The government thinks women need sindoor more than they need sanitary napkins

This article first appeared on http://www.feminisminindia.com. The link can be found here: https://feminisminindia.com/2017/05/23/gst-sanitary-napkins-sindoor/


As India braces itself to the new Goods and Services Tax rates that is to be rolled out on July 1, the GST Council declared tax rates for 1211 items on May 18.

Among these were sanitary towels, napkins and tampons. The tax rate on these goods would be 12% (this is the second lowest tax slab, the others being 5%, 18% and 28%). (https://www.scribd.com/document/348819852/GST-rates#download)
Superficially, this is an improvement since until now, sanitary napkins, which are considered a luxury item in India, were taxed 14.5%.
For comparison, the government has declared sindoor, bangles and bindis, which have no essential value, as tax-exempt. Also for reference, just some of the other items included in the same category as female hygiene products are drawing books, frozen meat products and cellphones.

Many of the currently available brands of sanitary napkin are made out of plastic, which is non bio-degradable. Burning such products creates harmful toxins in the air. Sanitary waste, therefore should be considered as medical waste, since it also includes blood. One way to dispose them is incineration. As part of the Swachh Bharat campaign, two such incinerators were installed in two hostels in New Delhi. However, the movement failed to spread across the nation. (http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/Chargesheet/why-we-need-a-proper-menstrual-waste-disposal-system/)
Feminism in India, along with Eco Femme, Uger Pads, SHE Cup, Boondh, Shomota and Saathi launched #ThePadEffect campaign to address this issue. This movement sought to create awareness about the harmful effects of sanitary waste on the environment, and also provided information about the various eco-friendly alternatives that are available in the market. (https://feminisminindia.com/2017/05/16/infographic-what-thepadeffect/the-pad-effect-infographic/). This campaign will be culminated on May 28, which is celebrated internationally as Menstrual Hygiene Day.

Rohtak Rape Brings Into Focus India’s Troubled Relationship With Reproductive Rights

Note: This article first appeared on Feminism in India. The link can be found here: https://feminisminindia.com/2017/05/19/reproductive-rights-india/

 

The pregnancy of a ten-year-old girl from Rohtak, Haryana who was repeatedly raped by her stepfather has once again brought into public domain the topic of abortions in India. The question of termination of the girl’s pregnancy was in the hands of a panel of doctors.

According to the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act (1971), a woman who is under 20 weeks pregnant has the right to terminate her pregnancy. However, Dr. Manisha Gupte, co-founder of the NGO Mahila Sarvangeen Utkarsh Mandal (MASUM), says that there is a difference between the MTP and an abortion.

“Abortion means that a woman can go to any clinic and get her pregnancy terminated. But India’s MTP act requires the woman to get the permission of a doctor to abort the foetus. It is dependent on the doctor’s individual opinion, which is a very subjective matter,” she said, in an interview with the writer of this story. Even though medical practitioners are referred to in such cases, there have been examples where courts have denied women the permission to abort the foetus.

 

There has been a rise in cases of women asking for the right to lawfully terminate their pregnancy. The law takes into consideration reasons such as rape, threat to the physical or mental health of the woman, or failure of contraceptive. In 2015, a Gujarat High Court judge rejected the plea of a 24-year-old rape survivor to terminate her pregnancy, stating that it would endanger her life.

INDIA’S MTP ACT REQUIRES THE WOMAN TO GET THE PERMISSION OF A DOCTOR TO ABORT THE FOETUS.

One of the reasons behind the 20-week limit was to curtail abortions based on gender-biased sex selection. According to the census, in 1981 and 1991, there were 933 and 927 females per 1000 males respectively. More than 20 years after the MTP act was passed, the Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques act was implemented. The aim was to stop sex-selective termination of pregnancy (As per the 2011 census, the sex ratio remains skewed towards males at 933:1000).

“The lack of knowledge about abortion rights is widespread. There’s also a huge social stigma attached to the act of abortion, and also to women’s sexuality in general. Women are often judged and mistreated at abortion clinics. This is why several of them opt for unsafe methods. In many cases, it is the family controls the woman’s reproductive rights,” says Dr. Gupte.

In India, 10 women die every day due to unsafe abortions according to experts, a report in January 2017 said. US President Donald Trump’s ‘Global Gag Rule’, banning federal funding for organisations that provide information on terminating pregnancy, is expected to reduce fund flows into India by at least Rs 68 crore. This action would affect rural women the most, a report by The Economic Times stated.

In 2003, the MTP act was amended to allow terminations of pregnancy only in clinics or institutions established, maintained or approved by the government. In spite of this, around 66% of India’s abortions are carried out through illegal methods, according to a study published the World Health Organisation and the Guttmacher Institute in 2012.

This writer also spoke to Dr. Suchitra Dalvie, Co-ordinator for the Asia Safe Abortion Partnership and former director of the Family Planning Association of India. “Women’s abortion is a challenging issue to deal with, because it’s an intersection of all the other issues that we refuse to confront. It involves women’s sexuality, contraception, socio-cultural conditions, and the patriarchal control over women and their bodies. The priority is always the woman’s health and well-being; the child comes later. Post 20 weeks of pregnancy, the abortion may or may not be dangerous, depending upon the situation and health of the woman. But Caesarean deliveries are much riskier,” she says.

According to data released in response to an RTI filed by activist Chetan Kothari, the number of MTPs carried out in Mumbai was 33,526, a 4% decline from the 34,790 cases in 2015-16. The biggest decline was in the 15-19 age group, showing a positive trend in teen pregnancies. However, experts are sceptical about calling it a healthy sign yet.

Stop enforcing feminism on Bollywood

It’s disappointing when Shah Rukh Khan shirks away from topic of a slightly better shelf-life, or even equal pay for Bollywood actresses. Not because of his many roles as a stalker, emotional blackmailer, misogynist have paved the way for his enlightened view on ageism. But because he is considered one of the more intelligent actors around. According to him, women work ‘5 times harder and gets paid ten times less,’ and the market forces determine the value of an actor.

And he’s not wrong.

This is the reason why Dangal wouldn’t have done well if Aamir Khan hadn’t played the tough patriarch. It’s the reason why Mary Kom, which is also about a successful female boxer didn’t do well. It’s also the reason why Sultan did do well. Then again, bhai ka picture always does well.

We do have the occasional Mardani, Queen, or Jai Gangajal. But they will never come close to the sycophantic 100-crore club, which remains dominated by the likes of Khan. Of the top 10 most commercially successful Hindi films, only one is without a Khan (Bajirao Mastani). And of the highest grossing 15 Indian films, only Bahubali and Rajnikant’s Kabali are Khan-less.

In a sense, SRK is right. Commercial cinema is entrenched in financial super-success. Seemingly, the people in the best position to change that are the Khans.

Aamir, with Dangal being his last release, is the one creating the most positive change. A film about two young girls who are sportwomen, and not romantic accessories, is something none of the Khans have done before. He may have played an authoritarian with little regard for his daughters’ wishes, but any father-daughter story from Haryana that doesn’t involve infanticide, forced marriage or honour killing is commendable.

SRK may publicly accept the sexism and ageism, but that’s all he’s willing to do. He may even go the extra mile to patronise feminists by saying women are better than men. But his films rarely demonstrate a basic respect for women. He might have done a Chak De! India, but that does not dissolve him of his criminal offences like Chennai Express and Happy New Year.

Speaking of criminals, Salman may have films with fiesty-looking women, until they fall in love with him and forget all previous personality traits. They dissolve into the quintessential Bollywood wife: attractive impregnable slaves. Salman, on the other hand, has risen even more ever since he stopped trying to put an effort into his roles.

As the actresses cast against them get younger and younger, they are in such a cemented position that they will never get rejected by the heroine. That responsibility falls solely upon Ranbir Kapoor. Age is not the only deterrant to women starring against the Khan. They will have no qualms starring against ‘pure’ newcomers. On the other hand, the industry will subtly (and overtly) slut-shame Sunny Leone. She can be an item number, but never the love interest of any of Bollywood’s most expensive men.

Bollywood’s leading women have predominantly shied away, or gone back and forth on being feminists. And it’s completely fair that they don’t call themselves the f-word. It’s because they aren’t feminists.

The only women who have openly addressed the wage-gap are Kareena Kapoor Khan and Kangna Ranaut. Yet, one is known for her whimsical behaviour, or her apparently horrifying choice of name for her own son. The other one is known for her terrible taste in men.

There have been moments of some female empowerment. Cleavage gapers have been shamed, a cricketer boyfriend of an actress spoke up against calling her a ‘distraction’, and there are some women without the ideal Bollywood-heroine body type defending their right to exist whilst not looking like a Barbie doll.

However, none of the actresses are ready to be openly feminist. They dance in heels while men wear flats. They wear skimpy clothes and dance in freezing temperatures with a fully clothed man. They are constantly nitpicked on for their natural facial features and bodies. And if they dare change something, they will be shamed for that. They work as much as the men do. Their financial success is short-lived: many of them will be out of work by the time they’ve reached their industry shelf-life – for everyone loves a movie about a man and a youngthinbeautifulperfect woman. In spite of this, if they still don’t firmly believe that they deserve equal pay, then they’re really not feminists.

So we should really stop asking every famous vagina-owner about feminism. Especially when they come from an industry created to satisfy the patriarchy through elaborate song-and-dance rituals. If we want an unbridled feminist moment from Bollywood, all we can do is wait for the occasional Queen. Or even a Sunny Leone interview.

Everything you’ve heard about Ae Dil Hai Mushkil is wrong

Movie critics are infuriating, and, for the most part, pointless. Sometimes they coddle the Bollywood industry that produces mediocre recycled films. And sometimes they criticize the same industry for not having enough variety, in spite of knowing that this system has a 95% reservation for privileged Punjabi school dropouts with famous parents.

But recently the most infuriating critiques have been of Karan Johar’s Ae Dil Hai Mushkil.  For Karan Johar to make a film where the hero and heroine do not end up together is great personal growth, even though he decided to make the woman terminally ill for refusing to sleep with Ranbir Kapoor.

A common complain that critics had with this film was that the major characters do not, in the course of the film have any jobs or any sort of commitment. But surely you cannot expect a horny toddler such as Ranbir to work for a living? And his nanny, Anushka had to quit her job after she married Fawad Khan. Aishwarya Rai Bacchan had to nanny Ranbir after she left, which didn’t work out. You know how children are when you suddenly change their favourite nanny. Just because people don’t have clearly stated professions such as DJ, poet and artist, doesn’t mean they don’t work for a living.

Another very severe criticism of this film was how Ranbir constantly keeps getting rejected by Anushka, and somehow understands at the end that she only wants to be friends, even though she had been saying so the whole time. It’s funny, I don’t remember anyone having a problem with the same end in alternate realities while watching Inception.  (Yes, this is the Indian remake of Inception). At least Ranbir and Anushka don’t die at the end of every reality (well, almost).

It enraged some that Fawad Khan was part of this film. This protest, disguised as a nationalist agenda, was actually a secret attempt by Fawad Khan to unentangle himself from the giant Johar-hug that he had gotten into.

Not enough credit is being given to Ranbir Kapoor, the new SRK. He cried, behaved like a child, was the ideal spoilt hormonal MBA student. He went one step ahead and applied mehendi. He judged his girlfriend for cheating on him in the exact way he had tried to cheat on her a few nights ago and victimised himself. He even attempted to be sexist to his lover by commodifying her in front of her ex-husband. Albeit he was overshadowed by Mr. Khan himself, who did a much better job of glorifying perversion by speaking about obsessive behaviour in Urdu and making it sound like unrequited love. Ranbir even got physically abusive and wrecked the kitchen of a cancer patient in the end. Yet, he doesn’t have the command of Shah Rukh Khan. Star kids really are held up to an unrealistic standard.

This film is a milestone in Hindi cinema, which never got the respect it deserves. But if you haven’t watched Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, don’t worry; you have. Imagine you have made a variety of over-spiced but tasty dishes for dinner. Then imagine waking up the next morning, putting all those foods in a mixer.

‘The vomit that you produce after drinking that swill,

Is Ae Dil Hai Mushkil’

Who are we to be horrified 

It scares me that we are worried about attacks on minorities in the U.S.A, when we overlook, or quickly forget attacks on our own dalits and Muslims. Because the life of one Rohith Vemulla is nothing compared to the lives of hundreds of soldiers isn’t it?
That we are worried about the loss of press freedom in that country, when we allow our politicians to choose their own sycophantic journalists as interviewers, or when we allow them not to speak about issues that are uncomfortable to them.
That we are worried about women’s rights in the U.S.A when we pick and choose the female victims to feel pity for, based on their caste, their dress, their profession.

 

And that we are so outraged about an authoritarian anti-establishment Islamophobe, when we let the same happen to us more than two years ago. That we are so horrified whom Americans chose to vote for, when many of us didn’t even bother voting. Because politicians are all the same, aren’t they?

Game of Thrones celebrates the dumbing down of fantasy fiction

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When I began watching the Game of Thrones series, I found it mildly interesting, with great potential. I watched the first three seasons, and while the world waited for the fourth season, I began reading A Song of Ice and Fire.

 

Since I knew all the major plot twists and events, there was no initial shock quotient for me. I knew Ned Stark’s head will be chopped off. I knew Danaerys is going to choke Khal Drogo to his merciful death. And of course, I knew about the Red Wedding.

 

When Robb and Catelyn Stark died in Game of Thrones, it was sad, sure. But when Catelyn Stark, just before being killed at the Red Wedding in A Storm of Swords, thinks “not my hair, Ned loved my hair” to herself, it was purely agonizing. Mr. Martin truly shines through Cat’s last thoughts. The books were a complex web of relationships and power struggles with deep histories. And Game of Thrones was a mere entry into the story of Westeros. 

 

That’s another thing that bothers me. Calling the entire book series “Game of Thrones”. I can’t believe the readers let this happen. A Song of Ice and Fire, for all its cruelty and gruesome murders, seems to have the most demure readership. I cannot imagine Harry Potter fans letting the world call the book series ‘The Philosopher’s Stone’. Or Lord of the Rings readers allowing the unabashed use of ‘The Fellowship of the Rings’ as a blanket term for all the books.

 

But I digress.

 

Another grave injustice by the show was the dismissal of Sansa Stark as a whiny, pansy little girl. She’s a pretty 11-year-old girl who has been the perfect lady all her life. Arya Stark is a brilliant character, but her non-feminine looks grant her the freedom to pretend to be a boy and at times, be invisible. Someone who’s strikingly pretty as Sansa cannot rough it with men in the jungle; and if you had read the book (or observed how the world treats pretty girls), you would have understood that.

 

For reasons that evade me, the showmakers thought it would be a good idea to not give enough footage to Ser Davos, the Onion Knight, much importance. They thought that Jorah Mormont should be a distinguished-looking man, rather than the ageing paedophile that he was.

 

George R. R. Martin is not a writer who is known for subtlety, metaphors or beautiful words. He’s a writer who creates intense, layered characters, all of whom change according to their life experiences but never quite lose their essence. He never for a moment forgets one to play up another.

 

But now, Game of Thrones prefers to play up the characters that people already know, and make them meet in ridiculous scenarios. Such as Sansa and Ramsay Bolton. Or introduce completely pointless characters such as the child who apparently kills Jon Snow.

 

What’s even more discouraging is that Martin has crossed over from the side of letting words titillate your mind to the evil side of sitting and watching. He refuses to sit his massive butt down and finish The Winds of Winter. Instead, he insists on providing garbage alternative plots to the show.

 

As if all the mystery of asoiaf hadn’t been destroyed by these oversimplified episodes, the media now celebrates the fact that readers can’t give spoilers to the TV watchers. The fact that I enjoy giving spoilers has nothing to do with my aversion to this monstrous pomposity. It is this gradual descent into catering to the masses, popular choices and the unbearable dumbing down of pop culture into the purely visual, mainly sexual and violent content that seems to please us these days.

 

Don’t get me wrong: I fully support visual graphic medieval torture and love-making. All I ask for is Mr. Martin to be a little more considerate towards the thing that started it all, his epic masterpiece book series. I suppose he’s just not a Northman. Or he would have remembered.

You should have taken up science, Kanhaiya Kumar

It’s been more than a month since the JNU debate. And the left/right, black/white, hot/cold, new/old, rational/national debate has no end in sight.

What was essentially a student rally was seen as a dangerous attack on the nation’s safety (because that’s what extremists do: hold rallies and express their opinions). Kanhaiya Kumar was presented as Satan himself as he was arrested, and Arnab Goswami shrieked awake every nationalistic conscience with back-up vocals by banshee Nupur Sharma.

This event was a revelation in many ways. It showed that the nation will not tolerate any comments on its intolerance; the nation does not want to know what the dissidents think.

 

But most importantly, the nation revealed that it is not going to forgive a humanities student for not taking up science.

 

A 28-year-old PhD student in African studies who happens to be male is incomprehensible to the mainstream middle class sentiment. And if he’s studying in an institute which solely produces MNC executives (or the occasional terrible writer), our precious tax rupees are not worth it. Yes, all three of the Indian citizens who pay taxes felt this way. Twenty-eight is not an odd age for a PhD student. In fact, there’s no odd age for a PhD student. But then if it’s not the kind of doctor whose financial prowess is inevitable, and whom you can pester about that strange growth on your side, it means nothing.

 

Several people were infuriated that a 28-year-old man is still studying when his family earns Rs.3000 a month. Yes, if a boy coming from such austere conditions and a moral obligation to become financially successful doesn’t fall into the rat race to a comfortable lifestyle that supports capitalism, it surely must be infuriating.

 

Kanhaiya was even compared to Sundar Pichai in a post, which systematically proved how a privileged NRI who works for the biggest big brother finds it easier to love India than a financially dependent free-thinker.

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Even so, the highlight of this discussion was when Modi awkwardly touched it, as if it were a world leader. Well-meaning patriots wanted to know why a PM who never takes holidays from travelling, and who has constantly worked to make our 70% agrarian nation an industrialist paradise could be criticized. It’s almost as if his bizarre pop culture references in the U.S.A, brushing aside Zuckerberg for a photo-op, and back-hugging Hollande were in vain. A 15-year-old girl challenged Kanhaiya to an open debate. This confused bhakts, who did not understand the concept of arguing without death threats.

 

The nationalism argument extended to the army as well. Under normal conditions, admission to the Indian Army is tough. But due to numerous requests by the public whose last contact with the army was the movie ‘Border’, they’re now considering letting Kanhaiya Kumar in. As requested, he’s going to “go to border n fyt, den tok”.

 

He was arrested, detained and attacked. But, like a true politician, he used it to advance his persona and make a powerful (albeit logical) speech. This made his opponents start a wonderful social media trend hashtag: #MeAt28, where they celebrated their privilege and conformity.

 

Some say that people like Kanhaiya Kumar shouldn’t be given the freedom to say that there’s no space for dissent. I truly believe that he should have taken up science. He would never have had the chance to develop an eloquent stream of thought if he was crumbling under college, coaching classes, job-chasing and other virtues of our education system. So if you have an opinion that bursts the happy privileged bubble of the taxpayers, be prepared to be told by the nation how you are a terrorist who is also a liability (much like babies). Because you didn’t pay for your place in the world. Your opinion has already been paid for.