Tag Archives: women

Angry Anti-Baby Rant

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Whilst I’d  be the first person to admit I probably have some anger management issues, there are some things that people say which just take me from calm to irate in 0.3 seconds. Castigating me for not wanting children is one of them.

Just because I have a pair of ovaries inside my body does not predispose me to wanting to procreate! It’s a classic case of one rule for women, another for men. I have never heard any man being teased about being broody, or being ruthlessly interrogated for their disinterest in children – it is instead seen as a natural thing for men to have no desire for children and forever remain the single bachelor, whilst women, driven by that mythical entity ‘biology’, naturally all want to snare a man and produce offspring as their most urgent goal in life.

Strangers don’t approach you at parties and, upon assessing that you own an appendix, say, “Oh why aren’t you using that more?” Whether I do or do not choose to utilise my reproductive capabilities is not your business, and therefore I do not have to justify my personal choices to every person who wants to stick their nose in. It’s like a woman’s reproductive potential is public or community property, and all this peer pressure is the culmination of sentient genetics within the general population to ensure the continuation of our species. Well that strategy clearly hasn’t caught up with the world’s current state of over-population.

Planetary sustainability aside though, the main issue is that my personal choices should not be coming under this level scrutiny, as if it’s not my prerogative to make them. Let me use an analogy of sprouts to illustrate a typical conversation:

“Oh aren’t sprouts so great? I can’t get enough of them!”

“Actually I don’t like sprouts.”

‘What? How can you not like sprouts?”

“I just don’t like them. I’ve tried them, and they’re just not for me. I have no interest in them.”

“But everyone likes sprouts. What is it about them that you don’t like?”

“Everything. I just have no interest in eating them. I don’t really think about it.”

“Oh OK. Everyone your age thinks like that though. In a few years you’ll change your mind.”

“No, I won’t.”

“You say that now, but in a few years it’ll be different. You might change your mind.”

“And you might change your mind. You might realise that actually, you don’t like sprouts any more.”

“I would never do that.”

‘How do you know? What you think now could totally change in a few years time.”

“It won’t though.”

“Right..but what I think will, then?”

And then sometimes, depending on the person, they get angry and start really laying into me – like somehow this decision affecting no one but myself is a personal affront to them. I am not going out killing babies, or stealing them, or even commenting on other people’s’ reproductive choices – I am simply disinterested. That is, apparently, near tantamount to a crime.

The part that irritates me the most is the patronising tone. The adage of ‘you’re too young to know better right now’ is still applicable at nearly 24 years old as much as it ever was at four or fourteen. Given that women are now popping out tiny humans well into their 40s (numbers in the UK have now actually exceeded rates for teenage pregnancy) my hopes that the nagging would cease towards my late twenties have been uprooted. It doesn’t look like I’ll ever be ‘old enough’ to know my own mind and possess enough strength of will to overcome my pre-programmed biological urges. Clearly.

It’s a topic I’m sick of explaining, and sick of being hounded about. Even Facebook ads thinks I should be getting pregnant! I could understand family members wanting to see baby grandchildren and great-grandchildren – that’s entirely forgivable and I am sorry that I won’t be providing that to my Nan in her old age – but strangers, colleagues, friends, and others have no say. My life is my life.

And I really do just not want children. It’s as simple as that.

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Homesick for India

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It’s been two and a half months since I left India. Time has moved both immensely slowly, as it seems like forever ago that I was surrounded by autos and cows, and motorcycles trying to run me over on the pavements, and yet it’s also gone too quick. I don’t know how I’ve managed to squeeze in so much: writing endless job applications, becoming an Avon lady (needs must, and the makeup is cheap :P), getting a job on my first interview with a London-based charity, starting the job, and finally becoming one of those irritating London commuters who gets frustrated when a tube doesn’t turn up within thirty seconds.

“I heart India”

I’m where I was aiming to be. This was the plan all along – to reach India, get some experience and spend some time away delving deeper into the culture I love so much, and eventually return to land my first real job towards my career in the charity sector. Done. Box ticked.

But that craving and gnawing absence is starting to creep up on me again. It’s the same feeling I had after leaving India the first time in 2009, like an addiction that cannot be numbed or forgotten by anything other than re-immersion in the thing that first caused it.

Indian-born French Bollywood actress Kalki Koechlin…aka me, obviously

I don’t even know what it is that I am missing – surely not the lecherous little men, the misogyny, the hopeless inefficiency of every government office…? This time on returning to the UK from a starkly different culture, more strongly than any time before, I can almost taste my own frustration at the banality of some people’s worries and conversation topics. But that’s not it. Everyone becomes absorbed in their daily lives, and the issues relevant to their own bubbles. Indians are definitely guilty of doing it too.

When you’re trying to essentialise a feeling of longing though, for a place, a thing, an idea, it’s like trying to strip down what defines an entire culture to its bare bones. I can’t say what exactly it is about India that has me so hooked, but perhaps it can be most simply put as a sense of belonging, of being home. So many little things which come automatically to me are not shared with those around me in the UK. If I start humming a Bollywood tune, people won’t complain that I’ve got it stuck in their heads all day; when I try and cram myself into (what looks to me) a half-empty tube, people gawp at me; a freudian slip of ‘auntie’ in addressing a stranger makes you weird.

“…Excuse me, auntie…auntie!”

It seems natural to express the very Indian body language of bending my head side-to-side, or flicking out hand from forehead to emphasise a point. My syntax has been irrevocably changed, isn’t it. The non-verbal cues and signals I’ve internalised are now entirely void from the culture that presently surrounds me.

Perhaps then, it is these little everyday embellishments to human interaction which I miss. Without them, the act of conversing seems to fall flat. There’s an absence of nuance, of drama, of the complex social dance that constantly shifts and changes between two people in navigating and judging each other’s social status.

Body language

Whilst histrionics and tantrums can be symptomatic of how many Indians tend to deal with unwanted outcomes, they are part of a tapestry of lively and socially stimulating interactions, without which your life becomes filled with empty time. That dull task of catching your bus is suddenly a thrilling race to nab the driver’s attention, of listening with all your senses for information, a whisper of “is it that one” from the crowd, the satisfaction of navigating the confusing cacphony with practised ease. Like a boss.

Or maybe in England it’s that we’ve forgotten what significant problems really look like against the backdrop of the world. I recently read an article on Armpit August (or something like that), challenging the biased misconception that it’s unfeminine for women to grow out their underarm hair. Fine, go ahead. You actually already have the choice to do it anyway, so you’re not really changing anything, except your own self-acceptance of a certain body image. It’s a little bit sickening against the relentless conveyor-belt of honour crimes, trafficking, rapes, sexual harassment, incest, and gendered poverty that I was fighting whilst with SICHREM. I can’t help feeling disenchanted after having actively battled against such degrees of violence and for seemingly futile gain.

This is perhaps just a rant on my part, and so I shall end on a positive note: instead of grieving for something I know I can’t have right now, I’ll instead try to engage others in all that I find makes India amazing, and special, and irritating but hilarious as hell. Good job it’s Diwali coming up.

Reverse Culture Shock

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Whilst at first the tea tastes watery, the food has no (spice) flavour, and there are too many middle class boys with hipster haircuts overly happy to share their yelled conversations with the street, I am glad to be back. Now that I’m into my fifth day back in England I feel much more at ease with all things England.

High tea

That’s not to say that I didn’t have some problems. Even driving to Bangalore airport at 2am in a taxi on Tuesday morning, a strange nausea started creeping up on me and a dizzying feeling – which I assumed to be the result of hunger (I’m always hungry) and tiredness. After landing and reuniting with my boyfriend however, and with a good night’s sleep, the next day it happened again. We were in one of Woking’s indoor shopping centres when I started feeling inexplicably exhausted and dizzy. He sat me down in the open cafe area where I felt a little comforted by the sight of a ‘Spice House’, and waited for him to get me something sugary.

Nom nom nom

After wolfing down a Gregg’s doughnut though, I realised it wasn’t just a bout of low blood sugar I periodically experience, but the onset of a growing sense of panic. Everywhere I looked, people were walking around in shorts, and spaghetti strap tops, and bras were hanging out all over the place. Given that it could have been no more than 25 degrees that kind of clothing was clearly absurd.

But it was more than that. I felt suffocated by the silence, the absence of traffic beeping and revving, the empty streets, the conspicuous void of incense-pollution-rotting refuse-cow dung-garam masala mix assaulting the nostrils. It was like being in an alien landscape where all the people had vanished.

Noisy, busy, blissful India

A couple more days in though, and my perception is changing again. Whilst I can’t shake the unsettling sensation that the world before my eyes is a mirage drawn across reality, that Bangalore will re-materialise in due course, it simultaneously feels like I never left. Did I even go to India? Was it all a dream? Though I’m not panicking each time I think about the empty street outside now, and my taste-buds have quickly relished a return to olives, houmous, pizza, and pasta, I’m craving rice and spice, and I’ve been mostly living inside the house of my boyfriend’s parents.

Breathe in that English suburbia

My life is no different being in England. I am still looking for a job, I still too many things to do in inadequately short spaces of time, and I still (apparently) wobble my head all the time. My brother tells me I have an Indian accent – well I pity him for not having one, it’s the best accent in the world.

I think the relative isolation period that I’ve put myself in within the confines of the house is vital to allow my subconcious to adjust. I never fully felt comfortable in India, but I think to some extent I understood it. Whilst I still rail against the misogyny and the corruption, the lack of female autonomy and the stifling social controls on personal movement, I’m finding that home is no longer home. I feel a stranger in my origin culture, and not just at the superficial level. I’m really starting to question the way society is structured in the UK, and gendered behaviours here too. The contrast in how British young men and women behave is too stark against their Indian counterparts not to notice – and I’m not sure I like it anymore. Or perhaps time will erode the harsh edge off my memory, and I’ll quickly come to love my country again.

More than ever though I feel I’ve become part of a British diaspora – a reverse cultural and migrational flow of people, ideals, and values – into modern India. Like anyone whose culture is rooted in one place, as their everyday continues in another, I feel suspended between the two. I cannot go back to being English, but the prejudice and hierarchy of my second home means that neither will I ever become entirely Indian. I want to live in both places, in both cultures, and neither entirely, at the same time. The difficulty lies in negotiating the contradictions between them. What to do, ah? I think several more visits to the land of Gandhi and Shah Rukh Khan, for better or worse.

Invite: Breaking the Binary: Release, Sharing and Discussion of the report

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Yesterday, I attended this meeting with LABIA – a queer feminist women’s group, who were releasing their new report on Persons Assigned Gender Female at Birth (PAGFB), and their lived experiences across Indian cities.

An extremely interesting study, a copy of which I of course purchased, presented yesterday through a series of case studies and quotations. I enjoyed listening to their explanations for the empirical methods chosen – for example taking their sample from first wanting to cover individuals not conforming to gender-normative expression, to individuals assigned gender female at birth, thus ensuring that persons self-identifying as ‘men’, ‘women’ and ‘other’ were included from a wider angle.

My notes from yesterday’s Bangalore release and discussion of the report can be read here: Breaking the Binary.

 

LABIA’s summary:

Breaking The Binary (2013) is a study by LABIA – A Queer Feminist LBT Collective. Based on a research initiative that began in 2009, its findings question and challenge many of our fairly basic assumptions about gender, sexuality and sex. That sounds alarming – but only until we realise that this questioning of rigid norms leads to more and more ease that allows people to live and breathe in their own skins rather than suffocate inside somebody else’s impossible boxes.

The sub-title of the study is Understanding concerns and realities of queer persons assigned gender female at birth across a spectrum of lived gender identities and yes, that’s a mouthful. A mind-tingling thought-provoking mouthful of words, which the authors are at some pains to explain and elaborate in their report – and at its release in 6 cities between 27 April and 11 May 2013. For now, suffice it to nrmsay that for this study we spoke to 50 people across the country, and it is their voices and stories that we bring to you, accompanied by our own understanding and analysis.

Through this study, we explore the circumstances of queer PAGFB who are made to, or expected to, fit into society’s norms around gender and sexuality. We look at their experiences with natal families and in school; we chart their journeys through intimate relationships and jobs; we attempt to understand what happens to them in public spaces, and how they are treated by various state agencies; we discover where they seek and find support, community, and a refuge from the violence and discrimination that mark far too many lives.

Most significantly, this research has given us new insights into gender itself, which we feel are crucial additions to the current discourse in both queer and feminist spaces. Finally, the study flags areas of particular concern, and highlights some necessary interventions.

We ourselves are amazed at the richness and complexity of our findings and are impelled by the need to share these as widely as possible with all queer and feminist groups and individuals, activists and academics, all people working specifically with LBT persons as well as broadly in the areas of gender and sexuality — and of course all of us who are interested in knowing more about our selves.

https://sites.google.com/site/labiacollective/we-do/research

So many things to do, so little time…

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Again, with good intentions I started writing this post a week ago, but time and other commitments pushed it to the bottom of my list. I guess I should take that as a good sign.

Let’s start with two weeks previous; I went to what was meant to be my fourth or fifth Hindi lesson (I have no idea which, the time is just passing too quickly) to find that my tutor had become a grandmother! She was still in hospital with her daughter, whose new baby girl I got to meet in my next lesson – as Razia spent most of the hour and a half holding baby Huda in one hand, whilst correcting my Hindi with the other.

I spent most of the weekend house hunting. After viewing a PG (paying guesthouse) for 10 girls and deciding I definitely didn’t want to stay in that sort of accommodation, I then visited some expat sharing flats. The first reminded me too much of messy university shared houses, and I would have opted for the shared room in a young Indian girl’s apartment right near the office, if I hadn’t visited the last place.

Off a small street full of shops, and nearer to the centre of Bangalore, this shared expat flat was in a block that had its own gardens and security. I ended up spending an hour with three of the other four girls staying there, chatting and eating biscuits (heaven!), and my mind was made up. So, with the deposit paid, and my predecessor vacating at the end of this week, I shall be shifting to the new place at the start of April. I can’t wait. More than anything I intend to make full use of the oven for cake-baking!

Bhanwari Devi (right), iconic voice against violence against women, with her daughter Rameshwari, in Mangalore on Thursday. Photo: R. Eswarraj

Padil ‘homestay’ to be hub of women activism – The Hindu.

Following my meeting with the soon-to-be flatmates, I hurried to a talk with Bhanwari Devi. Bhanwariji was, and still is, an activist against child marriage, and her outspoken protest against a particular case in Rajasthan resulted in her being gang-raped by a group of politicians. That’s the short story, but Wikipedia has it in more detail. A tiny lady wearing a bright orange shawl over her head, she came into the room as everyone stood up, and quietly got onto the stage. It was only when she started speaking, in passionate Rajasthani, that you could see how much the anger still filled her. Her daughter did the translation into Hindi, and another man into English. I wish I could have understood more of what she said – so much was lost in translation.

After ending with a defiant speech, Bhanwariji slipped into song with a group of women. I approached as one of many afterwards, all wanting to offer their help and consolations, and when I gave her namaste she replied with the warmest and open hug. She is still waiting for justice, more than 20 years after the crime was committed.

So many other events filled my week that I can only skim over them. Sunday was spent photographing my saris and putting them online – see my new shop page, or go to ebay – and Monday evening in giving my deposit over to Rita, the girl whom I shall be replacing at the new flat. Again, I got side-tracked eating too many biscuits and discussing plans for Holi with Rita and my new roommate, Priya, before I realised it was dark and should be getting back.

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Back at the office, I spent a filthy two days buried in dirt and posters in a dark forgotten corner, in my attempts to catalogue all of SICHREM’s existing stock. The more I discovered, the more there seemed to be. After turning the shamble of scrap paper and old, bent posters hidden on a top shelf into some semblance of order, I turned to the wall of t-shirts hidden in the cupboard next door. Rose and I spent the entire afternoon sorting by slogan and size. I think I might have actually dreamt that night of folding and unfolding clothes, and putting stickers onto different items. I was so proud of myself when the whole area was finished, until Rose pointed me toward a second, larger cupboard that vomited twice as many t-shirts onto my head. Save that for next week.

The most exciting Thursday in India yet then followed, as myself, Chithra, pattyamma, Rose and Mathews drove to Mysore for our colleague Prakash’s house-warming. Getting lost en route, Mathews was looking for directions. Midway along the three-lane highway, he rolled down his window and shouted at two men riding a moped, who brought their vehicle alongside ours and gave directions, both travelling along at 60 mph.

At Prakash’s, I expected a party, but the spectacle when we arrived got my Hinduism-tastebuds watering. Prakash and his wife were suffocating inside their new home, next to a heavily-smoking fire that had been built inside a temporary pit. A tent had been erected outside, and the poles framing the entrance to their house had been dressed in woven banana leaves and garlands. What followed was an extremely complex string of rituals: making puja with bananas and red ochre at each corner; throwing rice three times, at the house, at the cow brought in especially as the representation of Lakshmi (goddess of wealth and luck); pouring rice over the doorway and exchanging garlands as a couple.

I still can’t decide my favourite part – when Prakash, required to smash a pumpkin filled with red ochre against a stone, grimaced and rolled up his dhoti, or when he then had to smear his hands with the stuff and decorate each wall with his handprints.

Another hour of puja followed, all in Kannada. Interesting as it was I was soon drifting off as we sat cramped together in his smoky living room. When the last prayers were finally done, and goody bags with more coconuts handed out (my favourite part!), we enjoyed the south Indian thalli laid out for lunch, before heading back for Bangalore in the air-conditioned car.

Again another talk at the weekend, this time by Brinda Grover. She is an advocate who facilitated involvement of various NGOs and spokespersons for women’s rights in the writing of the Verma Committee report on violence against women. The Verma report has been ground-breaking in India, laying out the beginnings of better equality and respect for women, in society and the law. The ordinance proposed by the Indian government in response however was nothing short of regressive, and strongly ridiculed across society for idiocies like ignoring the possibility of marital rape, and giving sanction to the death penalty. Her talk focused around these issues, and I was so intent on what she was saying I couldn’t note things down fast enough. A really enlightening session, and I walked away that evening wanting to learn more.

Finally, Manohar and I at last managed our first meeting with the Karnataka State Human Rights Commission, as an initial point of contact before I start doing the research for my report. This is following weeks of phone calls and ‘mislaid’ faxes, or apathetic staff informing us that the Members were out from their offices. To my surprise we received such a positive response from each person we spoke to, including the chief Member, and his Registrar, that I didn’t dare breathe for fear of jinxing it. Maybe this will be an easy research process after all! *Crosses fingers*

One Billion Rising in Cubbon Park, Bangalore

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Valentine’s Day this year was more special than usual. Instead of the romantic day out with a meal or flowers, I headed to CubbonPark for a different sort of event.As Julika and I wound our way through the park, we became increasingly lost. After several phone calls and accosting strangers for directions, we finally stumbled upon our destination, where we could see banners and more and more people milling around.

The crowd surrounded a group of young teenage girls performing a dance where they would hit a metal handheld block with small symbols in time with singers standing nearby. Then they began doing acrobatics, and group formations, which culminated in a fantastic three-tiered human pyramid.

Their mothers then started singing and dancing to the beat of a tambourine, as a much larger group of protesters made their way jubilantly across the busy junction next to the park.  Carrying banners and wearing ribbons tied around their heads, proclaiming an end to violence against women,  the women also started dancing in the road clashing sticks and singing. Some men accompanied them in the rear beating drums, and everyone was shouting slogans in Kannada. I felt like I was missing the significance of some of these events due to the language barrier, especially when a handful of balloons were suddenly and ceremoniously released amidst the confusion.

The ensuing disco rave however was much easier to be involved with. Every woman there, of which there were a few hundred, began jumping up and down ecstatically, and dragging me and Julika in to dance with them. There was a real feeling of being part of something bigger, and of barriers breaking down. Dalit women were dancing next to students and middle-class office workers. It was a very real celebration of being a woman, by women.After a few songs over the loudspeakers, I drifted away to watch a couple more dancing groups spread along the road further into the park. Each group had an entirely different style of music and dancing, but people were again joining in with wild fervour at every opportunity, no matter what their own cultural background.

Feeling the need to exercise my shrivelling artistic skill, I added my own message to the plain banner strung 50 feet along the fence. It was only after Julika had written her message, and we regrouped under the shade of the bamboo trees for a bit of relaxation, that I realised others were painting canvases. And these canvases were free! Anyone could grab one and paint their masterpiece as part of the event. There were some fantastic images emerging from others’ brushes, and I walked around for a bit trying to think of an idea which would fit the theme of One Billion Rising, and also stand up next to these other works.

Once it came I set up camp on some plastic chairs and cheekily borrowed a neighbour’s brushes. Many people were wondering around watching the painters, some with brushes, others using fingers. I was concentrating hard when a reporter squatted down next to my chair from the Hindu (a national newspaper) and began interviewing me! And I actually got a mention too! There were some more reporters from other papers and institutions, and a cameraman with a female reporter also panned past my canvas as they walked around the area. The Indian media really loves to include foreigners in its news.

3-4 hours and 24 mosquito bites later, I put the last touches to my canvas under torchlight from a stranger’s phone. The candlelit vigil was being held under the trees nearby, as individuals told their stories of survival and resistance, and everyone held a candle in a paper cup. I was sad to have missed it, but felt like I had released so much stress through the process of painting. When I walked my picture over to the stand I was told that all the works were being submitted to an exhibition. I couldn’t believe that not only had I been in the paper twice in one week, but I was now also having my artwork put into an actual gallery.

More importantly, the One Billion Rising event had been a fantastic success, with cars and police stopping to take note, lines of office workers pressed against the glass of their city towers for a better look, and so many women making a stand against the culture of violence which permeates not just Indian society, but so many societies across the world. Oh India you are spoiling me!

VIBGYOR – A week at Thrissur’s International Film Festival, Kerala

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Julika and I spent the afternoon of Wednesday last week sorting through the mountain of books and SICHREM-branded t-shirts that we would take to sell at Thrissur. The plan was to attend this six-day long film festival in Kerala’s cultural capital, manning a stall within the grounds as a means of small-scale fundraising.

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VIBGYOR film festival, Thrissur

After minimising the heavy books we had to carry, and streamlining our stock to the most popular texts, we took an auto back to my house to pack as much as possible into our two rucksacks, rather than the huge cumbersome holdall back they’d used to store them in at the office. A quick nap and some food, before taking a taxi to the bus station for our sleeper coach at 9:30pm. The bus was surprisingly comfortable – blankets, curtains, even a pillow. Julika and I shared a cosy double bed section, and despite having our own separate divots to sleep in, I still apparently tried to steal her blanket in my sleep.

9 hours later, and with some sleep, we arrived in the small city of Thrissur and decamped at the YMCA. The day was ours to do as we pleased, with preparations for the festival just beginning, so we walked into the centre where Lonely Planet assured us of a Hindu temple atop a hill with “sweeping metropolis views”. The small rise we found sitting in the middle of what was effectively a very large roundabout was at first sight so unrecognisably our destination that we thought we had got lost. It was only upon reading the sign by the lone building stood there that we realised those urban vistas translated as views of various shops across the road from this small, closed temple. Sigh.

Not to be perturbed, we ventured around the small park. As I was taking some pictures, Julika suddenly came running. She was so agitated I thought something bad had happened, until she shouted, “Elephants! Elephants! There are elephants!”

Spying on the elephants

Spying on the elephants

We climbed onto a stone wall which ran around the elephants’ enclosure, and watched as various men fed and washed different individuals. It quickly became apparent that the animals were tightly chained however, by two feet, and the nearest individual was blind and extremely aggressive and unhappy. It seemed an incredibly inhumane way to treat animals kept only for the purpose of temple festival duties, and we later got into a heated debate with our colleague on this subject. Considering the religious significance of elephants to Hinduism (Ganesh, the god of luck and prosperity, has the head of an elephant), it made even less sense to treat these fantastic animals with such impunity. I later found an encouraging article relating to this issue, which restored my hope a little.

The following five days of the festival ensued with much dancing and celebration. Choosing a prime spot near the entrance to the university campus where the festival was being held, each morning we would unpack our (increasingly lighter) bags onto the tables and await our first customers. In between manning the stall, which we set up under a temporary structure with a tin roof, Julika and I would take turns in watching different films.

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The focus for the VIBGYOR festival this February, in its 8th year, was stolen democracies. Even though my area of interest gravitates towards gender-related issues and sexual minorities, I was surprised by the number of films on show which I felt I had to watch. One of these was ‘Immoral Daughters’, by Nakul Sawhney, which explored honour killings and the cultural beliefs which perpetuate them. The stand-out clip for me was an interview with ganga-smoking village panchyat leaders. A young couple who married with their family’s consent were murdered by other villagers, with police complicity, for the crime of marrying too close within the community. When their families rose up against this act, panchyat leaders then ordered their excommunication. The cameraman asked one member of the panchyat whether rape and murder were treated in the same way, to which he replied, “No never. We never give excommunication for that.” Unbelievable.

There were so many other interesting films I saw, ranging from 5 minutes to an hour and a half in length, that it’s impossible to mention them all. The one that had the greatest impact on me is definitely worth mentioning though.

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Stolen Democracies

Anders Ostergaard’s ‘Burma VJ: Reporting from a Closed Country’ documented the horrific military violence against Burmese citizens from the viewpoint of an underground network of covert journalists, who smuggled their footage via the internet and trusted couriers to report to the outside world. Illegally filmed on handheld cameras, the peaceful protests by Buddhist monks, students and citizens against the military government, and the military’s violent retaliation, were shown moment by moment. As events unfolded around the frontline cameramen, you were living it with them, and it was real fear I felt when the first people started being shot, and when huge crowds were running for their lives and being gunned down. It is not an understatement to say that I was shell-shocked by what I saw. The entire audience, which would normally raise a clap when the first credits started rolling, sat in stunned silence to the very end.

When the monk that we had seen around VIBGYOR over the past couple of days took the stage, we learnt that he had been one of those involved in the protests, and had seen it all. Nobody asked him any questions, but everyone listened when he started to speak. It was an unsettling end to the day.

The following morning brought a little more normality, with the usual and tiresome parade of men wanting our numbers/email/to go for a drink. I began to feel like I was on repeat, answering the same questions with every visitor to our stall. “Where are you from? What’s your name? Are you a student? Why are you in India? Oh you work for this charity? Why?” It was endless. Even Julika – with her seemingly limitless willing to chat to people – was tired by the end. I had already crawled under the table to hide and go to sleep.

This is not to say that there weren’t very positive moments either. After being interviewed by a journalist from Keralan newspaper ‘Manorama’, Julika and I found our photo in print the next day, to the delight of the other stall-holders and various film-goers.

Famous at last!

We also gained an impromptu invite to one of the VIBGYOR volunteer’s 18th birthday party, where the usual happy birthday was followed by different people performing songs, and a young lad with a guitar singing Enrique Iglesias tunes. As soon as the drums started playing however, everyone went crazy, dancing like it was the last thing they would ever do, and it was so great to see. On the penultimate night, I narrowly escaped performing at the cultural evening, when I read the performer’s list and to my horror saw my own name at number 23. People sang, people danced, people got drunk and had a good time.

   

My favourite part of the week though had to be meeting artist K.G. Babu. After approaching the stall on the Monday, this gently-spoken Keralan invited me and Julika to his family home, where he wanted to draw us. So Tuesday morning saw us breakfasting at his table on delicious coconut pancakes and scrambled egg, before he got to work on our portraits one at a time. Whilst it was Julika’s turn I wandered about the garden beneath all the different fruit trees – jackfruit, papaya, mango, cashew fruit, coconuts, large lemons (they looked like melons to me), and more – and stood on the levee next to the canal, hugely appreciating the strong breeze which blew away the humidity of Thrissur.

KG Babu's portrait of yours truly

KG Babu’s portrait of yours truly

Babu was kind enough to show me his studio, and the enamel paints he sometimes uses on his canvases. I couldn’t believe it when he offered the original sketch he had made of me. Clutching it in hand, we returned to our stall for the final hours of the festival.

It was a last-minute rush to the bus stand, and a sleepless trip back to Bangalore, but these little inconveniences were more than balanced out by the various unexpected and exciting events which unfolded through the week. To top it off, we made over 5000 rupees from selling books and SICHREM t-shirts, so felt we’d earned a day off from the office when we got home.

Art Galleries and Women’s Rights

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Art Galleries and Women’s Rights

Another exciting weekend as my third week in India draws to a close. Working days in the office so far this week have been fairly uneventful. I’ve been busy getting on with my assigned tasks, and though it’s very difficult working six days a week, sat in an office all day, I’m starting to get used to it.

Each morning I trawl the same six newspapers and select articles relating to human rights violations, or issues in general, and collect them to put into a quarterly report. This is my daily task for the year, and I’ll be doing four such reports, and hopefully the data will then contribute to a much larger annual report from SICHREM as a whole.

In addition to that, I’ve been working on a funding proposal for their Human Rights Helpline. My other longer-term task is to conduct a larger research project into the functioning of the Karnataka State Human Rights Commission; interviewing Members and the Chairperson, as well as several civil society groups dealing with the Commission. I’ll hopefully finish my research and get the report written at least by May, which will then be published as part of SICHREM’s series of short reports they are bringing out. My own name in print!

VIGBYOR 2013

More excitingly though, Julika and I got called into Mr Mathews’ office on Friday. Thinking this could only be bad, I was totally surprised when he asked if we wanted to go to Kerala on SICHREM’s behalf, all expenses paid. “I’ll give you some days to think about it and give me your decision,” he says. Julika and I both instantly told him it was a definite yes. So as of this Thursday, we’ll be manning a stall at Thrissur’s own international film festival – VIBGYOR – raising money from the sale of SICHREM’s own branded mugs etc. Even better, we’re free to watch whatever films we like in between stall sessions, and attend talks and debates that are also happening alongside. I’ve already been poring over my Lonely Planet guide for things to do.

On Saturday I got the chance to accompany Chithra to a meeting with representatives from several other NGOs, where the discussion centred around an upcoming event they were planning. It was only when we arrived that I learnt we were at the offices of Vimochana – a charity I’d heard about in England, who work with gender issues and women’s rights – so I was in my element! The event being organised was to coincide with the global movement 1 Billion Rising. This movement is a protest by women the world over against the growing culture of violence in so many countries, and aims to use dance and movement as a means of resistance and hope.

 

So the event is going to focus on these two themes, using dance, music, poetry and spoken word, street plays, painting, rangolis on the street, and a candle-lit march at sundown. Amidst the continuous stream of argument and voices talking over one another, it emerged that they hoped to mobilise between 5000 and 10,000 people! I had no idea how big this way going to be. So many passionate individuals from youth theatre groups were there, and people were talking about flash mobs, and occupying the Police Commissioner’s office to get permission for the day. I can’t wait to be involved! I’m hoping I might be able to offer to document the day in some form with my camera, or blogging – who knows.

After the meeting, I went back to my original plan for the half-day, and continued onto a supposedly good area to shop called Kammanahalli, where I ended up buying material for four outfits (they’re just all so nice).

Sunday came and I left to meet a fellow volunteer from 2WayDevelopment called Emma, who was stationed with street children’s charity BOSCO. After Thalli, and exchanging stories of our respective placements, we spent the hot afternoon in CubbonPark. It was free – a nice surprise in a country where even looking is a commodity – and full of couples and children playing cricket. The place was stuffed with huge bamboo stalks and lots of massive, spreading trees that I wish I knew the name of. To tick some things off the tourist list, we headed over to the Government-run museum and art gallery within the park, which again was only 4 Rs, with no foreigner’s tax! Though the museum was full of poorly-labelled pottery fragments and weaponry (some shining examples were “brick”, “clay pieces”, and “swords”), the art gallery had plenty of interesting statues (read lots of very busty women in a state of undress) and some modern canvases upstairs.

We discovered a quiet spot next to a lily pond, and sat for a bit in the shade, before following the sound of loud drum beats and music to an event in a stadium nearby. It turns out this was an inspirational event being held to encourage young Bangaloreans to volunteer in their communities. We could glimpse some men dancing and playing drums, but felt a bit out of place with everyone else there wearing the event’s branded t-shirt.

Leaving for MG Road, the main shopping street, we stopped at India’s version of Starbucks – Café Coffee Day. Though ludicrously priced, the slice of chocolate cake I had, with melting sauce and toffee centre, was so delicious I didn’t really care. I’ve been craving cake since I got here! After a quick look at some books further up the road, the afternoon was getting late, so we parted ways and planned to meet up again. Hopefully at 1 Billion Rising!

ONE IN THREE WOMEN ON THE PLANET WILL BE RAPED OR BEATEN IN HER LIFETIME.

ONE BILLION WOMEN VIOLATED IS AN ATROCITY

ONE BILLION WOMEN DANCING IS A REVOLUTION

On V-Day’s 15th Anniversary, 14 February 2013, we are inviting ONE BILLION women and those who love them to WALK OUT, DANCE, RISE UP, and DEMAND an end to this violence. ONE BILLION RISING will move the earth, activating women and men across every country. V-Day wants the world to see our collective strength, our numbers, our solidarity across borders.

What does ONE BILLION look like? On 14 February 2013, it will look like a REVOLUTION.

via One Billion Rising.

Are women safe in India? – Inside Story – Al Jazeera English

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Just a quick one before Christmas Day descends. I was on Aljazeera and saw this video on another horrific crime committed against a woman in New Delhi. All of the issues discussed in this short film remind me of the research I did for my dissertation, and why I want to go and volunteer for a human rights charity.

It made me so angry, and I’m now more ready to leave for India than ever. See for yourself why.

Are women safe in India? – Inside Story – Al Jazeera English.

The Adventure Begins

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Today marks the start of my trip.

My flights have just been booked, my travel insurance is paid for. I’m actually going to INDIA!!!!!

I managed to find a really great deal with Southall Travel, who gave me the same flight that all the other companies and price comparison sites were selling, for only £480. Take that BA, trying to charge me £600! So I’m travelling Air India – they have fantastic films in their TV collections, so that’ll help me while away some (3) hours. I’m going to have to take a list of Bollywood  films with me, so that I can maximise my opportunity to buy out every single one.

The insurance company asked plenty of confusing health questions, some along the lines of, “We assume you’ve never been to hospital with this condition, answer yes or no”. Well the answer is I have been, so is that a no for ‘I haven’t been’, or ‘No I disagree with your assumption’? I also had to quickly pretend I wasn’t quite so decrepit as I really am when I saw they wanted to charge me £70 extra for the privilege of being ill.

Following on from which, I got my typhoid jab out the way yesterday, so I’m all vaccinated up!

My flight leaves on January 9th, and I’ll be returning December-ish (depending on how long the Indian Government will tolerate me staying/throw me out of their country). I can’t even begin to express how excited I am now. It’s a good job I booked the flights when I was alone, because I went running round the whole house squealing for about 10 minutes.

I’ve started looking at places I want to visit in between work days as well, and there’s just too much to do in one trip. India is so big that to get from one city to the next takes days by train, and I want to visit them all! My boss (who is Indian) was also asking me yesterday whether I wanted him to set me up with an Indian boy whilst I’m out there. Erm…I’m OK thanks? It’s great though that people keep talking to me about my trip. It’s getting others interested (which spreads knowledge) and helps with generating wider and wider circles of support. So I’ll leave you with a reminder of why I’m going, and why it’s important, to keep spreading that message:

http://www.indiatogether.org/women/violence/violence.htm