to call Ganesan’s lawyer, telling her she would report her to the Bar Council before the calls stopped.

In September 2021, the Bombay High Court issued a seven-page list of guidelines on cases concerning workplace sexual harassment. These included granting anonymity to both the accuser and the accused, unprecedented in Indian law that offers anonymity to accusers to prevent further harm. The guidelines also stated that orders could no longer be read out in open court or reported on the courts’ website.

Calling the guidelines a ‘death blow’ to freedom of speech and expression, lawyer Abha Singh has challenged them in the Supreme Court

[Dr Sarika Persaud, psychologist and kathak dancer is conducting a free workshop, Coping with Sexual Trauma, for survivors and supporters in the South Asian classical community on February 4 at 8.30 pm. If you’d like to register, click here.]


Jyoti Ratre celebrated Republic Day in her own way by hoisting the tricolour at the Everest base camp. The 53-year-old who runs a uniform-supply business in Bhopal took to mountaineering just four years ago and, after being rejected by seven mountaineering training institutes, trained on her own. In 2021 she became the oldest woman to summit Mt Elbrus and, a month later on August 15, Mt Kilimanjaro. She says she plans to scale all seven of the world’s highest peaks.

Gender Tracker

Women candidates in Punjab

After announcing various sops, including monthly allowances, to women voters, all political parties have, unsurprisingly, turned miserly when it comes to fielding women to contest the 117 seats to the Punjab assembly.

Shiromani Akali Dal-BSP: Five women, or 4%
AAP: 12, or 10%
BJP-led alliance: 8 out of 106 announced so far, or 7.5%
Congress: 11 out of 109 candidates announced so far, or 10%



Comedian Jiaoying Summers’ joke about China’s one-child policy, and her own trauma growing up as an unwanted girl as a result of it, has got her laughs at comedy clubs in Los Angeles where she lives and elsewhere in America. But TikTok, owned by Chinese company ByteDance, wasn’t amused and, according to the LA Times, booted her off its platform in August. By the time it reinstated her three months later, her million following had shrunk and she was still unable to go live.

Watch here


Capital shock

In a horrific incident in the capital, filmed on mobile phones and uploaded on social media, a 21-year-old married mother of a two-year-old child was abducted by at least 11 members of a family, including women and minor boys, in an East Delhi neighbourhood. The woman was locked in a room by the family members where she says she was gang-raped, had her hair chopped off and face blackened before being paraded in the lanes on January 26. Not one of the bystanders who can be seen in the videos came to her rescue.

According to police, the family held the woman responsible for the death by suicide of one of their kin, a 16-year-old boy whose advances the woman rebuffed.

Delhi police has so far made nine arrests, including of two minor boys. The woman and her family have been taken to a safe house where she is being counselled for trauma.

Hijab stand-off

Even as the hijab stand-off continues in Udupi with six students wearing hijab denied access to classrooms at the government-run pre university college for women, Karnataka’s minister for home affairs, Araga Jananendra has said his government is planning to introduce a uniform for all colleges. “If students start behaving like religion is more important, then what sort of future are we building?” the minister said.

BJP MLA Raghupathi Bhat, who heads the Udupi college development committee, has suggested that students in hijab opt for online classes until the issue is resolved.

On January 27 the National Human Rights Commission issued notice to the Karnataka government in connection with the continuing disbarment from the girls in the Udupi college from attending their classes.

Marital rape hearing update

On Monday, the central government sought more time from the Delhi High Court to respond categorically on whether it is in favour of doing away with the exception in rape law that provides immunity to husbands from marital rape. “The dignity of a woman is at stake. There are family issues,” Solicitor General Tushar Mehta told the two-judge bench of justices Rajiv Shakdher and C Hari Shankar. “This would also perhaps need consultations with other stakeholders.”

Meanwhile, opposing the petitions to criminalise marital rape, counsel for an NGO, Hridey conceded that forced sexual intercourse by a husband amounted to ‘sexual abuse’ but could not be called rape just to satisfy a wife’s ‘ego’. The wisdom of Parliament in retaining the marital rape exception should not be doubted, he said.


How the Budget can help women get back on their feet in the Covid-era

Covid’s disproportionate impact on the most vulnerable and marginalised groups, including girls and women, is no secret. Women have been forced out of the labour force with workforce participation in the months April-June 2020 falling to 16%, according to the government.

new paper by The Quantum Hub and IWWAGE (Initiative for What Works to Advance Women and Girls in the Economy) has called for a gender-responsive Budget that will adopt sustainable and transformative policies. This includes prioritising investment in the care economy, generating equitable jobs and livelihoods and accelerating changes to reduce environmental degradation.

Its recommendations for short-term measures include priority sector lending to women who fall under the ‘weaker sections’ category and repayment of outstanding loans to weaker self-help groups. Corporates that offer onsite childcare and flexible working hours can be incentivised with tax holidays.

In the medium and long-term, it recommends scaling up bank correspondents who provide last-mile banking services even without a traditional brick-and-mortar set-up. Filling up anganwadi, or creche, vacancies and ASHA positions can create up to three million jobs for women. And it recommends finding alternative methods of assessing the credit-worthiness of women who generally do not hold assets in their own name. The central and state governments could consider urban employment schemes with jobs earmarked for women.

Finally, it asks for investing further in fiscal policies like health and education that lead to more opportunities for women.

Read the paper here.


In Colombia, the extraordinary comeback of Ingrid Betancourt

Two decades ago while campaigning for the 2002 presidential election, Ingrid Betancourt was kidnapped by Marxist insurgents, Farc. She was held in a wooden cage in the jungle, sometimes chained to a tree by her neck, for over six years. Now, Betancourt is back, launching her campaign for presidency of Colombia as the head of a small Green party, fighting on an anti-corruption ticket. The Financial Times calls it an “extraordinary comeback”.

In Honduras, a first woman president

Amid a political crisis that threatens her impoverished nation, Xiomara Castro was sworn into office vowing to pursue social justice and transparency. The 62-year-old has promised to tackle drug trafficking gangs and liberalise her nation’s strict abortion laws, reports BBC.

In America, Supreme Court to revisit affirmative action

The country’s top court will revisit its own 2013 ruling (upheld in 2016) that allowed universities to use race as a factor in admissions decisions. The court will combine two cases, one against Harvard University and the other against the University of North Carolina, to examine the issue of whether affirmative action is racially discriminative against white students. Harvard President Lawrence Bacow has said the decision to review the case “puts at risk 40 years of legal precedent granting colleges and universities the freedom and flexibility to create diverse campus communities.”

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That’s it for this week. If you have a tip or information on gender-related developments that you would like to share write to me at:

Menopause is real. We need to talk about it .

While we’ve been chipping away at the traditional silence around menstruation, its progression to menopause is still deemed too awful to talk about

A recent survey in the United Kingdom (UK) finds that one in 10 women has quit a job due to menopausal symptoms. The Indian Menopause Society estimates that 150 million women in India live with it, symptoms of which could include hot flushes and night sweats (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

It’s yet to stream into India, but Good Luck to You, Leo Grande is already top on my must-watch list. A 60-something-year-old played by 63-year-old Emma Thompson looking for sexual pleasure! A nude scene!! It’s Armageddon.

THE BIG STORY: Hijab stand-off at Udupi

Six students have continued to be marked absent since December 31 after being denied entry into their classrooms at the Government Women’s pre-university college in Udupi, Karnataka for their insistence on wearing a hijab.

College principal Rudra Gowda has said the students can wear hijab on the college premises but not inside classrooms. The rule is being followed to ensure uniformity in the classroom, he said.

What the girls want

“We are not allowed to go inside the classroom,” said Aliya Assadi, one of the six students. “One day, we had gone inside the classroom, but the teacher’s response was, ‘If you don’t go out of the class, I will push you out’.”

The students have been sitting outside the classroom, in the college corridors and on the stairs, with their books and bags.

The girls say their choice to wear a hijab is in conformity with their fundamental and constitutional rights. They point out that other students are allowed to wear religious markers like a bindi.

They see communal discrimination by the college as they say they are not allowed to speak in Urdu or say salaam to each other.

But they also worry that their continued absence from classes denies them a right to learn and could lead to a shortfall of attendance requirements for the examinations.

Escalating row

Karnataka’s education minister BC Nagesh has, however, dismissed the controversy as ‘politically motivated’. He said that there were close to 100 Muslim students at the institute but, barring the six, none had insisted on their right to wear hijab.

Some newspapers are reporting that in response to the hijab row, students at two other colleges, a government-run institute in Chikmagalur and Pompei College, Mangaluru, have begun sporting saffron scarves around the necks.

The controversy comes on the heels of continuing online auctions of prominent and outspoken Muslim women that have left an increasing number feeling under siege for the practice of their faith.

It also coincides with an increasing number of women students opting for higher education. The All India Survey on Higher Education 2019-2020 shows an 18% increase over five years in the enrolment rate of women in post-graduate programmes. A nation-wide survey of 74,000 teenage girls by Naandi Foundation found high levels of aspiration, with 70% of girls saying they wanted to pursue higher education and another 74% wanting to work after completing their studies.

On January 19, a meeting was organised between school management, government officials and the students but could not reach a conclusion.

Two days later, a note signed by the principal said the college would be shut for five days until January 26, ostensibly because six students had tested positive for coronavirus.


Vincent Raj Arokiasamy, better known as Kathir, founder of Evidence, an organisation that works towards the effective implementation of laws and policies to protect and promote Dalit and tribal rights has been awarded the Council of Europe’s Raoul Wallenberg prize. With a cash component of 10,000 euros, the prize is awarded once every two years in “recognition of extraordinary achievements”. In its citation, the Council commends Kathir for his “enormous courage” in rescuing 25,000 victims in over 3,000 cases of human rights violations

Gender Tracker

147,492 are the number of children who have lost at least one parent due to Covid between April 1, 2020 and January 11 this year. Of these, 70,980. are girls and four are transgender

Source: National Commission for Protection of Child Rights



Is there anything that Nadia Nadim can’t do? The 32-year-old Afghanistan born player has played for Denmark, Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain and in the US National Women’s soccer league. She speaks nine languages. She was UNESCO’s 2019 Champion for Girls and Women’s education.

On January 14, the 11-year-old who had to flee Afghanistan in 2000, travelling thousands of miles to Denmark in a truck after her father, an armyman, was executed by the Taliban, added a new feather to her cap as she qualified as a reconstructive surgeon. She tweeted: “MAMA, I MADE IT!!!! Doctor Nadim in the house.”

Watch the Pride of Denmark here


Marital rape update

A two-judge bench of the Delhi High Court continued its hearing on petitions seeking to remove the legal ‘exception’ to India’s rape law—non-consensual sex with a spouse if she’s over 15-years-old is not rape. Amicus curie, or friend of the court, Rebecca John called the exception an “instrument of oppression of married women” and argued for it to be struck down. Expectation of sexual relations cannot lead to a husband having forcible sex with his wife, she told the court.

Outside the court, police in Indore arrested five men, including the husband of a 32-year-old woman, for gang-raping her, keeping her confined and torturing her with cigarette butts. The woman said she was raped by her husband and his friends. Under existing law, the husband who apparently instigated the crime, cannot be charged with raping his wife.

Elsewhere on social media, several men’s rights groups, including the Save Indian Family Foundation, went on a ‘marriage strike’ to protest against the possible criminalisation of marital rape. Feminists welcomed the strike, saying men who didn’t understand consent shouldn’t be getting married at all.

Muslim women targeted, again

Even as police made its fifth arrest, Neeraj Singh from Odisha, and the courts continued to deny bail to those involved in the reprehensible online ‘auction’ of Muslim women, there are reports of yet another live chat on ClubHouse with men, and women, commenting on and auctioning off parts of women’s bodies, including their breasts and vaginas. Sexually assaulting a Muslim woman is the equivalent of building seven temples, one participant can be heard saying on the invitation-only app.

Swati Maliwal, the head of the Delhi Commission for Women, issued a notice to the Delhi police cyber crime cell. An FIR (first information report) has been lodged. Mumbai police in the meanwhile, have made three arrests relating to the ClubHouse chat.

Dear Sister X

The acquittal of Franco Mulakkal, a former bishop of Jalandhar diocese, of charges of rape has triggered outrage in support of the nun who has accused him of raping her 13 times between 2014 and 2016. It has led to a letter-writing spree by feminists, activists, journalists, film-makers and singers addressed to ‘Sister X’. Pledging support for her “fight for justice”, the letters are being posted on social media. “There will be light at the end of this really dark tunnel,” wrote singer Chinmayi Sripada, a prominent voice in India’s #MeToo movement.


How women benefit from indoor piped water

With water on tap still a pipe dream for many households in India, the burden of fetching water falls disproportionately on women. A paper by Ashish Sedai published in Ideas for India uses 2005-2012 data from the India Human Development Survey to show how household access to indoor piped drinking water reduces gender differences in rural employment in farm and non-farm work.

But the lack of piped water in homes also poses greater risk to health from water-borne diseases. When family members fall ill due to drinking water from contaminated open sources such as community wells and hand pumps, the burden of caring for them also falls on women.

There is a serious lack of drinking water infrastructure in households. While access to piped drinking water in rural India improved from 16% in 2005 to 21% in 2012, it fell in urban areas from 51% in 2005 to 50% in 2012. Most districts, regardless of state, receive water supply at home for only one to seven hours a day.

Time saved from not having to trek to open sources of water outside the home as well as not having to care for family members who fall ill from drinking this water, will enable greater workforce participation by women.

Read the paper here.


In the US, first Muslim woman federal judge

If confirmed, Nusrat Jahan Choudhury, a Bangladeshi-American, could become the first Muslim woman, and the second Muslim (after Zahid Quraishi) who will serve as a federal judge in America. Seven of the eight judicial nominees announced in this round by President Joe Biden are women. Biden has nominated a total of 83 people as judges; 62 are women.

In South Korea, poll promise against gender equality

A leading candidate for South Korea’s presidential elections scheduled for March 6 says he will abolish the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family if voted to office. Yoon Suk-yeol of the conservative People Power Party said the functions of the key ministry will be subsumed by other ministries. Political commentators believe the announcement is to appease young men who feel discriminated against in the job market. South Korea ranks 108 out of 153 nations on the World Economic Forum’s gender gap report.

In Mexico’s Juarez, killing spree sparks protest

A brutal and ongoing killing spree in Juarez, Mexico has left 67 dead–11 of them women–this month alone. On January 16, the discovery of four women’s bodies in garbage bags dumped on the street has sparked protests. Two of the women are believed to have been in a same-sex relationship and activists believe they were targeted for their gender and sexual choices. Mexico’s National Commission to eradicate Violence Against Women has asked the government to hold accountable those responsible for the killings.

Before I go…

You may like to read Hindustan Times five-part series on the impact of children of school closures due to the Coronavirus pandemic.

Part 1: Debabrata Mohanty reports on how Kandhamal’s learning gap is being exacerbated amid another wave.

Part 2: Joydeep Thakur on how the spectre of child marriage and trafficking looms large in Sunderbans.

Part 3: Ashni Dhaor on the shattering of aspirations for private ‘English medium’ schools.

Part 4: Fareeha Iftikhar examines how the digital divide is leaving out the children of migrants.

Part 5: Ritesh Mishra reports on the fear that school shutdowns could boost Maoist recruitment.

That’s it for this week. If you have a tip or information on gender-related developments that you would like to share, write to me at:

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Written by Namita Bhandare. Produced by Nirmalya Dutta.