THE BIG STORY: The wrath of women: How the battle was won when women protestors took to the streets

On the 40th day after Mahsa Amini’s death in police custody for being ‘improperly’ veiled, thousands ignored road closures and marched to her grave in Saqez, Iran.

The protests are being led by women. They are burning hijabs, cutting their hair, dancing and chanting: “Women, life, freedom”.

Despite a brutal crackdown that has, according to one estimate left 222 dead, amongst them women and children, the protests show no sign of abating, spreading instead to alarger group of students and men who are demanding regime-change.

Will a country where half the population is aged below 40 force the regime to buckle, or will the state succeed in crushing out these voices? It’s too early to say.

1000s of people walking towards #MahsaAmini’s cemetery in #Saqez (Source: Twitter/@Omid_M)

But if history teaches us one thing, it is this: When women come out onto the streets to protest, change often is the outcome.

Women have always protested– perhaps few men understand oppression the way most women do. In India, they marched during the Independence movement. They marched against dowry and sati. Not every protest leads to change, but it does serve to send the message that the status quo cannot continue.

Some examples from India:

Chipko Movement, 1973

The non-violent agitation aimed at protecting trees is best remembered for the collective mobilisation of women, perhaps because they were most affected by lack of firewood and drinking water, and inaccessibility to fodder caused by deforestation and government policies.

Triggered by Gandhian social activist Chandi Prasad Bhatt and carried forward by Sunderlal Bhaguna, the movement is also remembered for the leadership of women like Gaura Devi who in March 1974 galvanised a group of 27 women to fend off loggers and contractors at Reni village in Chamoli by literally hugging the trees that were to be felled.

Chipko Movement, one of the strongest movements to conserve forests in India. (Source: Wiki Media Commons)

Gaura Devi’s success after a four-day stand-off electrified the movement as it spread with women taking up other social issues including anti-alcoholism, setting up cooperatives for fodder production and replanting degraded land.

In 1980 then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi announced a 15-year ban on the felling of trees.

The December protests, 2012

The gang-rape and subsequent death of a medical student in Delhi on December 16, 2012 sparked “revulsion and anger … where women regularly face sexual harassment and assault, and where neither the police nor the judicial system is seen as adequately protecting them,” noted the New York Times.

The anger on the street prompted the then Congress-led government to set up a commission headed by the late Justice J S Verma. In less than a month, its sweeping recommendations expanded the definition of rape and criminalised other forms of violence against women, including acid attacks.

Farmer protest, 2020

Described as the largest protest in the world, the year-long agitation against three agriculture law passed in September 2020, saw large-scale participation by women, remarkable really as the epicentre of the protest was Haryana, a state known for its ingrained patriarchy.

“Rural women experience a large-scale exclusion in land ownership and operation rights,” write Jagmati Sangwan and Shamsher Singh in Economic and Political Weekly. The introduction of the farm laws “aggravated the apprehensions of the already crisis-ridden peasantry.” Moreover, a new generation of women in Haryana had already been asserting their agency through education and sport. Joining the protests was a natural progression for them.

It wasn’t easy. Activist Nodeep Kaur told me how she had to fight to make herself heard. “I was the last to be given the mike,” she said. “The attitude was, ‘who is this Dalit young woman’?” When it was her turn to speak, the men who had already spoken would walk off the stage. Nevertheless, she stood her ground.

The women helped clear obstacles, including barricades set up by the police. They mobilised rations including milk, vegetables and cooked food for the camps. As the months wore on, they took on a more active role, joining protestors headed to Delhi and other protest sites, picketing and gheraoing government offices and police stations, “asserting their right to protest, public space, and dignity” write Sangwan and Singh.

In November 2021, the government repealed the farm laws.

Shaheen Bagh, 2021

In the end it was the Covid pandemic that brought to a close the 100-day protest against the government’s proposed Citizenship Amendment Act. Remarkable about the protest was the presence of women—mothers with babies, domestic workers, schoolgirls, grannies—most of them Muslim. “Muslim women don’t come out on the street easily,” Sakina Parveen, a social worker who lives near Shaheen Bagh told me. “But they understand this issue and this is why they are here in such large numbers.”

The anti-CAA protest quickly spread to other parts of India from Assam to Karnataka. Shaheen Bagh was the epicentre for women to register their anger at what they saw was an attempt to foist an unjust law. Their presence through that cold winter belied the narrative of the ‘oppressed’ Muslim woman.

But on March 23, 2020, when the prime minister announced a nation-wide lockdown due to Covid, it was time to pack up and go home.

Two years after the CAA was passed by Parliament, the ministry of home affairs is yet to notify the rules that will govern it.


Hers was the reassuring face on television during the height of Covid, telling us there was no end to the pandemic and we just had to learn to live with it. Now, Gagandeep Kang , microbiologist at the Christian Medical College, has been elected to the National Academy of Medicine for her “outstanding contributions to understanding and improving child health”. Of the 100 new members for the 2022 batch, Kang is the only scientist from Asia and the third Indian ever to be elected to the Academy.


“If she had no wish to do her household activities, then she ought to have told it prior to the marriage so that the bridegroom can rethink about the marriage itself.”

In a country where women spend as much as eight times more (335 minutes) on housework–46% of their waking hours–compared to 40 minutes chipped in by men, Justices Vibha Kankanwadi and Rajesh S Patil of the Aurangabad bench of the Bombay high court seem to have their own ideas about the place of a wife in a marriage.


Help! The condom broke.
What determines penis size?
Umm…how does anal sex work?

For five years, sex educator Leeza Mangaldas has been dishing out gyan on sex and all things related – consent: yes; pleasure: yes, please – to 879,000 followers on Instagram (@leezamangaldas) and on her podcast on Spotify.

Now, she has her first book out and it’s available as a paperback, an e-book and an audio book. “In many ways it’s the book I wish I myself could have had, with which to learn about sex and the body. As a young, unmarried Indian woman trying to navigate my own sexuality, sexual health and relationships, I found there to be such a lack of easily accessible and culturally relevant information and resources about sex,” she posted.

The Sex Book: The joyful journey of self-discovery by Leeza Mangaldas, Harper Collins, Rs 311 on Amazon.


The good news…pay parity for women cricket players

It’s been a good month for India’s women cricketers. First came the announcement of the women’s Indian Premier League slated for early 2023. Then, on Thursday, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) said women cricketers will finally be paid the same match fee as men for international matches. After New Zealand Cricket, the BCCI is now the second cricket board to announce pay parity.

‘Amazing’, ‘historic’, ‘red-letter day’ were some ofthe epithets despite the sobering reality that women’s collective match earnings sill won’t come close to that of the men simply because they play far fewer matches. Rasesh Mandani does the math: A male international player will still make Rs 10.5 crore compared to Rs 3 crore that a woman international player will take home.

There’s also the tricky issue of annual retainers where the pay gap remains huge. India’s best-paid women contracts are valued at Rs 50 lakh, half that of the lowest-ranked men’s contract, and 14 times less than what a Grade A male player is worth.

The BCCI says this is only the start. It is, one worthy of a cheer.

Nursing home fined for failure to report on foetal disability

Failure to inform a couple about their child’s physical deformities during pregnancy despite three ultrasound tests on the mother has resulted in the award of Rs 10 lakh as compensation on the nursing home where the tests were done.

The child was born without a left leg and a right hand. A district consumer court in Odisha’s Jagatsinghpur district has also ordered the nursing home to pay Rs 50,000 to the mother for her mental agony and another Rs 4,000 towards litigation cost.

The court noted that had the couple been informed about the deformities they could have opted for an abortion, legal in India up to 24 weeks of pregnancy in cases where there are serious foetal abnormalities. There is a substantial risk that if the child were born it would suffer from serious disability.

Men who made videos instead of helping bleeding girl face arrest

Kanpur police has lodged an FIR against 15-20 unidentified men for shooting videos of a bleeding 12-year-old girl begging for help. The ghastly incident of voyeurism and apathy in Kannauj led to outrage and the men will now be identified through the videos they shot. The girl was eventually taken to hospital by sub-inspector Manoj Pandey where she is being treated for apparent rape. The man accused of causing the injuries is yet to be apprehended.

FIELD NOTES: Making cities matter to women

Cities have traditionally been designed for able-bodied men rather than women, girls, sexual and gender minorities and people with disabilities.

Now, a toolkit issued by the World Bank seeks to rectify that imbalance. With economist Mitali Nikore as the lead writer, the paper urges policy makers to assess the ground situation to understand gender differences in mobility patterns, understand safety concerns and integrate a gender lens in new and existing policies and plans.

Read here.


In Zealand, the number of women MPs has for the first time exceeded the number of men, 60 to 59, reports The Washington Post. The milestone places the country among a half-dozen nations, including Cuba, Mexico, Nicaragua, the United Arab Emirates and Rwanda, that can this year claim 50% female representatives in Parliament.

In the UK, Carmen Callil, the publisher and writer who championed women writers has died of leukemia aged 84, reports The Guardian. Callil founded the feminist imprint, Virago Press where she published such contemporary bestsellers as Margaret Atwood, Maya Angelou and Angela Carter.

Taylor Swift has edited the video for Anti-hero, one of the tracks in her new album Midnights, days after its release when it broke records for the most-streamed albums on Spotify. Swift made the change following a backlash over a scene that shows her stepping onto a scale that reads FAT, which critics said was ‘fatphobic’. BBC has the story.

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Women’s safety: A hollow slogan in the India of today

I can’t help but wonder at the depths we have plumbed in the decade since the brutality of the December 16, 2012 gang rape led an outraged nation to demand justice, compelling the then Congress-led government to tighten rape laws.

Since 2012, violent crimes against women have only gone up, a reflection perhaps of both rising crime and a greater willingness to report it.

In the video, the bleeding girl, her hands outstretched, pleads for help. But the men who stand around are far too busy filming the “scene”, until Manoj Pandey, the policeman in charge of the Kannauj outpost, arrives, scoops up the girl, and rushes her to the hospital in an auto-rickshaw. In the outrage that follows this monstrous display of apathy and voyeurism, several reasons are offered on TV debates: Patriarchy, the desire for social media “fame” and rising crimes against women.

THE BIG STORY: Convicted rapists get out-of-jail-free cards. Is there an election around the corner?

In the rampage that followed the 2017 conviction of Dera Sacha Sauda (DSS) chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim for murder and rape, 30 people were killed, 200 injured and vehicles and public property were set on fire as his followers clashed with police.

Rahim had been sentenced to 20 years of hard labour. In the five years since he’s been lodged in Sunaria prison, he’s been sent home on parole or furlough at least six times.

His time-out has coincided with elections in Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh where he continues to wield extraordinary influence amongst an estimated 70 million followers, claimed by DSS.

This year alone he’s been out three times. His time out between February 7 and 27 coincided with the Punjab elections on February 20. His 30-day parole on June 17 came two days before municipal elections in Haryana. And, now in October when he’ll be home for 40 days, there’s an assembly election in Himachal Pradesh and a bypoll in Adampur, Haryana.

It’s pretty blatant, “a clear instance of quid pro quo”—get out of jail in return for his cadre’s support in the election–Rajendra Sharma, a political science professor in Rohtak told Hindustan Times.

At his daily online satsang sessions, BJP leaders flout their presence. “They were attending as devotees,” Haryana BJP spokesperson Sanjay Sharma said of the presence of BJP leaders, including the Karnal mayor. Rahim, Sharma added, is to be praised for his cult’s cleanliness drive. “We should appreciate the positive sides,” he said.

Home ministry okayed the release of 11 rapists and murderers

Assembly elections are imminent in Gujarat too where the shocking release earlier in August of 11 men sentenced to life imprisonment for gang-raping a five-month pregnant Bilkis Bano and others, killing seven people, including her infant daughter, in the carnage of 2002 had the blessings of the home ministry.

An investigation by The Indian Express reveals that on average each of the 11 spent 1,000 days—two years, seven months—out of jail, on parole, furlough and temporary bail.

During their time out, two men, Mitesh Chimanlal Bhatt and Ramesh Chandana were charged with new offences of outraging a woman’s modesty and intimidation.

Union minister Pralhad Joshi told NDTV: “I don’t find anything wrong in it [the remission] as it is a process of law.”

The men’s release came despite opposition from authorities, including the superintendent of police, CBI, Special Crime Branch, Mumbai and the special civil judge at the City Civil and Sessions Court, Greater Mumbai. The special judge in fact refused to sign off the remission request, stating that the crime was committed only because the victim belonged to a ‘particular religion’ and that the crime committed was the “worst form of hate crime and crime against humanity”.

On Friday, the Supreme Court agreed to hear a fresh plea filed by the National Federation of Indian Women challenging the remission order and the release of the convicts.

Politics as usual

So, how and why were the men released amidst an obscene display of triumphalism where they were garlanded, fed laddoos and, a day later, feted by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad in its office.

Can a political party actually believe that the release of rapists will win it brownie points with the electorate? And what does this say about the morality of us as voters?

The silence from the Aam Aadmi Party, seeking to make inroads in the Gujarat election, is telling. On the campaign trail in Gujarat, Manish Sisodia was asked to comment on Bilkis Bano and replied: “We stand for education, hospitals and jobs. This is what we are concerned with. People should speak about their concerns.”

How can justice for rape survivors, for women who fight against the system for decades despite death threats and hostility, not be a concern for every Indian?


The share of women managers in ASEAN countries rose only 2 percentage points in 20 years, from 39% in 2000 to 41% in 2020. Women also make up 67% of health-care workers but only 11% of chief executive officers in the region’s biggest hospitals.

Data on women’s leadership made available by UN Women at the 2nd ASEAN (Association of South-East Asian Nations) Women Leader’s Summit.


“Rule of law, if understood and implemented properly, is a defence against oppressive structures such as patriarchy, casteism, and ableism.”

Justice Dhananjay Y Chandrachud, who will be sworn as the next chief justice of India on November 9, speaking at the 9th Convocation of National Law University, Delhi.


Can Muslim girls marry at 15?

Following a recent Punjab & Haryana high court judgment that gave a minor Muslim girl the right under Muslim personal law to marry a person of her choice once she attains puberty at 15, the Supreme Court on Monday began examining the issue. “There is a question of law that requires consideration,” a bench of justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and AS Oka observed as it set the next date of hearing on November 7. Under Indian law, the minimum legal age of women to marry is 18.

Male students run riot at Miranda

A Diwali fair at Delhi University’s prestigious women’s college, Miranda House took a horrible turn when male students scaled the gates and walls to enter and harass those present. “Cat-calling, groping, sexist sloganeering and more,” tweeted a student of the college. Delhi police first said it had received no official complaint but then registered a case on Monday against unnamed people after a video of the incident went viral, highlighting, yet again, the precarity of women’s safety in public spaces and, even, in their own college.

The strange case of a fake rape

News of the abduction and gang-rape of a 38-year-old woman in Ghaziabad led to five arrests and considerable outrage. Delhi Commission of Women chairperson Swati Maliwal compared the crime to the December 16, 2012 gang-rape and said the woman too had been mutilated by the insertion of an iron rod. She tweeted that the woman “is fighting for her life in hospital” and issued notice to the police.

The chairperson of the National Commission of Women said it was sending a fact-finding team.

Five men, Deenu, Shahrukh, Javed, Dhola and Aurangzeb were arrested.

It now turns out that the gang-rape was faked by the woman, her boyfriend and her brother over a property dispute, according to the police investigation.

The five arrested men have been let off and a case has been registered against the woman and three others, including a journalist who was paid off to sensationalise the story. The woman continues to stand by her story of being raped.

…And the good news

The women’s Indian Premier League is finally set to become reality early in 2023. This is not a result of a sudden gender awakening by the Board of Control for Cricket in India, but the sheer hard work and tenacity of women who play cricket. Led by Hamanpreet Kaur, the team brought home a silver at the Birmingham Commonwealth Games and clinched a one-day international series in England.

Audiences are lapping it up. The cumulative global TV audience for the 2022 ICC Women’s Cricket World Cup was 104.8 million, making it the third most digitally engaging event after the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup (2019) and ICC Men’s T20 World Cup (2021).


In the UK, Liz Truss, her country’s third woman prime minister who had described herself as a ‘fighter not a quitter’ resigned after just 45 days in office – the shortest tenure ever in that country.

In Teheran, 15-year-old Asra Panahi died after she was beaten by security forces during a raid on her school where students were attacked after they refused to sing an anthem praising Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, reports BBC. Meanwhile, Elnaz Rekabi who represented her country at the Asian climbing championship in Seoul without covering her hair returned home to cheering supporters. She told state television that the omission had been ‘unintentional’. Sources say the statement was forced out of her.

In Sudan, a 20-year-old woman sentenced to death by stoning for adultery has caused outrage by the International Federation for Human Rights which has called on the Sudanese authorities to overturn the ‘cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment’ and release the woman. The sentence was passed in June by the Kosti criminal court in the White Nile State.

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