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Islam, Gender Relations, and Women’s Agency Workshop – India contributions needed November 19, 2015

Posted by southasiamasala in : India , comments closed

Islam, Gender Relations, and Women’s Agency

A two-day international workshop exploring Islam, gender relations and women’s agency in terms of India–Indonesia connections and comparisons

17–18th December, 2015 (9am-5pm)

Room 1.04, HC Coombs Extension (Building 9), Australian National University

This workshop will investigate connections, comparisons and contrasts between Muslim cultures in India and Indonesia, with a particular focus on gender relations, family and personal law.  Keynote speakers will be Professor Emerita Pnina Werbner (Keele University, UK), Flavia Agnes (MAJLIS, India), and Nursyahbani Katjasungkana (LBH-APIK, Indonesia). (more…)

Overcoming gender discrimination in India April 2, 2015

Posted by southasiamasala in : Guest authors, India , comments closed

Rajiv Kumar

It is a bitter irony that International Women’s Day came right on the heels of the controversy about the government ban on a BBC documentary about the fatal 2012 gang rape of a young Indian woman known by the pseudonym ‘Nirbhaya’. The documentary has, as could be expected, raked up public emotions that feed on self-righteousness, jingoism and middle class pretensions. The public discussion that followed the government ban unfortunately distracts from the real issue. This was not the only, and will surely not be the last, case of maltreatment of women in India.

Every day there are thousands of Indian girls and women who are kidnapped, tortured and trafficked. Some are victims of honour killings ordered by khaps or fatwas, a punishment dealt on the basis of religious legal judgment. A large number of cases of domestic violence and marital rape routinely go unreported. Thousands of girls are trafficked across the border from neighbouring Nepal and Bangladesh and forced into prostitution. As a society, Indians choose to not only ignore but also often connive in the perpetration of these crimes. In any case Indian society does not care to challenge the stereotype of ‘good women’ propagated by both Hindu and Muslim extremists, and fringe groups. Why then the hypocrisy when an ‘outsider’, like the BBC, shines a light on this issue?

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Malala and Salam: crusaders for education November 20, 2014

Posted by southasiamasala in : Guest authors, Pakistan , comments closed

Maqsudul Hasan Nuri

Pakistan has had the distinction of winning two Nobel Prizes in its nearly seven decades of existence: Professor Abdus Salam in science and recently Ms Malala Yusufzai for girl education. Salam had shared his prize with two others while Malala is co-winner with Kailash  Satyarathi – a committed Indian social activist for children education and rights.

Interestingly, both Nobel Laureates hail from humble backgrounds and belong to the lesser developed and remote regions of Pakistan: Swat in KPK and Jhang in Southern Punjab. The parents of both were school teachers but suffused with a passion for giving education to their wards; both prize-winners faced cynical reviews by many of their countrymen when they won the coveted Nobel Prize: Salam, for belonging to the Ahmadiyya community, while Malala for being a tribal, teenage girl – too young with insinuations of being exploited by Western motives. The cynicism has turned morbid that she or her family had allowed her to be deliberately shot at for attracting public attention and sympathy.

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Fatalism, or, where are women in South Asia? October 17, 2014

Posted by southasiamasala in : Adhikari, Mohanraj, India, Nepal , comments closed

Mohanraj Adhikari

The last few months have been really fantastic for me as a wedding enthusiast. On 10 March The Mirror published news about a British divorcee woman aged 46, who wedded her own pet dog in a ‘romantic’ wedding ceremony after her marriage to a man 20 years ago did not work out. This story was followed by a news item in Metro UK, 3 September, about an 18-year-old girl, around 7000 kms away from Britain in Jharkhand state of India, who married a stray dog to please her family, who think that it will pass a curse from her to the animal so that that when she marries her future prince, a real man, the marriage will be blessed with longevity. Though both these stories talk about a woman marrying a dog, the context is quite different. The wedding in the first story shows a woman’s love and connection towards an animal after spending a considerable part of her life with it, whereas the second wedding is done to pass a ‘curse’ to the animal. According to the news, both weddings were fabulously organized. The stories provide evidence of the divide between women in developing countries and industrialized countries: in one place, a woman is free to choose her husband even from a different species; in the other place, a woman believes that a dog husband will free her from a curse and give her a better human husband in later life. This kind of fatalism is very much widespread in South Asia especially in the rural areas of India and its neighbouring country Nepal.

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Women as farmers, feminisation of farming August 21, 2014

Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Lahiri-Dutt, Kuntala, South Asia - General , comments closed

Kuntala Lahiri-Dutt

What is new in the world of farming today? Well, for one, there is a ‘feminisation’ of farming in many parts of the world, and South Asia is no exception to that. Before I explain that process, let me point out first that women have always performed important roles in agriculture, whether in less- or more-developed countries and irrespective of time, but have remained invisible as farmers. This is because when women have worked side-by-side with men on the farm, they often worked as part of a family unit of labour. A powerful sexually-based division of labour meant that women’s labour and active participation were limited only to certain parts of agriculture and to certain tasks, or even to certain crops. Often, the bulk of this labour was performed under the direct or indirect control of men, who also controlled (or owned) land, resulting in both inaccurate information about and the invisibility of women and also undervaluing of their contributions to agricultural production systems.

Photo: K. Lahiri-Dutt

Photo: K. Lahiri-Dutt

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Understanding India’s demographic transition November 27, 2013

Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Jha, Raghbendra , comments closed

Raghbendra Jha

Rising incomes, increasing levels of education — particularly in women — and a variety of social factors contribute to determining the demographic profile of India’s youth and their role in India’s demographic transition.

India’s 2011 census revealed two key trends regarding India’s demographic transition. The first is that the total fertility rate has dropped from 2.9 in 2001 to 2.62 in 2011. And the second is that the gender balance has deteriorated in recent times, particularly among India’s youths. The number of girls per 1000 boys, for age groups 0–4, 5–9 and 0–6, fell from 939 to 891, 920 to 889, and 927 to 914 respectively.

The first trend is usually taken as an indicator of the demographic transition associated with rising per capita income. The second trend, however, may point to the growing widespread gender imbalance that is taking place in India. There is evidence to suggest that sex selection tests exist in India and follow-up abortions are more likely to be carried out if the fetus is found to be female. One study uses household-level data from India’s National Sample Survey (NSS) for 1993–94 and 2004–05 to identify characteristics that increase the chance of feticide, something that the Census data alone cannot identify. The study found, ironically enough, that women with higher levels of education, as well as women from wealthier households, are more likely to contribute to India’s gender imbalance. Only when the level of education and wealth combined reach a relatively high level does the gender imbalance start receding. This implies that over time there will be fewer women than men among India’s youth.

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Shattering the stereotypes: the Delhi gang rape and the need for nuance March 13, 2013

Posted by nishankmotwani in : By contributor, Guest authors, India , comments closed

Elen Turner

In December and January I spent a few weeks in Delhi, a city I love and in which I have never felt unsafe. My only experiences of “Eve-teasing” (that horrible Indian euphemism for sexual harassment) in India did not happen in Delhi, and did not happen when I was alone, but with my male partner. Despite my positive experiences, I take seriously the city’s terrible reputation for the safety of women, and take precautions, as I do at home, in Australia, too. I refuse to be afraid, as this is the most crippling thing a woman can do, but I avoid going too far alone after dark, dress in a way that local people consider modest, and am generally on my guard against over-friendly men. The gang-rape of a twenty-three year old student in December, the injuries from which she later died, confirmed that Delhi’s reputation is not unjustified. A rape is reported every seventeen minutes in India, with more unreported, but this event caught national, and international, attention. Perhaps it was the brutality, or the fact that it happened in a “nice” part of South Delhi, or that the victim was middle-class, that caught peoples’ attention.

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The Delhi gang rape can be explained by India’s gender ideologies February 26, 2013

Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Lahiri-Dutt, Kuntala , comments closed

Kuntala Lahiri-Dutt

Riding a bus in New Delhi was always intimidating. I still remember how, in the early 1990s, a largish, unknown man just flopped on my lap on the aisle seat. When I mildly expressed displeasure, his demeanour switched between menacing and casual, forcing me to shut up and leave him the seat. This was not an isolated experience: many women, whether in Delhi or Bangalore, have had similar experiences in their daily lives and felt amazed at how ‘naturally’ traditional gender ideologies are ‘performed’ in public.

So is what came to be known as the Delhi gang rape case different (and if so, how and why) from the myriad forms of violence that Indian women face every day, whether in urban or rural India, at home or in public, from close family members, spouses or completely unknown strangers?

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FEATURE ARTICLE: Notes from the field: feminisation of agriculture in the eastern Gangetic plains August 14, 2012

Posted by southasiamasala in : Features, India, Lahiri-Dutt, Kuntala , comments closed

Kuntala Lahiri-Dutt

… if women enjoyed the same access to productive resources as men in the world, farm yield could be raised by 20–30%…

The driver of the Tata Sumo I was travelling in not only stopped and honked several times, but, on at least two occasions, left the vehicle to physically push off the cows who were lazing on the road and relishing the midday heat of summer. More reluctant than the cows, however, were the black, white and brown goats on our path that were just lazily hanging around without a specific destination in mind. The road had lost its smooth tar cover and the large potholes of unascertainable depth meant that we were driving at not much more than walking speed. Whilst the bovine behaviour of acting as speed bumps is not unfamiliar to those who have travelled in rural India, the number and variety of goats and their goatish behaviour were noticeable at once. They were busier than the cows, chomping away on the leaves of the jute stalks that had just been cut and piled on the roadside before being dumped into the water for retting, or, on one occasion, a single goat was lying on its side, with its head on the tar, like a dead body. The goat had deliberately adopted the posture – actually to scratch its ear.

In an extremely poor area in the eastern Gangetic plains, running roughly from Champaran in North Bihar in the west to Cooch Behar near the Bangladesh border in the east and including the narrow flat stretch of Terai in Nepal, goats have become the new ‘feminine asset’.

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Book review: Bina D’Costa’s ‘Nationbuilding, Gender and War crimes in South Asia’ (London, New York: Routledge, 2011) May 17, 2011

Posted by southasiamasala in : Bangladesh, Gordon, Sandy, India, Pakistan , comments closed

Sandy Gordon

In her new book, Bina D’Costa provides a convincing picture of the role of war, war crime (especially against women) and myth in the construction of modern South Asian nation-states. The story of the women caught up in the violence of 1971 is movingly told, in terms of how they originally suffered and how they continue to suffer due to family and societal ostracism, the re-emergence of the religious right in Bangladesh and the failure of the state to acknowledge their stories or suffering.

I liked a great deal about this book – its density, its extensive reading into the problem, its intellectual subtlety and especially its use of history.  Dr D’Costa argues convincingly that the atrocities of 1971 cannot be understood without reference to those of 1947; that South Asia is not just India, but constitutes a culturally inter-connected set of countries that interact constantly over porous borders; and that the analysis of nation-building should incorporate the micro-level stories of women as well as the macro-level ones.  This last is especially difficult to bring off analytically, and D’Costa accomplishes it superbly.

Women fighters during the 1971 war.

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