Improving Sanitation: Making Videos in South Delhi

The opening credits read: “We want to get our voices heard.”

Telling a story from the perspective of four girls in South Delhi, a short film about safety and health risks posed by poor sanitation came from a projects put together by Feminist Approach to TechnologyThe organisation seeks to empower girls and women with the tools needed to advocate for their communities, in this case hoping to help change the local sanitation situation. This video was a finalist at the Youth Voices Adobe Aspire Awards.

Economic growth remains a priority for India’s government but, according to a Time Magazine report,

Out of the world’s estimated 7 billion people, 6 billion have access to mobile phones. Far fewer — only 4.5 billion people — have access to working toilets.

Sub-par sanitation conditions negatively affect girls in particular, where girls may leave school if there are not sex segregated toilets (UNHCR). But getting those who are most affected to explain the problem requires more than a report, and this is where an organisation like FAT steps in.

FAT’s tech centre gives students the space to explore a variety of multimedia tools. The film was a collaboration with Voices of Women Media to teach young women in the slum communities of South Delhi to utilize the power of media to address and question the poor conditions of public toilets in their communities, and empower them to demand better amenities from the local government. As Shambhavi Singh, FAT’s Communications Associate, said

We want the girls to address issues such as the lack of safety, health and hygiene—which are a lack of basic human rights… In the long term, we hope these tools and skills will empower them to use media and laws such as the Right to Information Act to ensure that their broader community get the full benefit of government programs meant for urban individuals with low socio-economic status.”

The training is part of a six-month project beginning this coming fall. There will be around 25 girls participating in the program, attending sessions twice a week. Each girl will create her own work focusing on the issue of the lack of toilets in their homes using photography, radio and video. The participants will then be allowed to choose if they wish to reveal their identities, or use actors and other techniques to stay anonymous. After creating their own works, participants will show the videos through in various organized screenings.

Girls engage with technology

The tech center is doing more than just teaching girls how to use a camera, but they are also providing a space to advocate for themselves. Raising awareness around health, hygiene and safety of young girls in urban slums of India and how this affects women’s rights worldwide. VOW and FAT plan to build community support in order to put pressure on local government authorities to improve the condition of public toilets.

“We hope to change the situation by organizing the screenings in the community area and other major forums in Delhi,” says Singh, where the plan is also to engage the municipalities and local governments and submit RTIs (Right to Information petitions) in order to make local government bodies accountable.

“Seeing Like a Feminist” Book Should Be Required College Reading

Lady in the Ivory Tower post by Lakshmi Sarah on May 6, 2013 – 11:43am; tagged academiaacademicsbooksIndia.

 

Some books are easy to read, yet stay with you long after you’ve finished the last chapter. Nivedita Menon’s Seeing Like a Feminist(Penguin/Zubaan, 2012) is a timely work that explains a complicated subject without over-simplifying it.

 

When one “sees” the world like a feminist, Menon writes in her introduction, it is like “activating the ‘reveal formatting’ function in Microsoft Word. It reveals the strenuous, complex formatting that goes on below the surface of what looked smooth and complete.”

Reading Seeing Like a Feminist made me think: what if we all, especially in academia, thought like feminists? What would the world look like then? To be a feminist is to understand the position of the powerless, as Menon writes, “to imagine occupying the marginal, relatively powerless position with reference to every dominant framework that swallows up the space at the centre.”

Menon is a professor of political thought at Jewaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. whose previous books include Recovering Subversion: Feminist Politics Beyond the Law (2004). She divides Seeing Like a Feminist into six main chapters: Family, Body, Desire, Sexual Violence, Feminists and Women, and Victims or Agents. Menon relates each of this big issues to a simple dynamic: choice.

The book is definitely aided by Menon’s position as a woman who has lived with India’s legal and cultural systems. As she points out, the Indian penal code criminalizes sexual activity that is “against the order of nature” (whatever that means). Menon’s perspective is powerful, precisely because it is based on feminist scholarship and debates in what she calls “my part of the world.” She highlights many non-Western assumptions and goes beyond other Zubaan books that have a historical focus. The book looks “directly on the gendered nature of power.”

In the end, like Rainer Maria Rilke’s quote on loving the questions themselves, her aim is not to provide answers, but new questions. Menon wants each to shift her or his lens. To see like a feminist is “not to stabilize, it is to destabilize. The more we understand, the more our horizons shift.”

If only Seeing Like a Feminist was required reading for all college students—and professors.

 

Read the rest of this guest blog series on feminism in academia.

Jew in a Box Exhibit is Controversial, But Not Offensive

A museum in Berlin is showcasing a new, more personal kind of art: a Jew in a box. Yes it sounds absurd and strange, but despite the controversy it has sparked, it is actually a creative way to allow people to discuss a difficult topic.

After Norway’s Tea with a Muslim campaign, what’s so strange about asking questions to a Jewish person in a museum?

These days it is easy for one to ignore the people standing in line at the grocery, bank or any public space. Creativity is needed to encourage interaction, and this exhibit does just that.

The exhibit at Berlin’s Jewish Museum is called “The Whole Truth … Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Jews” and in addition to the “Jew in a Box” there are interviews with rabbis and excerpts of Curb Your Enthusiasm and even a handwritten sign from a New York restaurant that reads “THE CHINESE RESTAURANT ASSOCIATION OF THE UNITED STATES WOULD LIKE TO EXTEND OUR THANKS TO THE JEWISH PEOPLE. WE DO NOT COMPLETELY UNDERSTAND YOUR CUSTOMS… BUT WE ARE PROUD AND GRATEFUL THAT YOUR GOD INSISTS YOU EAT OUR FOOD ON CHRISTMAS.”

The New Yorker describes Connecticut native, Bill Glucroft’s experience of serving as the “Jew in a box.”

As he said, “When I heard I was going in the box, the first thing I thought of was Eichmann,” said Glucroft. “The next thing I thought of was Justin Timberlake.”

“Most Germans don’t know any Jews,” he added. “As a young twenty-first-century Jew, I don’t want to be defined solely by the Holocaust.”

The museum’s curator, Michal Friedlander an American-born German Jew hopes that “The Whole Truth” will help Germans challenge anti-Semitic beliefs.

In the New York Times, Friedlander said most of those who criticized the show had not actually seen it. “That’s the whole point, what’s appropriate and what’s inappropriate and letting people come to their own conclusions.”

The museum defended the exhibit in a CNN video blog. 

For at least some young Germans, the exhibit proves intriguing. As Carola Jaeckel, President of a student group of the German-Israeli Society in Bamberg said, “The exhibition works with prejudices and cliches.”

Though she was disappointed by the fact that it does not go into detail, she added that, “Cliches enable an easy access to a sensitive subject such as Judaism, Antisemitism and the Holocaust for those who have not been in touch with Jews and Jewish life yet,” and she plans to visit the exhibit next week.

Picture Credit: Gawker

SecDev Foundation to Monitor Syria’s Digital Security

When Syria “disappeared” from the Internet last year, no one seemed to know exactly what had happened. Researchers later determined that thenearly-complete blocking of Internet traffic flowing and in and out of the country resulted from coordinated action by government actors. In an effort to develop more robust monitoring and analysis of events like this, the Canada-based SecDev Foundation is launching the Syria Digital Security Monitor, a site that maps and visualizes reports of disruption to critical infrastructure in Syria including internet, telecommunication, electricity and water, and reports on cyber threats.

@DSRSyria

The Syria Digital Report on Twitter (@DSRSyria)

The project is based on a crowdsourced effort that relies on reports by Syrians and extensive monitoring of Syrian social media. The data used for the monitor is captured in SecDev Foundation’s Ushahidi website and displayed on a visual timeline.

Additionally, the SecDev Foundation is sponsoring an ongoing project to support digital safety and security for Syrian civil society with resources in Arabic on secure communication tools as well as information on digital security and safety.

Developments can be followed along on Twitter via the following accounts: @DSRSyria @SMWSyria@PsiphonSyria, and on Facebook.

Tilda Swinton MoMA Sleeping: Toronto’s Queer “Bed-In” Might Prove More Artistic

You’ve heard of the sit-in, but this remix of thebed-in takes activism and art to a whole new level. I wrote last week about how Tilda Swinton sleeping in the MoMA is not art. But,Reena Katz’s exhibit, “love takes the worry out of being close: public assemblies in bed with queers” is a concept that takes art and protest to a beautifully new and thought-provoking level.

The piece converts Toronto’s Harbourfront’s Studio Theatre into a free, public hotel suite re-imagined by Reena Katz. Katz twists the famous Yoko Ono and John Lennon’s iconic picture and turns it into a Public Commons and Master Suite with LGBT folks in bed. Audiences are invited to come and go “participating in conversations, game sessions, cuddles and crafting parties for free,” according to the exhibit. Each day will feature different artists, academics, cultural workers, and musicians, exploring political issues affecting LGBT communities, ranging from intimacy and decolonization to pop culture and civic engagement, one should expect “flowers, respectful debate, radical facilitation and queen-sized love.”

What is all this lying in bed about? As Katz explains, “Though they were officially straight, Yoko and John’s infamous gesture of non-violent protest against the US-led war in Vietnam queered the idea of protest in the minds of the public.”

She adds that during a period of massive civil disobedience across the Western world, the “Bed-Ins shifted the site of dissent from raging bodies demonstrating in the street, to a bustling hotel room, packed with everyday folks, various long-haired celebrities and a pair of strong lovers who saw their honeymoon as an opportunity to model peace.”

Ono and Lennon understood how to capitalize on the potential of the late 60s, utilizing technologies such as live television and radio broadcast. Katz will be using texts, Tweets and livestreams from the bed, highlighting the interactivity of our current age. Focusing on intimacy, Katz and her crew explore the cultural resistance evident in contemporary movements such asIdle No More and LGBT Solidarity.

Reena Katz’s previous work focuses mainly on sonic information present in the human voice. In her art, she uses live and recorded talking, whispering and yelling to consider bodies as sites of knowledge, and communication as a social and political practice. Through audience participation in public space, Katz highlights the relationship between collective voice, the body politic and the empathic act of listening. Her installations and performances have been performed and exhibited in several countries around the world.

Bed-Ins as part of Hatch 2013 will take place April 9–12, 9 a.m.–9 p.m. with a Final Presentation and Discussion on April 13, 8 p.m.–10 p.m. – $10/$12 Harbourfront Studio Theatre, York Quay Centre, Main Floor. 

Students of Northeast India Protest Imposition of Hindi Language

In India, language politics have a long history. According to The Economist, the number of languages spoken in India is 438. However, the constitution recognizes only 22 scheduled languages.

Controversy arose as Delhi University has recently made it compulsory for students to study one paper in Hindi or any Modern Indian Language listed in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution (Assamese, Bengali, Bodo, Dogri, Gujarati, Kannada, Kashmiri, Konkani, Maithili, Malayalam and Manipuri). Mandatory Hindi or any “Modern Indian language“ (MIL) would be difficult for the students who speak neither Hindi nor any of the modern Indian languages.

Islamabad based Indian journalist Rezaul Hasan Laskar ‏@Rezhasan says on Twitter:

@Rezhasan (Rezaul Hasan Laskar): @rakeshmani Still no reason for folks in North India to impose Hindi on a lot of us who don’t speak the language. @MrSamratX

Students protest the imposition of Hindi and Modern Indian Languages, Image courtesy NEFIS Delhi Facebook Page

Students protest the imposition of Hindi and Modern Indian Languages, Image courtesy NEFIS Delhi Facebook Page

The North-East Forum for International Solidarity (NEFIS) organized a protest of around 200 people against the imposition of Hindi/Modern Indian languages upon the students of the North-East. It was reported in the Manipur news and Sanhati:

No one from the administration came out to meet us despite our constant appeal to discuss the issue. We were manhandled by the security outside the office and sexist abuses were hurled at women students.

NEFIS Coordinator Chinglen Khumukcham told Business Standard that the University is ill-equipped to teach the MILs so Hindi would be the automatic choice:

There would be problems even for the communities that speak MILs like Manipuri, Assamese etc because the infrastructure and faculty strength for these languages is too small to be able to cover the whole of university.

The Asian Centre for Human Rights has reportedly filed a complaint with the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) against the introduction of Hindi as a mandatory subject in Delhi University.

The NEFIS has submitted a memorandum to the vice chancellor of DU saying the imposition of Hindi or MILs upon the students of the North-East is unfair as most of these languages are alien to them. Protests on the issue have been held on March 22 and March 25. Khumukcham also said:

This gross neglect of the special needs of the students of the North-East is not a new thing. It is our observation that in the framing of university polices the interests of the students from the North-East is always neglected. It is for this reason that we made this fresh instance of bias an occasion for us to rise above community lines and put forward a united protest to safeguard our common interests.

North Eastern States Of India. Image courtesy NEFIS Delhi Facebook page

North Eastern States Of India. Image courtesy NEFIS Delhi Facebook page

Tamil blog commented:

Its Good to see youth from North-East actively voicing against Hindi imposition… Hopefully youth from various linguistic groups could start networking with each other, towards our common goal of bringing constitutional amendment that no single language is sole official language of union, all 8th Schedule Languages are official language of union and the lethargy of updating 8th schedule list must be condemned and be updated regularly.

Students are now gearing up for additional protests on the 10 of April, according to Time for Change India and the Facebook Page Stop Discriminating People From the North-East India.

Tilda Swinton MoMa: Sleeping Actress Exhibit is Not Art

When I heard some lady was sleeping in a glass box and calling it art, admittedly, I was intrigued. Is it a commentary on rape culture, a throwback to the pioneering work of Coco Fusco, or a new initiative empowering women to occupy their own space?

Sadly, it is none of these. It is simply a British actress (Tilda Swinton) showing the world how she sleeps. It is a sad day for art when some random British actress can sleep in a museum and all the homeless people have to sleep outside.

The Twittersphere seems to agree with this point. As @jscottcanion says on Twitter, “How about making Tilda Swinton hang out outside Penn Station all day and letting a homeless person take a nap at MOMA? 

Andrea Peyser’s rant in the New York Post sums it up for me:

“Tilda who? Swinton, perhaps the least-known Academy Award winner this side of her home in Scotland (she won for 2007’s Michael Clayton), is vying for the kind of fame whoredom one usually cannot buy while keeping her clothes on. She’s Lindsay Lohan, minus the shoplifting. Kim Kardashian, minus the pregnancy, greed and major booty.”

It would be a funny April Fool’s joke, but sadly it is true. The details? Swinton will be sleeping in an elevated box six more times this year. But it is all unplanned, you can’t plan your weekend around a trip to the MoMA to see her sleep. Alas! The glass box includes cushions as well as a water jug. The surprise performance piece is called “The Maybe”. A source from the MoMA toldGothamist, “Each performance lasts the whole day the museum is open,” the source also said that Swinton and her box were located near the ticket collectors, but the location may change for future “performances.”

There is a British lady sleeping in a box and the MoMA has decided to deem it art. The world of art world must be running out of ideas.

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