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Archives for : Violence against Women

In Pakistan, Lady Health Worker (LHWs) Get Their Issues Across #Vaw

Picture caption: Shama Gulani, General Secretary of ASLHWA addresses the public meeting in Karachi

On 30 January, the All Sindh Lady Health Workers and Employees Association, PSI and Workers Education and Research Organisation organised a public meeting in Karachi on “Socio Economic Impacts of Delayed Wages on LHWs and their families” and “Sexual Harassment of Lady Health Workers on the Job and Field” to share the findings of two studies to be published very soon.

Researchers Moniza Inam, senior journalist from daily DAWN and Sohail Javed, from the Applied Economics Research Center of the University of Karachi, presented striking findings of a research that looked at two critical aspects of LHWs lives and work.

Lady Health Workers (LHWs) are part of the National Programme for Family Planning and Primary Healthcare, started in 1994. Under this program, women provide family planning, pre-natal and neonatal care, immunization services and other key child and women health services in the community. It has been shown that maternal and infant mortality rates are lower in areas where LHWs are active.

Findings include that 63%of the respondents are the sole breadwinners of the family. However, they reported an average monthly income of PKR 15,245 (137 euros), whereas their monthly expenditures stood at PKR 29,567 (265 euros). Uncertain job descriptions, long working hours and erratic traveling are other issues faced on a regular basis. Wages are generally not paid on time, and the All Sindh Lady Health Workers and Employees Association (ASLEHWA) has been instrumental in pressurizing the government in releasing salaries.

The programme is a major employer of women in the non-agricultural sector in rural areas. There are 125,000 LHW in Pakistan, out of which 22,576 are in Sindh.

Further due to the fact that their work makes them step over the gender division of public and private space, LHW face humiliation and verbal abuse by members of the communities they serve, domestic violence at home and sexual harassment at work by their colleagues in the health system and in the field by members of the community.

Most of these instances go unreported due to the fear of repercussions. In many instances, LHW reported being worried that their families would ask them to leave the job or even disown them. Cases of extreme violence include orchestrated murders by religious fundamentalist groups, estimated at 22 deaths since 2012.

Recommendations included revising salaries structures commensurate with qualifications, awareness campaigns among LHWs and their colleagues in the health system on laws and mechanisms relative to the protection against sexual harassment. Mechanisms should also be set up in the districts to monitor violence and sexual harassment cases by community members.

For more information, contact Mir Zulfiqar at WERO [[email protected]], or Susana Barria at PSI [[email protected]].

Picture caption: Shama Gulani, General Secretary of ASLHWA addresses the public meeting in Karachi.

http://world-psi.org/en/pakistan-community-health-workers-get-their-issues-across

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From DU to Jodhpur, there’s a grand design to silence dissent

JNUTA STATEMENT ON VIOLENCE AND INTIMIDATION IN DELHI UNIVERSITY AND OTHER UNIVERSITIES (23 FEBRUARY 2017)

The JNU Teachers Association condemns in strongest terms the violence and hooliganism perpetrated in Delhi University by the ABVP over the last two days, reported widely in the media. What is also worrying, along with the violence unleashed is, that by all accounts, the police seemed unwilling to control the violence and remained a mute spectator. The events at Delhi University are part of a larger pattern by which the university as a space for freedom and the adventure of ideas is being attacked by.

The Delhi University Incidents
The latest event in this series of attacks on the universities in Delhi University unfolded in two related episodes. Two JNU students, Umar Khalid and Shehla Rashid, were invited to speak at a seminar on “Cultures of Protest”, organized by the English department of Ramjas College. On 21st February, the seminar was not allowed to begin and hooligans went on a rampage: stones were thrown on the seminar hall, the electricity connection to the hall was cut, the students and teachers were locked inside. The college principle was forced to cancel the talks by both JNU students, as the police expressed an inability to guarantee their safety and protests, in what is a serious infringement on their fundamental right to speak and express their thoughts and opinions in any part of the country.

The second episode in this event of ABVP orchestrated violence happened yesterday (22nd February). Some students and teachers of Delhi university had given a call for a march from Ramjas College to Maurice Nagar police station to protest the previous day’s violence and the police inaction and to file FIR against the perpetrators of the violence. After 1 pm on the 22nd, when the protesters had gathered near Ramjas college, violence was again unleashed by the ABVP that went on for hours. Many students and teachers of the university were roughed up, media persons were attacked and their equipment damaged. In these incidents, some of our colleagues, including Dr. Prasanta Chakravarty of the English Department, were injured and had to be taken to the hospital. By most media accounts. it is also clear that police, while present at the site, appeared to unwilling to take any action against the perpetrators of the violence, and chose to look the other way most of the time.

The grand design
In the last couple of years, the universities in India have witnessed a consistent pattern of attack on the universities as spaces of the adventure of ideas and freedom of thought by the votaries of Hindutva wherein the student wing of RSS, the ABVP plays the role of their foot soldiers. This was seen in Hyderabad Central University, Jadavpur University, JNU, the Central University of Haryana, Mahendragarh, JNV University Jodhpur, and latest in Delhi University. In a similar incident, Dr. Rajshree Ranawat of the English Department of JNVU, Jodhpur, is being hounded by the same Hindutva fascists along with our colleague Prof. Nivedita Menon. Dr. Ranawat has been suspended by the Jodhpur University. Her “crime” is that she had invited Prof. Menon to speak at a national seminar. In a similar incident last year, the students and teachers of the Central University of Haryana, Mahendragarh, were hounded, harassed and threatened for performing a play by Mahashweta Devi! What is common in all these incidents is that all cultural and intellectual programmes, all thoughts, ideas, and forms of expression perceived to be objectionable by the Hindutva forces are threatened and in effect forcibly stopped using violence, threat, and the use of various means of intimidation. As a matter of fact, any ideological-political formation that doesn’t agree with their ideas of nationalism and patriotism feels threatened by the continuously haunting spectre of being called “anti-national.” This is an extreme form of intolerance that needs to be resisted and rebuffed by all means at our disposal as a responsible academic community committed to the democratic pluralism guaranteed in the constitution.

Another worrying aspect of this pattern is the state’s abdication of its responsibility as a protector of constitutional rights of the citizens. The protection of citizen’s fundamental rights should be the default position of the state authorities. Unfortunately, in most of these case, what we have seen is just the opposite of this as the police, in most cases, have miserably failed to perform its constitutional duty by either remaining mute spectator to the unfolding violence and intimidation or as seen in some cases, by siding with the perpetrators. Institutions of higher education in fact need special protection as they are spaces for the adventure and experiments in ideas, and freedom of thought and discussion is the very prerequisite of research and experiment in ideas.

Like teachers across the country, the JNUTA finds that there is a grand design underlying this orchestration of violence against freedom of speech, thought, and expression—the extermination of the very idea of university. The JNUTA expresses its profound solidarity with the teachers and students of the Delhi University and stands in unequivocal support for the defence of our fundamental rights.

Ayesha Kidwai
President, JNUTA
Pradeep K. Shinde
Secretary, JNUTA

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Naliya gang rape: Victim faces FIR; govt orders judicial probe into case #Vaw #WTFnews

Hiral Dave
Hindustan Times, Ahmedabad
Naliya gang rape

The victim was allegedly gang raped by nine men, including BJP members, in Naliya town of Gujarat’s Kutch.(Representative image)

A 24-year-old woman, who was allegedly gang raped by nine men, including BJP members, in Naliya town of Gujarat’s Kutch, has been accused of criminal breach of trust and cheating by her former husband.

The first class judicial magistrate SS Brahmbhatt asked Gujarat police earlier this week to file an FIR against the woman under sections 406 (criminal breach of trust), 419 (cheating by personation) and 504 (insult with intent to provoke breach of the peace) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) based on a complaint filed by her ex-husband.

Kalpesh Momaya, a resident of Kutch, had moved court and alleged that his former wife cheated him by decamping with jewellery and cash to the tune of Rs 25,000 a day after they got married on January 31, 2016. They got divorced the next month and she remarried her first husband.

Momaya has also named the parents of the woman, a resident of Mumbai, and one Ismile Bhukhara of Kothara village in Abdasa taluka of Kutch in the complaint.

“An FIR will be registered against the rape victim once we receive the written copy of the court order,” Kutch (West) superintendent of police Makrand Chauhan told Hindustan Times.

The gang rape is also being investigated by Kutch (West) police under the supervision of CID (crime).

A couple of days after the local court’s order, the Gujarat government on Wednesday announced to hold a judicial probe into the rape case.

“We are committed to ensuring that all guilty are punished and no one is spared,” chief minister Vijay Rupani said in the state assembly after opposition Congress members voiced the demand, forcing frequent adjournments of the House.

The Congress has tried to corner the Bharatiya Janata Party over the gang rape case as four of the nine accused are BJP members, including two councillors.

 

According to the FIR filed by the woman in January this year at Naliya police station, she was raped on different occasions for more than a year since August 2015. She had come to her mother’s house at Kothara village from Mumbai looking for work. She got a job at an LPG distribution agency in Naliya run by BJP member Shantilal Solanki.

She alleged that in August 2015, Solanki called her to his home to give her salary. He allegedly spiked her cold drink and assaulted her with the help of two others who took turns to rape her.

They also filmed the sexual assault and used the tapes to blackmail her and rape her multiple times. She also alleged that Solanki along with 65 other men ran a sex racket in which they had exploited at least 35 women.

Besides Solanki, BJP workers Govind Parumalani, Ajit Ramvani and Vasant Bhanushali have been named in the FIR. Ramvani and Bhanushali are councillors of Gandhidham municipality. All four have been suspended from the primary membership of the BJP.

The case took a political turn after Congress hit the streets demanding a fair probe into the incident.

The Congress, which has claimed to have sex CDs of BJP leaders in connection with the same case, took out a rally from Naliya to Gandhinagar this week. The opposition party has also frequently disrupted assembly proceedings till the announcement of a judicial probe.http://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/naliya-gang-rape-victim-faces-fir-govt-orders-judicial-probe-into-case/story-pICekM9MU459EngV1mDs6H.html

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Unwarranted Hysterectomies- Would authorities help if Men’s Genitalia Had Been Removed?

Docs Remove Women’s Uteruses for Profit, Authorities Refuse to Help. Would it be Different if Men’s Genitalia Had Been Removed?

By Ila Ananya

Kalaburagi

Photo courtesy: Vijayakumar Seethappa.

On 6th February, around 600 Dalit and Lambadi women from different tandas in Aland, Kalaburagi, Chittapur and Chincholi districts in Karnataka gathered outside the office of the Kalaburagi Deputy Commissioner (DC).

Most of these women were victims of unwarranted hysterectomies — the complete removal of the uterus — performed by doctors in private hospitals. The women had been conned by these doctors, who diagnosed a risk of cancer for problems like irregular menstrual cycles, white discharge or pain in the lower abdomen. An urgent hysterectomy, these doctors said, was the only way their lives could be saved. Hysterectomies had become a business, and women’s bodies were the new market.

On Monday the 6th, the protesting women were angry and aggressive. They demanded to meet the DC, and when told that he was ‘out on business’, the women decided to storm the office. “It almost became a law and order situation,” says Akhila Vasan, state convener of the Karnataka Janarogya Chalavali (KJC), a group of public health activists. “But because of the aggressive pressure, the government responded.” The Additional Regional Commissioner assured the women that the doctors would now be booked with criminal cases immediately, and hospitals that had performed such hysterectomies would also be immediately closed. Additionally, the women would also be given compensation after a committee was formed to identify the victims.

Vasan says that the matter had first come to light back in 2015 during KJC’s ‘Health as Human Rights’ workshop in Gulbarga. One of the activists found that women in the villages were talking of a big “bimaari” (illness) in the villages, where their doctors told them they were at the risk of cancer when they went to them with any gynecological problems. “You have had children,” they were told, “so why do you need this organ?”

IMG-20170218-WA0003

Photo courtesy: Vijayakumar Seethappa.

6th February was the second time these women came together to protest this injustice and exploitation. Their first protest, also in front of the DC’s office, had been a year-and-a-half earlier, demanding an enquiry into mass unwarranted hysterectomies that had been performed in the area. The KJC had submitted a report while a second report was submitted by a committee set up by the Commissioner of Health and Family Welfare. In both reports, 98 percent of the 707 women spoken to reported undergoing hysterectomies in private hospitals. Thirty eight hospitals were named. What was additionally shocking was how young these women were — 65 percent were less than 35 years old, while 25 percent were less than 30 years old.

In its fact-finding report, the KJC analysed the women’s medical records and whether they had really needed the hysterectomies. They found that, besides the unnecessary and cruel operations, no medical procedure was followed even in cases where women had died of hysterectomies. There was no post-mortem done, the body was cremated in a suspicious manner and families were bribed to stay silent. Between 25th January and 2ndFebruary, 2017, KJC had campaigned in 35 tandas showing women the state’s reports about hysterectomies, asking them what they thought should be done. This was when the women decided to go on an indefinite protest.

Also Read:  Women Out and About in Hyderabad, You Will Have to Cross Your Legs and Wait to Pee

Till date, no FIRs or cases have been filed against these criminal doctors and hospitals. “The reports have been with you for one-and-a-half years, but what have you done,” Vasan describes the women as asking. She sounds furious when she says that private hospitals in India enjoy maximum impunity.

Maitreyi Krishnan, an advocate who has been helping women in Kalaburagi file complaints, says that they had first approached the police to file an FIR a year-and-a-half ago. No FIR was registered and the police didn’t take suo moto cognisance either. The hospitals continued to function and the doctor’s licenses were not revoked. Next, the women had approached the Kalaburagi bench in the Karnataka High Court. On 5thJanuary 2017, the bench had finally issued a notice to the Health Department demanding a response.

Women protesting at Kalaburagi. Photo courtesy Vinay Sreenivasa, ALF.

Photo courtesy: Vijayakumar Seethappa.

Amidst all this, Vasan says, some of the women have been threatened to withdraw their complaints — they speculate that the rich privileged doctors are behind this. According to Narendra Gupta, who filed a PIL on unwarranted hysterectomies in the Supreme Court back in 2013, many such accused doctors have tried to bribe protesting women and used local politicians to exert pressure on them to withdraw their cases.

Hysterectomies have many health impacts. Sapna Desai, Health and Research Coordinator at Sewa Co-Operative, a women’s organisation that operates a community-based health insurance scheme, says that the procedure results not just in early menopause but also causes a decrease in oestrogen production and increases the risk of cardio-vascular disease and osteoporosis. The women in Kalaburagi were never told of these consequences.

Krishnan says that either the Medical Council (a statutory body regulating medical colleges and doctors registration) or the consumer court can be approached in such cases, but neither is a strong option. “In consumer courts, the only possible result is compensation for the victims. The doctors face no other punishment, even if their actions have resulted in death,” says Vasan.

On the other hand, she says that if the police are required to file an FIR for medical negligence under the current law, the complainants first need to get the approval of the Medical Council. The next barrier comes here –Medical Council enquiries are conducted by peers. “If members to the Medical Council are elected by their own fraternity, do you think they are going to act against them?” Vasan asks.

In Kalaburagi, too, the KJC first approached the Karnataka Medical Council (KMC) with a fact-finding report about a case where a young woman had died on the operation theatre table during a hysterectomy. After spending a year on the case, the KJC was dismissed on flimsy grounds two months ago. “The KMC allowed the doctor to go free even though there was proof that the doctor had threatened the victim’s family and bribed her husband with Rs 3 lakh,” Vasan says. According to her, the doctor had got the husband to say that he didn’t want to press charges. The husband said that he believed that the cause of her death was anaphylactic shock. The KMC dismissed the case without even calling for the Karnataka Women’s Commission’s video proof, in which the man supposedly said he had been bribed and made to sign a paper without knowing its contents.

Also Read:  Our Blind Spots on Rural Pregnancy in India Revealed, One Video at a Time
DCIM100GOPROG0033970.

Photo courtesy: Vijayakumar Seethappa.

Such unwarranted hysterectomies have been happening across the country. Jashodhara Dasgupta of SAHAYOG, a voluntary organisation working on women’s health, says that hysterectomies have also been wrongfully carried out in other parts of India as well — and sometimes these scams even deploy government health schemes. The Rashtriya Swasthya Bhima Yojna, a government health scheme for unorganised workers in India, for instance, provides Rs 30,000 for a family of five. But the money can only be used if patients are admitted in hospitals. Between 2010 and 2012, Dasgupta says, many women were diagnosed with great urgency that they absolutely had to have hysterectomies. The doctors then admitted them into hospitals and charged them the full Rs 30,000 available on the scheme.

Similarly, hysterectomies became a scam under the Aarogyasri scheme in 2008. The scheme itself was started in undivided Andhra Pradesh in 2006. SV Kameswari, from Life-HRG, an NGO providing basic healthcare services in Medak, Telangana, found that 163 hysterectomies had been performed by private hospitals (as compared to eight in government hospitals) in Medak alone, between October 2008 and June 2009. In private hospitals, the discharge summary for the women was found to be mostly blank with no information about the procedure done or follow-up instructions.

Vasan argues that we must begin to hold the state responsible for being unable to protect these women against such criminal doctors. She is hopeful that there will finally be some justice after the protest this month. However, given how reluctant the police have been to begin investigations and how slowly the legal appeal has progressed, these women worry if the Additional Regional Commissioner’s promises will hold any meaning after all.

http://theladiesfinger.com/kalaburagi-hysterectomies/

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Sexual harassment – underbelly of the Indian startup ecosystem exposed #Vaw

With the startup ecosystem polarised over the recent sexual harassment accusations by some women entrepreneurs, it is time to explore why women do not speak up. 

Women always think twice before they put anyone, especially sexual offenders, under the bus. In fact, they think thrice, four times, even five until it is so late that they talk themselves into believing that they were the ones at fault.

If you have been following the recent multiple sexual harassment episodes involving investor Mahesh Murthy reported on social media, you may have noticed the undertone of the conversations that is steering the blame squarely on the doors of these women entrepreneurs.

For those of you late to the party, here’s a quick brief. On Saturday, entrepreneur Pooja Chauhan, who is the co-founder of Vayuz, posted on her LinkedIn page saying she finally gathered the courage to make public a lewd message from Murthy as a response to her Christmas greetings. Another entrepreneur, Wamika Iyer, Founder of FrshDay.in, too shared her conversation with Murthy that had made her uncomfortable because of its implicit sexual nature.

When YourStory reached out to Wamika, she said her conversation had taken place a year ago and at that time she had reached out to various media platforms to “expose” Murthy. “No one responded to my plea then. I can understand that he is a powerful man and has a lot of influence,” she told me over a phone call from Mumbai.

While working on her startup, Wamika was looking for mentorship and had reached out to Murthy as he is a “renowned VC who offers mentorship and funding to entrepreneurs.” She described the chat conversation (screenshots below) that she had with him that not only made her “uncomfortable but also demotivated her from pursuing her dreams.”

 

But when she found no support from anyone in the media or the startup ecosystem, she decided to lie low and continue with her work. “In May, I read about a woman entrepreneur recounting a similar experience with Mahesh Murthy that was reported in a digital media,” she says, adding, “again, I reached out for my story to be covered but I was discouraged.”

Finally, on Saturday, February 12, when Pooja wrote of her experience on LinkedIn, Wamika was inspired to speak up as well. And if you have noticed in the comments that Pooja’s post received, a number of women have shared that they have been at the receiving end of a similar treatment from Mahesh Murthy.

Screenshot from the comments section of Pooja Chauhan’s post.

At the time of writing this, Murthy had apologised to Pooja, which she accepted.

Did we ask for it?

This is 2017, for God’s sake. Why are the young, independent women of today still afraid to speak out?

Still afraid that what they say will not be believed or at best be brushed off as trivial.

Last week, a young colleague sought my help regarding a voice message she had received on the night of Valentine’s Day. A male voice slurred a ‘happy Valentine’s Day’ to her. It was a recording of a few seconds, but it rang for a long time in my ear — a creepy sort of after-effect making my hair stand on end.

I was furious, but I saw that tears had welled up in her eyes. She whispered, “Did I do something wrong here?”

After the initial shock had evaporated that it was a known personality who had left the late night voice message, I attempted a weak laugh — ‘these things happen; he must be taking his chances; you know how it is; the society is more open now; there may have been cases where his advances have been reciprocated, blah, blah, blah,’ I went on. If this was my way of comforting her, it was not helping one bit. She sat there guilty-faced.

Is that all I had to say? It was almost as if I was alluding to the ‘you-must-have-asked-for-it’ argument. Making excuses for a middle-aged man sending messages to young girls in the middle of the night.

Last year, another colleague had filed an official complaint with the IIT Bombay authorities against sexual misconduct and stalking by an IItian. No action has been taken yet by the authorities, despite her outing him on social media.

What makes us — the supposedly independent and strong-willed women — to bury such incidents deep within our psyche and throw the key away? It’s like telling a man it is okay if the guy on the road punched your face because you accidentally hit his car.

A new casting couch?

At a time, when we are talking about participation of more women in the entrepreneurial ecosystem and encouraging them to dream big, incidents like these act as roadblocks. Yet, many women are so caught up battling the inherent gender biases prevalent in the system that they often ignore or brush aside cases of sexual harassment.

Should they be more worried that the investor is concerned that they will change their priority once they become mothers and neglect their business?

It is an open secret that many women entrepreneurs have been asked at investor pitches if they planned to get married anytime soon, or were planning to have a baby — as the case may be. They have had to sign difficult term sheets, more complex than their male counterparts.

Term sheets, some say, that will pale such incidents in comparison.

No wonder then, the coming out of these women has polarised opinion. One comment by a woman referred to them as complaining “school girls”, asking them to “grow up.” There are other suggestions from friends and buddies that this is Murthy merely displaying his “devil-may-care-attitude” and not many can understand his “sense of humor.”

It is clear women are not finding this funny.

Wamika asks if this is what mentorship is like in the Indian startup ecosystem. “We encourage women to fulfill their passion but if there are perverts like him, then how would women pursue their dreams? I was deeply hurt by this kind of behaviour from a senior mentor in the industry,” she says, adding, “If we do nothing about such cases and just stay calm thinking about the society, such people will continue to behave this way. It is a shame to have such experienced professionals in the VC industry, and it is our responsibility to stand up together and protest against such people and show them that money cannot buy everything.”

Murthy had since posted an unapologetic clarification on his Facebook page, which has now been pulled down. When YourStory contacted him, he said it was not deleted but had been set to ‘Friends Only’ view. Over a telephonic conversation, Murthy suggested that this was merely an opportunism displayed by the women. At the time of publishing, we had not received his email responses. However, he wrote back saying that he had instead written a piece on Medium “that should more than reasonably answer your questions.”

Anahita Thukral, Manager at Axis Capital, commented that his explanation reminded her of the time when Trump’s “grab them by the pussy” statement was dismissed as locker-room talk.

“Kissing someone under a mistletoe without consent (especially someone you aren’t that intimate with) is not okay,” she notes. “To my fellow women talking about how women should ignore this kind of talk and ‘be tough’, let me remind you that we did not fight for our voices to be heard for this long just so we can put up with things that are clearly beyond the line of ‘professionalism’. Staying silent has almost never helped — maybe talking about this might actually help both sides see the other side’s point,” she adds.

Disrupt but how

The startup culture built on its inherent ‘disruptive’ nature is breaking all the old rules and rewriting new ones as it goes along. The boundary of work and personal life is dissolving. Men and women work in close proximity for long hours, chill out at bars together and it is no surprise that they may find themselves in a zone that is later difficult to navigate.

The testosterone-dominated Indian startup ecosystem that takes its smoke breaks on Twitter lets the women down badly. The boys club rules here. Now, people are suggesting that like the casting couch, there perhaps exists an ‘investing couch’ too.

Time to call out

We’ve seen this in professions like legacy media, advertising, and of course, the film and entertainment industry. Recall Tarun Tejpal, Mahmood Farooqi, or even Phaneesh Murthy. It all started with ‘harmless banter and teasing’ which quickly turned into criminal sexual offense.

Terming it foreplay, veteran journalist and author Ammu Joseph says, “Despite the relative freedom enjoyed today and the rise in consensual relationships, the sexual jokes and innuendos do not seem to have disappeared.”

She adds that often, it is a case of powerplay where the woman is forced to back off because of the status and position of those making the advances.

Adds veteran journalist Laxmi Murthy, “Men operate on a buddy system, and often in such cases make the woman look silly, making her think perhaps she needs to pull up her socks and stop complaining.” She advises that women should instead counter it in their own style. Gather enough people with same concerns and provide a reasoned argument. “Be informed and put it out there,” she adds.

Sometime ago, I watched this interesting video that explained consent in a very simple way. It says,

“If you are still struggling with consent, just imagine instead of initiating sex, you are making them a cup of tea.”

Women say that men today cannot understand the concept of consent. Sure, anyone has a right to proposition, but if it goes on persistently, despite the other party’s ‘no’, then it is a serious matter.

Legal recourse

And surprise, surprise. There is legal recourse at hand. Pointing towards the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act, 2013, lawyer Kanti Joshi, Convener, SASHA (Support Against Sexual Harassment), says,

“The aggrieved party, whether she is employed in the offender’s company or not, has the right to file a complaint to the anti-sexual harassment committee at the offender’s workplace.”

According to the law, organisations have to display the guidelines prominently and give a fair hearing to the aggrieved. In the event that the plea is not addressed to the satisfaction of the aggrieved party, she can take her complaint to the local complaints committee. However, this is easier said than done. Says Laxmi Murthy, “Most lawyers will push women to go for a criminal complaint which then becomes complicated.”

Every organisation with 10 or more employees is expected to have a committee against sexual harassment under the Vishakha Guidelines which is now the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act, 2013. Kanti says in the past three, four months, her organisation has been approached by many startups with requests to implement the provisions of the law.

It takes a lot of courage to call out a bully, especially the powerful and mighty, on a public forum. As the women say, it is always our word against theirs.

There is a Bantu word, Ilunga, that aptly captures the sentiments of the women in the startup ecosystem at present — “You are ready to forgive and forget any first abuse, tolerate it the second time, but never forgive nor tolerate on the third offense.”

https://yourstory.com/2017/02/sexual-harassment-indian-startup-ecosystem/

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Award Winning film on Gender Equality ‘Lipstick Under My Burkha’ BLOCKED by censor board #WTFnews

 Lipstick Under My Burkha has won the Oxfam Award for Best Film on Gender Equality at the Mumbai Film Festival and the Spirit of Asia Prize at the Tokyo International Film Festival.
 Prakash Jha, Prakash Jha Lipstick under my burkha, Prakash jha film denied CBFC certificate, No certificate for Prakash Jha’s Lipstick under my burkha, Konkana Sen, Rathna Pathak Shah, Konkana Sen Lipstick under my burkha,Award winning film Lipstick Under My Burkha produced by Prakash Jha was denied certification by CBFC.Lipstick Under My Burkha stars exemplary actors like Ratna Pathak Shah, Konkana Sen Sharma, Aahana Kumra and Plabita Borthakur. The film directed by Alankrita Shrivastava and produced by Prakash Jha had earlier received the Oxfam Award for Best Film on Gender Equality at the Mumbai Film Festival and Spirit of Asia Prize at Tokyo International Film Festival. The film will also be screened on February 24, 2017, at the Glasgow Film Festival. It is being applauded for the content and clear prosecution by everybody, except the Central Board of Film Certification.

That’s right. The movie has been denied release in the country because ‘the story is lady oriented and their fantasy above life’. It is unclear how the CBFC concluded that women wanting freedom, or cursing or even exploring their sexuality as a ‘fantasy’. There are ‘contanious sexual scenes and abusive words, audio pornography, and a bit sensitive touch about one particular section of society [sic]’.

Watch Video| WHAT?! CBFC Denies Certification To ‘Lipstick Under My Burkha’ For Being ‘Lady Oriented’

 

A simple plot about four women from different walks of life, living in a small town — exploring their sexuality and seeking freedom has been denied under certain guidelines like 1(i), 2(vii), 2(ix), 2(x), 2(xi), 2(xii) and 3(i). In layman’s terms, the guidelines are that human sensibilities should not be offended by vulgarity, obscenity or depravity, scenes showing sexual perversions shall be avoided and if such matters are germane to the theme they shall be reduced to the minimum and no details are shown, scenes degrading or denigrating women in any manner are also not presented.

Enraged Prakash Jha, who spoke to Mirror, said, “As a country we must encourage freedom of expression but the CBFC refusing to certify films that tell uncomfortable stories discourages filmmakers from pushing the envelope. Films should challenge the status quo which is what Lipstick Under My Burkha perhaps does and I believe our audience deserve to watch it.”

More from the world of Entertainment:

Also read | House panel questions delay in granting CBFC certificates to films

The Bollywood fraternity has also shown its support to the film. Actor Farhan Akhtar took to Twitter and wrote, “Below is the reason CBFC listed for denying #LipstickUnderMyBurkha a release. Keep your barf bag ready..” Pooja Bhatt has also said, “CBFC consists of frightened people, only interested in securing their jobs.They won’t take a stand & are happy if one approaches revising com.”

See | Celebrities show their support for Lipstick Under My Burkha

The director, Alankrita Shrivastava is currently in Glasgow, for the Glasgow Film Festival. She also tweeted the official letter they received from CBFC and finds it ironic that an award winning film is denied certification.

See | Alankrita’s Tweets

How a woman living her life on her terms, when filmed from the perspective of a woman is degrading other women is a concept that we as mere citizens, who also happen to be women might not understand. However, we have the CBFC to thank for beautifully pointing this out and for forcing us to miss, what might as well be the movie of the year.

The examining committee of the CBFC refused to certify Jha’s latest film, Lipstick Under My Burkha citing multiple reasons including abusive language and “women’s fantasies”. “The story is lady-oriented, their fantasy above life. There are contentious sexual scenes, abusive words, audio pornography and a bit sensitive touch about one particular section of society,” reads the letter from the CBFC.

The Censor Board's notice refusing certification, signed by the regional officer. It was published on an independent blog.

The Censor Board’s official notice signed by the regional officer. Credit: moifightclub, published on an independent blog.

Lipstick Under My Burkha features actors Konkona Sen Sharma, Ratna Pathak Shah, Aahana Kumra and Plait Borthakur. Set in small-town India, it chronicles the secret lives of four women trying to cull out a sense of freedom amid numerous constraints. Director Alankrita Shrivastava, who is currently at the Glasgow Film Festival for the premiere of the film on February 24 said that CBFC chief Pahlaj Nihalani had watched the film with the Revising Committee after which she was called in and informed that the committee unanimously decided to not certify the film. “It’s a feminist film with a strong female voice which challenges patriarchy. I think that’s why they don’t want to certify it. As a filmmaker, I stand by the story and will fight for it till the end,” she asserted

Early last year, after the Examining Committee had failed to arrive at a consensus on the certification of his cop-drama, Jai Gangaajal, featuring Priyanka Chopra, Prakash Jha had approached the Revising Committee which had offered him a ‘U/A’ certificate with 11 cuts, which included editing out cuss words like ‘saala’ and ‘ghanta’ which the filmmaker argued were a part of everyday conversations in the hinterlands. He refused to comply with the diktats and appealed to the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal (FCAT) that passed the film with a U/A certificate and no cuts. The National Award-winner’s battle with the Censor Board of Film Certification (CBFC) continues.

In January 2017, Jha’s new production, Lipstick Under My Burkha, directed by Alankrita Shrivastava, was screened for the Censor Board’s Examining Committee and Jha was informed that the film cannot be certified. The reasons stated in a letter read: “The story is lady oriented, their fantasy above life. There are contanious sexual scenes, abusive words, audio pornography and a bit sensitive touch about one particular section of society, hence film refused under guidelines 1(a), 2(vii), 2(ix), 2(x), 2(xi), 2(xii) and 3(i).”

An enraged Jha who is presently in London, told Mirror, “As a country we must encourage freedom of expression but the CBFC refusing to certify films that tell uncomfortable stories discourages filmmakers from pushing the envelope. Films should challenge the status quo which is what Lipstick Under My Burkha perhaps does and I believe our audience deserve to watch it.”

Set in small town India, the film featuring Konkona Sen Sharma, Ratna Pathak Shah, Aahana Kumra and Plabita Borthakur, chronicles the secret lives of four women in search of a little freedom. Alankrita, who is at the Glasgow Film Festival for the film’s premiere on February 24, informs that CBFC Chairperson Pahlaj Nihalani had watched the film with the Revising Committee after which she was called in and told that they had unanimously decided to not certify the film. “It’s a feminist film with a strong female voice which challenges patriarchy. I think that’s why they don’t want to certify it. As a filmmaker, I stand by the story and will fight for it till the end,” she asserts.

Lipstick Under My Burkha has won the Oxfam Award for Best Film on Gender Equality at the Mumbai Film Festival and the Spirit of Asia Prize at the Tokyo International Film Festival.

Alankrita, who assisted Jha on Raajneeti and Apaharan before turning director with his Turning 30!!! adds that they are waiting for the official letter from the Revising Committee after which they will apply to FCAT. “I am travelling to some more festivals and hopefully I will have a hearing by the time I return in March,” she says.

Nihalani when contacted said he did not wish to comment on the subject after the Board had unanimously refused to clear it. When it was pointed out that the official letter from the Revising Committee has yet to reach Jha, he said shortly, “It’s the producer’s job to get it from the office.” Earlier, the CBFC had objected to the premise of the Nawazuddin Siddiqui starrer Haraamkhor which touched on a teacher-student illicit romance, refusing to certify it. The makers approached the FCAT which cleared the film with a ‘U/A’ certificate.

 

While Lipstick Under My Burkha may face censorship in India, it has already earned accolades at the Mumbai Film Festival (movies screened there do not require a Censor certificate) and at festivals abroad.

It won the Oxfam Award for Best Film on Gender Equality at MAMI while winning the Spirit of Asia award at the Tokyo International Film Festival.

Here’s the film’s trailer which features Konkona Sen Sharma, Ratna Pathak Shah, Aahana Kumra, and Plabita Borthakur in leading roles.

http://mumbaimirror.indiatimes.com/entertainment/bollywood/cbfc-refuses-to-certify-prakash-jhas-film-lipstick-under-my-burkha/articleshow/

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India – Now, SC/ST victims to get minimum compensation of Rs 8.5 lakh from state government #Vaw

The Centre has amended the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Rules, 1995 through a notification on April 14.

The Centre has amended the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Rules, 1995 through a notification on April 14.
NEW DELHI: An SC/ST victim of gang rape, murder or an acid attack will now get a minimum compensation of Rs 8.5 lakh from a state government, in what is an significant enhancement of relief for such crimes through an amendment to the rules by Centre.

The Centre has amended the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Rules, 1995 through a notification on April 14, now specifying as many as 47 categories of offences in which states will pay compensation ranging from Rs 1 lakh to Rs 8.25 lakh to SC/ST victims. The rules last amended in 2011 had provisions for only 22 kinds of offences with minimum compensation ranging from Rs 60,000 to Rs 5 lakh.

The enhanced amounts now must be paid by the state within 7 days of the incident being reported, either in full or at various stages of the investigation and trial, as per a schedule.

District Magistrates have been authorised to immediately withdraw money from state treasuries for the same and courts empowered to also order socioeconomic rehabilitation. The Police will now have to file a charge sheet in cases of SC/ST victims within 60 days and any delay has to be explained in writing by the officers.

Any incident of intentionally touching an SC/ST woman without her consent, stalking, sexual harassment or sexual assault will now lead to compensation of Rs 2lakh. A rape victim would get Rs 5 lakh while a victim of gang rape or a acid attack damaging her face would get Rs 8.5 lakh. Earlier, outraging modesty or sexual exploitation of a SC/ST woman got her only Rs 1.2 lakh relief. Any crime against SC/ST involving punishment of over 10 years, had relief of Rs 50,000 while compensation was Rs 5 lakh for murder.

The new rules have also detailed many offences which were earlier in a general category such as a “derogatory act” and “insult, intimidation and humiliation” and only got a minimum of Rs 60,000 as compensation.

New categories as in the existing SC/ST Act have now been specified in the rules like – abusing by caste name in any place within public view, promoting dedication of a SC/ST woman as a devadasi and Garlanding with footwear or parading naked or semi-naked – with a relief of Rs 1 Lakh.

Under the new rules, Prevention from voting or filing nominations or any poll-related violence or boycott during voting of SC/ST persons would now lead to a compensation of at least Rs 85,000 to each victim. Any victimisation of a SC/ST person at hands of a public servant would mean a compensation of Rs 2lakh while any social or economic boycott of a Dalit person would lead to a relief of Rs 1 lakh for the victim. Denying a SC/ST person entry to an educational institution, hospital or any public place would lead to immediate restoration of the right plus a compensation of Rs 1 lakh – a new provision.

The new rules, notified on April 14 as SCs and the STs (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Rules, 2016, have come into force immediately.

The Modi Government had brought the new Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Act, 2015 which was applicable from this January 26 to ensure more stringent provisions for prevention of Atrocities against Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribe. The new rules now enforces this Act.http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/now-sc/st-victims-to-get-minimum-compensation-of-rs-8-5-lakh-from-state-government/articleshow/51834292.cms

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What the state of toilets at India’s aerospace megashow tells us

What the state of toilets at India’s aerospace megashow tells us about our aspiration to be a leading power

Image result for aerospace megashow

Misogyny shows itself up in many ways. In public places, it shows in the way women are denied even the most basic facilities like toilets.

The Indian ministry of defence has just concluded the 11th edition of the biennial aerospace show Aero India in Bengaluru. Superlatives have frequently been used by government officials over the years to describe Aero India, which indeed is India’s biggest defence and aerospace event, attracting the who’s who of the global defence industry, including presidents and CEOs.

This year over 250 foreign and roughly 270 Indian companies exhibited in Aero India, which was jointly inaugurated by ministers of defence and civil aviation. As is the trend worldwide, even in the defence industry, the number of women in the workforce has increased over the years. So at Aero India 2017, there appeared to be as many women at Air Force Station Yelahanka, which has been the permanent location of the show for the last two decades, as there were men. Even at extremely conservative estimates, there were at least 2,500-3,000 women at the show every day.

Yet, it didn’t occur to the organisers that these women would need access to clean toilets. There were just under a dozen toilets for women at the show, each afflicted with its own unique problem. Some had no water, toilet paper rolls or soaps; some had too much water on the floor, forcing the users to roll up their trousers or hitch up their sarees before entering, while some demanded a cross-country trek over unpaved ground, difficult to negotiate in heels.

One thing united them all: absolute lack of hygiene. For a show of this level, the organisers had hired local cleaning women to attend to the toilets, instead of professional housekeepers.

This makes a mockery of everything we claim and aspire for at so many levels. Let’s take each level one by one. We claim to be a leading power in Asia; our prime minister asserts that our time has come and the world must take notice; and he is exhorting global industry to come and ‘Make in India’. Yet, at the biggest showcase event, the infrastructure is so abysmal that foreign participants make sympathetic noises while putting India back in the third or the fourth world.

“Aero India is basically a national show for us unlike the Dubai or the Singapore Air Shows, which are more regional in nature,” one exhibitor told this writer, explaining why they neither expect nor get delegations from other Asian countries to Aero India. To look at the latest trends in defence and aerospace technology, customers from those countries prefer to visit Dubai or Singapore. “To attract international customers, you will really need to work on the infrastructure,” she said. After all, it stands to reason that if you cannot get something as basic as the toilets right, how can you be trusted with high technology?

But we do get a lot of technology right. Isro has just launched 104 satellites in a single flight. So what is this disdain towards providing toilets for women, if not a veiled attempt at keeping them out of public places? And if this is the state at a premier show crawling with so-called VIPs, one can only shudder to think of the state of toilets in lesser places.

At the second level, what does it say about the government’s Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM)? Clearly, if usable toilets cannot be provided for women at even high profile events, the fate of the millions of these being built under SBM is not difficult to imagine. In most urban areas, the problem is not of a toilet structure, but its condition.

Finally, the government is committed to giving greater opportunities to women in the armed forces. But by not providing them civilised facilities at their places of work, isn’t the government telling them that we may have opened our doors, but our minds remain shut? http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/toi-edit-page/what-the-state-of-toilets-at-indias-aerospace-megashow-tells-us-about-our-aspiration-to-be-a-leading-power/

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Facing Moral Policing By Cops, Kerala Couple Switched To Facebook Live

Facing Moral Policing By Cops, Kerala Couple Switched To Facebook Live

The video of the incident has triggered a barrage of criticism against the Kerala police.

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: 

HIGHLIGHTS

  1. The couple were questioned and fined at a public park
  2. The police accused them of “vulgarity” in public
  3. The couple streamed a video of the incident live on Facebook

A couple in Kerala has alleged that the state police was taking on the role of the “moral police” after they were accosted, questioned and fined at a public park exactly a week after Valentine’s Day. The video of the incident they live-streamed on Facebook triggered a barrage of criticism against the police. Incidents of moral policing and harassment of couples on roads and public parks are reported regularly around Valentines’ Day, but most of the perpetrators are found to be local toughs belonging to certain groups. There have been very few instances of police involvement in such incidents.

Around 11 am on Tuesday, Vishnu and Arathy were at a public park in state capital Thiruvananthapuram when a couple of women constables came and asked them to come to the police station. They accused the couple of indulging in “vulgur actions in public space”.

But 24-year-old Vishnu started questioning the police Live on Facebook in the park. “Tell us what vulgur activity have we committed? Did we kiss? There are cameras here. Did we hug each other? You can’t harass us just because we have our arm on the other’s shoulder,” he was heard saying.

The police women called two of their male counterparts, who took the couple to the police station, where they were fined Rs. 200 for committing “public nuisance”.

“We were anyway exhausted… The police had no answer to our question of what wrong we had committed. We just signed the fine slip and left. We are going to marry soon anyway, so we could take them on,” Arathy, 23, told NDTV.

Refusing to see this as an instance of “moral-policing”, a senior police officer told NDTV, “The police acted based on the complaint received at the police station, not suo-motto. This is more of a cultural issue which some sections of the public haven’t come to terms with. http://www.ndtv.com/kerala-news/facing-moral-policing-by-cops-kerala-couple-switched-to-facebook-live-1662086

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When forced marriage did not break her #Vaw

When I was a kid, my only goal was to get a good education. I dreamed of attending Harvard or Stanford, and planned to become a doctor one day. I was the eldest of four daughters in a Pakistani Muslim family. We lived in Ruwais, a small town in the United Arab Emirates, where my father worked in an oil plant and my mother was a teacher. At school, I always stood out among the girls in my class—I was brash, clever, outspoken. I took pride in acing every test. When I brought home top marks, my father would celebrate by handing out sweets.

One day, when I was in Grade 10, I was in my bedroom doing math homework. My mother walked in. She told me I’d received a marriage proposal. I laughed. “Mom, what are you talking about?” I asked. She didn’t crack a smile, and I realized she was serious. “I’m only 16,” I said. 
“I’m not ready for marriage.” She told me that I was lucky. The offer came from a nice man who lived in Canada. He was 28 years old and worked in IT. His sister was a friend of hers. The woman thought I’d make a perfect match for her brother—I was very tall, and he was six foot two. “They’re going to look so great together in pictures,” she had said to my mother.

For weeks, I pleaded with my mom not to make me go through with it. I’d sit at the foot of her bed, begging. She would tell me it was for my own good, and that a future in Canada would give me opportunities I wouldn’t have here at home. She assured me that she’d spoken to his family about my desire to continue my education. “You can go to school in Canada. And we don’t have to worry about you being alone,” she said. The next thing I knew, his parents were measuring my wrist for wedding bangles. The date was set for five months later, in July 1999.

My friends would talk about their own dream weddings—the gowns they would wear, how they planned to be dutiful wives and homemakers. When I told them about my doubts, they thought I was crazy, that I was a fool, that Allah would punish me for being ungrateful. Marriage was their ultimate goal in life. But I didn’t want it. I just didn’t know how to get away.

The author, top centre, at age seven, shown with her father and three younger sisters at their home in the United Arab Emirates The author, top centre, at age seven, shown with her father and three younger sisters at their home in the United Arab Emirates

 

For the next few months, I had recurring nightmares about my impending marriage. In my dreams, I was trapped inside a house, watching from the window as students made their way along the sidewalk to school. I’d wake up sweating and scared in the middle of the night. My mother would try to calm me down, telling me I was being hysterical. One night, when I woke up screaming, she decided to do something about it. She phoned my future husband in Canada and allowed me to speak to him for the first time. All I knew about him were those few details my mom had shared with me the night he proposed. When I picked up the phone, I was meek. I only had one question: “Will you let me go to school?” He reassured me: “Yeah, yeah, I’ll let you go to school. Don’t worry.”

The first time I saw him was on July 22, 1999, the day before the wedding, at his family’s home in Karachi. As we sat sipping tea, I snuck furtive glances at the man who was going to be my husband. I felt dwarfed by him.

The author was just 16 when she learned she would be marrying a 28-year-old IT worker in Canada The author was just 16 when she learned she would be marrying a 28-year-old IT worker in Canada

 

The next day, we were at my grandfather’s house for the wedding. As my mother adjusted my gown, I pulled back. I told her I wanted to run away. “Don’t be silly,” she said. “All the guests are here.” Someone put the marriage licence in front of me, I was told to sign it, and I did. Later we held a celebration at a high-end restaurant in the city. Strings of lights and red ribbons decorated the room, and 200 of our parents’ friends came. There were piles of food, and everybody laughed and sang and danced long into the night. I wore a long red lehenga sari. I was told to sit there quietly and look down at my hands, playing the demure bride.

This was the first of two ceremonies—we had to make it official so that my husband could apply for my sponsorship in Canada. The second ceremony was still months away, as was my wedding night. In the meantime, I continued to live with my parents and attend school. My new husband stayed in Pakistan for a month. We saw each other a few times, but never for long and usually with others around. One evening, we went to Pizza Hut with his older brother and his brother’s wife. It was my first date, and I was so shy 
I barely spoke. We talked regularly online, over MSN Messenger, and occasionally on the phone. Slowly, I grew more comfortable with the marriage. Nothing about him struck me as special. He wasn’t smart or funny or warm, but he was a normal enough guy. He told me how pleased he was that his wife was so smart. He suggested university programs I should consider in Canada. He agreed to wait to have kids until I finished school. He said all the right things.

The author on her wedding day at age 17 The author on her wedding day at age 17

 

When my immigration papers came through in August 2000, we both flew to Abu Dhabi for our second, smaller celebration. After it was over, we slept together for the first time. I was petrified. I knew nothing about sex or birth control, and neither did he. My aunt had told me about ovulation, explaining that I couldn’t get pregnant if I had sex on certain days of the month. I thought our wedding night was one of those days. I’d never even seen a condom before.

Later that week, we flew to Canada and I moved into his two-bedroom condo in Mississauga. I missed my parents, my friends, my school. I was so unhappy that I stopped eating, and I spent most of my days watching TV while my husband was at work. I stopped getting my period right away. At first, I thought it was because of the move, the abrupt change in environment. But a month passed, then another. I was getting sick every morning. My nausea was so severe that I was afraid to go outside in case I fainted. Finally I told my husband that I needed to see a doctor. I sat in the doctor’s office, listening to him ask me if I understood what being pregnant meant. All I knew was that it meant I couldn’t go to school. This can’t be happening, I thought. This isn’t happening. I was only 17.

During the first few months of my pregnancy, my husband was kind and thoughtful. He took late-night trips to the grocery store to satisfy my cravings. He’d call a couple of times a day from work to ask how I was feeling, and every night we cooked dinner together. I discovered an adult learning centre near our condo and enrolled in an ESL course. I thought our marriage was going well. Then, two months before our daughter was born, he told me his parents would be moving to Canada and staying with us. He had planned for them to live with us all along, but this was the first I’d heard of it. We moved out of the master bedroom into the smaller one so his parents would be more comfortable.

Everything changed when they arrived. My husband and I stopped spending time alone together. His mother got upset when he paid attention to me, so he didn’t show me any affection. When I would ask if I could call my parents in Ruwais, he or his mother would tell me we couldn’t afford international calls.

In May 2001, I gave birth to our daughter. When we returned from the hospital, my husband slept on the couch while I stayed with the baby in the second bedroom. I’d never felt so alone. I fantasized about stealing money from my husband’s wallet and taking a cab to the airport, calling my parents and asking them to buy me a plane ticket home. But I didn’t want to leave my daughter behind.

When she was a few months old, we bought a four-bedroom house in Streetsville with his parents. I was rarely allowed to leave. I never had a penny to my name. My mother-in-law gave me her cast-off clothing to wear. I didn’t have a cellphone. I wasn’t allowed to go to the grocery store on my own. If I didn’t iron my husband’s shirts or make his lunch or finish my chores, he and my in-laws told me that I was a bad wife who couldn’t keep my family happy. I walked on eggshells all the time. If I asked my husband something, he would reply, “Bitch, get out of here.”

Two years in, the abuse got physical. He would grab my wrist and shove me around. I’d be sitting on the couch and he’d slap me upside the head, or grab me so hard on my upper arms that my skin would bruise. Once he tossed a glass of water in my face; I slipped on the floor and threw out my back. Another time he punched a hole in the wall next to my head and told me, “Next time, it’s going to be you.” On several occasions, he picked up a knife and said he was going to kill me and then himself.

I was having suicidal thoughts all the time. I was convinced my life was over. One time, I took a razor blade into the shower and thought about cutting myself, stopping only when I heard my baby cry. I believed my unhappiness was my fault—that the secret to perfect wifehood was eluding me. 
If I’d just done the dishes better, been quieter, anticipated that he wanted a cup of coffee or a glass of water, then none of this would have happened.

When my daughter turned three, I learned about a parent drop-in centre called Ontario Early Years, funded by the Ministry of Education. Located in a Streetsville strip mall, the space was bright and cheerful. My daughter would make crafts or play with Play-Doh, and the parents would gather in a song circle with their children and recite nursery rhymes. My husband took my daughter and me there a couple of times. Eventually, he let me walk over on my own. I looked forward to those two afternoons a week, when I’d be allowed to step outside by myself without fear, when I’d feel fresh air on my face.

The woman who ran the centre was Pakistani, and she recognized some of the signs of abuse even before I knew what to call it. She saw how jittery I would get if the sessions were running long, or how I’d have to ask permission from my husband if there were any changes to the schedule. She let me use the phone to call my parents. I tearfully told my father what was happening, that I felt imprisoned and helpless. He was horrified, but advised me to wait until I got my Canadian citizenship. “That way you won’t risk losing your daughter,” he said. And so I waited another year. Throughout this period, I resumed my education, taking high school courses by correspondence. I applied to university several times. I was always accepted, but my husband would never pay the tuition.

In 2005, I told my husband that I wanted to go home to visit my family for four months. It had been five years since I’d last seen them. When he told me he didn’t have the money, my father sent plane tickets for me and my daughter, who was four by then. On my way to the airport, I asked my husband for $10 to buy myself a coffee and my daughter a snack. “Bitch, go ask your father for that too,” he told me, as he dropped me off at Pearson. When my parents picked me up at the airport, they almost didn’t recognize me. I’d lost so much weight I looked skeletal.

My family were shocked. The bright, confident girl they knew had been replaced with a skittish, scared young woman. It took a couple of months for me to realize I could go to the mall on my own, or to the grocery store. These were small triumphs, but they helped build up my confidence. By the end of my visit, I was resolved not to go back to Canada. As soon as I delivered the news to my husband over the phone, he unleashed a flood of apologies. He told me he’d never hurt me again. He promised we’d move out of the house, that we’d live alone together like we used to.

He wore me down. In August 2005, I returned to Canada. We moved into a new apartment, and my husband was paying both his parents’ mortgage and our rent, leaving little money for anything else. 
At first, he was kind again. But within a few months, I got pregnant with our second daughter, and the abuse resumed. I needed an escape plan, so I began tutoring and babysitting children in our apartment building, slowly saving money for five months until I had enough for my daughter and me to fly to Karachi, where my sister was getting married. This time I wasn’t coming back.

My father had been diagnosed with kidney failure before I’d arrived in December, and over the next few months I watched helplessly as his condition deteriorated. One day, I sat with him in the ICU. “Papa, if something happens to you, what am I going to do?” I asked him. “Realize the strength you have inside of you,” he told me. “Go back to Canada and find a way to get out of your marriage.” He died two days later. My husband arrived in Karachi that week for the funeral. Sex was the first thing he wanted. It wasn’t until he’d finished that he asked me how I was feeling. I said I was fine, got up and walked to the bathroom. I turned on the shower so he wouldn’t hear me cry.

When I asked my mother what to do, she told me I should go back with him. After all, she had two more daughters to marry off, she said, and she didn’t have the money to support me. I couldn’t work. I had no education or experience. And I was pregnant. Resigned and defeated, I went back with him. While I’d been away, he’d moved back into his parents’ house. This time I got a small room in the basement, with bare walls and a little window in the corner. My daughter slept in her crib in the room next door. In June 2006, I gave birth to my second daughter. I was miserable.

And yet my father’s words had ignited something in me. I knew I was smart, and I knew the only way out was through school. I studied in my room every night, finishing the last course I needed for my GED, a Grade 13 economics credit. A few months after my younger daughter was born, I earned my diploma, and decided to apply to university again. I knew my husband would never let me leave the house to earn money for tuition, so I resurrected my babysitting service, telling him I was earning money for the family. I co-opted my mother-in-law with the promise that she’d earn easy money taking care of kids, and my husband even let me buy a van to drive my charges around. I was making between $2,000 and $3,000 every month, and though I had to turn over my earnings to my husband, I managed to sock away a few hundred dollars here and there. It took me two years to save enough for one year of school.

In 2008, I applied to U of T’s economics program. I was accepted. Nothing was going to stop me from going. “Who’s going to pay for your tuition?” my husband asked. “I am,” I responded. My in-laws were so angry about my decision that no one in the house spoke to me for six months. I didn’t care. This was my chance to get out. It had taken me nearly 10 years, but I’d gone from victim to survivor.

My first day of school in September 2008 was one of the best of my life. I got to school 15 minutes before my class started and walked through the Kaneff Centre at U of T Mississauga. After everything I’d been through, I’d finally achieved my dream. I sat in the hall, tears running down my cheeks. If only my father could have seen this, I thought to myself.

I thrived in my new environment. I aced every class, and other students gravitated toward me, asking to study or socialize. My success changed my thinking. If I was the scum on the bottom of my husband’s shoe, like I’d been told all these years, why were my marks so high? Why did classmates want to be my friend? I could feel vestiges of confidence I hadn’t had in years. One day in October I was walking to the campus bookstore to buy textbooks. Just around the corner, outside the health and counselling centre, a flyer on a bulletin board caught my eye. On it was a list of questions. “Do you feel intimidated? Do you feel like you don’t have a voice? Do you feel like you’ve lost your identity?” As my eyes ran quickly down the list, my brain screamed over and over again: yes, yes, yes. “Come in and make an appointment,” the poster read. I opened the door and walked inside.

Afew days later, I sat across from a counsellor, describing what was going on at home. “I don’t know what to do,” I told her. “I’m trying to keep my husband happy and I’m still not good enough. He keeps telling me I’m worthless. All I want to do is fix it.” She grabbed my hand. “It’s not your fault,” she said. It was the first time anyone had said that to me. As I continued my counselling, I realized that what had happened to me was wrong. My agency had been stripped away. I learned about the cycle of abuse that characterizes so many unhealthy relationships.

Our marriage was becoming more toxic every day. He once bought me a cellphone as a present, but installed spyware on it so he could monitor my calls. He kicked me in the stomach. He kept threatening to kill me. A year after I started counselling, I told him I wanted a divorce. “What are you talking about?” he asked me. “I love you. I can’t live without you.”

One January night in 2011, he picked a fight. I wasn’t doing enough housework, he said. As he loomed over me, tightening his fist, I picked up my phone. “If you touch me, I’m going to call 911,” I shouted. And then he spat out the word divorce, in Urdu, three times: talaq, talaq, talaq. According to some Islamic scholars, uttering those words means the marriage is over.

I thought I’d be thrilled when he left, but I was terrified. I’d never lived on my own, and I was bracing myself for the shame I believed I would bring to my family. He sold our house out from under me, leaving me and the kids with three weeks to pack up. We had nowhere to go. I even registered at a couple of shelters, expecting to be homeless. One day, I was at the U of T tuition office, and a woman overheard me lamenting my situation. She suggested I look into campus housing; luckily, the university had one family unit left. Two days later, I had the keys to my very own shabby three-bedroom townhouse.

I couldn’t afford movers. I packed all my belongings into garbage bags and made 10 trips back and forth every day for five days, in the van I used to drive the kids who attended my home daycare. I used my last $100 to pay a couple of students to help me move my furniture. I was relieved not to be out on the streets. I slept in one room with my youngest daughter. My eldest had the second bedroom, with enough space just for a single bed. I rented out the third room to a Pakistani student who watched my girls while I worked in the evenings. It was tiny, but it was ours. That year, I juggled five jobs to stay afloat. I worked as a TA, a researcher with the City of Mississauga and a student mentor. I did night shifts at the student information centre on campus. I even ran a small catering business out of my apartment.

One day it dawned on me that my husband was a man willing to put his own kids out on the street to teach me a lesson. I drove to the police station and reported everything. I gave a three-hour-long videotaped statement, offering as much detail as I could about the decade of abuse I’d endured. The officer said he likely wouldn’t be able to lay charges because there weren’t any bruises on my body. But it didn’t matter. Just telling the authorities was a huge relief. It was my way of acknowledging everything to myself, of finally saying, it wasn’t my fault—none of it was my fault.

The officers interviewed my doctor and counsellors, and two days later they arrested my husband for assault. He pleaded guilty. We finalized our divorce, and he got joint custody. My older daughter refused to see him, but my younger daughter visited him every other week.

There were many times over the next year that I thought I’d made a mistake, that I couldn’t do it on my own. I thought the shame would never go away. After my marriage ended, none of my old friends would speak to me. My mother refused to tell people back home. I had no family in Canada, no friends at school who knew what was going on. I was completely isolated. I’d always been told that women are responsible for upholding the family’s honour. A woman living alone is a sin. A woman travelling alone is a sin. When everybody around you says you’re in the wrong, that your dreams aren’t valid, you start to believe that. And there were many times that I’d fall into those sinkholes.

Zafar graduated from U of T at the top of her class Zafar graduated from U of T at the top of her class

 

Education was my only refuge from my dark thoughts. I focused all my energy on school. In my fourth year, I was promoted to head TA. 
I worked as a senior mentor for the school’s first-year transition program. I carried an eight-course load and earned a 3.99 GPA. One day, I got an email from my department advisor. In it was a description of the university’s highest honour, the John H. Moss Scholarship, a $16,000 award that’s given to an outstanding student who intends to pursue graduate work—the Rhodes scholarship of U of T. My advisor encouraged me to apply. No one from U of T Mississauga campus had ever won it, she said. The deadline was only a few days away, but she convinced me to hustle up the paperwork.

A few weeks later, I got an email saying that I was one of five finalists. I arrived for my interview on February 6, 2013. The committee ran through questions about my academic record and leadership experience. I’d written about my abusive marriage in my application, too, and at the end of the interview, the panel asked me how I go on after everything I’ve been through. My polish wore off in that moment. “Every day I feel like giving up,” I told them. “But I don’t want my daughters to grow up thinking that being abused is normal.”

Forty-five minutes after my interview concluded, I got a phone call. John Rothschild, chair of the selection committee and the CEO of Prime Restaurants, was on the other end of the line with a few other panellists. “Congratulations,” they said. “You’re our winner this year.” I couldn’t believe it. I grabbed my daughters’ hands and danced wildly around the house with them. I wanted to tell the whole world. Since then, John has become a friend, a mentor, and the closest thing I have to a father figure. He taught me how to believe in myself again. He says if I ever get married again, he wants to walk me down the aisle.

Businessman John Rothschild funded her NPO for abused women Businessman John Rothschild funded her NPO for abused women

 

In September of that year, I started my master’s in economics. By the time I graduated, I was surviving off OSAP, and my debt load was piling up. I wanted to stop borrowing money as soon as possible, so I decided not to pursue a PhD. Instead, I accepted a job at the Royal Bank of Canada, where I work today as a commercial account manager.

Around the time of my graduation, I was named the top economics student at U of T. At the award ceremony, a journalist introduced herself to me (her daughter was in my class). I told her my story, and she published an article about it in a Pakistan newspaper. As my story circulated through the community, I received hundreds of messages from women all over the world trapped in forced marriages and looking for help. So many of them sounded like me five years earlier, isolated and helpless. Women who show up at shelters or call assault hotlines or leave their homes find themselves completely alone. Without any help, they return to their abusers or fall into new relationships that are just as bad. Once, while I was TAing at U of T, a father barged into my office yelling. “You’re pushing my daughter to get her master’s degree!” I couldn’t believe it. To me, it was natural to offer encouragement—his daughter was the top student in my class. “She’s supposed to marry a boy in Egypt. Stop poisoning her with your Canadian bullshit,” he barked.

Years ago, a woman wrote to me asking if we could talk on Skype. She was a Canadian university graduate whose parents forced her into a marriage in Pakistan after she finished school. Brutally abused for three years, she returned to Canada to have her baby. She wanted to leave her marriage. After we finished talking, I drove to her house and encouraged her to do it. “No one will ever love me again,” she said. Three years later, she graduated from a master’s program and got a job working full-time in Toronto. I realized I couldn’t stop abuse from happening. But I could offer friendship to women in similar positions to my own. I started a non-profit called Brave Beginnings that will help women rebuild their lives after escaping abusive relationships. John Rothschild, my mentor, provided our start-up funding, and we’re piloting the project this year.

Zafar lives with her two daughters, age 15 and 10, in a condo in Mississauga Zafar lives with her two daughters, age 15 and 10, in a condo in Mississauga

 

For the past three years, I’ve lived in a three-bedroom condo in Mississauga with my daughters, who are now 15 and 10. I serve as an alumni governor at the University of Toronto, and I speak about my experience for organizations like Amnesty Inter-national. I’m happier than I ever imagined I could be. I want women to know that they deserve a life of respect, dignity and freedom—that it’s never too late to speak up. It infuriates me that many women are expected to uphold their family’s honour, yet they don’t have any themselves.

Last April, I called my ex. I wanted to help him repair his relationship with our older daughter. It had been four years since we had spoken in person. I decided to meet with him. Despite everything, I believed that my girls deserved to have their father in their lives. I sat in a coffee shop at Eglinton and Creditview Road, desperately hoping that I was no longer scared of him.

I saw him walking across the parking lot, and waited for an avalanche of fear to hit me. It never came. Sitting across from me, he was just another person. To my surprise, he apologized. “I cannot believe after everything that you’re still willing to help me repair my relationship with our kids,” he said. That day in the coffee shop, I finally felt free.

A few weeks ago, I lay in bed cuddling with my youngest daughter. Every night, we snuggle for 10 minutes before she goes to bed, just the two of us, unpacking the day. Out of the blue, she said, “Mom, I think Daddy’s family picked you because you were only 16. They thought you were just going to do whatever they told you to do and they’d be able to make you into whoever they wanted you to be.” And then she paused. “Man,” she said. “They picked the wrong girl.

For the past three years, I’ve lived in a three-bedroom condo in Mississauga with my daughters, who are now 15 and 10. I serve as an alumni governor at the University of Toronto, and I speak about my experience for organizations like Amnesty Inter-national. I’m happier than I ever imagined I could be. I want women to know that they deserve a life of respect, dignity and freedom—that it’s never too late to speak up. It infuriates me that many women are expected to uphold their family’s honour, yet they don’t have any themselves.

Last April, I called my ex. I wanted to help him repair his relationship with our older daughter. It had been four years since we had spoken in person. I decided to meet with him. Despite everything, I believed that my girls deserved to have their father in their lives. I sat in a coffee shop at Eglinton and Creditview Road, desperately hoping that I was no longer scared of him.

I saw him walking across the parking lot, and waited for an avalanche of fear to hit me. It never came. Sitting across from me, he was just another person. To my surprise, he apologized. “I cannot believe after everything that you’re still willing to help me repair my relationship with our kids,” he said. That day in the coffee shop, I finally felt free.

A few weeks ago, I lay in bed cuddling with my youngest daughter. Every night, we snuggle for 10 minutes before she goes to bed, just the two of us, unpacking the day. Out of the blue, she said, “Mom, I think Daddy’s family picked you because you were only 16. They thought you were just going to do whatever they told you to do and they’d be able to make you into whoever they wanted you to be.” And then she paused. “Man,” she said. “They picked the wrong girl.”http://torontolife.com/city/life/forced-marriage-samra-zafar/

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