Prajnya Gender Talks, July 2022 || Child Marriage: Mapping the Legal Conundrum by Dr. Ruchira Goswami


9th July, 2022

Rapporteur: Meghna Menon

For the Prajnya Gender Talks on 9th July, 2022, we had with us Dr. Ruchira Goswami, who spoke on the topic ‘Child Marriage: Mapping the Legal Conundrum’. Prof. Ruchira teaches at the National University of Juridical Sciences, Kolkata where she offers courses in Sociology, Human Rights, Gender and Law, Child Rights and Film and Law. She was the Head of the Centre for Child Rights, NUJS, a multidisciplinary centre set up in partnership with UNICEF with the mandate of research, documentation, and advocacy on child rights issues. Her talk focussed on the journey of the law, as well as the complexities and the nuances between different legislations in the country that talk about child marriage, age of consent and adolescent sexuality in India.

Prof. Ruchira began the session by mapping the history of the law dealing with child marriages in India. She narrated the story of Rukhmabai, who was married off early, in the late 1880s. The marriage was never consummated, as Rukhmabai never went to live with her in-laws. According to her, her husband was not a capable or ideal partner, and in order to continue her education, she lived with her natal family. When Rukhmabai was 20 years of age, her husband filed for Restitution of Conjugal Rights, stating that she should stay with him. She refused to do so, despite the Privy Council ruling against her and ordering for her imprisonment if she does not respond to the claim of the RCR. Rukhmabai stated that she would rather be imprisoned than live with her husband, and the case was settled out of court. During this time, Rukhmabai also wrote under the pseudonym ‘A Hindoo Lady’ in the Times of India on Hindu girls getting married at a young age and the plight of a Hindu widow. She stated that she could not go back to her husband because she was married off at an early age (when she was 10) and her consent was not sought to solemnise the marriage, questioning if her consent did matter as she was only 10 years of age. Prof. Ruchira stated this to be a landmark case study in understanding the right of a woman to consent to marriage, and sexual relations as well as better understand the age of consent debate. The speaker also narrated the case study of Phulmoni Dasi, a young child who was raped to death by her husband on her wedding night, and this, she notes, opened up a whole new debate on the rape of girls within marriages. Additionally, she spoke about sexual violence against Bhanwari Devi in the year 1990, and the fight for justice leading to the formulation of the Prevention of Sexual Harassment of Women at Work (POSH) Act. Another landmark case study that was discussed during the PGT was on Shakuntala Verma, a social worker who worked on the prevention of child marriages in Rajasthan in the early 2000s. “We see that the tentacles holding on to child marriages are really, really strong”, Prof. Ruchira noted.

Prof. Ruchira also spoke at length about the customary law undergoing various amendments to increase the age of marriage, and finally, becoming a statutory law called the “Child Marriage Restraint Act” which recognised that child marriages cannot be completely stopped, and can only be restrained. In 2006, this law was replaced with the “Prohibition of Child Marriages Act”, and the speaker explained that the law not only became stricter (with the changes in terminology and punishments) but also introduced the concept of declaring a marriage “void” and “voidable”. Explaining the same, Dr. Ruchira asked, “How many girls in India will be able to declare their marriages as void, especially without the support of the State and NGOs?”

Moving away from the statutory criminal law on child marriages, Prof. Ruchira Goswami also shed light on other laws dealing with the age of consent in India, like the IPC Section 375 (Rape Law), the age of sexual consent in the IPC, as well as the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act. All three of these legislation had different ages of consent. There were also conflicting perspectives arising here on whether the POCSO Act and the Prohibition of Child Marriages Act must trump other laws as the two are statutory in nature. The Supreme Court verdict in 2013 and in 2017 made amendments to the aforementioned laws and changed the age of sexual consent to 18 years of age.

With this, Prof. Ruchira drew the attention of the audience to the lack of recognition of adolescent sexuality in the laws of the country. The general idea is that people become sexual beings only after reaching the age of 18. This leaves no room for discussing adolescent participation and agency, stated the speaker. Shedding light on the recent discussions surrounding the increase in the age of marriage of girls to 21, she expressed how these decisions do not equip a woman with the agency and autonomy to make decisions concerning her marriage. Furthermore, she stated that this might prevent women from having relationships with men of that choice, particularly in cases concerning intercaste and intercommunity marriages.

The session concluded with Dr. Ruchira mentioning how girls cannot get married off, or choose to marry before the age of 18, and that the law fails to recognise adolescents as sexually active beings. A question was raised about how abortion laws play into this picture, when the girl is below 18 years of age. Prof. Ruchira answered that when an unwed teenager finds herself pregnant and seeks an abortion, she is asked to reveal her age and call for her parents. In the event that she does not want her parents to know, and because she cannot access the health system in a legal way, the teenager is forced to seek unsafe abortions in unregistered clinics. However, the doctors have a duty to inform the police if the girl is below 18 years of age, as it is a POCSO case. But that leads to her autonomous self being obliterated, stated the speaker. Another question was raised about what happens to a girl below the age of 18 if her husband (who is also below 18) is in jail, and the girl does not wish to go back to her parents. Dr. Ruchira noted this to be a common occurrence these days, and as girls below the age of 18 are still seen as children under the eyes of the law, the police will either release the girl to her parents or put her in a government-run shelter for children.

The PGT ended with conversations surrounding how the legislations have patriarchal notions on chastity. So, while the law and the society fail to view children as sexually active beings, there is also the perception of a girl child being a burden. Dr. Ruchira concluded the PGT by stating that, lately, the need to get a girl married also comes with parents wanting to prevent marriages out of wedlock.

Prajnya Gender Talks, June 2022 || Pandemic, Policy and Patriarchy: Process of Gender De-equalisation by Prof. Ritu Dewan


June 2022

Rapporteur: Suhasini Udayakumar

About the Speaker

Dr Ritu Dewan is the Vice President of the Indian Society of Labour Economics, Vice President of the Indian Society of Agricultural Economics, Visiting Professor at the Institute of Human Development, Co-Founder-Co-convenor of the Feminist Policy Collective, Trustee of The India Forum, Director of The Leaflet, President of the Indian Association for Women’s Studies (2014-17). She was the first-ever woman Director of the Department of Economics, University of Mumbai, and the founder-member of the first Centre for Gender Economics in Asia.

Locating Pandemic Policy

Dr Dewan dives into the first part of her presentation “Locating Pandemic Policy” to highlight the degree to which previously existing inequalities were exacerbated during the pandemic due to the state’s conscious callousness. 

The pandemic began at a time when growth was already decreasing significantly in the country, especially at the low capacity utilisation levels. The development indicators of MSMEs had gone through demonetisation and the introduction of a convoluted GST, which was both anti-people and anti-women. At a time when MSMEs were battling to stay alive, they had to deal with rigid and highly bureaucratic procedures. India’s famous income inequality had been modestly improving before the pandemic. During the pandemic, this trend reversed: for the first time in 42 years, the percentage of people below the BPL increased. 

India’s work participation rates are one of the lowest in South Asia, but post-pandemic they became one of the lowest in the world, both for rural and urban areas, of which marginalities and vulnerable sections were of course worst affected. The gender wage gap increased for the first time and India witnessed the lowest minimum wage ever. There were also of course fewer salaried jobs due to the unpredictability of the pandemic. Reserve Bank reports have shed light on how people could not afford basic resources after demonetisation and even more so after the pandemic.

GDP was recorded to have fallen by 23% during the pandemic but if the informal sector were to be included, it fell by 50%. People around the country closed their PF accounts and the greatest driver of growth – household savings – also took a huge hit.  Every single global indicator fell during COVID, with even the health spending shockingly declining. India registered lower ranks of the hunger index and the democracy index. It also had the highest proportion of stunted children, as evidenced by both international and NFHS reports. Even at this time of global disaster, religion and caste were reinforced strongly, with women with these markers one of the biggest segments affected. Dr Dewan predicts that the damage on these marginalities is irreversible unless huge structural and systemic change is undertaken.

Gendered Impacts on Livelihood

Dr Dewan consciously uses the term “livelihoods” since “work” doesn’t cover unpaid work. Demonetisation hit the construction industry terribly affecting construction workers both before and after the pandemic. Handlooms, which had provided one of the largest revenues to the government for decades, were shut down during the pandemic – on Handloom Day.

Job losses were high all across but gender played a role here too, with 3/4th of men but 4/5th of women losing their jobs (it is to be noted that there is no macro data available so these conclusions are dependent on micro studies). Domestic workers are considered “regularly salaried,” and part of the only increasing area of employment for women since 2012 across India; but 85% of the domestic workers in India lost their jobs during the pandemic. They had to sell their clothes, jewellery, and utensils, and finally became indebted through consumption loans from informal banking, which will act as severe liabilities to future work due to predictable low repayment rates.

The monthly wage, which had already been the lowest in South Asia. fell even more, particularly during the brutal lockdowns. People did not receive wages even for work they had already done or if they did, they got paid in old notes which they had to sell at half-price. In Gujarat and Bihar, women worked 10 hours a day for 15 INR and sex workers charged 7-10 INR for each encounter. Sex workers have always been socially distanced but since physical distancing became the norm, their work suffered. NGOs and individual volunteers could not fill the vacuum left by state callousness at migration camps. The relief work they performed was willfully denied to transgender people by other religious relief groups. Migrants were without shelter and merely wanted to be with their families during the crisis, thus deciding to go back home despite all odds. But this natural human tendency was criticised by elites and the government. The migrants were to depend on MGNREGA for work and many begged for any work even if it was underpaid; only 23% of the demand was met and although MGNREGA had committed to 100 days of work for each labourer, it delivered on a measly 25 days. 

MSMEs are the biggest contributor to employment in the country. The country is touted to have a large women participation rate in MSMEs but we must note that women constitute a significant percentage only at the micro level, with only 5% of medium and 2% of small enterprises led by women. Despite the harrowing circumstances of the pandemic, the state provided no allowances or leniency to MSMEs. It did not reduce the GST or postpone taxes or arrear payments. Demand fell and the value-supply chain was disrupted. The conflict with China occurred and all Chinese imports – particularly the cheap ones – were banned. Since these were a mainstay for MSMEs, they went through a production shock. A credit link scheme had been announced in the previous budget but 85% of the MSMEs could not access it due to deterrant regulations and rules. On the other hand, many startups deemed themselves as MSMEs and accessed the credit. Thus, Dr Dewan states that data shouldn’t be taken at face value but examined for hidden meaning.  

The desperation levels of poverty rates hit the roof. People in extreme poverty live on 12-14 INR a day, and these is absolutely no data about gendered differences of this kind of poverty. Since frontlike workers like nurses and medical workers tend to primarily be women, 72% of the medical workers who died during the pandemic were women. Anganwadi workers were not paid and nurses were appointed on contractual level, without PF or pension. Jan Dhan accounts were created but remained in zero balance since people had no money to put in them. Sex wokers and sexual minorities had neither ration cards or shelters.

Gender-Specific Impacts: Women, Sexual Minorities, Sex Workers

The pandemic brought on a transition to digital education, causing massive dropouts from schools. However, even prior to the pandemic, the dropout rate for girls was at 40% which increased even further since only 11% of school-going girls own mobile phones due to social restraints. At a time when the state should have done all that was possible to make education reach even the farthest sections of society, it decided to stop scholarships for SC and ST students; this was in fact one of its first actions when the pandemic started. 

Consumption of staples like rice and wheat fell by 50% and dhal by 63%. The state also stopped school children’s midday meals. There is no financial transparency about what it did with the money that would have been pumped into these meals. ICDS was closed and immunisation stopped. These are fundamental needs especially at this time of hysteria. There was an increase in infant and child mortality rates, and due to natal services being limited from physical distancing, an increase in maternal mortality rates as well. 

Unsafe abortions rose to an all-time high of 60 million just between 2019-2020 and unplanned pregnancies to 26 million. One of the collateral results and biggest fallouts from any form of displacement, especially disaster, is the rise of child marriages. 30-40K child marriages occurred in Maharashtra (and we must keep in mind that child marriage is not just marriage but a transfer of labour from one house to another).

Domestic violence rose by such a large extent that it began to be referred to as the shadow pandemic. But even at this time, the government did not spend Nirbhaya funds; in fact three-fourth of the funds were transferred from the Ministry of Women and Children’s Development to the Ministry of Home Affairs. 

The increase in violence against women was unprecedented at a record 171%. This is not a surprise what with the state’s refusal to criticise violence and lynching, and the increasing internalisation of violence. Convicted prisoners began to be released to prevent overcrowding during the pandemic. But the first to be released were convicted rapists such as from the Hathra case. On the other hand, political prisoners are still in prison. 

When we speak about unpaid work, we need to particularly focus on women and single male migrants. Due to the Work From Home culture that arose, the number of hours women worked at home increased. The state increased cooking fuel and cylinder prices (the somewhat beneficial Ujwala scheme was stopped), adding to the burden on women from lower-middle class households. 

How can one conclude pain, Dr Dewan asks. So, in lieu of a conclusion, she talks about the Ordinance of Farm Acts, which clamped down on agriculturists, the only sector to have shown an increase in growth at 3%. This led to the most prolonged and historical agitation in the history of the world. 

Labour codes were modified, removing definitions of work, worker, and workplace; and taking away social security and the right to unionise. The circus of Atmanirbhar took away foreign-direct investments and public assets were sold at hugely discounted rates. In contrast, the reduction in corporate taxes were extended to 2025, where they pay a reduced 15% tax instead of 30%. 

The GST share of states was withheld from states that don’t adhere to the centre. With the state having to spend on COVID management, funding was taken out of development initiatives, causing development indicators to decline further. 

To sum up, all those who were not a part of the patriarchal slot were taken out of the relief equation. The state has become an anti-enabler and anti-equaliser, and is rooted in patriarchal structures and rigidities.

Prajnya Gender Talks, April 2022 || Towards the Right to be Defenceless: #INeverAskForIt by Jasmeen Patheja (@jasmeenpatheja, @BlankNoise)


April 2022

Rapporteur: Suhasini Udayakumar

About the Speaker                             

Jasmeen Patheja is the founder and facilitator of Blank Noise, a growing community of Action Sheroes/Theyroes/Heroes, citizens, and persons, taking the agency to end sexual and gender-based violence. Jasmeen initiated Blank Noise as a student project in 2003, in response to the silence surrounding street harassment in India and globally. 

Over nearly two decades, she worked with communities and designed a wide range of interventions, across many mediums, to shift public consciousness and build ownership of the issue. Collective imagination and desire are at the core of her practice. She mobilises towards the right to be defenceless, through the I Never Ask for It Mission and Meet To Sleep

Jasmeen is the recipient of the Visible Award, the International Award For Public Art and the Jane Lombard Fellowship, and has been listed by BBC as one of the 12 artists changing the world in 2019.

Setting the Context

This talk reinforces the idea that defencelessness is resistance, and is located within the public and participatory projects designed at Blank Noise, specifically the I Never Ask For It Mission (2004-ongoing) and Meet To Sleep. It builds on the Action Sheroes/Heroes/Theyroes’ right to defencelessness as an ongoing claim, negotiation and resistance.

Blank Noise

Jasmeen describes how artists and designers work, engage, and teach in an anti-didactic manner, asking questions and learning from people’s lived experiences. Jasmeen began her art project on “eve-teasing” in her student days, because she observed a lack of conversation around it in Bangalore. 

A. Initial Projects

This led to her starting Blank Noise, which had just 60 women students respond to the word “public space,” to create a mind map of their (mostly negative) associations (Figure 1). 

Figure 1: Blank Noise Mind Map

Another project involved nine individuals questioning their own silence and denial around sexual harassment and its trivialisation in society. This three-month-long project culminated in an in-house campus exhibition with audio testimonials of the women’s experiences.

After graduating, Jasmeen began blogging, using the peculiar methodology of pushing a camera in harassers’ faces and then writing about it. The intent was to define and visualise street harassment, but Jasmeen eventually broke away from that approach and moved towards new methodologies of community listening. In the process, Jasmeen and her team have tried to answer questions of gaze, and have developed iterative methodologies informed by critique.  

Figure 2: Types of Sexual Harassment on the Streets

During the first decade of Blank Noise, Jasmeen’s team conducted polls and built toolkits. They brought attention to street harassment by engaging in conversations with victims, witnesses and perpetrators (Figure 2). They were met with diverse responses, some defensive, some in denial, and led people to question and address internalised “good girl” ideas.  

B. Museum of Street Weapons of Defense

Their next project was to ask women about the nature of weapons they carried for self-defence. They were again met with a variety of answers, from safety pins to chilli powder, which led to the creation of the Museum of Street Weapons of Defense (Figure 3). 

C. Night Action Plan

In an effort to respond to myths, they created the Night Action Plan in Delhi, Bangalore etc, which attempted to shatter the myth that violence happens during the day and only to particular kinds of women. They mobilised women at night as part of their methodology to make the city literally wake up to the issue of street harassment and accept that it happens in everyone’s presence at all times, whether we are aware of it or not.

Jasmeen’s team listened to hundreds of testimonials and came up with the idea of a blogathon in 2006, which brought together hundreds of bloggers in an effort to paint a picture of the collective vision they had for their future. The bloggers’ pieces on street harassment were an act of catharsis, where they named their perpetrators, questioned their own silence, and remembered incidents from decades past. The media response to the event was tremendous and many groups formed independently around the country, as Blank Noise chapters. 

D. Being Idle

Being Idle made public calls to action for Action Sheroes/Theyroes/Heroes who were willing to stand idly in public spaces. Since women in public spaces are almost always in transit and never idle, the participants were often asked by confused men if they were waiting for someone. This initiative led to reflections on how defencelessness alters the self as well as public spaces. 

E. Hahaha Sangha

Blank Noise’s project Hahaha Sangha invited women to meet at a park to laugh. These meetings didn’t look much different from laughter clubs at first. But they were a reflective exercise on who’s included and who’s excluded, the formation of friendships, confrontations of fear through laughter, and the release and freedom that laughter provides us.  

F. Talk To Me

Talk to Me asked women what kind of men they are taught to fear. It asked students at Srishti College of Art and Design where they felt safe and unsafe. It then picked the “rapest” lane, made a site visit, and pledged to make it the “safest” lane. It did not entirely succeed but made a mark in the nation’s minds. 

During Talk to Me, Action Sheroes would sit in front of strangers and ask to talk about anything except violence for an hour. More often than not, this was greeted with surprise. But participants realised that conversations with strangers also led to conversations with their own fears. One individual remarked, “Strangers are not so strange.” There is a bias in fear, and it is informed by multiple intersectionalities. How do we confront this? Through connection. Connection can lead to empathy and then to the resolution of fear.

G. I Never Ask For It

I Never Ask For It was launched in 2004, where survivors were asked to recount the clothes they were wearing when they were assaulted or harassed. The majority of the survivors remembered these clothes and carried trauma from them, indicating the impact that memory can have on us. This initiative too received a lot of press coverage.

Figure 3: I Never Ask For It

Phase 1 of this movement focussed purely on street harassment in India.  But Phase 2, in 2012, attempted to understand how women can retain power in intimate and cyber spaces as well. Could this lead to Action Sheroes everywhere? 

Jasmeen talks about the spaces of violence and their interconnections. Who is the man on the street and who is he at home? Whose voices are yet to be heard? How much trauma does memory carry? As a subproject, Blank Noise organised Walk Towards Healing, a performative walk where survivors discarded the garments they had been wearing during their assaults. 

The organisation is now working towards 10,000 garment testimonials, and to make this programme as inclusive as possible. The vision is to create an end product with contributions from every kind of individual, while simultaneously learning to have the capacity to engender that much solidarity. She shares an example to clarify this thought: for a Dalit girl, the length of her skirt may not matter but the dismissal of her case on grounds of her caste may. The project aims to be local but also universal and to communicate a “shared truth.”

H. Meet to Sleep

Meet to Sleep blossomed out of an online event that Blank Space conducted in 2007 asking women what their “wishlist” for the city was i.e. what they wished to do in their city. The answers were painfully basic. One woman said she wished to get wet in the rain and another that she wanted to wear red lipstick. Jasmeen’s wish was to be able to sleep in a park without worry. Thus emerged Meet to Sleep

The Action Sheroes//Theyroes/Heores gathered at Cubbon Park to claim this wish. Despite all their learning and training, they carried fear when they slept in the park. They woke up at the rustle of leaves and tossed and turned and stayed alert. Jasmeen wondered what would happen if a thousand women slept like this. What would it do to their bodies and to public spaces? 

Meet to Sleep gathered strength and now has over 50 feminist allies, with women claiming space in multiple sites. It is not just an event or a campaign, but a movement – and one that received the advocacy of famed feminist author and activist Kamla Bhasin. During the pandemic, the initiative continueomen d, with wmeeting up online to discuss their experiences of sleeping in public spaces. 

Figure 4: Women sleeping in parks around the country during Meet to Sleep

Blank Noise is learning to listen to the many vocabularies of many different participants to create a collective shared story. To do so, it collected testimonials from participants about their experiences (Figure 9). Nearly all the women stated that they had been on high alert while trying to sleep. “Rest,” “A Beginning,” “Anxiety,” “Calm,” “Fear,” “Desire,” “Scarf,” “Experience,” “Blanket,” “Hesitation,” “Experience,” “Body,” “Without Worry,” “Giving Birth to Fearlessness,” “Method of Doing,” “With Openness,” “Us Too,” “Fun,” “Solidarity,” and “My Share” were some of the words the women used to communicate their experiences (Figure 10). 

Defencelessness as Resistance

Jasmeen concludes the talk by reiterating the burden of having to be alert and the birthright that is the body’s state of defenselessness. She hopes these projects will lead to increased solidarity across the country and involve women from all spheres of life who will use defencelessness as resistance and claim their rightful share of peaceful space. 

Prajnya Gender Talks, March 2022 || Speaking Around Law: Gender-Based Violence, Pluralism and Accountability by Srimati Basu


March 2022

Rapporteur: Suhasini Udayakumar

About the Speaker

Dr Srimati Basu is a Professor of Gender, Women’s Studies and Anthropology, and a member of the Committee on Social Theory at the University of Kentucky. She has an Interdisciplinary PhD from Ohio State University in Cultural Studies/Anthropology/Women’s Studies, and her teaching, research and community work interests include Global Feminisms, Law, Gender-Based Violence, Social Movements, Methodologies, and Masculinities.

She is the author of the monographs The Trouble with Marriage: Feminists Confront Law and Violence in India (University of California Press, 2015) and She Comes to Take Her Rights: Indian Women, Property and Propriety (SUNY Press, 1999), editor of Dowry and Inheritance (Women Unlimited, 2005), and co-editor (with Lucinda Ramberg) of Conjugality Unbound: Sexual Economy and the Marital Form in India (Women Unlimited, 2014). 

Some of her recent articles on masculinity, law, marriage and violence appear in anthologies including 50th Anniversary Commemorative Volume of Contributions to Indian Sociology (2019), Men and Feminism in India (2018), Sexuality Studies: Oxford India Studies in Contemporary Society (2013), New South Asian Feminisms: Paradoxes and Possibilities (2012), and the journals Feminist Anthropology, QED, Journal of Indian Law and Society, Canadian Journal of Women and Law, and Economic and Political Weekly. She is presently working on a monograph about the antifeminist men’s rights movement in India following a 2013-14 Fulbright Fellowship to conduct fieldwork with MRAs across Indian cities.

Setting the Context

This talk will contrast media spectres of violence to a broader evaluation of forms of violence and agency. Dr Basu considers feminism’s ambivalent relationship to law: drawing its power from legal provisions, relying on political and corporate repercussions, but speaking to broader accountability including feminist dissension through the talk. 

Through examples from India and some from the US, including both media accounts and ethnographic data, she traces how people use existent laws – and the gaps and contradictions between legal provisions – to navigate their options i.e. to “bargain the shadow of the law.” She draws on her ethnographic work on negotiating gender-based violence in various legal and extra-legal settings in India to explicate law as a language to express grievances, with all the slippages and elisions of a language.

The Headlines of Rape Culture

Dr Basu inducts the audience into the manifestations of rape culture in India by displaying a few headlines from the prior week. These headlines, resplendent in their representation of rape culture, blame women for their “immoral” behaviour, demonstrate either the alacrity or apathy of the state as a protector, and show the ways in which powerful men are involved in the perpetration and resolution of sex crimes. They showcase – in all their glory – the public’s and the politicians’ perspectives that women lose all safety the minute they step out of their homes and their eye-roll-worthy suggestions that the government register and track working women to safeguard them. Dr Basu states that this is an exercise of power that reinforces other patriarchal relations while enhancing the state’s predominant power. 

The Accuracy of Gender Reports

In Thomson Reuters’ 2018 study on the World’s Most Dangerous Countries, India had moved up from rank 4 to rank 1, spewing defensive reactions from politicians and nationalists. Nevertheless, Dr Basu says there is a lot to criticise about such reports, beginning with the methodology. In this particular study, 548 expert journalists had been consulted but not one ground worker was. The study’s claim to rising rates of violence is also questionable, indicating a colonial gaze – a “theatre of pity” and a “spectacle of suffering.” Similarly, Thomson Reuters’ 2017 Report on the World’s Most Dangerous Cities magnifies and reinforces stereotypes. “What does this type of monitoring and accounting not show us?”, Dr Basu asks. She quotes Kalpana Kannabiran who asked to “demarcate the field of violence in social theory” and differentiate the norm from the normative. She also shares an extract from Arthur Kleinman’s The Violences of Everyday Life about the plurality of violence that shapes images and experiences.

Figure 1: An Excerpt from Arthur Kleinman’s “The Violences of Everyday Life”

Dr Basu posits that gender-based violence (GBV) is not in itself the main driver of patriarchy but is embedded in intersectional structural vulnerabilities. The criminal justice solutions we see around us every day amplify other forms of privilege. Recommended solutions such as the death penalty to curtail rape and the eradication of sex work to prevent sex trafficking serve as examples.

Violence: What are the Dangers? How Can We Best Talk about Them?

Delhi has been irrevocably branded the rape capital of India. What are the representational stakes here? All too often, Jyoti Singh’s rape and murder (ironically positioned as Nirbhaya) is used as an archetypal example connecting GBV and urban transformation. Similarly, the rapes of the journalist at Shakti Mills in Mumbai, and the veterenarian in Hyderabad are used as examples, where quotations of urban activities – going out for a movie, carrying out an assignment, getting home from work – are positioned as driving forces for the crime. They feature rapists from marginal communities inappropriately modern in their drunkenness and out of control in their homosocial groups (male buddies). 

On one hand, these generate the reaction that women leaving the house and western influence is the problem (For example, Mamta Banerjee’s comical “chowmein” thesis) and on the other hand, feminist communities increasingly talk about the need for better laws. Here Dr Basu puts forward four frameworks to be considered for understanding GBV. 

Rape Capital or Love Capital?

A Thomson Reuters’ study has concluded that a large number of cases (20-40K per year) are reported in the country. The conviction rate is abysmal at <25% and there is a backlog despite fast-tracking. As high as these numbers seem, rapes are severely underreported in this country. It is precisely these kind of reports that anti-feminists use to justify the occurrence of false cases. But, we need to realise that a low conviction does not mean false cases. It does however mean that these cases are not received in law as full convictions. We also need to examine the social and economic nuances to this phenomenon. Why are so many convictions lost?

Pratiksha Baxi explains in Public Secrets of Law: Rape Trials in India that falsity is the primary lens used for investigating rapes. Dr Basu shares three examples to clarify this theory. In one example, she talks about how a molested child who can’t tell time is expected to fulfill testimonial requirements for temporality during the trial. In another, she explains how women turn hostile witnesses to their own testimony due to incessant persuasion by family in order to forego the public status as a victim of sexual violence and repair kinship troubles. In another example, she talks about the disproportional police delays and bureaucracy of persecution, and inefficient report writing techniques particularly common for minorities.

Dr Basu also talks about journalist S Rukmini’s work which analyses the rape data in Delhi. A shocking 40% of the cases are filed by parents due to opposition on grounds of elopement and exogamy. Another 25% of the cases are registered when promises of marriage are abandoned. By viewing consent to sex as that to marriage, we completely dismantle the idea of consent. 

The POCSO Act, founded to protect children from predators, instead registers parental disapproval of marriage or property disputes. And that’s why she asks – Is Delhi the rape capital or love capital? It is important to name the various forms of patriarchal control of autonomy and marriage to use these laws as they are meant to be used. 

Dr Basu adds another caveat to this issue. Pluralism is the universe of choices we as citizens have with respect to the law. We need to examine the way plaintiffs negotiate laws and the narrative on the use (and misuse) of the legal system. When women use laws, anti-feminists criticise them, but don’t all people use laws based on how they benefit them? 

She quotes the example of Dalit rape cases where the ensuing narrative either paints the woman as morally culpable for her illicit behaviour or portrays her as being duped by uppercaste connivance to enter relationships that are not of her choosing. Is the simple agency to make bad relationship choices not available to Dalit women?

Usual Suspects

A common media trope is that of rapes committed by men in urban underclass settings as revenge against the urban woman’s modernity and sexuality. This trope of gendered vulnerability enacts caste and class privilege. Dr Basu uses Sneha Annavarapu’s study on women and cabs in Hyderabad (shown below) as an example. 

But why do we only focus on rural men’s violence while forgetting about the deeply violent “boys locker room” culture of entitled men? Similarly, cishetero women’s danger in public space stands as the symbol of the women’s national crisis. What about minority rapes such as those in military detention and of Dalit and transgender women that are entirely cut out of the discourse?


Dr Basu states that it is time to integrate the #MeToo movement with older feminist politics. Bhanwari Devi’s gangrape – where incidentally the rapists were never convicted – forms the base for sexual harassment law in india, which is the most useful law for urban and middle-class women in work and education. 

The naked march of women against the Army Special Powers Act was another iconic moment in marginal feminist history. MeToo takes different forms and holds different accountabilities. It is meaningful in that it stresses women’s profound unhappiness with everyday sexism, drawing attention to everyday power. But it also simultaneously reveals caste and class immunity and triggers a renewed debate on feminist politics and privilege.

Imagined Communities

Gender-based violence fortifies state violence. Hindutva is a cousin to the global right wing – but has its own aggressive menu. It is founded on the figure of the menacing Muslim man and has coloured sexism in two prominent ways. The first is the phenomenon of the Love Jihad, wherein “victims” receive brotherly patronage and protection from Hindu men, while doubt is simultaneously cast on modern women’s dodgy choices and communal solidarity is built up. The concept infantilises adult consent, as is evident in an infamous Uttar Pradesh case, where the woman had denied conversion to Islam and yet a Hindu mob had chased her Muslim lover’s family. Such ideas distract our attention from the gangrapes by uppercaste men in the very same state. The second is the hypervisibility of urban safety and the corresponding invisibility of borders. For example, the conversations around Kashmir are all about nationalism, religion, and militancy. Shouldn’t we rather centre our gaze on the military impunity to rapes and everyday harassment?

Two Frameworks to Pursue Solutions

Dr Basu completes the talk by recommending two frameworks to pursue solutions. One – to revisit Sharmila Rege’s idea that we need to centre our laws on Dalit women’s labour and sexual exploitation. Second – to build on Joe Fischel’s Screw Consent, which discusses how sexuality is pathologised and transacted and how sexual subjectivity and autonomy are curtailed. She says we must deeply question the voluntariness of alleged voluntary sex and the supreme power we assign to consent. Instead of championing legal interventions to beat GBV, we need to instead move to public and political health debates. 

Prajnya Gender Talks, December 2021 || Contesting Power and Creating Space: 50 years of the Women’s Movement in Bangladesh by Meghna Guhathakurta


December 2021

Rapporteur: Suhasini Udayakumar

About the Speaker

Dr Meghna Guhathakurta taught International Relations at the University of Dhaka, Bangladesh from 1984 to 2007. She is currently Executive Director of Research Initiatives, Bangladesh (RIB) a research support organisation based in Dhaka, which specialises in action research with marginalised communities. Dr Guhathakurta graduated from the University of Dhaka and received her PhD from the University of York, the UK in Politics. Her field of specialisation has broadly been international development, gender relations and minority politics. She is well-published on migration trends, partition histories, peace-building in post-conflict societies and minority rights in South Asia. She is also the Associate Editor of the Action Research Journal published by Sage and the Journal of Social Studies published by the Centre for Social Studies in Dhaka.

Setting the Context

The women’s movement in Bangladesh was borne out of legacies of anti-colonial movements and resistance in the British and Pakistani eras as well as the foundational ideologies of liberation and nation-building that accompanied its independence 50 years ago. 

Called the “basket case” or “test case of development” in its early years, it is now on the verge of becoming a “middle-income country.” But what does it have to say about the kind of social transformation that is taking place from a gendered lens? Looking at this trajectory from a feminist perspective, Dr Guhathakurta discusses this journey of contesting power and the creation of feminist spaces in Bangladesh.


Dr Guhathakurta begins the session by discussing the legacies that laid the foundation for the women’s movement in Bangladesh. The movement has its origins in the anti-British-colonial resistance much like the rest of the South East Asian countries. Besides this, Dr Guhathakurta traces two strands of legacies: firstly, the anti-colonial resistance movement against terrorism and institution and secondly, feminist writing and scholarship against religious orthodoxy. 

During the Pakistani period, the feminist movement looked at institutionalism from both the welfare as well as the resistance perspective. Two prominent organisations were established. The first was the Mohila Samithi which was a civil disobedience movement where women formed neighbourhood communities for common growth. These were mostly middle-class women who set up embroidery and sewing classes – efforts that may seem tame but were actually mobilisation of work. The second organisation was the Mohila Parishad, which was another front of the communist movement, that dealt with initiatives such as pay hikes for nurses evolving over the years to occupy the frontline of the national women’s movement.

Foundation of the Movement

The Liberation War of Bangladesh in the 1970s began initially as a people’s war and then became a conventional war, where solidarity between India and Bangladesh played a major role. The Mukti Yudh included men, women and various ethnic groups, and was a continuation of the anti-colonial resistance. Women were not just soldiers but also acted as support systems, cooking, and hiding and transporting arms. They were also the most impacted community, with over 200,000 thousand women raped during the war. But it became clear that war was becoming history and not “her-story.” 

Women who had served during the war were extolled as war heroines and given awards, but in reality, they were excluded and discriminated against. It was only in the 1980s that women’s writings about this oppression emerged. They wrote stories of war victims, escapees, widows etc. Many ‘war heroines’ wrote autobiographies, making room for critical voices in Bangladesh’s history.

Following the war, the long and delicate task of nation-building began and unfortunately, Bangladesh became a sort of test case of development for the Europeans. All developmental theories and methodologies were tried out by the World Bank, Scandinavians and others. The development progressed through two lines: the official and the civil society lines. 

The official line included women’s participation – which was a buzzword of the time – because the Bangla had to toe the lines of international requirements regarding the inclusion of women. The civil society included early schools of conscientisation in the form of small NGOs and MFIs which precipitated civic changes without adhering to religious orthodoxy, unlike countries like Pakistan or Malaysia. In the 1980s, when global Islamic discourse took the world by storm, women’s organisations in Bangladesh wondered if they should have factored in religious institutions after all; that said, Bangladesh’s women’s movement still runs on civic rather than religious discourse. 

Status of Women in Bangladesh

Dr Guhathakurta rounds up the talk with a short summary of the status of Bangladesh’s women’s movement. 

The personal never became political in Bangladesh: women may be treated as equals in public spheres, but their domestic lives are a whole other story. Early marriage exists in many parts of rural Bangladesh. Laws have improved with the Violence Against Women Act and the Domestic Violence Act, which even consider mental torture and marital rape. 

However, most of this is still only in theory, and not implemented properly. Women’s organisations have fought for the rights of sex workers with interventions by global organisations such as CARE. 

The country has recognised transgender persons but lots of barriers remain The LGBTQ movement is still criminalised, where the country has recognised transgender persons, but done nothing more to ease their lives. Women’s organisations need to focus more on this type of intersectionality in their agenda.

Prajnya Gender Talks, November 2021 || Women’s Movements in Maharashtra: A Visual and Oral History by Dr. Vibhuti Patel


November, 2021

Rapporteur: Suhasini Udayakumar

About the speaker

Dr Vibhuti Patel has been active in the women’s rights movement since the early 1970s. She is a TISS alum and has worked at the Advanced Centre for Women’s Studies and School of Development Studies, TISS. Currently, she is Vice-President of the Indian Association for Women’s Studies and an Expert Committee member of the School of Gender and Development Studies, IGNOU, Delhi. She holds a PhD in Economics and was awarded a Visiting Fellowship to the London School of Economics and Political Science from the Association of Commonwealth Universities, UK. 

Over the last 40 years, she has authored and co-authored 12 books; edited and co-edited 9 books and contributed over 100 papers as chapters in various books edited by others. She has also authored and co-authored 34 research monographs and reports. As an Expert Committee member of the Working Group on Discrimination against Women and Girls of the United Nations Human Rights Council, she contributed to the Report on Women’s Human Rights in Changing World of Work, 2020.

Setting the Context

In this Gender Talk, Dr Patel takes us through the history of the women’s movement in Maharashtra, and the issues it has fought against over the past five decades, through her personal experiences, learnings, and photographs. 

History of the Women’s Movement in Maharashtra

The women’s movement in Maharashtra has its roots in the Bhakti Movement of the 12th-16th century, the social reform movement of the 19th century (which saw social reformers bring women’s issues into the discourse) and the freedom movement of the first half of the 20th century. The women’s movement gained its own space and voice primarily from 1975 onwards. 

1. First Wave

The first wave of feminism in Maharashtra was marked by the efforts of the first generation of English-educated women against child marriage, widow burning, female infanticide, and women’s deprivation of education and suffrage. 

Women social reformers and patriots such as Savitribhai Phule, Fatima Sheikh, Tarabhai Shinde, Pandita Ramabai and Dr Rakmabai Save focussed on ending those institutions that oppressed women and establishing those that would promote equal rights. This journey that began with the 19th-century social reform movement and culminated in the 20th-century freedom movement led to constitutional guarantees such as equality, freedom and equal opportunity for women irrespective of class, caste, creed, race and religion. 

At this time, Maharashtra took the lead in articulating the concerns of women in rural, urban, and tribal areas. It was in the early 1970s that tribal women from the Dhule district organised a long march to Mumbai to assert their demand for an “Employment Guarantee Scheme” in the context of drought-induced loss of livelihoods, hunger, and malnutrition. In their long march, they sang, “Walk, my sister walk, get organised and fight for women’s liberation…”

In 1972, hundreds of women from all walks of life – teachers and students, journalists, researchers, working women and domestic workers, devadasis and Adivasi women, students, and youth enthusiastically took part in the Women’s Liberation Movement Conference held in Pune. In the city of Bombay, working women organised a massive rally with the slogan, “We want husbands, we want jobs.”  

In 1974, the Anti-Price Rise Women’s Movement gained momentum. Incidentally, the International Women’s Year with the motto of ‘Equality, Development and Peace’ (1975) concided with the onset of the Emergency, with women’s celebrations and arrests occurring concurrently. 

Women’s issues were relegated, with the belief that if social transformation happened, women’s issues would be resolved. Women’s groups vehemently disagreed and asserted that women’s rights could not be postponed anymore. Autonomous women’s groups emerged and discussed gender-based violence, and paid and unpaid work, amongst other issues. Rural groups discussed locally-pertinent issues. Finally, in 1976, the Equal Remuneration Act was passed and the first PIL was introduced in the Bombay High Court by a woman employee of a Multinational Corporation in Mumbai. 

The post-Emergency period was marked by the emergence and proliferation of new special interest groups of women writers, students, scholars, journalists, employees, officers, and workers under the banners of socialist and left political parties as well as autonomous women’s groups. They forged a united front and jointly commemorated March 8, International Women’s Day as an act of solidarity and sisterhood that symbolised women’s strength. 

In 1980, in response to the Supreme Court’s misogynist judgement on a gang rape of teenage tribal girl Mathura of Chandrapur District in Maharashtra, the first collective action began in Mumbai and the Forum Against Rape was formed. 

2. Second Wave

Educated middle-class women actively involved in movements for students’, workers’, peasants’, tribals’, and Dalits’ rights drove forward the second wave of feminism. These women abhorred benevolent male paternalism and upper-class females’ charity and philanthropy, declaring themselves as the champions of women’s rights. 

The main concerns of women’s organisations during the second wave were manifold. They stressed the declining sex ratio (due to selective fertilisation) and the gender gap in education (as confirmed by the 1991 census). The  Forum for Women’s Health was set up to fight for women’s reproductive rights and bodily integrity. 

Discussions regarding gender-based violence expanded from rape and dowry murders to domestic violence and marital rape, and organisations such as the Women’s Centre in Mumbai were set up to provide institutional support to violence victims. 

The Network for Women in Media was set up to monitor women’s portrayal in media, promote alternate portrayals, and support young professionals. Women’s groups highlighted and protested the religious mediation of patriarchy, and called for women’s increased participation in politics and decision-making; women had become heads of social movements but were still not included in official politics. 

The movement also brought attention to unpaid care and domestic work, and unrecognised paid work and pioneered the recognition and rights of alternate sexualities. However, the LGBTQ+ movement was persecuted and remained a civic rather than a state issue. 

Additionally, Dr Patel mentions that during the Bombay riots of 1992-93, women played a key role in relief work and reporting. She talks about the atrocities that Dalit women in particular faced at the time. 

3. Visual History of the Women’s Movement in Maharashtra

Dr Patel displays a few incredible and iconic moments from the women’s movement in Maharashtra, some of which are shown below. 

Figure 1: Public Meeting in Pune against the Mathura Rape Case Judgment (March 1980)

Figure 2: Stencil-Cutting of the Open Letter to the SC in the Mathura Rape Case (September 1979)

Figure 3: National Conference on Perspective for Women’s Liberation Movement in India (December 1980)

Figure 4: Urban-Rural Solidarity – Women Demanding Drought Relief in Rural Maharashtra (1986)

Figure 5: Indian Association for Women’s Studies Conference in Pune (1988)

Prajnya Gender Talks, October 2021 || Gender, Climate Change and Securitisation by Asha Hans


October 2021

Rapporteur: Suhasini Udayakumar

About the speaker

Dr Asha Hans is the founder of Sansristi and the Executive Vice President of the Shanta Memorial Rehabilitation Centre. She has had a long and illustrious academic career at Utkal University and published prolifically on international relations and South Asian politics. She has been a long-standing and active member of the Pakistan India People’s Forum for Peace and Democracy. Dr Hans’ most recent publication is Engendering Climate Change: Lessons from South Asia (Routledge 2021) co-edited with Nitya Rao, Anjal Prakash and Amrita Patel.


Across the planet, climate change is altering risk patterns and several factors interact to increasingly expose people to natural hazards. Even as researchers unpack women’s vulnerability to climate change, the emerging “securitisation” of climate is being perceived as a potential cause for global instability and conflict. Feminists need to explore and formulate a response to this new climate-“securitisation.”

Climate Change within the Gender Discourse

Dr Hans states that climate change is missing from the gender discourse despite being one of the world’s most pressing issues. In fact, climate change has given rise to a new kind of colonialism and a strengthening of militarization. Over the course of the Gender Talk, Dr Hans hopes to discuss why and how has this happened.

Frameworks for Climate Change

Dr Hans lays out the frameworks for climate change that currently exist in the world. The first is the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) which acts as a space for negotiation for all member states. The UNFCCC has been active since 1994 but only in 2014 did it recognise gender as an important aspect of climate change. 

Dr Hans reflects that ground realities, issues, and activism aren’t reflected in these conventions. Although women bear the brunt of climate change, the gender component is missed out from the discourse because there are barely any women present at the conventions to discuss it.  For example, the rapid creation of the Mahanadi delta in India has displaced indigenous people, many of them women, to new territories. But international relations prefer that no migration occur, ignoring the fact that climate change leaves people with no choice. 

The second framework for climate change is Resolution 2242, which is part of the UN Security Council 1325 for Women, Peace and Security (WPS). 1325, celebrated for its sturdy pillars, did not include climate change on its agenda until 2015 and is yet to be mainstreamed, having but one paragraph to its name in the framework.

How do women suffer due to climate change?

Climate change has led to a new kind of colonialism in critically affected areas. The melting of the Arctic, for example, has led to world powers descending on the area for resources. The Arctic is divided among many countries such as the US, China, Russia, Norway, and Canada, which have all hastened to extract valuable resources such as minerals. The indigenous women in the Arctic suffer from the consequent extraction politics and imperialism. 

Around 2007, countries around the world announced that climate change was affecting their defence bases. This developed a new agenda, which led to large sums of money being pumped in to protect these bases. Forgotten was the fact that continued militarization devastates women in conflict areas through war crimes such as rape, abduction, and more. 

How do we move forward?

Dr Hans talks about CEDAW recommendations on WPS and climate change, which are supposed to be mandatory but are hardly followed by member states. These world conventions highlight issues but are not committed to changing mindsets, without which change is simply not possible. The importance of the UN has decreased over time and it is not a good sign that member states do not take its values and opinions seriously. 

Dr Hans shares the words of Mia Mottley, the Prime Minister of Barbados at a UN General Assembly meeting: one of the greatest barriers in WPS is the lack of belief and trust in the UN’s vision. Without that, where does one go from here? 100 billion USD dedicated to climate finance is not all that is required. What is of utmost urgency is global moral strategic leadership. How many more disasters is the world to witness? How many more women of colour are to be attacked? World leaders and organisations offer kind words but do not demonstrate the goodwill to distribute the surplus resources harboured by the one per cent. The vulnerable and the marginal pay the price for this greed. 

Dr Hans concludes that we need to transfigure the concept of securitisation into that of human security. We must become more intersectional in the gender and climate change discourse, paying special attention to women with disabilities and transwomen, who suffer even more disproportionately due to climate change. 

Prajnya Gender Talks, September 2021 || Feminising Security – Resisting militarization of the Women, Peace and Security Agenda by Rita Manchanda


September 2021

Rapporteur: Suhasini Udayakumar

About the speaker

This Gender Talk on “Feminising Security” was held in recognition of the 20th anniversary of 9/11 with Professor Rita Manchanda, a feminist scholar and author, and an advocate of human rights and peace in South Asia. Professor Manchanda’s work on defending the rights of women, ethnic minorities and forcibly displaced persons is located at the intersections of gender, peace and security. She has written seminal texts such as Women, War and Peace in South Asia and Women and Politics of Peace describing difficult encounters with the women and peace agenda in South Asia. Professor Manchanda, who serves as the General Secretary of the South Asia Forum for Human Rights, has also authored a five-volume series called Human Rights Audits and Peace Processes.

Why do we need to Feminise Security?

Professor Manchanda starts the talk by highlighting the religious nationalism that currently dominates South Asia. It has been 20 years since 9/11 and Professor Manchanda asks us if women feel more secure or less secure than before. Research shows that Indian women are at increased risk of violence and forced labour, substantiated by daily reports of gender oppression especially in marginalised communities, through both direct and structural violence. There is also a continuum of violence, which suggests a causal link between domestic and interstate violence, and shows us that we cannot separate security from gender equality. Violence at home plays a crucial role in creating conditions of violence, wherein state narratives of security use hyper-jingoistic rhetoric to consolidate state and regime stability. This is merely elites jostling power.

Professor Manchanda then describes the impact of these violent conditions on the public. Religious orthodoxy and fundamentalism get exaggerated to be extremist terrorism, and peaceful democratic struggles are positioned as anti-nationalism. For example, the media has to relabel militants as “terrorists” in Kashmir as per state directives. Such actions arrest dissent and are visible both locally and globally. Parallelly, hyper-securitisation of migration and public health gains clout. This roll-out of authoritarian policies, punitive measures and gag orders against transgressors, health care workers, journalists, and migrants leave long-lasting baggage.

What is the Dominant Paradigm of Security?

It is nothing but the states competing for power, to maintain a balance that would prevent anarchy. However, the need for a different and resonant paradigm for the new realities that exist due to new internal conflicts (interstate, inter-group etc) began to shift focus from the state to the people. This was consolidated in the UNDP report on human security in 1994, which recognised a widening concept of security (for livelihood, environmental, food security etc); this concept was also included in the world conferences for women’s and human rights in the late 90s and early 2000s. 

Professor Manchanda points out that women’s groups were the first to argue for peace and security. Feminists argued that missing in the human security discourse was gender since women’s experiences and gender discussions did not factor into the articulation of the dominant security discourse at the time. In response, feminists emphasised that women’s security was central to human security and cannot be ignored any longer. 

One breakthrough was the increased feminist scholarship on women in conflict zones as a crystallisation of the analysis by and of women facing conflict themselves (e.g. the Balkan conflict). Finally, in 2000, the UN Security Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) was passed, which was the first ever global recognition that women’s security is relevant to human security.

What is the Trajectory of the Women, Peace and Security Discourse?

It was women’s and NGOs’ grassroots level work, and of course, interventions by northern NGOs such as the Women’s International League for Freedom that dictated the WPS discourse. However, the role of the second world (i.e. the socialist world) in the coproduction of the WPS discourse was almost entirely written out. The southern feminists worked with the north but while the north’s objectives were fulfilled, the south’s expectations were disregarded. The south – obviously – could not lobby the same way as the north. Nor did it want its WPS agenda to be a part of the UN’s since this would have led to state-centric policies and actions, and the south believed that impact was possible only if WPS discussions were to happen in civil society. The state was driven by imperialist powers and decidedly not a comfortable space for disempowered people and women. The north saw things a different way and attempted to persuade the south that agencies like the UN were the ones who wielded the power to make decisions.  

What were the Gaps in the WPS Discourse?

The resolutions entirely removing demilitarization from the WPS agenda was a key concern since women view militarization as a big security threat. Gender perspectives were also missing, and gendered social roles that led to passive feminism and toxic masculine militaries were not discussed. 

The structural reasons for conflict – the unequal power relationships that enable war – should have been considered by the Resolutions. Their one-size-fits-all policy also disappointed, having failed to recognise that women in conflict areas have a very different understanding of security than women in non-conflict ones. Resolutions merely call for protecting women from sexual violence but this emphasises the dialectic of victimhood and wipes out their agency. 

Professor Manchanda also discusses the problems with the three pillars of the Resolutions. The first pillar, the participation of women in all areas of conflict, was never measured properly. The apparatus was not in place to do so leading to the proxy and misleading numbers. The second pillar, the over-emphasis on sexual violence, fostered the culture of “looking out” at violence than looking in (e.g. India would focus on violence at its borders with Pakistan than deal with internal violence). The third pillar focuses on preventing direct violence against women rather than on demilitarization i.e. it merely attempts to make war safer for women rather than doing away with war entirely

So what is the status of gender in the WPS discourse? Nations striving for gender equality in the armed forces further promote militarization. Leaning on motherhood politics reinforces female passivity and victimhood. White men descend to save brown women from brown men (to quote Gayatri Spivak), using this moral patina to justify their revenge attacks (e.g. US saviourism in Afghanistan and Iraq). And white women join forces with them distorting indigenous feminisms. 

Professor Manchanda asks the audience, “By folding more women into militarised institutions and culture, are we increasing security or insecurity?” She concludes that we need to redefine our understanding of security if we are ever to achieve global peace. 

Prajnya Gender Talks, August 2021 || Defiant Crossings: The Women’s Movement and Feminist Solidarities in Pakistan by Saba Gul Khattak


August 2021

Rapporteur: Suhasini Udayakumar

Dr. Saba Gul Khattak

Dr Saba Gul Khattak is an independent researcher, who was worked extensively with governmental and non-governmental organisations on the intersections of gender, governance, structural and direct violence, and development and human rights. During this Gender Talk, Dr Khattak tells us the story of the rise of feminism and feminist solidarity in Pakistan.

Where Did The Peace Go?

In the 1990s, the Pakistani public believed that peace was on the way. But it is 2021 and conflict is still ubiquitous in the country, and governmental structures and regimes straitjacket the population. 

First Wave

The Pakistani women’s movement first emerged in the 1960s. In 1961, feminists won their first battle by getting an ordinance passed that declared second marriages permissible only upon the first wife’s written consent. Fatima Jinnah stood in the elections which led the entire nation, including the influential maulvis, to discuss if women should be allowed to serve as heads of state. This debate was settled when Benazir Bhutto came to power as the first women Prime Minister of the country.

In the early 1970s, the small but defined voices of women began to register. The second partition occurred – which continues to haunt both India and Pakistan – wherein Pakistani women demonstrated their solidarity with affected Bengali women. This was the first time that feminists distinctly went up against the state and criticised it for the actions it performed in the guise of nationalism. Women’s organisations went as far as to apologise on behalf of the state following the 1971 Bengal Genocide. 

In 1975, the World Conference of the International Women’s Year was conducted, displaying support from feminist movements across the world, and leading to increased scholarship and activism. In the 1980s, Indian and Pakistani feminists met to talk about war and militarization. The news organisation Women’s Action Forum became the voice of feminism in Pakistan. Many women took to the streets to protest oppressive laws and to dissent to Islamic Jihad’s (which had its origins in the Russian invasion of Afghanistan) infiltration of Pakistan. Pakistani feminists documented the impact that this idea had on women’s rights in the country.  

Women experiencing and witnessing violence in their lives acted as a significant impetus for the peace movement. Women’s organisations fought for democracy, minority rights, and demilitarization. This resonated in neighbouring countries and resulted in the South Asian Feminist Declaration of 1989 where women did not hesitate to critique their states’ oppression of minorities.

Second Wave

In the 1990s, a semblance of democracy was restored. However, women’s movements in Pakistan slackened, distracted by the flurry of international feminist movements. But the plague of suicide bombings that cropped up at the time took a toll and pushed women to demand that the state dismantle all laws that perpetrated violence in the name of Islam. After 25 years of fight, the movement succeeded and suicide bombings began to dip in the late 2010s.

In the 2000s, women contested and won seats in the local government. They had recognised the importance of making decisions in their Muhallas. They ventured out to the national government eventually, a move greeted by dismissal and disapproval by traditionalists. Women also recognised that they had the right to demand the state meet their needs. At this point, it was common for women to walk into neighbourhood police stations and lodge complaints against husbands for ill-treatment or discrimination. It might be said that Benazir Bhutto was a role model for Pakistani women during this decade. 

Women began to make a change at a national level by participating in the parliament and establishing NGOs. Conflicts persisted and so did people’s preoccupation with peace. The unpredictability and volatility of war pushed women to consistently strive to end the war.

Third Wave

By 2010, a new wave of younger feminists began to make their mark. These women had very different ideas from their older counterparts. They demanded space – quite literally – in the public sphere. Movements such as Why Loiter (where women relax and drink tea at dhabbas) and Feminist Fridays (where women gathered for reading sessions) became popular. 

A socialist approach arose and transformed Pakistani feminism. The Aurat March was an iconic feminist movement which paralysed all institutions. The slogans (pro-divorce, anti-hyper feminisation etc) severely offended men. The movement was accused of succumbing to western feminist agendas and deemed anti-Islamic. Traditionalists filed cases in police stations to prevent the march from taking place but did not succeed. The feminists had moved from questioning the state to questioning women’s roles in the private sphere as symbols of sexuality and caterers to men’s demands. 

Thus, the feminist movement in Pakistan journeyed from a fight against the state to a fight for rights in the private sphere, and for a total reconstruction of gender roles and responsibilities.

Prajnya Gender Talks, April 2021 || The FII Journey by Japleen Pasricha


April 2021

Rapporteur: Suhasini Udayakumar

Japleen Pasricha

Japleen Pasricha smashes the patriarchy for a living. With an MPhil in German Studies, Japleen started her gender work with no formal degree in gender or women studies, but with plenty of fierceness and determination. 

Her work first began as a Facebook page, which she kept running while doing her MPhil. She was all of 23 at the time and certain that social media activism goes a long way in amplifying pressing issues. She launched a personal blog where she shared her own experiences – sexual harassment on the streets and daily doses of misogyny that she was subject to, much like the majority of women in India. 

Upon completing her MPhil, she began applying for work in gender-based NGOs but was rejected nearly always due to reasons of overqualification and lack of prior work experience in the field. 

Her “breakthrough” came with Breakthrough India, an organisation working on the issue of domestic violence for over two decades. She joined them in Delhi as a part of their digital team. Although in love with the work, she wondered why the feminist discourse in India was dominated by western feminist ideas and media with very little Indian representation. There was no shortage of western feminist platforms while there was only a handful of such initiatives in India (Feminist India, Manushi and UltraViolet). Instead of bringing the global to the local, Japleen decided that the local needs to be taken to the global through a platform by and for young Indian women. Thus began Feminism in India

Her initial observations from this initiative were that Indian women victims endured immense shame and blame due to their experiences with sexual harassment and assault. To break this silence, a few such women started sharing their stories on the platform, triggering FII’s cult popularity. Meanwhile, Japleen worked at Point of View, but at the end of 2015, when FII began to take off, she knew she had to quit her job to focus on the venture.

In the platform’s own words, “Feminism In India is an award-winning digital intersectional feminist media organisation to learn, educate and develop a feminist sensibility among the youth. It is required to unravel the F-word and demystify the negativity surrounding it. FII amplifies the voices of women and marginalised communities using tools of art, media, culture, technology and community.” The platform serves both pop culture and serious content. Its resources and articles on fashion, culture, travel, lifestyle, and reviews on books and films are known to go viral. Intersectionality is the platform’s biggest USP, with content on caste, conflict, disability, religion etc. FII also has resources on feminist history, having profiled 300 Indian women in history. 

FII’s social media platforms are followed by feminist youth across the country, with its Instagram reach amounting to 168K followers. FII takes care to plan and curate social media content separately. Its YouTube channel, FII Institute, has 15.4K subscribers and publishes many series and podcasts on history and feminist thought leadership. 

The organisation has won 8 Laadli Media Awards for Gender Sensitivity (2021), the Manthan Award 2015 by the Digital Empowerment Foundation under the women empowerment category, and the World Summit Young Innovators Award 2018 by WSA amongst others. Today, FII has published 8000+ articles, fostered a community of 1000+ writers,  carried out 50+ campaigns on social issues, and amassed a social media reach of over 3 million.