December 1, 2002,
SPIRIT OF ENTERPRISE
IN the history of communal conflict in post-Independence India, the riots in Gujarat - in February and March 2002 - were perhaps the first time the aggressors unleashed sexual violence on such a conspicuous scale. The cloak of stigma and silence hanging over the sexual assault of women during Partition is only now being withdrawn, more than two generations later. Social stigma apart, several other factors, including political will, legal inefficacy and media indifference have left the violence against women, in most instances of communal conflicts, unrecorded.
Instances of sexual assault during the Mumbai riots in 1992 were talked about, but hardly any cases were registered. In the few cases that were, the accused were acquitted due to lack of evidence. What was also erased from public memory were the mass rapes reported in Surat (Gujarat) during the '92 riots, even though there were videotapes in private circulation on this gruesome reality. Unfortunately, no inquiry or investigation was ordered.
"The assault on women in Surat was a precursor to the systematic attacks on women during the Gujarat riots, made all the more easier by the conspiracy of silence society enters into," says advocate Niloufer Bhagwat, who represented the Communist Party of India before the Srikrishna Commission.
Now, in a courageous and unprecedented act, 42 victims of the Gujarat riots have come forward to file affidavits with the (Justices) Shah and Nanavati Commission of Inquiry into the atrocities against women. Filing the affidavits signifies the desperation of those who have lost everything, and their hope that the legal system will not fail them. With the exception of three affidavits from men—relatives of victims of sexual violence—the remaining are from women who have witnessed or experienced sexual violence. At least 26 affidavits speak of violence committed by marauding mobs, the remaining attest to the atrocities committed by police against women. The testimonies, filed in June 2002, are a result of the painstaking efforts of volunteers of the Mumbai-based legal resources centre for women, Majlis, and the Ahmedabad-based women's action and resources unit, Sahr Waru.
In a perspective affidavit filed before the commission on June 27, 2002, lawyer and activist Flavia Agnes of Majlis has sought special rules for procedures and the trial of these offences. She has demanded that the Commission prescribe a time-bound hearing of these cases in the interest of justice. Worried about the safety and security of the women who filed these affidavits, she argues that in the present climate of fear and mistrust, a special forum is necessary to ensure that justice is done to women victims. To those who have lost all, economic reasons have often compelled victims to keep quiet. Wherever victims have named their accused - as in the case of the few affidavits that were filed following the Mumbai riots - the demand to delete their names from the FIRs is the first precondition to negotiate rehabilitation of families in local areas, said Flavia's affidavit before the Commission.
When political leaders routinely debunk violence against women, the struggle for securing justice for the victims receives a setback. Consider the statement of the then Law Minister (now BJP spokesperson) Arun Jaitley that only three FIRs were filed on atrocities against women; and Defence Minister George Fernandes's casual dismissal of the atrocities; or even Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi's aggressive defence to questions raised by Congress President Sonia Gandhi ("Are you calling 5 crore Gujaratis rapists?" - he is reported to have asked). Advocate Yusuf Muchhala, who represented victims of the '92 riots in Mumbai, couldn't recall a single case of sexual violence before the Srikrishna Commission.
Unfortunately, even when cases were registered, the investigating agencies exhibited a marked lack of will to prosecute the accused during the Mumbai riots. There was a case before the TADA court of a young girl being gang-raped and burnt alive in Devipada in Mumbai. Her uncle, who went to rescue her, was also caught by the mob and burnt alive. "Though the girl's Hindu employer witnessed the incident and filed an FIR, she was not produced before the court. The testimony of the girl's mother was also discounted on the grounds that she was mentally deranged. The accused were acquitted! Clearly, the case failed because there was no will to prosecute," says Muchhala. He apprehends that history will repeat itself in the Commission inquiry in the Gujarat riots too.
Yet, it is only the legal system that holds the promise of some justice to the victims of Gujarat. "Despite their anger at the violence, there is a strong conviction that they need justice," says advocate Veena Gowda, who works with Majlis. Muslims have always gone back to the legal system, she points out, and in this instance, when police refused to take their statements, they sent off complaints by registered post.
In affidavit after affidavit, the pattern of violence is clear: girls and women were picked up, stripped, gang-raped - or objects inserted into their vaginas -and then burnt to cinders. In the words of one affidavit: "At least seven to eight men caught her, stripped her with a sword and raped her one by one. They cut her body into small pieces while she was still alive and threw what was left of her dead body into the fire." For the legal activists, recording and attesting the affidavits was exhausting in more ways than one, not least emotionally. In meetings spanning several visits, they made contact with the women, gained their trust and confidence, recorded oral evidence and only then did they go ahead with preparing the affidavits.
Poverty and the complete absence of any sort of political support makes the women extremely vulnerable. Understandably, several were frightened to speak. Others struggled to overcome a sense of shame. A number of affidavits indict the police and other law-enforcing agencies, notably the State Reserve Police and the Rapid Action Force. The teasing and harassment of women during the riots sent a clear signal to the mobs to go ahead and commit worse atrocities without fear.
In one instance in Naroda Patiya, the victims ran to the SRP (Special Reserve Police) post nearby for shelter. The police said they had no orders from above to save them, and told them to 'go die elsewhere'. But one kind officer told them to stay. Sometime later, Bhavani Singh came and told them he would give them some food. The group trusted Bhavani because some of them had known him for at least 30 years. They were also hungry. "All of us went with him. He told his son to get something for us. He returned with a mob.. There was no escape. I could not save my wife, my oldest son and my beautiful, young daughter. They raped her and then burnt her. She was only 16 years old. I witnessed the rape of two other girls too," the affidavit states. Other affidavits cry in the hope for justice even though the processes of justice have been jeopardised already.
Fifteen-year-old Suphiya Bano was raped; she was later taken to the Civil Hospital, Ahmedabad. Her name was changed, given in the hospital records as Supriya Marajad, which made it difficult for her relatives to find her. Her father located her after a long search and she described to him how she was caught and assaulted by Bhavani Singh's son and others. She gave her statement to the police on March 1. On March 4, doctors told her father that she was recovering. But when her father went to visit her on March 7, he was told she had died. "I feel she was killed because she gave a clear statement to police indicting the people who ruined her life," says the affidavit filed by her father.
Not surprisingly, there are no affidavits from rape victims themselves; it is the witnesses of rape and murder of women, who have filed affidavits before the Commission. "Several times, the women would stop short just when it came to recounting what happened to them. We did get the feeling they were themselves victims of sexual assault but they would not speak and we must respect the constraints they live under," says Veena.
Crimes against women
PLACED on the wrong side of power and hierarchies, in their homes and workplaces, women often face the brunt of violence. Records of the police provide details of reported cases of crimes against women, but much of the violence goes unreported. In fact, women face violence at the hands of their protectors.
The crimes women face have been increasing at a higher rate than overall crimes in society from 1998 to 1999 crimes against women increased from 123 to 127 cases per million persons, while total cognisable crime rate declined from 1837 to 1823 over the same period.
In 1999 every day in India...
...42 women were raped.
...18 cases of dowry deaths occurred every hour
...5 women faced cruelty at home
...4 molestation cases were reported.
Kinds of crime against women in India 1999
Incidents of all-India crimes against women in 1999
NINA Wang is Asia’s richest woman but recently a Hong Kong court ruled against her in a decision that paves the way for the return of her late husband’s huge estate to his father. The ruling wraps up one of the most colourful probate cases in Hong Kong’s history, a marathon 171-day hearing studded with tales of adultery and murder.
Shopping a pleasure for women and necessity for men
British men buy expensive goods on the Internet and they do it quickly, while women tend to window-shop, limiting themselves to small purchases, said a study released Friday by payment card system Visa.
In the last month, 15 per cent of UKmen made three to five on-line purchases, versus just five per cent of women, said the study, based on two telephone surveys of 45,000 Internet users. Women were found to be more likely to use the Web to look at goods and prices than men. "The number of women using the Internet for shopping is increasing," the study found.
But, it added, "Women are using it to go virtual window shopping before buying what they want on the high street."
Purchases by women tended to be in the £10-£20 range, while those of men who liked the speed and convenience of the web, ranged from £200 to £1,000, it said. Women also said that they spent more time at work doing their Internet shopping, especially on lunch hour, than did men.
"Men and women view shopping in two distinct ways," said consumer shopping analyst David Peek. "This is clearly illustrated by Visa’s research. Women enjoy the company, day out an excitement associated with shopping, while men tend to see shopping as a necessity rather than a pleasure."
Nearly half online population female
A European survey from research company NOP has found the number of women going online has increased — almost half the online population across Europe is now female.
According to internetTrak, the third wave of research commissioned by Ziff Davis — (ZDNet is owned by Ziff Davis) Dell, KPMG and Intel, 39 per cent of the Web population is female compared with just over a quarter in 1998.
53 per cent of respondents who plan to use the Web in the next six months were women. Lisbet Sherlock, marketing services director for Ziff Davis believes the results reflect the way the Internet is becoming a part of everyday life. "As the Web moves out of the domain of the geek, the demographics will reflect it as a normal way of life," she said.
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Women will become majority users of online services, according to AOL Studios president Ted Leonsis. Female users are already growing at a million a month and now account for 52 per cent of America Online’s membership. Leonsis was speaking at a new media leadership conference in New York. He said the company would now develop its system and interface for a less technologically sophisticated, "female-driven and family-orientated" audience. It’s a big change from a few years ago when AOL was targeted at "big guys with beards like me," he said.
The first stages of online growth have been among audiences of a highly technical nature. Now, it is expected that the next phase will be people who do not have a background in computing.
New mums alter Web habits
Women change their Web habits more than men when they become parents, according to a new study by an Internet market research group. ComScore Networks found that family community sites and home furnishings retailers attracted the highest percentage of new and expectant mums. Toy retailers, then porn sites, respectively, garnered the highest concentration of dads.
ComScore spokesman Max Kalehoff said gaming, porn and sports sites have always been popular among young men. That trend doesn’t seem to change much immediately before or after they have children.
"It’s kind of business as usual for the men, except for buying toys," Kalehoff said.
New and expectant mums, however, are more likely to visit child-related sites, including Babiesrus.com, Parents Place. com and BabyCenter.com. Sites that offer fragrances and coupons also remain popular among women who are pregnant or new mums.
Mothers, in particular,
make up one of the fastest-growing Web segments, and they’re also
among the biggest online spenders. The study examined the surfing
habits of people who had become new parents in the past six months or
were expecting a new baby in the next six months.
YOUNG she may be but as far as experience is concerned she is no greenhorn. She started her work at an age when other girls were busy enjoying college life and weaving dreams about their future, Puneet's nimble fingers were busy crafting an artistic future. She took first steps in this field about 13-14 years ago while she was pursuing her studies. What started as a hobby soon developed into a full-time vocation for this young and talented girl as she started getting more and more orders for her work. Her enthusiasm, coupled with her love for innovative designs won her not only several clients but also acclaim and appreciation.
Cherubic, vibrant and enthusiastic, these are the words that best describe Puneet Madan, but there is more to her than being a successful businesswoman. It is her love for Punjabi culture and every thing else associated with it that sets her apart from the business persons that one comes across usually. Her love for tradition fires her passion for the traditional art of phulkari and makes her endeavour tirelessly to save it and to spread it far and wide in its traditional glory. Her interest in phulkari since the beginning made her delve deep into it and study about it in detail to get to the core of this art form.
Speaking about her love for Punjab and its culture, she says, ‘‘It is in my genes as I come from a family which has been dedicated to the promotion of Punjab's rich culture. My great-grandfather had translated Guru Granth Sahib in Punjabi and my grandfather Prof Pritam Singh is a noted Punjabi writer.’’ So it is no surprise that she too wanted to contribute to the culturasl heritage of the state in her own way. Thus, her family’s close association with and tremendous contribution to the promotion of Punjabi culture has served as a motivating factor for her in her crusade to save and promote the art of traditional phulkari embroidery.
Highlighting the difference between phulkari and phulkari embroidery she explains that phul means flower and kari is the craft. Bagh is a type of embroidery in which the base material is not visible. The basic resham or pat thread is used for this kind of work.
The very fact that even Punjabis were unaware of their own traditional art form troubles her the most as she says that the market is full of mass-produced and inexpensive stuff which is sold in the name of phulkari but in fact is not the true traditional art. Restoring the lost glory of phulkari and to give it its due status is her chief aim, she says.
She has participated in crafts melas held in Chandigarh in the year 2000 and 2002. At Delhi Haat, Mahila Shilpa Mela (2001) Haryana Craft Bazaar held at Lajpat Rai Bhavan and Can Mela. Apart from this, Puneet has attended over 20 vocational courses to hone her skills in the field of clothing, textile, fashion designing and has passed the women entrepreneurship programme in 1991 and has also been offered by the government to open an institute to impart training in embroidery skills. She has also taught in various institutes in the city as well as in Mohali and Panchkula.
About what makes her creations unique, she says that improvising on traditional designs and making them viable in the modern fashion world is her forte and USP. Items made by her are not restricted only to salwar-kameez and dupattas but include cushion covers, table mats, kids garments, capris etc. Her uniqueness lies in the fact that she visualises traditional designs in a way that these gel with the modern look. This involves a study of traditional designs and current demand, change in the base material used for phulkari. Also required is the need to experiment with fabric , colours and textures.
She has been certified
by the Ministry of Textiles to impart training to girls in this
traditional art and has also been invited by the Punjab Small Scale
Industries Department in this connection. to make artisans in the
rural areas financially independent.