Sexuality Education Workshop in Kannada – Mysore

boy giving flower to a woman

Our day began as early as 5:30 am on a Sunday when Charu picked us- Jasmine, Kiran and Aruna up. Jasmine had earlier insisted that we bring Kiran along since the presence of a man changes the way young boys listen and respond to a session, especially facilitated by women. I have learnt this to be true myself.

We landed up in Mysore where Chaitra and Mangala guided us into the community where Buguri is situated. The amount of space there for children amazed an urban space person like me which allowed me to look more into how spaces and behaviours, especially of children are so intertwined. Buguri Mysore is a tiny space and decorated very beautifully with art works made by the children. The atmosphere felt extremely warm and inviting.

There were about 15 children in the age group of 9-16 years and their curious younger siblings peeping from the window, who were ready for the workshop to begin. They were clearly prepared earlier for the session, seeming very eager and some, having skipped their breakfast. The 4 of us had squeezed ourselves between the children along with Chaitra and Mangala. Jasmine had already begun asking their names and it amazed me how in 10 minutes she had managed to remember most of them! She was also asking them who their favourite actor and actress were, later corrected by the children to ‘heroin’. At this point is when I realised that the session had already begun. Seemingly effortless and quietly warming up the children. The idea seemed to get the children to speak. The following questions were about make-up, what makes an actor ‘average’, beauty parlours, bullying and love. The role of gender and the opinions of the boys and girls were addressed subtly and with very minimal judgement. Jasmine was also careful not to ‘correct’ what politically may seem as ‘wrong’ answers.
The girls seemed to share very similar ideologies on these topics bordering feminism. Their responses and standpoints being very mature for their age. While the boys, had very mixed responses from- girls as bullies cannot be given a second chance, boys can be; boys should say no to dowry; boys don’t wear make-up because they aren’t girls. And interestingly, there were moments of exchange between the boys who answered differently trying to get one to see the other’s point of view. And this happened very conversationally.

Audio Podcasts as a tool

 

These discussions were combined with the playing of 2 podcasts made by Hidden Pockets followed by a discussion of the same. One podcast was on bullying in a school discussed between two friends that was later escalated to the faculty who handled it in the school assembly without outing the bully. The discussion followed with the children stating how important it is to address an issue in a more general sense in a school space rather than picking out the child at fault resulting in their embarrassment.

The second podcast was on growing up through an introduction to menstruation explained by a mother to her daughter with the growth of a tree as a metaphor. It also addressed changes in the body of teenagers and reassuring that changes are normal. The children reacted by discussing how some of them and their older siblings now have pimples.

This on one hand, with the verbally strong, there were some children who were very shy. Jasmine opened out to them an option of writing down their thoughts and queries without a need to mention their names. This was more than welcome in the group.

This time they took to write also meant that some would sneak out for a quick snack!
Soon after, Chaitra began to read the questions and I was wondering what this session had spiraled out into. The answers would definitely mean another session! The children were eager to know more on a range of subjects- child marriage, menstruation, friendships and medical help. Jasmine patiently responded to them all also keeping in mind to be sensitive while addressing the group as some content may not be suitable for the 9-10 year olds in the group, to be spoken explicitly.

We ended the workshop very warmly with Chaitra and Mangala handing us crepe paper flowers made by the children with their name tags on. As like one child said “Preeti manassinda barbeku” (“Love should come from the heart”), we left with hungry tummies and love in our hearts.

About Buguri:
Buguri (‘Spinning top’ in Kannada) is a community library for the children of the waste collectors currently in 4 locations in Karnataka- Banashankari and Hebbal in Bangalore, Mysore and Tumkur. Buguri is a Hasiru Dala (‘Green Force’ in Kannada) initiative, an organisation based out of Bangalore that works for the welfare of the informal waste collectors in Karnataka.
Buguri runs with a primary aim to work with the children in the age group of 6 to 16 years, in the waster collector’s community through books. The idea was to introduce a no-fee and a fun library space as a means to open them up to the magic of books and explore the empowerment it gives to young and fresh minds.

 

Author : Aruna

Image Courtesy : Kiran Sopanam.

Trans Vision set to transcend transgender discrimination using YouTube Videos

A key point in the National Law Services Authority versus the Union of India (2014) (popularly known as the NALSA judgement) was its definition of gender identity.

“Gender Identity refers to each person’s deeply felt internal and individual experience of gender, which may or may not correspond with the sex assigned at birth, including the personal sense of body which may involve a freely chosen, modification of body appearance or functions by medical, surgical or other means and other expressions of gender, including dress, speech and mannerisms. Gender identity, therefore, refers to an individual’s self- identification as a man, woman, transgender or other identified category.”

Two years later, The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2016 failed to protect this right to self-identification and instead, defines a transgender as follows: A transgender person means a person who is— (A) neither wholly female nor wholly male; or (B) a combination of female or male; or (C) neither female nor male; and whose sense of gender does not match with the gender assigned to that person at the time of birth, and includes trans-men and trans-women, persons with intersex variations and gender-queers.

It is in this backdrop that Rachana Mudraboyina, a transgender activist herself, founded Trans Vision, a YouTube channel that aims to correct misunderstandings about the Transgender community and make their needs and rights part of mainstream discourse. According to Rachana, judgements and rules can make a difference only when perceptions are challenged. As she jokes in this interview with Hidden Pockets, “It is only when perceptions are challenged that chemical reactions take place in the brain and there will be some change.”

Trans Vision is a Hyderabad-based channel that wants to counter perceptions about the Transgender community by putting accurate and scientific information online, beginning with: Who is a transgender?

Trans Vision and its journey

What has been the thinking behind creating a YouTube channel such as Trans Vision?

Every week, in Telangana and the Hyderabad region, we hear of at least 2-3 incidents of violence against transgender people- from assault to acid attacks. In the background of this, Swabhimana Sabha [Pride March] and the NALSA judgement, we formed a collective to try and address the issue. Most violence stems from discrimination and stigma and we believe that the best way to stop this is by removing misconceptions about the community. We wanted to cultivate a valid and healthy environment to discuss and remove these prejudices. When I surfed on the internet, I realised that there were so many misconceptions about the trans-community. A lot of them were in Hindi and spoke about how trans-people were born because of a hormonal imbalance in the parent’s biology, astrological reasons like being conceived on an inauspicious day and so on. These misconceptions were spread among millions of subscribers. We thought that if wrongful information can be uploaded and spread so easily, why not try to put things right using the same media. By creating dialogue and changing perceptions, maybe we could change the situation of crime and violence against the community.

Which are areas where you felt that discrimination is still rampant despite the progress made by society in terms of LGBTQ rights?

Discrimination in terms of the identity of a trans-person, in the education and employment sectors are three areas that hurts the community most. Even though we are citizens of India, many transgender people do not have ID cards recognising them in gender they identify with. Without a general name-change policy, the government eliminates and excludes them from various social schemes allowing for a livelihood, housing, etc. It is a big crisis. Many people talk about why so many of us are either involved in sex work or begging. They look at the end product without understanding the systemic failure that led us here. We have been systematically excluded from traditional education and employment systems and this is what the end product looks like. Employment is a third area of extreme discrimination. While policies like NALSA exist, unless the ground reality- the negative perception towards the trans-community changes, nothing will change on the ground. While policies try to help us get jobs or an education, stereotypes are thrust upon us. Where is the space for a trans-child in the image of a family? We have a continuing lack of gender information and gender sensitivity with only two visible genders whereas, it is universally accepted that gender is a spectrum that varies, and often, along with cultural identities. Unless these variations are brought out in dialogue, perceptions are not challenged. It is only when perceptions are challenged that chemical reactions take place in the brain and there will be some change.

What has the journey been like from the time the idea was initiated to today- when the first few videos have already been put up on the YouTube channel?

Initially, we though that we would do something using mobile cameras. But when we discussed it, Moses Tulasi, producer and director of the movie Walking the Walk suggested we create our own media and he would provide technical assistance. It took us about six months to get here. Right now, a few episodes in Telugu, Kannada and Urdu are on Youtube. The videos in Telugu have got good response.

When we began shooting, we realised that each episode costs about INR 11,000-12,000 including studio costs, travel, and equipment and to accommodate for the fact that each of us lost our day’s income. Whatever we produced so far is out of our savings. And we are unemployed, doing either sex work or begging.

What kind of problems did you face in bringing out this channel? Do they reflect the problems or discrimination you faced as a transwoman?

Money was our biggest challenge and now that we have reached the halfway mark, we are a little more confident about getting the full money. [Trans Vision successfully reached the target amount of its crowd funding campaign.]

Another challenge was that most donors wanted to remain anonymous mainly because it was for a trans-cause. This, we felt beat the objective of the channel, that people be open about being a transgender or about supporting transgenders.

Trans Vision’s content

What are some of the misconceptions, myths and topics that will be discussed about in the coming months? 

There are many misconceptions about how a trans-person is born, that it is a genetic disease and so on. These misconceptions are the first target of our discussions. There are other misconceptions such as there are no celebrity trans-genders- national or international- we want to talk about them, the books and movies made on transgender lives. We will also talk about international policies, judgements and legal issues. Some of our episodes will deal with the historical and cultural aspects of the transgender community- such as Tamil Nadu’s Koovagam festival. We have also planned episodes where we will trace trans-characters in Hindu mythology and talk about their roles in mythological history.

Is there a reason behind choosing Kannada, Telugu and Urdu to spread your message? What is your future vision for the channel?

Our target is the vernacular masses. Hindi has a large audience but there are a large number of Telugu, Kannada and Urdu speaking audience as well. We want to bring our message to the masses and we felt these languages were more suitable. More audience means we can reach a larger number of people. We hope that one day our YouTube channel becomes a TV Channel and we are able to provide employment to a lot more members from our community.

How do you think the videos will be used? 

We hope that it can be used as a subject for gender sensitisation. We hear that in some places in Karnataka, the videos are being used to sensitise people on gender issues.

How do you decide on the kind of content that needs to be created on your channel? Do you engage with your audiences?

In the first season, we will mostly be providing information that dispels perceptions and prejudices against the transgender community. We hope that in season 2, we can bring in a few celebrities, talk to them about the stigmas and misconceptions they have heard and what they think about these prejudices and use it as an opportunity to correct them. We hope that when people listen to their hero’s statements and opinions, they are a little more willing to listen. We do engage with our audience. We invite them to ask questions. So far, there haven’t been many but as more episodes are aired, we believe there will be more questions and comments. The comments so far have been encouraging.

 

Do you think you will face the same discrimination and prejudices from the audience watching your programme?

 

Family is the first unit that excludes trans-people and this is where the message really needs to go. In terms or trolling or negative feedback, we welcome all feedback as long as it helps foster dialogue. If someone says something negative, we hope that others speak against it and that’s how a dialogue happens- by discussing differing opinions.

 

Challenges that continue to persist for the transgender community

What kind of changes are you hoping will come about thanks to Trans Vision, which will eventually allow people who identify as transgender to live a life of dignity?

I would like to refer to tangible rather than the intangible [benefits]. With Trans Vision, a few people will also get the option of working in something other than sex work-another livelihood option. Second is the main objective of changing perceptions and motivating people to come forward.

Are judgements [such as NALSA] and other government initiatives enough to see actual change on the ground? What else needs to be done? 

 

Judgements like NALSA give hope to the community. As I said earlier, they make us more visible. But judgements, orders and rules alone will not make the situation better. Despite the NALSA, judgement, the government is now bringing out a Transgender Protection Bill, but there are many issues with it. For instance, IDs will be given only after a screening process, in which persons have to stand nude before a screening community. The point is that judgements and government orders alone will not change anything unless we change the perception of people. It is the people who run governments and implement orders and bias and prejudice always seeps in.

Is the situation changing today? Are we seeing more acceptance, although discrimination persists?

We need to break the silence and not treat it [violation of human rights] as a ‘trans’ issue but as a gender issue. Even feminist spaces were not very inclusive of the transgender community, even though we are fighting along the same lines as the feminist movement. We are minorities and so if no one speaks up, everyone is silent. However, this silence is slowly being broken. Arundathi Roy is writing a book on a transgender woman. We are a collective ally with feminist and student movements and many a time they have come forward in solidarity. There were occasions when we could not even entire police stations to complain against violence or discrimination, let alone file a FIR, but they have come forward to help us. These are our allies.

Can you tell us how perceptions towards the transgender community have changed over the years and have allowed or not allowed the community to live a life of dignity?

For me, dignity is a relative term. The only community that had some respect was the hijra community. They are a collective community and their respect comes from a hint of religion and culture attached to their identity. But then the power within these communities flow from top to bottom and there are infringements of human rights within the community.

On the other hand when there is discrimination from outside, they ignore it. They have internalised the stigma and violation of human rights, blaming it on fate and simply accepting it. However, because of trans-activists before me who fought for our rights, the newer generation of transgenders have some hope. There is hope for a mainstream education and employment. NALSA has been used as a tool in this regard.

Considering that the general awareness levels even among the transgender community is less, do you intend to also talk to the transgender community to talk about their inclusion in different ways?

Of course. We will be talking about different groups within the transgender community and trying to dispel all myths and misconceptions around everybody in the community. This is not just about empowering different communities but also having a dialogue and saying we exist, they exist.

What has the Telangana government done with respect to transgender inclusion? Have they executed the five centrally sponsored schemes? 

They have done absolutely nothing. They are silent. We have visited the secretariat many times, but every time it is the same question: how many are you? We are not an important vote bank for them. However, we are trying and we are optimistic. I think the ground reality now is of a silent, peaceful and growing resistance.

About the writer: Merlin Francis is a journalist currently working as Editor at the Centre for Study of Science, Technology and Policy. She writes on issues of social justice, climate change and women empowerment. 

Feminism in India: In Conversation With Jasmine George From Hidden Pockets

In the Hidden Pockets website they describe themselves as an organisation that studies, “The city (which) is divided into spaces and zones and one is always taught to enjoy a city in certain ways. We try to visualize a city and map it on the basis of various facets. We try to see cities in a new light via audio podcasts,digital maps, photo essays and a blog. In our pilot project, we aim to curate hidden pockets of India.”

I had the pleasure of speaking to Jasmine George from the Hidden Pockets team.

Avantika Tewari: What was the impulse behind remapping the city-scape and cataloging the sights and insights of the lived experience of the city in a digital archive?

Jasmine George: In reaction to the ‘Nirbhaya’ incident, I was confused by the narratives that were emerging around us. Being a lawyer myself, I was confounded at how safety was being accorded with the demands of having more surveillance, more regulation and restrictions on women. There were undercurrent of how upper class women needed to be protected from the lower class man, and to me this was discomforting. This is where I identified the need to reclaim the city, to re-configure and redefine it. Instead of focusing on how ‘unsafe’ the city is and thereby, marking out ‘danger’ zone, we at Hidden Pocketsare looking for pleasure pockets.

AT: How far have you come since its inception and what are the various things that you wish to undertake as part of Hidden Pockets? Based on the collection of experience, do you at some point, wish to make recommendations at the level of urban planning?

JG: It’s been a year and a half since we started out and now our presence can be felt in 7 cities of India- Delhi, Chennai, Kochi, Kolkata, Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Jaipur. So far we have been mapping reproductive health services, transportation services, identifying pleasure pockets. We also are getting to know more about the cities as we map them, so often times when we meet people while attempting to identify pleasure pockets, we realise that pleasure is not homogenous, or necessarily sexual pleasure only. Therefore, our imagination of pleasure too gets altered when for one person pleasure may be reading a book in solitude but for another it maybe taking a stroll in the park under the night sky.

We would love to help at the level of public policy interventions someday, if it so happens. It is interesting to see that through our journey we have been able to talk about sexuality in relation to technology and the city. Especially now when there is a talk of building ‘smart cities,’ how would it impact the scope of accessing the city? There is an expression of desire and pleasure, which often gets missed out while planning a city. By making a false binary between ‘security’ and pleasure, our cities have failed to account many experiences, which could be a useful tool to design a city, a feminist city.

AT: In a deeply gendered city, how do you map the city based on such a wide range of experiences?

JG: This is no model city that I have in mind, as a teleological end. Every city has its own ups and downs, for example, Jaipur has great public health movement and is far more well planned as compared to Delhi. Even though one would imagine Delhi to have a superior health system.

It is important, thus, to learn about how cities work- how they bring in their own socio history in altering the space, how the state governments play a role. To give you an example, in the southern part of the country where literacy rates are higher than the northern parts but equally so, taboos have co-existed. So even when the health services are good, there remains of a problem of accessing them. How does one make the city more accessible? Which is why there is no one model of a city that it should aspire to become like, rather, we should focus on better parameters as markers to identify a good city.

In Conversation With Jasmine George From Hidden PocketsAT: The city is marked by the exclusions and invisibility of many people, the scope of access is foreclosed. What the parameters you suggest to be included as a yardstick, especially since the cities are getting ‘smarter’ but perhaps not any less gendered?

JG: Again, they vary, contextually and temporally. Are more young women seen as accessing the cities? Are the health service efficient, affordable, accessible?Are there pleasure pockets? The parameters keep increasing to be more inclusive. When I speak of inclusivity, I don’t just mean it at the level of theory, I want it to be practiced and doable. Which is why for me to re-configure the city as more inclusive will come through by working on our pilot project.

So mostly our ideas of a city are derived from the World Bank Guidelines, or aspirational idea of city is based on the image of a Shanghai or a London or a New York. We may continue to take inspiration and take the best from the cities, but I don’t think one can model any city as the ‘best.’ There are multiple of tier 1 and tier 2 cities in India that are supposed to a city but are not, and there are many small townships which seem like a city but are not. The (idea of a) city, thus is itself undergoing a lot of change. There has been an attempt to further redefine the idea of a city with the introduction of the smart city. With its emphasis on technology, it must still retain some amount of a human centric approach in arriving at that smart city.

Today what we see is that technological development happens and humans are supposed to just adjust themselves around the change, humans aren’t taken into consideration while the technology is being set up. Take for example, surveillance, because of which control of the body is so normalised. We have been reduced to being just a receiver. In such an instance, the marginal groups are the most left out. It is thus a challenge before us to bring out the lived experiences of people when in a smart city, the idea of productivity supersedes all else.

We have to be mindful that even in a Dublin or Denmark would emphasise on cycling and that is an attempt to encapsulate the recreational, pleasure part of the city. How do we propose to do that? By reimagining the city and its people, in every capacity- by working with people across the board- the planner, techie, activist- everyone needs to alter their imagination of a city to make it more inclusive. Especially when there is no common language for a feminist discourse to happen, thats where we need to work harder to sustain a conversation, which may further help in making a discursive change later.

AT: Coming to your pilot project, ‘Pleasure Pockets,’ where you seek to reinvent the image of the country which is oft only imagined as ‘unsafe for women.’ How do you propose the change, given that the politics of visibility determines whose appearance ‘counts’ as a ‘claim’ on the city and whose doesn’t. How do you propose we make the city more ‘inclusive’ of the narratives of ‘others,’ whose appearance also renders them invisible? Eg migrants, Transpeople, homeless.

JG: Pleasure pockets came as a response to the division that was conjured up between the middle class women versus lower class man, this narrative should not be picked up as it in a sense demands the ‘protection’ of upper-middle class women from the ‘lower class’ men. As a response to the Nirbhaya rape case, we were going back to people and asking them what for them should be the idea of city? How do they wish to be able to access it? People had different understanding of pleasure too, but to think of pleasure vis-a-vis a city was new to them, because often times the notion of pleasure gets restricted in the private domain and doesn’t leak into the public sphere.

When we started questioning people, we realised that there was a lack of curiosity to find out places for pleasure in our cities. nobody really cared to find out where do women like to go. Necessarily, every women gave different answers and here’s where the liberals have gotten it all wrong, when they try to give universal terms and thereby, universalise experiences. Women is a heterogenous group, they inhabit different ideas of pleasure. For some it may be walking, reading, for others it may be going on a tinder date, on a spectrum of different experiences.

Where we step in is, if a woman has a bad experience, say on a tinder date, which she consented to go for. How would she approach the police to file a complaint, while dismissing her worries of victim blaming? With what agency and language can she counter that? This is why the discourse on pleasure is important.

We cannot see security and pleasure as binaries. There are layers to one’s experiences, a pleasurable situation can become unpleasant any time. Discomfort and pleasure are not experienced the same way by all women. I recall a scene from the movie, Tanu Weds Manu Returns, where Kangana Ranaut was walking in the middle of the night with a whiskey glass in her hand. I had never seen a woman with a glass of whiskey, at night, ever! Nobody is trivialising safety here, but having pleasure pockets is important even to enhance the accessibility to safety. It is more important, than ‘providing security,’ ensuring safety by feeling a sense of ease to be out at that time of the hour and not worry.

In another instance, when I spoke my differently abled activist friend, she told me that nobody ever talks to her about pleasure, that they only want to talk about her ‘rights’ as a differently abled person. That’s when I realise that it is a process in learning, we haven’t had much discussion on pleasure in public spaces, on roads, in parks.

AT: Is it purely at the level of symbolism that you intend to make the shift in the imagination of cities? Or do you organize meets, events and walks to reclaim public spaces in order to re-configure them? If yes, what are the various forms of coming together that you rely on?

JG: Symbolism is very important, we need something to hold onto. Movements where people are marking their presence in the city, like what Pijra Tod and Why Loiter are doing is important because even though movements may die, but the demonstration remains important. One way to make the transition from symbolism to the concrete, I see institutionalisation as important, although it may not be the only way to mark this shift. In my experience, to run an organisation and to ensure it is more inclusive is a deeply challenging task. To have people who are more language affirmative, with negotiations happening all around you with power, privilege and gender, you must ensure that the allocation of economics and work is fairly done.

So in a way the transition is the easy part, the implementation is more important and challenging. You can institutionalise and organise but how do you put to practice what you preach?

I find symbolism and idealism incredibly important because when we are saying that nights can be/ or need to be safe, women have to go out. We need to go through the fear to overcome it. I’m from Kerela, where women of my village are not afraid of the night but as a city dweller, for me street lights are important, otherwise I worry. The entire discourse then is not a demand for the ‘right’ of women to ‘go out’ rather to normalise for people to be out at night if they so wish it.

In Ahmedabad, I saw that families would be out late at night, even though there isn’t liquor license, people have found their pleasure in holding picnics by the streets, having food, etc. Hence, it too dents the idea of finding pleasure only in ‘nightlife’ as parties and alcohol which has so far informed the public discourse around going out at night.

There are parts of cities which are never asleep and I have seen a perverse obsession of trying to map particularly brothels as sights of pleasures. It is rather irresponsible to locate these places are the ‘only’ pleasure pockets as they are economic places for certain women, and by mapping this information who are we going to put it out for? As we can see some women are already reclaiming the night and the streets! In fact, lets not even talk about sex workers, I can recall another instance where outside Nehru Place, women hawkers, has to walk on foot to cover a 2 kms distance in order to catch a bus after 10pm, to get on the bus that leaves by 10.15 pm. Irrespective of how little the buffer time may be, they prefer walking, because they don’t have an option but to save up the money. It is then not as a right that they reclaim the night or the public space but for a livelihood.

We have organise walks in Mehrauli, where we observed that most women were uncomfortable. But it is here where it is important to work with that discomfort rather than remaining indifferent. We make them walk through their discomforts to undo fear and prejudice. In time hopefully, this will organically happen, and the city then will too get reconfigured when it’s visited by more women. This is why we feel that more and more women in large groups should mark their physical presence as to rupture a discourse around security. We take the experiences of women into account while theorising the notion of pleasure, so it’ll be interesting to expand our understanding of fun beyond dance and parties and rather displace it to see how you can connect the idea of pleasure with the housewife, instead?

In Conversation With Jasmine George From Hidden PocketsAT: Your work primarily focuses on mapping sexual health and reproductive services in the city. You have documented data, queries with regard to the same, any reason why chose to specifically engage with this?

JG: Hidden Pockets focus area is to identify the things hidden yet part of the city, which is why we give priority to sexual and reproductive services. These are services that may be out there but are inaccessible, for whatever reasons to women. We look at the city from the lens of sexuality. We wish for women to acknowledge their right to participate in the cities by making use of the services that are available for them, to make them feel inspired to take regular care of the self, to cater to their own desires, pleasures, and to have fun. Often times, this doesn’t come naturally to women. Even when speaking about health, there is a gradation. Women tend to access medical services after marriage, that is when reproductive health enters the life of most women. It could be because of lack of services, taboo, socio-cultural belief that there is a refusal to visit a doctor in a particular area.

These are real issues, when public health services are made available and yet not being accessed. What is the reason for a rape survivor to not want to file an FIR? How does she know where to seek counselling, medication? The relationship with public systems is not just discursive, it plays out in reality. How can we make a difference in bridging this gap? By going and working on people’s politics, encouraging them to access services and this cannot come through ‘sensitisation.’

We restrict our work only to mapping, we are not training the service providers like the police personnel, or medical in charge as I don’t think that a workshop or training can undo people’s subjectivity. Things need to be worked out with constant engagement and not through patronising workshops where are blind to say, the police’s own institutional issues. As in the case of police who becomes the interpreter of law when reporting incidents of violence against women, they know it legally, but articulating the experience is not part of the training. But this cannot happen overnight. We thus have to adopt our systems, work with the existing systems, help the make them be more accountable. We need to incorporate in a systematic way changes that are gender sensitive to become part of their normal training, instead of having sporadic workshops.

AT: You also have interesting doodles and podcasts, hence widening the scope of narration from textual to audio-visual. How far has that mode of sharing information worked for you? How well have people responded to these forms?

JG: To be honest, I don’t understand the obsession with texts. Half the people of the country can’t read English or Hindi. How do we propose to have any tangible, change when people can’t access our information? To be carriers of knowledge, we use podcasts, art, doodles, what are small, not text heavy and can speak to a wider set of people. Our podcasts are not directed towards just the urban elite folk, rather by holding story telling sessions, we have seen that it works well even in a rural setting, where people have exchanged files via whatsapp and shared it further. Story telling sessions work really well, people love it! Talking about different experiences and digitally archiving alternative knowledge systems in a way that they are accessed by people is what we endeavour to do.

I also find that more than textual work, audio-visuals forces you to listen, makes you more connected to the author and is a lot more personalised than reading. It also becomes a community activity when the information is further exchanged via phone.

Doodle Pockets by Purvai Aranya
Doodle Pockets by Purvai Aranya

Our Doodle Pockets series too attempts to achieve the same purpose. We work on humor, talk about sexuality, point at how there are no spaces for fun and laughter. We leave a lot to our artists to imagine or merely reflect what and how they see reality. Through the use of imagination we are able to blur boundaries between idealisation and abstraction of reality. Since, these doodles are experiential narratives taking shape in creative art, there is less pressure to be ‘rational’ or ‘politically cohesive.’ We are able to thus retain our irrational behaviour, overcoming the pressure to be productive but while also keeping the city alive in our thoughts. We also realised that this exercise was liberating even for the artists as they were able to draw the world around them as they see it- physically or as an imprint on the imagination.

Republished with permission from Feminism in India.

Life with HIV: Have the COURAGE to “live”. Anyone can die

“Jyoti, I want to marry you, and this time I am sure of it.”

I looked at him, not believing a word. Marry me? An HIV-positive woman? When he couldn’t commit to me for the whole two and half years we were going around??

FLASHBACK: Pune, Aug 4th 2013

My phone vibrates.

1 message pending

I was just getting ready for the HIV Matrimonial Event that was to be held in Pune. I was a Guest Speaker for that event and I had not prepared my speech as yet. Thought that there is still 2-3 hours to go for the ceremony to start, hence I will write at the venue itself. I always keep my phone on the “vibration” mode and its background light was distracting my attention. I switched on to read the message:

“Jyoti, please break your ties with him. I have realized my feelings for you and want to marry you. I don’t want to lose you.”

I choose to give it a royal ignore. This is not the first time. He had said that before also, only to develop  cold feet. He is HIV Negative and in India, sero-discordant couple are discouraged. Normally doctors would advise abstinence and would also suggest not to even kiss. Such is the case of HIV in India. His words clearly ring in my ears – “What will my parents think?” “What will society think?” Also I have to be answerable to some of my people to whom I had told that I won’t ever marry…blah blah blah, hence I didn’t let the text message affect me this time. Before, I used to get emotionally depressed and mentally drained, but now, since I have decided to move on after much waiting, I have also decided to marry a guy of my respective status.

The phone vibrates again. And again. And Again.

3 messages pending…

“Jyoti, this time I swear to God, I will take you home and marry you. You will henceforth be my responsibility”

“Jyoti, please come back to me. I have realized how much you mean to me and how much I love you when you have already left me”

“Jyoti, would you rather be with someone whom you know for two and half years or marry a person you have just met for few hours? Why don’t you give me one last chance and believe in me?”

This time I was getting exasperated and could feel the stress level rising. Why does he have to do like this all the time? Just why, when I am with him, he could not even “feel” me? Why, when he is about to “lose” me does he realize how much I love him?

BACK TO PRESENT: Mumbai, Oct 13th 2013

“Now, under the sacred fire, with blessings of Lord Ram and Sita, and our own worshippable God Jagannath, Balram and Subhadra, I pronounce you husband and wife”

“In sickness and in health, till death do us part”

And I also remember the promise of an everlasting love and support:

  • I pledge to be with you to uplift the stigma and discrimination
  • I pledge to change the mindset and thinking of Indian society through our example
  • I pledge to support you in your cause

CONCLUSION

Stigma is still there. In his home. Around society. Amongst his friends. But then, if we need to change that, then it is “WE” who has to bring in the change. Thus WE as a living, walking, talking example want to prove everyone that HIV is not scary as it was before. That it is no more an untouchable disease. That it can be controlled. That we can lead a normal life.  My husband Vivek Surve is still abiding by his promise and doing the best he can for the society.

DEDICATION

Have the COURAGE to “live”. Anyone can die—-Robert Cody

This proverb I lovingly dedicate to my husband who has proved himself by marrying me and facing lot of critics, his family too not withstanding. When going gets tough, the “tough” gets going!!

About the writer:

Jyoti Dhawale is an HIV activist, writer, blogger and a front runner campaign into breaking the myth, stigma and discrimination that surrounds HIV being HIV positive herself and telling her story, her experience and sharing knowledge. Also Community Advisor Board for The Well Project (USA), International Steering Member for Prevention Access Campaign (USA), Brand Ambassador for Being Positive (Bangalore), she has worked with countless number of NGOs, holding talk shows and blogging. Her interest is vast though travelling, motorsports and photography top the list.

Editor’s note: This blog post has been published with permission from the writer. The original blog post was published on The Well Project.

Re-Defining ‘Indianness’: Mitigating hate crimes and discrimination of ‘outsiders’

“Strangers have become migrants. Migrants have become Neighbours.

But have they crossed the Rubicon to become friends?”

                                                                                    ~ Sanjoy Hazarika

When a former BJP MP, Mr. Tarun Vijay proclaimed in April 2017, “If we were racist, why would we have all the entire south…Tamil, Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra…why do we live with them? We have black people around us,” his comments were rather unsurprising. They were drenched in age old biases and ideas of power, prestige, physical appearance and right and wrong. The irony of what he said, was that he was countering claims of rampant inherent xenophobia and racism in Indians, in the wake of the attacks on people of African origin.

Whether it is the mutual discrimination of North Indians and South Indians, or the discrimination of people from the North Eastern states, or the discrimination based on skin colour and physical characteristics, India has a problem with ‘different’. Different here refers to things that are perceived as ‘un-Indian’. This invites the need for defining ‘Indianness’.

In his talk titled ‘Strangers, Migrants, and Neighbours: Defining Discrimination & Indianness’, at the Nehru Memorial Library, on July 18, 2017, Sanjoy Hazarika, the Director of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, touched upon these issues, drawing upon his decades of experience and knowledge.

Mr. Hazarika presented a very unique argument, one that can’t be seen in most mainstream news outlets. He spoke with resignation initially, on the daunting numbers of Indians forced to partake in ‘distress migration’. This forced migration could be a result of climate change factors (such as flooding), which causes loss of home, livelihood and security of persons. It could also be a result of developmental projects, and conflict (such as border violence or the insurgency in the North Eastern states).

Migration due to ‘increased aspirations’, giving various examples of migrants from UP, Bihar, the North East as a whole, to the four metros in India, which meant increased awareness of the culture and heritage of these regions, across India. The influx of such migrants did not happen without problems. The case of Nido Tanya, a boy from Arunachal Pradesh who was beaten to death in New Delhi’s Lajpat Nagar in 2014, was highlighted. There are many examples all around India of such hate crimes and violence against Indians from the North East part of India.

Attempting to racially profile a country like India, is an endeavour that is doomed to failure even before it begins. Think about it. Can anyone define India? Or explain what characteristics – mental and physical – make an Indian? This land with its assortment of cultures, religions, beliefs, languages, skin colours, physical features, lifestyles, clothing and art forms, cannot be boxed in with a one-size-fits-all type of dressing. This is fact that we all accept, but only in theory. Inherently, each of us come with biases and ideas galore about people who are dissimilar to us, in whatever way. There isn’t a single part of this country where people do not judge ‘outsiders’, and berate them for coming and ‘changing the local culture’ or ‘taking away the jobs and seats in colleges’. Every city, village and state is proud of its heritage and culture, where ‘locals’ feel the need to fiercely protect the same from the ‘onslaught’ of migrants. It is as though we were wired to fear both being different from the environment, and accepting those who are different from the environment we are used to.

Irrespective of this, migration still happens all across India. Mr. Hazarika says that this is because of the combination of increased aspirations and the youth of India (who are the ones who migrate in search of better opportunities), engaging with the idea of India, as a land of aspirations. ‘The Indian Dream’, as he referred to it, was that India was one country, and anybody from anywhere could reach their goals if they were prepared to work hard towards them.

Here lies the novelty of his argument (novelty when compared to the general discourse on the subject). He said that in spite of the ‘micro-aggression’ which north easterners (or any migrants for that matter) faced from the locals, only emboldened their resolve to stay and engage, in order to create their own space in the new diverse Indian diaspora. Migrants would assert their right to equality as protected by the Indian Constitution, and find ways to adapt to their new and in some cases hostile environments. The fact that many North Easterners stayed in Bangalore, and that many returned after leaving the city in 2012-2013, during the peak of the tensions, was testament of this resilience and engagement with the ideas of Indian and Indianness. By trying to carve out their role and space in Indian discourse and everyday living, migrants are challenging notions held by local populations, and generating awareness of the true extent of Indian Diversity.

Additionally, these outsiders or migrants, upon returning home would in turn challenge the notions of their elders, creating space for people to come settle in their home towns. This, in the long run, will, according to Mr. Hazarika, change the definitions of what an Indian sounds or looks or lives like.

As it stands today, one segment of the Indian population has gone beyond differences and have integrated. There is another segment, however, that remains stuck in the past, holding onto older notions of Indianness and what India should look and feel like. Mr. Hazarika quoted Bhupen Hazarika’s song, ‘if humans don’t think of humans, who will?’ Systemic changes, such as better representation in police forces across the country, as well as changes in the content of our education were necessary to help this process of integration. In schools, greater emphasis on lands and peoples outside the city in question is needed, as is emphasis on civility and togetherness. The automatic fear of the different and fear to be different needs challenging and overcoming. Anti-racism and hate crime penalising laws were necessary, to facilitate this process of ‘becoming friends’, which will take decades before it reaches a point of stability.

If anything, Mr. Hazarika, can only be accused of making idealistic points (a point that did come up during the Q&A Session), in the manner in which he has simplified the issues and the potential solutions. The same, however, cannot be said for his narrative of the process of integration. His astute observations on the process that is change cannot be disregarded. It’s not merely in poetry that we find light at the end of the tunnel, or that from conflict and chaos, a new order can emerge.

Though India is not a homogenous entity, we see the creation of a new Indian diaspora. It is one that wants to work for their own goals or for the country at large, irrespective of the differences in skin colour, physical traits and any other aspect of diversity that Indians may bear. Migration itself will generate this changed outlook. It can be facilitated by protecting the agents of change, namely the migrants, by enacting and implementing strong anti-discrimination laws that penalise violence or discrimination of migrants on the basis of their physical appearances.

About the writer:

Shambhavi Ravishankar is a human rights lawyer and an ardent lover of writing and reading, who believes in the pen being mightier than the sword!

Life with HIV: Dealing with domestic violence and abuse as a positive woman

HIV and Aadhaar

“What kind of a mother are you,” screamed a lady, “who can’t even take care of a baby…sleeping all the time…kaamchor (lazy asshole)…keeping a babysitter, cook and maid…you can’t even handle household chores or a husband, not to even speak of mothering a baby.”

“Look, I will pay for your medication as and when I can, or else find a job to help support yourself”, said a man. “I have to spend money on bills, my parents’ treatments, as well as my personal expenses.”

“You need to adhere strictly to your medication, Jyoti”, warned a family doctor. “The way you are taking it, neither on time, nor everyday, can put you at risk. Please give your health the top priority – or else you will succumb to the virus and go into a second line which will then be more expensive than the present one you are taking now.”

All these voices rang in my ears…screaming mother-in-law, irresponsible husband and concerned doctor. I was putting my life at risk. If there was something I had to do, then it was only I who could get things done – instead of depending on others, irrespective of the consequences or the result.

My Viral Load count was not so good with detectable levels and my CD4 count lingered between 300-400. I needed to fight back. I love life, and even if that meant I might lose some part of me, which I might or might not get back, what mattered now was to live. And LIVE I did – though I LOST something in return.

Looking back, I have NO REGRETS. I signed the divorce papers after I found that he was in love with someone else, planning and preparing to get me out of the way so as to marry the girl. Moreover I divorced him because I felt that he found spending money on my medication was of “no value” – I say this because despite the doctor’s repeated advice, he failed to provide me with what I needed the most. And my life was at stake!! I went out in search of a job, that too outstation, leaving my child behind under the care of a babysitter, which resulted in my mother-in-law hating and verbally abusing me and my husband finding this an excuse to call off the marriage completely. No matter how hard I tried to save it, it was beyond repair.  Therefore to “gain” my life, I “lost” a home, family and my child.

6 years later:

  • Undetectable Viral Load
  • CD4 count between 600-700
  • Happily re-married to HIV-negative partner who provided a loving home and great in-laws

One thing void in my heart is my child – who is now all grown up – an 8-year-old intelligent boy. I doubt if he even remembers his “real” mother – but when the time comes, I will see him too.

About the writer:

Jyoti Dhawale is an HIV activist, writer, blogger and a front runner campaign into breaking the myth, stigma and discrimination that surrounds HIV being HIV positive herself and telling her story, her experience and sharing knowledge. Also Community Advisor Board for The Well Project (USA), International Steering Member for Prevention Access Campaign (USA), Brand Ambassador for Being Positive (Bangalore), she has worked with countless number of NGOs, holding talk shows and blogging. Her interest is vast though travelling, motorsports and photography top the list.

Editor’s note: This blog post has been published with permission from the writer. The original blog post was published on The Well Project

In conversation with Dr.Debarati Halder: Cyber crime and dealing with victim blaming

In light of the privacy debate, we at Hidden Pockets have been in conversation with Dr. Debarati Halder to understand the vulnerabilities and issues of safety in the cyber space, a world with blurry boundaries with respect to privacy.  In the first part of our three part interview with Dr. Debarati Halder, she discussed about personal data leaks on social media, what goes into resolving these issues and more. In the second part of this interview, Halder spoke about the most reported cyber crimes, cyber crimes that aren’t recognised by Indian laws, legal recourse for crimes like revenge pornography or cyber stalking, policy changes, among others. In the third and final part of this interview, she speaks about cyber forensic, police training that is given, avoiding victim blaming, among others.

Cyber forensic:

What is included in cyber forensic?

When you get some evidence, to handle these evidences you need to have specific training, especially with respect to cyber crime. How to collect digital evidences especially with hardware and software? The training that you need to have to handle this is called cyber forensics. Cyber forensics tells officers how to handle digital data especially for tracking and criminal law purposes. Some universities are also offering a course on cyber forensic.

How do you say cyber forensic comes into the picture for a crime?

When you are tracking the evidences, you need to know about cyber forensics. In many cases, be it hacking or creation of fake profiles by morphing, the police officer may include some habitual hackers (to the their list of suspects). If the police officer does not know about cyber forensics or cyber law, it will then go to some middle man who will enjoy his own position but may not give full information to the police. If cyber forensics is improved, I think it will definitely help the police officers and also the victim.

Training given to police

What is the training given to police in cyber forensic?

There are two types of training. One is at the grass root level. When a person is already in the service, it will be like a refresher course. They are called back to the Police Academy and experts are called in for the training on how to deal with online offences and work with the evidences. The other is advanced training. Cyber security or forensic experts or even senior police officers do this. This is usually with regard to how to manage the chain of evidences, how to track them, which are the software etc. These are police documents that are not usually shared with the public. This is confidential and told to only those who are taking training. These are the kinds of training that are given. Apart from this, police officers are repeatedly told about the laws, the trends including the new kinds of crimes and the training manual includes the laws that should be kept in mind while registering FIRs.

How does the transfer of trained officers affect the situation?

It definitely has an effect because you can’t expect all police officers to come with computer science background. I have been travelling all over the world. This is not a problem only in India. Whenever a new officer comes in, a new set of training needs to be given. The person should be remolded to look at certain kind of crime so there’s definitely a lack in the engagement.

Why would you say police officers don’t understand when women go to police station to file a complaint? Why would you say that happens?

Number one, it is because of the lack of understanding of the nature of the crime. Number two will be the lack of training. Sufficient training may not be given to these police officers. I have given some training as well. In my experience, I have seen that there is a lack of understanding from the police officers to understand or to know the present sorts of crimes happening.

Why do you think that happens in spite of the training?

They are trained. They are definitely trained but what happens is that they are given training only for certain offences. I wouldn’t say that it always happens. For example they are trained only to find out how hacking happens. Cyber forensic may be focused to find out from which IP address this particular content is coming but they are not trained to counsel the victim. So that may be the reason that the police officers do not generally cooperate with the victim.

What do you think needs to change about handling these cases?

There should be some focused laws. There should be proper training. Though police officers are trained, a better training mechanism should be brought in. These are two things that I would suggest. Bringing service providers under the Indian law is the one thing that is lacking here. Many training police academies and trainers are lacking in this particular aspect. And that’s why these websites refuse to give any data. How to make them give that data as per the Indian laws because our laws have extra-territorial jurisdiction? Many officers aren’t aware of this and do not exercise this. The victims also need to carefully see the policy guidelines and warning messages. Certain do’s and don’t’s have to be followed.

It appears that the victims face challenges on two levels; one with respect to handling the social media platform and the other being the police. What do you think needs to change with respect to handling the police to improve the situation for the victims?

Again I would say it is training. Also, the police officers handling the case should be empathetic. There are laws and there are experts coming to the academies and training the police but the human aspect is forgotten. The therapeutic effect of the law can be executed only by the police officers and not by anybody else. If a victim is having a particular problem, instead of blaming the victim or saying that you don’t understand what this is, the police counsel the victim. With respect to handling social media, I have seen that social media sites like Facebook and Twitter have some good network with the ministry. This can be used properly. The problems then can be solved to a certain extent.

“Revenge pornography is not recognised by Indian law,” says Dr. Debarati Halder

While the Supreme Court of India takes its time to decide if privacy should be a fundamental right conferred upon Indian citizens, it may be useful to understand the different cyber crimes that lurk in the digital world, a space that isn’t always defined by clear boundaries. In the first part of our three part interview with Dr. Debarati Halder, she discusses about personal data leaks on social media, what goes into resolving these issues and more. In the second part of this interview, Halder speaks about the most reported cyber crimes, cyber crimes that aren’t recognised by Indian laws, legal recourse for crimes like revenge pornography or cyber stalking, policy changes, among others.

Most reported cyber crimes:

Which is the most reported type of cyber crime at the moment?

There are 3 types of online offences that are reported. One is crime against individual. This can be economic or interpersonal crime. When we talk about economic crimes, it could be phishing, bank fraud, notary scam, and others. Interpersonal crime could be stalking, creation of fake profile, online pornography or obscenity or hacking of personal digital data. Then there’s crime against the government, which is cyber terrorism as recognised by law. As per the Information Technology Act, such terrorist activities done through information technology or computer technology are punishable. Offences against government could be hacking websites or breaching the privacy of government data. Then there can also be offences against corporate bodies.

Which are the offenses that are not recognised by law?

Cyber bullying, cyber trolling and revenge pornography don’t have any focused law. What is the focused law that you are going to use for morphing or creation of fake profile? We recognize cyber obscenity but there is nothing about what can be revenge pornography or cyber bullying. We had 66A. We scrapped it because it was vague. It could have been amended. Then the Act would have also been an answer for some of the crimes like bullying or trolling. Without any laws for these crimes, women will have to go through different kinds of secondary victimization.

Challenges faced by women seeking legal recourse

What are the challenges faced by women seeking any recourse for any online crime or offenses against them?

Firstly, it is a social taboo. When a woman faces any kind of online harassment or crime, before going to the police station, she is usually told that the media could target her or her family if she went to the police. It becomes a social taboo to go to the police station to complain about any cyber crime. This is number one. Number two is victim blaming. Even if a woman has enough courage to go to the police station and report the crime, then there could be some officers (or head constables in the absence of the inspector or sub-inspector) who will not understand the nature of the crime. For example, if it is stalking, Indian Penal Code recognizes stalking or cyber stalking as an offence now. Traditionally trained police officers may not be able to understand it especially those who may be senior in age or experience. In that case, they blame the victim saying ‘Why did you do that. Because of you, this has happened.’ There can also be threats from intimate partners. For example, the woman gets afraid to go to the police if she is targeted by her ex-boyfriend, ex-husband or colleague with some fake profile or revenge pornography. If she goes to the police, the harasser then comes up with another kind of crime. It is this escalation of victimization that makes her avoid going to the police station again. When it is from an intimate partner, it becomes blackmailing. In case of offences that are not recognized by the law, nothing happens after the police take the FIR. And finally there’s also the liability of the website. They may not cooperate with the police. The police may not know how to deal with the website to get the data. These are the things that generally come up as challenges.

Legal recourse

What is the legal recourse available to victims from social media platforms on which such personal data is leaked?

There is Section 43A of the Information Technology Act which penalizes such kind of data breach and the responsible person or the body corporate. This means the specific functionary, institute or company who is responsible for maintaining the data. In that case, the victim can definitely ask for recourse. It is definitely compensatory jurisprudence. They can ask for compensation and there is also minimum punishment.

Can the same be applied if any data leak happens due to Aadhar as well?

Absolutely. It depends on the corroborative evidences that the victim shows from a particular website from where the information has been leaked. For instance, if a certain person’s privacy has been breached, he or she has to inform the police. Then the investigation will show if there was a lack of confidentiality with this particular company or its website. Accordingly, they can definitely be prosecuted.

The Aadhaar Act has no provision for people themselves to file a complaint. Will Section 43A be applicable then with Aadhaar?

If you define the term body corporate in a very broad sense, it can be covered. But because the Aadhaar Act is saying this, the government does not want to take the liability on their part for any offence that has been caused. But I also understand that there has been a statement made by a minister concerned that the whole issue is so confidential that nobody can breach it. See there is a middle-man from whose website the information can be leaked. This can definitely happen but then again it depends upon the evidences and who was at the root of it, who was the person at fault, who has been negligent etc.

How long do cyber cells cases take to be resolved?

If it is an inter-personal crime and the victim is bringing all the evidences and he or she knows the person who has caused the crime, then that can be solved very quickly. Then there is something called police mediation where the person need not to go to the court but the case will be mediated within the police station and the harasser can be warned and can also be taken into custody. But in other cases, although the law says that there is a stipulated time within which the case should be resolved, it may take some time from the jurisdiction.

What are the policy level changes that have happened overtime with respect to cyber crime against women?

With respect to policy level changes, I would say that the Ministry has become more sensitive. Even the Ministry of Women and Child Development has its own Facebook page where they are accepting details regarding any such offences. They have assured that NGOs and the stakeholders can partner with them for some help. I have been a resource person for National Commission for Women. We have had several meetings regarding what should be done. If we are not able to help the victim as such, there is a network where we refer cases to the ministry so that the ministry tries to do something about it. These are some of the policy level changes happening but I’m still doubtful about the positive results.

What about the legal level changes that have happened over time with respect to managing cyber crime?

One very noticeable change happened in 2013 after the Nirbhaya rape case. Cyber stalking and voyeurism especially against women were recognised by the India Penal Code. Now we have a provision for punishing cyber stalkers including physical stalkers and also for voyeurism, especially privacy violation like clicking private pictures and distributing it without the consent of the particular person. I think these are wonderful things that have happened over time.

What should you do when your personal data leaks on social media, explains Dr. Debarati Halder

Be it photo number, location, photos, most often, we share our personal data on social media platforms without giving it a real thought. And there are times when this data gets shared on social media platforms without our permission. Our personal data goes into wrong hands and gets leaked out in the open as revenge pornography. People even get stalked or harassed on these platforms. What happens to privacy on these platforms? What goes into resolving these issues? What can be done when you face such a situation and what really happens? To understand the answers to these questions and more, Hidden Pockets had chat with Dr. Debarati Halder, Advocate and Honorary Managing Director, Centre for Cyber Victim Counselling. She is also the Founder -Secretary, South Asian Society of Criminology and Victimology. In the first part of this series, we have looked at understanding the response of social media platforms and police officers to cases related to online crime, victim blaming, pointers to be safe online, among others.

Things to watch out for as a victim

Hidden Pockets: What should anyone (especially women) facing any online crime like harassment, voyeurism, stalking etc do when they face such a situation?

Debarati Halder: The first thing that anyone especially women should not do is revert back with any kind of threatening statement. This will establish the crime. Say for example the person is being targeted for revenge pornography, instead of finding out who is the person who has committed the crime; the victim should take the evidence straight to the police office. Take the evidence and report the matter to the website concerned. In that way, the collection of the evidence or starting of the investigation can be done. Next thing is do not fall into traps. Things like talking to strangers, getting intimate with an online friend should be avoided. These things are still happening. Discussing personal data with unknown persons should be avoided.

Social media and its response to online crime

Hidden Pockets: Do you know of any cases when social media platforms refused to give information or block the offender completely?

Halder: Yes I know. We do also get cases where the offender may have been blocked. But this is not the answer to the problem. When you block one profile, that person can again come on Facebook and social media and create another profile. Blocking is not the total answer.

Hidden Pockets: How do you think such a situation should be handled?

Halder: Once the profile has been blocked, the victim has to take all the evidences that she has and go to the police with the link. It is with this link that the police find the IP address of the user. Essentially, they (victim) have to go to the police station and register a case. Otherwise the harassers will continue and so will the harassment by these offenders. The victim can also contact Facebook to remove the images.

Hidden Pockets: Do you know of cases when social media platforms refused to block the offenders completely? And what was the action taken in those cases? And what was the reason given by social media platforms?

Halder: Yes many times. Unfortunately no action was taken (in most cases). It is very common. Social media platforms ask you to come through the police as the channel. There is also the legal machinery channel that is you go through the court. Often the police may not know how exactly to contact the social media platform. Social media platforms have wonderful policy that says that they will not reveal the information of the account holder to anybody come what may. This is the reason you see so many new items that Facebook or Google do not reveal the information or the identity about the offenders even though the police have taken the cases to the court. This is the reason because of this policy.

The platforms say that they are taking action however they will not reveal the identity of the offender. This is because of their policy guidelines. Their policy is guided under the U.S laws. Our laws have got territorial nature, which means our laws especially the Information Technology Act can be effective for these websites even situated outside. Here comes the legal conflict. The websites may be situated outside the country but they may choose to abide by our laws. They have to then go to the U.S courts (to resolve this case). This is a long process. This is the reason for them to push back saying that they don’t reveal the identity (of the offender). Again in these cases, the victim cannot do anything. The matter needs to be taken to the court. With a good lawyer, something could happen. Then again, it is not so for all cases. In some case, social media platforms have given details of the person because the police officers could prove that it was a grave crime.

Sexting, revenge pornography and victim blaming

Hidden Pockets: What was done in the cases of revenge pornography at least in the cases that you handled personally?

Halder: In some cases, I was able to help them. On their (victim’s) behalf, I could successfully inform Facebook about the revenge pornography that was taking place. The offensive photos were removed. It is only a part of the recourse for the victim. We ask the victim to go to the police. With the existing available laws, victims can go to the police and ask for help. The offender should be punished. With this, I have got very little positive feedback because the victims undergo victim blaming, police apathy etc. One part of the case has been successful but the legal part has not always been successful. It is not that it was never successful but not always.

Hidden Pockets: With respect to revenge pornography and times changing, do you think it is important to start accepting legally and from the point of view of the police that sharing of images and videos have become a part of the culture when two people are in an intimate relationship?

Halder: This is called sexting. We know about texting and this is called sexting. This is happening, not only among teenagers but also among adults. This is happening. If you are going for it, then it may invite more trouble. Even if that person is completely trustworthy, that person’s device may be compromised or hacked so we then won’t know from where the picture might have leaked. So it should be avoided. Even though it has become a habit I would say even then it should be avoided I would say.

Hidden Pockets: Sure but what I’m trying to understand here is if the people handling these cases have understood that something called sexting is happening, especially with respect to victim blaming. Have they understood it?

Halder: No, majority of the police officers that I have seen who deal with these crimes especially revenge porn generated from sexting, they are not able to accept this as a common behaviour. When it is a question of victim blaming, the woman is generally asked why did you share such pictures. With this, the case is usually closed because they (the police) don’t know how to deal with the case. So yes, people who are dealing with these cases, I would say, are still not able to take sexting as a social habit.

Hidden Pockets: How do you think that can be changed? Do you think such a change has a role to play in how the system works?

Halder: Personally speaking even I’m against disseminating such photographs because it may invite danger. Now that it has become a social habit to a certain extent, we need to change our own mentality. We need to be broad-minded. One way is that when you are sharing such photographs, you need to also understand that you are inviting danger. The moment you are disseminating a picture, you should be broad enough to understand that there is a risk involved in it. With respect to the police officers who handle these cases, should avoid victim blaming and treat the victims as victims.Otherwise this will happen. This is similar to when a girl goes out and she is raped, instead of blaming her for her gender or her dress, the police should treat her as a victim. Similarly, in the online cases also this should be done.

 

Life with HIV: My struggle with my medication

a tree with a sign : Know your HIV status

“Looking after my health TODAY gives me a better hope for TOMORROW” – Anne Wilson Schaef

DISCLAIMER: What failed on me does NOT mean that it may not work on you. PLEASE listen to your body and go by it accordingly. I know some of my friends who are doing well on Efavirenz. Unlike mine, their CD4 has improved to higher numbers while on that medicine. Depression is one known side effect of this HIV medication, but does not happen to everyone.

OMG…. Can’t wait to try!!!  Changing my meds – bring it on!!!!!

I recall posting happily on facebook, telling friends with a bit of excitement how I am ready to be on 3rd switch. I had been on two other medicines before that and each lasted about four years, with my body tolerating it well till it was time. I was finally put on an Efavirenz-based drug. Little did I know that it would severely affect my quality of life! And SEVERELY it did.

“Jyoti, I think you need to change your medicine once again”, said my concerned husband after I snapped at him over a small thing. I defended Efavirenz very strongly. I loved the “dreams”. I loved how it made me feel after popping the pill. The dizzy woozy feeling as if you are high. Until one fine day—–

“Here, sign it”, said the police on duty. I weakly signed the FIR report. I was exhausted and drained out. I had ten stitches on my left arm. Then it dawned on me: EFAVIRENZ!! I don’t have suicidal tendencies, but I feel like it must be a side effect of my treatment. I needed to come out of it. It has completely taken control over me, and even my life. It made me angrier and bitter, just a few weeks after I was put on it. My mood was going for a toss. As an outdoorsy person, I was most of the time indoors – sleeping for 15-18 hours a stretch. I tried to fight it but it made me get tired very easily. I had stopped visiting the beauty parlour, had stopped pampering myself which I loved, had stopped interacting with friends, even my social life had come to a huge standstill. I started missing out on events, failing on promises made and was not able to deliver my work on time. What was happening?

I remember my doctor saying to give myself time – at least three months – to help my body get used to Efivarenz, then all would be well. Instead of being better, I was getting bitter. Until that fateful day when I slashed myself. I decided that enough is ENOUGH. I couldn’t wait for another month, I can’t wait for my body to get USED to the drug before it does much damage to my mentality. Three months was more than enough for the trial. I had fought long and hard. So had my husband who was patient enough to deal with me. But I knew that he too was suffering. Why do I want others to go through hell because of this medicine’s side effects on me? On the fourth month, I went to the doctor, who too was surprised to note that this drug had such an adverse effect on me within a short duration of time. And I am glad they too agreed that I needed the change.

No matter how much I had tried, the rules I followed during the intake of this tablet, it had FAILED. So bye-bye Efavirenz. But there is one mark you have left behind: Even the SCARS could not and will not affect our marriage. TILL DEATH DO US PART!!

About the writer:

Jyoti Dhawale is an HIV activist, writer, blogger and a front runner campaign into breaking the myth, stigma and discrimination that surrounds HIV being HIV positive herself and telling her story, her experience and sharing knowledge. Also Community Advisor Board for The Well Project (USA), International Steering Member for Prevention Access Campaign (USA), Brand Ambassador for Being Positive (Bangalore), she has worked with countless number of NGOs, holding talk shows and blogging. Her interest is vast though travelling, motorsports and photography top the list.

Editor’s note: This blog post has been published with permission from the writer. The original blog post was published on The Well Project