Queer Azaadi March Announcement

August 8, 2009

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Were you part of the Queer Azadi March (QAM) last year and want to take part again this year? Or will this be your first time? Well, now its almost time! In less than 10 days for the second QAM which will take place on Sunday 16th August !

All police permissions are in. The march will take place from 3 to 6 pm. Like last year we will start from August Kranti Maidan at Gowalia Tank, from where Gandhi gave his call for the British to Quit India, and we will march through Nana Chowk to Opera House and to Girgaum Chowpatty – but where last year’s march ended there, many organisers felt this was too short for all the enthusiasm, so we sought and were granted permissions to march back to August Kranti Maidan via Hughes Rd – Westside – Gamdevi Police St. Final confirmed route will be posted.

Plans for the march are in full swing! Thanks to the efforts of groups like Humsafar there will be an exceptional level of participation from community organisations. And thanks to the success of last year’s march, and the enthusiasm created by the Delhi High Court verdict, a lot of people are coming for the march from other parts of India and even abroad. Celebrities like Celina Jaitley and Milind Soman will probably be there. Its going to be a blast!

But while we hope everyone has fun, there is also a serious reason for marching. We have won a big victory in the Delhi High Court, but it is being fiercely challenged in the Supreme Court. We need to call with all our effort on the honourable judges of the Supreme Court and the government to respect the verdict of the Delhi High Court and to let freedom stand for the queer community across India. Last year’s march was to call for azaadi, this year’s march is for it to stay.

So please start making your plans to be there. We’re also very happy to get offers for help, so let us know if there’s anything you’d like to do. In the next few days groups will be organising preparatory events. GB’s meeting this coming Sunday, 9/9 will be on Planning for Pride. The Humsafar centre will be hosting three days of poster making on 7th, 9th and 14th August (details below) and the LABIA group will be having a poster-making session on 15th August at the Awaaz-e-Niswaan offices in Kurla West where we have been having our meetings. Address and directions in meeting announcement posts below. You are welcome to take part in any or all of these!
Apart from these events there are also lots of other ways you can get involved. For example, you could help just by persuading friends and relatives to come – we are VERY keen on extending this march beyond just the queer community to show that this is a human rights issue for all. Or by offering to host some of the many people who will be coming for the march. You can also get involved in making posters and banners. The march will welcome individual initiatives (as long as one respects the overall march) so please feel free to get creative.
Despite the Delhi High Court victory we do realise that many people will still be wary of marching openly. We respect these concerns and have accomodated them, like last year, by making lovely, colourful masks available for free at the venue (just come a bit early to make sure you get one). Apart from this there’s the fact that, as I mentioned in the previous paragraph, we have deliberately broadbased the march to make one not just for queer people, but for anyone interested in basic human rights issues.
A lot of mainstream supporters will be coming, so if it is a concern, please be assured that being seen at the march will not necessarily label you as queer – but it might label you as someone who believes in human rights for all!

See you at the march!

Queer Azaadi Mumbai


Queer Azaadi Film Screening 31 July Alliance Francaise

July 21, 2009

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‘We won. We are legal’
On 2nd July 2009, the LGTBI community has been decriminalised by the High Court decision in Delhi which read down Section 377 of the IPC. It is the achievement of a long term struggle which opens a new era of freedom for sexual minorities in India.

This milestone judgement, which gave us recognition, opens the doors towards inclusiveness, social and cultural acceptance and further gains in areas of civil, political and human rights.

‘There is a long road ahead to end discrimination, to ensure equal rights and the ability to exercise them are in place’, states Sunil Gupta, a Delhi based photographer and openly gay man.

The spirits are high and with this first stunning achievement, we are full of hope that many more victories are to come.

The film program takes us to different parts of the world and attempts to look at the queer individual and the LGTBI community in society and society’s gaze back. Glancing at this reflected image, the question that manifests asks – is it enough that a society only protects us with a set of rights or do we also need the freedom to act as who we are within that society. Legal recognition and human rights are very important but social acceptance is equally, if not more, crucial.

These films will extend this essential idea of acceptance to include our sexuality, our gender presentation, our choice of sex work as livelihood, and how we love.

After each film there will be an informal discussion to share points of view amongst the audience.

This film program is a teaser to relish before the Queer Azaadi Mumbai March on 16thAugust, which kicks off at August Kranti Maidan in which we will celebrate diversity and proudly state ‘hum sab ek hai’.

The Queer Azaadi March (QAM) is the collective result of several of Mumbai’s very own LGBTI individuals and organizations. This is our home, and QAM is our march together for the freedom of expression of our sexual identities and pride in being ourselves. QAM ’09 looks forward marching together with our family, friend, supporters and the people of our much loved city toward a better future for Mumbai’s queers, for acceptance, tolerance and understanding of our lives and personalities.

For more information on on the QAM March visit the blog at http://queerazaadi.wordpress.com

We would like to thank all the artists, producers and distributors for giving us their oeuvres free of cost. We are also thankful to the Alliance Française de Bombay for giving us their auditorium and screening facilities. Without this generosity we wouldn’t have been able to bring you these films.

Friday 31st July 2009 @ 6.30 pm
Alliance Française de Bombay40 Theosophy HallMarine Lines, Mumbai, Maharashtra 40002


Network of Women in Media’s call to action

May 1, 2009

Network of Women in Media (Mumbai) organised a meeting with women’s groups on April 25, 2009 at the Press Club to discuss the media coverage of the recent TISS student gang rape and the possibility of future action on the same. It brought together representatives of several women’s groups in the city – including Forum Against Oppression of Women, LABIA, CEHAT, Women’s Centre, Akshara, Point of View, Aawaaz-e-Niswaan, and AIDWA – as well as some students and faculty from TISS.

Everyone expressed dissatisfaction with the way the TISS student’s gang rape was covered in the media. Several sections of the media ignored the generally followed norm of not revealing the identity of the rape victim (which is supposed to include not just the name of the victim but also other identifying details) by publishing the full FIR with all its graphic details. This has also happened in the case of many other stories as well such as the recent tantric and young girls incest case and the Marine Drive rape case some years ago. Generally there is an obsession with coverage of crime and especially those of a sexual nature involving middle-class people. This not only violates the privacy of the victim and makes her vulnerable to identification, it also deters other women victims of sexual assault from ever filing an FIR. Furthermore, it was discussed that by publishing one of the offender’s and his lawyers’ version of events and their mud-slinging comments on the victim, the defence was only building its own legal case using the media as a go-between.

So how do we proceed and make the media aware that what they are doing is wrong and harming the interests of a vulnerable victims? These are the different points that came up:

Read the rest of this entry »

Free Speech and Breach of Privacy

April 26, 2009

By Monica Sakhrani

The furore over the publication of the FIR in the TISS rape case has led to the raising of the issues as to the limits of free speech and press freedom. The other issue that has come up is whether the press has the right to publish a “public document”, the presumption being that all public documents are in the public domain. This piece seeks to answer as to why is not so.

First of all, the term public document in the Indian Evidence Act (Section 74) includes documents of the State and state records of private documents. Private documents are documents other than public documents. The rationale for the distinction in the law of evidence is mainly relating to proof of the documents. While private documents have to be proved through the production of the original, certified copies and other secondary evidence of a public document is permitted by the law. The reasons for this are obvious. However it doesn’t mean that all public or state documents are in the public domain just as it is a fact that even private documents can be in the public domain. The examples of official secrets and mass media are good examples of this. Fundamentally it has been agreed upon in all jurisdictions including the USA where the First Amendment right to free speech is held to be paramount that there are limits to free speech. State Security, reputation of private persons (defamation), contempt of the judiciary, hate speech and   blasphemy are recognized limits of free speech. In India our constitutional guarantee of free speech under Article 19 (1 (a) also recognizes right to privacy as one of its components and further this right can been reasonably restricted by Article 19 (2) in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence.

An FIR is the First Information of the commission of a cognizable offence which is disclosed to the police. Under Section 154 of the CrPC, the police have to reduce the statement of the witness who reports the disclosure of the offence in writing, which report then becomes the basis of the beginning of the investigation of the case including the arrest of the accused. The copy of the FIR has to be given to the First Informant free of cost and also a copy of the same is sent to the Magistrate who has jurisdiction over the concerned police station. The FIR is included in the chargesheet. The courts have held that FIR is a public document in cases wherein the accused has demanded a copy of the FIR before the filing of the chargesheet. In these cases, it has been held that the accused can obtain a copy of the FIR from the court by applying to the concerned Magistrate and he cannot be refused the same as the same is needed in order to help him exercise his right to fair trial and bail Once the judicial trial begins, information regarding the proceedings including the FIR and the evidence of the witnesses comes within the public domain as the judicial proceeding is open to the public and publication of the same is permitted. However this is not the case in rape cases, where the trial is in camera and both the disclosure of the judicial proceedings and the identity of the rape victim is proscribed by law under Section 228A of the Indian Penal Code. One of the exceptions to this is if the same was disclosed by the victim herself.

Now we come to the question as to whether the media has the right to obtain copy of the FIR and publish the same. The entire campaign for the right to information was based on the premise that transparency and accountability is one of the necessary ingredients of democracy and good governance. this is why the Right to Information Act, 2005 states that its objective is to secure access to information under the control of public authorities, in order to promote transparency and accountability in the working of every public authority However it is recognized that withholding of information by the state in certain circumstances are permitted under Section 8 which includes under sub section (1(i) information “which relates to personal information the disclosure of which has no relationship to any public activity or interest, or which would cause unwarranted invasion of the privacy of the individual unless the Central Public Information Officer or the State Public Information Officer or the appellate authority, as the case may be, is satisfied that the larger public interest justifies the disclosure of such information”.  Section 11 further states that when any information sought is disclosed by a third party, it cannot in any case (meaning that it is not prohibited under Section 8 (1(i) ) be disclosed without giving the concerned third party the right to be heard.

In the present case, the publication of the alleged FIR and the disclosure of material particulars of the woman which led to her identification were obviously not done in accordance with procedure established by law, i.e. either through making an application for the certified copy to the magistrate or by making an RTI Application. Neither was disclosure done by the victim. In any case, the application whether to the magistrate or the Public Information Officer would be rejected as not only is it against public interest to disclose the same but disclosure is proscribed by Section 228A as it would lead to disclosure of identity of the victim. It is also violative of the victim’s fundamental right to privacy. Apart from the legal reasons prohibiting publication and identification, it would lead to less and less women coming forward to register cases of sexual assault where in any case, women have to bear the blame of at best being stupid and at worst being promiscuous liars. It takes tremendous courage and strength to take recourse to law by a woman in a case of sexual assault where she stands to lose as much as the accused. One must also not lose sight of the fact that the legal discourse is fundamentally a patriarchal discourse with its value loaded binary of chastity versus promiscuity, shame versus brazenness. The very fact that the woman has ‘come out in the open’ by filing the case, condemns her and justifies a vilification campaign through use of arguments of public interest which are invasive of privacy. In effect the site of challenge of patriarchy is itself patriarchy. The press coverage and the publication of the FIR in this case is a case to point.

Monica Sakhrani has been a human rights activist and lawyer for many years. She is currently Assistant Professor at the Centre for Criminology and Justice, School of Social Work, Tata Institute of Social Sciences.

Despair and Deja Vu – Media’s Duty to Exercise its Rights Responsibly

April 24, 2009

The media’s coverage of the rape of the TISS student has left me with a despairing sense of deja vu. I should have developed a thicker skin after all these years of mainstream journalism but I’m still angry at the quality of  reportage on crimes against women – shoddy, insensitive and insidious in its suggestions of the woman’s complicity in the crime against her..

Over the years, of course, the media has also become an even hungrier beast and keeps demanding more and more scraps to feed its insatiable appetite  for news. In the newsroom, whenever some sensational (its a word I use grudgingly) incident occurs, there is intense pressure to dig out more and more information, to bring in different ‘angles’ and exclusive, breaking news. Some of my younger colleagues speak of how demanding the situation is in print media today, competing as it is with the immediacy and speed of broadcast media.

But I’m still unconvinced. The media’s appetite is a very poor excuse for shoddy journalism and most definitely for unethical coverage. In the reporting of the rape of the TISS student, Mumbai Mirror apologised for hurting reader sentiments when it reproduced the FIR. The tabloid however maintains that the FIR was a public document and it had every right to publish it.

Sure, it has the right to publish it. So does the DNA for supposedly initiating a debate on date rape. Or the Mid-Day for reproducing the blog by one of the friends of an accused that the latter was actually a good guy! The Indian Express gives a small report of the traces of cannabis in the girl’s urine while there isn’t even a line on the medical reports of the accused. (The TOI at least, reported the same news but pointed out that the presence of alcohol or drugs meant that the girl could not have put up any resistance. So much for small mercies).

So all these newspapers have rights. They have a right to inform the public, to uncover hidden facts and to get as close to the truth as possible…but just one correction – this is the media’s right, but it’ll also the media’s duty. It becomes a right when the media is prevented from getting at the truth or uncovering some information.The media has a duty to exercise its rights responsibly. And that’s not as subtle a difference as we may think. Its quite simple. Take a look at the Mumbai Mirror report on the FIR. It covers an entire page, with a a dark, blue illustration of the bowed head of a woman –  a silhouette defeated and hidden in shame. And the headline: ‘Vinamra kept kissing me, though I told him to stop’.

In the entire FIR, was this the only sentence the newspaper could headline to indicate the girl’s resistance?

The publication of details of how the girl met the youth, how much she drank, who kissed her and fell asleep afterwards, how she woke up the next morning – this is voyeurism and builds up to actively destroy any empathy/sympathy for her.

I find this aspect of media coverage of assaults on women the most disturbing. The media digs out and highlights any supposed ‘transgression’ in the girl’s ‘character’ – whether she worked in some ‘questionable’ job or had ‘loose’ morals or dressed provocatively.

For the media, the issue isn’t only a matter of sensationalising the incident to sell more copies. It also operates at two levels – one, where police leak such information to deflect public opinion from any anger at the lack of safety and security for women and two, to insidiously claim that the crime was not as serious as it seemed as the girls asked for it by stepping out of line. When doubt is created about the gravity of the crime, the response to it is also muted and diffused.

Mathura was doubted for being a tribal who was sexually active, Surekha Bhotmange was a woman who was close to the local police inspector, Sunil More could pick a victim who went out with male friends, the post-mortem of the Jogeshwari nuns who were murdered said they had VD, Jessica Lal got shot because she didn’t make herself available to Manu Sharma, even the schoolgirl Arushi was painted as a fast girl….the list is endless.

Back to deja vu….

Geeta Seshu

Mid-Day coverage of the TISS rape case

April 23, 2009

Here is a letter I sent in to the Mid-Day for its problematic reportage on the TISS rape case.


TISS rape accused was the ‘nicest guy’ in school: Blog

By: A correspondent

Date: 2009-04-23

Mumbai: They may have been accused for raping the TISS student, but friends of Vinamra Soni (21) and Jaskaran Singh Bhullar’s (20) have not given up on them. A friend of the two has floated a blog appealing netizens to give Soni and Bhullar a second chance. The blog titled ‘They din’t do it’ (sic) created by their schoolmate Tarush Agarwal, who studied with the duo in Loyola School, Jamshedpur, requests the public to hear their side of the story before passing a judgment. In his post, Tarush writes: “I will continue to write to defend my best friends, for I firmly believe they could not commit this heinous crime. I would like to mention, Jask, apart from being the bearer of the friendliest, nicest, and cutest guy trophy is also a brother of three adorable sisters and he respects women.” In an e-mail response to MiD DAY, Agarwal who is currently in USA, said, “Through this blog, I want people to know that there could be a different side to the story. I want them to know that Jaskaran and Vinamra are nice boys, who do regular guy-like things, but at the same time have a strong influence of Indian culture.” Tarush also mentions in the post that Soni and Bhullar were in a train when they heard of the case being filed and were consequently asked by their parents to get off the train, wait for them and then surrender to the police.

My letter to Mid-Day:

———- Forwarded message ———-

To: mailbag@mid-day.com

Dear Editor,

I am writing in response to your article “TISS rape accused was the ‘nicest guy’ in school: Blog” which appeared on page 5 of your newspaper on April 23, 2009. It seems immaterial whether Jaskaran Bhullar, one of the six accused in a gang rape case, was the ‘nicest guy in school’ or whether he ‘respected women’. Such character affirmations only tilt public opinion in  favour of the six accused. This is especially so since the other accused in the case, Vinamra Soni, whose ‘good character’ is also vouched for by the writer of the blog, has publicly cast aspersions on the victim.

Besides, why is so much space being given to the blog posts of Tarush Agarwal, the best friend of the two accused mentioned above? Why are his opinions being deemed newsworthy? Agarwal has also been quoted as saying that Jaskaran and Vinamra “do regular guy-like things but at the same time have a strong influence of Indian culture”. It is clear from this comment that Indian culture is supposed to imply good, upright behavior and it is insinuated that those who are not Indian, the victim in this case, may be loose, forward and not upright. I find this kind of reporting terribly biased and one-sided and am shocked that you would publish it.

Subuhi Jiwani

Mirror has the company of its rivals

April 23, 2009

We’ve heard and read about the Mumbai Mirror‘s (by now) infamous page 12 of its April 18 edition. On that page, the paper ran several readers’ letters criticising its decision to publish the victim’s statement in its entirety. It also printed an apology, but only for offending readers’ sensibilities.

Despite our protest in front of The Times of India building, the Mirror ran two more readers’ letters on April 20 that supported its decision. One congratulated the paper for printing the critical responses and thereby, strengthening reader-editor interaction. The other underlined the need to highlight “such barbarity” and “understand the ordeal the girl went through”.

While the Mirror deserves our mud-slinging, The Hindustan Times had run excerpts from the victim’s FIR in its April 16 edition. These excerpts do not divulge many of the graphic details of the violent act, but HT was the first to print the statement.

As it turns out, these papers are facing tough competition from rivals in the English news media. DNA ran an article headlined “Why was she with sex men that night?” on April 21, the day that Vinamra Soni, the sixth accused, appeared in court for his anticipatory bail hearing. The headline is a paraphrased version of what appears in Soni’s bail application. Disturbingly, the victim’s being out at night with the six accused, the only woman among a group of men, leads the lawyers to conclude that the what happened wasn’t rape but consensual sex. The application reads:

“The act of the victim accompanying the accused persons who was lonely lady (sic) with six male persons in long midnight itself shows the nature of the victim and therefore, whatever would have happened might be due to willingness of the victim (sic).”

The article even goes on to quote Soni’s lawyer Patil as saying that the victim tried to extort money from the accused after the alleged rape.

What might be the implications of publishing an article such as this? Could the defense have been using the media not only to cast aspersions on the victim’s character but also to influence public opinion in its favour?

If the media justifies this act with its “getting both sides of the story” thumb rule, we need to ask: What two sides are they talking about? To my knowledge, the victim or her lawyers have not yet spoken to the media and her statement was published without her or her lawyers’ knowledge.

Finally, what might make for good, responsible reporting in a case like this?

— Subuhi Jiwani