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Archives for : October2018

Goa- Mining Dues and Mining Distress

Seven months have gone by since the Apex Court brought the curtains down on private mining in Goa. There is still no action from the government on reserving the state for mining by a Goa Mineral Development Corporation under Section 17A (2) of the MMDR Act. If this option is preferred by the Goa government, there is no need of auctions and therefore no prospect of any companies from outside the state taking over the mining industry. Mining activity (not extraction) can re-start immediately as there are more than 10 million tonnes of ore already excavated and lying within leases and outside leases, which according to the Goa Foundation, belong to the state government.
If auction route is contemplated, mining will take several years for re-start. The process will not be in the best interest of the people of the state. This is still the considered stand of the Goa Foundation.
However, while the state is dilly-dallying because of its continuing close links with the mining companies and lease holders, the mining dependent employees and workers are being punished for no fault of theirs. This press note highlights why the Goa government is actively refusing to help them out in their moment of distress.
The Supreme Court, in its judgment on 7th Feb 2018, noted that a sum of Rs.3,000 crores were due to the government from the mining lease-holders. It observed:
We were informed by the learned Additional Solicitor General that show cause notices have now been issued to some mining lease holders demanding huge amounts – some running into hundreds of crores of rupees towards value of ore extracted in excess of the environmental clearance. We were handed over some sample show cause notices (about 12) issued in September and October 2017 and the figures are quite staggering – the demand raised being about Rs. 1500 crores! Similarly, from the Summary of Mining Audit Report submitted by the auditors (and handed over to us by the learned Additional Solicitor General – for the period July 2016 to December 2016) the amount demanded (including interest) by the State of Goa from the mining lease holders through show cause notices issued is about Rs. 1500 crores! And without making any serious attempt to recover such huge amounts, the State of Goa has granted second renewal of mining leases and the MoEF played ball by lifting the abeyance order in respect of the environment clearances. The inferences that can be drawn are quite obvious.
It further directed that:
The State of Goa will take all necessary steps to expedite recovery of the amounts said to be due from the mining lease holders pursuant to the show cause notices issued to them and pursuant to other reports available with the State of Goa including the report of Special Investigation Team and the team of Chartered Accountants.
We have received under RTI Act a list of show cause notices issued by the government to former lease-holders which we now want to share with the media and the public, especially the mining-dependent. These show cause notices were issued on the basis of reports of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) and the Committee of Chartered Accountants appointed by the Goa Government itself. The Supreme Court has directed the state government to expedite recovery.
Item Rs. Crores
Show cause notices issued Rs. 3,431 crores
Receipts from mining for 2015-18 Rs. 1,488 crores
Benefits to mining dependents <Rs. 400 crores
The total amount recoverable, therefore, is in excess of Rs. 3,000 crores. As far as we are aware, not a single rupee has been recovered so far. (In contrast, Odisha, under the BJD government, had issued show cause notices of around Rs. 17,500 crores, and recovered over Rs. 13,500 crores.)
If the amounts under the show cause notices are recovered, then the mining dependents need not be on perpetual dharna, begging for help.
The amounts recoverable are categorized below:
The largest amount due is from Vedanta Limited: Rs. 1,647.41 crores.
We demand that the Govt obey the SC order and expedite recovery of these large amounts. If not, the assets, accounts and buildings of these lease-holders need to be taken over by the state. The money thus recovered should be used to pay the dues of all the mining dependent in the state. The mining dependent cannot be made to suffer like this.
The Goa Foundation states that when the government wants, it goes out of its way to enforce its will. As media has reported, the state government has acquired land from Subhash Shirodkar for Rs.70 crores when there are no plans to use this land or do anything with it.
In the present case, the government of Goa is simply not willing to remove itself from acting the influence of the mining lobbies in the State. Despite Rs.3,431 crores due from the reports of two agencies, it is unable to help the mining dependent. Despite having Rs.180 crores in the Mineral Foundations, it is unable to help the mining affected. All it continues to harp on is amend the law and hand the leases back to the same mining companies.
The Goa Foundation is committed to recovery of these huge amounts prior to any resumption of mining activity.
(Claude Alvares)
Encl: RTI information about CAG and CA

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Actor Rahul Raj Singh reveals his #MeToo story, says Mushtaq Shiekh sexually harassed him, destroyed his career


Actor Rahul Raj Singh has accused screenwriter and producer Mushtaq Shiekh of sexual harassment and later destroying his career when he refused to give in, reportsMid-day. Rahul Raj is the first man in the film and TV industry to come out with his account as part of MeToo movement in India.

Rahul is also the boyfriend of late actor Pratyusha Banerjee. He was charged with abetting suicide of the Balika Vadhu actor and is out on bail at present.

I hope more guys like me, who have been sexually harassed, come forward and speak up: Rahul Raj Singh

A day after sharing his experience of being sexually harassed by writer Mushtaq Sheikh on his social media account, TV actor Rahul Raj Singh (late Pratyusha Banerjee’s boyfriend) now plans to register an official complaint against Mushtaq with the writers’ association.


Talking about the incident, which happened between 2006 and 2007, Rahul shared, “I first met Mushtaq in 2006, when I decided to pursue films after modelling. He was a known writer and was well-connected in the Bollywood and TV industry. I would meet people like him, hoping to get a foothold in the industry. I was supposed to do a couple of projects with him, but unfortunately, he was expecting something else in return. He told me, ‘I have thought about you for one project and want to cast you in it. Meet me after office hours and we will discuss the project’. However, I found his body language suspicious when I met him. I didn’t want to judge him by his sexual preferences and emotions. But after a couple of meetings, he started calling me up late at night. I would still take his call, because I was a newcomer and didn’t have any godfather in the industry. He would often tell me how things worked in the film industry and what people did to get work here.


One night he asked me to meet him at 11 pm at a coffee shop in Bandra. Later, he took me to his house and told me that I am going to do something to you, which you are going to enjoy. It will be different, but you will like it. I got scared and told him that he was a friend and that I know his family. I left and eventually lost the film. Then, he stopped taking my calls and would only text me. I didn’t want to lose the film, but I realised that he wanted to only have sex with me. It wasn’t direct; it’s not like he pounced on me, but he would try to come close to me. It was pretty much like, if I didn’t surrender, I wouldn’t get work.”

Rahul further shared, “I couldn’t take it for long and I gave up on my filmi dreams after doing one film, which unfortunately didn’t do well. Then I decided to try my luck in television. I bagged my first show Amber Dhara, which was conceptualised by Mushtaq. While I was under the impression that I got the show for my talent, after meeting him, he told me that I bagged the role because of him. Unfortunately, the show didn’t run for long. I bagged another show, titled Mata Ki Chowki with the same production house, for a channel Mushtaq was then heading.


He extended his offer once again to me (to sleep with him) if I wanted to keep my job, but I refused. Somehow, after that, my character fizzled out of the show. For another show titled Ganesh Leela, I had to deal with him again, as it was for the same channel. He called me to meet him at night and told me to come for a drive. We were driving around Aarey Milk Colony, when he suddenly grabbed my head towards him and started unbuttoning my clothes. I got very angry and upset, and told him that I would stop the car and leave him in the middle of the jungle. It was a tough ride back, and after I refused his advances, he made sure that I was out of work. Eventually, I quit TV because I didn’t want to compromise. My career on TV was cut short because one man got the lust and power equation wrong.”

Talking about why he has spoken about this now, Rahul said, “I didn’t speak about it back then, because we didn’t have social media where we could voice it. Also, I thought no one would believe me because he was well-connected. I don’t want him to be punished nor do I intend to file a police complaint. I want him to feel ashamed about what he has done. I hope more guys like me, who have been sexually harassed, join the #MeToo movement. This will discourage those who misuse their power.”

Rahul, who has approached the writers’ association, said, “I have written to the association and will file an official complaint soon.”

Rahul Raj Singh,Mushtaq Shiekh,Pratyusha bannerjee
Rahul Raj Singh has accused screenwriter Mushtaq Shiekh of sexually harassing him.

Mushtaq Shiekh is yet to respond to Rahul Raj Singh’s allegations.


As this cycle continued, Rahul Raj claims he eventually left TV 10 years ago. “I used to earn around Rs 3-4 lakh per month in those days. I owe answers to my friends and fans as to why I quit TV. It was because of Mushtaq Shiekh. I told my parents the same thing 10 years ago: I can’t do this, because I will be forced to sleep with someone,” he said in the report. Mushtaq Sheikh is yet to respond to the claims

We tried to get in touch with Mushtaq Sheikh for his version, but he did not respond to our calls and messages till the time of going to press.

Mushtaq Sheikh

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Aspiring actress Meira Omar accuses Anirban Blah of Sexual Harassment #MeToo

So far, there have been several women who have anonymously spoken up against KWAN founder and celebrity manager Anirban Blah, and lashed out at him for sexual harassment. Aspiring actress Meira Omar, who had a brief role in the movie Wajah Tum Ho(2016), has bravely come forward to tell us about her horrific experience with Anirban. The celebrity manager has been asked to step aside from his duties, activities and responsibilities at KWAN (according to the company’s statement dated October 16) after several allegations of sexual misconduct surfaced against him in the last few days.

On late Thursday night (Oct 18), Anirban was rescued by the police, from the railing of the old Vashi bridge (Navi Mumbai) during an apparent suicide attempt. The police promptly acted on TOI’s tip-off, after a copy of his suicide note reached TOI staff. Before his suicide attempt, Anirban requested TOI (through a string of text messages) to let him speak to the complainant (Meira) in the presence of our reporter. We gave him 48 hours to respond to the allegations, but till the time of going to press, there was no reaction from him on this specific story.


Hailing from Afghanistan and raised in Sweden, Meira landed in India with big Bollywood dreams. She tried her best to pursue a career in the entertainment industry by attending acting school, doing plays and television commercials, but nothing significant happened in terms of movies. And the road ahead was not what she expected. She shared her #MeToo story exclusively with us, citing it as the reason why she left India for good.

She revealed, “I went through several bad experiences, but perhaps, this was the worst. Others were at least direct (as far as making inappropriate offers or advances are concerned), so I was more prepared to avoid them. It is not that Anirban wasn’t direct, but he manipulated women before showing his true colours, and that scars you deeply. He would play these games — call you, give you time, pretend to understand you and then make the move. I was in touch with him for about a year between 2016-2017. I felt that I should talk about him while I was in India, but I thought my voice would be considered as insignificant. After all, this man has connections and he had handled big celebrities.”

Meira Omar

Anirban Blah


Meira says, “Now that women are being heard, I want to share my experience with Anirban Blah and speak about the power games he plays. It was in 2016, and I was very new to India and Mumbai. I came here to chase my childhood dream of becoming an actress in Bollywood. I was here on my own and had no connections or representation. Through research, I found out that KWAN was a reputed talent management agency. At that time, I wasn’t aware of the rumours about the man heading it. I only knew that he was the boss and I was naive. I reached out to him through Instagram DM (direct message) and was very honest about being new here. I asked him to give me a chance to meet his agency and he enabled that meeting. The meeting didn’t really seem successful and I remember feeling a bit disappointed and sad about it.

Soon after, he contacted me and asked about the meeting with the team. I told him the truth and he replied to me saying, ‘Listen, my team is very basic. They only go for girls similar to the ones who are in the top league today. They don’t know how to spot a star in the making. I am the one who creates stars and sees something, when no one else can. This is what I’m known for.’ At this point, I felt encouraged and excited as he was implying that I might have something unique about me. He wanted to meet me privately so that he could evaluate me personally. He asked me to come over to his work space, as meeting in a public place would give people the wrong idea. He specifically mentioned he didn’t want tabloids writing about it. I felt something turning in my gut as soon as he said that, but I ignored that feeling and thought to myself that it’s okay. His ‘work space’, I later found out, was actually an apartment in Juhu that he kept for himself, away from his family home in Bandra. I entered the apartment and he immediately started commenting on my appearance and asked me to let my hair down and get comfortable. We sat down and had a pretty normal conversation to begin with. He made sure to talk a lot about his accomplishments, and during our conversation, he actually picked his phone and called Deepika (Padukone) to discuss a magazine cover. Everything he said that night was about how he is a man who can get girls to come out of their shell, bring out their inner sexiness and awaken desires in other men. He stressed that all this is what makes one a star.

He even went ahead and told me about a specific case where a girl reached out to him and she was gorgeous, but too timid and shy. So, he locked her in his balcony in that same Juhu apartment where we were sitting, and forced her to masturbate, even though there were possibly neighbours around. He narrated the story to me with a sense of pride. He showed me pictures of the girl he was currently working on, pointing out the difference between ‘before’ (he discovered her) and ‘after’ he had extensively worked on her. He bragged about how his efforts helped her bag a role in a movie.

He complimented me on my intellect and eloquence several times, telling me that the fact that I’m intelligent makes me so sexy, but that other people won’t see it. Anirban told me that he could help me, provided I trusted his process and surrendered to him completely. I remember that I didn’t fully understand everything at this point, but I had a bad feeling about it. At the same time, this was the closest I had come to working with someone who has influence in the industry and I badly wanted to get a foot in the door.

After our first meeting, he followed up on the things he had spoken about and asked me if I was ready to start the process of finding my sex appeal. He gave me an ‘assignment’. He said that I should imagine I was doing a cover shoot for an international fashion magazine and for that, I should pick out four sexy looks. He told me to really think about these looks, why I chose them, and how that represented my sex appeal. He told me to bring these looks to his ‘work space’ again, where he would photograph me in them and we would dissect the looks together. This made me really uncomfortable.

I didn’t reply to him for days, I consulted friends and other people I knew in the industry. This was the first time I got to hear about some of the rumours and stories surrounding him. I started realising that he didn’t really care about the assignment; basically, he just wanted me to undress in front of him.

I messaged him saying that I wasn’t comfortable doing all this, at the same time, I didn’t want to lose this contact. So, I told him that instead, I could just show him pictures of my inspirations and what I think is desirable and create collages of those. This would help him understand my vision and we could work on it. He replied saying something on the lines of, ‘Okay, just think about it some more, come to my work space tomorrow and we can look at the photos, but bring your choice of looks anyway, just in case you feel like it.’ The next day I went there, without looks that he had requested for, and I could immediately sense a change in his attitude. We sat down, I started talking about the different looks and I think he got bored. He then told me that he was really busy and that I should leave. I understood and called for a cab. While waiting, he looked at me and said, ‘F**k, you’re really sexy’ and he leaned over to kiss me. I got scared, but I was more scared of pissing him off, as that could make him more aggressive. I carefully backed off and he turned around and told me that in this industry, these are the things that I will have to do with men. And if I can’t handle it, I should just leave. He said something to the effect of, ‘Bollywood won’t change for you, no matter how well-read or how much of a feminist you are. You don’t necessarily have to sleep with everyone, but you have to kiss, touch or tease them. Kissing is always okay’. He talked about how he loves kissing, and even though he is in a happy relationship with his wife, he does it a lot with other women. My cab had arrived and I got up to leave. He pushed himself against me and kissed me again at the door. I felt paralysed and scared, and I could do nothing. I just took my bag and ran out. I remember not being able to feel my legs as I was looking for the cab.

We didn’t speak for quite some time after that. I felt so ashamed and stupid for even going there the second and last time. I started blaming myself for it. I beat myself for not having handled the situation in a smarter way, for not having followed my gut the very first time he had spoken to me. I thought about how he had taken my intellect and used it against me to lure me. I felt so stupid. After some time, he started contacting me again, saying that he wanted to meet me. He would always suggest that we meet up at night. I never actually met him again, but he kept calling. I would always reply and seem normal and happy, but after a point, I just couldn’t. So, I stopped answering his calls. When I stopped responding, he sent me text messages on my phone which said ‘????’ He finally told me that I should just pack my bags and go back home and that I don’t have what it takes to become anything in this industry. He told my friends the same thing about me.

This was just one man and one experience. But there have been many more such experiences during the time that I spent in Mumbai. That lump in my gut never disappeared; it kept growing to the point where it was eating me up from the inside. I would spend every night crying myself to sleep and questioning how much this dream of mine was worth. How I would, probably just as Anirban said never make it in this industry, because I wasn’t ready to do these things the men asked of me. I left the country almost a year ago. I know that there must be women out there who have fallen prey in the hands of Anirban, in ways probably far more severe than what I went through. The fact that no violent assault happened, is what made me stay quiet. I’m seeing a change now and I don’t want to be part of the culture of silence anymore. I’ve also realised that this was indeed an actual assault. I never gave my consent to any of this. He saw a vulnerable girl and did what powerful men often do — take advantage of it. This is what happened to me and I wish that other women, who he has hurt, will come forward. I know we are many, as I have been hearing stories that have shaken me to the core.

After I left, I got time to just be and heal with my family and loved ones. Now, I look back and thank God, because if I had made one mistake from my side, it could have been worse. I really hope he stops doing all of this and that his power is taken away from him.”

Anirban Blah



“Without trying to justify any of my actions, I just want to say that I have tried to be the best person I can be. I didn’t have the strength to cope with what happened to me as a child in a healthy way. I never was able to separate sex from power, to make it a part of love, and somewhere along the way one part of me turned into a monster.

Maybe … I am bipolar. Because I know how much love I have to give. To my friends and to my family to everyone. I have tried to be the best friend I can and the best colleague and the best person I can. But unfortunately the monster inside me keeps resurfacing and I’ve tried to bury him and kill him but I can’t.

I wasn’t good enough. And I am the only one to blame… I know no one believes me, but that monster was a part of me, and there was goodness and kindness in me.

To anyone I may have hurt, I am sorry. This isn’t revenge for you. This is justice.

You should just know that the stories you hear are worse than the truth but whatever the truth, it still makes me a monster in my own eyes. Know though that this monster has this part of him that is pure still, and that my love for you is so great that I cannot forgive myself the hurt I have caused you. There are no justifications. You deserved better.

You will find my body somewhere near Vashi creek. My licence will be with me as identification plus my tattoo. I am wearing blue jeans and a t shirt. The monster inside me has won against the other part of me for too long, it’s time to kill it once and for all.”

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Riyas Komu steps down from Kochi-Muziris Biennale management positions #MeToo

Riyas Komu.Riyas Komu.   | Photo Credit: Thulasi Kakkat

The announcement comes after a meeting of the the Kochi Biennale Foundation’s managing committee.

Kochi-Muziris Biennale co-founder and secretary Riyas Komu has stepped down from all his management positions connected to the Biennale following sexual harassment allegations against him.

The managing committee of the Kochi Biennale Foundation met on October 19 to discuss the allegations.

According to the statement released by KMB Foundation: “Though the Foundation has received no formal complaint, we are collectively committed to ensuring zero tolerance to any harassment or misconduct, and have decided to constitute a committee to inquire into this matter. Riyas Komu has stepped down from all his management positions connected to the Biennale till the matter is resolved. The Kochi Biennale Foundation is responsible for the safety and security of its community, and will take all measures to ensure this as we work together in making the Biennale.”

The fourth edition of KMB is scheduled to begin on November 18. It is curated by Anita Dube. She is the first woman curator of KMB.

Anita Dube, curator of the 2018 Kochi-Muziris Biennale, has issued the following statement:

“This is in response to the disturbing allegation of sexual harassment against Riyas Komu, Secretary, KBF, on social media. There is an atmosphere of misogyny prevailing unchallenged in most institutions led by men, KBF being no exception.

As the first woman curator, I take the issue of women’s empowerment i.e. Feminism, seriously. It informs my curatorial deliberations and I try to practice what I preach.

Purushamedhavitwam (Patriarchy), has gone about the business of using women’s bodies, their labour, their intelligence to further its own causes. This is what Feminism as a radical consciousness has been questioning.

The MeToo Movement is part of this questioning. Its a flood and the flood gates have been opened. What was considered (for centuries) the perks of masculinity, is being called out today as totally unacceptable to women, as a violation of their human rights. I stand in complete solidarity, salute those who are brave enough to put their name at stake, support those who are disempowered and remain anonymous.

In Riyas Komu stepping down, the Kochi Biennale Foundation has taken remedial action, and begun the process of structural change, taking into consideration suggestions from the employees and the curatorial team.

I take this as an opportunity for everyone to reflect and contribute to the strengthening of KBF. Institutions are hard to build; it would be foolish to pull one down, and wiser to turn a mirror to its face.

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Sexual harassment at the workplace can assume a myriad chilling and predatory forms #MeToo

Ladybird Writes

Sexual harassment at the workplace can assume a myriad chilling and predatory forms. Siliguri-based Independent journalist Anuradha Sharma describes the decade-long stalking and telephonic abuse that she was subjected to by her senior.

hand with a mobile phone 318 38051I have been very closely following the #metoo conversations going on in social media. One hell of a triggering experience it has been. Just so many women, bearing the scars that I’d been trying to hide all this while. Hugely triggered, but I still didn’t feel like sharing anything. I had nothing new to add, and I had deadlines to meet.

But then the phone rang, and everything came flooding back. And I had to write this. I write without taking names because it does not matter who the abusers are; what matters is what they did. I only want to tell you about the hundred and ninety-ninth way one can get sexually harassed by work seniors.

It was some time in 2008, the year I shifted to Kolkata, that I first got a call asking for Ladybird. Initially, it was just one or two, and then the frequency of daily calls increased. They came at all times of the day, especially in the night. So, I saved the numbers as X, X1, X2, X3 to know not to receive them when they came. They wanted to speak to Ladybird which, or who, I wasn’t.

Then one night, a caller asked me: “Rate kya hai (what is your rate)?”. I was on night shift, busy making pages. “Kis cheez ka (for what?)” I asked back mechanically, and while I tried to make sense of the conversation, something kicked me in the guts.

The next morning, I began calling these numbers one by one. Most did not take my calls. The first one who answered asked to call later— “now, I am with family”—but on being pressed with a stern, no-nonsense voice told me where he got the number. “The toilet at Haldiram’s restaurant. But I brought it to the notice of the management and asked it to remove it from there,” he said. Others spoke of tea shops, a sleeper coach of an express train, public toilets and so on. Someone had scribbled my number, alongside ‘LADYBIRD’.

All these guys had been calling me fantasising about sex with Ladybird. Whoa!

What rang the bell was a particular restaurant close to my former office in Siliguri where the office people would occasionally go for tea and pakoras. Sometimes I also used to join in. The number X2 guy, a tourist, saw my number at the toilet there, and he called to “just chat” because he was lonely, “otherwise I am a very decent man.”

After several calls, I discovered a pattern. They came from places a senior colleague of mine from my past company frequented, so much so that it was also on the sleeper coaches of the train he used to take frequently to travel to his family home—he used to travel sleeper class, except on work when the fares were reimbursed by the office. I had some callers phoning from the moving train itself!

It became clear that the “mischief” was the doing of my ex-boss who was then in his late 40s. Calls came from everywhere in the state and also from outside, wherever he travelled. By just mapping the origin of the calls, I could trace his movements. When he began covering south Bengal, I started getting calls from there. I heard names of small towns and villages in Bengal I did not even know existed. I would ask my callers about their place, and they would hang up. I never got my guesses wrong. I would check with my former colleagues at my former office and its headquarters to confirm: “By any chance is he is Delhi now… There I knew it!”

Friendly python

I was forced to quit my previous job because of this man.

At first, he was nice. He was friendly, interesting and also helpful. But in no time, the friendliness tightened around me like a python. I found myself being chased by this man EVERYWHERE—press conferences, PR events, exclusive interviews, exhibitions. Somehow or the other, he would just manage to sneak in. Then my friends and colleagues from other media houses began to tell me that he would call them and ask them about me. Things like, “I heard that she had come, who did she come with? How you know her?…  What do you know of her? What about the men in her lives?”

The stalking assumed ridiculous proportions when he visited my place in my absence (I was on an assignment), and without my knowledge. When I confronted him, he said he had gone to meet my folks at home because he wanted to greet them on Poila Boisakh (Bengali new year).

Then, one day, I finally put my foot down. I now forget what I said, but I remember screaming so loudly at office that people from other departments had come running to the door. He apologised, I remember. He almost shed tears, and also almost fell at my feet. No, I am not exaggerating.

It was a really strange situation, and very confusing for me, because otherwise he was a very decent person. True, this. He was very soft-spoken and gentle, always respectful towards me and other women, never made any indecent remark or touched me inappropriately. He took permission—yes, you heard it right—when he wanted to give a New Year hug at an office-sponsored party where his wife was also present among us.

He only stalked, and hijacked my stories whenever he got a chance; showed no qualms in inserting his name in my byline, even in my exclusive stories, just because he stalked me to these assignments.

I finally complained against this person with the chief that we both reported to at the Kolkata headquarters. When nothing came of it, I used the only option I had: I quit.

Naming sexual harassment

I changed my city (which in the long run turned out well for me, but not without initial years of trials and tribulations which merit a separate #metoo story), and took up a desk job. From being a Principal Correspondent, I demoted myself to the position of Senior Copy Editor. I was in my late 20s then, and already too tired to hunt for jobs. I took whatever I got.

However, even at the time of my quitting, though I thought of my former senior colleague as intolerably irritating and really sick, I did not think of my ordeal as “sexual harassment.” But what he subsequently did leaves no room for doubt.

When the slimy little creature could not stalk me himself, he let loose a barrage of cheap sex-seeking men on me. Alright, I’m presuming they wanted it cheap, because most often the first thing they’d ask me would be my rate. If I showed my anger, which I did initially,  they’d hurl abuses. Some of them surely thought that my anger was part of an extended foreplay; they would keep calling back.

Mostly, I would pretend to be a policewoman. “Mohila thana (women’s police station)!” I would remark first on answering suspicious calls. I had a voice especially reserved to announce “police station”. I thought this was a sure shot way to keep those pesky callers at bay. But, what do you know, many still thought it was a game. They laughed. I only ended up becoming a joke with genuine callers whose numbers were not saved on the phone.

I tried a new trick. Instead of muting the ringer, I received the calls but did not speak. I would keep the phone next to my keyboard and go on working on QuarkXpress. This, with the hope that they would stop calling if they lost money on every call. This helped sometimes. Now who would like the keyboard clattering when in hot pursuit of the Ladybird!

Then, finally, advised by a well-meaning police officer friend of mine, I changed my number. I had called him to know if I could file a police case. He explained to me the futility of it all, and I totally saw his point.

I got myself a new number, and kept the old one aside—it was too beautiful a number to throw away.

After some time, I gave the old SIM to my sister. I thought the callers must have got tired of hearing the beeps, instead of the raspy ladybird, all this time. But trust the doggedness of men in heat, the calls persisted. One day, when enough was really more than enough, my brother-in-law confronted the harasser on the phone and demanded that he desist. Apparently, he did not deny scribbling my name on public walls. That was the confirmation I needed, in case anyone thought I was imagining all of this.

I sometimes wonder what did he feel to know that his “revenge” on me (for whatever I must have done to him) was also impacting my family members. In good times, our families had met and he knew my sister well. Was he pleased with himself to know his act was tormenting her as well?

What did he have against me at all? Why would he do this? Why would a seemingly nice and gentle person who was always ready to help, sometimes annoyingly unsolicited, do this, that too after pleading for forgiveness innumerable times? I had left the office on a good note; there was a farewell lunch with the whole team.

Over time the calls subsided—maybe also because the number remained inactive for some time in between—but never really stopped.

I gave up thinking, because I increasingly blamed myself. Everything boils down to this—I must have encouraged him. It must be me. I locked that shame in the back of my mind, picked up my life again and carried on, pretending everything was alright.

Even when Sandhya Menon and others kicked off the recent phase of #metoo movement in India, I resisted the very thought of it. I tried not to talk about it.

But then the phone rang again—I have the beautiful number back with me now. Someone called and asked, “Kaun? Who?”

“You called, you tell me who you want to talk to,” I asked.

“You,” he replied.

“Who you?”

“Arrey, you you.”

“Who are you?”

“I am me. I called to speak to you.”

After several calls and similar conversations from the same caller, I blocked the number (now my smartphone allows that). I am not sure—there’s no way of knowing because the caller just wouldn’t say much—if this call is related to the “Ladybird Calls”. I get these calls every once in a while; I feel the same pain every time. This is why I am loath to take calls from unsaved numbers.

Somewhere on an unpainted wall my number must still exist, and my pick-up name, Ladybird.

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Delhi court frames molestation charges against environmentalist and former TERI chief RK Pachauri #MeToo

Molestation Charges Framed Against RK Pachauri by Delhi Court, Woman to Appeal for More to be Added

Appearing in the court, environmentalist and former TERI chief RK Pachauri alleged “trial by media”.

Molestation Charges Framed Against RK Pachauri by Delhi Court, Woman to Appeal for More to be Added
RK Pachauri was accused of sexual harassment by former colleagues at TERI. (File Photo/Reuters)
New Delhi: A Delhi court on Saturday framed molestation charges against environmentalist and former TERI chief RK Pachauri in a case that predates the #MeToo movement but has been repeatedly cited in social media debates in recent weeks.

The 78-year-old Pachauri, who had previously chaired the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, had stepped down from the panel in 2015 following a sexual harassment complaint by a researcher at Pachauri’s Delhi-based The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI). Pachauri denies the charges and has sought a speedy trial due to his old age, his counsel Ashish Dikshit told Reuters.

Pachauri is accused of making physical advances, wrongful restraint, sending unwanted emails, and messages

Metropolitan magistrate Charu Gupta framed charges under Sections 354 (outraging modesty), 354A (making physical contact, unwelcome and sexually coloured remarks) and 509 (teasing and using vulgar gesture and actions) of the Indian Penal Code.

The complainant, a former colleague of Pachauri, has also been summoned to appear in court. The court has fixed January 4 and 5 for the recording of evidence.

Appearing in court, however, Pachauri alleged “trial by media”, saying his family was going through a “difficult time”. He has pleaded the court for an expeditious trial.

According to complainant’s lawyer Prashant Mendiratta, his client will file an appeal against the dropping of charges under sections 506 (criminal intimidation), 341 (wrongful restraint), 354 (D) (stalking) and 354 (B) (assault or use of criminal force to woman with intent to disrobe).

“We will be filing a revision petition in the Sessions Court. We were waiting formal order on framing of charges. Now we will ask the court to frame charges on those sections too because we have proof of direct averments made by the complainant which makes a case for an offence under the sections he is not charged under yet,” Mendiratta told News18.

The lawyer has also said that among other witnesses in the case are some former employees of TERI.

In a statement, the complainant said, “Spoken with my lawyers and understood all aspects especially with regards to challenging for inclusion of three charges. Finally, trial is committed. Made complete arrangements to be available during the said time period. What a way to start 2019. The truth will triumph.”

A Delhi court had on September 14 ordered framing of molestation charges against former Pachauri in a sexual harassment case filed by his former colleague.

Delhi Police had chargesheeted the former chief of The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) under the Indian Penal Code’s sections 354A (advances involving unwelcome and explicit sexual overtures), 354B (using criminal force against a woman), 354D (stalking), 509 (word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman) and 341 (wrongful restraint).

Pachauri was accused of sexually harassing a female colleague in 2015. He stepped down as chairperson of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in February 2015 and proceeded on leave from TERI, where he was the director general. Later, he also stepped down from his post in TERI.

Pachauri has denied the charges against him.

On February 26, 2017, a trial court passed an order making it mandatory for the media houses to publish or telecast the coverage of the case with a rider “in any court the allegations have not been proved and they may not be correct

He goes on trial just as the #MeToo movement sweeps India with a large number of women accusing public figures in the media and entertainment industry of sexual misconduct. A minister of state resigned last week after women accused him of making physical advances in hotel rooms and in the office during his previous career as a journalist.

India is also considering tightening sexual harassment laws, government officials told Reuters last week.

The Delhi court has charged Pachauri under sections of the Indian Penal code including sexual harrassment and outraging the modesty of a woman.

The trial begins on January 4, his counsel said.

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Nerul woman to don hat as one of India’s 1st national female umpires

Twenty-nine-year-old Vrinda Rathi is not offended when teenage boys sometimes call her ‘Sir’. It’s not a comment on her short hair or her genderblurring camouflage of black pants and white-full-sleeved Tshirt but, quite simply, a matter of habit. Women umpires are a rare presence on Mumbai’s testosterone-heavy maidans, so such slips of the tongue are inevitable. When they happen, Rathi maintains the same stoic calm that she does in the face of shrill appealing. Her umpire personality is less Billy Bowden and more Kumar Dharmasena but, for someone who likes to be the least visible person on the field, the spotlight is about to get harsher than Mumbai’s October sun.

Last month, Rathi—a Navi-Mumbai-based fitness coach whose weekends disappear in a hot blur of scoring and umpiring for local cricket matches-—cleared BCCI’s Level 2 umpiring exam which, along with Chennai’s N Janani, makes her one of India’s first women umpires who can officiate matches at the national level. Apart from well-intentioned ribbing from her uncles who are conspiring to “fix matches” and “travel for free”, this success brings Rathi—who has been officiating Mumbai Cricket Association (MCA) matches since 2013—the chance to umpire in women’s cricket matches and junior boys’ matches across India. The jump in her pay is of the kind that makes years of bladder control on the job seem worth it. “It’s a substantial raise,” says Rathi, who measures her words with the zeal of a score-keeper. “But with that comes great responsibility to prove your worth.”

It was during her stint as a scorer at the Women’s World Cup in 2013 that Rathi first spotted a woman umpire: New Zealand’s cheerful, short-haired Kathy Cross. Soon, intoxicated with the idea of progressing to umpiring, Rathi appeared for the local and state-level umpiring exams and effectively bid farewell to weekends, picnics and washroom breaks at will. From September to April every year, she now tries to get close to 60 match days on an average under her belt. “Umpiring requires you to hone your skills under the scorching sun,” says Rathi, adding that the job calls for both physical ensurance and mental toughness. More than body language, communication and interpersonal skills, it’s astute decision-making that defines a good umpire, says Rathi, who prefers being a “facilitator of play” rather than “a mechanical enforcer of law”. She has noticed that “the higher the level of umpiring, the simpler is the person”.

Though playing experience isn’t essential to appear for the umpiring exam, Rathi—a medium pacer during her college days—can boast of four years of representing Mumbai University. Clearing the BCCI exam’s various levels entailing theory, viva and practicals over two years called for the same patience with which she had managed to lower the many raised eyebrows that greeted her and Varsha Nagre in the Mumbai of 2013, when they stuck out as anomalies in umpire hats. “Initially, there were unsubstantiated apprehensions about the quality that a woman umpire may bring in,” says Rathi, adding that in the end, it’s performance that wins out. “When everyone around knows that you mean business at the centre of the field, your gender does not matter,” adds Rathi, the commerce graduate in her glad that she could win the confidence of her “stakeholders” over time.

It’s this inherent patience and “lack of rigidity” in women, Rathi feels, that lends them an edge over men on the field. “Ego is something an umpire can not afford,” says Rathi, who loves sensing the cold war between the batsmen and bowlers in boys’ cricket and relishes the speed and intensity it brings. “Boys also control their aggression in presence of women umpires,” finds Rathi, who also enjoys the gentle camaraderie in women’s cricket and is optimistic about the game growing more inclusive. Already, as far as scorers go, she says, “it’s the women who are ruling the maidans in Mumbai”. Besides, the city now brags six women umpires.

Rathi can now leave behind memories of travelling from Nerul to Kandivali which has always “felt like travelling to a different state” as she prepares to officiate her debut match in Puducherry. She would like it if the boys in this under-16 match called her ‘Madam

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Panel Headed by Former SC Justice Aftab Alam to Examine Allegation Against Vinod Dua #MeToo

The other members of the committee are Justice Anjana Prakash, Prof Neera Chandhoke, Prof Patricia Uberoi and Ambassador Sujatha Singh.

The following is a note issued by The Wire on October 20, 2018.

In perhaps the first ever initiative of its kind by a media organisation since the rise of the #MeToo movement worldwide, The Wire has established an independent, external committee headed by a former judge of the Supreme Court to investigate an allegation of sexual harassment levelled against its consulting editor, Vinod Dua, by the film maker Nishtha Jain.

The reason the committee is an external one is because the alleged incident dates back to 1989, when The Wire did not exist. Yet both Ms Jain and Mr Dua, who denies the charges, are entitled to have the matter examined impartially and competently.

On October 18, Ms Jain formally consented to the Committee taking up her complaint, which she has said she will submit by October 26. Mr Dua has also consented to the process.

The External Committee’s members are:

  1. Justice Aftab Alam, former judge of the Supreme Court
  2. Justice Anjana Prakash, former judge of the Patna high court
  3. Prof Neera Chandhoke, retired professor of Delhi University
  4. Prof Patricia Uberoi, retired professor of the Institute of Economic Growth
  5. Ambassador Sujatha Singh, former foreign secretary

The members of the Committee have decided it will be chaired by Justice Aftab Alam. A one-person secretariat has also been established to assist the committee and to serve as the point of communication for both Jain and Dua.

Justice Alam has noted that from here on, The Wire will have no knowledge of the Committee’s proceedings till it reaches its final conclusion.

Since the external investigation The Wire has set up to look in to Ms Jain’s allegations has now formally begun, The Wire announces that:

  1. Vinod Dua’s program, ‘Jan Gan Man ki Baat’, will not be aired until the conclusion of the committee’s work.
  2. The recording Mr Dua made at the end of the last episode of ‘Jan Gan Man ki Baat’ in which he responded to Ms Jain’s allegation is no longer available on The Wire’s platforms. Instead, The Wire’s report on Ms Jain’s charges has been edited to incorporate Mr Dua’s denial.
  3. The Wire will not carry any statement or comment by either party or anybody else on the subject matter of the allegations until termination of the inquiry proceedings with the report and/or recommendations of the Committee, whose members are of unimpeachable integrity and impartiality.


On Sunday, October 14, 2018, Ms. Jain put up a post on Facebook against Mr Dua,  accusing him of sexual harassment in 1989.  The same day, The Wire’s Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) took note of the post.

On October 15, after holding a meeting, the ICC wrote to Ms. Jain asking her to send a formal complaint.  She replied saying she would soon do so.

On October 17, Ms Jain was informed of the formation of an external committee, with the names of four members and asked for her consent as well as a formal complaint by October 18. Three of the four on  the committee as notified to Ms Jain on October 17, were women.

The Wire would like to clarify that at no point of time was Ms Jain told that her complaint would be dismissed if not submitted within 24 hours. What was said was that given that the members are eminent persons with several other commitments, it would be in the interests of all that the matter is speedily taken up and resolved.

On the night of October 17, Ms Jain indicated that she would be unable to file a complaint before October 26, since she was travelling with poor connectivity. She also asked for a five member committee.

On the morning of October 18, The Wire responded by accepting her request for a five member committee. Since she said that she could not send in her complaint until October 26, we reassured her that the proceedings would only begin after her complaint was received. She was also asked if she could convey her consent earlier.

On the evening of October 18, Ms Jain formally conveyed her consent to the External Committee. With this, the Committee’s work to investigate Ms Jain’s allegations has now begun.

The Founding Editors
The Wire

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What its like to be Female FilmMaker In India #SundayReading

Cinema has the power to chronicle every little change in society. In contemporary times, women filmmakers are challenging the stereotypes of a male-dominated film industry and in the process, they’re making their presence felt, too. The change isn’t just evident with female directors narrating stories, other fields of filmmaking have also seen women make a mark. In a no-holds-barred discussion, directors Nandita Das, Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari and Tanuja Chandra talk about women filmmakers taking the charge in cinema. They debate on the commercial prospects of stories driven by female characters, general perceptions around women being in charge on a film-set and the fact that even female-centric films can at times, be misogynistic in nature. Excerpts…

Fatma Begum in 1926 is cited as one of the earliest examples of a female filmmaker in the Indian film industry. In fact, actress Shobhna Samarth launched her daughters, Tanuja and Nutan, in films as a filmmaker, too. And yet, even today, there is still a niggling need to underline the fact that you are a woman helming a film. What are your thoughts?

Ashwiny: Can I ask you a question: are you a female mother? Since you don’t differentiate between parents, why do it with professionals? As filmmakers, we have come a long way but we’re still outnumbered by our male colleagues. The silver lining is that the number of women directors in India is way more than it is in the West. It was underlined at this year’s Oscar Awards ceremony that not one woman director was nominated for an award there. In the same year, Filmfare Awards lauded two women directors for their films (Konkona Sen Sharma for A Death In The Gunj and Ashwiny for Bareilly Ki Barfi). I remember Nandita also got an award for her debut feature Firaaq. We didn’t win these awards because we’re women. We won them for our work. This encourages younger girls to consider filmmaking as a viable profession. Corporatisation has only made it more streamlined. Sheryl Sandberg (technology honcho, activist and author) had once walked out of an office because it didn’t have a woman’s rest room, which means the company had never considered women to be worthy of jobs. Small acts like hers can make a huge difference.

Tanuja: I don’t completely disagree with that classification because until there are half men and half women in every profession, it will have to be underlined, emphasised and stressed upon. Until then, it’s important to state that you are a woman working in an institution run by men. I am proud of the fact that I am a woman director. When I started out, there were probably only as many as you’d count on your fingers. Today, there are many more women, but in comparison to the male heads, the number is miniscule. It just makes me happy that our numbers in every profession are on the rise.

Nandita: While directing a film, we’re not conscious of our gender. For instance, I have multiple identities — Indian, half-Oriya-half-Gujarati, Delhi-bred. Many different aspects of my life influence the way I look at films and characters. Gender also plays an important role. When you see some films, you immediately think that they are possibly made by a man; the male gaze is that apparent. Similarly, there is a female gaze. I quite agree with Tanuja, that till there is no level playing field, we cannot shy away from the fact that we need more women to step out there. And therefore, if we are counting heads, we need to count them just to know how much ground needs to be covered.

A level-playing field is a utopian idea but do you think we can even get close to it?

T: Women make for half the world’s population, and yet, most of them remain unutilised or under-utilised. What business sense does that make? I am amazed by the limited thinking and vision of men who can’t see this as a potential area to tap into. Women are smart, meticulous and hard-working. How will we strive to make it a level-playing field? By simply being dedicated to our professions. I love being a filmmaker; I am always going to be on the crease. As a woman, I seek more women to work with because I like working with them. I just had four girls in the crew of my first film Dushman (1998). On Qarib Qarib Singlle, I had 15 in a crew of

120. Now, why should there not be more women on a film set?

A Bombay Times feature revolving around female cinematographers threw light on their professional hazards. Cinematographer Sunita Radia told us about a review that praised her work, but addressed her as Sunit Radia, assuming that the cinematographer was a man. That’s an example of how deep-rooted and gender-specific the perception is for certain film-related professions. Now, won’t changing this be a long battle?

T: I remember, Reese Witherspoon had said that the glass ceiling wasn’t created by women. While I don’t mind taking on the responsibility to break it, why is it my responsibility solely to do so?

N: It’s not a man versus woman thing. It’s a larger issue that deals with conditioning and that will take some time to change. Women are conditioned to take the shorter end of the stick. We also have to work on our confidence and tell ourselves that it’s okay to dream, seek pleasure, and take home our due. We are always hesitant and guilty about what we do or don’t do. As mothers, we are always on the home-or-work crossroad. Once you become a mother, just about everyone wants to know where you are planning to leave your child when you are at work. Even women make you feel guilty, as much as men do. So, I don’t want to use the word fight, but we have to work at it. It takes one generation to change things. When Ashwiny’s kids grow up, it will be normal for her daughter to have late hours and her son will not judge the women in his life for making their choices.

A: We’re always being scrutinised — right from our homes. We’re conditioned to overthink. Sometimes, it helps to think like a man. They don’t feel guilty if they are late. It doesn’t make me a bad mother if I have had late hours. This yin and yang phenomena has come in only now. For generations, women have successfully handled careers and homes. My biggest inspiration is my house-help. We’re still privileged but they’re not and they still do a lot.

N: I find it amusing to be called a great multi-tasker. That is not an award that I really want. I want to be able to shut off everything and focus the way a man does, which will happen when they share home responsibilities. In a lot of our feminist movements, most of the work has focussed on women who are questioning, shouting slogans and doing the drills, but not enough has been done with men. They have to be taught to not feel threatened by a woman’s presence, feel okay about crying and not feel henpecked if they listen to their women.

Male actors who work with a woman director are often asked ‘Female director ke saath kaam karke kaisa laga’. Even Ashwiny’s husband, director Nitesh Tiwari was asked how it was taking directions from her since she was directing Bareilly Ki Barfi, penned by him.Does the sexist undertone of such questions annoy you?

A: Why just that? I have often been asked that if you stay out, bacchon ko home-work kaun karata hai. When Nitesh says that he gets it done, it shuts people up. Maybe, they don’t expect that answer. It annoys me that they’re not as interested in the film as they are in how I manage home and work.

T: That’s cool. Let them ask. This question used to piss me off initially and I would wonder why no one ever asks an actor how it was to work with a male director. I’ve realised that the reason it’s not asked is that everyone knows how it is to work with them.

N: Manto was Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s second film with me. Whenever he was asked, he said, ‘For me, it’s my director’s word. It doesn’t matter if it’s a he or a she.’ On the set, he said, “Aap jo bolte ho main kar deta hoon. Kuch aur filmein hoti hain jahan dimaag lagana padta hai kyunki pata nahi kya karva rahe hain aur kyun.’ There is a sense of submission here and also a rapport. With women directors, actors tend to have a different bonding. Age, and sometimes, the fact that I have been before the camera, comes in handy. I’ve worked with men and women directors. With women, there’s warmth, eye for detail and even things like menstruation are discussed freely.

A: Besides, we don’t have bro-gangs; we involve everyone when we’re at work. Our reactions are instinctive and our intelligence is driven by emotions.

It’s felt that women have always had it tougher than their male counterparts to get their first films off the ground. Is that a myth or a reality?

A: I don’t think I got the help from Aanand L Rai’s company for Nil Battey Sannata, because I am a woman. I got the help because he loved the story I was attempting to say.

N: I think it is still difficult. Just the fact that you take up positions, presumably belonging to a man, can make it a tad uneasy. Until recently, women couldn’t become make-up artists. How archaic is that? We are so educated today that no one says, ‘Oh, you are a woman, and so…’ It would have been easier to tackle a direct attack like that which comes from a sexist, misogynistic character. Since the attacks are indirect, we have learnt to subtly deal with them.

Could you please elaborate?

N: You can’t pin-point it, but you can feel it. At times, you sense that you wouldn’t be spoken to in a certain manner if you were a man. I felt this more while making Firaaq. If I raised a concern more than a few times, I was told to ‘Stop whining and complaining’. As directors helming projects, hierarchically, we’re at the top end of the ladder. We’re more collaborative as creatures; we seek opinions, we are okay with being vulnerable and a little low on confidence at times. Men can easily be assertive, but if we do that, it’s labelled as throwing our weight around. We’re constantly reminded that we’re women, which is not easy to negotiate. A: Although I have never faced something like this in my corporate jobs, I was advised against hiring girl assistants for Nil Battey Sannata. I was told they may not be able to handle the crowd on the set, but they did their job well. So, it should be about capabilities not the gender. I have to walk into the room as an equal. If I am dumb, it will come across, but don’t label me one because I am a woman. Often, line producers call me ‘sir’ because they’re so used to taking orders from male directors.

N: The line-producers in smaller cities look at my male colleagues while talking to me. This doesn’t happen in urban setups like Mumbai. People here are more used to women being in commanding positions; the story is different outside our metros. These are problems we have to tackle while making our first few films.

T: The difference in approach is a cultural thing. Humour comes in handy while dealing with such situations. But to add a dimension here, I think more resistance comes for female stories. God forbid, if it doesn’t work at the box office, everything is pushed on the backburner. Now, we’re getting into a space where we don’t have to cast an A-list hero for a female story.

At the time when I started out, we had to have a role for an Alist hero, even for a story led by a female character. By doing that, you go wrong at the script level itself, but you have to do it for the sake of the film. Today, for a film with an A-list actress in the lead, you won’t be forced to have a male A-lister.

But most A-list actors wouldn’t be keen to work in a film that has a lesser part for him to play…

N: You have to get an actor who is not A-list. I have been asked several times as to why I have made a film about a man when I talk so much about women. Why a film on Saadat Hasan Manto and not Ismat Chugtai? The reason is I was more impacted by him than her! A film having a female gaze is different from a film that has a central character who is a woman. People easily confuse these two and assume there may not be much for an A-list hero to do. How you deal with the characters in a film is what it all boils down to. Even if they make a female-centric film in mainstream Hindi cinema, it doesn’t always have a feminist angle. It’s actually more misogynistic.

A: The problem lies with us. We dissect our work more than the audience. Yeh female-driven film hai, yeh masala film hai. The audience sees a movie as a movie. As a fraternity, we compartmentalise things. For years, people didn’t realise that Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Love In The Time Of Cholera, a quintessential love story with a female gaze, was the work of a man. Similarly, the gaze of a film has nothing to do with the gender of the director or the characters of the story.

What apart from casting impacts a female-centric film?

T: The distinguishing factor is the budget, which is still decided on the basis of the hero. Budget is calculated on the assumption that a male star’s film will bring more money on the table. A large part of the audience even today goes for a hero-centric film because this is a world wanting to see a male story. A Hindi movie with the biggest female star will be way lower in budget than a film with a male star.

N: We have built heroes in a way that we haven’t built heroines. We have usually seen them as the love interests of heroes. There are exceptions but this practice has existed for ages now. If you argue too much, you will be subtly told to shut up. These boundaries of perception will break with time, when more women start making more movies.

Also, despite the variety in the repertoire of female filmmakers, the perception is that they can only make serious films.

T: It’s conscious labelling that people do which is also very limiting. Right in this room, you have three women and we have all made distinctly different films. Farah Khan, Zoya Akhtar and Reema Kagti occupy different ends of the spectrum… N: Someone who watched Manto told me that had a man directed it, the film would have been very different. The stories that I have depicted in the film are very sexual in the way they describe things. I am sure even if Manto had wanted to shoot them, he wouldn’t do it in a manner that the stories focussed mainly on sex; he, too, would have shifted their focus. There is not one way to make a film and that applies to both genders. Yes, I am comfortable with the stereotype that I can only make serious films. No point trying to battle that. People say that I can be very funny, but when I ask them if they’d cast me in a comedy, they look away. Now, isn’t the line of thought very clear?

A: If we are aggressive, we are seen as witches with claws. Men have two sides to their personalities, so do we, but we are told that we’re being aggressive. If a man does it, then they say that he knows what he wants. If we know our mind, it is a problem.

In over 100 years of cinema, women are still fighting to find their voices in the film industry, irrespective of their backgrounds and skill sets. What do you think you can do to make it easier for the next generation of women to rise and shine?

T: When I hear a young girl is aspiring to make movies, I advise her to do it. Men and women both don’t have it easy, so why give up? Also, I’ll work towards increasing the number of women in my crew. The change we want won’t occur magically.

N: I’ve virtually been a fringe-dweller in this industry.

From where I see it, younger girls are taking less bullshit, while we as the older generation still look for ways to negotiate our space. Frances McDormand, at the Oscar ceremony, insisted on a clause for inclusion — a rider that will make it necessary for teams to include women across departments. Tanuja’s thought was spot on, that people will have to actively seek female talent in every space. If an A-lister creates the inclusion rider, what is seen as dispensable today, will become a necessity tomorrow.

A: A man in power should learn to congratulate and appreciate his female colleagues for what they achieve.

Sadly, it doesn’t happen too often, but it must.


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Pakistan’s ‘good’ and ‘bad’ feminisms #SundayReading


The changing – and competing – meanings of feminism in Pakistan.

Transgressing Boundaries, an art installation by Karachi-based artist Nisha Pinjani, depicts several women in various positions all tied together by their hair. A thick black braid grows out of each woman’s head and proceeds to get in every woman’s way. In binding them together, the braid also creates divisions; it curls itself around their feet, chains their ankles, weighs down on their backs and prevents them from getting too close to one another. Each woman stops mid-action for the fear of crossing over the boundaries the braid has created. The braid mediates them. It keeps them in place.

It is impossible not to stop and think about these boundaries, and how they sum up the state of feminism in Pakistan, a term that presumably liberates but in practice can also serve to bind – and limit – Pakistani women. In a country where ‘feminist’ has historically been used as a slur and where few women in the public eye identified as feminists at all, several celebrities today openly identify as feminists. Negative connotations around ‘feminism’ have somewhat dissipated, but there still exists a general anxiety about the word in Pakistan and a desire, even amongst those who embrace the term, to qualify their use of the word ‘feminist.’

The ‘F’ word

During a television interview for the BBC Asian Network in March 2018, when the popular Pakistani actor Sanam Saeed was asked if she was a feminist, she replied, “We are feminists. We do believe in the equal rights of men and women, the pay structure, particularly in work.” But despite being a feminist, she added, she did not support “man-hating, bra-burning or underarm hair-growing.”

Like Saeed, Pakistan’s global icon and Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, too, admitted to initially seeing feminism as a “tricky word” in her interview with Hollywood actor Emma Watson. But she had now come to see it as “just another word for equality – it means equality and nobody would object equality.” Due to her support for girls’ education, she argued, she has always been a feminist. Though Yousafzai acknowledged that the term was controversial, she did not explain why this was the case.

So why is it still so contentious to call oneself a feminist in Pakistan? Momina Mustehsan – a musician who made it to the BBC’s list of 100 Influential Women in 2017 and has been part of numerous UN Women campaigns – answered this question in a video she released earlier this year on feminism in Pakistan. Mustehsan claims that the term feminism has been widely misunderstood in Southasia as a woman’s decision to “wear fewer clothes, to renounce her culture and traditions, and that it’s synonymous with immorality.” Instead, she describes an alternative feminism for the country, one based on productive endeavour. Feminists, she argues, should channel their energy into women’s education and their ability to contribute to society. Feminism should not lead to Pakistani women renouncing their culture and traditions, but should instead allow for women to become equal and productive, while remaining staunchly ‘Pakistani’.

But what are the cultural politics through which this new feminism is mediated? If feminism means equality, then it transitions from being a ‘tricky word’ into a more acceptable term. It becomes a cause that nobody can object to, under which figures such as Yousafzai can continue to support equality and female education. However, what then happens to the feminisms and feminists who are less conciliatory in tone and more radical in their understanding of society?

Colonised women

This question is not unique to the Pakistani experience, but is central to the cultural politics that runs through all of Southasia. In Colonialism, Nationalism and Colonised Women: The contest in India, historian Partha Chatterjee looks at the role of women within the Indian nationalist movement. Nationalism offered a way out of colonialism, which was built around a separation of culture into two spheres: the material and the spiritual. To overcome colonial domination, the colonised would have to imitate their masters in the material sphere. But the spiritual sphere was sacred; it was what kept the East distinct from the West. This discourse on nationalism had a far more powerful social analogue: between the outer and the inner, writes Chatterjee. The outer, or outside, was the sphere of men while the inner, the house, was represented by women. To the nationalist mind, the world was where the coloniser had won, but what could not be colonised was home, which embodied “the distinctive and superior spiritual culture” of the East.

The nationalist paradigm was not a rejection of modernity but allowed for a selective approach to it, in a manner not unlike Mustehsan’s or Yousufzai’s as they attempt to define a feminism for Pakistan. For instance, while it was inevitable that women would enter the material sphere (for education or work), it was emphasised that they must not lose their spiritual virtues. The new Indian woman, in the nationalist ideal, was distinguished from “common women who were coarse, loud, vulgar, quarrelsome, devoid of superior moral sense, sexually promiscuous,” writes Chatterjee.

In a spirit eerily similar to how Mustehsan describes productive feminist work, postcolonial nationalism claimed it could also reform the common woman – maidservants, peddlers, prostitutes. “Once the essential femininity of women was fixed in terms of certain culturally visible spiritual qualities,” Chatterjee explains, “they could go to school, travel in public conveyance, watch public entertainment programs and in time even take up employment outside the home.” These spiritual qualities were made visible through their dress, social demeanour and religiosity. Therefore, the concerns surrounding women’s education, employment and respectability are hardly new ones. And they are clearly not concerns that are specific to feminism.

Increasingly, however, these concerns are framed as the ones that ‘good’ Pakistani feminists should be speaking out for. A ‘good’ Pakistani feminist embodies ideals that are supported by dominant social and cultural institutions and validates pre-existing notions of what is ‘culturally appropriate’. She repeatedly clarifies that feminism is no more than a synonym for equality and actively chooses not to support disruptive feminists and their campaigns.

This is a feminism that panders to existing narratives and does not seek to create new ones. It is of limited use because it is a feminism that is inherently anxious, mirroring the worries around defining what it means to be a ‘good’ Pakistani woman. ‘Good’ Pakistani feminists do not transgress boundaries. The braid, as thick and unrelenting as ever, coils around them and they must contort themselves into various positions for fear of tripping over.

Photo: Aurat March 2018 / Facebook

Photo: Aurat March 2018 / Facebook

‘Bad’ Pakistani feminists

Perhaps, what is most telling is when this culturally appropriate feminism has to contend with feminists that are culturally disruptive. When Qandeel Baloch, a social-media star and model best known for her sexually suggestive videos, was murdered, Mustehsan took to Twitter to write “#QandeelBalouch was not an epitome of women empowerment. If anything, she was portraying the opposite: the only asset a woman has is her body”. The fact that Baloch identified as a feminist did not matter to Mustehsan at all, because she did not contribute to Pakistani feminism in the ways that Mustehsan deems necessary.

In contrast, the 2018 Aurat March (or Women’s March), organised by an independent group of feminists largely based in Karachi and Lahore, did not concern itself with defining what Pakistani feminism should and should not look like. The organisers’ decision to call the protest Aurat March is significant. The word ‘aurat’, referring to women, often suggests weakness, docility or a compromising nature. Organising an Aurat March allows for a reimagining of the word aurat, moving away from its deferential connotations.

On 8 March 2018, women in Karachi and Lahore rallied together with a series of demands which included not only an end to violence against women and increased economic opportunities, but also reproductive justice. According to the organisers, over three thousand women were in attendance. Neither Mustehsan nor Yousafzai publicly acknowledged the Aurat March despite its impressive turnout and significant press coverage.

But it would be inaccurate to say that ‘bad’ Pakistani feminism merely concerns itself with performance and rhetoric. The protestors at the Aurat March called for a resolution to many of the issues that ‘good’ Pakistani feminists believe to be important: jobs, education and respect. However, the march went beyond these demands and emphasised how economic and legal restraints on women are tied to politics of the body. Hence, the organisers of the Aurat March brought women together in a public space, where many – from activists to health workers and university students – were given a chance to speak onstage. Women were encouraged to bring posters, shout slogans and dance in public, to disrupt cultural expectations of how they should be in public spaces.

The rally also paid homage to activists of past generations who occupied public space as an act of resistance. In the 1980’s the Women’s Action Forum, founded in 1981, took to the streets to challenge martial law, with several protestors infamously proclaiming they were against “men, money, mullahs and the military”. In Sindh, resistance movements such as the Sindhiyani Tehreek have facilitated women’s occupation of public space for years, and women have protested in public against honour killings and forced conversion as well as unequal distribution of land. But such narratives of resistance have largely been erased from public memory, partially because they do not align with cultural expectations of Pakistani womanhood. Today, these are not the women who are generally thought of as the frontrunners of feminism in Pakistan. ‘Good’ Pakistani feminists do not publically cite them as inspirational nor do they emphasise how integral they have been to the feminist movement in Pakistan.

One poster from the march caused an uproar both on and off social media precisely for defying those expectations. Emblazoned in black upon a bold orange background, the poster read “Khud khaana garam karlo” – heat up your own food – an unflinchingly feminist statement that disrupts the stereotypes of a woman’s primary role: a caregiver. In an article for Dawn Images, the feminist who came up with the slogan said that it was “a demand encompassing many realms beyond just men heating up their own food. It’s a call to change the very nature of male-female relationship in our society.” The poster is not simply commenting on the division of domestic labour but also calling for a radical shift in the cultural expectations of a woman’s duties. ‘Good’ Pakistani feminism would say that women can do it all: work, raise a family and make dinner. This is an argument that simply validates the notion that men are the main breadwinners and that when they come home, to “the inner” as Chatterjee would say, then anything they do to help is an act of benevolence.

But men should heat up their own food, the poster reasons, because women have other things to do. ‘Bad’ Pakistani feminists know that the personal – who heats up the food, who stands in the kitchen after a long day of work, who sets the table and serves dinner – is in fact political. Khud khaana garam karlo serves as an example of how a feminist demand that requires such a shift is met with vitriol and scorn. The poster transgresses a boundary in a manner that ‘good’ Pakistani feminism simply cannot justify.

For Sheema Kermani, a classical dancer, activist and one of the organisers of the Aurat March, the point of feminism is to “link the personal to the political and to the social, economic and sexual.” When asked about some of the scorn the march has received, she responded: “If people are still talking about it and if it managed to provoke dialogue and debate then this is a very positive reaction.”

In 2015, a group of young feminists residing in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad started Girls at Dhabas, a feminist collective which encourages women to access public spaces such as dhabas and parks. The collective regularly organises public events such as bike rallies, reading circles and group walks. Girls at Dhabas also runs a Facebook page that encourages women and non-male bodies to send in pictures of themselves spending time in public spaces. Over the years, the Facebook page has become an archive of Pakistani women from various parts of the country walking around, stopping for tea, playing cricket and using public transport.

Since the collective does not curate its submissions and posts regardless of how ‘culturally appropriate’ the content is, their Facebook page is often attacked by those who take issue with women loitering in public space. Interestingly, the prevailing sentiment of those who do not support the collective is not that women should not have rights, but that feminism should be about the very things that prominent voices like Mustehsan and Yousufzai emphasise: education, employment and respect. In contrast, culturally disruptive feminists and their work consciously creates new narratives for Pakistani women that go beyond what it means to be a ‘good’ Pakistani woman or a productive member of society. They encourage women to loiter, to seek pleasure, to rally behind each other. But they also ask women to be wary of terms such as tradition and culture, and to be critical of the notions that have historically been used to contain women; modesty, honour and respect.

They have also consciously chosen to organise outside institutions for the most part. Girls at Dhabas, for example, is a collective and not an organisation. The Aurat March was organised by an independent group of Pakistani feminists. Hence, there is little to no institutional support or mediation of their organising. Many would say that this limits their power, that this means their activism is confined to social media. However, the turnout at the Aurat March is proof enough that ‘bad’ Pakistani feminism is not limited to or by the internet. Organising outside institutions may mean less funding, but it does not prevent feminists from opening up the possibilities of what feminism can be in Pakistan.

As feminism becomes an increasingly acceptable part of the Pakistani lexicon, reflecting upon what it is and can do is vital. Feminism encourages us to look at the world critically and to question the structures that bind us. Depending on the benevolence of existing institutions produces, at best, feminist talking points but ‘good’ Pakistani feminism cannot fundamentally change society. A polite negotiation will not lead to transgressing the boundaries that continue to control, and domesticate, women. ‘Bad’ Pakistani feminists are aware of this. They want more than a revision of the terms and conditions of Pakistani womanhood. The rest of the country will just have to catch up.

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