THE BIG STORY: A step forward in Tamil Nadu for gay rights

Tamil Nadu has become the first state in India to officially ban the harassment of LGBTQI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex) people by the police. Harassment by the police, which is routine especially for transgender people, is now a punishable offence.

“We have been fighting for so many years to get our rights,” said transgender rights activist Grace Banu who welcomed the move. “There are many cases every day of physical, mental, verbal and sexual violence against trans people from which we have no protection. This will at least provide some measure of protection.”

Despite guarantees of equality enshrined in our Constitution and a slew of affirmative judgements by the Supreme Court including NALSA and the decriminalisation of homosexuality, social acceptance of the LGBTQI community on the ground remains sketchy.

Often acting at the behest of parents, law enforcement continues to be weaponised with threats of custodial violence against the community.

Madras High Court shows the way

In March 2021, a lesbian couple asked the Madras High Court for protection from the police and their parents who had filed a missing persons report when the adult women fled from Madurai, where their parents lived, to Chennai where they had the support of an NGO, International Foundation for Crime Prevention and Victim Care.

But even in Chennai, the women feared that they would be forcibly separated by their families and, so, sought the court’s protection.

After interviewing the couple, their parents, the NGO and, eventually, a counsellor, Justice N Anand Venkatesh’s first step was to order mediation and counselling. Next, he asked the police to close the missing persons’ complaint and not interfere.

The judge who wanted to be ‘woke’

With unusual candour, Justice Venkatesh admitted that he was ‘trying to break my own preconceived notions’ and began educating himself under the guidance of a trained counsellor about issues around sexual orientation and the lived experiences of LGBTQI people.

“Ultimately, in this case the words must come from my heart and not from my head and the same will not be possible if I am not fully ‘woke’,” he said.

Laws alone are not enough unless there is ‘awakening in the society’. To this end, Justice Venkatesh issued a set of guidelines in the expectation that various departments and institutions would implement them.

These included directions to the police to close inquiries filed by parents of missing adult consenting LGBTQI children. It asked the government to enlist and publish a list of NGOs that had experience and expertise in LGBTQI affairs. It asked shelter homes to provide safe accommodation to members of the community who needed it. And it asked the government to take up measures ‘needed for eliminating prejudices’, including those within law enforcement, schools and colleges, health workers, work places, and the judiciary.

Way forward

Tamil Nadu has a history of progressive policies when it comes to the LGBTQI community. It is the first state to introduce a transgender welfare policy under which transgender people could access free sex reassignment surgery.

In 2019, it became the first in Asia and the second globally to ban sex selective surgeries on intersex infants.

Also in 2019, following the decriminalisation of homosexuality, the Madras High Court ruled that the term ‘bride’ under the Hindu Marriage Act included trans women.

“The DMK government in particular has a history of being open and accepting,” said writer and researcher Nadika Nadja, a transwoman. “The latest Tamil Nadu order banning harassment of LGBTQI people comes from that tradition.”

The order will help sensitise police and prevent acts of aggression that trans people are subjected to. It will lead to media using more respectful and dignified language. “The judges are listening to us. The government is listening to us. We can only hope that things will be better in the future,” Nadja said.

Grace Banu said she hoped other states would follow Tamil Nadu’s example. But added that the punishment for harassing the community should have been made clear. And, she said, there is still a lot of work to be done—reservations in jobs, for instance.


With Dr Renu Raj set to take charge as the district collector of Alappuzha on March 2, 10 of 14 districts in Kerala will now be run by women. The others are: Haritha V Kumar (Thrissur), Divya S Iyer (Pathanamthitta), Afsana Parveen (Kollam), Sheeba George (Idukki), Dr PK Jayasree (Kottayam), Bhandari Swagat Ranveer Chand (Kasargod), Navjot Khosa (Thiruvananthapuram), Mrunmayee Joshi (Palakkad) and Dr A Geetha (Wayanad).

Gender Tracker

Cuba has the world’s highest share of women inventors who applied for international patents in 2021 with 53% female applicants (followed by the Philippines which had 38% female applicants).

(Source: World Economic Forum)



“In a business where women rarely see such long careers she leaves behind a legacy of immortal characters,” Women in Cinema Collective said on the death of KPAC Lalitha. Through 550 films in Malayalam and Tamil in a career spanning five decades, she began her acting career with KPAC, a theatre collective in Kayamkulam, and went on to win two national and several state awards. Her death on February 22 of complications due to diabetes was mourned by Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan, amongst others.


In the courts

Hijab hearings in Karnataka

The government has argued that deeming the hijab as an essential religious practice, which is what hijab-wearing school girls are claiming in court, would affect the personal freedom of Muslim women. “There cannot be religious sanction by way of judicial declaration,” the state’s attorney general Prabhuling Navadagi told the bench of high court chief justice Ritu Raj Awasthi and justices Krishna S Dixit and JM Khazi that is hearing the case.

On February 10, the court had passed an interim order restraining all students, regardless of faith, from wearing saffron shawls, hijabs and the like. The order has been criticised in several quarters for suspending the fundamental right of Muslim students who continue to be denied access to classrooms for wearing a head scarf.

Marital rape in Delhi

The Union government has stuck to its position on the need for wider consultations on the contentious issue of whether marital rape should be criminalised. Solicitor general Tushar Mehta told the court that a 2017 affidavit opposing pleas to criminalise marital rape should not be treated as final. But a bench of justices Rajiv Shakdher and C Hari Shankar refused to grant more time to the government for consultations and said it would pass directions on March 2.

Adoption in Allahabad

A marriage certificate is not an essential condition for adopting a child, clarified the Allahabad High Court in response to a petition filed by a transperson and her partner.

Are women really less corrupt than men?

In 2001, the World Bank published a study that looked at 100 countries to find that officials were less likely to ask for bribes in counties that had more female legislators. Another study found that between 1979 and 2014 senior female bureaucrats in China were 81% less likely to have been arrested for corruption than their male colleagues. And in Italy, between 2000 and 2016, female officials were 22% less likely than male ones to be investigated for corruption, reports The Economist.

But are women really less corrupt than men?

A more recent 2020 study by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime finds governments with more women in power are less corrupt often because these governments also have the other trappings of democratic governance such as a free press, rule of law and fair elections. But, women don’t come with honesty embedded in their DNA and, given the right circumstances, women are just as likely to be as corrupt as men.

There is a silver lining, however. The World Bank’s Enterprise Surveys show that women-owned businesses are less likely to pay bribes simply because they are less likely to belong to patronage networks that are predominantly male and place a premium on secrecy.

Sometimes, being kept out of the old boys club has its advantages.

Read more in World Bank blogs here.


Abortion decriminalised in Colombia

In a landmark ruling for the Catholic-majority country, Colombia’s high court has decriminalised abortion up to 24 weeks of pregnancy. Even after 24 weeks, abortion will be permitted in certain circumstances such as cases of rape, if the health of the mother is in danger or if the foetus has a fatal condition, the court ruled.

Win for US women’s soccer

After six years of legal action, the US Women Soccer Players Association reached a settlement on discrimination and unequal pay with the American soccer’s governing body agreeing to pay US$24 million and commiting to equalise pay and bonuses to match the men’s team.

What’s that, Siri?

Apple has developed a new gender-neutral voice for Siri that isn’t obviously male or female. Available in the beta versions of its iOS 15.4 software, the step is seen as “taking yet another step away from the criticism that, historically, digital assistants have reinforced unfair gender stereotypes,” reports TechCrunch.

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Hijab row: It’s about control, not choice

If you want to save Muslim women, then educate them. It really is that simple. Instead, school administrations, headed by politicians, deny girls education because of a piece of cloth on their heads

Burqa-clad female Muslim students arrive to attend a class at ATNC College, Shivamogga, February. 17, 2022 (PTI)

After her husband’s death, my maternal aunt wore white for the rest of her life. I was appalled by her decision, but it was her choice and that was the end of the matter.

THE BIG STORY: Battlefront hijab

What began as a local issue with six high school girls in Udupi insisting on wearing a head scarf over their uniforms to class has now escalated into a full-blown national row that has landed in the Supreme Court.

On Friday, the apex court refused to hear petitions against an interim Karnataka high court order which states that no religious garments will be allowed in classes until it reaches a final verdict.

“Don’t spread these things to a larger level,” Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana said. “You [should] also think whether this is proper to bring such things to a national level.”

A three-judge bench headed by Karnataka high court chief justice Ritu Raj Awasthi had earlier restrained students from wearing any sort of religious dress, regardless of their faith, until it reaches a decision on petitions filed by Muslim girl students who say that wearing a headscarf is their fundamental right guaranteed by the constitution.

The petitions had been filed before a single-judge bench of Justice Krishna Dixit, but on Wednesday, a day after he began the hearings, he said there were constitutional issues to be examined and referred the matter to the chief justice and a larger bench.

“This is not just a case of essential religious practice. This is also a case of essential education of the girl child,” advocate Sanjay Hegde had told the court.

The matter will continue to be heard by the larger Karnataka high court bench on February 14.

[Read Utkarsh Anand on the legal tussle on the hijab row here.]

How did we get here?

Although the Karnataka high court’s interim order applies to all faiths, it effectively mitigates against the Muslim students who continue to be left out of classes because their school administration believes that wearing a head scarf violates uniform rules. It was precisely to seek relief from this denial of education for expressing what they say is an essential practice of their faith that the girls had approached the court in the first place.

Until the court reaches a final verdict these girls must now choose: faith or education.

The row began on December 28, when a government-run pre-university college in Udupi sent six girls out of the classroom for wearing head scarves over their uniforms.

By early February, as many as five educational institutions had denied entry to hijab-wearing women. On Thursday, a private institution in Jaipur called in the police when some girls turned up in a burqa.

The issue quickly snowballed as the protest spread to other colleges and cities, polarising students into two camps: the hijab wearers and their supporters and those in saffron scarves.

The situation took an ugly turn when a video of Muskan Khan, a hijab-wearing student who arrived at her college driving her scooter, was heckled by scores of slogan-shouting men wearing saffron scarves. The girl stood her ground, shouting a defiant Allahu-Akbar in response to the chants of Jai Shri Ram.

Political row

After the heckling video went viral, Karnataka announced the closure of schools and colleges for three days until February 11 with chief minister Basavaraj S Bommai making an appeal for ‘peace and harmony’.

BJP MP for Mysore-Kodagu Pratap Simha was more blunt: “You can wear hijab, burqa…and can go to a madrassa.”

At two virtual political rallies in Uttar Pradesh, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said attempts were being made to instigate Muslim women. Without referring to the hijab controversy, he accused the Opposition of hampering the progress of Muslim women.

But Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said India’s daughters are being ‘robbed’ of their future with the government letting hijab come in the way of their education. Two days later Priyanka Gandhi added that the constitution gave women the right to decide what they wanted to wear.

That the controversy is being fanned by political elements is not in doubt. Saffron scarves and turbans are being distributed to students by the Bajrang Dal and Hindu Jagrana Vedike, students have said.

But the Muslim students in hijab have the support of the Campus Front of India which supported the girls in approaching the Karnataka high court.

It seems clear that the row is no longer about hijab—or perhaps never was. This is evidently a political battle with schoolgirls being used as pawns.


Lata Kumari, 18, organ donor

She loved chow mien and samosas. Couldn’t get enough of Taarak Mehta ka Ulta Chasma, and held on to the paintings she had made before she fell ill and had to discontinue her studies six years ago, said her mother Divya Devi. On February 8, 18-year-old Lata Kumari had a brain seizure and doctors at AIIMS declared her brain dead.

“I always thought I would donate my organs after my death,” says Devi, who works at a garment factory and has been her daughter’s sole care-giver since she fell ill. When she would take her daughter from home in Ghaziabad to AIIMS for treatment, Devi would notice posters advocating organ donation. “I told my family to donate my organs after my death,” she said. Little did she realise that she’d be donating her daughter’s.

Lata’s heart, liver and both kidneys have gone to four recipients, giving them a new lease of life. “I couldn’t do her kanyadaan, but at least I could do her angdaan,” said her mother.

Gender Tracker

Manipur’s missing women candidates

Polling begins in Manipur on February 28 but despite a ratio of 1,060 women for every 1,000 male registered voters, the contest for 60 seats will see just nine women candidates out of 181.

These include:
Congress: Three
BJP: Three
National People’s Party: Two
JD(U): One



Writing with Fire, a film about the journey of Dalit-women run news organisation, Khabar Lahariya has been nominated for best documentary feature at the Oscars. Directed by Rintu Thomas and Sushmit Ghosh, the film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, 2021 but has not yet been shown in India.

Watch the trailer here


Judge reinstated

After she complained of sexual harassment by a then sitting judge of Madhya Pradesh High Court, a woman additional district judge was transferred from Gwalior to Sidhi even though she requested that the transfer be deferred by eight months since her daughter had her Board examinations. When her request was denied, she quit.

Now, a two judge Supreme Court bench of Justices L Nageswara Rao and B.R. Gavai has ruled that her resignation was under ‘unbearable circumstances’ since the transfer was in contravention of the transfer policy. “It appears that in a gruesome battle between a mother and a judicial officer, the judicial officer lost the battle,” the judges said. The woman additional judge was represented by senior advocate Indira Jaising.

Now, Haryana to have a love jihad law

The Haryana cabinet has approved a draft Prevention of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Bill which is set to be tabled in the assembly during the upcoming session that begins on March 2. At present the ‘love jihad’ law, as it’s colloquially known, is present in four BJP-ruled states including Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. Gujarat too is mulling such a law while the BJP says it will introduce more stringent punishments in Uttar Pradesh.

Read Shruti Tomar’s story on how the law is disproportionately skewed towards booking Muslims and Christians.

Army no to Onir’s script

As scripts go, the real life story of a gay major who quit the Indian army because it was no longer tenable for him to continue, was juicy enough for Onir, the national-award winning director of I am. Because it was based on the army, Onir was required to get clearance. On December 16, the film maker got a reply. No.

On Friday, Parliament was told that the film which sought to portray a romantic relationship between a soldier and a Kashmiri man would show the army in ‘poor light’ and raise ‘security issues’. The explanation came in response to a question raised by BJP MP Varun Gandhi.


The GAY code assigned to Gaya airport in Bihar is ‘inappropriate, unsuitable, offensive/embarrassing’ a Parliamentary panel has said and has asked the government to change it to YAG or something more ‘appropriate’.


Rio takes the blame…

Mining giant Rio Tinto is facing up to a toxic workplace culture of bullying, sexual harassment and racism. An external investigation commissioned by Rio found that half the employees had experienced bullying over the past years and a third of female workers said they had been sexually harassed.

The finding has been published on its website, in what The Economist calls an ‘admirably open attempt to face up to a toxic culture’.

…While NFL grapples with it

More than 30 women who worked for the National Football League (NFL) have described a stifling corporate culture that demoralized some and drove others to quit. This culture persisted despite a promise from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in 2014 that the league would take a stricter stance on domestic violence and sexual assault, the women told The New York Times. Days before the Super Bowl on Sunday, two former employees of the Washington Commanders accused team owner Daniel Snyder of inappropriate sexual contact. “Everything’s excused in the name of football,” digital media reporting analyst Alyssa Leeds who quit NFL in 2019 told the paper.

‘Misunderstanding’ says Peng Shuai

In her first interview with western media since she publicly accused retired Chinese vice-premier Zhang Gaoli of sexual assault, tennis star Peng Shuai told French sports daily L’Equipe that the issue was a ‘huge misunderstanding’. The interview was conducted in the presence of a Chinese Olympic official. Following the accusation made in a social media post—since removed—in November, the former doubles world number one was not seen for weeks.


People with disabilities are often left out of the conversation when it comes to sexual pleasure. This Valentine’s Day, Agents of Ishq and Point of View (POV) will launch their video on self-pleasure for people with disabilities. The launch is preceded by a discussion on Sunday, February 13 at 7 pm, where Paromita Vohra who has directed the video and writer and performer Sweta Mantrii will speak with sex educator Leeza Mangaldas.

Watch on Instagram at @povmumbai.

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