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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.

Dancing in the Streets on V-Day

The Asian Age

The heavy downpour and chilly winds did nothing to dampen the spirit of those who came together for the cause of female victims of violence. An annual event in the city calendar, the global call to woman survivors of violence, One Billion Rising (OBR) For Justice has become a keenly awaited event for those who identify with the cause of women.

A morning march from Jaisingh Road to Jantar Mantar with messages given by leaders of the mahila panchayats organised by YWCA, a car rally from Nehru Place at 12 noon, the popular play Dastak by Arvind Gaur’s Asmita group and a flash dance on Jaago re Jaago culminated in the evening with a programme at Central Park in Connaught Place with performances by Sufi czarina Sonam Kalra, bilingual Vagina Monologues performed by students of Miranda House, Maya Rao’s play, Kamla Bhasin’s fiery speech on gender equality and power packed performance by Space. Continue Reading.

Prostitutes to take part in One Billion Rising campaign

Business Standard

Demanding an end to sexual violence, prostitutes and women vulnerable to trafficking will bring out a protest rally tomorrow on Valentines Day.

About 70 prostitutes from red-light areas of Sonagachi and Munshiganj will bring out the rally on a two kilometre stretch at Khidirpore as part of the”One Billion Rising for Justice campaign” to end violence against women and promote gender equality. Continue Reading.

A Constant Battle Against the Sale of Bodies in Bihar

New York Times

The women’s rights activists Ruchira Gupta and Gloria Steinem are keeping a diary of their travels throughout India as they meet the country’s young feminists, writers and thought leaders (previous posts are here and here). In this installation for India Ink, Ms. Gupta and Ms. Steinem visit Patna, Bihar state’s capital, and Forbesgunge, a small town on the border of India and Nepal, in Bihar.

Jan. 22, Wednesday:  Not many tourists go to Bihar.  It’s one of the poorest states in India, with good land for agriculture but too few other jobs and too little electricity to create them. Buddha was born here, but after national boundaries were drawn, his birthplace ended up in Nepal. This was also the home ground of Jayprakash Narayan, the great Gandhian socialist leader, but a leftist tradition is held against Bihar by a central government now into big business. Life is politics. Politics is life.

This is my fourth visit to Bihar, Ruchira’s family home. They used their income from small rice, oil and biscuit factories to help socialists, reformers, poets. You might say they were the Kennedys of Bihar. Continue Reading.

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.

Feminism has been made fun of for 40 years, give it another 60: Gloria Steinem

Times of India

She is the woman who famously said, A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle’. At 80, feminist Gloria Steinem has lost none of the spirit, sparkle or humour that marked her radical writings. In Delhi to launch her latest collection of landmark essays, As if Women Really Matter, she tells Malini Nair that she is awed by the on-the-street radicalism of young Indian women

Post the December 16 gang rape in Delhi last year, it is as though there is a sudden and dramatic realization in Indian women of their self-worth. How do you see this?

It was like lighting a match to dry tinder. If this had happened 20 years ago the energy would have been suppressed. Women are no longer saying ‘give us protection’ because protection is more imprisoning. They are saying: give us justice. It will take a long time for the rest of the society to get used to it and accept it. But I believe that men are also beginning to tire of forever playing masculine roles of being aggressors and protectors. They realize that gender stereotypes are bad for them too. Continue Reading.

Excerpt: The Essential Gloria Steinem Reader

Live Mint

Prostitution isn’t the oldest profession. It’s the oldest oppression. One barrier to fighting both prostitution and sex trafficking is the false notion that there has always been this kind of inequality. In a patriarchy, some women are sexually restricted to childbearing and keeping the ruling race or caste “pure,” while others are sexually exploited for sex only or for producing more workers. But when European colonists arrived among the five hundred or so tribes of North America, they wrote home about their shock that “these savages” didn’t rape, not even their female prisoners. Columbus himself wrote home his complaints when conquered Native women fought against becoming sexual slaves to his crew. Continue Reading.

Start Where You Are

The Telegraph

Protest need not always be about rousing moments of change, and, taking a leaf out of her early days of protesting, Gloria Steinem admitted, “When I started I was quite naive and I think burnout is a function of naivete. It took me quite a while to understand the depths of injustice.” Continue Reading.

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Gloria Steinem at the Jaipur Literary Festival, by Kara Meyer

GR2

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.