Paternity Leave - Letter To Maneka Gandhi

The Rajya Sabha passed The Maternity Benefit amendment, which now provides 26 weeks of maternity leave instead of 12 weeks, enabling and supporting new mothers to be with their new born.  In response to questions on paternity leave, Maneka Gandhi said that new fathers wouldn't do much, and that it would be a holiday for them. link

Dear Maneka Gandhi,

Thank you for amending and extending Maternity Benefit from 12 to 26 weeks.  I am certain that this is welcome by many across the country. This letter is an invitation for you to imagine an India that enables paternity leave too.

Yes, some men might use paternity leave as a holiday. The chances are high. This simply hasn’t happened before. Just because we have paternity leave doesn’t mean that men will immediately know how to co parent in the domestic space. or be emotional nurturers. We raise our boys to be ‘men’, embodying a kind of masculinity that  often swings between numbness and rage, along with an idea of protection that polices their sisters, mothers, daughters, wives, where they protect ‘their women’ from other men. Besides ‘other men’,  sexual / gender based violence within the family goes untold , unreported, not forgotten.

Men, mobs, fists, rage, stones, war, weapon, rape.  Our bodies. What will they know what to do with a child?  They will take a holiday.

Too many generations of men and women have been raised by distant fathers , sometimes financial providers, many who beat and abuse their mothers. (There is of course little record of marital rape, which is likely to lead to another open letter to you)  Their fathers and their fathers fathers were not allowed to become their potential parent.

I write this and I am reminded that somewhere there are nurturing, and emotionally available fathers, but those are far and few.

I am still talking about paternity leave.

Everything has the potential of misuse.
Everything has the potential to set something right.

I write because I believe that one day when I do have a child, I will be a parent, a co parent  that is responsible for the child’s well being. It would be a shared responsibility and I won’t settle for less. The state must allow it too. By enabling paternity leave, you will be recognising, highlighting, emphasising, enforcing, prioritising, drawing attention to the role of both parents  in child care , mother and father. The act is not just meeting a need but also establishing a vision, a future for this country, where a child has been emotionally nurtured by both or all parents, and where you create space for men to become nurturers. They haven’t known it because they haven’t imagined it, nor encountered a role model, nor had the space. To establish a space is the first step. To learn to act in the space comes soon after. Yes , I am certain that it will be misused but it will also set the tone and vision which is needed: that which enables mothers to imagine parenting as a shared responsibility, and therefore enables women to unapologetically dream multiple identities , beyond motherhood should anyone wish to….

We are affected by one another and the choices we are allowed to make.

As someone who has witnessed and known different family structures , from single parent, two parents of the same sex, male parent adoption or surrogacy,  hetero-normative “ hum do, hamaray do “ parents, I believe in the idea of parenthood over ‘mother’ or ‘father’ , because that too is a gendered construct. However for the sake of the conversation on paternity leave, I am stepping back and into the first conversation of the mother and father. We need both maternity and paternity leave. This is about domestic labour, our idea of motherhood and fatherhood and co parenting. This is also about how the state constructs masculinities, womanhood, motherhood, and allowing it new forms and expression.

I dream of a world of shared responsibilities regardless of gender. A world where women are not denied a job over a man, because they will one day be a pregnant ‘burden’ to the workplace. A world where the domestic space or home will also be recognised as a site of labour and love, instead of what it is right now.  We have heard it before, “ I am ‘just’ a housewife ”, “ I don’t do anything, my time goes with my kids” . Motherhood is work. Home is work. It has been unpaid, invisible, undervalued work. Paternal leave has the scope to change the way we function both inside and outside the home, from ‘office’ workspace to the family kitchen (also a workspace).  I also dream of a world where men are emotionally connected, invested and not on the verge of exploding with rage. I dream of a world where we are connected, truly connected, inside ourselves and amongst ourselves.  Where we are present. Where the absent father is present. Being present in his child’s life could further create space for him to be emotionally connected with himself. That is a step towards ending violence against women and children.

We know change takes time. We know there will be misuse. We want you to envision, even if your job asks you to fire fight. Step back and imagine.

On behalf of many.

Action Hero


Akeli Awara Azaad : Freedom From Fear

Akeli . Awaara. Azaad
Alone. Unattached Wanderer. Free 

Akeli Awara Azaad : Freedom From Fear

The Right To Live, Walk, Speak, Unwarned. No Excuse For Sexual or Gender Based Violence. I Never Ask For It. 
100 Action Heroes across X places will walk #AkeliAwaaraAzaad in their cities, towns, villages, countries on September 25th. Sign up between August 15th- September 10, 2016 : email in actionhero@blanknoise.org
All Action Heroes will be connected to their city co ordinators, and sport a Akeli, Awaara Azaad T shirt ( also in four other languages). Akeli Awaara Azaad means, to be alone, an unattached wanderer and free. 

To be alone, to be wandering, to be free asserts our right to live unwarned , especially on Independence Day. We ask for freedom from fear. To live in environment of warnings , is to be told, “ if you experienced violence , perhaps
you were not being careful enough” . Warnings lead to blame. Blame leads to shame and silence.Silence perpetuates sexual violence. 

To participate , partner, associate or volunteer towards organising #AkeliAwaaraAzaad , connect at actionhero@blanknoise.org

Happy Independence Day To All Action Heroes from the Blank Noise Team! 


Qandeel Baloch

" Masculinity So Fragile, A Woman Only Needs To Breathe To Hurt It"

“I will not let Mahmood Farooqui’s act rob me of my idea of who I am,”

I have remained silent for over a year about the sexual assault/rape of an American Fulbright researcher by the founder-storyteller of the art form Dastangoi and the Peepli Live co-director Mahmood Farooqui.

But now that the fast track court trial is over, I want to speak about what I have known during this period.
First off, I would like to say that I know both the man convicted of rape by the court and the woman-victim of the rape.
I have known Mahmood Farooqui for about 5-6 years now. I was a huge admirer of his Dastangoi work. I had asked him to write an essay about this theatrical story-telling artform as intangible cultural heritage for a museum journal I was guest-editing. He is an intellectually sharp man and a creative powerhouse. After that, I began going to his home for the monthly story-telling practise sessions called baithaks. And met other members of his family and the Dastangoi team. Over the past 9 years, I have followed the Dastangoi stage performances keenly.
I am also a friend of the rape survivor, the American citizen. She and I met for the first time to have a conversation about museums – this was a few months before the incident occurred. And then after that, we became friends and met some more times. She has been coming to India for many years and is an Indophile and is an expert in languages and scriptures.
Two days after the incident occurred, the survivor messaged me and asked to meet. I was in my office. I did not know what it was about. She came over and she narrated the entire incident for two hours – in tears, anger, shock and loathing. She had been friends with Mahmood Farooqui and his wife. She had met Mahmood Farooqui for help with her research work in Gorakhpur (Mahmood Farooqui hails from that place).
She met me that day not because I am a journalist. But as a woman-friend. In her narration to me, there was a lot of shock and disbelief over what he had done to her. She wrote an email to him telling him what he did to her was wrong, and that he should know he cannot go through life doing this to other women. He replied to her email with a short apology.
But her anger and trauma did not end there. It wasn’t just an apology she was seeking.
She went back to the U.S. to be among her people, friends, family and her university system. She complained to the university. She sought legal advice. She tried to heal. She tried to process the incident mentally when she was home. Then she looked at her little niece and said to herself – “I always teach her to stand up and fight if someone harmed her. Would I ever be able to tell her that again if I remain silent now?”
Mahmood Farooqui is socially and intellectually influential. He enacts stage performances about injustice, human rights and gender. He is a Rhodes scholar. How can such a learned man ever do this, many asked.
Others said: She knew him, they were close friends. How can it be rape?
As if education and familiarity negates the act of rape automatically.
Even if I have known a man for long, a sexual act without my consent is rape. It has nothing to do with his education or his progressive support for the right causes. It has everything to do with the fundamental inability to hear and understand the meaning of the word “No.”
She said to me: “I have always been the person who owns her body and sexuality. What happened to me that night took that ownership away.”
She returned after a couple of months to India and filed an FIR.
Questions were asked about why she delayed filing the FIR. It is not always easy when you have known and trusted the perpetrator. It is easier to rush to the police station when it is a cab driver, or bus driver or stranger lurking in the shadows of the street. But when you know the assaulter – you go through several stages of coming to terms with it – shock, hurt, anger, loathing, self-questioning, shattered trust and so on.
She was also afraid of the rampant victim-shaming that goes on in India in rape cases. She wondered aloud that day if she would be able to survive the “blame-the-victim” mind-set that is so prevalent here.
And she did face that a lot during the pre-trial stage and in court. During the trial, her family in the U.S. and other places were inconsolable. She told her mother not to come to India because she did not want to expose her mother to the barbs and hostility she faced from Mahmood Farooqui's family and friends in court. She went through the court trial alone.
Overnight, a number of Mahmood Farooqui’s friends shunned her. In that circle, it was a virtual warzone and the lines were drawn over whose side you were on. The male friends and supporters of Mahmood spoke of a certain “bro-code” that needed to be upheld.
They even called her friends and asked them to “mediate” and drop the case. When we read in the newspapers how village elders and Khap elders attempt to "mediate" in rape cases, we get so angry and call them backward. But when we do it in the cities for our friends, it is part of a "bro-code."
The survivor did not think about the outcome of the trial. She is not out to get revenge or send him to jail for x number of years. Her impulse behind filing the FIR was simple – she had to act. Silence was not a choice. She wanted to believe in the law and the system. And by that mere act of believing in the system, she moved the battle forward – not just for so many other women like us but for her own path to internal recovery. She reclaimed some of her own sense of who she was.
“I will not let Mahmood Farooqui’s act rob me of my idea of who I am,” she said to me.
In this, there is a lesson for all of us. We are too familiar with the way the system works. We complain about police investigations, court trials, victim blaming and so on. But only if we keep pushing the system – and acting as if we believe that the process of justice is 100 per cent perfect – will the system eventually work.
She did not have the luxury of silence. And we do not have the luxury of cynicism.
First posted on Facebook by Rama Lakshmi


Say It Like An Action Hero

Bangalore Auto Rickshaw Action Hero Driver

Himmat Waali, Action Hero
Courageous one, Action Hero

Action Hero Hacker Tool Kit :
We ask our Action Heroes to be equipped with sticker paper ( easily available at all stationery shops), scissors and a marker.

Imagine every visual speaking reminding, repeating, reiterating in various ways , tones, languages.
"Freedom without fear. The Right to be unwarned. I Never ‘Ask For It'"

What affirmative words would you like to place over found pop culture visuals?
What would you rather every body said, instead of what they do say , you see?

Walk . Find. Stop. Write. Cut. Stick. Photograph. Send. Tweet.

Criteria and guidelines:
  1. Affirmative
  2. Affirmative
  3. Affirmative
  4. Build Action Hero Solidarity
  5. Affirmative
  6. Remember, this didn’t occur if you didn’t document it- don’t forget to take a photo and send it to blurtblanknoise@gmail.com
  7. Document
  8. Send. It did not happen unless you send it and we post it here :)


Occupy Sharing

What does it feel like when you are in the presence of someone occupying more space because of their gender?  What have you felt? Have you intervened? 

Madkam Hidme : Pledge To Not Forget

Madkam Hidme was dragged away from their home by security personnel on June 13. The next day, the police sent back her corpse. “A stark nude body wrapped in plastic,” Lakshmi, Madkam's mother said. The police released a photo that showed the body of Hidme on the ground. She was wearing a crisp, ironed Maoist uniform. The outsized pants had been rolled up neatly around the ankles. The police claim she was a Maoist , hence killed .Her mother says she was raped and killed

The police had also stopped Congress and AAP fact finding teams from visiting Sukam, the village where Madkam Hidme lived. A second post mortem report is to be submitted . There are no new press reports on the case.
Pledge To Not Forget


Action Hero Red 21 steps in. I Never Ask For It .

Action Hero Red 21

In solidarity with Action Hero Red 21, Punjab
" He was one of my closest friends. It took me two years to wrap my head around the fact that it wasn’t my fault. t is not easy when anyone who talks about a situation like this starts the conversation with what the girl did to incite this.I have had people tell me that at least you weren’t raped and people who have mocked me.There was also talk about my invitation to him about an empty classroom. " - #INeverAskForIt
Do you remember the clothes you wore when you experienced sexual or gender based violence? Your garment is your testimonial. Please get in touch at blurtblanknoise@gmail.com
Unite To Eradicate Victim Blame:Invitation To Allies and Action Heroes


When You Are Past The Auto Correct Apology : Which By The Way, You Must Deliver

To Salman Khan and anyone justifying your words
To anyone who found it funny, and or has made such statements before or is likely is to here after.
Beyond political correctness
Speak after feeling.
What , according to you, does 'a raped woman' feel?

“When I used to walk out of that ring, it used to be actually like a raped woman walking out.”
comment audio

National Commission For Women Wants An Apology From Salman Khan For The Rape Comment Within 7 Days . Shiv Sena Will Not Forgive Salman Khan If He Does Not Apologise
Singer Sona Mohapatra gets trolled with rape threats, after commenting on Salman Khan misogyny. 

To Salman Khan,
And anyone who could have said the same. 

Tell me what a ‘raped woman’ feels.

Past the public apology
The 'mistake'
'A slipped statement'
'A joke'
'Just a joke'
'Foot in mouth'
Not right
Big deal.

Tell me what a ‘raped woman’ feels.

They might stuff hollow words in your mouth
Stuff them back in our ears
Beyond shame
Right or wrong

Like a woman

Tell me what a ‘raped woman’ feels.


Also read Paromita Vohra's column " Boyz to men "