February 1, 2013


[During a question-and-answer session, an audience member asked Ms. Devi if the rape of a tribal or a low-caste woman would have garnered the same degree of national attention. She dismissed the question, saying, "I don't know why have you asked this question at all" because the issue surpassed the issue of caste or religion.]

By Pamposh Raina And Neha Thirani Bagri
Courtesy of Jaipur Literature FestivalA panel discussion on the theme, “Imagine: Resistance, Protest, Assertion,” at the Jaipur Literature Festival 2013.
The recently concluded Jaipur Literature Festival was the scene of some dissent during free-wheeling debates, but one thing virtually everyone agreed on was the need to pay more attention to women's rights.
The national outrage over the gang rape of a young woman in Delhi reverberated through many of the events during the five-day festival, which ended Monday, as participants discussed gender issues through the lens of theology, philosophy, cinema and, of course, literature. Disagreements on the definition of rape and the punishment for rape mirrored conversations happening around the country.
The tone was set by the rousing opening speech by Mahasweta Devi, the octogenarian Bengali writer and social activist, in which she reflected upon her life and her struggle to create an identity in a patriarchal society.
During a question-and-answer session, an audience member asked Ms. Devi if the rape of a tribal or a low-caste woman would have garnered the same degree of national attention. She dismissed the question, saying, "I don't know why have you asked this question at all" because the issue surpassed the issue of caste or religion.
"We should protest against all inhuman action," she said.
Michael Sandel, a political philosopher at Harvard University, led an interactive audience session about philosophical questions raised by sexual violence. He posed a range of questions, exploring the moral status of rape as opposed to other forms of violent physical assault, and asking whether couples should have the right to prenatal sex selection and whether that led to violence against women.
During this session, one male audience member said that he puts the women in his life on pedestals. A young woman responded, "I'm not a child; I don't need to be taken care of. The protection is demeaning to me."
The Delhi rape case featured repeatedly in discussions even in sessions that weren't specifically addressing the subject of sexual violence.
For instance, at a session titled "'The Vanishing Present: Post Colonial Critiques," Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, a postmodern and postcolonial theorist from Columbia University, spoke about how class-based education had caused people to internalize the culture of rape and corruption. When asked how one can imagine a victim or perpetrator of a crime in human terms, she stressed the importance of reading and learning new languages in order to create understanding.
"Reading - that is hanging out in someone else's space - makes you move out of yourself, and that is practice for the ethical," Ms. Spivak said.
In an interview with India Ink, she also said that along the Indian frontiers in the states of Kashmir or Assam, rape was not unusual. "It comes to the metropolis, and we started jumping -- that is also a question."
Pointing to the youth protests that were held across India in the wake of the gang rape, she said that those demonstrations were an urban phenomenon and that "urban radicals are not the only young" in the country.
There was "no outrage, but panic," among people, she said, noting how women were being asked not to stay out late. "What is that -- blaming the victim?" she exclaimed.
In a session that discussed the role of women in cinema, Shabana Azmi, a veteran Bollywood actress, urged the film fraternity to practice some introspection. Lewd language and voyeuristic scenes in contemporary movies had reduced a woman's body to an object of a man's gaze, she said.
She advised young actresses to make informed choices about the roles they selected and to take small steps like asking movie directors to depict them as working women.
There was a resounding consensus among the festival's participants that women themselves had to be the agents of the change they wanted in society.
During the session "Women on the Path," which explored the role of women in Buddhism, panelists said that even Buddha was hesitant to ordain women at first. It is said that he lamented the presence of women, saying that without women, his dharma would have lasted a 1,000 years.
Citing her own experiences, Ani Choying, a Tibetan Buddhist nun who is also a singer and writer, said that women were treated as subordinate and were not allowed to lead religious ceremonies. And it was only after she voiced dissent against the practice was she allowed to lead. Her message to the audience was: "Ask for your rights."
A more vociferous iteration of that advice came during a panel discussion in Hindi that challenged the notion of suppressing a woman's right to raise questions in the Indian society. Moderated by a man, the session was led by female writers and poets, including Preeta Bhargava, who earned the distinction of being the first female jail officer of Rajasthan state.
"Women need to aggressively demand their rights if they are not given to them," said Lata Sharma, a lecturer who has published extensively in Hindi.
The feminist debate at the literary festival culminated in the session titled "Imagine: Resistance, Protest, Assertion." Female authors read aloud selected portions of published works, in some cases their own and in others that of other writers, with each narrative highlighting the struggle of women in society.
Aminatta Forna, a Commonwealth prize winner from Sierra Leone, quoted from the Canadian author Margaret Atwood's "The Handmaid's Tale," which explores the theme of women's subjugation. Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, the Pakistani documentary filmmaker who won an Oscar for "Saving Face," read poetry written by an Afghan woman who was beaten to death by her husband. Nirupama Dutt, who writes in Punjabi and English, recited her own poem, written during the days of militancy in Punjab, about a group of women enjoying an evening drink.
Urvashi Butalia, a writer and co-publisher of India's first feminist publishing house, read a poignant first-person account by Sohaila Abdulali, a gang rape survivor. Ambai, a Tamil feminist writer also on the panel, read an excerpt from her novel that described protests in Mumbai after the rape of a woman.
A concluding performance by the artist Maya Krishna Rao numbed the audience. Through a powerful monologue, she urged that women be given their basic rights: freedom to walk the streets without being harassed and access to police officers who will listen and politicians who will act.
"I want to walk the streets, sit on a bus, lie in a park," she chanted. "I try not to be afraid of the dark."
[A spokesman for the Singaporean company declined to comment, as did the Chinese government. However, at a news briefing in Beijing on Thursday, a Foreign Ministry spokesman noted that China would “actively support anything that is beneficial to the China-Pakistan friendship.”]
The New York Times
Control of the port at Gwadar would be handed over from Port of Singapore 
Authority, Pakistan’s information minister said.
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Pakistan is handing management control of a strategic but commercially troubled deep-sea port to a Chinese company, the information minister confirmed Thursday.
The minister, Qamar Zaman Kaira, said that control of the port at Gwadar, near Pakistan’s border with Iran, would pass from the Port of Singapore Authority to a company he identified as China Overseas Port Holdings, in a move that had been anticipated for some time.
Mr. Kaira said the Chinese company would inject money into the Gwadar port, which has failed to meet the lofty goals set by the military ruler Gen. Pervez Musharraf on its completion in late 2006 and now lies largely unused.
“We hope that the Chinese company will invest to make the port operational,” Mr. Kaira said, according to Reuters.
A spokesman for the Singaporean company declined to comment, as did the Chinese government. However, at a news briefing in Beijing on Thursday, a Foreign Ministry spokesman noted that China would “actively support anything that is beneficial to the China-Pakistan friendship.”
The fate of Gwadar, once billed as Pakistan’s answer to the bustling port city of Dubai, United Arab Emirates, has been a focus of speculation about China’s military and economic ambitions in South Asia for the past decade. Some American strategists have described it as the westernmost link in the “string of pearls,” a line of China-friendly ports stretching from mainland China to the Persian Gulf, that could ultimately ease expansion by the Chinese Navy in the region. Gwadar is close to the Strait of Hormuz, an important oil-shipping lane.
But other analysts note that Gwadar is many years from reaching its potential, and they suggest that fears of creeping Chinese influence might be overblown. “There may be a strategic dimension to this, where the Chinese want to mark their presence in an important part of the world,” said Hasan Karrar, an assistant professor of Asian history at the Lahore University of Management Sciences, referring to the management transfer at Gwadar. “But I wouldn’t go so far as saying this implies a military projection in the region.”
The supply lines for the American-led coalition forces in Afghanistan mainly pass through ports farther east in Pakistan and do not involve Gwadar.
Of greater likely concern to Washington was another announcement Pakistan made on Wednesday, saying that it was pressing ahead with a joint energy project with Iran that the United States strongly opposes.
Mr. Kaira said the cabinet had approved an Iranian offer to partly finance the 490-mile-long Pakistan segment of a planned gas pipeline between the two countries. Last year, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton warned that the project could lead to possible sanctions against Pakistan.
But political analysts in Pakistan saw the announcement as part of Pakistani election politics, and there is wider skepticism that Pakistan can bring the $1.6 billion project to completion. At present Pakistan is suffering from a major energy crisis, including a severe gas shortage that has caused lengthy lines outside fuel stations.
The gas pipeline, which enjoys broad public support, represents positive news for the government of President Asif Ali Zardari before it dissolves in preparation for elections that are expected to take place in May. And although Iran has offered a $500 million finance deal to help Pakistan build its part of the pipeline, Western officials say the Zardari government will still struggle to meet its part of the deal.
Both the Gwadar port and the pipeline to Iran offer the potential of reducing Pakistan’s strategic dependence on the United States, but as yet have failed to deliver.
Commissioned by General Musharraf, the Gwadar port project initially set off a flurry of excited property speculation in what was once a quiet fishing village. Developers presented flashy plans for luxury apartment blocks amid talk the port could rival Dubai.
China paid for 75 percent of the $248 million construction costs, while the Port of Singapore Authority won a 40-year contract to manage the facility, which started in early 2007. General Musharraf assuaged critics of the Chinese involvement by saying the port would not be put to any military use.
But Pakistan has failed to build the port or transportation infrastructure needed to develop the port, the property bubble has burst and, according to the port management Web site, the last ship to dock there arrived in November. “The government never built the infrastructure that the port needed — roads, rail or storage depots,” said Khurram Husain, a freelance business journalist. “Why would any shipping company come to the port if it has no service to offer?”
According to reports in the Pakistani news media, the Port of Singapore Authority sought to withdraw from the management contract after the Pakistani government failed to hand over land needed to develop the facility.
Mr. Kaira said Wednesday that both the Singaporean and Chinese companies had agreed to transfer the contract for control of the port, but he did not give a timetable.
Bree Feng contributed research from Beijing.