When Jallikattu Raises the Dhirio Issues



It is another hot January day in Madras. I have alighted at the Chennai Bus Stand and am heading for the Indian Association of Women’s Studies Conference at the Madras University, near the Marina Beach. There are others headed there as well. There are many, many people present there; quite a number wearing black T-shirts or shirts. Some are carrying placards, others beating drums. First I see a lot of young students, then I see young and old, men, women, they seem to be from different communities. They are all walking towards Marina beach. “We need Jallikattu”, “We want Jallikattu” is written on the placards and also on banners along the way.


As reported in the press there has been an ordinance allowing Jallikattu by exempting it from applicability of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, and as such I wondered why they were still agitating. They say they are talking of a permanent solution. At first, in my technocratic lawyerly understanding, I look at it myopically and think that there is something amiss, because the Constitution has no way to ensure permanence except with the calling of an Assembly session and passing the legislation at the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly. So why did the people not wait until the summoning of the Legislative Assembly, considering that the Assembly session had anyway been called on 23rd January?


As the drama unfolds, I begin to get a sense of their understandings of permanent solutions. The issue really is far beyond Jallikattu. It seems that Jallikattu has been the point of convergence. The point of convergence for those who feel that Tamil culture is neglected; those who oppose the subsuming of Tamil culture under a homogeneous Indian culture; those who are upset by the disregard for farmers’ concerns; those who have borne the brunt of demonetization; those who have been rearing the bulls for Jallikattu; and those whose livelihoods are at stake anyways. Jallikattu or no Jallikattu, for the Thevar community which like the Patels in Gujarat feel neglected, for those in the city who are threatened by the impending water scarcity, for those who want the Tamilian bull species to thrive, for those who resist controversial state projects that often reinforce hybridization programs of dubious value, for those who see an imposition in aerated drinks of multinationals. Despite the fact that Jallikattu may in some ways be reinforcing machismo, despite the fact that Jallikattu is stated to be a dominant caste traditional practice wherein it is considered a sign of valour to win a bride by successfully hugging the hump of the bull. Despite the fact that the large mobilization of women for the Jallikattu is suspect, considering that women otherwise are not easily permitted to participate in demonstrations and protests.


The people at the Marina are not the ones who are associating Jallikattu with centuries old temple culture, they are talking of Tamil culture. They are also asserting their freedom to express, come what may.


Someone at the demonstration quips, “At Jallikattu or in a boxing match, sometimes there are unintended adverse consequences, just as in a motor vehicle accident. So because there is an accident, will you say ‘don’t use motor vehicles’?”

They also resonate in the context of Goa, where the difference  that is Goa is marginalized, where there has been selective targeting of bull fights, selective targeting of Muslim businessmen when it comes to beef, selective non-implementation of the Constitution, when it comes to reservations, selective stripping of powers of statutory bodies such as the Goa State Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, selective  mining loot, selective recognition of what demonetization has meant. There is a convergence emerging, albeit a different sort in Goa.


It dawns on me that permanent solution means recognizing the federal character of India enshrined in the Constitution. It means recognizing the diversity of cultures – that it is not about one nation, one language. It means recognizing the sustainability of the locally bred animals. It means recognizing that people suffer by acts of the Centre such as demonetization and planning policies that drive the farmers to the margins. It means no selective targeting of certain cultural symbols and projecting of the same as barbaric. Permanent solution in the people’s understanding is not limited to technocratic ‘legal’ solutions, it means addressing the power structures in which decisions are made, and the way the issues are represented be it in the legislature, by the Executive, and before the judiciary.


No doubt this permanent solution idea is fraught with ambiguities on gender and on how Tamil culture comes to be defined. No doubt the permanent solution concept is fraught with shades of Tamil nationalism. As much as Goan nationalism breeds its own disparities.


(First published in Goa Today, February 2017)


As Goa Prepares to host BRICS…



When any State summit takes place, and that too of an international dimension, it is important for the host location to be familiar with what is going to be deliberated on their soil. However there is no such visible effort by the State to acquaint or involve host Goa in the BRICS Summit deliberations, except for sprucing up roads.


So what is BRICS? BRIC was basically a formation of Brazil, Russia, India and China that has roots in 2006 with the meeting of its leaders while they were attending the UN General Assembly and noted the inequities of the economic system where some countries stood privileged over others in determining the shape of things all over the world to their advantage. South Africa was admitted to the BRIC formation in 2010 and then it became BRICS.


All the countries in BRICS had at one stage or the other challenged the charting out of a development that leaves out the voices of these countries. These were also, (and they continue to be), rising powers from the developing world that have been confronted by US superpower. The peoples of BRICS countries have experienced the consequences of a global politics that bypasses the voices of developing and underdeveloped countries in forging a world order. Consequently, the economies of these countries get tied to the apron strings of international financial institutions who set conditionalities for the loans that are advanced to the developing countries, while plunging the countries into deep debt, akin to today’s banking system, where an individual loanee gets swallowed, with the nature of the system including the interest structure and the pattern of investment by these banks.


The conditionalities, euphemistically called structural adjustment programmes, have included calling upon loanee countries to reversing fought-for robust processes of democratic governance. These conditionalities included adjusting the labour law machinery in a way that snatched away the rights it potentially guaranteed to the working class. These conditionalities also included setting up dispute resolution processes in international trade deals which tone down the obligations of the multinational companies while placing the poorer countries at risk of the acts of the companies, be it the consequences of pollution or of the irresponsible and extractive appropriation of profits, emanating from these deals.


Given the control that the US as a superpower had in world politics, it meant clipping and challenging this power, to pave way for rehauling the conditionalities and the determination or writing off of debt, by restructuring the global financial institutions. So BRICS was precisely the formation well poised to counter US control in world politics and bring to the table the framework of equality, solidarity, mutual development and cooperation, in realising a new world vision of development.


For this, it was and is necessary to look at development from the lens of the peoples of these countries who had the experience of development propagated by the superpowers which, for instance, marginalised their agricultural and industrial sector to bolster the multinational company-led agricultural and industrial sector. It was necessary after hearing out the voices of the excluded to envision a new architecture for the international financial institutions, that is appropriate to the needs, realities and aspirations of its people, repeat, its people, not its leadership and its elites.


Initially these countries did try to forge synergies in the areas of environmental and disaster management, in pharmaceuticals, metallurgy, biotechnology and tourism. But as these synergies were being forged, these countries were also rising as powers themselves, who were replicating the same styles of power that they set out to counter with the grouping as BRICS. However these are countries with a robust civil society. Will people push their countries to stick to the initial agenda of BRICS for a new equitable world order?


Pertinent questions are being asked such as: who will interconnectness assist?, how can we harness our existing legislation to address illegalities or criminality without imposing draconian legislation to stifle political dissent and create hype against the countries’ neigbours in the name of counter-terrorism? How can these countries cooperate in dealing with trafficking? How will the New Development Bank proposed by BRICS countries be different from the International Monetary Fund or World Bank, in a way that their loans can reach those countries and people who most need them and not breed big time bank defrauding violators who squeeze finances as they enjoy a flamboyant lifestyle and flee the country? How will energy be harnessed or industrialisation be effected so as to be inclusive? How will gender  bias, casteism and differences on the basis of class or ethnic origin not be reinforced in the new vision? Will they break bread with Palestine again, and be the staunch opponents of illegal occupation of Palestine that they once were?


So that they set up an ethic where peace is not forged by illegal occupation? So that cooperation, rather than destructive competition and war, are the planks of development that ensures basic needs of food clothing and shelter and affordable and accessible health services and education to the entire citizenry of the world in the new world order? So they do not do unto other underdeveloped or developing countries what they did not like developed countries doing to themselves, so that they do not do to the people on the margins within their own countries what they did not like the developed countries doing to them?


(First published in O Heraldo, dt: 8 September, 2016)

Goa’s Civil Code Shows That Uniformity Does Not Always Mean Equality


For probably the umpteenth time, there are whispers in the air that a uniform civil code (UCC) is in the offing. Occasionally, Goa’s UCC is brought up during these discussions.


But even as the UCC is being touted as the panacea for the violations of women’s rights, nobody asks what really is the UCC in Goa. What is meant when the civil code is said to be ‘uniform’? Why was it retained in Goa? And how is it working for different sections of women?


An examination of Goa’s tryst with the UCC reveals much. It shows, for example that ‘uniformity’ can take different shapes. It provides a stark reminder that uniformity is not per se a rights-loaded word. It can also mean uniformity in discrimination in that you can have discriminatory provisions applicable across all religions – uniformly. It calls attention to the fact that imposition of uniformity amongst unequals can create inequality, and that the existence of plural systems, both formal and non-formal, is actually ideal for the diverse constituents who need to strategise with the limited knowledge and within the limited power they have. Above all, it reveals nationalist agendas can shape the trajectory of UCC to the detriment of human rights.


Alert: Different shades of uniformity

Thus, it would be useful to see here how the so-called UCC pans out differently for different communities in Goa. We must not forget the procedures for registration of marriage are different for Catholics as compared to the procedures applicable to non-Catholics. Even if civil registration of marriage has been compulsory for Goans, what is actually considered marriage, customarily and socially across all religious communities, is the religious ceremony and reception. The paper registration before government authorities is seen as a formality to be complied with, for legal purposes.


For this to effectively happen, people, and particularly women, are not even familiar that two signatures with a minimum gap of fifteen days are generally entailed, one for declaration of intent which is applicable for everybody and the other for confirmation, which is signable before the Church for Catholics and the civil registrar for non-Catholics. The second signature can end up being not appended because of lack of knowledge about it. However, with the Catholics, the law allows the tie up of the state with the Church. This means that after the first signature is appended before the Registrar of Marriages, the very solemnisation of marriage in the Church and signing of the Church Marriage Registration Book there and sending of the extract of the Church register to the civil registrar, has come to be considered the second signature required for the confirmation of marriage. So the socially acceptable religious practice is accounted for in the law, when it comes to Catholics. That is the up side of the law recognising the popular relevance and significance of religious marriage.


In a situation where universality of marriage is seen as a norm and women are not cultured into acquainting themselves with the procedures of registration of marriage, and may be led into the same, they can be deceived into believing they are married, when they actually are not because they have not appended the second signature, and a marriage is not ordinarily recognised if there is no civil registration of marriage.


But on the other hand, the legal acknowledgement of socially accepted religious forms of marriage, if not qualified, has consequences by way of differing procedures and grounds for annulment of marriage, or for divorce. A marriage solemnised in the church has had the option of being annulled in the Church, for specific reasons, such as non-consummation of marriage. Once a marriage is annulled by the Tribunal of the Church, the said annulment is then confirmed by the high court mechanically, only at best ensuring that there was no bias in the decision making in respect of any of the parties to the case. On the other hand, if the matrimonial petition were to be filed in the civil court, non-consummation of marriage is not a ground for either annulment or separation or divorce, for any community.


The way the word ‘uniform civil code’ is bandied around, it presents a chimera of uniformity being equated with equality. Laws can be uniformly applicable to all in respecting women’s rights, and they can also be uniformly applicable to all communities in disregarding women’s rights. In other words, they can also be uniform in discrimination. That is also a lesson to draw from Goa’s Family Laws.


There are many uniformly applicable provisions, as, for instance, that the right to will for a married man or woman is limited to half of his/her share in the properties, and the will has to have the consent of both the spouses. Which means that at least on paper a couple cannot will away all their properties to their male offspring because of a preference for sons. This is a positive provision that is present in the uniformly applicable provisions (though it is quite another thing that there are ways of circumventing this provision).


Then there is the unique concept of matrimonial property rights, which is not found in the personal laws of the rest of India. In the rest of India, there is no formal concept of matrimonial property and hence the property ends up being in the names of males and therefore the property of the male only, which he can mortgage, or sell, as he pleases. In Goa, if nothing is spelt out at the time of marriage, the default system is the regime of communion of assets, which means that upon marriage, couples will hold whatever assets they have each or jointly acquired or inherited before or after marriage as co-owners of property. Couples do have an option of contracting themselves out of this default system of communion of assets at the time of marriage, by entering into a pre-nuptial contract where they decide whether the properties before marriage will be held separately and those after marriage will form the communion or if properties, whether acquired before or after the marriage, will all be held separately.


However, irrespective of which system of holding the matrimonial properties the couple opts for, the right to administration of the properties of the couple, without exclusion of the exclusive properties of the wife, is the prerogative of the husband. Thus the law makes the ‘control’ button available to the husband. This provision is uniformly applicable to all communities. Is this the uniformity to aspire for where one gender is privileged to control across all communities?


Also, uniformly applicable is the visualisation of the concept of property. The women that can avail of the matrimonial property provisions are those whose marital families have owned property. This means that for a woman whose husband does not have ownership rights in property, dividing matrimonial property at the time of divorce can mean she gets half of nothing. So, for instance, if a woman divorces and her husband is an agricultural tenant or is tenant in the marital house, she has no right to 50 per cent of the tenurial interests.


 It presents a chimera of nationalism guaranteeing equality. But the very nature of the nationalism is such that it seeks to retain privilege for the dominant sections – be it Indian nationalism or Goan nationalism. Hence a UCC driven by such nationalism, cannot guarantee equality. Therefore introduction of any provisions in the law which will challenge that badge of existing male and privileged identity will not be acceptable to these dominant sections either in India or in Goa.


Goan and Indian nationalism – two sides of the same coin

The manner in which voices have spoken post 1961, highlights the attempt to retain privilege for the dominant Goan communities, which includes dominant caste Goan males. Therefore maintaining the portions of the family law from the Portuguese Civil Code and resisting any efforts to change that law, arises from that perspective. There is consequently a hesitation to change any of its provisions, even if any of the existing uniform provisions be denying of equality to women, or to any section of society.


Goan nationalism as it has emerged and the Indian nationalism as it has been and continues to be, both seem to be the two sides of the same coin of Brahminism, characterised by the desire of the dominant sections of society to protect their privileges and not disturb the status quo.


 The UCC is thus seen as a badge of Goan identity as against the identity of ‘Indian’. The ‘Goans’ (meaning the dominant class/caste Goans) on the one hand have been wanting to distinguish themselves from the Portuguese, and from the mestiços (mixed race of Portuguese and Goan parents), and on the other hand also want to distinguish themselves from the rest of India, while maintaining all the distinctions that they have already made between themselves. It suited the Goan to distinguish himself from the non-Goan (the rich ‘Indian’) and the migrant by whom he felt overwhelmed either because of larger power potential or numbers. Be it in the field of law, music, song and dance, cuisine, games, language, art, architecture…..the story is the same. In and through all these fields of life, there is a desire to consolidate the existing power equations. This has been further strengthened by the economic driver of tourism, which has taken the form of neo-colonialism, and where it was essential to stereotype the image of an exotic Goan with a different image of a hybrid between Indian and Iberian culture.


Therefore, even if people would secretly admit that there are provisions which are crying for change and for an introduction of a rights perspective, they are wary of the law being touched, lest it dissipates in the bargain. An USP of Goa, that makes Goans a cut above the rest of India, such as the Family Laws of Goa cannot be lost. So nobody wants to let go of this badge of ‘honour’. Thus the predominant mood is that one should not try to change the law, even to the extent of changing the unjust equality-violating provisions. This can be a foreboder of how nationalist sentiments for ‘uniformity’, that is, retaining privilege, can trump rights of substantive equality, guaranteed by the Constitution of India.


(First published in TheWire.in, dt: 8 August, 2015)

Whither Women in Combat?


Former Goa Chief Minister ManoharParrikar, and current Defence Minister, announced at the “MAN-O-LOGUE”, organised by Rotary Club of Panaji last month that his Ministry was considering opening up combat roles for women in the armed forces. Thereafter, Parrikar confirmed that the first batch of women fighter pilots would be serving the Indian Air Force from June 2017, with the Navy following suit with combat roles for women, too.

Parrikar’s current position is a turn around from barely five months ago, when he dismissed the possibility of women as combatants by saying: “Think of what can happen if a woman is taken as a prisoner in a combat operation”. This earlier argument was akin to the idea that lampposts should not be constructed because dogs would urinate on them! One might also wonder whether rapes or sexual harassment are not otherwise perpetuated – in homes, workplaces, or just about everywhere.

And if women’s rights were indeed on the agenda, shouldn’t Parliament have scrapped the impunity available under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act to members of the Armed Forces for any crimes including sexual violence committed by them? We cannot have a situation like the case célèbre from Punjab where an IPS officer was caught bottom-pinching an IAS officer and the ‘Nation’ defended him because he was seen as our valiant fighter against terrorism.

Clearly, many of those who think women ought not to be in combat services are speaking from the mindset that women are physically and mentally incapable of such work,or are in the habit of seducing others at work, and hence are best kept at arm’s length.

It would be apt to quote a comment from the Dutch Defence Minister, a woman who, as The Guardian chronicles, said, “It doesn’t matter if you have a willy or not …I don’t think the military officers that we work with see us any differently than if we were men”. “And if they do”, she went on to say, “they don’t show it. But there is a public debate about women taking more influential political roles, and that’s healthy.”

But as a feminist, I am also seized by other questions. Would we want to fight for equal rights to something we don’t desire or appreciate in its present form in the first place? The devastation that the military industrial complex is causing worldwide is something increasingly hard to hide. The war machine is kept alive by the dictates of the arms industry and the power mongers of the day. War supplies, like alcohol, have a way of creating demand. The war machine is also sustained by constantly talking about the enemy next door, and the resources required to combat the enemy, which distracts from people’s scrutiny of governance. In the meanwhile, resources are diverted from the much needed sectors of education, health and development.

In a sense, by entering the domain of combat, women are being co-opted into this military industrial complex. As Professor Deepti Mehrotra, a feminist writer and political scientist aptly puts it, “Women are getting trapped in different ways by violent, hyper-masculine, patriarchal, capitalist, militaristic, exploitative ideologies and structures. It is painful to me to see women becoming aggressive, militaristic, exploitative, super-bossy, money-crazy, power-crazy; losing capacities of caring, creative skills, life-enhancing attitudes and commitments. I see it every day.

Women joining male soldiers in fighting and killing are logical in the continuum. We need to have and to focus on alternative feminist paradigms of liberation/ empowerment/ full humanity.”

There may be another way of looking at it. Europe now has five women Defence Ministers, and their tweet which made waves about a year ago, read: “Ironically I do think that having this group of female defense ministers can only prove constructive in the Ukraine case. From experience, women tend to find a more reasonable approach and could de-escalate the rising tension.”

But different women have different political approaches and practices and not all women are peace-loving or will do things differently, when in hitherto male bastions. One has seen or read about the active roles played by women in communal riots, for example.

So, how can we uphold women’s rights to equality and non-discrimination, while at the same time, not getting sucked into the military model of development? Our response cannot but be strategic and nuanced. If we uncritically acclaim the opening up of combat roles for women, what we are in effect doing is also simultaneously endorsing the war machine and the war mongering. If we oppose the combat roles only when it comes to women, we are lending ourselves to the charge of stereotyping women’s capacities and roles.

How about simultaneously engaging with a vision of women, men, transgenders, all, hammering swords into plowshares and laptops and spears into fishing hooks?

(First published in O Heraldo, dt: 5 November, 2015)