SACW | 15 Oct. 2003

Harsh Kapoor aiindex at
Tue Oct 14 17:23:22 CDT 2003

SOUTH ASIA CITIZENS WIRE   |  15 October,  2003

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[1] Book Announcement: In the maze of 
displacement : conflict, migration and change
Edited by N. Shanmugaratnam
[2] Congratulations to Shirin Ebadi & Sri Lanka (Cats Eye)
[3] Protest letter to the US govt (Sansad)
[4] India: Ayodhya Diary: Communalism and the Common Public (Raghuvanshmani)
[5] India: Healing Touch for Godhra : Dr Shujaat Vali Interviewed
[6] India: Adeep Singh's 'Adharm' gets 40 cuts (Jasmine Shah Varma)
[7] India: AIDWA Anti-Dowry Convention In Gorakhpur, UP (Subhashini Ali)
[8] India: Lesbian groups meet at Mumbai film fest
[9] India: Gender Issues: In a twilight world (Siddharth Narrain)



[ Book Announcement ]

In the maze of displacement : conflict, migration and change
Edited by N. Shanmugaratnam, Ragnhild Lund and Kirsti Anne Stølen.
(Kristiansand : HøyskoleForlaget)
2003,  229 [pages].
ISBN 82-7634-540-9

In the Maze of Displacement: Conflict, Migration 
and Change addresses diverse situations of 
displacement in Asian, African and Latin American 
countries and how the affected people perceive 
and cope with them. The aim of the book is to 
enhance the reader's understanding of the complex 
dynamics of migration and change driven by 
violent conflicts and environmental disasters. 
The studies are relevant to policy makers engaged 
in designing interventions forcused on improving 
the livelihoods and well being of the displaced, 
as well as the host communities in different 
contexts in the south.

This book contains a richly varied collection of 
studies of how various communities respond to 
calamities of a particular kind, i.e. forced 
displacement. Drawing on the disciplines of 
geography, anthropology, political economy and 
environmental/development studies, the cases 
provide fresh insight into the variable dynamic 
of displacement. In some cases the communities 
are marginalized, brutalized and virtually 
destroyed; in others, the displaced succeed in 
rebuilding their communities. In each and every 
case, this volume gives voice to the displaced by 
focusing on "agency" rather than "structure." 
Astri Suhrkes, Chr. Michelsen Institute
For more information, see:



The Island [Sri Lanka] October 15, 2003
Cat's Eye
Congratulations to Shirin Ebadi

Women all around the world have warmly welcomed 
the award of this year's Nobel Peace Prize to 
Shirin Ebadi, an Iranian lawyer, for her efforts 
for democracy and human rights in Iran, 
especially focusing on the rights of women and 
children. She was selected from 134 candidates 
for the Nobel Prize among them the Pope John Paul 
II Ebadi was the first woman judge in Iran 
appointed in 1974 and removed from office when 
the Islamic Revolution took place in 1979. Rather 
than fleeing the country, Ebadi stayed back to 
fight on a range of human rights issues. "I have 
learned to overcome my fear," she said, and 
certainly her record is one of fearless 
commitment, taking on human rights cases that 
other lawyers refused. She has defended the 
rights of political dissenters, writers, and 
intellectuals who have been arrested, tortured 
and killed in Iran, which has an unfortunate 
history of brutal human rights violations. Ebadi 
also championed the students of the Teheran 
University who were attacked by state forces in 
1999. As the Nobel Committee announced: "As a 
lawyer, judge, lecturer, writer and activist she 
has spoken out clearly and strongly in Iran, and 
far beyond its borders. She has stood up as a 
sound professional, a courageous person, and has 
never heeded the threats to her own safety."

Ebadi's immediate reaction on winning the prize was to issue a bold statement:

"I call on the Iranian government to respect 
human rights, and I hope in the future things 
will move positively. What is most urgent is 
respect for freedom of expression and the release 
of prisoners of conscience "

On this occasion she also criticized the United 
States for its attitude to Iran and spoke out 
against any international intervention in Iran. 
"The fight for human rights is conducted in Iran 
by the Iranian people, and we are against foreign 
intervention in Iran."

Reform and Resistance

While President Khatami leads the liberal reform 
movement in Iran, supported strongly by Iranian 
women, the hardline fundamentalists are still 
active and powerful. Nevertheless lawyers such as 
Shirin Ebadi continued their work for human 
rights despite the climate of fear caused by a 
spate of grisly killings of Iranian 
intellectuals. She represents the family of 
Dariush Farouhar a dissident intellectual who 
with his wife Parveneh, was killed last year. The 
resistance put up by lawyers has led President 
Khatami to order an inquiry into the killings.

In 2001, Ebadi was jailed for attending a 
conference on Iranian reform in Berlin. She has 
also consistently spoken out against laws that 
oppress women, has campaigned for the reform of 
family law, and has written and lectured on these 
subjects. As Ebadi said on receiving the Nobel 
Prize "It is not easy to be a woman in Iran 
because of Iranian law. But the beauty of life in 
Iran is to fight under difficult circumstances as 
a woman and as a jurist," also making the point 
that "the Prize gives one more energy to continue 
the fight for a better future. This day does not 
belong to me, but to all militants for human 
rights in the world."

Progressive Islam

Much is being written about Shirin Ebadi being 
the first Muslim woman to win the Peace Prize. 
The Nobel Committee stressed this factor. "Ebadi 
sees no conflict between Islam and fundamental 
human rights" adding "We hope that the people of 
Iran will feel joyous that for the first time in 
history one of their citizens has been awarded 
the Nobel Peace Prize and we hope the Prize will 
be an inspiration for all those who struggle for 
human rights and democracy in her country, in the 
Moslem world, and in all countries where the 
fight for human rights needs inspiration and 

Ebadi herself makes the point about Islam. "My 
problem is not with Islam, it is with the culture 
of patriarchy "she says "for twenty years I have 
been putting out the message that it is possible 
to be Muslim and have laws that respect human 
rights. Islam is not incompatible with human 
rights and all Muslims should be glad about this 

Example to Sri Lankans

Shirin Ebadi sets a fine example of courage to 
all women's struggles for human rights. Her Nobel 
Prize will be acclaimed by those in Sri Lanka who 
are linked with movements for peace, human rights 
and gender equity. We hope this will also be an 
occasion for Muslim women and men in Sri Lanka to 
reflect on the need for reform in order to change 
oppressive aspects of the customary law that 
governs them. Many provisions of this law are in 
conflict with womens rights as guaranteed in the 
general law, in the constitution of Sri Lanka and 
in the international conventions on women signed 
by the government of Sri Lanka.

Iranian women from the early 20th century onwards 
have a long history of struggle for political 
rights and for economic opportunities and for 
social justice. We hope that Shirin Ebadi's 
important award will mark a new phase in women's 
movements for liberation, in both Iran and the 
rest of the world.



South Asian Network for Secularism and Democracy

Suite 435, 205 - 329 North Road, Coquitlam, BC, Canada. V3K 6Z8
phone : (604) 420-2972; FAX: (604) 420-2970
Electronic mail : sansad at
  [Incorporated in British Columbia under the 
Society Act as a Non-Profit Society, # S-31797]

October 14, 2003

The Consulate General of the United States of America
1095 W. Pender
Vancouver, BC

Fax number: 604-685-7175

Dear Mr. Consul General:

On behalf of the Board of Directors of SANSAD, I 
write this formal note to express our indignation 
in the manner the immigration and security 
personnel at the US airport of Los Angeles 
treated one of our Directors, Mr. Imran Munir.

This happened on August 30, 2003. Mr. Munir, who 
is also a doctoral student in the Department of 
Communications of Simon Fraser University, was 
returning to Canada after a four months long 
research trip to Pakistan. His wife Rahat and his 
son Momin were with him. They arrived at the Los 
Angeles airport on a Thai Airways flight and were 
to make a connecting flight to Vancouver on Air 

What began as a routine questioning at the 
checkpoint turned out to be an eight-hour long 
ordeal and humiliation for Mr. Munir.

We do not question the prerogative of the US 
government (or the government of any other 
sovereign country for that matter) to check the 
authenticity of anyone who enters its territory. 
We also realize that the War on Terrorism that 
your government has declared has made the US 
officials hypersensitive and hyper-vigilant. But 
we would still like to know as to why Mr. Munir 
was singled out. The only reason for this could 
be that his Passport shows Pakistan as the 
country of his birth, his name identifies him as 
a Muslim, and he is a man.

Place of birth, gender, and faith are not 
acceptable grounds for discrimination among 
democratic and secular nations, including the 
United States. Any yet for these very reasons Mr. 
Munir was singled out, separated from his wife 
and son, taken to a cell, repeatedly 
photographed, finger-printed, and subjected to a 
most humiliating and intimidating process of 
interrogations by a series of officers.

For more than six hours Mr. Munir's request for a 
drink of water or for a visit to the toilet were 
rudely denied.

The letter from the Department Head which clearly 
laid out his doctoral student status at Simon 
Fraser University and the research-related 
purpose of his visit to Pakistan was 
contemptuously brushed aside by the interrogators.

Even more contemptuous was the attitude they 
showed toward Mr. Munir's Canadian Citizenship 
and Canadian passport. "You are not a Canadian 
citizen; you are a Pakistani travelling on a 
Canadian passport" was the statement the officers 
kept making. The statement betrays arrogant 
contempt for Canada on the part of the US 
officials. It disregards the universally accepted 
definition of "citizenship" and unilaterally 
devalues the rights and privileges the Canadian 
Government, representing the will of a sovereign 
nation, bestows upon its citizens.

For Mr. Munir's wife, Rahat, and their son, 
Momin, the Canadian passport (issued at the same 
time as Mr. Munir's) did not pose a problem. "You 
are a Canadian citizen, you are free to go", she 
was told after more than four hours of 
confinement. But she was to confront another 
shock. Extremely tired after a long journey, and 
traumatized for having to leave her husband in 
the custody of your officers, and not sure what 
would eventually happen to him, when she arrived 
at the Air Canada counter to make her connecting 
flight (AC#777), she was faced with the problem 
of "excess baggage". When she tried to reason 
that the two additional bags were to accompany 
her husband, booked on the same flight, she was 
told that there was no such booking in the name 
of Imran Munir. It is shocking for us that the 
United States, claiming to be the bastion of 
democracy, can allow its officers to alter the 
flight booking records of an airline.

Ultimately, it turned out that Mr. Munir was not 
the kind of person your officers were fishing 
for. After eight hours of ordeal, he was allowed 
to go.

We know Mr. Consul General that Mr. Munir is not 
the only one to face harassment, humiliation, 
intimidation and even confinement. Hundreds of 
innocent people have faced worse treatment, only 
because they were born in certain countries, were 
Muslims and were men. While we have been 
concerned over these other cases too, we write 
this note to you because Mr. Munir is a 
respectable member of the Board of Directors of 
our organization, which comprises people from all 
of South Asia and is dedicated to the propagation 
of democracy, secularism, peace and human rights.

We believe that Mr. Munir, our Board, and the 
Canadian Government deserve an apology for the 
manner Mr. Munir was treated by your officers at 
the Los Angeles airport.

Please be advised that we are releasing this 
letter to the media and the public.

Yours truly,

Hari P. Sharma, Ph.D.
Professor Emeritus, Simon Fraser University
and President, SANSAD

cc	Mr. Bill Graham, Minister of Exterrnal Affairs, Government of Canada
	Media and the public


South Asia Citizens Wire - Special
October 15, 2003

Ayodhya Diary
Communalism and the Common Public

by  Raghuvanshmani
15/10/2003, Faizabad, [UP, India]

As the day of the acid test for the peace and 
order comes near, Ayodhya feels the tension 
caused by the fundamental Hindu karsevaks, 
preferring to call themselves Ramsevaks.They 
propose to reach Ayodhya in a great number on the 
17th of this month to take oath for making of the 
Ram temple and reminding the Government its 
promise made to the Hindus.But the hidden agenda 
of these Hinduttva forces is to create trouble, 
to divide the society on the lines of religion to 
gather votes in the forth coming assembly 

The general public of Faizabad and Ayodhya is not 
in support of such arousing communal ceremonies 
leading to hatred and violence. Local business 
class, social and cultural activists have shown 
their resentment over this matter from different 
forums. Life still moves normal in Ayodhya and 
Faizabad in spite of various types of 
restrictions on going from one place to other. 
The borders of Faizabad are sealed with the view 
of keeping the VHP karsevaks away from the site 
of trouble. There is a general hike in the prices 
of the commodities of general use. Even 
vegetables are sold at double price [100% 
increase]. This has happened due to the 
disruption of transport and the reaching of 
deployed forces, CRPF, PAC, RAF, and HOME 
GAURDS.Clandestine reaching of karsewaks make it 
more and more difficult for the common public to 
live conveniently. The lower class, the 
labourers, ricshaw walas etc.suffer the most. But 
the Hinduttva forces seem to care for none of 
these problems. The VHP gives the threats of 
violence that makes the common public a shiver 
down the spine. This makes the administration 
more and more desperate to take stronger 
measures. And in turn it increases the problems 
of the common man.

Ayodhya is a part of Faizabad city and the two 
cannot be separated by any strict boundry. The 
population of Faizabad is mixed one with Hindu 
and Muslims living together. Except for some 
Molallas there is no separation clue to divide 
the two. There is a long history of this cultural 
mix here and history tells that the Muslim rulers 
built many of the temples of Ayodhya. The poetry 
written by Mir Anis and Brij Bihary Chakbast 
shows the same mix. There is a historical record 
of freedom struggle in the year 1957 in which 
Hindus and Muslims took part without caring for 
the religious difference. The famous Ashfaqullah, 
the martyr from the Bhagat Singh group, belongs 
to Faizabad.So the tradition of Hindu Muslim 
unity is very strong here.

The public of Faizabad is basically peace loving. 
They love the entertainments of the peaceful time 
when they can cut jokes and enjoy the simple 
pleasures of life. You may come across people who 
would remember the old peaceful days with a sort 
of nostalgia. In fact the temple mosque 
controversy has destroyed the freedom and peace 
of the 1980s.Those days no cop would disturb a 
night wanderer even in late night. The thela 
shops would remain open till late night for the 
nocturnals of the city. But now you get police 
all the time. The shops close early and people 
hurry to their homes. It is an example of how the 
life of peace loving people can be disturbed by 
communal forces with the sole agenda of 
collecting votes to grab the political power .In 
other words it is a tragedy in democracy that 
goons have a control over politics and life.

General public in Faizabad is of the view that 
the program of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad is about 
to flop. But some conjecture  clash between the 
karsevaks and police. This will increase the 
problems of the inhabitants of the city. 
Curiously enough many sants of Ayodhya,like 
Gyandas of  the Hanumangarhi temple, have also 
opposed the program of Vishwa Hindu Parishad.

o o o

See also reports posted on:
Hindutwa at Work

Communalism watch



The Times of India, October 15, 2003

Healing Touch for Godhra
[ Monday, October 13, 2003 11:59:46 Pm ]

Even before the Sabarmati Express coach was set 
alight at Signal Falia on Feb 27 last year, 
Godhra knew Dr Shujaat Vali as a gynaecologist 
who was trying to bring Hindus and Muslims in the 
town closer. In the ensuing riots, his nursing 
home was prevented from being burnt down by 
Hindus who prevailed upon miscreants in their own 
community. After last month's communal clash in 
Godhra, peace activists conducted a survey there. 
He spoke to Jyoti Punwani about the exercise:

Tell us about this survey.

To protest against the communal violence on 
September 4 during the Ganesh yatra, we organised 
a fast. A week later, a rally was   taken out at 
which we distributed a questionnaire, prepared 
after a detailed discussion amongst all NGOs. The 
rally passed through the main areas of Godhra. A 
total of 428 persons answered the questionnaire, 
55 per cent Muslim and 45 per cent Hindu.

What was the response of the people?

Very enthusiastic. They seemed eager   to fill in 
the questionnaire. We could sense their sincerity 
and seriousness. They felt that their opinion 

What were the findings?

We asked four questions. The responses were: 89 
per cent felt that recurring riots were the main 
hurdle in Godhra's progress; four per cent 
disagreed; the rest didn't answer this question. 
Over 84 per cent believed that the route of 
religious yatras should be appropriately planned. 
Nearly as many felt that religious and political 
rallies should   be banned in times of communal 

How will these findings help?

The administration should pay attention to them 
and take decisions on the basis of these results. 
Before the Ganesh yatra, most people had felt 
that if it was not allowed to pass through 
Muslim-dominated areas, trouble could be avoided. 
The administration, too, seemed to agree with 
this view. But it felt it had no grounds on which 
to order the change of route. Now, on the basis 
of the  results of this survey, they will be able 
to  convince organisers of yatras not to take 
them through sensitive areas.

Godhra saw no deaths in mob violence after Feb 27 
last year, though the Sabarmati Express was burnt 
there. Why did the recent violence take place? 

The Friday namaz coincided with the Ganesh yatra. 
So, there was a lot of tension already. Muslims 
decided to observe aself-imposed curfew. When the 
yatra reached Rani Masjid, near Polan Bazaar, 
some miscreants wrote "Jai Shree Ram" on the 
blackboard outside the masjid. This provoked 
stone-throwing from both sides, and finally 
resulted in looting and arson.

After Feb 27, the administration had initiated 
peace efforts. Have they been continuing?

They came to a stop just before the elections. In 
June this year, however, we again got together 
and decided to do something at least once a 
month. In Godhra, 11 NGOs jointly organised a 
'Mehndi Harifai' in which 176 girls participated. 
One Hindu and one Muslim girl sat opposite each 
other and applied mehndi on each other's hands. 
Girls from all strata of society took part in 
this. In July, we organised a qawwali and in 
August, a mushaira. Both were attended by Hindus 
and Muslims. After the violence in September, we 
observed a day's fast in the sensitive Patelwada, 
conducted the survey, distributed pamphlets and 
organised a peace rally in which 2,000 persons 
participated, despite it being a working day.

Are the two communities as polarised as they were 
after the burning of the train?

Most Hindus still feel that Muslims were 
responsible for the riots because they burnt the 
train. They feel Muslims are the main cause of 
conflict. Muslims, on the other hand, believe 
that they are being falsely  targeted by 
politicians from the majority community. 
Especially after Maulana Umerji's arrest (as the 
chief conspirator behind the burning of the 
train), Muslims, specially Ghanchis, feel cowed 
down and defeated. They feel that communal forces 
want to destroy them, and there is no justice for 
them in India.

So, is there no contact between the two 
communities? What about financial dealings?

Gradually, Hindu traders have again started 
dealing with Muslim retailers and transporters. 
But these dealings have yet to reach the earlier 
level. Hindus still avoid Signal Falia's garages. 
Business there is very bad; electricity comes for 
just two to four hours a day. Otherwise, the fear 
of physical harm has reduced and both communities 
have become less wary of visiting each other's 
areas. The middle classes of both communities 
have begun to see through the communal 
propaganda, and within these sections, the hatred 
that had sprung up last year has lessened. Among 
Muslims, the main cause of anger is the 
continuing arrests of those they feel are 
innocent in connection with the train incident. 
The anger is not against Hindus, but against 
political parties and state functionaries.

What can be done to restore normality in Godhra?

As is happening in Ahmedabad, economic 
compulsions and interdependence alone can bring 
peace to Godhra. The government  and public 
institutions should think about setting up common 
spaces for both communities to work and trade 
together. In Godhra, each community is confined 
to its ghetto.

What was the response to the Nanavati-Shah Commission in Godhra?

Very bad. Hindus were not interested, except 
those active in politics. Muslims had no faith in 
judges. The few witnesses who deposed were not 
satisfied with the commission.



Mid Day [India]

Adeep Singh's 'Adharm' gets 40 cuts
By: Jasmine Shah Varma
October 8, 2003

Debutant director Adeep SinghYou can only expect 
a filmmaker to be heartbroken when he has been 
asked to make 40 cuts to his film by the Censor 
This is the tale of first time director and 
producer Adeep Singh. His film Adharm was denied 
the censor certificate four times. "At the fifth 
trial, they asked me to make 33 sound cuts and 
seven visual cuts. On top of that they have 
certified it A."
It does not take much guesswork to figure out 
that this film felt the severity of the board's 
scissors because it is on the ever-controversial 
subject of Hindu-Muslim, India-Pakistan conflict. 
Words including Pakistan, Muslim, M F Husain, 
Wankhede, ch******, bh***a and masjid, among many 
others, have been muted from full sentences. As a 
result, when the film releases you will hear 
dialogues like '_ _ ______ ne Saraswati ki nangi 
tasveer utari.' Or 'Jab dekho ______ se sadak tak 
namaz padhte hai.'
After struggling with the Censor Board for six 
months, Singh is happy that his Rs 2 crore film 
(in the making since 2000) has a certificate to 
show it in cinema halls.
So what is so problematic about the film? Singh 
says, "After the first trial, when they refused 
to give my film a certificate, they said that 
there will be communal riots because of my film. 
I asked them to suggest cuts but they asked me to 
revise the film myself and get it. This kept 
happening for three more trials."
The film is set in Mumbai and showcases a 
Maharashtrian, Hindu fundamentalist called 
Dadasaheb Kulkarni (played by Sayaji Shinde) who 
belongs to the political party called Bhartiya 
Hindu Sangh (the board has got rid of this name 
from the film as well). "He bears no resemblance 
to any politician or party. Yet they have drawn 
comparisons and said that it will cause trouble."
Kuldeep (Rahul Dev) and his younger brother 
Jaideep (Rocky Khanna) migrate to the metropolis 
following the killing of their Sikh parents. Only 
the starting point of the film, Singh says, is 
taken from a real-life incident. He is referring 
to the massacre of 37 Sikhs in Chattisinghpora, 
in Jammu and Kashmir on March 20, 2000, by 

Of all places, the two brothers settle in 
Mumbai's Maharashtrian locality, Lalbaug. Here, 
the politician Kulkarni finds in Kuldeep a tool 
for his political games centred around Hindutva. 
He brainwashes the Sikh boy into killing a 
Muslim, who then lands in jail. In there, and on 
reading the sacred texts of all religions, he 
realises that he has been used by Kulkarni. But 
then, it's too late. His brother has also been 
brainwashed by now.
Explaining his film, Singh says: "My message in 
this film is that everyone should love their 
country. The film is against such Indians who 
celebrate India's loss to Pakistan in a cricket 
match. And against those politicians who exploit 
the young by brainwashing them against other 
He adds, "My message is strong and positive and I 
don't think it will lead to communal riots. The 
audience is mature enough to get the message. The 
Censor Board, however, needs to change its laws. 
How can a four-member jury decide what the rest 
of India is ready to watch?"
The simplistically portrayed views of this 
42-year-old Mumbai -bred filmmaker on the 
India-Pakistan conflict will be on view before 
the end of this year. He has just sold the music 
rights to Zee Records and plans to air the promos 
soon. The film also features Namrata Shirodkar, 
Sonali Kulkarni and Seema Biswas. Singh has 
assisted directors Ketan Mehta and John Matthew 
Mathan prior to making Adharm.



[October 15, 2003]


As part of the on-going AIDWA [All India 
Democratic Women's Association] national campaign 
against dowry and its expanding dimensions, the 
Gorakhpur district unit of AIDWA organised an 
anti-dowry convention in the city on the 11th 
October.  Gorakhpur is currently the hub of the 
activities of the Hindutva brigade led by the 
Hindu Mahasabha MP, Mahant Adityanath.  For over 
a year, the Mahant and his Hindu Yuva Vahini 
hoodlums have been terrorising and attacking poor 
Muslims in the city and in the villages of the 
district and neighbouring districts on some 
pretext or the other.  Lives have been lost and 
many homes and shops burnt down.  To have 
organised a convention of this kind in the 
prevailing atmosphere and that too by a weak unit 
was most commendable and was welcomed by many 
sections of the population including the media, 
teachers, workers and, of course, women.

The convention that began at 12 noon and 
continued till 3.00 pm was held in the 
Journalists Association Hall in the heart of the 
city.  More than 250 people attended.  Many women 
including AIDWA activists, members of Samakhya, 
and others and progressive writers, trade 
unionists, teachers, youth and students attended.

The convention began with an anti-dowry skit that 
had been prepared and was acted by AIDWA 
activists and their young daughters.   Malti 
Devi, Dsst President of AIDWA, welcomed all the 
participants and welcomed Madhu Garg (State 
President), Jagdish Pandey (Veteran leader of the 
teachers movement), Veena (Samakhya) and 
Subhashini Ali (President, AIDWA) on the dais. 
She spoke of the way in which the district unit 
had been preparing for this event for the last 2 
months.  Many area meetings had been held and the 
initiative had been widely appreciated.  She also 
said that there were some people who felt that 
this was a very dangerous campaign and they were 
openly preventing women from attending the 

Madhu Garg placed the main points of the AIDWA 
perspective before the convention and formally 
inaugurated it.  The first speaker was Mansa a 
young dalit student in BA Final who spoke 
forcefully about the way in which advertisements 
promoted dowry and greed.  She was followed by 
Shweta Verma a student of B Sc Part 1 who wanted 
young girls like herself to reject dowry demands 
even if they had to remain unmarried.  Sumitra, a 
Dalit woman, said that earlier in her community 
only 20 annas were spent on a marriage and, much 
later, this amount went up to 51/- but now 
thousands had to be spent.  Advocate Deep Prakash 
Pathak explained the laws relating to dowry and 
dowry harassment and violence and lamented the 
fact that the police and the judiciary were 
largely unsympathetic.  In between the speakers, 
anti-dowry songs were presented by Mahila 
Samakhya and Pramod a DYFI activist.  Sundari 
from Samakhya related the case of a young girl 
who was killed because her dowry was insufficient 
on her wedding night itself.  But due to the 
intervention of  women activists at least her 
husband and his family members were arrested. 
Krishna related the heart-rending story of Pushpa 
who gave birth to her fourth daughter.  Her 
husband refused to go to the hospital to see her 
and she actually died the next day.  Talat Aziz 
of Dehat orgn. spoke about dowry being a serious 
problem among Muslims even though there was no 
religious sanction of any kind for the practice. 
She said that it was very unfortunate that 
so-called religious Muslim leaders never 
condemned it.

After this several women and one man who had 
themselves married into other castes and 
communities or who had arranged dowryless and 
intercaste marriages for their children were 
introduced and also felicitated.  This part of 
the programme created quite a stir in the 
audience!  Arun Sharma, a DYFI activist, spoke of 
his own marriage to a Muslim girl and of the 
problems that they had faced;  Simran Tirke, 
Dsst.Secy, AIDWA, described how she a non-tribal 
married a tribal man and, as a result, her 
parents faced severe social ostracism but because 
they were so fond of her husband they faced all 
this with great determination;  Pushpa Sharma, 
Dsst. Vice-President said that she had refused to 
take dowry at the time of both her sons' 
marriages and, in fact, the second marriage had 
been an inter-caste one - her daughter-in-law 
also addressed the audience;  Parvati Sharma, 
AIDWA Dsst leader said that even though both her 
sons were permanent railway employees, she had 
married both without taking dowry and one of the 
marriages was an inter-caste one;  Kusuma Devi 
said that she married her son to a girl who was 
adopted.  The audience listened to these brave 
and unusual people with rapt attention and 
applauded them enthusiastically.

Jagdish Pandey appreciated AIDWA's efforts and 
congratulated the organisation and Veena Rana of 
Mahila Samakhya said that her organisation would 
work closely with AIDWA on the issues of dowry 
and womens eqauality.

The last speaker, Subhashini Ali, spoke about the 
effects that globalisation and liberalisation 
were having on our society.  The rampant 
consumerism and use and re-invention of 
"tradition' for commercial and exploitative 
purposes was driving dowry demands and fuelling 
violence against women.  In turn, this was 
aggravating the problem of female foeticide and 
infanticide leading to the widening of the gender 
gap.  She appealed to all sections to make the 
struggle against dowry an integral part of all 
campaigns and struggles against globalisation, 
She concluded by saying that women had to 
organise and campaign so that their issues became 
part of the agenda of political parties who, by 
and large, exploited womens issues for their own 
ends but were not really concerned about their 
problems and about gender injustice.  After she 
spoke, several young boys and girls came to the 
dias and made a vow not to take dowry or to agree 
to a marriage where dowry was being demanded. 
One leader of the teacher's movement even 
announced that not only would he not take dowry 
at the time of his son's marriage but he welcomed 
any suggestions from people in the audience about 
an educated girl who would be willing to marry 
his son!  The convention ended on this fairly 
optimistic note.

Subhashini Ali



Lesbian groups meet at Mumbai film fest
Tuesday, 14 October , 2003, 13:20
Mumbai: Lesbian groups from around the world are 
descending this week on Mumbai for a three-day 
film festival that will highlight the issues and 
problems they face globally, organisers said 

The festival, organised by "Humjinsi", will run 
from Friday till Sunday and showcase works from 
South East Asia, Africa, Latin America, West Asia 
and other parts of the world.

"We are creating a package of films and videos 
around the theme of sexual and gender 
minorities," said Chatura, one of the organisers.

"Our agenda is to primarily create a forum for 
showcasing works emerging from South East Asia, 
the Middle East, Africa and Latin America," she 

"This three-day campaign will highlight the 
gender and sexuality problems among lesbians in 
India too." Homosexuality is banned in India.

"Any two people caught in the act of lesbianism 
or homosexuality are liable to be punished under 
section 377 of Indian Penal code," well-known 
lesbian activist Geeta Kumana told AFP.

The Indian government and a few gay organisations 
are locked in intense legal tussles, with gays 
demanding the right to choose their sexual 
partners and the government proclaiming same-sex 
relations are against the country's culture.

The organisers of the festival see it as a 
platform to further help their movement. "(It) 
will help to complement the already existing and 
ongoing work within the sexuality and gender 
minority movement at the grassroot level in 
India," Chatura told AFP.

"We look at it as a political tool to generate 
more visibility, facilitate a public discourse 
and celebrate our various existences."

She said the screening of films will be supported 
by discussion forums and readings. Organisers say 
the festival is a non-profit event which makes it 
difficult for them to pay screening fees to 

"Our funds enable us only to manage the 
infrastructure and administrative costs for 
conducting the festival," said Chatura.

The festival will be held at Mumbai's well known National College.



Frontline [India], Volume 20 - Issue 21, October 11 - 24, 2003

GENDER ISSUES: In a twilight world


The eunuchs of India constitute a 
much-misunderstood community; they are often 
denied humane treatment by the state machinery 
and are deprived of the rights that other 
citizens enjoy.

"Ever since I can remember, I have always 
identified myself as a woman. I lived in 
Namakkal, a small town in Tamil Nadu. When I was 
in the 10th standard I realised that the only way 
for me to be comfortable was to join the hijra 
community. It was then that my family found out 
that I frequently met hijras who lived in the 
city. One day, when my father was away, my 
brother, encouraged by my mother, started beating 
me with a cricket bat. I locked myself in a room 
to escape from the beatings. My mother and 
brother then tried to break into the room to beat 
me up further. Some of my relatives intervened 
and brought me out of the room. I related my 
ordeal to an uncle of mine who gave me Rs.50 and 
asked me to go home. Instead, I took the money 
and went to live with a group of hijras in Erode."

* "My name is Sachin and I am 23 years old. As a 
child I always enjoyed putting make-up like 
`vibhuti' or `kum kum' and my parents always saw 
me as a girl. I am male but I only have female 
feelings. I used to help my mother in all the 
housework like cooking, washing and cleaning. 
Over the years I started assuming more of the 
domestic responsibilities at home. The neighbours 
started teasing me. They would call out to me and 
ask: `Why don't you go out and work like a man?' 
or `Why are you staying at home like a girl?' But 
I liked being a girl. I felt shy about going out 
and working. Relatives would also mock and scold 
me on this score. Every day I would go out of the 
house to bring water. And as I walked back with 
the water I would always be teased. I felt very 
ashamed. I even felt suicidal. How could I live 
like that? But my parents never protested. They 
were helpless."

- From the Peoples Union of Civil Liberties 
(Karnataka) Report on Human Rights Violations 
Against the Transgender Community, released in 
September 2003.

HIJRAS in India have virtually no safe spaces, 
not even in their families, where they are 
protected from prejudice and abuse. The recently 
released PUCL(K) Report on Human Rights 
Violations Against the Transgender Community has 
documented the kind of prejudice that hijras face 
in Bangalore. The report shows that this 
prejudice is translated into violence, often of a 
brutal nature, in public spaces, police stations, 
prisons and even in their homes. The main factor 
behind the violence is that society is not able 
to come to terms with the fact that hijras do not 
conform to the accepted gender divisions. In 
addition to this, most hijras have a lower 
middle-class background, which makes them 
susceptible to harassment by the police. The 
discrimination based on their class and gender 
makes the hijra community one of the most 
disempowered groups in Indian society.


Eunuchs from Rajasthan at the All India Eunuch 
Convention in Rath, some 250 km from Lucknow, in 
June 2001. The convention was meant to thrash out 
issues ranging from careers in politics to 
disciplining the community's younger generation.

However, the human rights movement in India has 
begun to take notice of the concerns of the 
community only recently. Legal scholar Upendra 
Baxi, in the foreword to the PUCL(K) report, 
says: "The dominant discourse on human rights in 
India has yet to come to terms with the 
production/reproduction of absolute human 
rightlessness of transgender communities.... At 
stake is the human right to be different, the 
right to recognition of different pathways of 
sexuality, a right to immunity from the 
oppressive and repressive labelling of despised 
sexuality. Such a human right does not exist in 

Transgender communities have existed in most 
parts of the world with their own local 
identities, customs and rituals. They are called 
baklas in the Philippines, berdaches among 
American Indian tribes, serrers in Africa and 
hijras, jogappas, jogtas, shiv-shaktis and 
aravanis in South Asia. The hijra community in 
India, which has a recorded history of more than 
4,000 years, was considered to have special 
powers because of its third-gender status. It was 
part of a well-established `eunuch culture' in 
many societies, especially in West Asia, and its 
members held sanctioned positions in royal courts.

Hijras trace their origins to myths in the 
Ramayana and the Mahabharata. Rama, while leaving 
for the forest upon being banished from the 
kingdom for 14 years, turns around to his 
followers and asks all the `men and women' to 
return to the city. Among his followers the 
hijras alone do not feel bound by this direction 
and decide to stay with him. Impressed with their 
devotion, Rama sanctions them the power to confer 
blessings on people on auspicious occasions like 
childbirth and marriage, and also at inaugural 
functions. This set the stage for the custom of 
badhai in which hijras sing, dance and confer 

The legend in the Mahabharata is that Aravan, the 
son of Arjuna and Nagakanya, offers to be 
sacrificed to Goddess Kali to ensure the victory 
of the Pandavas in the Kurukshetra war. The only 
condition that he made was to spend the last 
night of his life in matrimony. Since no woman 
was willing to marry one who was doomed to be 
killed, Krishna assumes the form of a beautiful 
woman called Mohini and marries him. The hijras 
of Tamil Nadu consider Aravan their progenitor 
and call themselves aravanis.

The hijra community is divided into seven houses, 
each headed by a `nayak' who appoints gurus or 
spiritual leaders to train their wards or 
`chelas' in badhai and protect them. Hijras in 
South India do not have the same cultural role as 
their counterparts in North India and most of 
them take up sex work as a means of earning a 

Kothi is a term used to describe male homosexuals 
who take on the female role; they are largely 
from a non-English-speaking lower middle-class 
background. Many kothis marry owing to family 
pressure but continue to have same sex 
relationships. There is a symbolic relationship 
between kothis and hijras, which has been 
strengthened because of the lack of other support 
systems for kothis in cities and smaller towns.

For many hijras and kothis, sex work is the only 
option because no one is willing to employ them 
because of their gender identity. Even as 
commercial sex workers, hijras are the most 
vulnerable group as they are placed right at the 
bottom of the hierarchy of sex workers. This 
results in their having little bargaining power 
and being unable to ensure that their customers 
practise safe sex. They are also at risk of 
violence both from customers and the police.

According to the PUCL(K) report, violence is a 
widespread and everyday reality for hijra and 
kothi sex workers in Bangalore. Owing to the 
intolerance they face from their families, hijras 
and kothis often use public spaces like parks and 
toilets to entertain sexual partners, lovers and 
sometimes even clients. The lack of protection or 
privacy afforded by their own accommodation, 
makes them vulnerable to violence, inflicted 
largely by the police.

The harassment and surveillance by the police 
sometimes extends into the privacy of their 
homes. The place with the most scope for abuse is 
the police station where the police, on a regular 
basis, violate all canons of civilised behaviour 
by physically, sexually and verbally abusing and 
humiliating hijras and kothis.

Prisons are also places where anyone who is seen 
as not being `masculine enough' is harassed and 
often physically and sexually abused. According 
to the PUCL(K) report, the deeply sexual nature 
of the violence indicates that the sexuality of 
the hijra becomes the target of prurient 
curiosity, which could in its extreme form 
manifest itself as brutal violence. Sexual abuse 
and violence, apart from being the most 
systematic tool for dehumanising an individual, 
can be understood as a punishment for not 
conforming to the gender roles laid down by 

ACCORDING to the two main diagnostic systems used 
in the Indian medical establishment, 
transsexualism is defined as a `gender identity 
disorder'. The doctors usually prescribe a sexual 
reassignment surgery (SRS), which currently 
resorts to hormone therapy and surgical 
reconstruction and may include electrolysis, 
speech therapy and counselling. Surgical 
construction could include the removal of male 
sex organs and the construction of female ones. 
Since government hospitals and qualified private 
practitioners do not usually perform SRS, many 
hijras go to quacks, thus placing themselves at 
serious risk. Neither the Indian Council for 
Medical Research (ICMR) nor the Medical Council 
of India (MCI) have formulated any guidelines to 
be followed in SRS. The attitude of the medical 
establishment has only reinforced the low sense 
of self-worth that many hijras have at various 
moments in their lives.

The media have also reinforced stereotypes about 
hijras. In December 2002, Chandini, a hijra from 
Bangalore, died of severe burns in her home. The 
hijra community alleged that her husband, who had 
a long-standing relationship with her, had 
murdered her for money, and demanded that an 
impartial probe be held. The police refused and 
stuck to their version that it was a case of 
suicide. The local newspapers, including Police 
News, portrayed the incident as an exciting 
romantic tryst between two strangers, in which 
the unsuspecting man discovered the true sexual 
identity of the wily hijra. Even a progressive 
and anti-establishment publication, in its story, 
described hijras as a race apart, freaks of the 
underworld, half-man half-woman, almost devilish 
in their customs and practices. This kind of 
gender stereotyping was seen in many local 
English newspapers as well.

The systematic violence that hijras face is 
reinforced by institutions such as the family, 
media and the medical establishment, and is given 
legitimacy by the legal system. The violence that 
the hijra community faces from the police can be 
traced to the 1897 amendment to the Criminal 
Tribes Act of 1871, which was subtitled "An Act 
for the Registration of Criminal Tribes and 
Eunuchs". Under this law, the local government 
was required to keep a register of the names and 
residences of all eunuchs who were "reasonably 
suspected of kidnapping or castrating children or 
committing offences under Section 377 of the 
Indian Penal Code". The law also decreed eunuchs 
as incapable of acting as a guardian, making a 
gift, drawing up a will or adopting a son.

The law that is used most to threaten the hijra 
and kothi communities, as well as the homosexual 
community in India, is Section 377 of the IPC, 
which criminalises "carnal intercourse against 
the order of nature with any man, woman or 
animal" even if it is voluntary. In effect, it 
criminalises certain kinds of sexual acts that 
are perceived to be `unnatural'. The law, which 
has its origin in colonial ideas of morality, in 
effect presumes that a hijra or a homosexual 
person is engaging in `carnal intercourse against 
the order of nature", thus making this entire lot 
of marginalised communities vulnerable to police 
harassment and arrest.

The Immoral Traffic Prevention Act (ITPA) of 1956 
(amended in 1986), whose stated objective is to 
criminalise brothel-keeping, trafficking, pimping 
and soliciting, in reality targets the visible 
figure of the sex worker and enables the police 
to arrest and intimidate the transgender 
sex-worker population.


Winners of the Miss Koovakkam 2003 beauty pageant 
for eunuchs held at Villupuram, Tamil Nadu, in 
April. Hijras converge at Koovakkam every year.

The hijra community is deprived of several rights 
under civil law because Indian law recognises 
only two sexes. This means that hijras do not 
have the right to vote, marry and own a ration 
card, a passport or a driving licence, or claim 
employment and health benefits.

In north and central India, hijras, who have 
contested and won elections to local and State 
bodies, are now facing legal challenges. In 
February 2003, the Madhya Pradesh High Court 
struck down the election of Kamala Jaan as the 
Mayor of the Municipal Corporation of Katni. The 
court's logic was that since Kamala Jaan was not 
a woman, she could not contest the seat, which 
was reserved for women. Lawyer Pratul Shandilya, 
who is arguing Kamala Jaan's case, said: "I have 
already filed the Special Leave Petition (SLP) 
before the Supreme Court, and the court has also 
granted leave in the petition."

The High Court verdict came despite a direction 
from the Election Commission (E.C.) in September 
1994 that hijras can be registered in the 
electoral roles either as male or female 
depending on their statement at the time of 
enrolment. This direction was given by the E.C. 
after Shabnam, a hijra candidate from the 
Sihagpur Assembly constituency in Madhya Pradesh, 
wrote to the Chief Election Commissioner 
enquiring about which category hijras were 
classified under.

BUT around the world, countries are beginning to 
recognise the rights of transgender people. In a 
landmark judgment (Christine Goodwin vs. the 
United Kingdom, 2002) the European Court of Human 
Rights declared that the U.K. government's 
failure to alter the birth certificates of 
transsexual people or to allow them to marry in 
their new gender role was a breach of the 
European Convention on Human Rights. It said that 
a test of biological factors could no longer be 
used to deny recognition legally to the change of 
gender that a transsexual had undergone. In New 
Zealand, in New Zealand Attorney General vs. the 
Family Court at Otahuhu (1994), the court upheld 
the principle that for purposes of marriage, 
transsexual people should be legally recognised 
in their re-assigned sex.

In Victoria, Australia, the Equal Opportunity 
(Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation) Bill, 
debated and amended in the State Assembly in 
2000, has laid down a comprehensive definition of 
gender identity by incorporating various social 
and cultural factors that shape a person's gender 
and sexual identity. The International Bill of 
Gender Rights, adopted in 1995, provides for the 
right to define and express freely one's gender 
identity, and is therefore a model for 
progressive legislative change.

OF late the Indian hijra community has begun to 
mobilise themselves through the formation of a 
collective. Sangama, an organisation working with 
hijras, kothis and sex workers in Bangalore, has 
played an important role by helping them organise 
and fight for their rights. Its services include 
organising a drop-in centre for hijras and 
kothis, conducting a series of public rallies and 
marches, using legal assistance in case of police 
harassment, and establishing links with other 
social movements. When the owners' association of 
the apartment complex where the Sangama office 
was located objected to hijras visiting the 
premises, the organisation sent letters to, among 
others, the Chief Minister and the National Human 
Rights Commission (NHRC). The Chief Minister 
responded saying that he would ensure that the 
matter was investigated. A letter from the NHRC 
to the police station concerned resulted in the 
police assuring Sangama that the rights of all 
residents of the building, including the 
employees and visitors to Sangama, would be 

In December 2002, hijras, kothis and other sexual 
minorities in Bangalore formed a collective 
called Vividha. Its charter of demands includes 
the repeal of Section 377 and the ITPA. It has 
also demanded that hijras be recognised as women, 
be given equal opportunities, with entitlement to 
housing, employment benefits and rail travel 

In 2002, the hijra community in Bangalore 
organised `Hijra Habba', a festival of sports and 
cultural events, which was covered extensively 
and positively by the media. In 2003, the 
festival was staged again in Bangalore's Town 
Hall and over 100 hijras participated in the 
meet. Kajol, a hijra who addressed the packed 
hall on the occasion, said: "I was initially told 
not to speak in front of the media because it 
would affect my family. But I decided that it was 
important for me to speak and assert my 
identity." She added that "hijras were part of a 
wider community of sexual minorities" and singled 
out society's treatment of lesbians for whom 
there exist very few spaces.

The organisations of the hijra community can be 
seen as constituting a larger movement of sexual 
minority groups in India. They are challenging 
the constitutional validity of Section 377 and 
are organising a campaign questioning the 
government's stand that the law should remain. 
The discrimination and violence that hijras face 
show that it is high time that both the 
government and the human rights movement in the 
country begin to take this issue with the 
seriousness it deserves.


Buzz on the perils of fundamentalist politics, on 
matters of peace and democratisation in South 
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citizens wire service run since 1998 by South 
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