Author Archives: umasubramanian

About umasubramanian

A passionate social worker committed to working on ending sexual violence against children and women in India. A strong advocate of child protection and child rights.

India’s Daughters: Why We Shouldn’t Be Silent

India’s Daughters & Sons have grown up in a nation where sexual violence and rape is an everyday reality, like in other countries. Here, however, the violence is so pervasive that it had jaded us.  But in 2012, the Delhi Gang Rape, where a 23-year-old medical student was gang raped, tortured and killed in a public bus, proved a collective tipping point. The nation was moved from indifference and quiet frustration towards impassioned street protests and action. The horror sparked a questioning of a system where this was allowed to happen. The protesting citizens demanded not only justice for the victim Jyoti Singh and other women who had suffered similarly but also security, protection, rights and dignity for all women.

Instead of connecting with the people’s sentiments, the Congress Government reacted to the people’s anger and voices with water canons and tear gas. It tried to subdue the people and dilute their movement; the chief minister came on television and made desperate attempts to downplay the protests. But the government had misjudged, and how. Their draconian actions only added fuel to the protests, which raged on. For this naiveté, the Congress would pay a heavy price.

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This is 2015; we are seeing a new government, the BJP, repeat the same mistake by imposing a nationwide ban on filmmaker Lesliee Udwins’ ‘India’s Daughter’ a BBC documentary based on the Delhi Gang Rape. This new Government has gone on record to say that such films tarnish the image of the country in front of the world. They tried to ensure that the film was banned globally. They called it a conspiracy by the west to show India in a bad light.

The First Investigation Report (FIR) filed by the Delhi police against the filmmakers under Sections 504, 505, 509 of the Indian Penal Code refers to intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of peace, statements conducive to public mischief, word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman. The filmmakers also were charged under the Section 66A of the IT Act, 2000, which demands punishment for sending offensive messages through a communication service.

Is this justified?

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I watched India’s daughter (Yes I did watch it just a few hours before it was banned!). It is an average documentary but an important one. It relies not on any narrative but instead hangs on the words of the people involved, of Jyoti’s parents, one of the rapists, members of the establishment, and it is critical in allowing us to hear the cold truth.

The statements in the film of the rapist Mukesh Singh about girls and their place in society, their own responsibility for rape, and the equally outrageous statements from defense lawyers for the six perpetrators are supposedly the main reason for banning the film.  But these statements are not unheard of, they reflect the common sentiments that we hear in our everyday lives.

Between 2012 and 2015, we have heard some of the most repressive and misogynistic statements by public figures on the Delhi Gang Rape.

Rapes happen in India, not in Bharat (referring to rural India). It happens because of the western influence and culture.”  Mohan Bhagwat, chief of the Hindu Nationalist organization, Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh

“Boys make mistakes. Handing death sentence for rape is not fair. There will be changes in the law if we come to power.”  Mulayam Singh Yadav, Leader of the Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh

“She should have taken God’s name and could have held the hand of one of the men and said ‘I consider you as my brother, brother I am helpless. She should have held their feet and said prayers. Then the misconduct (referring to rape) wouldn’t have happened. Mistake is never from one side alone” Self styled God man Asaram who is currently in prison and facing charges for raping a minor girl.

Our Honorable President Pranab Mukherjee’s son Abhijit Mukherjee went as far as insulting the Delhi protesters by saying, “dented and painted women protested against the gang-rape. He called the anti-rape agitation a nautanki (drama). He said the women protesters were good-looking but did not exactly look like students as claimed. He said they looked like people going to discotheques.

And there were many more such opinions. Thanks to the media, some of these were aired widely and there was outrage in response from civil society. But one wonders why did the government not respond to these? Why, instead, ban a film that simply seeks to lift these terrible remarks into public light.  Why the water cannons and tear gas fired at peaceful protesters, women and men alike? Why do most of the above-mentioned people still hold their positions of power and enjoy public life despite giving us enough evidence that they are among the most repressive minds in the country? ​

That said, ‘India’s Daughter’ cannot be and should not be looked at through only one lens. It not only showed the opinions of a rapist but also attempted to question the dichotomy within Indian society and raised important questions regarding how we perceive our women. It applauded the grit and determination of civil society and showed varied opinions on how the protests were a turning point in our fight against sexual violence.

The film sensitively portrayed the love and loss of the parents of Jyoti who struggled hard and broke all gender stereotypes to give their daughter the best of everything. It exposed that many among us are insecure with this breed of young, independent women who live their lives on their own terms and are supported by their families in doing so. It told us how these terrible men took it upon themselves to teach Jyoti and her friend a lesson as they crossed the ‘laxman rekha’ (moral boundary put forth by the society)

But one also needs to question the filmmaker and the BBC on some aspects of the documentary. Why did they not wait for the final judgment by the Supreme Count on the Delhi Gang Rape? The film might yet have an impact on the judgment and, in considering due process, how fair is that? Would this be permissible in the UK or any other developed country in the world?  How did the filmmaker acquire the permissions to interview Mukesh Singh? Was the documentary presented as being made for study or for commercial purposes?

We all know that the Government denies permissions to NGOs and human rights activists to work in prisons, so how did Udwin manage to get through? Finally, why did the filmmaker not think about the rights and dignity of the family of the accused, especially the wife and child of one of the rapists, why was no precaution taken in protecting their identity?

We strongly advocate for freedom of speech and expression in our country and believe varied opinions must be heard; there must be a right to dissent, agreement to disagree. The culture of a ban is opposed to the fundamental principles of democracy. Governments cannot decide for people, let the people decide for themselves.

Sexual violence is not only India’s problem; foreign participants are welcome in our country to contribute to the debate and help with solutions, but they need to be sympathetic to the local realities and must respect our law. They must be introspective and ask the question, ‘would this be permissible in my country?’ if the answer is no then they must resist the temptation to experiment here.

Jyoti’s parents were generous to share the details of her life with us. We must thank them for that. Their loss is irreparable, their pain unimaginable. The only way to pay respect to the spirit of Jyoti and other victims of sexual violence is to ensure their stories help us build a society that strives to be equal, empathetic and just.

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One more child, one more rape, how many more can we take?

One more rape in India – This time a 6 year old girl, in a well known school in Bangalore. 

A letter from me to the little girl 

Dear child,

These are tough times for you and your family. Perhaps you won’t be able to understand what is going around you. But let me tell you this too shall pass, everything does.

I am sorry my child. I am sorry, on behalf of those of us who failed to protect you from these demons. We have failed, and unfortunately no one scolds us if we fail.

Hope there are enough people around you to tell you that whatever happened was not your mistake. It never is. You were not supposed to be treated in a way that you were. I hope and pray that you get support and strength, to go to school, to play and do all those things that you love doing. Don’t ever think it was your mistake.

I am sure you must know by now that the name of the country we live in is India. Apart from knowing that the national flag has three colors and the rainbow has 7 – you must know that there are many children who suffer the way you did. Some of them are your friends living around your house, and many of them live in other parts of this country. Some live in villages and some live in cities. Some are troubled by demons unknown and some by elders who turn into demons.

Don’t ever think that we don’t love you; its just that we are too busy to take care of you and protect you everyday. You know we need to work on bigger problems; we need to make money so that we have enough food, electricity and water. We work hard so that you can have to have good roads to drive on and bullet trains to travel. So please don’t be angry that we don’t give you time.

Thank you for sharing this with your parents. I salute your courage. Remember that’s the only way we can fix this problem. If this ever happens again to you or your friends – don’t be afraid. You will have to learn how to protect yourself, try and identify these demons before they bother you. We will hopefully teach you how to do this in the near future.

I assure you that me and my friends will work hard to kill all these demons, it will take us some time, but we will get there.

Hope you get well soon,

Love,

Uma Aunty from Mumbai

Read more about this case and sign the petition to impose security measures in Schools. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Are we accountable to the children whom we work with? Is there a need to look within our NGOs?

This months’ aarambh TALK features my take on Child Protection and NGOs in India!!

Aarambh India

 Child Protection & NGOs in India

by

Uma Subramanian

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Case 1: “Our organization works on Women’s issues is there a need for a child protection policy?”

Case 2: “We have recreational centre for children. Our staff is experienced and trained in child rights, we don’t see the need to have a separate child protection policy.”

These are responses from NGOs who work with children (directly or indirectly). In most cases there is no system of child protection in an organization that does not directly work with children, it is not seen as an organizational goal. What is even more shocking is many organizations that work with children on a daily basis do not have a child protection policy.

This is one of the biggest deterrents to child protection in India today. We NGOs have been the watchdogs of child rights in the country, even before India ratified the United Nations…

View original post 580 more words

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Foot Soldiers – Hindustan Times publishes our work in Mumbai!

We began the Mumbai Children’s Safety Initiative last year in collaboration with 6 leading NGOs in Mumbai. The idea was to collectively seek a solution to one of the most heinous crimes against children- Child Sexual Exploitation!

The Sunday edition of Hindustan Times carried a full page article on our work in Mumbai. 

http://www.scribd.com/doc/226077043/Foot-Soldiers-Hindustan-Times-Mumbai-2014-05-25#fullscreen=1

Follow aarambhindia.wordpress.com for updates and news on our work against Child Sexual Exploitation!

Stay Tuned! Break the Silence!  

 

Rapes in India & The Crisis of Consensus!

Men rape only when provoked by women like YOU!

Having heard this so many times, sadly the women of India believe this is true.

In December 2013, the editor-in-chief of India’s Tehelka magazine was accused of sexually assaulting a junior colleague twice in a hotel elevator during a conference in Goa. Until this incident, Tehelka was one of the most respected magazines, making headlines for path- breaking and courageous journalism that reported real stories and exposed scams in India.

But this incident exposed Tehelka. It brought to light the double standards of some urban, educated elites working for the magazine. Tehelka’s female managing editor, well known for her feminist stance, did not encourage the journalist to report the matter to the police.  She subsequently was accused of a cover-up and was forced to resign under fire from the media.

“Lapse of judgment”, “something ostensibly playful gone so horribly wrong” “were phrases used in the apology letter written by the accused to his managing editor and the victim.

Another high profile case of sexual harassment that surfaced last year was that of a law intern who was sexually molested by a senior Supreme Court Judge who was also a member of a state Human Rights Commission. In his defense he said: “Allegations were made by the intern 11 months after the incident. I never abused my power. She could have left the room if she was feeling unwell. No person can be forced to drink wine if the person doesn’t want to.” (Source: Interview to CNN IBN http://ibnlive.in.com/news/sexual-harassment-case-justice-ganguly-blames-wb-government-sc-panel/444098-3.html)

To show just how pervasive is the sentiment, more recently, I read the news of a woman politician and a member of a Women’s Commission who echoed a similar view. At a women’s event, she questioned why the Delhi Gang Rape victim was out at night. She added that a woman’s attire and behavior are prerequisites to rape.  (quote from her here)

A media honcho, Supreme Court judge and a woman politician in different ways each imply that rape could simply amount to a lapse of judgment and a woman should bear responsibility in terms of the hours she keeps and the clothes she wears.  In other words, she is not simply the victim of a violent crime but possibly responsible for the act itself.

Post the Delhi Gang Rape, there seems to be more of a consensus that rape is a terrible crime but is that enough to protect our women and children? The statements related above worry me since I clearly don’t hear one voice on “Why women are raped in India?”

While we criticize Khap Panchayats in Haryana or Tribal councils in West Bengal for being backward in their mindsets, we tend to forget that there are many among the “educated elite” in this country who have a similar outlook. They might not be as vociferous in their opinions but the above examples clearly show that the burden of proof is shifted to the victim.

Rape – of a woman, man or a child involves abuse of power and position. It involves objectifying the person, force and coercion. Rape is not consensual, it can never be. We tend to miss the crux of this issue by focusing on the unnecessary details; sometimes we do it to divert our attention from the bitter truth. Women are conditioned to believe that by stepping out of line, they could bring rape upon themselves.

We must condemn every act of violence against women and children and we must reach a consensus on assigning responsibility to the perpetrator and not the victim. We can recruit more policemen for safety, we can sell pepper sprays and teach our girls karate – but can we stop judging our girls and women?

 

Rs. 40,000 crore worth assests – Sathya Saibaba Trust
Rs. 1,000 crore – Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s AOLs yearly turnover
Rs. 5,000 crore – Asaram’s empire
Rs. 1200 crore – Mata Amritanandmaye empire

Its an endless list…

“GODMEN and GOD WOMEN” preach to their devotees about getting rid of materialistic possessions and getting engrossed in a spiritual journey. On the contrary they have accumulated so much in the name of their spiritual journey.

India is a god fearing country and these guys are smart to have capitalized on those FEARS….while its good to have faith – can we afford to follow blindly?