Fantastic news!

The Ministry of Environment has finally laid out a time-bound plan to tackle air pollution in 100 Indian cities.

It is a relief to hear that the National Clean Air Programme aims to reduce air pollution by 50% in 5 years. It means we have succeeded in getting air pollution being recognised as a nation-wide health emergency.

The government has also accepted that the air pollution crisis is not limited to Delhi. Now our work continues in ensuring these targets are reflected in the plan and they are followed upon.

The unwavering determination of over a lakh Indians including you has got the government listening to us. We must ensure the government acts on their promises, by getting more people to join us. So don’t forget to share!


These women helped to draft the Constitution of India

Did you know that the original Constitution of India was not in printed form but was handwritten with calligraphy in both English and Hindi? In 1950, the Indian Constitution came into being, 299 members deliberated for 2 years, 11 months and 17 days, discussing and debating not just Indian citizens’ duties, but questions of rights, freedom and equality. However, not all know that the women played an important in drafting the world’s longest Constitution.

The 15 women included some of the prominent freedom fighters such as Sarojini Naidu, Sucheta Kripalani and Jawaharlal Nehru’s sister Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit. They were freedom fighters, lawyers, reformists, suffragettes and politicians. Many of them belonged to women’s organisations and had taken part in feminist movements since 1917. Even though the women freedom fighters stood up against the British oppression, they went beyond and spoke against the social evils and fought for women empowerment.

In textbooks, when we are told about the people who built India, we are told about Ambedkar, Nehru, Gandhi, but rarely about the women who contributed too. We might know of Sarojini Naidu and Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit, but there were other women who played a significant role in envisioning the country’s future.

Ammu Swaminathan

Ammu Swaminathan, a prominent figure in the Indian Independence Movement, she was a social worker and a political activist. Swaminathan was an ardent follower of Mahatma Gandhi and actively participated in the non-violence protest led by Gandhi and became the member of the Constitution Assembly of India after the country got independence. And like others she too was slightly critical about the Constitution once it was drafted as she believed that it was very long.

Hansa Jivraj Mehta

Hansa Jivraj Mehta served in the Constitution assembly from 1946-49. She was a member of the fundamental rights sub-committee, the advisory committee and the provincial constitutional committee. On 15 August 1947, a few minutes after midnight, Mehta, on behalf of the ‘women of India’, presented the national flag to the assembly- the first flag to fly over independent India.

Hansa Mehta fought for education for all, gender equality, parity and the upliftment of women all her life. She was appointed as a member of the Executive Board at UNESCO and elected as the President of the All-India Women’s Conference.

Dakshayani Velayudhan

She was the first and only Dalit woman to be elected to the constituent assembly in 1946. She served as a member of the Assembly. At 34, she was one of the youngest members of the Assembly. Velayudhan’s life was shaped by the upheavals in Kerala society in the early 20th century. Before her birth, two of Kerala’s biggest reformers, Sree Narayana Guru and Ayyankali, had begun movements to end Kerala’s virulent casteism. They organized civil disobedience movements that defied restrictions on movement and entry to school for the depressed classes.

She was the first Dalit woman in the state to earn a degree. The stigma and institutional discrimination she faced as an educator in a government school pushed her to reconsider her career. Velayudhan was scathing about the draft of Constitution presented by Ambedkar. She found the draft Constitution “barren of ideas and principles”. The blame, she said, had to be shared by all the members of the constituent assembly who, in spite of lofty ideals, illustrious backgrounds and prodigious speeches, could not come up with an original constitution.

While in the parliament, she took up matters concerning education especially of the scheduled castes.

Begum Aizaz Rasul

Begum Aizaz Rasul was the only woman to be a member of the Constitution Assembly of India. She actively participated in the debates against separate Muslim reservations and played a major role in bringing consensus among the minority leaders who gave up their demand for reserved seats for religious minorities.

Durgabai Deshmukh

Durgabai Deshmukh was known to be strong headed women, and not only participated in Indian Independence movement but also went ahead in raising her voice against the social evils in the society. Interestingly, she was also the first chairperson of the National Council on Women’s Education, constituted by the government in 1958.

Kamla Chaudhry

Even though she was one of the 15 women members of the Constituent Assembly, there is not much data available about Kamla Chaudhry.

Leela Roy

Roy, was a freedom fighter and social worker. She backed and worked for education for women in India. She was the only woman member from Bengal to be elected to the assembly. Roy was a staunch feminist and a close associate of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. Roy resigned from her post to stage a protest against the partition of India.

Malati Choudhury

Malati Choudhury was a Constitution assembly member from Orissa. Malati Devi was a freedom fighter who Mahatma Gandhi had named, “toophani”. She put immense efforts in the upliftment of Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, other backward classes (OBC) and underprivileged sections of society.

Purnima Banerji

She was among the fearless women who stood against the British oppression alongside other leading women freedom fighters including Sarojini Naidu, Sucheta Kripalani, and Vijayalakshmi Pandit. She is believed to have completed Bachelor of Arts in jail.

Rajkumari Amrit Kaur

An ardent follower of Mahatma Gandhi, Rajkumari Amri Kaur had co-founded All India Women’s Conference in 1927. She was also jailed for her participation in the Dandi March and the Quit India Movement led by Gandhi. She was also a social activist and worked extensively in doing away with the child marriage and the purdah system.

Renuka Ray

She was appointed as the President of All India’s Women’s Conference and made efforts to advocate women rights and inheritance rights in the parental property. Before she became the member of the Constituent Assembly, she was nominated to Central Legislative Assembly as a representative of women.

Sarojini Naidu

Sarojini Naidu was one of the women who were in the forefront during the freedom struggle. She was fondly called as Bulbul by Mahatma Gandhi. She was the first women to become the governor of an Indian state. She also played a major role in establishing the Women’s Indian Association in 1917.

Sucheta Kripalani

She was India’s first woman chief minister and founder of Congress women’s wing. She sang Vande Mataram just moments before former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru delivered his Tryst with Destiny speech. She was a part of the subcommittee that drafted the constitution.

Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit

Sister of India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit was the first ever woman cabinet minister and first Asian president of UN General Assembly. She was imprisoned on several occasions while participating in the Quit India movement and other movement taken up during the freedom struggle. In 1939, she resigned from the Congress office when the British government declared that India was to participate in World War II.



40 Transgenders Apply For The Post of Constable in Chhattisgarh

New Delhi, Feb 26:  In what can be called as a watershed to mainstream the transgender people, Chhattisgarh police has decided to recruit and deploy them to combat Maoist extremists whenever needed. The decision has been taken following an advertisement by state government in which it had announced the recruitment of transgenders in police force.

According to a report of Times of India, the police have seen 40 transgenders applying for the post of constable, two weeks after the announcement. Authorities have initiated the process to fill up 2,254 posts of constables in all categories.

Speaking to the daily, a police spokesperson said that workshops have been conducted to facilitate applications from transgenders. The applicants would be recruited only if they pass the mandatory written exam and physical test.

The transgender community of Chhattisgarh comes under the other backward class (OBC) category which guarantees 14% reservation in education and government jobs. If reports are to be believed, the applicants can avail themselves of the reservation.

Last year, three transgenders officially joined the Tamil Nadu police force. Dhakshayini of Cuddalore, Prabha Mohan of Krishnagiri and Jagadeeswaran alias Nazriya of Ramanathapuram were recruited after TN Police started the process of including the third gender into the force.


Poverty and HIV in India

In India, among the most disadvantaged groups are sex workers, especially female and transgender sex workers. The two groups have time and time again reported facing stigma and discrimination at home, at work, in seeking healthcare, and in public spaces.

Income insecurity is a significant source of vulnerability that pushes female and transgender sex workers into risky sexual behaviors, increasing their vulnerability to HIV.

In my work with female and transgender sex workers in south India, the two groups reported continuous sexual and physical threats and violence from religious, health, and legal authorities. People in positions of power, including their male clients, often subject them to rape.

Even though sex work is not strictly illegal in India, sex workers remain one of the most vulnerable and marginalized groups, and continue to face criminalization. They experience discrimination and several forms of human rights violations, which increase their risk of acquiring HIV and restrict their access to healthcare and other services.

International data and research from India clearly demonstrates that even government officials misuse and target female and transgender sex workers and put them at further risks associated with HIV. For example, research carried out in Andhra Pradesh demonstrated significant links between specific police-related behaviors and HIV vulnerability. Female sex workers, the research found, at times end up having unprotected sex to avoid imprisonment. Sex workers also reported police officers seizing their condoms.


Into priesthood: on training Dalits to become priests

Does training Dalits to become priests break down caste hierarchy or create another layer of stratification?

Andhra Pradesh:  Under normal circumstances, the training of 500 Dalit and tribal youth by a conservative religious institution such as the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams (TTD), with the aim of helping them become priests in Hindu temples, would be hailed as a reformative and a revolutionary step, even in a region that has seen the worst of caste oppression symbolised by the violence against Dalits in Karamchedu and Tsunduru. For progressive Hindus, such a programme would represent long-overdue inclusive, perhaps disruptive, social engineering that could bring marginalised communities, previously barred from entering temples for fear of “impurity”, into the mainstream. Elevating a few from among these oppressed communities to priesthood, even in small neighbourhood temples of the TTD in far-flung areas of Andhra Pradesh, could serve as a reparation of sorts.

However, for status quoists, drenched as they tend to be in “pure” orthodoxy, this initiative to appoint Dalit and lower caste priests by the end of March is apparently being considered a breach of their exclusive privilege. The arguments made against the proposal appear to question whether those who eat non-vegetarian food, or have a variety of other such lifestyle habits that differ from those of the privileged class, could endure the rigours of maintaining “purity from outside and inside” and be able to chant mantras. What is conveniently forgotten is that the Supreme Court in 2015 held that caste and birth should not determine induction of priests in temples. Rather, domain knowledge, traditional codes of practice, and the Constitution’s guarantee of equality before law should be applied.

Imagine a non-Brahmin boy born to poor daily wagers, wearing the archetypal dhoti and entering the sanctum sanctorum of a local temple to render mantras with a flourish and perform pujas. This suggests that rigid, divisive caste hierarchy may be on the wane.

Despite these small steps forward, some activists describe it as “window dressing”. For Kancha Ilaiah, who is an academic and an activist, this mode of training and appointing Dalits in their neighbourhood temples would not change the basic structure of Hinduism and the “so-called tradition of following agamasastras,” or doctrine for temple rituals. “Unless Dalits, OBCs and Adivasis are trained in proper theological schools and appointed in main temples like Tirumala, Hinduism does not become a spiritual democratic system… its spiritual fascist system will continue,” he argues.

The other challenge for this initiative is to demonstrate why it is even a priority to train Dalits to become priests. Are we unwittingly creating another social layer or a “sanskritised class of purity” when what we should focus on is creating a contemporary era of scientific and rationale thinking? Didn’t even B.R. Ambedkar speak of the limitations of temple entry for Dalits? Wouldn’t the monies deployed be better spent on quality schools in Dalit and tribal habitations?