The Gender Beat: Radhika Vemula To Convert To Buddhism; Indonesian Disability Rights Activist Demands Public Apology From Airline

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A round-up of what’s happening in the worlds of gender and sexuality

Radhika Vemula. Credit: NOAH SEELAM/AFP/Getty Images

Radhika Vemula. Credit: NOAH SEELAM/AFP/Getty Images

Radhika Vemula will convert to Buddhism

Radhika Vemula, Rohith Vemula’s mother, will be converting to Buddhism on Ambedkar Jayanti. This a form of socio-political protest adopted by Dalit communities in India. After her son’s death, Vemula has been hounded by claims that she is not a Dalit, despite having faced a lifetime of casteist discrimination. You can read Sudipto Mondal’s report in the Hindustan Times, demonstrating that Vemula’s so-called adoptive ‘mother’, who had supposedly ‘rescued’ her, had actually mistreated her ever since she was a little girl, and Sujatha Surepally’s Huffington Post India piece  about Vemula.

Since her son’s death, Vemula has been campaigning for justice for him and other Dalit students, and has been actively supporting the ongoing students’ agitation at Hyderabad University. She wants a law called the Rohith Act to be passed to tackle caste discrimination in educational institutions.

Her other son, Raja, who has an MSc degree and is qualified to teach as an assistant professor in any university in the country, was recently offered a clerical job by Arvind Kejriwal’s government in Delhi on ‘compassionate grounds.’

Vemula has vowed to fight for Dalit women’s rights and for the rights of Dalit students.

Also read: Rahi Gaikwad’s Whose nation is it anyway? and Hyderabad for Feminism’s article on Rohith Vemula’s suicide note.

The dark side of The Guardian comments

The Guardian is doing a series on online harassment. As part of  its research into the comments left on its own site since 2006, it has found that eight of the ten most abused writers are women, while two are black men.

The research also shows that the gender gap between writers remains large, with men writing many more articles than women. Sports has the largest number of male writers, and fashion has the largest number of female writers. Articles by women have many more comments that have been blocked by community moderators for violating the community guidelines.

However, despite its frequent coverage of transgender and non-binary gender issues, it does not say how many writers who fall outside the gender binary have written articles, let alone whether these writers and/or subjects have attracted online harassment.

“Gender discrimination on such a matter is unacceptable”: the Supreme Court on Sabrimala ban on women 

On April 11, a Supreme Court bench hearing a plea against the ban on women between the ages of 10 to 50 years entering Kerala’s Sabrimala temple said that the temple does not have the right to forbid entry to women. Reports say that the bench, led by Justice Dipak Misra, argued that “Anyone can worship a God or Goddess. You have structured God into an idol although he is omnipresent. Can you say don’t come because you are a woman? The ground in this case is that gender justice is in danger.”

The Kerala government is supporting the temple authorities in holding that religious customs should not be changed through a judicial process. The judges of the Bombay high court, who have already passed an order banning gender discrimination at the Shani Shingnapur temple would probably argue otherwise.

The next hearing for the Sabrimala temple case is on April 13.

How ’empowerment’ became something for women to buy

Jia Tolentino, deputy editor at Jezebel, has written a piece on the co-option of the word ’empowerment’ from a concept that was created for the use of social workers, into a corporate buzzword that is used to sell products.

Tolentino writes: “Sneakily, empowerment had turned into a theory that applied to the needy while describing a process more realistically applicable to the rich. The word was built on a misaligned foundation; no amount of awareness can change the fact that it’s the already-powerful who tend to experience empowerment at any meaningful rate. Today “empowerment” invokes power while signifying the lack of it. It functions like an explorer staking a claim on new territory with a white flag. (…) And no matter what, the intent of this new empowerment is always to sell.”

Read the piece on The New York Times.


Dalit rape survivor under pressure to withdraw case

A 15-year-old Dalit girl in the village of Nangla Rathi in Meerut, who was kidnapped and raped for three days, is reportedly being pressured to withdraw her complaint against the perpetrators. She went missing for three days, and was found, heavily sedated, in a bitora (a conical shed made of cowdung and straw), her hands and feet tied. Reports say the local panchayat has threatened the family unless they withdraw the case and have also asked the family to leave the village. The police are denying that any pressure has been put on the family, but say they are giving protection to the family “as a matter of protocol.”

Pictures of Pakistan’s transgender and gender-variant communities

Muhammed Muheisen, the chief photographer for the Associated Press in Islamabad, has spent two years taking pictures of members of Pakistan’s transgender, cross-dressing and hijra communitiesMic has published thirteen of these pictures. Unlike many similar articles, this piece doesn’t conflate the identities of all transgender people with hijra communities, a practice that commentators have said contributes to the erasure of many gender-variant identities.

UGC relaxes norms for women and people with disabilities

The University Grants Commission (UGC) has announced that it will give women and people with disabilities more time to complete research degrees: eight years to finish a PhD, and three years to finish an MPhil, reports say.

Women students will be given maternity and childcare leave for upto 240 days during their research degrees.

Disability rights activist demands public apology from Etihad 

Indonesian disability rights activist Dwi Ariyani, 36, was asked to get off an aeroplane operated by Etihad Airways because she happens to be on a wheelchair and was not accompanied by an aide, reports the Jakarta Post.

Dwi is asking the airline to publicly apologise, not just to herself, but to all the community groups of people with disabilities in Indonesia, as the airline prevented her from attending a UN-led training on the rights of people with disabilities, which was held in Geneva. Her demand overrides the usual process of apologies that are made to an individual, and attempts to hold the airline accountable to a community of people who are regularly discriminated against on airlines, and other public facilities.

In January this year, Anita Ghai, disability rights activist and academic, was denied a wheelchair while de-boarding an Air India flight, and was forced to crawl until a wheel chair was provided.

Note: The piece has been edited to reflect that Radhika Vemula will convert to Buddhism on April 14, Ambedkar Jayanti, in Mumbai.

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