The Diary of a Social Worker

May, 7th 2014

This is the diary of Shweta Khattar- Jr. Program Officer at the Delhi Field Office in Dharampura. Last week Shweta partook in the rescue of a 15-year-old girl who had been forced into prostitution by her abusive husband. This is Shweta’s telling of the events.

“Prem Nagar Centre is around 8 kms away from Apne Aap’s Delhi field office. The center is within the village community of Perna, which practices intergenerational prostitution wherein young girls are married off early at a bride price, which the groom’s family pays to the bride’s family. Once the girl has her first child, then her own family members push her into prostitution. Through this method, the girl is exploited and the family recovers the money.

In April 2014, a teacher at the Prem Nagar Centre was approached by one of the girls, *Rachel, who complained of being sent to her in-laws forcefully. After being beaten by her brother, she complained again and explained her painful story:

When *Rachel was 12 years old she was married off by her parents, and her mother-in-law forced her to serve the clients at the family’s home-based brothel. One day, *Rachel hid in a train’s bathroom and ran away. She reached her former home in Prem Nagar hoping that she would be safe. To her shock, her brother beat her black and blue; her mother scolded and threatened her; and her family forced her to serve clients. Her mother warned her that regardless of where she stayed, this is what she would have to do.

Her fate was being decided by ruthless people who had put a price on her body. This is when she approached one of the teachers at Apne Aap’s center.

The teacher brought the picture to Apne’s field coordinator and me. On 10th April (the day of elections in Delhi), *Rachel started calling the teacher, pleading for help because she was being forcefully sent back to  her in-laws. Apne’s Aap’s community mobiliser and the teacher engaged with *Rachel, rushing to talk to her at the center. Finally, a complaint was written down on Rachel’s behalf, which she signed.

The Apne Aap staff took up *Rachel’s case relentlessly. However, beyond the staff’s best efforts, *Rachel was sent back to Patauda to live with her husband and in-laws.

But we didn’t give up.

On 25th April, we scheduled a meeting with BBA, a prominent India NGO that fights child trafficking, to understand the legality of *Rachel’s case and seek their support. On May 5th, a team of 8 people left Delhi to rescue *Rachel.

A police force was arranged for us, and the protection officer was called right away. We left for the rescue at 2:30p.m. A convoy of 4 cars arrived at 3p.m. and *Rachel was identified and rescued. Her husband was taken into custody.

*Rachel was shining her brightest smile looking at us. She was brutally beaten an hour earlier by her husband, but at that moment, she was filled with joy to see us. She knew she had been saved and went in to put her dupatta on, ready to leave behind the shackles of her brutal family members.

It was 3:10 p.m. – everything had changed in a split second.

Since her rescue, *Rachel has been placed into a safe children’s home, and Apne Aap is filing charges against all of the accused in the case.

On the day of *Rachel’s rescue she told our Apne Aap staff: “I knew my didi would come and save me, I had complete faith and you did”. 

 

*name has been changed.

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Meeting with Monique Villa and Serena Grant by Alexandra Mochnacz, Intern

CEO of the Thomson Reuters Foundation, Founder of TrustLaw and Trust Women, Monique Villa, was welcomed by Apne Aap staff on April 8. Girls, aging from 10 to 16, from the Dharampura centre in Delhi, joined the discussion in order to communicate some of their concerns as part of the Perna community, a denotified tribe.

The discussion between Villa, her colleague Serena Grant (co-head of Legal for Thomson Reuters) and the girls was largely concerned with issues of identification. Villa and Grant expressed surprise upon finding out that these girls, as well as their parents, make up a fringe group of society that has neither a political voice nor legitimisation from the state. None of the women and girls hold caste certificates, which would grant them subsidisations and access to many governmental programs, as well as schooling. One of the girls, no more than 15 years old, already understood the stigmas her tribe held in society, claiming that government officials avoided their area at all costs. The point was made: this community is criminalised by others and suffers from resultant marginalization and discrimination.

Sadly this community is not small, in Delhi alone it makes up approximately 50,000 people. There are at least 198 of these tribes spread across the country. With these approximate statistics in mind, Grant agreed to work with lawyers she knew in India, who could work on this systemic issue. For a group of people in the 21st century to be ostracised from their society because of a cultural heritage imposed on them by the British and blocked from developing as a community with very few formal job opportunities, is a problem stemming from a severe lack of political will.

For any progression to occur within the dynamics of these communities, the state needs to understand the demographic of this population in society. Only then can they understand the kind of programs needed to help sustain these people. What we need, what is important right now, are lawyers, government officials and researchers willing to take on the task of providing an identity these individuals can relate to in society.

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The Last Girl in Idaho’s Last Frontier by Kelly Miller, Executive Director, Idaho Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence

idaho coalitionDuring the Move to End Violence journey in India, Ruchira Gupta, founder and director of Apne Aap, a grassroots organization working to end sex trafficking, shared her perspective on our movement to end violence. Ruchira’s focus on the “last girl” deeply informed and radically transformed our work at the Idaho Coalition Against Sexual & Domestic Violence and my own vision of leadership.  I invited Ruchira to come to Idaho to share her vision of the last girl and of the movement with our staff, Idaho’s tribal and community domestic and sexual violence programs, and the larger community.

On Ruchira’s first day in Idaho, we created spaciousness and rest, driving through the mountains alongside a creek to a hot springs an hour north of Boise.  Soaking under the open skies and snow draped mountains, Ruchira shared stories about her recent month long tour with Gloria Steinem.

We spent the next day with the staff of the Idaho Coalition, sharing a meal and talking about current feminist thought, readings that have inspired our respective work, and Ruchira’s perspective on the last girl.  We talked about the challenges and the opportunities of federal funding, and the importance of movement building.  Ruchira asked each staff what our purpose was or why we did the work, creating a powerful moment of reflection.

On the following day, the executive directors of Idaho’s tribal and community domestic and sexual violence programs came together to engage in conversation with Ruchira on reaching and standing by the last girl.  From the Coeur d’Alene reservation to the agricultural community of Weiser to the conservative Mormon community in southeastern Idaho, the leaders of community and tribal programs shared their personal experiences of the last girl.  Ruchira asked everyone to close their eyes and imagine the last girl in their community. Homeless teenagers in the northern forests of Idaho to a young woman raped and found in a ditch to an immigrant woman economically tied to an abusive partner, everyone could clearly envision the last woman or girl in their community.

The Apne Aap approach of a building a community of ten women, then building self-empowerment through ten assets from the articulation of their problem to speaking out, resonated with many in the circle.  This concept also resonated with the sixty community members who joined the program directors the following the day for a luncheon in celebration of International Women’s Day.

That evening, Ruchira was our featured speaker at a public event for International Women’s Day.  Over 600 people, over half of whom were students from Boise State University attended the event at the restored Egyptian Theatre in downtown Boise.  She spoke on her personal journey and the values that guide her work. After Ruchira’s presentation, the question and answer session sparked a powerful community conversation on movement building, power and privilege, the impact of violence on girls and women, the vital role of men as allies, and the links between pornography and violence.

The Idaho Coalition raised over $5,000 for Apne Aap, but more importantly raised the consciousness of movement builders in Idaho.  In recognition for Ruchira’s contributions to the movement to end sex trafficking, the Idaho Coalition and the Idaho Human Rights Education Center presented Ruchira with a paver with her name and contribution to humanity that will be placed at the Anne Frank Memorial, an educational park dedicated to human rights and one of the only places in the world where the full Universal Declaration of Human Rights is on public display.  Along a curved wall of stone, quotes from human rights leaders are embedded in the wall. When we visited the memorial, Ruchira was excited to find a quote, one that speaks directly to her work and to ours:  Make injustice visible. Mahatma Gandhi.

PREM NAGAR Town of Love

Supernova Publishers

Tamanna, who as a child followed an older girl into a truck and crossed the border of Bhutan to India, is sold to the Nats, a community that was forced to prostitute its women for a living. Sucked into the flesh trade, Tamanna eventually manages to make her escape, but has to leave her little daughter Rupa behind. From now on, the only thing on Tamanna’s mind is to wrest Rupa from the clutches of Jabbar Aslam, the kingpin of the trade. She enlists the help of Eila, an organisation that fights sex-trafficking, headed by Rukmini. Tamanna’s resolve encourages other women to rally round her in spite of the ever-present violence and the bonds of blood and family loyalty that are almost impossible to break. Prem Nagar: Town of Love is a searing indictment of a practice that turns human beings into chattels.

This book, then, is not ’fiction’, if by fiction one means a flight from reality: on the contrary, it is an unflinching look at reality, a reality that cries out for change. Above all, this book gives a counsel of hope, not despair: the modest school established by Eila and the Nat women of Forbesganj, despite widespread opposition, is more than a symbol of this hope. Continue Reading.

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Meeting Gloria Steinem with Ela Bhatt and Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) members, by Tatum Street, Intern

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The power of a conversation should never be underestimated. For those fortunate enough to have experienced the discussion between Gloria Steinem and SEWA members, this simple truth was spoken by a collective of voices, joining in what would become more than a conversation, but an organising committee.

“We own our own bodies”

The meeting takes place inside the beautifully adorned walls of SEWA’s Delhi Office, where magnificent hand- woven textiles and embroidered masterpieces tell the stories of the women who produced them.

Attending the meeting are SEWA’s grassroots leaders; a collective of members who “shoulder organising in different trades”. These women form a cooperative of agricultural workers, artisans, construction workers, vegetable vendors, waste collectors, salt pan workers and other ‘self-employed’ trade groups.

Steinem sits beside SEWA’s democratically elected President, Kapilaben, and to either side her longtime friends and feminist pioneers, Devki Jain, and founder of SEWA, Ela Bhatt offer quiet guidance.

Staff members from Apne Aap Women WorldWide’s Delhi and field offices and the organisation’s founder, Ruchira Gupta, also join the circle of SEWA members, listening to the women share their experiences of their struggles and successes and exchanging their own.

Director of SEWA, Reemaben Nanavaty, translates between Gujarati and English and weaves a vivid picture of SEWA’s organising backdrop.

The Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), was formed in 1972 as a trade union of ‘self-employed’ women. Inspired by the Gandhian belief that positive organised strength can be cultivated by awakening the consciousness in workers, SEWA grew as an organisation of poor, self-employed women workers. These women are the unprotected labour force of India, part of the unorganised, informal sector. While they make up the majority of the labour force – 93% – their work is unrecognised and thus remains invisible; isolated from the market.

SEWA’s process of organising women workers is done with the ultimate goal of them achieving full employment and self-reliance. The concept of full employment necessitates workers access to work security, income security, food security and social security, which at the least ensures adequate health care, child care and shelter.

In the forty years since it was formed, when Steinem first visited SEWA, the organisation has begun working in almost 14 states in India, including conflict afflicted areas of Jammu and Kashmir, in addition to its work in neighbouring countries, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka. Today, with a membership of 1.9 million women, SEWA’s vision for growth and economic empowerment of workers continues to reach women in the unprotected labour force, organising them to achieve full employment and autonomy through development training and leadership building.

Nanavaty describes the organising work of SEWA as an “organic process”, through which members “feel as though it’s a family coming together and are able to openly discuss and share their issues.”

Members come from varied and diverse localities. From tribal and urban regions to the remote desert areas of Pujara, the women explain how getting organised has enabled them to gather their collective strength and improve both their local and national economies, enriching their livelihoods and communities.

“That’s how SEWA is growing like a banyan tree. So our members are the leaves of the tree”.

But the growth does not end here. Organising also involves finding and developing new trades and areas to extend SEWA’s vision for an economy that recognises and values women’s work in unorganised sectors. In addition, the workers are supported in advancing their skills and business acumen, so that they may become the owners and managers of their own trades and enterprises. This is an important step in SEWA’s model of economic self-reliance and autonomy.

“At SEWA we work on a joint strategy. It’s a joint action of union and cooperative.”

As a union, SEWA works to organise workers in different trades and to bring “voice and visibility” to their issues, helping to enhance and solidify the collective strength of its members. Converging with this organising process is the creation of alternative pathways for women workers, particularly in rural areas where the desperation for employment opportunities takes on a pronounced edge.

“Two thirds of our membership is rural, and as we all are aware in the rural areas there’s surplus of labour and less of employment opportunities. So in order to increase the bargaining power we have to create alternative opportunities as well.”

Focusing on the local skills of women and the local resources, SEWA employs its collective of different organisations, owned and run by its members, to cultivate employment opportunities for women workers and integrate them into the market.

“We build our workers on economic organisations, and that’s how we try to bring them into the mainstream and increase their bargaining power.”

These organisations focus on areas of education, training, leadership building, health care, as well as marketing and trade – providing platforms for women to strengthen their bargaining power and ascertain their place in the market.

“So the different organisations which are all owned by our members become the branches of the banyan tree, which take roots, and they complement and supplement each other… Today we are a family of organisations.”

“SEWA makes me happy to be old”, Steinem laughs with her hand over her heart, “because I have had a chance to at least have a hint, a bit of knowledge, about how huge the growth is. Absolutely amazing, amazing, amazing.”

Recalling her visit to the Bank of India branch with Ela Bhatt all those years ago, Steinem remembers the inspirational sight of women with their own identification cards complete with their photographs, getting money each morning to buy the produce for what they were selling on that day.

“This was already enormous, but this; this is a world government, or at least a multi-national one.”

Having listened intently to Nanavaty’s description of the SEWA model, the 79 year old feminist icon and organiser of women’s movements contemplates her lifetime use of a tree as a symbol of change; an image evoked from the Gandhian lesson that change begins from the roots.

“But up until now, it’s been a bit of a quandary because it’s one root. Now today, forevermore, I’m going to say a banyan tree because it makes so much more sense that there are many different organisations and many different groups all coming from one main root, but spread out and out and out… It’s actually the perfect image for social change.”

Beginning from the roots, this vision for social change could be no more profound than as seen in the individual. An agricultural worker from the Asana district and SEWA member is living testimony of this as she shares her personal story with us. Coming forward to sit beside Steinem, this now self-employed woman intimately narrates her experience of growth cultivated through her involvement with SEWA.

Marking her personal transformation before and after her escape from economic dependency, she describes her struggles against the crippling backdrop of unemployment:

“I had to struggle to come out of my own house.”

She says that even her own family had no respect for her.

Now a leading member of SEWA and manager of her own trade, she recalls a time at the beginning of her membership when she was too afraid to speak in front of others. A paralysing product of a lifetime spent within the confines of her family home, where her labour earned no respect or dignity, this inability to speak was overcome in the supportive space provided by SEWA.

In this collective of women she found respect which she had never before received – not even within her home – and from this gained a voice to bring her issues to light.

The woman wipes away tears from her eyes, but explains that they come from a place of joy, not pain, of pride, not defeat. Here, the currency of her labour extends beyond the economic imperative, taking value in the self-identifiable, the personal – the ultimate markers of growth.

Personal narratives and stories exchanged surge in the emotionally charged room. Steinem’s watery-eyes indicate the impact of this meeting. It has become a visceral sensation of the power of conversation and a memory this feminist will always remember.

Looking forward. This new organising committee begins to discuss the pressing issues facing women and girls in a globalising world.

For SEWA members the urgent need to resist acquisition of land is of vital importance – posing a grave threat to the economic autonomy they continue to work to secure.

The women share their successes in organising to retain their land from agribusiness, but the threat to their products by the cheaper ones made in Chinese sweat shops is an incessant reality. Steinem speaks about the pervasive role of multinational corporations in the global economy – the big retailers like Wall Mart – which thrive on massive production and cheap, exploited labour.

With these mass produced, sweat-shop products flooding the market, local producers like SEWA women continue to be undercut while exploited workers remain in abominable conditions. Steinem stresses that while there are many women’s organisations who are working to help market ethical, handmade goods by women in various countries and organise against big retailers, still, “we need more”.

Apne Aap women share their own struggles in their fight against sex-trafficking and prostitution. A recurring theme threads through the conversation; describing the many and varied ways in which women’s bodies are simultaneously exploited and devalued – where their currency is reduced to their role as sexual commodity or as invisible, therefore, dispensable labour.

On the very day after India changed its trade laws to allow the import of frozen human embryos for artificial reproductive treatments, permitting the outsourcing of Indian women’s bodies for pregnancy by infertile couples in foreign countries, SEWA and Apne Aap women join forces in discussing and organising ways to resist such extreme forms of female exploitation.

Steinem advocates for the incorporation of ‘bodily integrity’ in every human rights document, reminding all of us sitting here together that our bodies are not construction sites:

“Nothing beyond our skin; not a needle, not a pill, not an embryo, not a penis. We own our own bodies.”

As the meeting ends the women of SEWA sing a concluding song in Gujarati, called “We Shall Overcome”. Apne Aap women and men raise their voices and join in the anthem as the two organisations extend their branches, together.

Feminism Beyond Boundaries: Apne Aap’s Director, Dr Abhilasha Kumari in conversation with Artist, Leena Kejriwal

Oxford Bookstore,  Delhi, 11th Feb 2014:
The UN Development Programme (2010) claims that Asia is missing approximately 96 million women, as a result of death through practices such as neglect, sex selective abortion and domestic violence. India’s Census (2011) reveals that only 914 girls were born for every 1,000 boys, which shows that a huge proportion of these missing Indian women were not just killed, but never born at all.

Leena Kejriwal, a Kolkata based photographer and artist, considers this to be a devastating social truth and has forced her art and audience to address this issue. Kejriwal has been working alongside NGOs that combat trafficking and prostitution for some time, but it was her latest piece M.I.S.S.I.N.G… which launched at the India Art Fair 2014 which provoked countless international discussions and media attention onto this stigmatised topic.

‘It should be there for everyone to see it, even if they don’t want to’ Kejriwal insisted to the audience  and Dr Kumari as she described the idea behind her latest outdoor installation. M.I.S.S.I.NG…, uses black steel to portray  an inescapable and mesmerising silhouette of a girl against the backdrop of the sky. Kejriwal’s ‘public art’ is an enormous political statement. By taking her art out of the confines of a gallery space, Kejriwal jolts the collective consciousness of India and beyond, and urges everyone to realise the extent to which these girls are disappearing.

Dr Kumari talked with Kejriwal about the anonymity of these figures, maintaining that the indistinguishable nature of these silhouettes  reminds us of the lack of support and protection the women and girls who are trapped in trafficking and prostitution receive. ‘They are invisible citizens, without identification cards, without any kind of legal documentation’.

Kejriwal’s installation reveals the powerful way in which art can be used as a medium to express anti-trafficking messages on a global scale, which is something that Apne Aap wholeheartedly supports in their effort to reach and save the most marginalised, last girl.

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Field realities from denotified tribes: Apne Aap organizes a talk about the exclusion, deprivation and state of discrimination of the tribes

Swati and RuchiraNew Delhi, 10th February, 2014:- Apne Aap Women Worldwide, a registered charitable trust in India committed to work towards the empowerment of girls and women today organized its seventh session of ‘Terrace Talks’ at their head-office at India International Centre, New Delhi. The talk was chaired by Swati Chakraborty, Head-Monitoring & Evaluation at Apne Aap Women Worldwide. The discussion revolved around ‘Field realities from denotified tribes’.

The ongoing study on the educational status of de-notified Tribes by Apne Aap Women Worldwide in the states of Delhi, Rajasthan, Odisha, Jharkhand, Bihar and West Bengal clearly shows that these communities are still treated as outsiders by society and discriminated and victimized by authorities. Suspicion and traditional stereotyping (as criminal) is still a standard yardstick with which these communities are looked at. This is due to both conventional belief as well as ignorance about them among the authorities as well as the general public.

The session further delved around the findings of the study, where Swati and the team found  that young girls were seen as a financial resource and often  kept as security with brothel owners for a specified time period against a specified amount in case of familial dispute.  It threw light on the incidents when poor families have been forced to use their daughters more than once. There are endless stories of extreme exploitation of young girls and women .One member of Kanjar communities told the study team: doh hi chiz to bikte hain. ek hain aurat r ek hain zameen. hum logo ke paas to zameen hain nehi—toh aurat hi bech te hain.Aur keya kar sakte hain. (Two things can be sold—one is women and other island. We do not have land so we sell our woman. What else we can do).

Participating in the discussion Abhilasha Kumari, Director Apne Aap Women Worldwide said, “Many of these denotified tribes practice inter-generational prostitution which is the extreme form of exploitation of young girls. Being an anti trafficking grassroots organization, Apne Aap came into the picture largely because we wanted to create an impact about this practice. We consider that every child that is put into prostitution is trafficked. We realized most of the people didn’t know about denotified tribes so we took the help from ICSSR. ICSSR has supported this research and provided us with authentic information and evidence. These findings will help us to develop, strategies and policy formulation for the development of these communities”.

Elucidating on the denotified tribes study , Swati Chakraborty highlighted how across the states, despite being extremely poor and low on all human resources indices,  this study found that de-notified communities are not entitled to the various government schemes meant for the poor and backward communities. There is abject poverty among them across states. Police find it convenient to hold these communities responsible for any crimes both in rural and urban areas. Speaking at the session, she said It is very easy to show  through statistics  how many children are not attending school, but the reason why they are not going or what  are the factors that are pushing them away can  only be known by having a field experience and by conducting studies of this kind”.

The session concluded with the audience discussing various measures to implement the much needed reforms towards the cause of these tribes.

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Gloria Steinem at the Jaipur Literary Festival, by Kara Meyer

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Feminist icon Gloria Steinem and Apne Aap President Ruchira Gupta were greeted with warm applause as they took the stage on the first afternoon of the 2014 Jaipur Literature Festival earlier this month. During their hour-long conversation, the two women discussed modern day patriarchy, the global issue of sex-trafficking and prostitution, the trauma of body invasion, and the power of sorority and friendship. Steinem also spoke of her new book, As If Women Matter: The Essential Gloria Steinem Reader, which was edited by Professor Gupta and addresses many of the topics touched upon at the literary festival.

The conversation began by problematizing the institution of pornography. Steinem states, “pornography is a function of injustice” in the way that it subjugates women while also perpetuating racist and classist ideology. In her book, Steinem juxtaposes pornography with eroticism, stating that the latter “contains the idea of love and mutuality, positive choice and the yearning for a particular person,” while the pornography implies “a form of sexual slavery.”

Steinem went on to discuss reproductive freedom, the importance of intersecting social movements, and the way in which her time spent in India as a young woman influenced her later in life. “India made me who I am today, I hope you’re satisfied,” she joked.

On a more serious note, Gupta and Steinem also addressed the policy debate of legalizing or criminalizing prostitution. Steinem offered a solution in what she calls “the third way” which would decriminalize the victims of prostitution, and penalize and educate the customers. She ended the discussion by reminding the audience that, “the means don’t justify the end, the means are the end” – a Gandhian principle of non-violence that is also encouraged by Apne Aap.

Gloria Steinem’s new book As If Women Matter: The Essential Gloria Steinem Reader is now available for purchase through Rupa Publications.

Superintendent of Police, Araria, Bihar (India): Drop all False Charges against Anti-Trafficking Activist Mhd Kalam

I Mohammad Kalam from the Nat Community, working with Apne Aap Women Worldwide for the past ten years to end sex-trafficking and prostitution and have been facing false trafficking charges since June 2012.

I come from the Nat community, a De-Notified Tribe in India where women and girls are forced into inter-generational prostitution in their home-based brothels. They are stigmatized by mainstream society for which girls from the community are deprived of their basic rights to education, to livelihood, to a safe space, to legal protection and to a life of dignity. They are forced to remain in prostitution by their families and mainstream society.

I have always wanted to fight for the rights of the girls and women of our community, so that they can access opportunities of education, livelihood and come out of this situation of modern day slavery. I have even tried to get traffickers arrested on various occasions.

Unfortunately, some members of the community along with the traffickers and Johns, brought false allegations against me for trafficking girls. The police, without any proper investigation framed charges against me and I was wrongly detained in prison for 5 days, after which I was released on bail.

Till now, the charge-sheet of the case has not been submitted by the police, as they know that the case is false. Yet this sword of being wrongly prosecuted still dangles over my head.

Therefore, I want the Superintendent of Police, Araria District, Bihar to immediately withdraw all charges against me .

I appeal to you all to join me in my campaign to free myself from all false allegations in order to enable me to continue my work and motivate and free many others, like me, from fear of actively joining the struggle.

Sign the Petition Today

Apne Aap Calls on Parliament to Delete Section 377 and Legalize Consensual Same-Sex Relations in India

New Delhi, 12 December 2013:

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Apne Aap calls on Indian Parliamentarians to delete Section 377 I.P.C, a 153-year-old colonial-era law, defining homosexuality as  “unnatural offenses” and punishable by a 10-year jail term. India has been independent for sixty-six years.

In our own culture, we never limited ourselves to the binary boxes of “masculine” or “feminine.” We have gods/goddesses who are both male and female like the Ardhanareshwara. Many of our languages, like Bengali, often didn’t even have “he” or “she”.

We know today that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people, are living out real, authentic lives. Yet they continue to be denied employment or a promotion, or are fired, simply for being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender at best, or face physical assault with no legal protection at worst. In fact, many members of the LGBT community are trafficked and sold for sex, simply because of vulnerabilities caused by homelessness or workplace discrimination.

They are bravely speaking up about their sexual orientation and gender and asking not to be punished for either. Those lives should be celebrated, not questioned.They are part of the full human continuum of identity and expression.

We emphasize that this change in law should not be done through the court but through our elected Parliament. The last thing we want is the subversion of our democracy in which the judiciary oversteps its boundaries and takes over the work of the elected legislature. We believe that the separation of the judiciary and the legislature is the only safeguard of a healthy democracy. Judges are appointed, not elected.

Parliament has to reverse the wrongs of British colonial laws enacted to control sexuality: on one hand they set up licensed brothels for the sale of disease free women to British soldiers and clerks under the Contagious Diseases Act, and on the other, they banned freely chosen same-sex relationships under Section 377 of the IPC.

As feminists, we ask legislatures to shed their patriarchal bias against those who cannot reproduce. The government needs to distinguish between homosexuality and pedophilia and sex and sexual exploitation.

There is much similarity between the challenges of LGBT and Queer people and all women: from health care to harassment to discrimination in the workplace. As feminists know, power over our own minds and bodies comes first. Together, we with LGBT and Queer people are learning the deepest lesson: that there is always the basic patriarchal bias against any sexual expression that can’t end in conception.

It’s time that law passed.