Lesbian bars are disappearing. We spent a night at one that’s still standing.

$4 Wine, movements, Politics, Sexuality, social justice

Walking into Henrietta Hudson feels like taking off a heavy backpack. It’s a humid June night in New York’s Greenwich Village, and inside the reggaeton-pulsing bar, a sparse crowd drinks beer and laughs. My shoulders instantly relax, and not just because I’ve escaped a spring downpour.

Read more at The Washington Posts’s The Lily. Photo: FULBERT, CC BY-SA 4.0
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Why These Activists Are Protesting Hindu Nationalism in Trump’s America

India, movements, Politics

On Friday, September 7th, six activists from Chicago South Asians for Justice stood up in the middle of the plenary panel of the World Hindu Congress in Chicago to voice their resistance to the Hindu nationalist political movement currently ascendant in India.

Chanting “RSS turn around, we don’t want you in our town!,” the activists—mostly young South Asian women— interrupted speaker Mohan Bhagwat, head of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). The RSS is a hardline right-wing organization advocating Hindu nationalism or Hindutva, the political and cultural ideology that India is a fundamentally Hindu country. The RSS and other Hindu nationalist organizations have a long history of violence against religious minorities and people oppressed by India’s hierarchical caste system. The RSS is the ideological heart of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), currently in power in India under Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The current right-wing government has failed to take action against attacks on Indian religious minorities, with senior BJP officials even justifying rising anti-Muslim mob lynchings.

The Chicago South Asians for Justice action was one of a number of protests of the Congress over several days. The Alliance for Justice and Accountability, a coalition of progressive groups, coordinated a campaign against the Congress. Sikh, Muslim, Dalit, and Kashmiri communities led organizing efforts as well.

The crowd’s reaction to the Chicago South Asians for Justice protesters was violent. According to a group statement, a video from the Alliance for Justice and Accountability, and personal testimony of protesters, the activists were immediately attacked by the crowd. Attendees rose a chant of “Bharat Mata ki jai,” or “Victory to Mother India,” a nationalist slogan feminists have critiqued for its depiction of the nation as a woman. Activists reported being kicked, punched, choked, spat at, and verbally abused. One activist was called a “dirty Muslim” and given death threats. Two activists were arrested, and one Congress attendee was arrested and charged with battery for spitting in an activist’s face. Protesters have been subject to online harassment from Hindutva supporters since.

I spoke to two activists from Chicago South Asians for Justice, organizers Mansi Kathuria and Tara Raghuveer, about the action. (I know Raghuveer from previous organizing.) Chicago South Asians for Justice describes themselves as “a coalition resisting the rise of global fascism in the United States, India, and worldwide.” I asked them why their group decided to take such a visible action against Hindu nationalism, and how they view Hindutva in relation to growing white nationalism in the United States.

“Hindutva doesn’t exist on its own,” said Raghuveer. “It’s actually part of this now-ascendent global trend of nationalism and fascism that has been legitimized in recent years by Trump’s election, by Modi’s election, and by similar formal elections across the world.”

Not everyone is making these connections. While the action was widely reported in India, where similar political violence involving right-wing groups is commonplace, the protest received minimal attention in U.S. media beyond progressive outlets.

According to Kathuria, this information gap was embodied in the reaction of a white police officer who spoke to the protesters after they were taken to the station. The officer asked protesters to help him understand what, exactly, was happening. “To me that was a coded way of saying, ‘Why the hell are these brown people protesting other brown people?’” said Kathuria. “The cops were so confused.”

Raghuveer felt his confusion represented white Americans’ tendency to flatten the diverse experiences and political opinions of Asian Americans. “As a diasporic community we’re treated as a monolith,” she said.

Kathuria explained the situation to the officer using an analogy to political issues any contemporary American would be well aware of. “You know how some people think America should only be for white people?” she asked. “There’s people in India who think India should only be a nation for Hindu people, and it’s very similar. They oppress minorities and we stand against that.”

While Kathuria cautions that Hindu nationalism is specific to the history of South Asia, including the reality of caste oppression and anti-Muslim violence in India, the analogy between white nationalism and Hindu nationalism is certainly relevant.

Both white nationalism and Hindu nationalism express pride in a mythic “Aryan” racial identity, claimed alternately by white Europeans and dominant-caste Hindus. Both ideologies share a virulent Islamophobia, and have a history of anti-Muslim hate speech and violence in the name of a “battle of civilizations” against Islam. And both ideologies have gained prominence in the past few years under the watch of right-wing populist leaders Narendra Modi and Donald Trump.

The connections between these movements go beyond the symbolic. As The Caravan recently reported, many white nationalists have a fascination with Hinduism and India, establishing parts of their organizations in India and meeting with Hindu nationalist leaders. Some Hindu nationalists in India have articulated support for Trump, specifically for his anti-Muslim policies—and a group even celebrated his birthday. These ties are longstanding: it’s not uncommon to find copies of Mein Kampf hawked on the streets of Delhi or to hear RSS leaders celebrate the Third Reich for its “nationalist pride.” Meanwhile, the 2016 Trump fundraiser by the Republican Hindu Coalition had distinct Hindu nationalist overtones, including virulent rhetoric against Pakistan and “Islamic terrorism.”

According to Raghuveer and Kathuria, these beliefs were visible at the World Hindu Congress itself, in materials depicting interfaith marriage as a “silent Holocaust of Hindus.” Considering the frequency of brutal violence against interfaith and intercaste couples in India, this messaging is anything but benign.

IMG_1079

A poster from the World Hindu Congress depicting interfaith marriage as a “silent Holocaust of Hindus.”

In the Indian context, upper-caste Hindus vote disproportionately for the BJP. While the majority of Indian Americans lean Democrat, this doesn’t necessarily correspond with opposition to Hindu nationalism.

“A lot of our families in this country are benefitting from caste privilege,” said Raghuveer about dominant-caste Hindus in the United States. “Back in India they would be the beneficiaries of the current political order, but here they are ethnic and racial minorities who are on the other end of the ascendent Trumpist ideology in this country.”

Kathuria agrees. “Unfortunately, there are whole Indian-American communities that are against Trump, that understand why white supremacy is dangerous for them, but when you change the context and frame them in a country where they’re the majority, they’re not able to see the same dynamics.”

statement from the Alliance for Justice and Accountability points to these inequalities and calls on Indian Americans who benefit from caste privilege to take a stand against Hindu nationalism.

Protestors called on Indian-American politicians, many of whom are Democrats, to demonstrate their commitment to minority rights by rejecting Hindu nationalism. The Alliance for Justice and Accountability called for a boycott of the World Hindu Congress. Democratic State Senatorial candidate Ram Villivalam, Chicago City Alderman Ameya Pawar, California State Assemblyman Ash Kalra, North Carolina State Senator Jay Chaudhuri, and U.S. Representative Tulsi Gabbard eventually pulled out of their scheduled appearances. Illinois Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi did speak at the Congress, for which he’s received criticism and continued demands from organizers to denounce the event and the violence against protestors. Finally, Chicago South Asians for Justice demanded that Chicago Alderman Ameya Pawar oppose Chicago’s proposed $95 million police and fire training center. Chicagoans have protested the center, arguing that money would be better spent on people-oriented programs.

For Kathuria, protesting the police academy and protesting the World Hindu Congress are both part of a global struggle against state and state-sanctioned violence. That’s what came through most clearly in my conversation with the Chicago South Asians for Justice activists: while violent nationalisms may be global, so is resistance. “Standing against state violence means standing against it everywhere,” Kathuria said.

Read the original piece at Feministing.

Cover photo: Vice President of India M. Venkaiah Naidu addressing the World Hindu Congress on September 9th. Press Information Bureau of India, Wikimedia Commons.

Tech Workers Revolutionary Roundup

labor, movements

Happy Prime Day, everybody! 

That’s right: on July 16, the world witnessed a half-priced online commerce holiday, as Amazon slashed rates so online shoppers could know, in concrete terms, how little the company values/pays its workers. While some of the world was shopping, many were resisting, as Amazon warehouse workers went on strike against low pay and bad working conditions. Supporters across the world followed suit, boycotting Amazon’s big sale.

This is just the most recent installment in a trend of increasing politicization from Silicon Valley and tech and e-commerce workers at large. While it’s easy to lampoon Silicon Valley as the place capitalist bros who think they’re not capitalist bros go to invent products that rid them of the dirty, dirty task of domestic labor, since the 2016 election the seeds of insurrection have been sprouting.

From Microsoft workers refusing to help ICE to Amazon workers striking on Prime Day, the past few months have seen renewed political organizing from within the tech world. Here’s a roundup of recent tech organizing, led by workers at various tech companies and organizations like the Tech Workers Coalition.

Tech Workers Protest ICE

Today’s oh-so-modern anti-immigrant sentiment does not run on racism alone: it also needs technology. Companies like Google and Microsoft are already rather well-positioned to build the technological foundations of a white ethnostate, first of all ’cause they’re pretty white themselves, and second of all because they already know everything about all of us (oh yeah, and they have the technology).

Workers are fighting back. Most recently, Microsoft workers have been organizing against Microsoft’s contracts with ICE following Trump’s child separation policy. As Alex Press reports, the most recent round of organizing builds on earlier protests by Palantir workers in 2017 against the possibility that the company would build Trump’s Muslim registry. But it also goes in a new direction: tech workers are starting to refer to themselves as “workers” rather than employees, a trend that hopefully reflects a growing labor consciousness.

Microsoft isn’t the only tech company prompting protest for providing technology to America’s racist policing and immigration enforcement systems. The ACLU, for example, is currently leading a campaign against Amazon’s attempts to market and sell facial recognition technology to police departments.

Tesla Workers Speak Out (And Elon Musk is a Capitalist Baby Obsessed with his Miniature Sub)

In a revelation that stuns absolutely no one (especially anyone who has ever read his truly alarming biography), it turns out that Elon Musk is an evil capitalist man child obsessed with his miniature submarine, which is totally not a penis anxiety thing.

His weird tantrum about the submarine is nothing, however, compared to the serious labor violations at Tesla, which the good folks at Reveal uncovered (…revealed!) in a recent investigation. From underreporting injuries to bizarre workplace safety violations due to Musk’s weird personal preferences (apparently he doesn’t like the color yellow and that is more important than worker safety), Tesla’s space-age rhetoric masks some pretty Gilded-Age labor violations.

Of course, Musk himself responded to the report by having a temper tantrum and calling it “fake news.”

Google Workers Protest Lethal Drones

Over at Google, workers have won a major battle against the tech giant’s participation in “Project Maven,” which uses machine learning to improve drone strike targeting – thereby permitting the United States government to murder civilians with more accuracy and less remorse.

After serious organizing from workers , Google was forced not to renew the Project Maven contract. It’s an enormous victory. As one movement leader said about the politicized Google employees in an interview with Jacobin that will make you feel fantastically optimistic, “People feel their power now.”

Amazon Warehouse Workers Strike (And Amazon Engages in Rape Apologia)

As The Intercept reports, while “taxpayers have generously subsidized the build-out of Amazon’s warehouses” and while Jeff Bezos has just been named the wealthiest person ever alive, many Amazon factory workers – one in three in Arizona – are forced to rely on food stamps. Just to repeat: the 2018 increase in Jeff Bezos’s wealth is more than the GDP of Lebanon (and a hundred other countries), but his workers still can’t afford food.

To add sexist insult to capitalist injury, Amazon has also been engaging in some fun rape apologia lately. When the Bollywood actress Swara Bhaskar protested the rape and murder of 8 year old Asifa, Amazon caved to an online mob of ethnocentric rape apologists and deleted Bhaskar’s Amazon endorsement Tweet. This reminds us that most giant companies are inherently evil and the surface progressivism Amazon has adopted in the United States is just for the photo ops.

In response to the bad pay and poor labor conditions that plague this inequality, Amazon workers in Europe have used Prime day as a prime (heh) opportunity to go on strike. The section of the internet that is not busy maxing out their credit cards putting money in Jeff Bezos’s pocket is expressing solidarity with the strikers, vowing to boycott Amazon.

All I can say is, GOOOO TECH WORKERS! And I apologize for all the times I have made fun of you. Well… I apologize for making fun of some of you, and I still reserve full rights to ridicule men who believe we should get all our meals in a pill.

Read the original article at Feministing. Cover photo: German activists protest Amazon’s food service, 2017. Wikimedia Commons

Who Gets to be Naked at Harvard University?

movements, Politics, race, social justice

Every semester at Harvard University, students take their clothes off.

The event is called Primal Scream, and it happens on midnight before the first day of final exams. As the hour approaches, there is a palpable buzz in the central quad, the Harvard Yard. Students gather in various states of undress: towels and trenchcoats, gym shorts and jeans. A whiff of alcohol scents the air. At the stroke of midnight, the crowd of nude students runs a lap around the Yard.

Sometimes community members and tourists come to watch; the University and city police don’t intervene. The event is greeted with a certain nostalgic indulgence, a college tradition—and Harvard College at that. The future leaders of tomorrow, the reasoning goes, have to blow off some steam.

That’s not the indulgence a naked, and allegedly intoxicated, black Harvard undergraduate was recently greeted with. The young black man was tackled to the ground by four Cambridge Police Department policemen in the middle of a Harvard Square intersection. He was beaten once he was down, punched five times in the stomach. Blood was left on the ground. Students and national media alike agree it was an incident of racist police brutality, with dramatically excessive force unleashed on a student for the “crime” of nudity, which on other evenings, from other bodies, is greeted with not only indulgence but humor. Following the attack, students have organized protests and discussions about racist violence and policing. In the wake of continued brutal police violence against black people in America, most recently the murder of Stephon Clark, the incident shows us that even in elite spaces, black people are not safe.

The Cambridge Police department claimed the student had threatened them, which eyewitness accounts and video footage disprove. Racist internet commentators claim the student deserved to be beaten because of his nudity and intoxication. But in those Ivy-clad gates, nudity and intoxication are not particularly rare—they are, in fact, ritualized.

Which brings us to the point: The student was tackled because he was black. Because his body itself was a body out of place. Because his black body was not read with the endless tolerance granted to elite Harvard bodies, assumed to be white male bodies, which can shed clothes and sobriety without a thought in the world. The student was beaten because his body didn’t belong—echoing the experience of so many other black people at Harvard and similar elite educational institutions, city sidewalkscoffee establishments, and their very own homes.

The question of race, the body, and belonging at the elite university is a deep one. Early on in its history, Harvard included an “Indian college,” an institution with the explicitly racist mandate of culturally colonizing indigenous Americans. Fueled on slave money, Harvard became a finishing school for elite white men. From the 1940s to the 1960s, the rule of the white, male, upper class body was further formalized through a eugenics experiment which lasted several decades: All incoming undergraduates were to be photographed naked in the guise of checking that they had “proper posture.” The ideology underlying these photographs, however, was about much more than standing straight: It was based on the idea that the body could tell you about the underlying traits of the person—and that some bodies were better than others. This is the mid-19th century racist pseudoscience of eugenics, which created a hierarchy of “ideal” bodies—and thus, “ideal” minds—according to race, with white males at the top.

Even after the specific project of eugenics was discontinued at the university, its traces remained. There is a meeting room in one of the dorms at Harvard (at least, I’m assuming it’s still there since I left in 2015—it’s the kind of awful racial artifact which is called “heritage”) whose walls are plastered with a mural of tall white men with sculpted physiques jogging and rowing. They are visions of vigor, rosy-cheeked and white, with the vague homoerotics of Abercrombie models. The aesthetics of the mural are unsettlingly reminiscent of idealized Aryan bodies in Nazi art, like the Nazi Olympics photographs of Leni Riefenstahl. Of course, these painted white bodies are practically naked. They are not beaten by cops.

More than decor, in my time as an undergraduate at Harvard, this hierarchy of bodies was a part of the landscape, both social and physical. Just walk down the main drag on a Friday night and you’d see women (appearances labored over with the knowledge that in these spaces, our bodies were our currency) queued up in front of unmarked mansions, elite social clubs manned and managed by squadrons of elite men. In this version of Harvard Square—protected by a sheen of wealth, an aura of generalized whiteness, and a “boys will be boys” tolerance for sexual violence in the name of fun—there was no penalty for nudity and drugs. Police did not enter the mansions to beat the cocaine-snorters into a pool of their own blood. When a tall, muscular, blonde-haired white man drunkenly walking past us one Saturday night slapped my friend’s belly, laughing like all women belonged to him, the police did not tackle him. When I stood in Harvard Square naked and intoxicated, a white woman participating in the esteemed College’s Primal Scream ritual, I was not beaten when down.

Yet just as this regime of elite white nakedness has persisted, there have been moments of interruption, of assertion by the people whose bodies who do not belong.

For example: Primal Scream, my senior year. It was a few months after Michael Brown was murdered and a wave of protests was shrieking across America. Cambridge, too: A group of black students organized a Black Lives Matter protest at Primal Scream. That night, the small group of protesters stood, a line of mostly black and brown students in front of the restive, naked, and mostly white crowd. They requested, demanded, begged a few moments of silence from the students. The crowd either didn’t hear or didn’t care. As the protestors shouted “Black Lives Matter,” a chant came from within the opposing mass of naked bodies: “USA! USA!”

Not only did the students, mostly white, many drunk, and in the garb of an elite college’s esteemed tradition run naked against the wall of protestors: They claimed all of America in doing it.

As I watched the recent video of the young black man being tackled, then beaten when down, I remembered another image, stark and ironic: A memory of a naked, intoxicated white man, proudly walking across the very same street.

It was after the Primal Scream with the Black Lives Matter protest. As the chaotic crowd dispersed, I saw him crossing the road. Athletic and blond-hair, blue-eyes-nude, he had draped a (real) fox fur across his shoulders, the image of an Olympic victor in a Leni Riefenstahl photograph. He walked toward the private mansion of the moneyed, all-male social club to which I knew he belonged. He projected the easy arrogance of a man whose body commanded other bodies (I too had smarted under his sexist comments, the sense of casual ownership they expressed). Like a figure out of that athletic wall mural or an animated posture photograph, he was the kind of body for whom the elite university was built.

The naked white man, of course, was not beaten to the ground.

Read the original article at Feministing. Cover photo: Mac G Schumer for The Crimson.

Justice for Asifa: Sexual Violence, Religious Conflict, and the Politics of Outrage

India, movements, Sexual violence

On January 17, Muhammad Yusuf Pujwala and Naseema Bibi saw the body of their eight year old daughter, Asifa Bano. The child, a member of the nomadic Bakerwal community, a Muslim herding community residing in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, had been missing for several days. While her parents hoped for her safe return, they were greeted with the worst possible news: Their child had been raped, physically tortured, and murdered.

While Asifa was killed three months ago, the case has just gained enormous traction in the Indian and international media now. That’s partly because of the sheer human brutality of the violence, and that too on a child. But the murder of Asifa has also prompted nationwide outrage and serious interrogation over religious and ethnic violence, and how sexual violence is used as a tool of domination. Preliminary reports reveal that Asifa, a Muslim nomadic girl, was raped by a group of men from the dominant Hindu community, including a police officer and retired government official, in a Hindu temple explicitly in order to terrorize her community. The violence visited on Asifa should be a cause for anger for any person, and especially anyone who cares about gender issues: For the person she was, the person she cannot be, and the many girls and women like Asifa whose attacks and murders do not get global attention. It should also prompt serious self-interrogation on the use of sexual violence as a tool of political, racial and material domination in the U.S. — from the sexualized war crimes at Abu Ghraib to ICE officers committing sexual violence against immigrant women.

Religious Violence and Official Complicity

Jammu is a Hindu-majority region in the Muslim-majority state of Jammu and Kashmir, in a Hindu-majority country currently ruled by a right-wing, Hindu nationalist governing party, the BJP. Kashmir itself has long been the site of political violence, as many Kashmiris reject Indian rule in favor of independence or accession to Pakistan, believing the Indian army’s presence in Kashmir to be an illegal occupation. Indeed, Kashmir is the most heavily militarized zone in the world, and the Indian army has been suspected or found guilty of numerous and egregious human rights violations in Kashmir, from the use of human shields to the widespread sexual violence committed by Indian soldiers in the villages of Kunan and Pushpora.

It is impossible to consider Asifa’s case without considering this context. That’s because a preliminary investigation has revealed that Asifa was tortured and killed not only as an act of misogynistic violence, but also of religious and ethnic violence, by local men of the dominant Hindu community who wished to chase away the Bakerwal community out of resentment of their Muslim faith and nomadic lifestyle. The perpetrators claimed that Bakerwals were trying to overtake the dominant Hindu population, both demographically and through land use. It is a chilling detail that the place where Asifa was kept and tortured for four days was a Hindu temple.

Asifa’s case has also revealed a chilling level of official complicity. The accused consist of a retired government official and four policemen, who have also been accused of tampering with evidence. Asifa’s family and lawyer have been facing intimidation from both the local community and officials: A violent local group prevented them from burying the child’s body in the local cemetery and they were initially intimidated not to report the crime. On top of this, two BJP Members of the State Legislative Assembly participated in protests in defense of the accused, in full public view. While they have since been fired from their posts by the state’s Chief Minister, their presence there to begin with suggests a troubling impunity.

National Response

Asifa’s rape and murder is one in a long string of sexual assault cases that has challenged the public conscience in India in recent memory. The 2002 Gujarat riots witnessed widespread mostly anti-Muslim violence, including the burning of Muslims’ shops, murder of Muslim people, and severe sexual violence against Muslim women. This is violence has been tacitly endorsed by some politicians affiliated with the ruling party, for example in the notorious threat of one right-wing state governor’s supporter at a political rally that Hindu men should rape the corpses of Muslim women.

In the past couple years, the December 16, 2012 rape and murder of Delhi’s Jyoti Singh, dubbed Nirbhaya, or “fearless,” by the media, also spurred a massive nationwide movement. This led to the adoption of some (but not all) suggested progressive measures to prevent sexual violence. In another recent case, an 18-year-old woman attempted to immolate herself in front of the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister’s residence, saying she was raped by a state legislator from the ruling party.

Debates around Asifa’s case have focused on how exactly to understand the role of religion and identity in the violence. Progressive writers and activists have argued that it’s impossible to separate Asifa’s identity as a girl from her identity as a Bakerwal and Muslim, especially considering the stated aims of the perpetrators. Protests — of students, workers, politicians, feminists, Bakerwals, and other citizens — have raged across India, demanding justice for Asifa and accountability in preventing future sexual violence against girls and women.

We should be outraged about what has happened to Asifa. But stopping at outrage is easy. What’s harder, but more necessary upon witnessing such violence, is to use our outrage as an invitation for self-reflection. What happened to Asifa is about her own life, but it is also about the persistence of ethnic, religious, and resource-based violence that plays out brutally on the bodies of girls and women across the world. As we look toward the Justice for Asifa protests in India, we should also look at ourselves: Who are the Asifas among us, women whose bodies have been made into battlefields, yet whose stories remain to be told?

Read the original piece at Feministing.

Farmers march, students strike, and women rise: This week in Indian social movements

movements

You don’t need me to tell you that these are dark times. From Mississippi’s recent (and definitely unconstitutional) banning of abortion at 15 weeks, to Trump’s revolving-door series of government appointments which are now slated to include a known torturer, the news is bleak. And it’s not only in the U.S.: Authoritarian right-wing governments are on the up worldwide. Including in my current home, India, where the right-wing BJP has been in power since 2014.

The past few years have seen a number of student and people’s protests against issues ranging from the uptick in lynchings of Muslims under an ideology of Hindu ethnocentrism, to  the negative effects of increasing higher education privatization on educational access. In the wake of all this, the past week has been especially busy, with students striking for scholarships, farmers marching for land (and winning!), and women rising up against sexual harassment and moral policing.

Check out what’s going on and take heart that, while global political problems seem doomed to escalate, so too do people’s movements. “They tried to bury us but they didn’t know we were seeds.”

Students Strike

2018-03-19-PHOTO-00011887

A student protest from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), where students are on strike. Image credit: Personal acquaintance. 

Student political action has been a potent force in India ever since the Independence movement, and no less in the past few years, which have seen movements against privatization and for women students’ rights.

Recently, the students of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), one of the nation’s largest premier social science research institutions, have been on strike for a month protesting the withdrawal of scholarships for students from marginalized backgrounds. They’ve appealed for international support, making the point that education privatization — the root cause of the withdrawal of scholarships — is not an Indian issue alone. (Of course, those of us living under Betsy DeVos know this full well.)

This comes at the same time that students and teachers across Indian universities have been protesting increasing privatization, including increasing insecurity in faculty appointments (taking the form of contractual or adjunct positions…sound familiar?). Students and teachers at Delhi University and at Jawaharlal Nehru University (where I’m based) in the country’s capital are both currently on strike. They’re protesting the government’s moves toward education privatization and the decimation of affirmative action (required by Indian law) in teacher appointments and student admissions.

Farmers March

At the same time that students went on strike, a very different group of citizens mobilized at an enormous scale. More than 30,000 farmers marched hundreds of kilometers from the rural lands of the state of Maharashtra to the metropolitan center of Mumbai. Mostly indigenous people, the farmers overwhelmingly till land to which they have no legal deed and thus live in extraordinarily precarious conditions of poverty and legal dispossession. Marching under the auspices of the Communist Party of India Marxist (CPM) and the All India Kisan Sabha (All India Farmer’s Organization), the farmers demanded that they be given the rights to their land.

Images of urban streets filled as far as the eye can see with landless people, and marchers’ blistered feet, filled the airwaves as urban dwellers rallied behind the farmers’ demands. Last week, in an incredible victory, their demands were granted, including the grant of a farm loan waiver and the promise to give indigenous people legal deeds to their cultivated land. “The government has looted and exploited our earlier generations and the farm loan waiver is a loot-wapasi,” (“return of the loot”), said Ajit Nawale, state secretary of the All India Kisan Sabha.

Women Rise

The past few years have seen incredible organizing from Indian women students, rising up against moral policing, sexual violence, and more. From the massive national anti-sexual violence movement sparked by the brutal December 2012 rape and murder of Jyoti Singh, to the  Pinjra Tod (“break the cages”) — women’s student movement against regressive university policies like curfew for adult women students living in campus housing — women students have risen up.

The movement has continued in the past few weeks. Women students in Kerala are protesting against a professor’s sexist comments that women students show their breasts like “a cut watermelon” by (what else?) sharing images of sliced watermelon…and breasts. In Delhi-based Jamia Milia Islamia, women campus residents protested against their repressive (and gender-unequal) 8pm curfew, successfully getting it extendedto 10:30 pm.

Meanwhile, Jawaharlal Nehru University (where I’m based) has seen massive protests following the filing of eight sexual assault complaints against a prominent science professor with connections to the ruling party and college administration. Despite numerous protests and the filing of eight separate legal cases, the university has yet to suspend the professor. This comes months after the campus’s elected sexual harassment complaints body was arbitrarily disbanded by a right-leaning administration, and replaced by an administratively-appointed body — which the complainants have declined to report to, fearing administrative tampering.

Here’s a video from The Wire summing up the sexual harassment case — and the reasons for ongoing student strike.

Solidarity is Global

While it’s easy to see our movements in isolation, snapshots from what’s happening all over the globe remind us that the forces at work under the Trump administration — sexism, colonialism and imperialism, discrimination, and the privatization of every conceivable human good — are much, much bigger than just the U.S. But with the enormous scope of the problem also comes the enormous scope for hope — that, as the old slogan tells us, the people united can never be defeated. Or at least, can keep the spirit of social equality alive.

Read the original article on Feministing.

How Mental Health Activists Are Fighting Racism

Culture, mental health, movements

Find the original article on Talkspace.

During the Civil Rights Movement, white psychologists invented a so-called mental illness. Dubbing it “protest psychosis,” these psychologists used the racially-motivated “syndrome” to explain away the reasonable rage of black Americans demanding an end to segregation.

Sixty years later, racial disparities in the mental health care system remain, including lack of access to mental health services for communities of color, inadequate addressal of the real psychological trauma caused by racism, and racially-motivated diagnoses like the now-scrapped “protest psychosis.”

But that doesn’t have to be the case. Increasingly, anti-racist advocates in the mental health community are encouraging us all to recognize mental health as a racial justice issue.

Find the complete article on Talkspace.

Woman Imprisoned for Converting to Islam Tells Indian Supreme Court: “I Want Freedom”

India, movements, social justice

Read the original article at Feministing

On Monday this weeka young Muslim woman faced the Indian Supreme Court, finally allowed to speak after being imprisoned for converting to Islam and marrying a man of her choice. After months of petitions, news coverage, and speeches from everyone but her, she said laid out her demand clearly: “I want freedom.”

In 2016, Hadiya, a 24-year old woman from a Hindu household who was pursuing training in homeopathic medicine, converted to Islam. Several months later, she married the man of her choice, Shafin Jahan, a Muslim from her home state of Kerala. Hearing news of his daughter’s conversation and subsequent marriage, Hadiya’s father filed a police case alleging his daughter had been the victim of “love jihad.” Six months ago, the Kerala High Court ruled in favor of Hadiya’s father, declared her consensual marriage null and void, and placed Hadiya — an adult woman — in the custody of her father.

Hadiya had been held against her will at her father’s house since May until this past Monday, when the Indian Supreme Court, after finally allowing her to speak, ruled that she could return to her medical college — under the condition that the college’s dean be appointed her “local guardian.”

Feminists across India have been protesting the court’s treatment of Hadiya, and the case has inspired serious debate about women’s autonomy, state persecution of Muslims, and the politics of conversion in contemporary India. I’ve been covering Hadiya’s story here at Feministing in the context of these debates, but it’s not just an Indian controversy. Hadiya’s story sheds light on issues — state regulation of women’s bodies, Islamophobia, and racism — important to us in the United States as we continue to protest American state violence against Muslims worldwide.

“Love Jihad”

As the Hindu right has ascended in India, so have allegations of “love Jihad.” The panic over this non-existent, alleged conspiracy whereby Muslim men seduce and then “forcibly convert” Hindu women, has spread from right-wing propaganda to state investigations policing interfaith marriages between Hindu women and Muslim men. Hadiya’s case has been taken up by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) under an anti-terrorism framework.

The stereotype of Muslim men as sexually violent threats to the “purity” of Hindu women has a long history of India and is pronounced in the rhetoric of the Indian right. The Indian government has also used stereotypes about the aggression of Muslim men to deny the agency of Muslim women. For example, while the right-wing government cynically championed the recent Indian Supreme Court verdict against triple talaq (a form of instant divorce previously allowed to Muslim men under Indian law), it was actually Muslim women’s collective power which had brought about the decision.

As numerous feminists have pointed out, the painful irony of the Hindu right’s supposed championing of Muslim women is that these are the very politicians and organizations responsible for horrifying, and deeply misogynist, anti-Muslim threats and violence. The ruling party in India, the right-wing BJP, is known for using anti-Muslim hate speech, including one BJP party worker’s grotesque threats that Muslim women’s bodies should be disinterred and raped.

This is sadly not an empty threat, considering the widespread sexualized atrocities committed against Muslim women in the 2002 Gujarat riots, a series of brutal anti-Muslim attacks in which current Prime Minister Narendra Modi was likely complicit. A recent sting operation revealed right-wing Hindu leaders bragging on tape about spreading the myth of love Jihad and using false allegations of rape to terrorize Muslim communities and violate women’s autonomy.

From Family to Court

While all people over the age of 18 are legal adults under the Indian constitution, the legal system has often been a tool of maintaining patriarchal control.

Numerous Indian feminists have critiqued the social conception that a woman is the ward of her father, who passes her to a husband of the family’s choice. Local caste governing bodies, known as khap panchayats, are often criticized for upholding patriarchal control and limiting women’s constitutionally-entitled right to autonomous citizenship. But the legal system, too, is complicit, with recent decisions about rape reinforcing the idea that women cannot be raped by their husbands or deserve rape for pushing socially-defined boundaries. Furthermore, regulations of women’s autonomy and mobility are highly tied to religion and caste, with most honor killings actually being a murderous response to intercaste unions.

In Hadiya’s case, the Kerala High Court violated Hadiya’s rights by citing the”Indian tradition” of patriarchal family control, rather than abiding by the Indian tradition of robust constitutional protections for women and minorities.

The Supreme Court’s decision to allow Hadiya to return to her college is heartening. Still, it’s disturbing that the Court even allowed Hadiya to be imprisoned by her father in the first place; that it’s taking seriously allegations of “mental kidnapping” and “indoctrination” rather than accepting that an adult woman has the right to choose her religion; and that it took months for Hadiya’s voice to even be heard in court.

Most disturbing of all is the fact that, even after returning to her college, Hadiya may still not be permitted to meet her husband. The Supreme Court has placed her under the guardianship of the principal of her college, who has stated to the media that he has the power to decide who she meets — and he is unlikely to permit her to meet her husband. Meanwhile, the college’s housing, like many such dorms for women across India, has draconian rules, including mandatory 10:45pm lights out and only 1 hour daily access to cell phones.

As feminist group Pinjra Tod (“Break the Cages”) writes, this is one more example of how women’s educational institutions in India often reinforce patriarchal authority by severely restricting women’s mobility.

“I need the freedom to meet the person I love,” Hadiya said about the restrictive hostel rules. “I’m asking for my fundamental rights.”

“I want to remain true to my faith”

For many sitting reading about Hadiya’s case in the United States, it’s easy to dismiss the proceedings as the distant happenings of a “Third World” country where women’s rights aren’t as “developed” as in the United States. This, of course, is baloney. The regulation of women’s bodies is a fundamental form of political control across contexts, apparent too in American Islamophobia.

Appeals to white women’s supposed “purity” has long been a tactic of American racism. We see it in the historical use of alleged sexual sleights against white women as justifications for the lynching of black men. Most recently, we saw it in Dylann Roof’s use of white femininity to justify his horrific, racist 2015 murders.

We can see a similar sexualized racism against Muslim men today, as politicians appeal to sensationalized tales of sexual violence to fuel Islamophobic and anti-immigrant sentiment. And of course, anyone who witnessed the American Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is familiar with the racist and infantilizing claim (sometimes perpetuated by feminists) that Muslim women need the American government to save them. Just as right-wing Hindu groups campaign as champions of Muslim women while also sponsoring violence against them, the American government has historically “championed” Muslim women’s rights—while enabling abuse of them at home and dropping bombs on them abroad.

In the war for cultural supremacy, women’s bodies are made into battlefields. That’s why it’s even more important to listen when women like Hadiya, whom an entire state machinery has attempted to silence, speak.  Try as her father might to prevent Hadiya from speaking in open court on Tuesday, and despite the uncertainty of her future, Hadiya’s voice rang clear.

“I have endured mental harassment and been in unlawful custody for 11 months. I want to go back to my college and continue my education…I want to remain true to my faith, ” she told the court in Malayalam, translated by a lawyer. “I want freedom.”

We need to confront gendered violence in movement spaces.

movements, Sexual violence, social justice

Read the original article at Feministing.

It’s easy to talk about gendered violence from conservative men because, well, their ideology is often consistent with their douchebaggery. When you’ve devoted your entire career to ranting against abortion rights on television or groping your way to a white-supremacist presidency, there’s a pretty clear and obvious connection between your stated values (sexist) and your actions (violent). 

What can be harder, but in some ways even more urgent, is calling out sexual harassment, sexual violence, and intimate partner violence in the progressive communities that many of us call home. I’ve been asked this question a couple times during conversations and campaigns related to gender justice in activist spaces recently: Why focus on progressive and activist men? Aren’t our political foes equally if not more guilty? Won’t highlighting sexual violence give a bad name to our movements?

Sometimes this question is asked  more out of naivete than gaslighting — surely, a nice radical boy will ask, the problem can’t be as bad among progressive people? Sometimes, this question is downright hostile — I’ve even had “radical” men tell me that feminism is antithetical to revolutionary movements (and then I realized why there is still value in the admittedly overused word “brosocialist”).

If we care about building just and egalitarian societies, we will fight gendered violence in our communities, period. This is a commitment that cuts to the very core of our movements, a marker of our willingness to pursue truly transformative politics which change social relations from broad systems down to our most intimate spaces and selves. We talk about gendered violence in activist spaces —

Because we have high expectations that our behavior will match our ideology

It can be hard to identify gendered violence in radical spaces because many of us can talk the talk of gender justice so damn well — but our behavior tells a much different story. Maybe a dude has been vocal in support of women leaders in the movement but has a reputation for sending unsolicited dick pics. Or a queer activist talks about fighting violence but talks down to her girlfriend in a way that makes everyone uncomfortable. Believing our own rhetoric, we can deny what’s right in front of us. But our rhetoric means nothing if we’re not putting it into practice. 

Because we are all learning to be better

We all come from the same fucked-up societies, and we’ve all imbibed patriarchal and heterosexist values from day one. Nobody is born a great feminist, or a committed socialist, or a powerful antiracist activist. Learning is also a form of labor and it’s one we all must partake in as a continual process of political growth. Inevitably there will be mistakes. Being uncertain about gender issues or occasionally messing up is okay; refusing to listen, learn, and grow from our mistakes is not. 

Because you are our comrades and we need to trust you for any movement to work

As Alex Press reminds us in In These Times, we cannot build powerful movements without basic trust and equality between us. Gendered violence is not only an act of serious ideological hypocrisy: it rots the trust in our communities, and therefore our movements, by maintaining the very hierarchies we claim to be fighting against. How can we fight side by side when women don’t trust that men will respect our basic rights to safety and bodily autonomy?

Because we are intimate

Gendered violence most often happens within personal relationships and communities — from lovers, partners, friends, acquaintances, and that dude your roommate chills with who gropes women at parties. Men in our movement spaces are our lovers, our comrades, and our friends. We are in the streets together, in meetings, and often in bed. Our politics don’t come off when our clothes do. We need you to demonstrate at every moment, through your labor and consideration, that you consider us your equals.

Because sexism is a structural barrier to women’s participation in politics

Whether we’re talking about education, the workplace, or activism, the dynamics are similar: gendered violence pushes women and queer people out of the system. When we are demeaned in political spaces, when we are sexually harassed, when our voices are not listened to, when we are made to do menial tasks and care work while our male comrades pose for the glamorous photo-ops, we are pushed out. That hurts our politics, our movements, our communities, and us.

Because prominent progressive men have a good deal of power in our circles, which can be abused

Just because you resist power doesn’t mean you lack it. Many activist men enjoy a good deal of social prestige in the circles they occupy. Activist men can use their social, political, and sexual capital to coerce. An activist becoming involved with someone else in the movement is normal and can be healthy. An activist using his clout and reputation to coerce romantic attention or sex is destructive and politically reprehensible.

Because progressive movements of various shades have a long history of exploiting women’s labor and neglecting the gender question

This isn’t a new issue, and if socialist and anti-racist movements of the past had adequately addressed gender-based violence, we maybe wouldn’t have to be having this conversation so emphatically today. Radical movements have often set out to transform everything but the basic assumption that women will cook food and provide sex for men. And for just as long, women have resisted. We hold you accountable in full knowledge of that history.

Because our politics are only as good as our practice

We can say all day that we’re politically better than the right, better than the center, better than liberals. But saying is one thing and doing is another. If you organize a meeting about gender issues at which you talk over women, expect women to clean everyone’s dishes, and stare at our tits, you might as well be right wing. Many argue that the accusation of sexism has been used to discredit leftist movements more generally, and therefore women who raise qualms about gender issues in radical circles are simply fueling the fire. But if we cannot treat each other with basic equality and respect, we are not any better than the right or center after all and we do notdeserve to have our political program listened to. 

Because we believe in the possibility of transformation

Making radical change means acknowledging and confronting the injustices around us. If we don’t acknowledge that something is a problem, we cannot transform it. When we know that a prominent man in our community is a serial harasser, but don’t speak up; when we know an organizer is abusing his girlfriend, but continue to uncritically champion his work; when we see unequal gendered distributions of labor within our movements but we don’t name and challenge it, we give up the possibility of change. Shielding a perpetrator, rather than confronting the harm they have caused, is tantamount to saying: We don’t believe gender relations can change. We don’t believe social relations can be transformed.

Because our movements should look like the world we want to build

But we do believe gender relations can be changed. We do believe that social relations can be transformed. That is why we do this work: Because we know that we can make a radically different, and better, world. During the May ’68 revolts, students reminded us through graffiti that “The future will only contain what we put into it now.” If our movements don’t seek a transformative approach to dealing with gender-based violence, our future will not be transformed. There is no social change if we do not believe in the possibility of change in our most intimate and intense experiences of love, solidarity, sexuality, friendship and comradeship.

Because women and queer people have a right to participate in our communities, to work, to love, and to make revolution without fear of gender-based violence.

Because we have worth. Because we need each other. Because these movements are ours.

What Does it Mean to Break Silence?

movements, Sexual violence

Read the original article at Feministing.

After the Trump — and the Cosby — and the Weinstein — and the Toback — revelations, we heard the same question asked over and over again: How can everyone know that sexual harassment and assault are happening, and still not admit that it is happening? Why are sexual assault and harassment so often “open secrets”? 

When we say that rape culture is a structure that silences victims, we’re not just talking about individual acts of violence kept as individual secrets. We don’t mean that instances of gendered violence are literally unheard. Instead, as we saw pouring out during the #MeToo campaign, gendered violence is a collective problem enabled by systemic sexism. It is sustained sometimes by literal silence, but also by our systemic and willful inability to hear women’s words.

The signs of gender violence are often all around us. An entire community may know that a particular man is abusive — but we do not know know, or we do not admit to knowing, or our knowledge does not become actionable, official, public. Women are taught to obscure the signs of our abuse, and our communities are taught to pretend they don’t know what’s really going on. Lie about our bruises. Claim we missed work because we had a cold. That we did poorly on an exam because we didn’t study. Whether by pressuring women not to speak up in the first place or dismissing them when they do, the system insists that reports of gendered violence remain private rumor rather than public record.

This is partly due to an underlying notion that the body and sexuality are private and shameful, and that therefore sexual trauma is not a public and political issue. Of course, the cumulative effect of gendered violence — the collective threat to women’s life and thriving; the stifling of women as a class — is quite public indeed. This was the original intervention of the slogan “the personal is political.” And this is why making one’s story public is, as we have seen in recent weeks, a political act.

I want to tell a story. I have told this story many times, including on this very site, but I will tell it again — because like a mystery novel without any ending, each time I revisit it, the story has a different meaning.

Once when I was nineteen I interviewed an extremely wealthy Harvard donor for the student newspaper, The Crimson. During the course of the interview, the donor asked me if I had a date to the formal dance that was happening that night, and when I said I did not, he remarked that any woman whose bra matches her laptop deserved a date (both my bra and laptop cover were pink). He then advised me not to publish this comment because his daughter was also an undergraduate. 

I did not print the comment.

The comment was gross and sexualizing, and yet it was the kind of comment women are subject to all the time. As Laura Bassett writes in her piece in the Huffington Post, these kinds of sexist, sexualizing remarks, especially from powerful men, especially in professional situations, have seriously destabilizing cumulative effects. They can cause serious anxiety which prevents us from doing our jobs, from feeling safe, from doing what we need to or want to, and generally from flourishing.

And they are normalized: While the comment stuck out in my head as not quite right,  at 19, I didn’t even consider publishing it. I did not know that such comments could be published. I assumed men making comments about your undergarments in professional situations was what being a woman meant, that it was unremarkable, daily, a matter with no place in the public record.

Which is not to say I maintained literal silence about the incident. While I did not publish it, I told my editor about the comment; she seemed to find it uncomfortable, but nothing came of it. Three years later, I mentioned the comment in passing to someone who was affiliated with the campus Title IX Office; she lodged a complaint, but there was nothing to be done about it. Later I mentioned the comment to a dean of the college whose professed commitment to gender justice didn’t lead him to do more than express vague sympathy. Wondering whether other women had similar experiences with the donor, I began asking around, trying tap into the network of gossip which is often the only way we can hear such information — with our ear to the ground. Nothing concrete came of any of this.

How can a powerful man make a sexually harassing comment on the recordto a journalist and still expect that it will not enter the public domain? Even despite the circuitous path of that one comment over several years — through multiple layers of official bodies, even multiple publications — this is how we emerged from the encounter: I spent years mulling over the impunity of powerful men’s sexism.

And he listed my article, published absent any comments about undergarments, on his website as a bit of positive press coverage.

Looking at it in light of recent events, this story seems to me to reveal a particular structure of impunity. While it was a relatively small incident, the pathways through which sexism stubbornly did not become public reveals how powerful men’s sexism — the sexism and sexual violence of people like Weinstein, Cosby, Trump – is supported by systems that render women silent. The system is structured to render our experiences seen, but not read; heard, but not listened to: like looking at words in an alphabet we can’t understand. Like hearing a scream and saying it is nonsense.

We have seen the outpouring of rage, anger, hurt, sadness, and political commitment from our communities in the form of the #MeToo hashtag, the lists making the rounds in media and Indian academia, and numerous acts of testimony. Many of us have felt the sudden, intense, and overwhelming sensation of revelation as that which we knew all along smashed onto the public stage. While there is extended debate on the efficacy of testimony and on the ethics of a mechanism like the public list, the political force of this outcry is undeniable. It puts an enforced not-seeing into focus, compelling us to read, finally, forcefully, and out loud, something that we saw, but did not see, all along. 

What has happened to us is real. It is public. We are here and we are not going anywhere.