THE BIG STORY: How sex workers won the right to dignity

Declaring that the ‘basic protection of human decency and dignity extends to sex workers and their children’, a three-judge Supreme Court bench of Justices L. Nageshwar Rao, B.R. Gavai and A.S. Bopanna has made a slew of recommendations to protect these rights.

Beyond the recommendations, is the unequivocal recognition of adult sex workers as equal citizens deserving of the same rights as anyone else.

“Sex workers are treated like non humans even though they are in work that is not illegal,” said senior advocate Anand Grover who represented the Darbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee (DMSC), a sex worker collective based in Kolkata. “The real story here is the recognition of their status as equal citizens and the accord of respect and dignity in ensuring them rations during Covid after ensuring they get Aadhar and ration cards.”

Mala Singh of the DBMC welcomed the order saying it would put an end to police violence at least. “Sex workers are subject to violence from goondas and the police. At least now this will end,” she said on the phone from Kolkata.

Recommendations

“The attitude of the police to sex workers is often brutal and violent,” the judges noted. “Police should treat all sex workers with dignity and should not abuse them, both verbally and physically, subject them to violence or coerce them into any sexual activity.”

The Supreme Court has issued directions to the government, police and even media.

Police cannot take criminal action against adult sex workers practicing their profession as a matter of choice. When a sex worker makes a complaint of any type of offence, including sexual assault, the police ‘must take it seriously’ and she must be provided with all the facilities available to any survivor of sexual assault, the court said.

Since sex work is not illegal, sex workers cannot be harassed or penalised when there is a raid on a brothel, states the order.

The central and state governments must involve sex workers in decision-making processes regarding policies and laws relating to sex work. Government must also conduct workshops to make sex workers aware of their rights.

The bench also called upon the Press Council of India to issue ‘appropriate guidelines’ so as to not reveal the identity of sex workers during arrests and raid and rescue operations. It reminded electronic media that voyeurism is a crime and it could not telecast photos of sex workers with their clients during rescue operations.

Crucially, the children cannot be separated from their mothers merely on the ground that she is in the sex trade.

Genesis

On the night of 17 September 1999, Budhadev Karmaskar bludgeoned a sex worker in Kolkata to death. A trial court sentenced him to life imprisonment, a verdict upheld by the high court. When the case landed before a two-judge Supreme Court bench of Justices M Katju and Gyan Sudha Mishra in 2011, the verdict was upheld.

But the judges went a step further. Sex workers, they said, have the right to live with dignity. Their problems needed to be addressed comprehensively.

It ordered the setting up of a panel with three objectives:

1. To prevent trafficking.
2. To rehabilitate sex workers who wished to leave the profession.
3. To look at conditions conducive to sex workers who wished to continue with sex work with dignity.

Within a few months in September 2011, the panel recommended that state governments issue ration cards to sex workers without insisting on proof of address or mentioning their profession in the document. Municipal corporations were asked to ensure the admission of the children of sex workers to government-recognised schools.

A question of identity

Sex workers suffer from the lack of legal status. It is difficult for them to acquire proof of identity such as ration cards and voter ID cards since they often lacked proof of residence.

This means that sex workers can’t access schemes meant for their rehabilitation.

The pandemic only exacerbated this lack of official identification. Although the government had given orders for the distribution of dry rations, this was not easily available to sex workers who had already taken a hit on livelihood during the lockdown and its aftermath.

There was one way out. Thanks to activism at the height of the AIDS crisis in the 1980s, sex workers had already organised particularly in Kolkata, Bengaluru and large parts of Maharashtra. Many had registered also with the National AIDS Control Programme (NACO). “We have a history of 26 years of andolan (activism) behind us,” Mala Singh said.

Moreover, state and district legal services authorities had since 2011 been working with sex workers and transgender people for access to legal and social protection. Many sex workers themselves had trained as para-legals so that they could support the more vulnerable within the community.

In December 2021, the court directed the government to issue ration cards and voter ID cards immediately on the basis of the list maintained by NACO. But Anand Grover told the court that dry rations were still being distributed only sporadically to sex workers.

What sex workers have won so far

The government must seek concrete information from the states about alternative livelihood options offered to those sex workers who wish to quit the profession.

Schemes meant for rescued trafficking victims must include sex workers who wish to be rehabilitated.

Government is also required to provide a range of facilities for the children of sex workers including creches and day and night care centres.

But, said Mala Singh: “We are grateful for the Supreme Court order but this is only half the battle won.” Sex workers are still awaiting legislation based on the recommendations made by the Supreme Court-appointed panel. The government had assured the court it would be passed. That was back in 2016.

Weigh in: Do sex workers deserve a life of dignity? What steps should be taken to ensure this? Write to me at namita.bhandare@gmail.com

GOING PLACES:

I had written about Geetanjali Shree in the April 10 issue of this newsletter when her novel Ret Samadhi (Tomb of Sand) was shortlisted for the International Booker prize. I am happy to report that Ret Samadhi, translated into English by Daisy Rockwell, is now the first Hindi language book to win the literary world’s most prestigious award.

The novel deals with the transformative journey of a 80-year-old woman. Accepting the award, Shree called it an “elegy for the world we inhabit, a lasting energy that retains hope in the face of impending doom”.

REST IN POWER

Amreen Bhat was shot dead by unidentified militants in her village of Hushroo, deep in central Kashmir’s Budgam district on May 25. Her family suspect she was killed for her videos of Kashmiri songs, remixes, lip synched sequences and short skits. Her head was mostly covered and many videos carried the text, “Love you Ma” in honour of her mother who died 14 years ago. Pushed into work after a troubled marriage and an ailing father, Bhat was determined to change things for the better and supported her family.

WE HEAR YOU

“Why are you even in politics? Go home and cook.”

BJP Maharashtra president Chandrakant Patil dished up some casual misogyny with his remarks to NCP member of Parliament Supriya Sule. He later claimed that his remarks had been twisted and taken out of context.

India’s Parliament has only 14% women MPs.

WATCH

Since its May 23 debut, Sri Lanka-born, Paris-based Usha Jey’s dance video, What the f_ though?/Where the love go? has been breaking the internet with over 3 million views already on Instagram. The choreographer of what she calls Hybrid Bharatham blends hip-hop with Bharatanatyam. “My aim is to keep the essence of each dance and create something that does justice to who I am,” she tweeted.

Watch here.

[credit: Instagram account of @Usha_Jey]

STORIES YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED

Jail for dowry harassment

A Kerala court has held S Kiran Kumar, the husband of 22-year-old Ayurveda medical student Vismaya Nair guilty of harassing her for dowry and pushing her to die by suicide. Kumar has been sentenced to 10 years in jail and has been fined Rs 12.55 lakh.

Kumar and Vismaya were married in 2020. Her family said he was not happy with the dowry of a car, 80 gold sovereigns and land.

Before she hung herself in the bathroom, Vismaya posted photographs of her bruises and injuries caused by her husband.

Even though dowry has been illegal in India since 1961, India recorded nearly 7,000 dowry deaths for 2020, according to the National Crime Records Bureau.

Dying for love

In Baghpat, a woman and her two daughters consumed poison during a police raid at their home in Bachaud village. Both the daughters died.

The family belongs to the backward caste Lohar community. The woman’s son had eloped with a Dalit woman a fortnight ago and the police raid was conducted after the Dalit woman’s father had filed a complaint.

In Karnataka’s Wadi town in Kalaburagi, two Muslim men killed a Hindu man for being in a relationship with one of the men. Shahabuddin and Nawaz, both 19-years-old, met Vijaya Kamble on May 23 when an argument broke out during which the two men attacked and killed Kamble with a knife and an iron rod.

Women log out due to hybrid work culture

Hybrid work culture is driving even more women out of the workforce, reports Devina Sengupta in Mint. Primary reasons include the lack of childcare infrastructure in offices and pressure from schools for a dedicated focus on the child’s education. Companies that offer hybrid work also expect employees to be available 24×7. Employment among urban women fell by 10%, against a 2% increase for urban men, from January to April 2022, according the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy.

AROUND THE WORLD

Does this make sense to you?

The deadliest U.S. school shooting in a decade by an 18-year-old shooter at a rural elementary school in Uvalde, Texas has left 19 children and two teachers dead.

With 400 million guns in circulation in 2018, America has more guns than its 331 million people.

In 2020, 45,222 Americans died of gunshot injuries, representing a 25% increase over five years. Of these 24,292 were deaths by suicide.

Nearly 80% of all homicides were carried out with guns, more than any other country in the world.

There were 345 ‘active shooter incidents’ between 2000 and 2020, resulting in 1,024 deaths. The deadliest such attack took place in 2017 in Las Vegas and killed 50 people and left 500 injured.

Active shooter incidents have gone up from three in 2000 to 40 in 2020.

There were 288 school shootings between 2009 and 2018. That’s 280 more than the next leading country, Mexico.

Just over half, 52% of Americans want stricter gun control laws; amongst Republicans only 24%.

See more herehere, and here

In Afghanistan, children stare at starvation

In Afghanistan, 1.1 million children under the age of 5 will likely face the most severe form of malnutrition this year according to the United Nations. The U.N. and other aid agencies, reports Associated Press, were able to stave off outright famine after the Taliban takeover last year. But poverty is spiraling, food prices are mounting, and more and more Afghans are in need of aid.

Wimbledon inches towards 2022

The honours board at Wimbledon will, for the first time since the tournament began in 1877, be dropping the use of titles, Miss or Mrs, for women winners, reports The Times. Men are recorded with just their first initial and full last name (R. Federer) but women are referred to along with their titles.

Who’s Mrs. J.M. Lloyd? I’ll give you the answer next week!

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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: namita.bhandare@gmail.com.

THE BIG STORY: Anatomy of a fake encounter

On the night of November 27, 2019, a 26-year-old veterinary assistant surgeon working at a state-run hospital was returning home in Shamshabad, Telangana when she called her sister at 9.22 pm to tell her that her two-wheeler scooter had a flat tyre. She was scared, she told her sister. That was the last time anyone ever heard from her.

The next morning her charred body was found near the toll booth from where she had called. She had been raped and then murdered.

The brutal crime caused a national uproar. It turned out that the police had not immediately responded to the veterinarian’s parent’s missing person report. Had they done so, they could have prevented the crime.

The very next day, Telangana police arrested four men, Mohammed Arif, Chintakunta Chennakeshavulu, Jolu Shiva and Jolu Naveen and recorded their purported confessions.

Late at night, or rather early in the morning of December 6 when it was still dark outside, the men were escorted by 10 police personnel to the spot where the doctor’s body was found, ostensibly for ‘evidence collection’. Then, claiming that the men had tried to run away after snatching two police weapons, all four were shot dead. All had bullet injuries on the front of their bodies.

Cyberabad police commissioner V.C. Sajjanar held a press conference at the site of the killing clarifying that the police had fired at the men in self-defence. “See, law has done its duty,” he said.

Now nearly three years later, a Supreme Court appointed three-member commission headed by retired judge Justice V.S. Sirpurkar has concluded that the four “were deliberately fired upon with an intent to cause their death.”

Three of the four were minors, two of them 15-year-olds, and came from marginalised socio-economic backgrounds. The commission has recommended the policemen involved be tried for murder.

National outrage

The brutal rape and murder of the veterinarian, referred to as Disha (not her real name), led to outrage and a demand for swift and exemplary punishment.

The then union minister of state for home affairs, G Kishan Reddy said he was ‘distraught’ and promised stringent action against those found guilty. The Telangana Mahila Congress also demanded justice and accused the state government of failing women.

Protests were held across the country and the issue was raised in Parliament during which member of Parliament Jaya Bachchan said in the course of a heated debate that the rapists should be lynched.

There can be no doubt that the Telangana police had been under enormous pressure to bring the rapists to justice.

Asking questions

Hours after the ‘encounter’ killings, a group of women’s rights activists based in Hyderabad, wrote an urgent letter to the chief justice of the Telangana high court. They were disturbed and upset by the swift exoneration of the 10 policemen by their boss. They were also concerned that evidence connected with the killing would go missing or be tampered with.

That same night, the chief justice asked a division bench to take up the matter. It was 8 pm.

The judges ordered that the bodies be preserved and the post-mortem, when conducted, should be videographed. The video would then be kept with a district judge.

On December 12, on the basis of a public interest litigation, the Supreme Court announced the setting up of the Sipurkar Commission to ‘uncover the truth in the present case’.

Unanswered questions

“At that juncture senior police officers were applauding the killing,” said senior advocate Vrinda Grover who represented one of the petitioners and deposed before the Commission. The impunity with which the men had been killed had the backing of the top police leadership. “This was cold-blooded murder by men in khaki who were usurping the role of the judiciary,” she said.

But women in this country have a “legitimate expectation that the law of the land will step in to hold the perpetrators to account and deliver justice,” continued Grover. “Any action, whether by criminals or state agents, which pose a threat to the rule of law, creates a society that jeopardises the freedoms, rights and safety of women. Impunity and rule of law cannot co-exist.”

There were 655 encounter killings—extra-judicial killings by police, most often on grounds of ‘self-defence’–over the past five years, minister of state for home Nityanand Rai told Parliament in February this year.

Fake encounters have implications for rights of individuals, groups, law and public policy. The victim has a right to justice. The deceased victim and the victim’s family have a right to know the truth. The people have a right to know whether the rule of law was followed or not, said Grover.

But the encounter killing over the Disha rape and murder leaves one crucial question unanswered: Were the men who were shot dead the same men who had raped and killed her?

We might never know.

GENDER TRACKER

With the elevation this week of Shoba Annamma Eapen to the bench, Kerala now has seven women judges.

Courts with the most number of women judges are:
Madras: 13
Delhi: 12
Telangana: 10
But five high courts – Uttarakhand, Patna, Manipur, Tripura, Meghalaya – still have no women judges.

Source: LiveLaw

GOING PLACES: “Am I trending on twitter?”

Nikhat Zareen,25, won gold at the women’s world boxing championship, becoming only the fifth Indian woman to be crowned world champion. One of four daughters born to an orthodox family in Nizamabad, Telangana, Nikhat began boxing at the age of 13. “I wanted to change the belief that women should just be in the kitchen and not dream of doing anything more,” she told Veenu Singh in this April 2022 Brunch story. “For me, all roads lead to the next Olympics.”

WE HEAR YOU

“Since I’ve come out to my family, my club and my teammates, that period of overthinking everything and the stress it created has gone. It was impacting my mental health. Now I am just confident and happy to be myself finally.”

In coming out as gay, 17-year-old Blackpool footballer Jake Daniels became the first openly gay male professional footballer in the UK.

STORIES YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED

Who’s afraid of live-streaming hearings on same-sex marriage?

Issues raised in petitions to legalise same-sex marriage do not involve issues of national importance. Nor do they concern the violation of fundamental rights, the government has told the Delhi high court.

The Delhi high court on May 17 was not amused and said the language used by the Centre in its affidavit is ‘objectionable’.

“Such an affidavit cannot come from a union ministry. These things must be vetted,” the court said and asked the government to file a fresh affidavit ahead of its next hearing on 20 August.

The petitions to recognise same-sex marriage “deeply affects 7-8% of the population,” advocate Neeraj Kishen Kaul who is appearing for one of the petitioners told me. “There are extremely important Constitutional rights already recognised by the Supreme Court,” he said.

Centre defends gender bias in Hindu succession law

The Centre has defended a provision in the Hindu Succession law which determines that if a woman dies without leaving a will, the line of succession will favor her husband’s parents over her own, even if her property is self-acquired.

Under Hindu law, the first in line for succession, if a woman dies intestate (without a will), are her husband and children. But, if the husband predeceases her and she doesn’t have children, the next in line is the husband’s heirs and not her own parents. It’s only if the husband has no heirs that the property can be inherited by her parents.

Enacted in 1956, the Hindu Succession law covers not just Hindus but Jains, Sikhs, and Buddhists. It creates two different routes for succession for men and women. The property of a man who dies intestate devolves equally to his mother, wife, and children. If there is no such successor, it goes to his father or his heirs.

Read Utkarsh Anand’s story here.

Bail for Indrani Mukerjea

In the six-and-a-half years since the arrest of Indrani Mukerjea in 2015 for the murder of her daughter Sheena Bora in 2012, just 68 of 237 prosecution witnesses have been examined. Taking note of the fact that the trial is not likely to conclude any time soon, the Supreme Court granted bail to Indrani Mukerjea.

Mukerjea’s former husband Peter Mukerjea was granted bail a year ago. The couple divorced in 2018

AROUND THE WORLD

Y viva Espana

Spain has approved a draft bill that will remove the requirement for 16 and 17-year-old girls to seek parental consent before terminating a pregnancy. The same bill also aims to provide employees sick leave for painful periods which, if approved, would make Spain the first European country to offer workers such leave, reports BBC. Finally, the bill aims to boost the development of hormonal contraception in men, stressing that contraception is not the responsibility of women alone. Government institutions must “discard taboos, stigmas, and guilt regarding women’s bodies,” equality minister Irene Montero said.

Equal pay for US women’s soccer

American women’s soccer scored a major win with the U.S. Soccer Federation agreeing that the women’s national team will receive the same pay as the men’s national team. There’s more: USA is also likely to be the first country to offer contracts that will share the unequal money from men’s and women’s World Cups equally with players.

Subscribe to Dhiman Sarkar’s football newsletter, Kick Off to know more about this and all things football.

Is breast milk free?

Actress Bette Midler could not have predicted the storm her tweet on the massive shortage of formula milk in America would cause. “TRY BREASTFEEDING. It’s free and available on demand,” she said, triggering a raging debate on the costs of breast feeding.

There are many reasons why families would opt for formula over breast milk including adoption, past breast surgery, low milk supply, the baby’s inability to latch or simply because a mother doesn’t want to.

But is breastfeeding free? Only if a mother’s time is worth nothing. Moreover, nursing mums require an additional 500 calories per day, estimates Mayo Clinic. That comes at a cost.

But, the current debate ignores the impact of aggressive marketing campaigns by formula manufacturers on low-income families in the developing world where safe drinking water might not be readily available and the cost of formula can make a serious dent on family income.

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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: namita.bhandare@gmail.com.

THE BIG STORY: He said/He said

Two Delhi high court judges, Rajiv Shakdher and C Hari Shankar could not agree on whether marital rape should be criminalised. What they did agree on, however, was that the case could move to the Supreme Court since substantial questions of law were involved.

The judges were hearing a bunch of petitions first filed seven years ago to look at an exception in India’s rape laws that exempts a man from the charge of rape even if he forces his wife to have non-consensual sex.

The question before the judges was whether this immunity to husbands went against the constitutional rights of women to equality and dignity, sexual autonomy and bodily integrity.

Here’s what they said in the 393-page judgment.

Question before the court

Rajiv Shakdher (RS): The poser before the court is: Should a husband be held criminally liable for raping his wife who is not under 18 years of age?

C Hari Shankar (CHS): The issue at hand is fundamentally simple, as the principles for invalidating a statutory provision as unconstitutional are trite and well-recognized…All that the court has to do is to apply these principles to the impugned exception.

The idea of consent

RS: Consensual sex is at the heart of a healthy and joyful marital relationship. Non-consensual sex in marriage is an antithesis of what matrimony stands for in modern times i.e., the relationship of equals. The right to withdraw consent at any given point in time forms the core of the woman’s right to life and liberty which encompasses her right to protect her physical and mental being. Non-consensual sex destroys this core by violating what is dear to her, which is, her dignity, bodily integrity, autonomy and agency and the choice to procreate or even not to procreate.

CHS: There can be no compromise on sexual autonomy of women, or the right of a woman to sexual and reproductive choice. Nor is a husband entitled, as of right, to have sex with his wife, against her will or consent. Conjugal rights end where bodily autonomy begins.…[But] just as every incident of taking of the life by one, of another, is not murder, every incident of non-consensual sex of a man with a woman is not rape.

Modern marriage

RS: When marriage is a tyranny, the state cannot have a plausible legitimate interest in saving it. In every sense, the marital rape exception, in my view, violates the equality clause contained in Article 14 of the Constitution… with one stroke it deprives nearly one-half of the population of equal protection of the laws.

CHS: In our country, marital vows are still regarded as inviolable, and marital fidelity is, fortunately, still the norm, profligacy being the exception (even if adultery is no longer a criminal offence). The sexual aspect is but one of the many facets of the relationship between husband and wife, on which the bedrock of their marriage rests.

Expectation of sex within marriage

RS: The submission that the husband has “conjugal expectation” to have sexual communion with his wife, in my opinion, is tenable as long as the expectation is not equated to an unfettered right to have sex without consent of the wife. The law cannot direct consummation.

CHS: The primary distinction, which distinguishes the relationship of wife and husband, from all other relationships of woman and man, is the carrying, with the relationship, as one of its inexorable incidents, of a legitimate expectation of sex.… Sex between a wife and a husband is sacred.

In no subsisting, surviving and healthy marriage should sex be a mere physical act, aimed at gratifying the gross senses. The emotional element of the act of sex, when performed between and wife and husband, is undeniable.

Judiciary v legislature

RS: It is incumbent on courts to take decisions concerning complex social issues and not dribble past them, as that is the mandate of the Constitution and, therefore, a duty and obligation which must be discharged if one is to remain true to the oath taken under the Constitution.

CHS: The court cannot substitute its view for that of the legislature, and hold, definitively, that treating non-consensual sex by a husband with his wife would not imperil, or threaten, the marital institution.… A court may differ in its view. That cannot, however, be a basis to overturn the legislative perception, which represents the perception of the entire national populace.

Different classes of victims

RS: In a gang rape involving the husband of the victim, the co-accused will face the brunt of the rape law but not the offending husband only because of his relationship with the victim. A married woman’s ability to say “no” to sexual communion with her husband when he is infected with a communicable disease or she is herself unwell finds no space in the present framework of rape law. Thus the rape law as it stands at present is completely skewed insofar as married women are concerned.

CHS: An act of non-consensual sex, as committed by a complete stranger, cannot be equated with an act of non-consensual sex by a husband. The extent of outrage felt by the wife, in the two cases, is also distinct and different.… A woman who is waylaid by a stranger, and suffers sexual assault – even if it were to fall short of actual rape – sustains much more physical, emotional and psychological trauma than a wife who has, on one, or even more than one, occasion, to have sex with her husband despite her unwillingness. It would be grossly unrealistic, in my considered opinion, to treat these two situations as even remotely proximate.

Invasion of private space

RS: When an offence of sexual abuse (short of rape) takes place within the confines of a married couple’s private space, the law has unhindered access to the very same space to bring the guilty to justice…The attempt to keep away the law even when a woman is subjected to forced sex by her husband, by demarcating private and public space is to deny her the agency and autonomy that the Constitution confers on her. The distinction between private and public space has no relevance when rights of the women victim are infringed.

CHS: The marital bedroom is inviolable. A legislation that seeks to keep out, from the parameters of such a relationship, any allegation of ‘rape’, in my view, is completely immune to interference.

Urgency to criminalise, or not, marital rape

RS: A married woman’s right to bring the offending husband to justice needs to be recognized. This door needs to be unlocked; the rest can follow. As a society, we have remained somnolent for far too long…It would be tragic if a married woman’s call for justice is not heard even after 162 years since the enactment of Indian Penal Code. To my mind, self-assured and good men have nothing to fear if this change is sustained.

CHS: The possibility of the husband being regarded as the wife’s rapist, if he has, on one or more occasion, sex with her without her consent would, in my view, be completely antithetical to the very institution of marriage, as understood in this country, both in fact and in law. The daughter born of such an act would, if the petitioner’s submissions are to be accepted, be a product of rape. Though the child has been born out of wedlock, and out of a perfectly legitimate sexual act between her parents, she would be the child of a rapist because her mother was, on the occasion when she had sex with her father, been unwilling

Creation of a new offence

RS: If the marital rape exception is struck down [all that would happen] is that the offending husband would fall within the ambit of the offence.

CHS: The petitioners contend that the impugned exception is outright unconstitutional and deserves to be guillotined. Would we not, by doing so, be creating a new offence? The answer, in my opinion, has necessarily to be in the affirmative.

Read the judgement here.

[The judges’ remarks have been lightly edited]

Weigh in: Should marital rape be recognised as a crime? Write to me at:  namita.bhandare@gmail.com

GENDER TRACKER

In 82% of cases of sexual violence against women aged between 18 and 49, the perpetrator was a husband; 13.7% by former husbands.

Source: National Family Health Survey-5

GOING PLACES

Photo credit: The Kashmirwalla

Sanna Irshad Mattoo is one of four Indians, and the only Indian woman, to be awarded a Pulitzer Prize in the feature photography category. Along with slain photo journalist Danish Siddiqui and other colleagues from Reuters, Adnan Abidi and Amit Dave, Sanna was awarded for her “for images of Covid’s toll in India that balanced intimacy and devastation, while offering viewers a heightened sense of place” according to the Pulitzer Prize website.

REST IN POWER

She was just doing her job, wearing a flak jacket that clearly marked her as press while covering a raid by Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank. If the killing of 51-year-old Shireen Abu Akleh who was shot in the head—her producer Ali al-Samoudi was also shot and injured–on May 11 sparked fury, then the beating by Israeli forces of thousands of mourners as they carried the coffin of the Christian Palestinian-American who had worked at Al Jazeera for 25 years propelled that fury.

“For a new generation of young Arab women,” wrote Lyse Doucet of the BBC. “She was the first female correspondent they’d seen on their television screens.”

Amena Ashkar, a Palestinian journalist, called her a ‘role model’ who both informed her awareness of the Palestinian cause but also what “I, a woman, am capable of providing this cause.”

FIELD NOTES: What’s in a name?

Who gets to name species when they’re discovered? Sometimes it’s all a bit of fun. The Ba Humbugi, a Fiji snail referenced one of literature’s crankiest men. And the mushroom Spongiforma Squarepantsii is a name most kids would find easy to learn. Others honour eminent scientists. Charles Darwin, for instance has nearly 300 species of animals named after him.

Yet, when it comes to the honour of bestowing names, a study by Robert Poulin at the University of Otago, Dunedin finds that nearly 3,000 bloodsuckers and other parasites mostly honour men. Combing through eight parasitology journals between 2000 and 2020, the study found that of 596 parasites honouring an eminent scientist, only 18% honoured women.

The name gender gap is stark in the plant world as well. Another 2010 paper looked at the names of nearly 900 varieties of desert succulent plants: Only one in 10 was named after a woman scientist.

Read more here.

SEE

Courtesy: @Indianwomenblog

Identified only as @smishdesigns, a series Pati, Patni, Aur Woke, seeks to portray the misogynistic realities of Indian marriage.

“I am really sick of hearing ‘compromise toh karna padega (you have to compromise). Forget our in-laws and husbands, our parents don’t want us to be ourselves,” she told Indian Women blog.

STORIES YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED

What data tell us about India’s domestic violence epidemic

Karnataka now wears the badge of shame for being the number one state for domestic violence with nearly one in two women reporting it, according to the fifth National Family Health Survey (NFHS-5) conducted between 2019 and 2021.

Even more shocking is the 24% increase in domestic violence from 2015 when 20.6% married women reported it to NFHS enumerators to 44% in this round.

Bihar follows Karnataka in terms of domestic violence. Unlike the southern state, however, Bihar has seen a dip in numbers from 43.7% in 2015 to 40%, a figure that is still unacceptably high. The report finds that “84% of women face spousal violence when their husbands get drunk often” and “61% of them face spousal violence when their husbands are drunk sometimes”. The state has been officially dry since 2016.

Acid attacker turns rapist 17 years later

Seventeen years ago, he attacked his sister-in-law with acid and received a seven year jail sentence for it. Last week, the 43-year-old man was arrested from Bengaluru, this time for raping the same woman at her Delhi home in December 2021.

The man filmed the crime on video and threatened to release it on social media. He also told the woman he would attack her husband and children with acid if she told anyone about the rape.

Raising the minimum age of marriage for women

Non-government organisations, including the Kailash Satyarthi Children’s Foundation told Parliament’s standing committee of the adverse health impact of early marriage and pregnancy on young women. The committee is hearing arguments for and against raising the minimum legal age of marriage for women from 18 to 21 to bring it at par with men. The bill was introduced in Parliament on December 21.

AROUND THE WORLD

Top cities fail working women

The world’s top cities for doing business fail employed women when it comes to safety, finds a Bloomberg Businessweek analysis of 15 cities. Selected by Bloomberg journalists for being commerce hubs, none of the cities, from London to Seoul could score a perfect score of five, based on safety, mobility, maternity, equality, and wealth.

Toronto scored the highest with a score of 3.66 while Sao Paulo was at the bottom of the list with 2.68.

Phew!

Lawmakers in Louisiana, America, pared down a controversial bill that included language which would classify abortions from ‘the moment of fertilisation’ as homicide. The bill was criticised even by anti-abortion groups, reports CNN, for treating women seeking abortions as criminals.

The bald truth

An employment tribunal in the UK has held that calling a man bald amounts to sexual harassment. The three men panel referred to their own baldness and said that baldness is a characteristic of gender rather than age. Using the word to insult an employee is a ‘violation of…dignity’, the tribunal ruled.

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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: namita.bhandare@gmail.com.