The Gender Beat: Bhumata Brigade Leader Assaulted; Former First Ladies Denounce Proposed Abortion Ban in Poland

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

A protest meeting organised for the 17-year-old dalit student found dead in her college after being raped. Credit: Beyond Headlines.

A protest meeting organised for the 17-year-old Dalit student found dead in her college after being raped. Credit: Beyond Headlines.

Trupti Desai physically assaulted inside temple

Bhumata Brigade leader Trupti Desai was beaten up by devotees and priests when she attempted to enter the sanctum sanctorum of the Mahalaxmi temple in Kohlapur last night, reports say. Desai attempted entry at night after being blocked by the police from entering during the day. Apparently, Desai was stopped because of ‘prohibitory orders’ against her entry. Reports say that these orders were imposed in anticipation of counter-protests from women’s groups belonging to Hindu nationalist organisations. Desai says that the act of stopping her group was violative of the Bombay high court judgement upholding women’s right to worship, which was at the centre of a campaign Desai and her group have been engaged in since late last year. A Supreme Court bench has also recently questioned the rationale behind the ban on women’s entry into the Sabrimala temple on constitutional grounds. Desai says that her attackers said they wanted to kill her. Desai has received death threats in the past.

Lack of rage, only silence for Dalit abuse

Author and poet Sharanya Manivannan has written in a piece published by The New Indian Express on the rape and death of a 17-year-old dalit student in Nokha, Rajasthan. Manivannan writes, “She is not the first woman — artist or otherwise to meet a tragic end because her talent stood at odds with what was expected of her. I don’t see Buzzfeed articles, neatly packaging tragedy for public consumption, with images of her paintings. I don’t see a government agency being set up in her name to provide arts scholarships for underprivileged girls.”

Manivannan asks why the circumstances of this death, including sexual violence, and the failure of the police to follow due process, do not provoke rage and protest from Indians in the way that the gangrape and murder of Jyoti Singh Pandey did. Read the piece here.

Delhi high court admits transgender woman’s name change plea

A Delhi-based transwoman has asked the Delhi high court to allow her to change her name and gender on official records. Officials had prevented her from changing her name because she has not undergone sex-reassignment surgery. However, under current laws, this surgery cannot be used as a reason to deny the request, and surgery cannot be forced upon transgender and gender-variant people. The high court has agreed to examine the plea.

The women dying for an abortion in Sierra Leone

Unsafe abortions account for an estimated 10% of total maternal deaths in Sierra Leone’s public hospitals, according to an Al Jazeera report. Abortion is illegal in Sierra Leone, so women and girls resort to dangerous methods to abort unwanted foetuses, leading to short- and long-term health problems. The country came close to allowing abortion last year – the report says the bill, if it had passed, would have allowed for “pregnancies to be terminated under any circumstances up to 12 weeks’ gestation and up to 24 weeks in cases of incest, rape, foetal impairment and when the woman’s health is at risk.” Although the bill passed through parliament, it was stopped because of objections from the country’s religious leaders.

Death toll in Handwara rises

Yesterday, The Wire reported on the deaths of two young men shot by the army in Handwara, Kashmir, following protests by locals against alleged sexual harassment by one or more army personnel. The situation has since escalated, and another person – a 70-year-old woman – has died. The police are saying that preliminary reports indicate that no sexual harassment took place. An Al Jazeera report says: “Rights groups, however, say such probes rarely yield any concrete results and are often aimed at calming public anger.” The report also quotes a local man, who spoke about the killing of the elderly woman: “She was working in her orchard 4km away from the protest site. The soldiers came and shot her. It’s a plain murder.”

Former first ladies denounce Poland’s proposed abortion ban

Three former first ladies of Poland have spoken out against a possible ban on abortion in the country, reports The Guardian. In an open letter, Danuta Wałęsa, Jolanta Kwaśniewska and Anna Komorowska have said that the total ban on abortion would “aggravate women’s tragedy” in the country, which has already enforced very strict abortion laws. There have been huge protests in Poland against a new proposal that will make it mandatory for women to give birth in all cases, except only when it is necessary to save the woman’s life.

Group of transgender people to be in charge of Kolkata polling booth

For the first time in history, a group of transgender people will be in charge of the polling processes at a booth in the West Bengal elections, to be held at the end of this month. An IBNLive report quotes district electoral officer Seema Pandey as saying, “This inclusion in polling process will be a part of their social engineering [sic] experience.” The same report says that activists are skeptical of the move. Pawan Dhall, a gender rights activist, has said this is “a cosmetic step” which does not reflect true equality granted to transgender people.

Two transgender candidates are contesting state elections this time.

Book award on women and labour

The National Women’s Studies Association in the USA has announced that it will award a new book award, called the Sara A. Whaley Book Prize, for “a monograph that addresses women and labour from intersectional perspectives.” Read their website for more details.