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#RIP Activist, Feminist and Friend Trupti Shah- Her life in her own words

Trupti Shah, Friend ,feminist, environmentalist, human rights activist is no more with us. She left us at 9.15 p.m. May 26, 2016. She battled lung cancer that was detected in October 2014. We could not honor her last wishes to donate her body to the hospital as SSG Hospital authorities refused to accept due to her critical illness

 Read her life story in her own words for Zubaan Poster Women Project, dt July 25, 2011

As daughter of the father involved in the Social Movements and a mother involved in the Social Service activities, I was introduced to various Social Movements in my childhood. I inherited the Gandhian spirit, “not to tolerate any injustice” from my father who gave up his career as a journalist to became a Marxist-Trotskyist and Trade unionist. Along with him and other younger comrades from the Communist League, a Trotskyist group, I witnessed and participated in most of the major movements that emerged in Gujarat in the 1970s. My involvement in the women’s movement has its roots in these experiences.


In 1973, a dynamic Anti-Price rise movement emerged in Vadodara. Thousands of people, particularly women, participated in protest programmes. In one such programme, against the price hike of Milk, we stopped all the vehicles at the gate of Baroda Dairy that distributes milk in the city. As an 11 year old girl,, I got arrested along with few other minor girls and kept in the remand home (state home for children) for three days. That was my first experience of the Mass movement. Nav Nirman Andolan and anti emergency agitations were to follow in the subsequent years.


At the age of 18, I became active in the Communist League (CL) – Indian section of the Forth International – which supported autonomous women’s movement world over. At a  time when most of the left parties were sceptical about women’s movement and labelled the autonomous movement as divisive of class struggle, CL supported and encouraged women comrades to participate and form autonomous women’s groups. Vibhuti Patel, one of the leading activists of the Communist League at that time, was at the forefront of the autonomous women’s movement. She became a source of inspiration for me. Through her, I was introduced to most of the activists and groups in the autonomous women’s movement.


When the nationwide movement for reopening the Mathura Rape Case and demand for changes in the Rape Law was started, a forum called Narishoshan Virodhi Samiti was initiated in Vadodara. As the movement gained momentum, even the political parties and traditional women’s organisations at the local level joined the forum. As a young girl, it  upset me, the way the seasoned women leaders of the political parties and traditional women’s organisations were dealing with the issue of rape which was a very emotive issue for me as a teenaged girl. I was disappointed by their petty politics and constant inner currents to dominate the group.


I attended the first conference of Autonomous women’s movement organised in Bombay in 1980. I could feel the stark contrast in the way of functioning, the concerns and almost every thing between the Autonomous women’s movement and the local forum – Nari Shoshan Virodhi Samiti – in Baroda. Unable to articulate my observations and feelings I declared in the last plenary session of the conference that, “we need more young blood, young girls’ in our organisation in Baroda.” This was a hilarious move as I was perhaps the youngest delegate in this national conference.

This was a turning point in my life. A decision was made, ‘there is a need to have an autonomous women’s organisation in Baroda which will uphold the interest of women above all other issues and political affiliations.’ And rest of the life became a persistent effort towards building such an organisation.

It took several years of efforts along with like-minded friends, students from the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda to initiate the  Sahiyar Stree Sangathan in 1984. The consciousness of the secondary status of women through our experiences of women at home and in the public sphere and the influence of the autonomous women’s movement were two important factors that had strengthened our urge to start an organisation by women and for women with the long term aim to work towards a society free from inequality, injustice and atrocity – a society whose women enjoy equal status and recognition as human beings.

Since then, my involvement in the women’s movement is a collective effort as part of Sahiyar. Our struggle was not only against gender based inequalities but against all forms of inequalities and hierarchies based on class, caste, religion, ethnicity or culture.

This understanding got reflected in our activities and campaigns throughout these 27 years. Our understanding of women’s movement as a collective of diverse women and not a task of individual heroine got reflected in our symbols. (see visual 1,2)

Campaign against rape and sexual harassment by powerful has remained one of our major concerns over the years. The first major campaign that we undertook was against a gang rape on a tribal woman by police in the police station of the Sagbara tribal area of then Bharuch District in 1986. Reading in the newspaper the denial by the DSP about the charges enraged us. The information from the local organisation from the tribal area to us and other Human Rights group was contrary to the claims by Police. Our fact finding report in this incident became a base of a mass movement in that tribal area launching CBI inquiries in cities like Vadodara. This campaigned sharpened my understanding of  rape as defined by the intersection of gender, caste and class as we were constantly arguing against the myths about rape with the media and even our upper caste, middle class supporters who had Brahmnical patriarchal understating about the “character of a poor tribal women”. This was one of the very few cases in the women’s movement in which culprits were punished and the woman got compensation.

The Harivallbh Parikh case (1996), The case of a girl raped in a Ashram shala in Chhotaudepur area become important as due to our efforts the case became known in the name of the accused as ‘Harivallbh Parikh case’ and not by the name of victim. This time we were not only up against upper caste, class myths as by that time rape had became an issue to achieve various political and sectional gains. The dichotomy of BJP vs. Congress and the supporters of  Narmada Dam vs Opponents was muddled with this issue.

The campaign against violence on women in the family like dowry death, domestic violence and sex selection have remained a consistent struggle to be fought every day in individual cases as well as demand for laws, implementation of law and constant vigilance on the implementing machineries for us. Campaign against Sex Selection have always remained close to my heart as I felt that it was an ultimate sign of rejection of my existence as a girl/woman. As we were clear that our struggle is against discrimination against women and girls and we are ‘for’ the right to abortion, we were able to keep a safe distance from the religious and rightwing forces that attacked abortion as foeticide as our own messages were some times pervaded by the idea that a foetus has the right to be born. A visual from an unknown artist became a symbol of our slogan ‘Let the daughters be born, blossom and reach out to the sky.’ (see visual no.3)

We have always resisted fundamentalists and communal forces right form the inception of Sahiyar. Our first action against communalism was in 1985 when the anti reservation agitation of the middle class youth turned in to communal violence. Along with other likeminded groups we organised a Street Play Festival in the riot affected areas of Baroda.

In the 1990s, due to the increase in the dominance of communal forces in social and political spheres we had to face direct confrontation form them. The first such physical confrontation was in September 1990 on the occasion of Ganesh Visarjan (immersion ceremony) when Vadodara saw the worst-ever riots. Our activists were prevented to distribute leaflets. Subsequently on the 8th of March, International Women’s Day, Akhil Bhartiya Vidhyarthi Parishad (ABVP) was mobilised to organise a counter rally on the same place and time as ours, though they have never celebrated International women’s Day in the past. We carefully planned our strategy to counter this confrontation and mobilised large numbers, about 1000, from our supporters, trade unions, cultural organisation and all other progressive organisations and people with whom we had worked during communal riots. This was not expected by the ABVP and they did not dare to physically attack us. About 100 of their members passed by the place of the  programme and organised their meeting in a nearby place. This strategy of offensive response towards right-wing forces while keeping faith in ordinary people has been used by us again and again in post 1992 riots and in 2002.[1]

Our understanding about the linkages between all the issues affecting women’s lives, emerging form their multiple identities and the need to address them have led us in getting involved in the entire gamut of issues and the struggle for women’s rights and Human Rights. In the initial years, the focus of our activities was more on general public awareness and our role as a pressure group. Now, our added focus is on area-based awareness and training, supporting grassroot women as community leaders to deal with their issues as a woman, as a member of a particular community and as citizens.  We have realised the need to have our base in areas to eventually become an organisation rooted among people.


The issues and challenges are becoming more and more complex. At a macro level the combination of rising rightwing forces and marginalisation of people due to economic policies have generated newer forms of patriarchal oppression of women and the age old issues have also become more complex. For example; any incident of sexual violence does not just remain a women’s rights issue. It is  the involvement of all kinds of forces to take advantage of it that turn it into a communal issue, a caste issue, an issue for inside and outside migrants and all other hierarchies that exist in the society. It is not easy to have an alignment with the right kind of forces. We need to understand all the hierarchies along with gender while taking sides.


The struggle to survive as a movement and not get trapped in Institutionalisation as an NGO is difficult but not impossible. While networking on issues at the state or the national level, we have experienced that the movement turned into projects and campaigns are constrained by funding. Young activists prefer to turn to well paid NGOs instead of movements. In such circumstances, we have been able to survive without big funding and FCRA for more than 25 years. Whenever we felt an urgent necessity to take up any issue in the face of happenings in the society, we were able to generate resources as we had developed a capacity to work with fewer financial resources. At the same time, this gives me optimism in the times of increased cost of living and changes in the working style. The question that arises now is that what are the options available to young activists? I feel we need to create a sustained platform where activists can gather beyond projects, beneficiaries, targets and lists of achievements or success stories to address the issues we feel are important and find out innovative ways to challenge the patriarchal system as interwoven with all the forms of hierarchies without being constrained by the funding.


Dr Trupti Shah

Sahiyar (Stree Sangathan), Vadodara, Gujarat.

[1] For a detailed account of sahiyar’s work against communal and fundamentalist forces please see, “ Religious Fundamentalisms and Communalism: The Case of Sahiyar, by Trupti Shah in the anthology published by AWID, linkFeminists on the Frontline: Case Studies of Resisting and Challenging Fundamentalisms


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In Memoriam: Sudha Varde (1930-2014)- Feminist and Socialist

April 11, 2014 Obituary
Sudha-VardeAfter a lifetime of commitment towards women’s liberation and progressive and secular values, Sudha Varde has left behind a legacy of socialist and humanist ethos

By Vibhuti Patel
Sudhatai Varde was extremely lively, cheerful person with the dream of an egalitarian society in her eyes. She was forthright, upfront and dedicated to the cause of women’s liberation. She passed away on 9th April, 2014 at the age of 84.

Right from her childhood she had a great fascination for dancing. She used this talent for her social cause as a volunteer for Rashtra Seva Dal (RSD) which she joined as a teenager. She was involved in freedom movement through the RSD. She met her soul- mate Shri. Sadanand Varde who was also a mainstay of RSD and in due course she married him. Both of them were gracious and full of life and remained active workers in the social movement as patriotic socialists.

In the post-independence period, Sudhatai played pivotal role in the development of Cultural wing of RSD. She also encouraged her daughter Jelum to be a classical dancer. She shared a beautiful relationship with her daughter and always talked highly of her.

Women’s Movement
Sudhatai was closely associated with Mrinaltai Gore, Kamaltai Desai and Pramilatai Dandwate. Sudhatai’s involvement in women’s movement began with anti price-rise struggles in the early 1970s. She participated in the ant-rape campaign in 1980. Her residence in Mumbai was initially an office of Mahila Daxata Samiti (MDS). She was part of several agitations including the Anti-dowry agitations (1981), Brides are not for burning campaign, Parityakta Mukti Morcha (Deserted Women’s Liberation Front) and solidarity for textile strike (1982). In a campaign against dowry harassment, I remember Sudhatai shouting slogans against murderers of Manjushree Sarda and Vibha Shukla when we had protest demonstrations within Bombay High Court in 1988. She was a sympathiser of Swadhar that provided support to women in social distress.

Sudhatai attended all shibirs, meetings, rallies, sit-ins and public meetings of united from of women’s groups and state level coordination committee for women’s liberation- Stree Mukti Andolan Sampark Samiti.

After communal riots in Bhivandi in 1984, women’s organisations such as NFIW, AIDWA, MDS, SMS, Women’s Centre, Forum Against Oppression of Women formed Committee Against Religious Fanaticism. Sudahtai was actively involved in the same. In 1987, she was with feminists to protest against emergence of sati temples in Mumbai and re-naming of road in suburban Mumbai as Maha Sati Road. As a representative of MDS she took an active interest in the Forum Against Sex Determination and Sex Selection. She attended study circles on technical issues such as the implication of hormone based injectable contraceptives on women lives before joining the agitation against it. She was a supporter of Narmada Bachao Andolan.

During 1991 as a Director (I/C) of Research Centre for Women’s Studies, SNDT, Mumbai for a brief period, I had to organize a National Round Table on Women in Decision Making, I requested Sudhatai to present a status paper on Women in Decision Making in Western India. She was so overwhelmed with emotion and said, “It is so rewarding to feel that you, younger lot of firebrand feminists see value in our thinking!!” To prepare her paper, she frequently visited RCWS Documentation Centre and went through’ all the reports, resolutions, books concerning the subject and made a brilliant presentation at the Round Table.

She was shaken by Mumbai riots in 1992 and in a meeting organized by Stree Mukti Sangahtan at Bhupesh Gupta Hall, she asked, “Where did my generation go wrong? How do you explain children of secular generation are turning out to be religious fanatics?” She made a resolve to focus more on Seva Dal’s activities with children to change their mindset towards humanism.

In 1993, Both Sudhatai and Sadanandji founded Aple Ghar to care for orphans after the earthquake in Latur.

Sudhatai’s inspiring and charming persona and her contribution to women’s movement will have a lasting imprint on the glorious HERSTORY of women’s liberation movement in Maharashtra. Hers was a life lived for her commitment for progressive and secular values and socialist and humanist ethos.

Featured photo courtesy: Jhelum Paranjape

Read more here —


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Press Release – Feminists and Activists condemn attack on Shoma Chaudhari

NEW DELHI/INDIA, 16NOV10 - Shoma Chaudhury, Ma...

NEW DELHI/INDIA, 16NOV10 – Shoma Chaudhury, Managing Editor, Tehelka, India, during the What Kind of Superpower will India Be? Debate at the World Economic Forum’s India Economic Summit 2010 held in New Delhi, 14-16 November 2010. Copyright (cc-by-sa) © World Economic Forum ( Eric Miller (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


We condemn the BJP lynch mob that attacked Tehelka managing Editor Shoma Chaudhuri’s house, physically jostling her at the entrance. Unsurprisingly, the BJP and right-wing forces in general have pounced upon the Tehelka sexual assault case to  sweep attention away from the sexual crimes of their own Asaram Bapus and their Sahabs.

While Shoma Chaudhuri failed in her responsibility as an employer when approached by an employee complaining of sexual harassment within the organization, she is neither  an accomplice nor an accessory to the crime of sexual assault of which the Tehelka Editor Tarun Tejpal is accused.

We also condemn the online harassment meted out to other women employees in Tehelka by the right wing brigade in the internet. Such harassment is only further evidence of the double standards of the right-wing forces who see this attack on the woman journalist as a political opportunity.


Sexual harassment and violence against women respects no political boundaries, and we are appalled that a party responsible for large scale violence against women should present itself as the saviour of women’s rights, and that, through a physical attack on a woman journalist. We recognize the distasteful political pre-election opportunism at work in these self-righteous stands by an ethically bankrupt party, and demand that Shoma Chaudhuri’s safety be assured by the state.


  1. Nivedita Menon
  2. Rohini Hensman, writer and activist
  3. Ayesha Kidwai
  4. Devaki Jain
  5. Abha Bhaiya
  6. Radhika Desai
  7. Arundhati Dhuru, NAPM
  8. Anita Ghai
  9. Rachna Johri
  10. Kamayani Bali Mahabal, Feminist and Human rights activist ,Mumbai
  11. Juhi Jain, Feminist Activist
  12. Rakhi Sehgal, Labour Activist,
  13. Kavitha Muralidharan
  14. Shreya Ila Anasuya
  15. Trupti, SAHIYAR
  16. Neelanjana Mukhia, Feminist Activist
  17. Srila Roy
  18. Ramlath Kavil
  19. Supriya Madangarli
  20. Amrita Shodhan
  21. Geetanjali Gangoli
  22. Shahida Murtaza
  23. Seema Kulkarni
  24. Suneeta Dhar
  25. Lalita Ramdas
  26. Ramu Ramdas
  27. Preethi Krishnan
  28. Sheba George, SAHRWARU
  29. Chayanika Shah, Mumbai
  30. Jayasree Subramaniam, TISS
  31. Anuradha Kapoor, SWAYAM
  32. Shilpa Phadke, TISS, Mumbai
  33. Shipra Nigam
  34. Kavita Krishnan, AIPWA
  35. Kalyani Menon Sen
  36. Malika Virdhi, Maati
  37. Meena Seshu
  38. Kavita Srivastava
  39. Kiran Shaheen, Journalist and Democratic Rights Activist
  40. Shoba Ghosh
  41. Rachana Johri
  42. Vasanth Kannabiran
  43. Laxmi Murthy, Journalist
  44. Vrinda Grover, Advocate
  45. Dyuti
  46. Rimple Mehta
  47. Sadhna Arya
  48. Ayesha Kidwai
  49.  Anusha Hariharan, Researcher
  50. Geeta Seshu, Journalist, Mumbai
  51. Suroor

  52. Purva Bharadwaj

  53. Saumya Uma

  54. Sujata Gothoskar

  55. Geeta Ramaseshan

  56. Urvashi Butalia

  57. Anita Roy

  58. Ishani Butalia

  59. Shweta Vachani

  60. Deepti

  61. Rajashri Dasgupta

  62. Soma Marik

  63. K.Lalita

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Feminist and Queer Movements Need to Rethink #gender #sexuality #mustread

By Julia Serano

WeNews guest author

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Sexism-based exclusion runs rampant in these movements, says Julia Serano in this excerpt from “Excluded: Making Feminist and Queer Movements More Inclusive.” In part this is thanks to false assumptions that we need to overcome.


Queer feminist banner


Credit: Marion Schreiber on Flickr, under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)


(WOMENSENEWS)– All of us have been excluded at some point in our lives. Perhaps because of our size, or class, or age, or race, or nationality, or religion, or education, or interests, or ability. And of course, many of us are excluded because of different forms of sexism; that is, double standards based on one’s sex, gender or sexuality. Many of us are undermined and excluded by our culture’s male/masculine-centrism; that is, the assumption that male and masculine people and perspectives are more legitimate than, and take precedence over, female and feminine ones. And those of us who are gender and sexual minorities are stigmatized and excluded by our culture’s insistence that only “normal” bodies and “straight” and “vanilla” expressions of gender and sexuality are valid.


This sense of exclusion drives many of us to become involved in feminism and queer (i.e., LGBTQIA+) activism. We seek out like-minded people who share our goals to eliminate sex-, gender- and sexuality-based hierarchies, and together, we work hard to build new movements and communities with the intent that they will be safe and empowering for those of us who have been shut out of the straight male-centric mainstream.

And yet, somewhere along the way, despite our best intentions, the movements and communities that we create almost always end up marginalizing and excluding others who wish to participate.

Sometimes we are consciously aware that exclusion is a bad thing, and we may deny that it is taking place within our feminist or queer circles. We may even resort to tokenism, pointing to one or a few minority members in order to make the case that our movement or community is truly diverse. But in other cases, we are blatantly exclusive.

Condemning Other Feminists

Some feminists vocally condemn other feminists for dressing too femininely or because of the sexual partners or practices they take up. More mainstream gays decry the presence of drag queens and leather daddies in their pride parades and there is a long history of lesbians and gay men who outright dismiss bisexual, asexual and transgender identities. Within the transgender and bisexual umbrellas, there are constant accusations that certain individuals do not qualify as “real” members of the group or that their identities or actions somehow reinforce “the gender binary” (i.e., the rigid division of all people into two mutually exclusive genders). And in most queer communities, regardless of one’s sex or identity, people who are more masculine in gender expression are almost always viewed as more valid and attractive than their feminine counterparts.

Read more here-


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#RIP- Feminist and Sociologist who studied intersection of gender, caste


File photo of Sharmila Rege.
The HinduFile photo of Sharmila Rege.

Sharmila Rege – 1964-2013

Sharmila Rege, the scholar whose work on the interplay of patriarchy and caste oppression broke new ground for both sociology and women’s studies in India, died in Pune on Saturday aged 48. She had recently been diagnosed with colon cancer.

Dr. Rege rewrote the book on feminist studies by showing that patriarchy here is about caste and about keeping its hierarchies intact. Delving into the history and politics of social movements, particularly of lower caste struggles, she showed that gender and caste are intertwined deeply.

Her books, Writing Caste, Writing Gender: Reading Dalit Women’s Testimonios, and Against the Madness of Manu: B.R Ambedkar‘s Writings on Brahmanical Patriarchy, as well as several essays and activist interventions nudged the feminist debate in India towards critical engagement with questions of caste.

As chair of the Krantijyoti Savitribai Phule Women’s Studies Centre at the University of Pune, Dr. Rege shaped young minds and, according to her students and colleagues, lived life as if she had no aim other than to study and help others study.

“She was most tolerant towards students, scholars and research assistants who couldn’t conduct themselves to her extreme and exacting standards. She was as much concerned about the passing of knowledge to the next generations as improving it. In this sense, pedagogy for her was politics itself,” Dalit scholar Chittibabu Padavala told The Hindu.

Known as a devoted teacher, her students also spoke of her humility and warmth. In 2002, she established a day care centre for children in the women’s studies department

Feminists and scholars across the country paid their respects to her and spoke of her critical contribution to social sciences in various forums.

“Rest in peace dearest friend, clearly the world is not yet a just world but we must keep fighting for it to be,” said historian Prof Uma Chakravarti.

Dr. Rege received the Malcolm Adiseshiah award for distinguished contribution to development studies from the Madras Institute of Development Studies in 2006.

She always signed off her emails with the words of Ambedkar: “My final words of advice to you are educate, agitate and organize; have faith in yourself. With justice on our side I do not see how we can lose our battle.”

“So characteristic to leave an enduring message for justice,” says Uma Chakravarti.

After finishing the manuscript of Against the Madness of Manu, in which she positioned Ambedkar as the central figure for the women’s movement in India, she told her students and colleagues that now that the book was complete, she could die peacefully.

“This was when nothing was diagnosed and everything was outwardly fine. Somewhere, she had the premonition that she was not going to live long,” said her close friend and fellow academic, Prof Kushal Deb from Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay.


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A Feminist in Pieces #gender #mustread

By Smita Shashank Pendharkar

I am a Feminist In Pieces. With a thousand grains of life scattered over three continents, I have no real home nor a sense of real belonging. The voices around me often say that I am living in three diasporas, breathing-in three cultures, communicating in three distinct idioms. I often feel less like a citizen of the world, and more like a nomad of the imaginary, traversing a terrain and incessant borders that exist only for me. With roots that barely grip the earth I stand on and a voice that seldom resonates with the souls around me, I am a walking contradiction belonging to no particular world, to no particular continental womb.


I am a Feminist in pieces. Born of a Black mother miles and miles away. Birthed of a culture that celebrates color, rhythm, and unity, I am weaved into a brilliant quilt of reds, blacks, golds and greens. I have stood with my fist clenched in revolution against police brutality, for “taking back the night” and towards building a stronger nation, but in the end I have always stood alone at the crossroads of this deeply matrixed life and wondered about which one leads home.


I am a Feminist in pieces. Fighting for the rights of my Sistas. With a headwrap as my crown and a body studded with symbols of “my history,” I have taken more than one journey towards the light, towards the freedom that my Sistas and I sought in honor of Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Assata Shakur and Angela Davis. Still tied to my mother’s umbilical cord, I walked tall knowing that I was Black, African, Beautiful, and destined to fulfill “the dream.” I walked tall, Black, African, and Beautiful…or did I ?


I am a Feminist in pieces. Struggling to hold myself together. Bursting at the seams with Black pride, American patriotism, and an indescribable Indianness, I am a cocktail for which there is no recipe. The voices inside me say that I am less a rooted revolutionary and more the seasonal pollen that floats above the fields. Settling wherever the gentle and furious winds take me, I belong to no one place, no one culture, no one ideology. I am an alien wherever I go simply because the soil that I hover above never takes my roots, never beckons to me, never embraces me.


I am a Feminist in pieces. Asking questions for which there are no real answers. Breathing movements of which I am never really a part of because They say that I am seated, by birth, at the top of the social hierarchy. A heathen of sorts because of my Brahminism; an oppressor because I have light skin and Aryan-esque features; and, a perpetrator of violence against the invisible masses because I own much more than a shack situated on the banks of a polluted city.


I am a Feminist in pieces. My voice now suffers from spiritual and moral laryngitis, consumed by a guilt that I understand but will not own; bothered by the social infection of poverty and oppression, I have cared for and cared about those who have laid blame squarely on the shoulders of my ancestors and I. My sense of conviction and pride, rickety from accusations, tremulous under the rage of the benighted beasts of My caste-ocracy, and erratic in the presence of contention, are reduced to that guilt I understand but will not own; that guilt I understand but will not wear; that guilt I understand but cannot feel.


The Broken People[1] all over the world, in sync with their hatred of everything I embody, rebel against the permanency of their untouchability, reviling everything that reminds them of centuries of collective humiliation, dehumanization and a life entrenched in suffering. But I too have suffered. My gender, My feminine mystique, My voice from the lips that cannot speak, have also been exploited, battered and forced into a deep slumberous silence. So now I often wonder, am I not broken too?


I am a Feminist in pieces. Seeking to deconstruct that which I am to re-construct that which I think I should be. Willing to rage against the winds of resistance, I am a Feminist carrying my pieces with heart and passion for a Cause that I cannot even call my own – for a Cause They will not allow to be my own. Caste aside, Raced aside, all this enGendering has collapsed me, unraveled me, crippled me, left me as nebulous as I was before the union of my parents’ spirits.


But still I rise, with my pieces in tow because I see why I was made a Woman and why Feminism nourishes me. So I’ll look forward to the day when my Black mother draws me into the strength of her breast; when I am no more just an alien Buffalo Soldier trudging forth past the red rock giants; and, when this country of my skull accepts me as a Woman without deference…and reverence of pativrata[2].


A Feminist in pieces no more will I be, I will have transcended the chaos of three diasporas, three lives, three distinct Women. My holy trinity will meld into one, and I will finally be a Feminist in peace, in one whole piece.


[1] The word “Dalit” means Broken People, in the most literal sense. Dr.B.A. Ambedkar, the Indian equivalent of Malcolm X, rejected the oppressive labels, i.e. “untouchables” or “shudras,” given to people of the “lower castes” by Upper Caste hindus. “Dalit” is an empowering word and has led to the resurgence of contemporary Dalit Identity Politics, social justice movements and socio-political leadership.

[2] A value concerning morality and the importance of female subordination in a heterosexual marriage. Pativrata, a word which may sound new even to Hindus outside India, Pati means husband and Vrat denotes vow. A woman who staunchly remains loyal to her husband is a Pativrata.


Smita Pendharkar

PhD Candidate, Sociology
Dept. of Humanities & Social Sciences
Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay (IIT-B)
+91 9819868511

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How India Turned Me Into a Feminist- aussiegirlinindia


I have a confession to make, I am a feminist. Nine months traveling through India has made me a feminist and this is me coming out of the closet.

I have always considered myself to be egalitarian, striving for equality rather than subjugation of one gender over another. Then I spent 9 months backpacking across India and I now believe equality is not possible nor something that women should strive for in India.  To be equal to a man here is asking too little, and the women of India deserve so much more.

In my observations here in India rapists, murderers, paedophiles and child traffickers are quietly (and sometimes not so quietly) condoned to ensure that women are kept in their place and made to feel guilty for trying to say or do otherwise. Its not the same as it is in the comfort of a western country like Australia (yes there are rapists, murderers and misogynists there too though), but the scale and indifference here in India is at a level that has made me sometimes feel physically ill. I can no longer fight for equality, women need to fight for so much more here because the cultural change required needs to permeate through over 1.2 billion people. No easy task.

I am not a man-hater, quite to the contrary I enjoy and seek out the company of men, but I do find the Indian man a peculiar one to understand as I discussed in my rather contentious blog post Decoding the Indian Man. So now I think its time to say what I have observed of the Indian woman.

She is in danger.

She is in grave danger because behaviour that puts her at risk is practised everyday and readily accepted under the name of culture.

I picked up the paper the other day, on one page was a story of a woman who had been gang raped but the police didn’t accept her statement because she was in a pub and somehow that means she “asked for it”. The next page had a story about a woman who had died from burns to her body but the court wasn’t sure whether to accept her police statement that alleged her husband had inflicted the burns because she had previously told them (whilst her husband was in the room) that the burns were a result of her spilling a cup of tea on herself (she died from these wounds so I want to know just how big that cup of tea was). Then the next page had another story about a woman who was brain damaged because her husband had allegedly rammed a screwdriver up her nose because he didn’t think he got a big enough dowry from her family (dowries are outlawed in India).  This a normal day in India. I now think twice before even picking up a newspaper because it is just too upsetting.

Women of the Village (taken near Jaisalmer, Rajasthan)

The violence and maltreatment of women begins long before they are even born.  Female foeticide is  believed to be rife despite pre-natal sex determination being a criminal offence.  According to the 2011 Census there are 940 females for every 1000 males, up from 933 in 2001, but this number was 972 in 1901. When you consider it is well below in some populous states Uttar Pradesh (908) and Delhi (866) and a horrifying 618 in Daman and Diu, only two states buck the trend; Kerala (1084) and Pondicherry (1038). More disturbing, the overall gender ratio of 940 is actually lower when you look at children between 0-6 years of age at 914.  The girls are being murdered early in life and whilst pre-natal sex determination is illegal in India it is believed  to still be heavily practised.

Why are the girls being killed? Because they are considered to be a burden  in the form of dowries and potential shame on the family. It is apparently less shameful to murder a girl than to have one who may possibly grow up and disappoint your morals sometime in the future.

Unfortunately, the murder of women doesn’t stop in their youth, women are still killed in the name of “honour” (where it is believed they have bought shame on their family) or for providing insufficient dowries (once again something that is banned). The statistics are mind-boggling, quoting a Reuters article :

“According to the U.N. Population Fund, around 5,000 women are victims of “honour” killings worldwide every year, while India’s National Crimes Record Bureau says 8,391 brides – one every hour – were murdered over dowry-related issues in 2010.”

So about 13 women a day are killed in the name of “honour” and one an hour because her family did not provide enough money and gifts to take her “off their hands” in marriage.  It is believed that in many of these cases they are sanctioned by the police, and not generally considered as murders or serious crimes.  This is how little a woman’s life is valued in the heartland of India.
Even if the girl is “taken” in marriage and survives, what kind of life is there for her in many parts of India?

For many they are “married off” long before they are ready, for those women between the age of 20-24, 43% were married before they were 18 years of age.   It is estimated that 40% of all child brides in the world are in India, that is 4,000,000 girls married before the age of 18 this year. These are just statistics but I have seen it first hand whilst visiting a small village outside of Jaisalmer only a few weeks ago.  A young girl was working with her father making carpets, she couldn’t have been older than 15 years yet she had the customary bindi and nose rings to indicate marriage.  As we were leaving our guide told us that she had given birth to a child only 20 days earlier.

So why are girls married so young, Put simplistically it seems to be partly due to cultural norms and partly due to education.  Changing cultural norms is very difficult in any culture or environment, but education is something that could be improved upon.  However in a country so wide and dispersed as India, reaching the population to be educated is a challenge, and encouraging them to actually send their girls to school is another cultural norm to be overcome.

According to the 2011 Census in India, 74% of the population is literate but only 65% of women are. At its best, in Kerala nearly 92% of women are literate. At its worst in Rajasthan less than 53% of women are literate (yet over 80% of men are).  There is a clear disparity between valuing the education of men above women.  Where education is concerned I don’t believe equality is enough to seek out, the entire population needs to be educated for there to be a chance of anything changing quickly for the girls and women.

Whilst much of these issues are more prevalent in rural areas, there are still dangers for women in the more progressive urban areas.  Sexual harassment and abuse is also rife something that is not always taken seriously.  The media has developed language that belittles the crimes to minor issues and essentially removes the victim from the crime.  There is no sexual harassment, molestation or other assaults in India, it is simply “Eve Teasing”.  It is not harmless teasing, it is condescending, degrading and illegal harassment.

Some efforts have been made to alleviate the harassment, for example women’s only carriages in trains, but that is just masking the problem.  When men are not made accountable for their actions and the crimes are not viewed and reported seriously, I can’t see how the harassment will end.  Whilst I have fortunately not encountered any serious physical harassment in my travels, I have certainly experienced very uncomfortable staring and I am always covered from neck to ankle, particularly in smaller towns.

To make matters worse, in many cases it is the women who are blamed not the perpetrators of the crimes. In a recent case in Gurgaon (near Delhi), a woman was abducted on her way home from work and gang-raped by 7 men.  The police reaction was to announce that all women in Gurgaon should not leave their house after 8pm at night.  It would seem to me to be much safer for the women to require all men to be locked indoors by nightfall instead, but somehow the victim has become the one to blame and be punished.

Once again the media also denies its responsibility in reporting these cases accurately and with the seriousness they deserve, as the Times of India notes in itsarticle on this rape case:

“In recent times, TOI has tried to avoid carrying disturbing reports of rape and suicide, especially of minors, on front page (even today we have put one such report inside). While our primary duty is to report news without attaching any value judgment, we also believe it is our responsibility to spare our readers the trauma such reports cause (to the extent possible).”

A widely read newspaper wouldn’t want to disturb its readers with the truth!

In another recent case in Kolkata police actively tried to avoid registering a complaint of gang rape because the victim had been in a pub when she was abducted and raped by 6 men, and then delayed making a complaint for four days because she was so traumatised by the event.  It is alleged that the police actually mocked her. I would like to see how they would feel immediately after 6 men had abducted them at gunpoint and raped them.

The cases go on and on, apparently in India rape is not rape if she wore a skirt, bared her arms, had a bra strap showing, was not a virgin, had been married, attended a bar, was out after dark…the list goes on and on. In my opinion, and from what I remember of law school, if a man (or multiple men) penetrate a woman with any part of their body against her will then they have raped her. If they can’t “control” themselves then this is their problem that requires psychiatric treatment and not the “fault” of the person they have harmed. Yet in India, this concept seems just too difficult for those in authority to understand or take seriously.

Even in Parliament nothing is sacred.  Three ministers in Karnataka (the state that includes Bangalore) were allegedly seen to be watching pornography on a mobile phone during a sitting. They did all resign and were considered to be “responsible’ for doing so. More disturbingly, one of the ministers was responsible for the portfolio of Women and Child Development. With this level of responsibility allocated to them, may God help the women and children of Karnataka.

I don’t offer any solutions, once again here I am sitting in India wondering where on earth one can begin to help or make a change for the women.  The women of India certainly look miserable, in all my travels seeing mostly women from villages or poorer backgrounds, it was so rare to see a woman with a smile on her face. The reasons above are probably only scratching the surface as to why, but this is what I have observed and read.

In my opinion, the women of India deserve so much more then the lot they have been given, they work hard and are beautiful.  If only they were valued, appreciated and taken seriously.

So for these reasons I am now a feminist, loud and proud for beautiful women of India.


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