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in plainspeak

Talking about sexuality in South and Southeast Asia 2009, Issue 1

Trans-, stills from dual channel video installation
by tejal shah and marco paulo rolla

This publication is for educational purposes and limited circulation only.

Supported by The Ford Foundation

in plainspeak · ISSUE 1 · ‘09 · 2

table of contents

letter from editor / radhika chandiramani / 2

who we are / 3
interview / KIMBERLY REED - THE COURAGE TO STEP OUT / geetanjali misra / 4
issue in focus / THE LONG ROAD AHEAD / Michael P. De Guzman / 10
shades of grey / PROSTITUTION AND THE HUMAN RIGHTS DISCOURSE / madhu bhushan, shakun mohini / 14
art space / VIDEO | INSTALLATION / tejal shah and marco paulo rossa / 22
the bigger picture / WHY I DO WHAT I DO / pramada menon / 28
reel review / PROSE AMIDST POETRY / aanchal kapur / 34
hot off the press / OUR BODIES, OURSELVES / radhika chandiramani / 40
‘I’ column / dinesh gupta / 45
did you know? / WHAT AFTER PREGNANCY? / 46
at the resource centre / 48

in plainspeak · ISSUE 1 · ‘09 · 1

letter from editor

Welcome to the first issue of In Plainspeak in 2009!

As always, we have an exciting collection of articles for you. In the

Interview you will meet Kimberley Reed and her fascinating account of
different transitions in her life. Art Space also focuses on transformation,
posing questions both complex and radical. In a similar vein, Shades of
Grey provides a different perspective about the human rights discourse
and the way it is applied to prostitution. In the Bigger Picture we are
taken on a fascinating journey by Pramada Menon who at puberty had
not the faintest clue about menstruation and today is an avowed queer
rights activist. You will also read about the challenges in working on HIV
prevention in Cambodia, the reproductive health bill in the Philippines,
and as usual, the film and book reviews. Plus, factoids on what happens
when a woman gets pregnant. A young man with cerebral palsy shares
with us his thoughts about sexuality and disability in the I column, making
a plea to be treated as a sexual being, just like anyone else.

Yes, it is a motley collection, but where else will you find such an array
of issues and viewpoints? We are happy to present this to you, because to
us it reflects a cross-section of the assortment that constitutes the field of
sexuality as it is today. Multiple issues, multiple realities.

Please do keep sending in your contributions and feedback to


Stay well, loved, and happy.

Radhika Chandiramani
Executive Director

in plainspeak · ISSUE 1 · ‘09 · 2

who we are

The South and Southeast Asia Resource Centre

on Sexuality is hosted by TARSHI (Talking About

in plainspeak
Talking about sexuality in South and Southeast Asia 2008, Issue 2
Reproductive and Sexual Health Issues) in New Delhi,
India. TARSHI is an NGO that believes that all people
have a right to sexual wellbeing and a self-affirming
and enjoyable sexuality. TARSHI works on sexuality
without restricting it to a disease-prevention, violence
against women or sexual minorities framework, but
rather from an affirmative and rights-based approach.
TARSHI has been operating a telephone helpline on
2008 Issue 2 sexuality since 1996. It also conducts trainings and
Unfurling I institutes on sexuality and rights, develops publications
Tejal Shah for diverse audiences and engages in public education
and advocacy. Its most recent publication is Radhika
Chandiramani’s Good Times for Everyone: Sexuality
Questions, Feminist Answers (Women Unlimited, 2008).
in plainspeak
Talking about sexuality in South and Southeast Asia 2007, Issue 3
For more information on our programmes and events,
please visit www.tarshi.net

The Resource Centre aims to increase knowledge and

scholarship on issues of sexuality, sexual health and
sexual well being in this region. It specifically focuses on
sexuality related work in China, India, Indonesia, Nepal,
Sri Lanka, Thailand, The Philippines, and Vietnam.
2008 Issue 3
Southern Siren – Maheshwari
The Resource Centre has developed a range of
Tejal Shah
programmes to enhance scholarship, increase access to
information, and further dialogue on sexuality issues.
Check out our website (www.tarshi.net). It hosts
in plainspeak online moderated discussions on sexuality, news and
Talking about sexuality in South and Southeast Asia 2007, Issue 4

announcements from the region, links to resources

on sexuality and the library catalogue. You can also
download an electronic version of In Plainspeak. A
Directory of Institute Alumni is also available on the
website. It provides information about human resources
available in the region and also provides alumni with
2009 Issue 1 a sense of solidarity/community. The Resource Centre
Trans- also houses a library with over 3000 books and material
Tejal Shah on sexuality. The next Basics and Beyond: Sexual and
Marco Paulo Rolla Reproductive Health and Rights Training for Trainers
on Sexuality will be held on March 18 – 21, 2009 in
New Delhi, India. For more information, contact us at
Tejal Shah is a visual artist who works in Bombay, India.

in plainspeak · ISSUE 1 · ‘09 · 3


the courage to
step out

in plainspeak · ISSUE 1 · ‘09 · 4


geetanjali misra

Kimberly Reed was brought up in meeting all her friends and her brother
a family of three children in a small for the first time in her transitioned
town -- Helena, Montana. The oldest state. Along the way the family
Marc was adopted, the youngest discovers Marc’s true identity. He is the
Todd, came out to the family and now grandson of Hollywood icons Orson
lives an openly gay life in San Diego, Welles and Rita Hayworth.
and, Paul, the middle son, was a high
school valedictorian and a quarterback Prodigal Sons was shown at the 2008
with an aching secret. After Paul left Telluride Film Festival in Telluride,
home at the age of 18 he decided to Colorado where it was a huge success
change his gender. Today Paul is Kim – with the audience. This was the 35th
a filmmaker living in New York City. year of the festival, an annual Labor
Day weekend event that attracts film
Prodigal Sons is Kim’s very personal autobiography, lovers from all across the globe. The festival highlights
about her transition and also her very difficult the best of films of any given year – award winners
relationship with Marc. The two were placed in the from Cannes and Berlin, along with new American
same grade in school and Marc was always jealous of independent films, revivals of silent classics, panel
Kim’s talents in studies and sports. Later at the age discussions and Q&A’s. The Festival also featured
of 21 Marc suffered from a head injury which further Nandita Das’ directorial film Firaaq and Danny Boyle’s
aggravated his tumultuous relationship with Kim. Slumdog Millionaire both set in India.

Prodigal Sons is a heart wrenching story which begins Geetanjali Misra interviewed Kim Reed following the
with Kim returning home for her high school reunion, Telluride screening of Prodigal Sons.

in plainspeak · ISSUE 1 · ‘09 · 5


Your film is such a personal story. even though I was reluctant to tell the story, just knowing
It must have been so hard to make it. that our family had such a tremendous story to tell, there
was no way I couldn’t tell it. The filmmaker in me trumped
It was a tough experience. It is a film that exposes me, the personal side of me that was a bit reluctant.
my brother Marc and our family and that can be a scary
thing, but it can also be a rewarding and cathartic thing. How long did you not talk to Marc?
Everybody I have shown it to in my family and our friends
in our small town, has been very encouraging. When you There are different ways to define this. I think it was about
have the courage to step out and really expose yourself a decade. He left home when he was 18 and I left when I
like that, you also have the opportunity to really touch and was 18. We talked for a couple of years after that, kind of
reach out to people. haltingly. But that was basically the last time we were close.
We were getting updates from our parents, so it wasn’t
It wasn’t like I was setting out to explore my relationship like we were totally divorced. But then once I transitioned,
with Marc. But my relationship with him has been the one but before my father died, I really cut myself from him,
that has affected me the most in life. There were a lot of because my life had changed so much.
things that were unresolved and a lot of frustrations that I
had about it. Marc was quite frustrated being raised in the You have said that Marc had a
same grade as me and kind of competing with me, even tough life, especially after his head
though I wanted that competition to go away for him, to just injury. But didn’t you also have a
forget about it. It was really a very important relationship difficult life struggling with the
in his life obviously. For me to move beyond that and also gender issue while being a football
go through the big transition I was going through, I just had hero in a small town?
to cut myself from Marc.
I did. I think a lot of that comes through in the film. It
I was reluctant to make this film. I knew it will be somewhat wasn’t easy. But making this film was the hardest thing I
centered on me. I just wasn’t really convinced that we had a have done in my life. Just to tell my story and that of my
film on our hands until you consider my story versus Marc’s family in a way that it’s accessible to other people. I was
story. Just the fact that both of us have new identities and we always balancing how to show the drama without totally
get the opportunity to work out our relations in a way that setting off such huge explosions that the audience cannot
a lot of families wish they could and we got that chance. So recover from it. It is very powerful to show documentary

in plainspeak · ISSUE 1 · ‘09 · 6


Anyone who has a family or

siblings knows the drama
that all of us go through, that
there are old histories that you
have to work out. And that’s
what took over and it became
a much bigger part of the
reality violence on film. That was the hardest balancing
story than a football hero, a
act. In allowing the audience to understand Marc better, I quarterback, returns home
learnt a thing or two from that. Making the film was a very
good vehicle for me to understand my brother. as a transgender person.
The film opens with you returning
home for your high school The response of my classmates
reunion. Had you prepared everyone is reflected in the film by the
in school about the film and how
did they react to your transition? guy in the football team, who
We all knew it was going to be a pretty dramatic event
tells the joke ‘I had a dream
that I was going back. Everybody knew about it and was that we were all fat, bald
on board and supporting it. But of course what ultimately
happened was that we obviously discovered that it was not
and old and you were a girl.’
the biggest drama going on. Anyone who has a family or That’s of course not a dream.
siblings knows the drama that all of us go through, that
there are old histories that you have to work out. And that’s I haven’t heard from anyone
what took over and it became a much bigger part of the who had problems with my
story than a football hero, a quarterback, returns home as
a transgender person. transition. People were very
The response of my classmates is reflected in the film by
curious about it. But hopefully
the guy in the football team, who tells the joke ‘I had a looking at who I am now, that’s
dream that we were all fat, bald and old and you were a
girl.’ That’s of course not a dream. I haven’t heard from
the factor that changes people’s
anyone who had problems with my transition. People were mind the most. That’s the best
very curious about it. But hopefully looking at who I am
now, that’s the factor that changes people’s mind the most. way to explain the change.
That’s the best way to explain the change.

in plainspeak · ISSUE 1 · ‘09 · 7


Would Marc act up more when the visit Orson Welles’ girlfriend of the last twenty years of his
camera was on? life who lives there) and the high school reunion. Where
the film became very intimate and about me working out
I don’t think so. Some people expected him to act up my relationship with Marc, it was natural and much more
when the camera was there. Others expected him to act intimate for me to shoot. And that is how a lot of those
up less when the camera was there. All I can tell you is my scenes unfolded.
experience of knowing Marc and seeing these episodes that
are caused by his head injury. I don’t think anyone will say I wanted to separate myself from directing the film. But
that the camera doesn’t have any influence at all. But I can when all of this stuff happened, such as the big fight during
honestly say that, I really feel that he ignores the camera. the Christmas dinner, I suddenly picked up the camera. It
He was completely supportive of all the shots we used. was going to be a nice lovely Christmas Eve, at least when I
That’s just kind of how Marc operates. picked up the camera. But it changed suddenly.

Sometimes I think about the relationship with Orson Did you have to struggle as a
Welles. Orson always needed an audience. I suppose filmmaker given your transition?
sometimes people who see the film think maybe the camera And why did you decide to stay
becomes Marc’s audience, that’s why he is acting up. What out of contact with people who
does happen is that the audience is the family and that’s knew you for some time after that?
who he is playing to. Whether or not the camera is there, it
is the family relationship that he is mainly dealing with.You When I graduated from film school, I was working as a
see it unfold at several points in the film. freelance editor. I was trying to balance two bodies of
clients – one I had as a male and the other I had as a female.
How did you make the choices It was very difficult.
about when to have the camera
on and when to shut it off, It is hard enough to be a freelancer just out of film school.
especially when you were involved I didn’t feel I was ready to transition in the public eye like
in arguments with Marc? that. I wanted to switch gears and kind of start over. I
thought no one was ready for me but in retrospect I realize
The Producer and the Director of Photography, John Keitel, that I wasn’t ready for it. I could have transitioned in the
shot almost all the scenes you see in Croatia (Marc and Kim public eye, but at the time that’s how I felt.

in plainspeak · ISSUE 1 · ‘09 · 8


Anytime you are breaking

new ground, you are going
to be known as ‘Oh, aren’t
you this filmmaker or that
filmmaker?’Your label
precedes your work. If I can
step back from the film and
You are probably one of few think about the queer politics,
transgender filmmakers. Do you
feel that there are different me being transgender is a
expectations from you? That people factor in the beginning, but
are watching your career in a
different light? then it almost disappears.
And I think that’s what a lot
Sure! Anytime you are breaking new ground, you are
going to be known as ‘Oh, aren’t you this filmmaker or of artists, who are a minority
that filmmaker?’ Your label precedes your work. If I can
step back from the film and think about the queer politics,
one way or the other think.
me being transgender is a factor in the beginning, but then We always want our work to
it almost disappears. And I think that’s what a lot of artists,
who are a minority one way or the other think. We always precede our label. That’s
want our work to precede our label. That’s what happens what happens in this film.
in this film. This issue that is going to be the massive issue –
my being a transgender – moves back. Yes, it is interesting This issue that is going to be
and fascinating in many ways, but is it the only thing? the massive issue – my being a
Absolutely not!
transgender – moves back.
Yes, it is interesting and
fascinating in many ways,
Geetanjali Misra is co-founder and Executive Director, CREA,
New Delhi. She is an activist and a film buff working in the
but is it the only thing?
fields of sexuality, gender and rights. She co-founded SAKHI Absolutely not!
for South Asian women in New York, was the President of
the Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID),
and is on the Board of Directors of Reproductive Health
Matters and Women’s Initiative for Gender Justice. She has
co-edited Sexuality, Gender and Rights: Exploring Theory
and Practice in South and Southeast Asia (Sage, 2005)

in plainspeak · ISSUE 1 · ‘09 · 9

issue in focus

the long road ahead

Like other countries On October 10, 2008 the National MSM Technical Working
Group (NMSM-TWG) held its quarterly meeting in one of
in the region, same-sex the hotels in Phnom Penh.This working group was convened
by the Cambodian National AIDS Authority (NAA) to
behaviour is not frowned
address MSM-related issues on the national response to
upon per se in Cambodia, the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Cambodia. Just over a year
old, it is composed of representatives of government, civil
as long as the man society, donors, and (supposedly) the MSM community
marries and creates a (to the uninitiated, MSM stands for males-who-have-sex-
with-males, a behavioural term that arose during the AIDS
family. Buddhism views epidemic to connote males who have sex with other males
homosexuality as a without identifying themselves as gay or bisexual).

result of a bad deed in As an independent consultant, I am the only member of

the TWG who is not affiliated with any organizations I have
one’s past life, and hence
mentioned. Except perhaps, the MSM community. This,
has a more tolerant, however, is something I don’t like to claim because of a
fundamental fact: I am not Cambodian. I will elaborate on
albeit sympathetic this point later.
stance towards it.
Preventing new infections among
Families, meanwhile, are a MSM
different matter.
One of the highlights of the day’s meeting was the
presentation of the results of the 2007 Behavioural Sentinel
Surveillance (BSS). This was an important milestone
because since the BSS was first conducted in 2007, it has
never included MSM. A total of 729 MSM participated in
the surveillance, from 5 provinces that have always been

in plainspeak · ISSUE 1 · ‘09 · 10

issue in focus

Challenges in HIV Prevention

among Cambodian MSM

Michael P. De Guzman
covered by the BSS. Significant findings on MSM included: gays and (the more invisible) lesbians, there are also
the existence of male and female sexual partners, about no laws that protect them. Like other countries in the
half of the respondents hadn’t had an STI check-up, low region, same-sex behaviour is not frowned upon per
lubricant use, moderate reach of outreach work, a little se in Cambodia, as long as the man marries and creates
over half had taken the HIV Antibody Test at Voluntary a family. Buddhism views homosexuality as a result of a
Counselling and Testing Centres, and had an alarmingly bad deed in one’s past life, and hence has a more tolerant,
high rate of drug use, including injecting drug use. albeit sympathetic stance towards it. Families, meanwhile,
are a different matter. One of the participants mentioned
In the discussion that followed, Tony Lisle, the UNAIDS the effects of discrimination in the family on the health of
Country Coordinator, expressed concern at the figures MSM. Once a man is found out to be gay, he will almost
presented. He underscored a very important point when always be driven out of his home and be disowned by his
he asked, ‘Are we preventing new infections among parents. To a Khmer, this is unacceptable. So, many of them
MSM?’ I didn’t think so. He called for a re-thinking of HIV choose to marry, while continuing to have ‘illicit’ sex with
prevention interventions for MSM because, in his words, other men.
‘something is not working with the kind of outreach that
is currently being done’. And health services for MSM are Previous studies on MSM have hinted at the significance
severely lacking as well. of this group in the response to HIV/AIDS. Largely un-
reached by programs, they seem to be very active sexually
The discussion soon (d)evolved into what interventions with both females and males and do not access the existing
should be done to reach the varied MSM groups: the srey information and services for MSM. Because recent
saat (long-haired MSM, or what we’d call transgender), developments have brought MSM under the spotlight of
the pros saat (short-haired MSM, or the average-looking government, the donors, and civil society, at least in terms
fellows), the visible (always the srey saat, sometimes the of HIV/AIDS programming, reaching these ‘hidden’ MSM
pros saat), and the hidden (possibly, the pros saat who never suddenly became an imperative.
go to the bars, who often have girlfriends or wives). This
last group is, of late, the focus of interest of many NGOs A personal stake
working with MSM. 
I realized that for all the talk of programs, projects, and
While there are no laws that discriminate against Khmer interventions for MSM, a critical element was lacking

in plainspeak · ISSUE 1 · ‘09 · 11

issue in focus

I remember that one of the reasons I got into AIDS work

I realized that for all the (in 1994) was my own concern for my health and well-
being. I wanted to know more to be able to protect myself
talk of programs, projects, from HIV, and help others like me. Along the way I also
learned that one of the elements that could determine the
and interventions for
success of behaviour change is the personal recognition
MSM, a critical element of one’s risk. This helped cement my commitment to the
issue until now.
was lacking in the MSM
response to HIV/AIDS. A Unfortunately, this is not the case in Cambodia, where
most people got into NGO work because it is seen as a
personal stake. I mean, we lucrative career. In the TWG, for example, how many
were talking about doing people can honestly say that s/he has not said or done
anything discriminatory against an MSM? People from
outreach, establishing NGOs who work with MSM in HIV prevention still utter
jokes about MSM that raise my hackles. I know that at least
MSM-friendly clinics, and
5 men in the meeting that day are gay or MSM but I doubt
advocating for MSM. if they will categorically admit that fact.

But on a personal level, Discrimination has resonating

what does advocacy effects

really mean to, let’s say, Discrimination against MSM in Khmer families is, by this
a 13-year-old boy who time, a known reality. This has always been cited as one of
the important reasons why Khmer MSM choose to hide
lives in a remote province their sexuality. But what is always left out in discussions on
coming out is that ‘taking risks in coming out has tangible
who’s just starting to
rewards’, to use Tony’s phrase. The most obvious reward
realize he’s different from being, because one has been ‘unburdened’ of the need to
hide, he can now freely express himself, increasing his
the other boys because he access to information and services that will benefit not
is growing to be sexually just his health but his general well-being too. This is part of
what I’m referring to as a personal stake.
attracted to them?
That MSM are not adequately represented in national
bodies is also another known fact. MSM focal persons
in the MSM response to HIV/AIDS. A personal stake. I in government agencies and in many NGOs are not
mean, we were talking about doing outreach, establishing even remotely MSM-focussed at all. Bandanh Chaktomuk,
MSM-friendly clinics, and advocating for MSM. But on a the national network of MSM, was created a year ago
personal level, what does advocacy really mean to, let’s say, with financial and technical support of various NGOs.
a 13-year-old boy who lives in a remote province who’s Unfortunately, it hasn’t stepped up to its mandate when it
just starting to realize he’s different from the other boys was conceived, due to many other reasons. I am personally
because he is growing to be sexually attracted to them? hopeful that the current Executive Committee of Bandanh

in plainspeak · ISSUE 1 · ‘09 · 12

issue in focus

Chaktomuk will perform better, in terms of representing

the interests of Cambodian MSM in a national forum. a personal stake allows
The way forward people to be more
creative and innovative
In my opinion, no matter how competent one is in
developing and implementing interventions for MSM in thinking of ways to
(or any marginalized group, for that matter), this will
not be enough without a personal stake. Because in reach out to MSM. A
my opinion, a personal stake allows people to be more personal commitment
creative and innovative in thinking of ways to reach
out to MSM. A personal commitment strengthens and strengthens and
enhances interventions tremendously. On the side of the enhances interventions
supposed beneficiaries of these interventions, the personal
commitment of a service provider will nurture the client’s tremendously. On the
own commitment towards their health, in turn making
side of the supposed
them more receptive to behaviour change messages.
beneficiaries of these
The challenge is going about this in Cambodia, where
culture and gender are very strong threads in the fabric interventions, the personal
of its citizens’ psyches. Many things have been done, with commitment of a service
varying degrees of success. The number of NGOs working
with MSM on HIV/STI prevention, health, and rights provider will nurture the
advocacy has increased. Future programs and interventions client’s own commitment
appear to be promising. Government recognition has
manifested in positive ways, e.g. the formation of the towards their health, in
national technical working group, support to MSM
turn making them more
programming on a national level through the development
of a 3-year strategic framework for MSM, and the inclusion receptive to behaviour
of MSM in surveillance activities.
change messages.
However, judging from the way things are, a lot of
opportunities are still untapped, especially in terms of
reaching the varied groups of MSM, real and effective
MSM involvement and participation in programs and
interventions, and genuine and active MSM representation
in national bodies.

This article has previously appeared in the Phnom Penh Post.

Michael P. De Guzman is an independent consultant
based in Phnom Penh. Mike regularly blogs at http://

in plainspeak · ISSUE 1 · ‘09 · 13

shades of grey

and the
human rights
some critical comments

All is not black and white… and we want

to explore the shades of grey. Feminism is
diverse and we don’t always agree totally
with one another, though we may share a
similar perspective. While we don’t want to
silence other viewpoints, we want to focus
on the finer distinctions between arguments
used by people who are on the same side of
the table.

Does the Human Rights discourse provide

for the best and most just way of framing
and addressing the issues that women in
prostitution face?
Is it a useful strategy?
What are its limitations and traps, if any?

in plainspeak · ISSUE 1 · ‘09 · 14

shades of grey

Madhu Bhushan, Shakun Mohini

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the This is sought to be done at different levels through:
paradigmatic framework for the notion of human rights that
is being used by Nation States and Civil Society the world 1 Destigmatising the profession by declaring
over to give voice to the marginalised communities in all prostitution as work and therefore a legitimate option
cultures and societies. This same discourse is now being for employment.
proposed to empower another marginalised community
that is being increasingly stigmatised and criminalised – 2 Decriminalising prostitution by recognising it as an
women in prostitution and sex work. Women who have industry and thereby bring it overground where it
been pushed into the nether worlds of social consciousness. can be regulated through appropriate labour laws and
Women who have been the victims of violence – both regulations.
from within the trade and profession and from without;
the violence of a judgemental attitude; but yet whose very 3 Empowering the woman by granting her the status
marginalisation has forged within them strength enough to of a sex worker who has the same rights as any other
celebrate a way of life touched little by the hypocrisies of citizen like the right to work, right to health, to
the mainstream. education, to freedom of movement and to privacy.

The Human Rights approach towards addressing the This attempt to recast prostitution solely in terms of sex
situation of women in prostitution and sex work seeks to work and recognise it universally as an industry whose
affirm the individual woman’s agency and equip her with labour force comprises of sex workers who have a right to
the right to exercise her choice of profession and to seek exercise an employment option is disquieting. Not so much
redressal when she feels this right has been violated. It because of its intent to affirm the women’s self worth and
also provides her with the right to seek protection against dignity which is certainly non-negotiable, but because of
violence and exploitation within the profession and provide the means, and the framework it is employing to do so.
her with the means to exit from it if she chooses to do so To understand why, we should perhaps look a little more
without the burden of being stigmatised as a victim or as carefully and critically at some of the conceptual limitations
an immoral woman. of this universal framework of rights, of how and why it

in plainspeak · ISSUE 1 · ‘09 · 15

shades of grey

fails to capture the nuanced realities the intimations of a social context

of the women and how it will in within which Rights could not only
reality affect the lives of those it is This attempt to recast incubate but also grow into its full
trying empower. prostitution solely in terms scope and meaning. This context
was of course the Nation State.
The Arrival of Rights
of sex work and recognise it
and the Rhetoric of universally as an industry With the formal freedom of the
Progress whose labour force colonies after the Second World
War, Rights was consecrated in the
This idea of Rights that is today held comprises of sex workers Universal Declaration of Human
to be universal was born in a specific who have a right to exercise Rights and the Nation State system
historical and political context and was propped up by the former
therefore has moorings that are an employment option is colonisers and elites of the recently
very culture specific: the culture of disquieting. Not so much ‘freed’ colonies as the arrangement
modern European civilisation. best suited for democratic freedom,
because of its intent to affirm
open politics, development and
The history of Rights within the the women’s self worth and economic prosperity.This combined
European context is a tale of two dignity which is certainly assault by Rights and the Nation
movements. The first is the story State system implicitly denied
of totalitarianism i.e. the complete non-negotiable, but because the possibilities of the political
hegemony and domination of the of the means, and the arrangements and social relations
culture of the state. The second is, which were indigenous to non-
to rephrase Marx, the story and framework it is employing to European societies; it created a
history of struggle; the recognition do so. To understand why, we convenient amnesia in societies
demanded and won by the survivors outside the West towards traditions
of industrialisation.
should perhaps look a little
of governance that were suited
more carefully and critically to and rooted in their cultural
How this tale of two movements was at some of the conceptual specificities.
inherited by the rest of the world as
its own history and how the project limitations of this universal This amnesia created societies
on rights initiated by the modern framework of rights, of how socially engineered to run on a series
European civilisation became the of deceptions that masqueraded
last word on human freedom and and why it fails to capture as universal truths. Possessive
justice itself is a story of power and the nuanced realities of the individualism as expressive freedom,
domination. For in the process of industrialisation as social progress,
crossing European borders this idea
women and how it will in social contract as social relations,
of Rights acquired an absolutely de- reality affect the lives of those science and technology as paradigms
cultured, impersonal and an almost it is trying empower. of truth; arithmetical democracy as
imperious identity. popular representation; and, Nation
States as guarantors of justice.
Rights therefore entered the erst-
while colonies as a kind of European gift to the savage. And And, so today, the Nation State has replaced all other systems
it was a gift that did not come alone. It brought along with of political governance; the global market has subsumed all
it a particular notion of progress and development and local patterns of trading and subsistence economies; the

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atomised individual as consumer, producer or seller of them. The founding fathers of the liberal tradition from
marketable goods has displaced all other holistic notions Hegel to Rousseau understood the feminine as women’s
of being human and personhood; the avaricious consumer biological nature; her lack of political consciousness, her
ethic has been put into place as the central driving force of emotionality, her irrationality – all this made her a threat
every society displacing more interdependent life visions. to public life and ‘citizenship’, and, therefore, all that
women could contribute was in the ‘rearing of citizens’,
And so too has Rights, that is inseparable from the rhetoric not by being citizen; not by contributing to the definition
of progress, silenced all other expressions of justice and of citizenship. And, therefore, was legitimised the public-
social transformation. private distinction that drew an inviolable line between the
rational and the intuitive, the universal and the specific,
Women’s Rights: Empowerment and the objective and the subjective, the feminine and the
Enslavement masculine. It separated not only two realms of activity, but
also two realms of morality. Corinne Kumar (1999) points
One of the most crucial consequences of this masquerade out, ‘Women’s world was not the world of the intellect, of
has been the near total invisibilisation of women. This has matters of the state, of concerns of justice and liberty – for
been even more acute and prominent especially in those that was man’s world. Hers was the Conversable World,
societies which traditionally were less hyper-masculine, subsistence livelihoods, of common life, of dailiness,
which celebrated nature and the feminine and where of the vernacular’. In Mills’ famous essay on liberty, he
women’s presence could not be invisibilised without first excluded from the rights to liberty the ‘backward nations
splitting social worlds into public and private realms. This of the world and the women.’ In its exclusion therefore
is not to deny that violence against of women, it not only left out the
women and their marginalisation violence done to them as personal,
existed in societies that valued the Rights therefore entered private, domestic but also their
feminine. But the text of this violence experiences, their wisdoms, their
the erstwhile colonies as
was embedded in a context which life worlds and visions.
did not marginalise the feminine a kind of European gift to
as a principle of consciousness and the savage. And it was a gift Over time however, and with
cosmology and separate the personal successful campaigns by the women’s
from the public. This process of that did not come alone. movements, violence against women
disembedding the personal from It brought with it along is being pulled into the public and
the public has created its own set political domain. Women’s rights
of pathologies as we can see in the
with a particular notion of are being acknowledged as human
process of how women’s rights came progress and development rights. Significant gains undoubtedly.
to be legitimised in post-colonial But what in fact does this
and the intimations of a
societies. acknowledgement mean? For today
social context within which whether it is ‘backward nations’ of
And so it was that when the Rights could not only the world, the indigenous, the poor,
Universal Declaration of Human the marginalised, and the women
Rights was first articulated in 1948 incubate but also grow into – all are being included into the
certain assumptions fortifying the its full scope and meaning. human rights discourse… they are
public–private dichotomy were being included into development and
woven into this world view that
This context was of course the market…they are being given
legitimised the denigration of the Nation State. the right to be equal partners in
women even while invisibilising progress. In this process therefore

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violence against women, especially in the personal realm is more often that not, at the cost of women themselves. For
being made visible and addressed through the institutions as stated already, the language of rights fails to contextualize
of law and order that have emerged from the state-centred the larger realities by adopting a universal and therefore a de-
rights discourse. However what is being rendered invisible cultured, impersonal, amoral framework that anaesthetises
by this same discourse is the increasing violence against the pain of poverty in those developing worlds where not
them in the public arena that is being reconstructed by the only has the violence of trafficking been institutionalised
dominant paradigm of development. A paradigm which but which are also witnessing the increasing brutalisation
while promising greater ‘freedom’ is actually creating new of prostitution. Prostitution is now being transmogrified
forms of economic enslavement that brings in its wake into a sex industry in this era of free enterprise and the global
conditions of vulnerability and violence for the women, market. For in this era, prostitution too like any other
both within the home and outside. And all this in the name trade has expanded and found newer markets beyond the
of equality – where the women’s worth can be computed local and the domestic, making profound and disturbing
only if she becomes equal to man – the masculine principle changes within its nature. For now it continues to be
that is central to all dominant modern societies. sustained not so much by community needs and demands
but by larger impersonal markets that are located in more
The language of Rights can therefore never capture the affluent metropolises within the country and outside, by
real pain of these worlds in which lives and livelihoods invisible trafficking syndicates that are more organised and
are threatened by the dominant vision. It seems therefore criminalised, and, in fact, by the omnipotent State itself.
little more than a cruel cover-up
for the harshness and ruthlessness For all Nation States today in
in the manner in which the poor, the process of rebuilding their
marginalised and defeated in the In this process therefore economies to cater to demands
Darwinian world are treated. In this violence against women, of the global market, are creating
context Rights remains a chimera new institutional frameworks for
– an absolute enslavement that
especially in the personal trafficking in women and children.
masquerades as freedom and choice. realm is being made visible Paralysing poverty being created
by policies of structural adjustment
and addressed through the
The attempt to give visibility to leading to forced migration and
women in prostitution and sex work institutions of law and order therefore the creation of the
within this framework of Rights is a that have emerged from economic refugee; tourism that
poignant testimony to this heartless was once thought of as a voyage of
masquerade. the state-centred rights discovery but now has been reduced
discourse. However what is to another consumptive activity that
Prostitution, Violence thanks to State policy has declared it
and the Human Rights
being rendered invisible by as an Industry with an open license
Framework. this same discourse is the for selling its lands, its peoples,
its way of life and also its women;
increasing violence against
In the context of prostitution military prostitution in times of war
therefore when in order to right them in the public arena that and the increasing militarization of
the wrongs done to women, the is being reconstructed by societies; corporate sex tourism in
framework of rights begins to countries of Asia…are all rendering
replace the language of justice, the the dominant paradigm of women more vulnerable to new
basic contours of this very complex development. forms of violence and exploitation.
institution begin to get redrawn – and

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The violence in trafficking and in owners and managers etc. It is also a

prostitution can not be separated fact that legislations of all kinds seek
from the total impoverishment
. . . prostitution too like any to control or regulate prostitution
of entire societies that constitute other trade has expanded and can only mean more repression
either the resource base for wealth- of women. Surely, consensual sex
and found newer markets
ier nations or end up as waste by- between two willing adults for or
products of a highly industrialised beyond the local and the without money or gain can neither
and corporate world; a world in domestic, making profound be held illegal nor policed except
which the disparities between the by an extremely moralistic political
rich and the poor are horrifyingly and disturbing changes regime. Prostitution is not a law and
stark, a world in which human within its nature. For now order problem. Exploitation, abuse,
relationships have gained an im- harassment, abduction and sale or
personal, contractual quality and the
it continues to be sustained forced sex work are, and State inter-
complex fabric of human impulses not so much by community vention is required only in these
has been reduced to the uni- instances. Any greater intervention
needs and demands but by
dimensional desire of an individual than this that would involve either
– rootless and ruthless in his desire larger impersonal markets criminalising or legalising the entire
for self-fulfilment. that are located in more institution would be social engineer-
ing at its worst.
In this context, the process of affluent metropolises within
seeking legitimacy for prostitution the country and outside, What are the specific and deeper
as an industry and categorizing all implications of recasting prostitution
women who have adopted this way
by invisible trafficking to fit into the history and morality
of life as sex workers who have the syndicates that are more of the industrial revolution?
right to choose this as a profession
organised and criminalised,
and therefore on this basis can 1 The absolute atomisation
make demands for better working and, in fact, by the of the woman who is apparently
conditions and get adequately omnipotent State itself. exercising her individual rational
compensated for it has certain right to a profession of her choice
disturbing implications. would totally miss the fact that the
communities and cultures she is
Prostitution is not a homogeneous system. Where women a part of are being pushed to the peripheries of the
come from, why they come, how they come and who global economic order. It is not an accident that the
introduces them into prostitution are all varying factors. centres of sex tourism industry lie in the peripheries
Therefore searching for one way to understand and one way like South East Asia or Eastern Europe now and not
to decide what the ‘rights’ are they need to be ‘given’ and centres like California or Paris.
what the ‘wrongs’ are that need to be removed from their
lives continue to be nebulous quests. 2 The reduction of the identity of all women in
prostitution to merely sex workers is tantamount
Governments of countries across the world have legislated to reducing something life-giving and fundamental
systems and practices of prostitution in one way or the like sex to the clerical and bureaucratic theology of
other through legislation ranging from criminalising ‘work’. ‘Work’, that as Shiv Vishwanathan says ‘is
women offering sex services to the prosecution of players a modern invention created by missionary monks
other than the woman, such as clients, pimps, sex industry and current theologians of industry’. What is more,

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it obfuscates the fact that of care and benevolence however

prostitution more than being a imperfect it may be.
right to work is actually a right Surely, consensual sex
to life, to livelihood. between two willing adults 7 Legalisation would also
entail licensing and zoning,
3 Sex worker, a term conferred
for or without money or
which while may be beneficial to
by impersonal global markets, gain can neither be held those in institutionalised forms
seems to be a more secular illegal nor policed except of prostitution such as brothels,
and legal identity as opposed would in the case of women in
to the more common women by an extremely moralistic street prostitution, increase their
in prostitution that apparently political regime. Prostitution vulnerability to the arbitrariness
is derogatory to and denying of the licensing and monitoring
of the women. The irony is is not a law and order authorities such as the police. This
that the rejection of latter is problem. Exploitation, abuse, would drive them to seek more
in fact the subtle acceptance discreet ways to ply their trade and
of the moralistic presumption
harassment, abduction and
in the process, fall prey to other
that prostitution is a more sale or forced sex work exploitative forces such as road
demeaning identity or activity. are, and State intervention mafias and goons.

4 The absolute devaluation is required only in these 8 Handing over the task
of a woman’s sexuality the instances. Any greater of destigmatising women in
moment it is absorbed into the prostitution to the State who it
market as sexual labour where intervention than this appears has greater powers to
sexuality itself can only find its that would involve either legislate social transformation. But
home in a body devoid of any in fact, genuine transformation can
personhood or humanity.
criminalising or legalising the
only happen from within, when
entire institution would be society is forced to accept moral
5 The decreasing control social engineering at its worst. responsibility for granting self-
that women have over their respect and dignity to every one of
business and lives that are its members who in turn have the
being taken over by men right to seek justice if it does not
with clear links with larger do so.
trafficking enterprises and the sex industry.
9 Finally, in a country that is continually diluting
6 The institutionalisation of the complex relationship pro-worker legislations and where existing benefits
between the women, brothel owners, gharwalis and entitlements under the law hardly reach the
(madams)and pimps into a contractual arrangement lowest in the rung, is it not too much to expect that
between an employer and employee who function sex workers’ right to work, right to benefits and
within an established management framework is entitlements will automatically become attainable
an attempt at decriminalisation and bringing the on recognition of sex work as ‘work’? They will then
business over ground. This approach presumes formally have the privilege to join the millions of
that this contractual arrangement could be far less poor and the marginalised who jostle and struggle to
exploitative than the informal web of relationships get even a fraction of entitlements that are rightfully
around the women, which is coloured by expressions theirs.

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All these reveal that the historical and cultural evolution References:
of prostitution in different contexts as a way of life Gustavo Esteva. Human Rights as Power Abuse in Sacred Mountains
embedded in community structures and a trade that has Everywhere, Streelekha, 1995.
over time evolved its own sets of regulations mechanisms
Shiv Vishwanathan. Unraveling Rights in Sacred Mountains
from within, needs to be accepted and understood before
Everywhere, Streelekha, 1995.
appointing the State as the protector and custodian of the
Rights of the women. For otherwise the Human Rights Corinne Kumar. South Wind in On the Universality of the Human
framework becomes a strategy to replace a more radical Rights Discourse, Banyan Tree: El Taller, 1999.
social transformation that ensures the dignity and self-
respect of the women. This is not to deny the relevance of
Rights as a survival strategy to negotiate for wider survival
spaces within the given system; to make the State, however
flawed it may be, to be more responsible and accountable
to all its citizens. But it is crucial that we restrict the Rights
approach to only a strategy and not derive from it any
profound visions for possible futures.

For Rights as a systemic imperative is the need only of

those in power. As survivors with the sharpest insights,
be it on the ‘double standards of morality’ in society, the
violent underpinnings of trafficking networks or even the
hollowness of state sponsored rights, it is the vulnerability
of the women in prostitution that best enables them to
define the contours of a more rooted and diverse rights
discourse that will help resist the violence in their lives.
And reclaim an autonomy that no one agency can either
confer or deny; an autonomy that helps them redefine Madhu Bhushan has been working for many years on
dignity, security and self-worth in their own multiple issues ranging from development, violence against women,
languages and on their own terms. wars and peace, women and poverty, HIV and dispossession
of positive women, and trafficking of women and children
as part of CIEDS Collective, Vimochana and AWHRC (Asian
Women’s Human Rights Council). She organizes campaigns
and community mobilising – both in urban slums and tribal
and rural communities, and contributes to publications. She
holds a Masters Degree in Mass Communications. 

Shakun Mohini has a background in Business Management

and a Master’s Degree in Sociology. She had been a volunteer
with Vimochana for many years while working in a public
sector Bank as a Senior Manager. She has also been active
in the Bank Union movement.  With Vimochana, she now
works with women in street prostitution, towards making
violence against women in prostitution visible in the public
and state conscience, while helping the women to organise
themselves into strong collectives.

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video | installation

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art space

Trans- Male and female, where is the limit?

stills from dual channel video installation The beard as a macho statement.
Tejal Shah (India) and Marco Paulo Rolla (Brazil) Jewellery and make-up constructing the female.
12 min, colour, sound, 2004-5 Two masks that work as a cliché sign of gender for society.
What happens when male and female cross these borders?
What is the limit of human sexuality?

In this work using video & performance, we construct the

trans-…formation, mutation, figuration from one gender
to its opposite.
We try to communicate and make possible a reflection
about the exploration of the ascribed opposite gender
behaviour as a possible affinity for a human sexual being.
Do we appear as what we feel?
Many times people can’t realize who they would like to
be: which kind of behaviour, sexuality, gender orientation
or style of dressing.

The screen is divided into two parts, where the two faces
are looking at themselves/the audience/the mirror,
a man and a man,
a man and a woman,
a woman and a woman,
crossing their original gender, making a transsexual

Tejal is a visual artist working with video, photography, performance and installation. Her work, like herself, is feminist, queer,
sexy & political. She has exhibited widely in museums, galleries and film festivals in India and internationally. Lately, she has
taken to a nomadic existence, living and working out of her laptop.

Marco Paulo Rolla, from São Domingos do Prata, Brazil, is a multimedia artist, who works with painting, drawing, print
making, ceramics, video, sound, dance and theatre, to explore subjects of daily life.

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art space

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art space

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art space

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the bigger picture

why I do what I do

My mother often asks me what I to pee and could do it standing up,

do when I facilitate trainings on whereas we girls had to look for a
sexuality – do I train people on how If you were to ask me why secluded place, and had to sit down
to have sex? I think that it worries do I do this work, I would and ensure that no one was looking
her that I may be doing this and she and only then could we pee. I was
is not sure how to tell her feminist say that it is to create spaces curious about how their mechanism
daughter that this may not be such where issues of sexuality worked since it seemed to be a
a good idea. For a long time, my wonderful invention. But this was
parents were uncomfortable about and gender can be discussed, not a discussion that could be had
mentioning the fact that I worked at all, and all matters below the belt
nourished, disagreed on
on sexuality and gender, as though and above the thigh remained in
it somehow made me more of a but definitely spoken about darkness and shrouded in silence.
tart than I was considered to be. It
was safe for them to say that I was in loud voices rather than As I grew up and recovered from
a consultant, and as we all know, hushed whispers. the shock that I did not have cancer
consultants can work on a whole and the bleeding was only my
range of issues. A silence creeps into body letting me know that it was
conversations at parties when I say I functional, I realized that most girls
work on issues of sexuality and gender, since everyone is are not told what periods/chums/ whatever name you wish
unsure of how to deal with the mention of sexuality in a to give it, are all about. Everyone is allowed to guess what
public space. it could possibly be and then elaborate efforts are made by
all around to try and hide the fact that this biological event
So if you were to ask me why do I do this work, I would happens. Shop-keepers wrap a pack of sanitary napkins in
say that it is to create spaces where issues of sexuality and paper and then place it in a black plastic bag. Most other
gender can be discussed, nourished, disagreed on but products are dumped into a white plastic bag and handed
definitely spoken about in loud voices rather than hushed over to the customer, but this is something that needs to
whispers. The silence is incredible and I watched it grow be kept hidden from human view. I thought that the 80s
as I grew up. As a child, I wanted to know why boys had was the time when menstruation was a taboo subject, but
handy tools that they could whip out when they wanted to my horror, I discover young girls today who still have

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Pramada Menon
no clue. I am not talking about those who have progressive two sanitary napkins in it. All of us walked out of the hall in
parents, but the many others who don’t. Tampons are not silence. Too embarrassed to even catch each other’s eye.
discussed in the Indian context, since many people believe
that inserting a tampon may result in the hymen getting Growing up is never easy – especially since one has to deal
punctured (which is not true at all) and we do not want with the hormones that are racing around the body and the
non-virgins wandering around. The arranged marriage fact that crushes for someone or the other develop every
market would be very seriously affected! Very clearly, no day. My college life was full of stories of heterosexual gaiety
understanding that the hymen can be ruptured by cycling, and finding anyone expressing their desire in a way that was
strenuous exercises – any mundane physical activity and not the ‘usual’ was almost an impossibility. We gossiped
does not need any sexual activity to be performed. and proscribed gayness to those we thought behaved
‘femininely’ whatever that indicated to us at that point. I
Menstruation also brings about the recognition that one do not recall any stories of women who were lesbian, or,
is now fertile and therefore the process of control and may be, at that point in time I did wear blinkers and was
protection sets into automatic motion. Without any unable to conceive of any relationship other than one that
explanations given, girls find themselves being sequestered involved the penis in some way or the other. Sexuality was
in girls-only spaces, warned about men, and told that they not discussed in Delhi University, except may be as part of
should not be out late at night, and nowhere in the sermons the English or Hindi Literature courses and that too, in a
delivered is there any true explanation of the act leading manner that was completely academic and lacking any real
to pregnancy. Dire stories of pregnancy are recounted and passion. This was the early 80’s. The situation is completely
girls are led to believe that looking at a man, touching a different now.
boy would all result in pregnancy. I believed that if I necked
my boyfriend I would get pregnant and that my mother Years of talking and working on issues of sexuality and
would instantly get to know.The closest I got to getting any gender have opened up spaces within colleges in Delhi. I am
information on this subject was the entry of Johnson and amazed to see the number of colleges that have discussions,
Johnson, the pharmaceutical company, into our school and film shows, plays on these issues, and across disciplines.
the screening of a film that explained to us how we were Ingenious ways have been thought of to introduce the
now ‘women’. The film was so academic and so pedantic subject within fora in women’s colleges. Sexuality and the
that none of us truly understood what was going on, and law was a hot topic for some time – precisely because the
then, to our shame, we were all handed a small packet with subject was vague enough for the introduction of the issue

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of same sex desire – and no one as yet, but a political one, we were
could accuse us of subverting the amazed at the homophobia that we
young people, we were just in the . . . a fellow activist once found lurking within the women’s
field of education! remarked that at a protest movement. This was the ground
that I grew up on and learnt a lot
I have been working in the social against one such beauty from and yet, I was warned about
justice field for more than twenty contest, she heard an invitee sharing a room with a woman at a
years now. For a long time after conference because she was lesbian!
I began working, there was very for the show saying, ‘Look Amazing, isn’t it? One understands
limited or no understanding of violence in very direct ways, but
at the women who are
issues of sexuality.What we did have this form of violence always goes
was the heady excitement of gender protesting, they all look so unnoticed and one tends to dismiss
analysis, something that allowed us it as ignorance.
to bring women within the ambit of down and out and ugly! No
the work that we did. We did have wonder they are protesting.’ Around 1993, I recall many heated
many discussions and programs discussions with activists on the
that touched upon the woman’s immaturity of discussing lesbian
body, but that was always in the issues in the context of India since
context of violence or reproductive health. There was no poverty / sustainable livelihood / water were far more
celebration of the woman’s body. This was also the time important issues; and why should a country be held
of blackening of film posters that showed women wearing ransom to a fringe group of women talking about lesbian
bikinis, it was the time that protests were organized against rights? This discussion came up in the light of the process
beauty contests. And, as a fellow activist once remarked leading to the Fourth World Conference on Women in
at a protest against one such beauty contest, she heard an Beijing, and the fact that someone at a preparatory meeting
invitee for the show saying, ‘Look at the women who are had challenged the UN declaration that made 1994, the
protesting, they all look so down and out and ugly! No Year of the Family. Interestingly enough, at the National
wonder they are protesting.’ At that point she hated it, but Conference on Women’s Movement in India, held at
now she laughs and says what a rag tag bunch they were, Tirupati in 1994, ‘the declaration of the conference itself
protesting against glamour and dressed in true ‘NGO-type’ clearly acknowledged and supported the right of all women
type clothes. By which I understand that means handloom to make choices about our bodies, our sexuality and our
clothes, which look just a bit shabby, a shoulder bag and a relationships. It recognized that women in patriarchal
general unkempt look. Protests looked like that then; now, societies are further marginalized if they identify as lesbian
I think the nature of the discussion around beauty contests or bisexual women’1
has changed – we have gone beyond the commodification
of women to also accommodate the agency of the woman I was negotiating all these battles while working at an
who actually participates in events of this nature. There organization that provided sustainable livelihoods to crafts
does seem to be some kind of understanding that one rule people. There wasn’t much scope for interactions with
cannot apply for all. mainstream women’s organizations working on what
seemed as more ‘hard core’ issues.Yet, one learnt a lot from
By the late 80’s, early 90’s, the lesbian word had entered the looking around and seeing what was not being talked about,
lexicon of some of us working in Delhi. We heard of ‘real what was not getting included and what were the areas that
life lesbians’ networking, and we tried to guess who within everyone tended to ignore. The endless and acrimonious
the women’s movement were in same-sex relationships. discussions had forced me to start linking the work that
For those of us for whom this was not a personal issue, I did on sustainable livelihood, gender and the world of

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sexuality and more importantly the right of all human discussion on lesbianism, same sex desire and sexuality.
beings to live their lives with dignity. Heterosexuality CALERI – The Campaign for Lesbian Rights – came up
also was not as hyped up as it was made to be. Many of following broad-based protests against the Right Wing
my friends and I were running into trouble because we Shiv Sena’s attacks on the film. The individuals and groups
chose to live unorthodox lives where we made decisions that had been actively involved in the protests, decided to
regarding our bodies, our lives and our relationships. That develop a year-long activist effort to forefront lesbian issues
wasn’t acceptable. I was a participant at a workshop on in public spaces. I was active in this campaign and learnt a
HIV/AIDS where one of the exercises required that the lot through this. It was the time that organizations working
group be sub-divided on the basis of married older men/ on women’s rights were forced to take a stand and it was
women and unmarried men/women. The subtext was that interesting to see the excuses that some of them came up
unmarried meant those who had had no sexual activity in with, so as to not have to take a stand. It’s also the time that
their lives. The assumption was also that all the participants I found myself having to explain that I was involved with
were heterosexual. I remember the facilitator looking a bit the campaign not just because of what my personal identity
shocked when I exposed these assumptions and some of us was, but because I believed it to be about human rights
moved away from the group that we had been forced into. violations. While I worked with craftspeople, nobody ever
asked me whether I was a craftsperson, but suddenly when
1998 was an important year in many ways for what I working on lesbian issues I had become partisan and one of
wanted to do. It was the year the film Fire was released in them and therefore militant and so on…
India. I will not discuss the film, since that is something
that has been done to death. What was important was the That was twelve years ago. The firmament for action has
fact that the film depicted desire between two middle-class altered radically now.There is a proliferation of organizations
women living in the same family in Delhi and that was working on issues of sexuality and sexual rights, a large
not palatable for the Right Wing number of programs are organized
in India. What aggravated matters with college students, academics
was also the name of one of the are publishing, Bollywood has gay
women – Sita, also the name of the . . . now, I think the nature and lesbian characters – a lot of
consort of Lord Ram, the hero of of the discussion around them completely hateful, columns
the Hindu religious text Ramayana. in newspapers… a multitude of
The theatres were attacked and beauty contests has changed new ways to deal with issues of
many statements were issued in sexuality. Most importantly, a case
the press: ‘Two women having a
– we have gone beyond the is being fought in the Delhi High
physical relationship is an unnatural commodification of women Court for exempting consensual
thing’ – Pramod Navalkar, the then adult same-sex sexual activity
Minister for Culture of the State of to also accommodate the from the purview of Section 377
Maharashtra, and, ‘Why are such agency of the woman who (Unnatural Offences) of the Indian
films made here? They can be made Penal Code which reads: Whoever
in the US or other western countries. actually participates in events voluntarily has carnal intercourse
A theme like lesbianism does not fit of this nature. There does against the order of nature with
in the Indian atmosphere’ by the any man, woman, or animal, shall
then Union Minister for Home, seem to be some kind of be punished with imprisonment
L.K.Advani . The right wing anger
for life, or with imprisonment of
enabled the placing of sexual desire
understanding that one rule either description for a term which
within the public domain and more cannot apply for all. may extend to ten years, and shall
importantly it opened up spaces for also be liable to fine. Interestingly,

in plainspeak · ISSUE 1 · ‘09 · 31

the bigger picture

on February 26, 1999 CALERI had rights. One of the discussions that
submitted a memorandum to the I have had with a friend is about
While I worked with
Committee on Empowerment of the tenuousness of the binary
Women: Appraisal  of Laws relating craftspeople, nobody construct of man and woman. If
to Women (Criminal Laws) and there was no construct, it would
the subject was Repeal of Section
ever asked me whether mean that there would be no man
377 of the Indian Penal Code . The
I was a craftsperson, but or woman and then there would be
intervening years have seen the media no identities that we could use to
become supportive and there are suddenly when working define our desires because then we
many more queer images in public on lesbian issues I had would just be people who desired
spaces. In 2008, India saw Pride other people! What would that do
Parades in four major cities and I was become partisan and one the world of identity politics? If the
fortunate to be part of two of those. binary construct did not exist then
of them and therefore
The sense of exhilaration and joy was there would be no differentiation
palpable in the two cities that I was militant and so on… based on gender and then we would
present. The very streets, which can once again be set free from labels of
be threatening to people who do not any sort.
conform to gender identity or desire
as defined by society were now being occupied by them Similarly, our worldview precludes all those who do not
legally and the police was safeguarding their interests! have able bodies. A disability activist once named us those
of the ‘temporarily abled bodies’. That has really made me
It has been a long journey and a fun one. The last ten years reflect on what are the ways in which we address sexuality
has seen me active in an organization working on issues of and disability, and, do we really do so in any meaningful
sexuality and sexual rights and I have facilitated innumerable manner? Do we understand the desire for a sexual partner
trainings on these issues across countries, cultures, ages, from someone who has a motor nerve disorder, or someone
ethnicities, religion, disability, sexual orientation and who has spina bifida and is on a wheel chair or someone
race. I have learnt immensely and equally have unlearnt who is mentally challenged and unable to explain to us what
immensely from the work that I have been doing. It’s she feels except that she repeatedly says she wants to get
been challenging too, doing this work. While I can see the married? Do we realize that we may become that disabled
palpable differences in the world that I now occupy, I also body? The world of disability studies or Crip Theory has a
see the same processes happening yet again for a newer set lot that we have to learn from.
of people who have to learn afresh. In 1983, I found myself
having to explain to people that masturbation was not a Technology has advanced rapidly and we now have to deal
sin and was not wrong and in 2009 I find that I still need with the fact that people form intimate relationships on the
to say it. I think I will have to repeat until my dying day Internet and that chat spaces have proliferated and there are
that homosexuality is not abnormal and that lesbians are chat rooms for practically every kind of desire and dream.
not women who have faced violence at the hands of men. Young adults are able to access information that may or
The important change is that I won’t be one of a fringe may not be appropriate to their age. Sexual relationships
group saying this. There will be many more who will be have taken on a new meaning in this landscape and we
loudly proclaiming this and many other issues relating to are not really equipped to deal with the public nature of
sexuality. the Internet. We are also not completely sure about the
camera on the mobile phone. There was a safety in public
As I said earlier, there are innumerable challenges in the spaces, but now there is no guarantee that someone is not
work that is being done in this field of sexuality and sexual photographing your body while you sit down in a mall.

in plainspeak · ISSUE 1 · ‘09 · 32

the bigger picture

We are unable to understand the References:

ways in which we allow ourselves
I think I will have to repeat 1 Fernandez B, Radhakrishnan
to create sexual hierarchies within M, Deb P. 2007 Report on a Lesbian
our worldview and place people and until my dying day that Meeting, National Conference
activities within it 4. Often times we on Women’s Movement in India,
pitch the homosexuals against the homosexuality is not abnormal
Tirupati, 1994, in Nivedita Menon
heterosexuals and the abled against and that lesbians are not (Ed) Sexualities, New Delhi: Women
the disabled. Sexual acts, which Unlimited
result in reproduction, are valued women who have faced
2 Cited in Lesbian Emergence:
higher than those which do not. violence at the hands of men. Campaign for Lesbian Rights. 1999. A
Violence and victim narratives are
The important change is that Citizen’s Report, New Delhi 
listened to more often than stories
of pleasure 5 and identity. 3 Memorandum in Lesbian
I won’t be one of a fringe Emergence: Campaign for Lesbian Rights.
Are we able to understand that group saying this. There 1999. A Citizen’s Report, New Delhi 
people have sex or do not have sex 4 Rubin G. 1984. Thinking Sex:
for various reasons? That desire will be many more who will Notes For a Radical Theory of the
and lust are good enough, that be loudly proclaiming Politics of Sexuality in Carole S. Vance
people may exchange money for (Ed) Pleasure and Danger: Exploring
sex, that people may be in multiple this and many other issues Female Sexuality, London: Routledge
relationships, that identities are relating to sexuality. and Kegan Paul
transient and sexuality fluid? 5 Vance, C. 1984. Pleasure and
Danger: Toward a Politics of Sexuality
I continue to do the work that I do in Carole S. Vance (Ed) Pleasure and
because although some bits of the world have changed, Danger: Exploring Female Sexuality, London: Routledge and
there is a lot more of the rainbow that I want to grasp and Kegan Paul
share with people. I want to be able to live in a world where
I do not sit in judgment of others; where I can recognize
consent and consensual relationships even though they may
clash with my world view and I can learn that not everything
can be best described as black and white, but also as grey,
light grey, dark grey and many other permutations. And I
do what I do since I believe that change has happened in
my lifetime in the world of sexuality and that I still have
to learn and challenge myself and others if I want to move Pramada Menon is a queer activist and an independent
anywhere closer to the ideal that we can create. consultant working on issues of sexuality, sexual rights,
gender, violence against women and organizational
development and change. She has spent the last two
decades of her professional life questioning, challenging,
and seeking answers to questions of women’s human
rights. She would like to develop new ways of learning and
teaching and is currently exploring ways in which humour
can be injected into the world of social change through her
stand up performance Fat, Feminist and Free. Contact her at

in plainspeak · ISSUE 1 · ‘09 · 33

reel review

the lightning testimonies


Why is one image different from the other? Why does

an image seem to contain many secrets? What can
release them so as to suddenly connect with many
unknown lives. The Lightning Testimonies reflects upon
a history of conflict in the Indian subcontinent through
experiences of sexual violence. As the film explores this
violence, there emerge multiple submerged narratives,
sometimes in people, images and memories, and at
other times in objects from nature and everyday life that
stand as silent but surviving witnesses. In all narratives
the body becomes central - as a site for honour, hatred
and humiliation and also for dignity and protest.

As the stories unfold, women from different times

and regions come forward. The film speaks to them
directly, trying to understand how such violence is
resisted, remembered and recorded by individuals and
communities. Narratives hidden within a blue window
or the weave of a cloth appear, disappear and are then
reborn in another vocabulary at another time. Using
a range of visual vocabularies the film moves beyond
suffering into a space of quiet contemplation, where
resilience creates a potential for transformation.

in plainspeak · ISSUE 1 · ‘09 · 34

reel review

A review of THE Lightning Testimonies / Roshan Bayan

Amar Kanwar / India / 113 minutes / 2007


Can words express what images accomplish?

Can images help comprehend what actually happened?
Can silence be heard,

You have to see The Lightning Testimonies to know that the

answers are in the affirmative. Ever since I have seen this
documentary in 2008, I have wanted to see and show it
again and again.

Created and directed by Delhi-based filmmaker, Amar

Kanwar, The Lightning Testimonies is not only superb in
technique and cinematic style, but also in the interplay of
its text and sub-text. A film that I would put at par with or
perhaps even above another favourite film, Khamosh Pani…
this is a must watch!

From the strokes on the canvas to the bareness of the body,

from beneath the surface and above it, from the shadows
of silence to the screams behind the walls…this is about
the testimonies of violence that is ‘herstory’. A 2007
production, the film will take you on a journey of sexual
violence that’s experienced by women over different time
lines, different locations, converging on the crossroads
again and again

This film is prose amidst poetry. A juxtaposition of the

individual voice with that of the attacker; of the onlooker

in plainspeak · ISSUE 1 · ‘09 · 35

reel review

with that of the protector…a myriad colours that paint 1947. The voice of a woman who lived the experience of
the body, in life and death. A continuum of images and partition is heard…
sounds that analyses sexual violence across the constructs
of nation, region, religion, caste, tribe, power, community, “I used to love life
and law and justice. A film that pushes the viewer in me I wanted to live
to make the connections that often, are not made, so that But I saw death staring at my face…”
the responses can be sharper, yet subtle, in the face of such
violence. Several thousands of women were abducted and
disappeared, to be ‘rescued’ on both sides of the border.
For the 113 minutes watching this documentary, I, the The rescue and restoration operations were undertaken at
viewer, am forced to ask certain important questions a very large scale. As the camera searches for the ‘rescued
through the lived experiences of several known and woman’ in the remains of a camp, it’s the same place, the
unknown women and girls across the Indian sub-continent: same time, as if standstill, lying dead with the memories of
How do we define a woman’s body? What is hidden, what 61 years ago.
should be hidden? What is safe?
I (the viewer) ask, does she want to be found, does she want
Traversing borders, external and internal, the film speaks to go back? I learn that there was no room for ‘consent’ in
of war and conflict, of patriarchy and power, of caste and the rescue process, there was no ‘space’ for independent
land, of religion and boundaries…frames within frames decisions, the respective countries decided where she
that partition women’s bodies. The filmmaker tells us that would live. I close my eyes and open them to see…
there is no chronology to violence and yet there is, in the
history that presents itself before us… Moving trains,
women and men fleeing
How does one remember? amidst darkness and dawn,
What remains and what gets submerged? silence and ‘lightning’,
rape, killing, abduction, disappearance
...these words appear in the film time and again, to build for family honour and religion.
the analysis that the filmmaker unfolds in verse, voice and Is (was) this Nationhood?
visual. Is (was) this Freedom?

in plainspeak · ISSUE 1 · ‘09 · 36

reel review

1971. Another voice relives the memory of another Two decades of violence, countless dead, more than a
partition… million displaced, several thousand missing, and never
ending sexual attacks on women and girls. Through the
“My head still reels when I speak of this anonymous data of the statistics the film maker asks:
They set fire to the house
The scene left behind is indescribable Does the truth need a memorial image?
Not a soul stirred anywhere…”
Who is The Attacker I wonder? The man who holds the
Several thousands of women were raped by soldiers from gun? Does it matter that he is an army man or a militant?
the other side, the attackers and victims belonging to I see how sexual violence is an easy weapon of war and
the same religion. These are testimonies that make you conflict. From the doors and windows that open into a
remember the past and mark the present so that in the valley, it seems that there are no exits.
future liberation will not be traded for violence as it was in
Bangladesh, 37 years ago. 2002. They came in large numbers, armed mobs who
attacked and killed a people of one faith across cities, towns
I read the postcard in the film, from a father who asks and villages of Gujarat, women and girls were raped. They
whether his abducted daughter, who came back a day after came in full view of everyone, perpetuating hatred and
independence, could be rehabilitated by the government as genocide…to avenge the death of members of a ‘majority
a Veerangana, the brave woman. faith’. I witness the carnage.

I ask myself. . . Do the reflections on the streets, stains The differences between the filmmaker, the women and
in the courtyards, clothes on the terrace, photos in the me begin to blur, I become part of the story as I hear this
museum, speak of ‘hung lives’…Will they ever understand testimony…She was pregnant, she was the witness, she
what it means to perpetrate such violence? told the police, she was not heard, she went to court. It
took her five long years, to prove that she was raped. The
1989. Several names appear to disappear on the screen, adivasis (tribals) who lived near the place where she hid
women and girls...counting...recounting…unending that night cannot forget her, they have built a shrine on that
numbers, in one of the most militarised parts of the world, hill...the film passes across that site and life continues.

in plainspeak · ISSUE 1 · ‘09 · 37

reel review

I think again to myself… up camp…the orange tree lived to share the testimony of
Is this the ‘prophecy of silence’? 1971, of women and girls paraded naked at the church. In
1986, a soldier came to take another ‘body’, she did not
2006. The filmmaker reveals to me, multiple identities, of agree, he beat, shot and killed her, in Manipur.
caste, tribe, age, occupation, community and position.
Through the film, I am introduced to her mother who filed
A scheduled caste woman, a dalit woman, a young adivasi a case in court…it took four years to get justice. She hasn’t
woman, a woman from the barber community, a woman forgotten, she still grieves. Her friend has woven the story
panch (elected official), from across rural Karnataka, into a sarong in motifs that symbolise protest, the journey
Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh…all of people going from one court to another. Everyone wears
paraded naked before their families and communities. it commonly now, to remember her.

Sexually violated for resisting injustice and hierarchy As the film reflects on the state and its paraphernalia, the
for questioning territory and ownership state’s various laws and security procedures, I wonder who
for challenging patriarchy they really protect, in the North East or in Kashmir.
for accessing what’s rightfully theirs Who is the enemy where ‘land’ is the context and where
their land social and religious practices ‘govern’?
their resources I ask myself who is the enemy? Who determines justice?
their equal place in society
The film begins to go deeper into the body and I can see
1947, 1957, 1971, 1986, 1998, 2004. some ‘lightning’ testimonies once more. The images are
They stare at me, from Assam, Nagaland, Mizoram and now transforming. A woman disrobes as ‘Draupadi’ in a
Manipur,. They urge me to tell their story to the world… play and everyone reacts against her, questions her chastity,
her womanhood, her self-respect. A creative expression in
let it be told on behalf of all who have not yet spoken. theatre I think or really a breach in dignity?

She was paraded naked towards the church, in 1957... she And then, I am made witness to the protests in which 12
was fighting for a Naga nation. The military came and set imas (mothers) disrobed at Kangla Fort. I now become the

in plainspeak · ISSUE 1 · ‘09 · 38

reel review

woman in the story…merging voices in the film speak in

the same tone.

Weaving the testimonies of pain and resistance together, I

can see the same images in different locations or is it the
same location and different images? The film ends, but
my journey with it continues…I try and seek answers to
the film verse that has gone alongside, especially as it now
presents itself in these words…

How does one tell which image represents the ever

changing words of a testimony?

How does one remember?

What remains and what gets submerged?

The words of the filmmaker again help me out…

Does the rain remind you of the camps on both sides of

the border?
Aanchal Kapur has been working in the field of development
I hope it does, so that you don’t forget what does not and human rights for the past 18 years. She is a facilitator
remain and what emerges…Perhaps because of its hues, and trainer on organizational development, gender analysis
its subtleties, its canvas of expressions, the light amidst and programming, social analysis and activism, as well
darkness, the darkness within The Lightning Testimonies, it’s as documentation and development communication.
not easy to forget what you don’t see in this film Aanchal is the Founder and Team Leader of a not-for-profit
organization, KRITI: a development research, praxis and
communication team. She may be contacted at aanchal_

in plainspeak · ISSUE 1 · ‘09 · 39

hot off the press

Our Bodies, Ourselves: A New Edition for a New Era

Women Unlimited and The Boston Women’s Health Book Collective
2008, Rs. 450/-

radhika chandiramani

Here it is, the new OBOS, on my of experiencing the ‘voice’ of the

desk, calling me to open it and book. The book spoke clearly to
dive in. OBOS? Yes, Our Bodies, me as an equal. It made me proud
Ourselves, a book that was first of my body and my sexuality, and
written by a group of women assuaged my fears (silly ones,
in 1970 for other women. It but all of us have them!). It was
was the result of 12 women honest, compassionate, at times
regularly meeting around their funny, and at others stern – a
kitchen tables to discuss their bit like a conversation about an
bodies, health, and sexuality as Important Matter with a beloved
a result of being fed up of being friend. I had never read anything
paternalised, spoken down to and quite like it. Imagine reading that
treated as morons by doctors and ‘an orgasm can be mild like a
by men. Since then, it has gone hiccup or a sneeze’? That certainly
on to become a classic and has put it in perspective! The bottom
been published in 29 editions in line message of OBOS is that our
different languages around the bodies are our own. The body you
world. It has touched thousands have is the only one you have got.
of women’s lives, be they lone The book offers a wealth of easy-
individuals or groups of social activists. It helped create a to-understand accurate information on how our bodies
women’s health movement and changed the way that many work, what makes them sick, what to do to feel better, and
people think about health care. importantly, how all of this plays out in the larger context
of the politics of health and of sexism.
So it is not surprising that thirteen years ago, on my first
trip abroad, OBOS was on my ‘important books to buy’ In keeping with its feminist underpinnings, this latest
list. I can clearly recall the excitement of reading it, the updated 2008 special edition for South Asia, retains the
joy of knowing that everything (well almost everything) spirit and much of the content of the earlier editions and
that I wanted to know about women’s health, sexuality and begins with, ‘For women, life can often seem like a beauty
well-being was there between its covers, and the wonder pageant’, going on to say ‘Being born female automatically

in plainspeak · ISSUE 1 · ‘09 · 40

hot off the press

makes us contestants, whether we like it or not.’ From OBOS has sections on a range of issues: Taking Care of
Brazilian bikini waxing to hysterectomies, it’s all about Ourselves, Relationships and Sexuality, Reproductive
how we make decisions about what to keep and what to Choices, Childbearing, Growing Older, Medical Problems
rid ourselves of. We can describe facts about our bodies and Procedures, and, Knowledge is Power. The book
and our experiences, but each of us experiences these includes material relevant to the realities of women in
in different ways, and that is fine. OBOS affirms and South Asia. Don’t be daunted by its size. At around 800
celebrates these differences. Literally hundreds of people pages it is a hefty tome, but remember you don’t have to
(including men) have contributed to this book, sharing read all of it at once. Dip into it as you like – each section
their own experiences and stories. can stand alone and you don’t have to proceed in a linear
manner. Another advantage is that there is an accompanying
It is an especially important book for us in this region. website that you can go to for additional information on
In countries where matters of sexuality are not openly specific topics that interest you.
spoken about, many young women do not know that the
vagina is different from the urinary opening or that they The clean white pages of the latest OBOS smile at me. The
possess a clitoris. If you are one of them, using this book, older OBOS is yellowing, its pages are brittle, but it still
you can take a self-guided tour of your sexual anatomy and has a ‘most loved books’ smell and will always be cherished.
make friends with hitherto unexplored parts of your body. Thirteen years ago, I bought it in London for 17 pounds, a
Women who are not aware of the lines between an act of fortune well spent. Now, you can get your copy in India for
consent and one of abuse, will find a friend who patiently a special price of Rs 450/- Buy it for yourself, your partner
defines these along with providing markers of what to (regardless of gender), your teenaged daughter, your mum,
look out for in a relationship. For those worrying about your granddaughter. Each will thank you for it.
ageing, please note that sexual well-being definitely does
not end at menopause, and there’s a lot to look forward The publishers of this special South Asia edition hope that
to. For women with disabilities, there is useful information by making women readers of this book into well-informed
integrated right through the book. health consumers, they will become catalysts for social
change. There is every likelihood of that happening. This is
There is something for each of us – the woman who wants a one of those books that even if it doesn’t change your life
baby but can’t conceive, the woman who doesn’t want one, (though it well might), will definitely change the way you
the woman who might have just lost one, the older parent look at your body and yourself.
coping with the fact that her kids are too busy dealing with
their own lives to pay too much attention to her needs, the An earlier version of this article appeared in The Tribune,
lesbian trying to build supportive relationships, the woman November 9, 2008
dealing with the possible loss of a breast or her uterus –
we’re all in the book.

Because sexuality is one of the ways in which women’s lives

are controlled, the book gives it a lot of attention, teaching
us not only to love our body but also how to make love to it.
Refreshingly, however, it does not follow the mantra of ‘the
more the better’. In fact, it even advises, ‘If masturbating
doesn’t bring you pleasure, trust your own preferences
and don’t do it’. Nowhere does the book degenerate into a Radhika Chandiramani, a clinical psychologist, is the
series of prescriptions. Executive Director of TARSHI. Her most recent publication
is Good Times for Everyone: Sexuality Questions, Feminist

in plainspeak · ISSUE 1 · ‘09 · 41

policy alert

Updates on the Philippines Reproductive Health Bill

Birth control is not an option for women in the Philippines. The bill aims to empower couples with the information
Studies in the Philippines show that and opportunity to plan and space their children. This will
not only strengthen the family as a unit but also optimize
• 10 Filipino women die daily due to pregnancy and care for children who will have more opportunities to be
childbirth complications educated, healthy and productive 1.

• Three out of four of these women who die are aged According to Lagman, the bill covers
15-19 years old
1 Information and access to natural and modern family
• Internationally, 99% of all women who die from such
causes come from developing countries. 2 Maternal, infant and child health and nutrition

Despite this situation there are no effective measures to 3 Promotion of breast feeding
make birth control available to people in the Philippines.
4 Prevention of abortion and management of post-
National funds are not used to buy condoms or pills, and,
abortion complications
although local governments are technically free to buy
them, many like the City of Manila will not. For years, 5 Adolescent and youth health
international organizations filled the void. But that changed
as USAID and other international organizations phased out 6 Prevention and management of reproductive tract
their contraception programs. It might well change again infections, HIV/AIDS and STDs
with the recent changes in US policy. 7 Elimination of violence against women

Every year, a group of bold legislators led by Albay province’s 8 Counseling on sexuality and sexual and reproductive
Rep. Edcel Lagman proposes the Reproductive Health and health
Population Development Act to promote reproductive
health and access to modern methods of contraception and 9 Treatment of breast and reproductive tract cancers
each year it fails to pass because of fierce lobbying from 10 Male involvement and participation in reproductive
conservative Catholics. health (RH)

in plainspeak · ISSUE 1 · ‘09 · 42

policy alert

11 Prevention and treatment of infertility and Advocates for the bill, however, maintain there is nothing
anti-Filipino about birth control. Supporters of the bill
12 RH education for the youth. represent multi-sectoral groups including church members
who recognize the significance of the bill for the overall
The opposition to the bill comes from the Government and reproductive health of women. Information and services on
church leaders who frame any discussion on reproductive reproductive health are needed to enable people to make
health and rights in religious terms, as a battle either for or informed and intelligent decisions that will: save women’s
against human life. RH is more often than not, construed lives, facilitate having children that parents can provide for,
as abortion by them and they contend that any discussion prepare the youth to handle responsibilities that go with
on reproductive health including family planning will having relationships, and empower men to realize and use
cultivate an ‘anti-life’ mentality that will eventually lead the various options available to them in planning their
to an acceptance and even legalization of abortion. In families. They further contend that the bill if brought into
a statement, the Pro-Life Caucus has also said that the execution will lower the number of unwanted pregnancies
proponents of RH were silent on the adverse effects of and therefore the rate of abortion by as much as 85%.
As shown by the 2004 Pulse Asia survey:
In lieu of modern contraception which the church
considers as against its principles, the government and • 86% of respondents support candidates with
church authorities promote what they call ‘natural’ family programs for women’s health
planning. Women are advised to purchase a thermometer,
monitor their cycle, and abstain from sex on all but their • 82% support candidates who are in favor of couples’
least-fertile days. free choice of family planning methods

As a consequence the country’s population is growing at a • 82% consider candidates supportive of a law on
rate of about 2.3% per year and poor families are growing population as worthy of their votes
fastest. The Government therefore needs to take adequate
measures (not limited to wage increases, tax breaks and • 83% favor candidates who support allocating funds
food subsidies) to meet the needs of the people. for family planning.

in plainspeak · ISSUE 1 · ‘09 · 43

policy alert

Filipino teens get a higher exposure to sex from the media Social Welfare & Development, Education, and Interior and
including the internet, magazines, TV shows, movies etc Local Government, the National Economic Development
than decades ago and yet there is no corresponding increase Authority, and the Commission on Higher Education,
in knowledge and skills on how to handle the information among others.
from the media. Information on sexuality and options for
contraception must be made available to people in general, However, it is facing staunch opposition from at least 75
and young people in particular, as peer pressure and lack members in the House and the Catholic Bishops’ Conference
of information often leads to teen pregnancies which entail of the Philippines. The bill’s authors have written to the
risks of inadequate pre-natal care, risk of abortion and fetal Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, asking for
deaths as well as risk of acquiring cervical cancer. Although a dialogue. Position papers in support of the bill have been
abortion is illegal in the Philippines, there is a high rate of written as well, notably from professors of the University
abortions which are backdoor, unreliable, and therefore, of the Philippines School of Economics, the Ateneo De
risky. Manila University, and 140 Student Councils around the
An increasing number of local government units are
also stepping up to address this need as evidenced by The struggle for the passage of the Reproductive Health Bill
the passage of RH ordinances in Aurora province, Sulu, in Congress goes on. The Reproductive Health Advocacy
Olongapo, and Quezon City to name a few. Moreover, Network had also initiated an online petition to gather one
there are units that are presently processing their own RH million signatures to show solidarity and support for the
ordinances. The Commission on Population and the Family campaign to the House of Representatives and the Senate.
Planning Organization of the Philippines, (which maintains The petition is available at: http://www.PetitionOnline.
community health care clinics that provide reproductive com/rhan2008/petition.html.
health services, including legal and medically-safe family
planning methods and maternal and child care services) has
also urged members of the media to increase its stake in
reproductive health and responsible parenthood advocacy
following an increase in population.

Besides the national legislature, RH bills have been

proposed by several local governments, and several have
passed, starting with pioneers like Aurora province and,
most recently, Quezon City. That last bill’s passage was
particularly tumultuous, with camps for and against it
aware that Quezon City is the country’s largest city and a

In the House of Representatives, the reproductive health

bill has been endorsed by four committees, namely the
Committee on Health, the Committee on Population
and Family Relations, the Committee on Appropriations
and the Committee on Rules. As of November 2008, it
already had 111 authors. It has also been endorsed by 11
1 The full text of the bill is available at http://jlp-law.com/
government agencies such as the Departments of Health,

in plainspeak · ISSUE 1 · ‘09 · 44

‘I’ column

... on how sexual rights affect one personally, and how they
are affirmed and/or violated in one’s local cultural setting.

dinesh gupta

am a person with cerebral palsy. There are my parents throughout my life. I want to be independent
more than 17 million people in the world who and also desire a special person to share the joys and
are referred to as ‘physically handicapped’. sorrows of my life with, or talk about the mental asylum
Personally, I prefer the term ‘physically in our minds that is often created from stress and ‘physical’
challenged’. fatigue. I would like to get married and have a sexual life,
but my parents do not feel that I should get married. I have
As physically challenged people, it is the socio-economic tried to bring it up with them, but they are very resistant to
hurdles that we face, that deter us the most. The ‘noble’ or the idea. Sexual relationships outside of marriage are still
‘good-hearted’ people in society usually have a so-called taboo in our society. And, even if they were okay, there are
nicer approach towards us – they treat us ‘with sympathy’. very few social spaces for people with disabilities to meet
What we are looking for is not sympathy, but empathy. and have intimate relationships.
Although there is a growing realization on the part of
the government as well as civil society that people with How do I then seek sexual satisfaction? Because of cerebral
disabilities need equal opportunities, there are certain issues palsy, I find it difficult to sexually stimulate myself. I have
which I feel need to be addressed on a social platform rather often considered using sexual aids. However, in India, we
than in the parliament. We are able to achieve some extent do not have easy access to them and even if they may be
of social participation and success with our determination available, my limited mobility makes it even more difficult
and courage, and we start analyzing everything – from our to access them. My brother travels abroad sometimes, and
ideas of success to the determination that makes our stories I have often wondered if I could ask him to get me such an
an ‘achievement’. aid, but I also wonder what he would think about me, if
I do so. Can I go to a sex worker to seek sexual services?
There are problems that seriously work against our I have considered that as well. But, I am unsure if a sex
courage and patience. For example, the fact that people worker would treat me well and with sensitivity. What do
with disabilities are not considered sexual although we I do?
also have sexual desires and fantasies like any other human
being.When children enter adulthood, they acquire a sense As any other human being, I too have the need for physical
of sexual self, in the process of growing up. In a similar and mental pleasure, but there is always a denial of the
way, people with disabilities also develop a sense of their sexuality of physically challenged people. The situation is
sexual self and their bodies. After all it is a normal part of frustrating and I wish for a change in the future.
growing up. However, in India, young people are hardly
ever encouraged to express their thoughts and feelings .
related to sexuality.
Dinesh Gupta is the Chairman and Founder of Friends
My desire for sexual intimacy may sound weird to many Organisation, a Trust that works towards self-dependence
people but this is my reality. I do not want to live only with of people with disabilities and their integration into society.
He may be contacted at friendshipclub_4u@yahoo.co.in

in plainspeak · ISSUE 1 · ‘09 · 45

did you know

what after

Pregnancy is a matter of joy for many women. It is even diet. Remember, it is not just about the baby, the pregnant
more joyful when it has been planned, keeping in mind woman’s health is equally important!
the health of both partners, their career goals, economic
stability etc. Pregnancy is often smoother when people are It is important for the woman to maintain correct posture
aware of what it entails. and protect the feet and joints, wear comfortable shoes
and clothes, rest with the feet up, and continue antenatal
Before planning a pregnancy, a woman should check for exercises. It may be a good idea to rest as much as possible
her fertility period, get necessary vaccinations and tests and avoid standing for too long and rest the legs. Walking
(Measles, HIV, Hepatitis B, Syphilis, RH Incompatibility and exercising are considered healthy, and advised for an
and Rubella) and evaluate risks after taking detailed family easier delivery process, unless prohibited by the doctor for
history for hereditary diseases such as thalassaemia and health reasons. It is also better to stay away from alcohol,
haemophilia.There is higher risk of contracting a congenital smoking and drugs during pregnancy.
disease if the previous baby or any other family member
already has it and if the woman is older than 35 years. Prenatal visits to the doctor are recommended every 4-6
weeks in the first trimester. Routine blood tests during
A woman can check for pregnancy with a home pregnancy the first trimester may be done to check for anaemia and
test kit, which is easily available in the market. If the immunity to rubella as these can be treated during the
test is positive, confirm it with a general physician. It is course of the pregnancy. It is also recommended to do an
fairly common for a pregnant woman to experience all/ HIV test even if the woman is at low risk because detection
some/ none of symptoms such as these: vomiting, nausea, and treatment of HIV during pregnancy can prevent
aversion or cravings for particular foods, mood swings and transmission of the virus to the child. An ultrasound is
irritability, fatigue, dizziness, breast tenderness, increase taken at around 18-20 weeks to check and confirm a due
in vaginal discharge and frequent urination. They may not date of delivery, check for twins or multiples and general
happen simultaneously but may be spread across the length check-up. Around the 24th to 28th week a diabetes test is
of the pregnancy. There is no reason to worry. It is also also administered to identify women who are at a higher
possible that many of these symptoms may not occur. risk of having a special form of diabetes called gestational
diabetes which develops in some women during pregnancy.
Pregnancy is a time for a woman to be more in sync with Between the 35th and 37th week, a prenatal Group B
her body. It is important to have a nutritious and balanced Streptococcus (GBS) test is done to detect a bacterium

in plainspeak · ISSUE 1 · ‘09 · 46

did you know


group called group B in the vagina, urinary opening or information about the pregnancy and the qualifications of
rectum, which if present can infect the baby at birth. In those involved in her health care. She has a right to receive
case the test is positive, the woman is given antibiotics all care in privacy, accept or refuse procedures, drugs, tests
when she is in labour. etc, choose another caregiver in case she is dissatisfied with
the present one, be informed about whether she has been
One common question that is frequently asked on the enrolled for a research study and have unrestricted access
TARSHI helpline is whether it is advisable to have to all records about her pregnancy.
intercourse during pregnancy. Penile-vaginal intercourse
is sometimes not advisable in the first three and the last If a woman is pregnant in her late thirties and forties,
two months of a pregnancy as the foetus maybe dislodged she may be treated as at high-risk. There is a higher risk
in the uterus. However, pleasure can be given and received of having a baby with Down’s syndrome and there may
through other activities like massaging and touching. The be other age related conditions such as hypertension and
couple can try out different positions as the pregnancy diabetes, but with due care and support many older women
proceeds to see what the pregnant woman is comfortable can stay healthy during pregnancy and childbirth. Women
with, in consultation with her doctor. It is important for with chronic illness or disabilities also have the right to
any sexual activity to be consensual. Unless there are clear make choices as women without disabilities. Pregnancy
instructions from the doctor to abstain, as in the case of a is not a disease, although it may be a difficult process for
difficult pregnancy, there is no reason why a woman cannot some women.
be sexually active throughout her pregnancy. Activities like
mutual masturbation and oral sex may be engaged in until There are many books, websites and videos that provide
the end of term. information about pregnancy. However, they may differ in
accuracy and it is important to refer to information that is
A woman has the right to know about all screening and positive and affirmative of women and pregnancy.
diagnostic tests that may be advised. If the tests indicate the
existence of a particular impairment of the foetus, she has Useful Websites:
the right to terminate the pregnancy within a safe period.
However, please keep in mind that all impairments are not www.about.com, www.gynob.com,
disabling. It is important for a woman to be well informed www.innerbody.com, www.kidshealth.org,
about drugs, tests and treatments. She has a right to receive www.maternitywise.org, www.motherfriendly.org,
www.1to9months.com, www.tarshi.net

in plainspeak · ISSUE 1 · ‘09 · 47

At the Resource Centre

Read In Plainspeak Online In Plainspeak is calling for images on sexuality

Every publication of In Plainspeak is for inclusion in the magazine. Poetry is also
available to download in PDF and in welcome. Submissions should be sent to
HTML format on our website – www. resourcecentre@tarshi.net.
asiasrc.org. To receive a hard copy of In
Plainspeak, send your mailing address to Visit the Resource Centre Library
resourcecentre@tarshi.net. The South and Southeast Asia Resource
Centre on Sexuality library hosts a collection
Browse our website at of classic and contemporary books on
www.asiasrc.org sexuality, fiction, newsletters, CDROMs,
The website contains information about newsletters, organisational material, electronic
Resource Centre programmes, a database of files, conference papers, journals and other
library materials, links to organisational and periodicals, on sexuality, reproductive health, and
electronic resources throughout the region, rights. The library is open to use by professionals
journals, news articles and announcements. working in the field, NGOs, academics,
You can join our mailing list through the researchers, and students.
website. The library page is hosted on the Resource Centre
website (www.tarshi.net). Users can access web
Contribute to In Plainspeak links to many useful journals, and browse the library
Calling all Writers! We want your ideas and stories! catalogue for information on materials in the library
We are inviting submissions for the next issues of In Library Hours: Monday to Thursday, 1:30 to 5:00 pm.
Plainspeak. Please indicate which section of the magazine Telephone: 91-11- 65642624
you think your article best fits. Send in your articles to
resourcecentre@tarshi.net. Remember we use gender- Give us Your Feedback!
neutral and non-judgmental language. To write for the I What did you think of this issue of In Plainspeak? We
column, please begin your first sentence with ‘ I…’. welcome your comments, suggestions, and ideas. Please
Calling all Artists! We hope to showcase a diverse range of send your feedback to resourcecentre@tarshi.net. We
images throughout the magazine in each issue. look forward to hearing from you!

in plainspeak · ISSUE 1 · ‘09 · 48


The South and Southeast Asia Resource Centre Contact Us

on Sexuality is hosted at TARSHI (Talking About
Reproductive and Sexual Health Issues). The South and Southeast Asia Resource Centre
TARSHI believes that all people have the right to sexual on Sexuality
well being and to a self-affirming and enjoyable sexuality. TARSHI
TARSHI works towards expanding sexual and 11 Mathura Road, First Floor
reproductive choices in people’s lives in an effort to Jangpura B, New Delhi, 110014, India.
enable them to enjoy lives of dignity, freedom from fear, Phone: 91-11-24379070, 24379071
infection and reproductive and sexual health problems. Fax: 91-11-24374022
It was founded in 1996 and registered under the Societies Email: resourcecentre@tarshi.net
Registration Act in 1997. TARSHI runs a phone helpline, Website: www.tarshi.net
conducts trainings and institutes, develops publications,
participates in public awareness and education initiatives,
and provides technical support to advocacy initiatives. For
more information, please visit www.tarshi.net

Editorial team: Radhika Chandiramani, Arpita Das

in plainspeak · ISSUE 1 · ‘09 · 49

in plainspeak · ISSUE 1 · ‘09 · 50