Saturday, December 29, 2012

An Assault on the Senses: Days 25 - 26

Day 25

I learned from my experience at the movie theater and from watching TV shows in India that censoring plays a big role in what can be shown on-screen. Fortunately, I was given a case to read in which a suit was filed against the producer of a movie due to the negative portrayal of a religious group, and I was able to read about censoring in-depth.

The Censor Board, which is controlled by the central government, sets guidelines for film certification and reviews films before they are released. They have the ability to deny certification and ask that certain scenes or dialogue be removed.

These guidelines began by stating that the films submitted for approval by the Censor Board needed to be “sensitive to the values and standards of society,” and be “clean and healthy entertainment” of “aesthetic value” and “cinematically of a good standard.” It also stated that the censorship was not meant to unfairly restrict artistic expression and creative freedom.

Ironically, the guidelines then went on to give a list of scenes that were not allowed to be included in the movie. These included ones depicting “child abuse, abuse of animals, or the abuse or ridicule of physically or mentally disabled persons.” “Scenes involving sexual violence against women” had to be “avoided or reduced to a minimum [with] no details shown.” “Anti-social activities such as violence” were not to be “glorified or justified.” Scenes “justifying or glorifying drinking, drug addiction, or smoking,” “scenes degrading women,” and “visuals or words promoting communal, obscurantist, anti-scientific, and anti-national attitude” were not allowed to be shown on-screen. Furthermore, during the course of the film, the “sovereignty and integrity of India [was not allowed to be] called into question,” the “security of the state [was not to be] jeopardized or endangered,” “friendly relations with foreign states [were not to be] strained, “ and “public order [could not be] endangered.”

After reading the whole list of guidelines, it became clear why so many movies were banned in India. The government has complete control over the arts.
And so even though the Constitution of India guarantees freedom of expression, logically, it cannot.

Day 26

I always get emotional reading through human rights cases, but today’s case file hit my heart in a different way. Today, I caught a glimpse of the 1984 genocide against the Sikhs.

In 2011, an engineer discovered a site in a village called Hondh Chillar in Haryana, India. After realizing what had happened there, he took pictures of the deserted area, and enlisted the help of Sikh organizations to help preserve the site. The man had found the aftermath of a massacre that occurred twenty-seven years ago.

In response to the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in October 1984, thousands of Sikhs were killed in horrific attacks all across India. On November 2, 1984, the village of Hondh Chillar, which was inhabited by more than 35 Sikh families, was invaded by three truckloads of people who came shouting and armed with weapons. According to eyewitness reports, the mob took diesel from the tractors of the villagers and burned children alive. The women of the village were raped and murdered. Innocent Sikhs were beaten, and when they ran into their homes to save themselves, their attackers would lock them inside and set the houses on fire. An estimated 60 – 70 people died that day.

A very vague First Information Report (FIR) was registered on the complaint of a reported killing of Sikhs in Hondh Chillar. The police barely did any investigating. There were no interviews with survivors or witnesses. The case was closed, and the FIR was claimed to be lost or misplaced. The survivors left the village and did not return out of fear and because they knew the police were involved and would not help them.

And so the story of the Hondh Chillar massacre was forgotten. Only when the site was discovered twenty-seven years later did the details of the attack come to light. Only then were twenty-nine of the victims traced and identified as casualties of the mass grave. It’s hard to believe that they went forgotten for so long after such brutal violence and horrendous bloodshed. It hurts to think about it.

As I looked over the photographs of the site that the engineer took in 2011, a knot formed in my throat. The entire area lay in ruins. You couldn’t miss it from afar. Beyond the bright green thriving grass was a large patch of gray and brown, where pieces of what once was lay amongst the burnt, dead grass. Human remains, mostly bones were scattered in the torched compounds. The village’s Gurdwara, which was once a safe, beautiful, peaceful place, was completely burnt and inhabited by stray animals. Shambles of homes, crumbles of bricks, a few portions of gray walls left standing, decaying plants…it was as if someone had gone in and snatched all the life out of this place. It was colorless, lifeless. Frozen in time. Forgotten.

I closed my eyes and prayed.

Monday, December 24, 2012

An Assault on the Senses: Days 20 - 21

Day 20

I’m obsessed with mehndi (henna) and I was so excited to get it done because it’s never the same when I get it done back home.
I sat on a stool on the sidewalk next to a shopping center, rolled up my sleeves and spread out both my arms, as two artists painted intricate designs on my hands using a cone of henna with extraordinary ease.
The whole process took about 15-20 minutes. (Imagine how fast they were working!)
I’m in awe.

Day 21

One of my favorite parts of the day is my ride to work.

I take an auto-rickshaw, otherwise known as a three-wheeler. The body is bright green, and yellow and black fabric drapes over the sides, acting as doors. There are two benches inside; the driver sits on the front bench and I climb into the back and sit on the left side, keeping the “door” open so I can see outside during the drive. My hands are glued to the seat from the moment we start, trying to keep my body still as the auto bounces on the bumpy roads, sending my body flying about.

Traffic in Chandigarh is not something you get used to easily. Most of the cars are stick shift, and the driver’s seat is on the right. There are barely any traffic lights, and no such things as stop signs or yield signs or really anything of that sort. The funny thing is on some main roads, there’s a broken white line running down the center separating the lanes, but people drive on top of it. At first, the traffic really scares you. (Especially the intersections.) Cars just weave in and out and it looks like an accident is going to happen at any moment, but it rarely ever does. Instead, the mob of cars, bikes, trucks, scooters, autos, and rickshaws somehow manages to make itself work, as people honk their horns to warn surrounding vehicles of their next move. That persistent honking is one of the many distinctive noises of the streets of India.

Chandigarh is one of the most organized cities in India. It is divided into sectors, and each sector is given a number. Within each sector, there are subsectors, typically “A” through “D.” Sectors A and B are usually residential, while C and D contain shops and such. The heart of Chandigarh is the famous Sector 17, well known for its shopping plaza. Sector 17 is also home to the High Court where I go to shadow an attorney.

On my way to the law firm, I absolutely love watching what goes on outside. In addition to the honking, other noises of the streets include the occasional man calling out from his vegetable cart, Punjabi and Hindi songs blasting from cars passing by, and fireworks and the sounds of a dhol coming from colorful tents in which there are wedding festivities going on. We pass by shops lined with shelves of colorful fabrics for traditional Indian clothes, chemists from whom you can buy medicines after telling them your symptoms (with no need of prescriptions), tailors, grocery shops, and much more. Men sit on stools on the sidewalk, and facing a large mirror, get their beards shaved by barbers. Students dressed in navy blue uniforms chitchat on their way out of large schools. Men and women on scooters pass by the auto, their faces covered with scarves, their sleeves flapping about in the wind. At times there are whole families squeezed together sitting on those scooters. Men selling sweet potatoes, colorful fruits, and snacks line the sidewalks.

The streets of India remind me of the streets of New York City. Vibrant and alive, they are pulsing with culture and energy. I find myself in wonder sitting in the three-wheeler on my way to work, bouncing around on the bumpy roads of this beautiful city, gazing out onto the ever-entertaining streets, trying to take it all in. I don’t ever want to forget.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

An Assault on the Senses: Day 19

Day 19: Sexuality and the Judiciary of India

Reading through a report titled “Contentious Marriage, Eloping Couples,” by Prem Chowdry, I came across incredibly interesting arguments that outlined the intersection of sexuality and the Indian judiciary, as cases of runaway couples and honor killings were brought to court. As I mentioned in a previous post, honor killings were often the result of runaway marriages where couples in love eloped, to the dissatisfaction of their parents and families, and when found, the couple were killed for bringing dishonor to their families. The report I read outlined the aftermath of the runaway marriages and how it brought about a gendered judiciary.

The aftermath of the runaway marriages usually involved an investigation as to the couple’s whereabouts. Because the neighborhoods and villages in parts of India are highly close-knit communities, news of what the couple has done is sure to spread throughout the village, and the bride’s family’s reputation is threatened because the woman disregarded her parent’s wishes, and acted against patriarchal control. After all, the right to marry the woman is not seen as her own, but rather one belonging to her male guardian. In order to re-establish male honor, the runaway woman must be retrieved. So the girl’s family files a report with the police, claiming their daughter was kidnapped and raped. When the couple is ultimately found, the husband is arrested and imprisoned and the wife is returned to her family, who forces her to indict her husband by admitting that he kidnapped and raped her.

The main problem arises when the girl’s age is questioned. According to Indian law, a female must be 16 years old to engage in consensual sex (15 years old if she is a married woman), and a male must be 18 years old. However, until one is 18 years old, one is considered a minor. So it is possible that a girl between the ages of 16 and 18 could legally consent to sexual relations with her husband, but could not have legally consented to marriage, due to the fact that she is still a minor. This causes a problem because the court therefore views sexual relations in a “runaway marriage” as “illicit”, and a stigma of being a promiscuous woman is then associated with the woman in question. The fact of the marriage is not even given consideration because legally, she could not have consented to it.

Because there is a general lack of records regarding births and no concern in recording births in India, a girl’s age can’t be proved conclusively. Therefore, the court relies on a bone X-ray examination, known as an ossification test to give an approximation of age, but this test is not definitive, and provides a range of ages rather than a precise age. So in many cases, though she may not be a minor, the girl’s parents will claim in court that she is a minor to make the marriage invalid.

Now once these cases of proposed kidnapping and rape go to court, the courts rule that the man accused was “facilitating in the fulfillment of the intention of the girl,” implicitly stating her intent to have sex with her lover. In one case in Mumbai, the judge even explicitly stated that the man was in the company of the woman “in order to satisfy her sexual lust.” The fact that her “intent” was to get married to the man was ignored because as a minor, she could only consent to sexual relations, not marriage. The courts’ stand is that sex is only legitimate if the couple is married, and the only marriage the courts recognize are ones in which the girl’s guardian gave his approval and blessings. The irony is that if the girl’s parents agreed to the marriage, the fact that she is underage wouldn’t even be an issue and her sexuality would be accepted as legitimate. There is obvious gender discrimination in the courts’ logic because the charge of illegality is only initiated when the girl marries out of choice but not when her guardian makes it for her, even when she is a minor.

The only way for the girl to escape the stigma of being a promiscuous woman is to make allegations of rape, kidnapping, abduction, etc. against the man. The woman’s sexuality is controlled by patriarchal society and tied to her family’s honor. The man is viewed as fulfilling the wishes of a promiscuous woman – she is responsible for his behavior. As Chowdry states, “The judicial eye is gendered” in this way because “sex for an unmarried woman is severely condemned but for an unmarried man it is not a matter to condemn…he is [viewed as] a victim of the woman’s lust. Such an attitude only naturalizes a man’s sexuality and accepts it as part of his masculinity. This gendered approach produces [inequality] at the judicial level. It also severely negates consensual sex for a woman, which is legally recognized for her…above 16 [years of age].”

In lower courts, the man is usually convicted, which serves as a face-saver for the girl’s family and reassertion of the “male guardian’s right of ownership of the woman.” However, the sentences is usually reduced on appeal or reversed by the High Court. The judgments put blame on women for “enticing the man,” but still punish the man. The whole process “makes the woman a possession [of her male guardian] and the man a criminal.”
After her family retrieves the woman, she is either quickly and quietly married off, or killed. If she is married off, it is usually to someone who is not viewed as an ideal mate, such as a widower, an older man, a man with children, or a married man. Sometimes, when the family cannot marry her off, the girl is killed because that is seen as the only “honorable” option, as the stigma can only be removed by killing her. If she were to remarry into a lower status family, it would only reduce the status of her parents. There were so many cases where girls were killed by their families, at times in front of neighbors or the entire village, but nobody tried to help them or even reported the crimes. The culprits get away with murder. The police barely investigate, accepting the families’ reports that the girls committed suicide.

Chowdry states, “The rights of women are totally negated, going against the concept of equity and justice…the court passively accepts and actively promotes the regulation of a woman’s sexuality rather than challenging it in accordance with her legal rights, thereby reiterating that the male guardian has the right to settle and give her in marriage to a partner of his choice…Judges deliver moral judgments rather than legal ones.” State agencies and judiciaries “legitimize the stereotype of a woman who has brought shame and dishonor upon her family, community and society.”

Though most of these cases are “settled” (through violence or otherwise), there is still some hope. In 2006, a Supreme Court judgment stated inter-caste and inter-community marriage in India are in “national interest,” “instructed the administration and police throughout the country to protect such couples from harassment and violence, and declared all opposition to such marriages to be against the law, and hence punishable.” Since then, some change has been made. Shelters are slowly opening up to provide shelter and protection to runaway couples. A change in culture is necessary though; without it, gender discrimination will only persist.

Monday, December 17, 2012

An Assault on the Senses: Days 16 - 18

Day 16 – 18 : Cases involving police brutality

As I mentioned before, the case files I’m reading seem to have troubling trends. One of the major issues I’ve come across is police brutality and general corruption in police forces across the country, and even abroad.

Case #1
After Balwant Singh Rajoana was convicted and sentenced to death, people in Punjab began to protest, and religious groups began to clash over the issue, causing hate crimes and violence amidst the protests. One day, a protest was taking place outside a place of worship. Now I can’t say whether this was a peaceful protest like the prosecution claims, or a protest that got out of hand like the police states, but at some point, the police got involved, shots were fired, and two young men were shot. One of the men survived, but the other was rushed to the hospital where he was pronounced dead. The police claimed that they only fired shots into the air to gain control of the situation by scaring people off because the situation was getting out of control and they were afraid that violence would ensue. They said that after the crowd had dispersed, there weren’t any dead bodies or injured people. But testimony by many of the people present offers another description of the events: the police began to open fire at the protesters for no apparent reason, and that two people were shot, one of whom died not long after.

Case #2
The lawyers at the firm filed a public litigation suit against the State after they read in the news that two men were given pardon by the State. These men were previously police officers, who were convicted of custodial killing. They had illegally arrested and held two innocent men in prison. These victims were severely tortured, ultimately resulting in their deaths. The officers were convicted and sent to jail, but were soon given pardon based on the fact that they had served their country in the police force for a number of years and had been successful in capturing terrorists. Custodial killing is a major problem in India, and unfortunately if the police officers convicted of it are excused and get away with it, it will continue to be a problem.

Case #3
Another case which highlighted extreme policy brutality and denial of justice took place in the U.A.E. Seventeen Indians were given the death penalty on allegations that they killed one Pakistani youth. The seventeen prisoners revealed in interviews that they were tortured for nine continuous days; they were given electric shocks, beatings with golf clubs and plastic pipes, forced to stand on one foot for long periods of time, and denied any opportunity to sleep. They were forced to make a confession of crime. They were denied prayer books and their articles of faith, which were cut off, kicked around, and thrown into the trash. They were made to sign papers in Arabic, which they could neither read nor understand. While in custody, they were forced to dramatize the beating up of a policeman as if it were the actual crime. This was videotaped and submitted as actual video evidence of the crime in court. The entire court process took place in Arabic, and no translator was made available. The accused were never given a copy of their charge sheet, nor their judgment. And during this whole process, only to make matters worse, the Indian Consulate did not provide any help to them, and prevented other human rights organizations from getting involved once these organizations criticized the Consulate for being absent.