Tag Archives: Edinburgh

Edinburgh to celebrate Festival of Indian Films and Documentaries

The first Edinburgh Festival of Indian Films & Documentaries (EFIFD) sweeps across Scotland’s capital city of Edinburgh from Wednesday 7th to Sunday 11th September 2016.Hosted by the Consulate General of India (Edinburgh), in association with the University of Edinburgh and Heriot-Watt University, the five-day film festival features over 30 films and documentaries from the Indian sub-continent and is being showcased across four landmark city venues. According to Festival Director, Piyush Roy, “The film festival brings to Scotland for the first time, an eclectic cinematic selection from over five decades of Indian moviemaking, featuring a vibrant mix of themes ranging from histories and human drama, faiths and philosophies, music, magic, fine arts, popular culture, politics and personal stories.”

Complementing the screenings will be Q&A sessions with participating filmmakers, seminars and panel discussions with academic experts on cinema and South Asia, exhibitions and exciting live music performances of popular and classical Indian music. Among the guests are classical musician Marianne Svašek performing a Dhrupad recital, filmmaker Nila Madhab Panda (one of the youngest recipients of India’s civilian honour, the Padma Shri award) discussing his documentary God’s Own People (also making its UK premiere at EFIFD 2016) and Swaryatra, Edinburgh’s leading Indian film music group presenting a loving live tribute to its popular musical history. God’s Own People is an intimate document of human faith narrated as an epic cinematic story, exploring the bonds between the devotees and the divine through millennium old rituals at the largest pilgrim gathering of 21st century that happened in the Eastern Coastal Indian town of Puri in July 2015. Excited about the first ever Scottish debut of an Odia language film, Mr. Panda said, “I am very pleased to have our film God’s Own People being showcased at the Edinburgh Festival of Indian films and documentaries. It is a moment of pride to have it as the festival’s opening film.”

venue-1-indian-new-wave-cinema-film-guildThe festival’s highlight is the participation, and a retrospective of some classic Indian arthouse films featuring legendary Indian actor, Om Puri, in the lead.Om Puri’s contributions and influence extend far beyond India, where Ardh Satya (Half Truths) remains to date, the biggest art house cinema blockbuster in Indian film history. He is equally known for his work in English films (East is East, West is West, My Son The Fanatic, Gandhi, Wolf, Charlie Wilson’s War, 100 Foot Long Journey), and has received an OBE for his contribution to British cinema. One meaningful aim of the festival is to celebrate and enhance the cultural connection between India and Scotland, and the UK. Om Puri’s presence will be a fantastic way to honour this connection – his retrospective will include the Bollywood Curry Western, China Gate, the critically acclaimed contemporary Basu Bhattacharya classic, Aastha: In the Prison of Spring, Ardh Satya and the rarely available early Indian New Wave cinema classic, Susman (Essence), personally sourced by Om Puri from its director, Shyam Benegal.

venue-2-scottish-premieresFinally, making their UK premieres at EFIFD 2016 are three exciting new features from three regional Indian language cinema industries in tandem with the festival’s focus on highlighting the other movie making industries in India, beyond Bollywood. These are:

– Nachom-ia Kumpasar: A Konkani love story set in the 1960s, directed by Bardroy Barretto, this UK premiere at EFIFD celebrates Goa’s unique musical legacy shaped by Portuguese influences.

– Shaheb Bibi Golaam: A riveting new age Bengali drama set in Kolkata featuring a contract killer, a housewife and a taxi driver in an unusual game of chance and revenge by critic turned filmmaker Pratim D. Gupta.

– Ekk Albela: Set in the Hindi film industry’s golden era of the 1940s and 50s, this acclaimed Marathi biopic by Shekhar Sartandel (featuring Vidya Balan) profiles its first male action hero and dancing star, Bhagwan Dada.

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The 2016 Edinburgh Festival of Indian Films & Documentaries will be a week of memorable movie memories with some of the most sterling films from Planet Earth’s most prolific cinema industry.

The festival’s event listings, film trailers and links for ticket purchases can be found at the official EFIFD Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/EFIFD

Follow EFIFD on Twitter: https://twitter.com/EFIFD

EFIFD 2016 Trailer: https://youtu.be/5HlkOvFQDbg

This post was written by Piyush Roy.

Piyush is a PhD candidate in South Asian Studies at the University of Edinburgh. He is a film studies scholar and has won the Best Film Critic (Special Mention) Award at the 60th Indian National Film Awards in 2013. 

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University of Edinburgh to celebrate Dalit History Month

routes and FB Dalit History

Caste is a very complex social phenomenon. Typified by social stratification and preserved through endogamy, it designates ritual status in a hierarchy where everyday social interactions are based on cultural notions of purity and pollution. The caste system functions on the premise of structural inequality in which some people have high status, whereas others are deemed to be impure. Dalits (formerly Untouchables) are integral to the system even though they are mistakenly referred to as ‘outcastes’. Relegated as ‘polluted’ and inferior human beings, they are ostracized socially, politically, and economically, and endure myriad forms of discrimination.

Whilst caste is sometimes perceived as a South Asian phenomenon, this impression overlooks the fluid nature of caste, which transcends specific cultural contexts. After all, caste discrimination extends beyond both religious and national environments. It affects approximately 260 million people worldwide, the vast majority of whom live in South Asia.Experiences of caste-based discrimination among South Asian migrants in the United Kingdom, Europe and North America has long remained hidden but is now surfacing within the public domain as victims increasingly assert themselves. This has attracted media attention as well as legal and institutional inquiries. The United Kingdom and European Union have begun to address the issue, that latter of which recently passed a resolution designating caste-based discrimination as a human rights abuse. Given this, we feel that caste-based discrimination must be approached as a global phenomenon.

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on minority issues, Rita Izsák-Ndiaye during her presentation of the first comprehensive UN report on caste-based discrimination to the Human Rights Council on March 21, 2016 said, “ This is a global problem affecting communities in Asia, Africa, Middle East, the Pacific region and in various diaspora communities.” She also stressed that “caste-based discrimination and violence goes against the basic principles of universal human dignity and equality, as it differentiates between ‘inferior’ and ‘superior’ categories of individuals which is unacceptable.” Ms. Izsák-Ndiaye warned that discrimination leads to extreme exclusion and dehumanisation of caste-affected communities, who are often among the most disadvantaged populations, experiencing the worst socioeconomic conditions and are deprived of or severely restricted in the enjoyment of their civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.

Why Dalit History Month?

Taking into account this emerging scenario, we feel it is important for us as scholars working on South Asia with a special emphasis on Dalit scholarship to aid in the dissemination of Dalit history. Dalit movements and Dalit literature were highly influenced by Black history. Scholarship on black history month shows us that it was through the widespread dissemination of black history during Black History Month and elsewhere that a social consensus on racial discrimination and injustices of slavery came to the fore. Likewise, there have been attempts within India and elsewhere to replicate the tradition of Black History Month. Such efforts, we believe, will help non-Dalits within India and abroad to understand and address pressing issues related to social discrimination based on birth.

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Dr. B.R.Ambedkar with the women representatives at the Depressed Classes conference held in Nagpur on July 8, 1942.

The common-sensical view that existed and still exists is that Indian history was upper-caste male dominated which also became celebrated as part of the nationalist history. Going against this tradition and by talking about ‘History from Below,’ the Subaltern Studies Scholarship altered historiographical practices by recording narratives of people from the margins such as peasants. However their scholarship came under strong criticism because it elided the question of caste and its history. Today, Dalit Studies is an emerging field of scholarship that raises such questions and discusses those omissions. It draws upon inquiry into the subjective experiences and cultural practices of Dalits, which enables us to understand how Dalits negotiate with the state, engage tenets of democracy, their contribution to nation building, and how they claim the public sphere.

Scholarship on Dalit History is a form of cultural politics that attempts to transform the ways in which Dalits represent the past. Dalit history functions within the realm of a politics of recognition that, by producing counter narratives, challenges and subverts dominant narratives; phrased differently, it tells an alternative story. Though Dalit histories are replete with stories of discrimination, atrocities and injustices, it also celebrates the achievements of the dispossessed who struggle against stacked odds to live a dignified life of equal status.

Given the fact that University of Edinburgh is committed to diversity and recognizing voices from the margins, we are organising events in the School of Social and Political Science to celebrate April as Dalit History Month. This attempt is aimed at making the University of Edinburgh acknowledge as an institution the significance of the caste question. There are critically important forums that address Racism and Xenophobia, Black Lives Matter, and LGBT History, but Caste does not factor into any of these existing discussions and, therefore, we feel that it is important to bring caste to the fore in order to contribute to and further enrich these critical conversations through commemoration of Dalit History Month. Following the success of the anti-Apartheid movement as a global phenomenon, we feel that anti-caste movements should have a global outreach. Celebrating Dalit history month at a time when we are celebrating B.R.Ambedkar,s 125th birth anniversary would be a fitting tribute to multifaceted leader who was the chief architect of Indian Constitution, a legal luminary, statesman, political and social theorist and above all a crusader for social justice.

This post was written by Karthikeyan Damodaran.

Karthikeyan Damodaran is a doctoral candidate at the University of Edinburgh. His research focuses on caste processions and commemorations in Tamil Nadu, and his interests include, identity politics, social movements, caste and class, film studies and urban studies.

On whose behalf? Sex work in Scotland and the need for proper debate

At the end of July, it emerged that sex workers had not been invited to an official meeting concerned with a proposal currently before the Scottish Parliament to criminalise the purchase of sex in Scotland.

Speaking to the Herald, Neil McCulloch of SCOT-PEP – Scotland’s leading sex workers’ rights organisation – expressed the group’s frustration at being barred from the meeting, despite previously having been invited to similar debates. ‘Disastrous as this legislation would prove in Scotland,’ McCulloch commented, ‘we nevertheless sought to play a constructive role in discussions and are shocked to have been excluded entirely.’ Speaking on the same issue to The Courier, a sex worker called Cat commented, ‘It’s outrageous to hold a meeting to discuss sex work and to specifically exclude sex workers and sex worker-led organisations.’

SCOT-PEP’s frustration is compounded by the fact that this is not the first time they have been excluded from such meetings. The organisation argues that the recent decision to bar them from discussions is symptomatic of a much wider problem with the debate on criminalisation: the silencing of sex workers. ‘Would you have a meeting to discuss whether to legislate supposedly to help any other marginalised group and yet explicitly bar them and their representatives from the discussion?’ asks McCulloch. ‘It can’t be right for a politician to try to work in this way, without even wanting to hear the voices of the people most directly affected.’

Rhoda Grant MSP, architect of the 2012 Criminalisation of the Purchase of Sex (Scotland) Bill, explained the recent decision to exclude SCOT-PEP, claiming that the meeting was ‘for those who support the principles of criminalising the purchase of sex.’ In Scotland it is possible for a consenting adult aged 18 or over to have sex with another consenting adult in return for payment without any offence being committed by either person; the proposed bill would make it a punishable crime to buy sex. Pro-criminalisation campaigners believe that such a move would reduce demand for sex work and thus sexual exploitation.

The debate on criminalisation aside, it is unfathomable that in a society that aspires to be among the fairest and most inclusive in the world, policies are being discussed and formed on behalf of groups without considering their opinions and experiences. When news first broke of Grant’s Bill, an article in The Skinny pointed out that if an MSP put forward a bill affecting LGBT communities but refused to include LGBT voices, there would, quite rightly, be outcry. The need for proper debate is especially important as the Bill has not yet passed (although its passage looks increasingly likely without the opposition of the late Margo MacDonald, one of Scotland’s leading sex workers’ rights campaigners, who passed away on the 4th of April).

The debate over the visibility and legality of sex work in Scotland is, of course, part of a much wider and complex conversation about the moral status of sex work, reflected in the varying policies across the globe. In New Zealand, all activities connected with selling sex have been legal since 2003; whereas, in parts of Europe, the United States and India, an ‘end demand’ agenda has gained ground in recent years, resulting in a series of policy changes aimed at restricting the movement of sex workers and criminalising clients. The movement to stamp out demand for sex work in Scotland is merely one part of this global policy conundrum.

Despite this, the recent crackdown on sex work in Edinburgh – evidenced by brothel raids and an increasingly influential criminalisation lobby – is surprising as it succeeds a twenty-year period of tacit tolerance towards sex work and, importantly, engagement with sex workers’ rights organisations. In the early 1980s, when increasing supplies of heroin and high youth unemployment gave Edinburgh the unlikely reputation as the ‘AIDS capital of Europe’, the City Council responded by implementing a policy of ‘harm reduction’ towards sex work and the use of intravenous drugs. It was as part of this pragmatic response that the Council established an informal (non-harassment) tolerance zone for sex work in Leith – a former port area to the north of the city – and a tacit agreement between the Council, sauna owners and the police which allowed sex workers to practice their trade relatively safely.

Until recently, the famed ‘model of tolerance’ was widely considered a successful strategy for reducing harm, both towards those involved in sex work and the wider public. Saunas – although by no means problem free – became a part of Edinburgh’s ambivalent identity, accounting for the city’s reputation as one of the UK’s top destinations for sex tourists. However, national and international pressure to criminalise the sex industry, combined with changes in police structure and ideology have placed Edinburgh’s model of tolerance under strain.

A major influence on the drive to criminalise sex work is the newly-merged national police force, Police Scotland, which came into force in April 2013 and saw control of law enforcement in the capital effectively transferred to Strathclyde, where a ‘zero tolerance’ policy towards sex work has long been in place. Just two months after Police Scotland became operational raids took place across 13 venues in Edinburgh, 11 of which were licensed as saunas and widely acknowledged to be operating as brothels. Sex workers and proprietors were arrested and six of the saunas had their licenses immediately suspended.

The stated justification for the operation was intelligence of ‘criminal activity’, including reports of drug offences and human trafficking.  Reports of foreign nationals being strip-searched, held without food or water and questioned by UK Border Agency officials suggest, however, that a variety of agendas were at play. In particular, these raids have been seen as an attempt to crack down on ‘illegal’ immigration.

Following a public consultation towards the end of 2013, the Council also decided in February of this year not to renew licenses for the remaining saunas; council officials explained that saunas will not be automatically closed but will be allowed to continue unlicensed. Several women’s organisations, such as Zero Tolerance, welcomed the decision, explaining that, rather than minimising harm, the licensing system had facilitated the sexual exploitation of women.

Sex workers’ rights campaigners, on the other hand, argue that removing licensing legislation will place sex workers at greater risk by forcing them to work in unregulated flats where they will be more vulnerable to unsafe sex, violence and exploitation. Indeed, since the decision to remove sauna licenses in February, sex workers from Edinburgh have spoken out about their fears of walking the streets or working in flats alone. Sarah, a sex worker from Edinburgh, recounted her ordeal of being beaten and raped by a client as she worked alone from a flat in Perth in central Scotland – something many more sex workers are being compelled to do due to a lack of safe working spaces following the decision to remove sauna licenses.

Alongside changes in policing, an international and national movement to tackle sex trafficking and organised crime is adding to the pressure for more punitive policies towards sex work. According to an inquiry conducted in 2011 by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, Scotland is trailing behind the rest of the UK in human trafficking convictions; and with the upcoming referendum on Scottish independence, politicians are under pressure to appear tough in the battle against ‘modern-day slavery’. The referendum is also likely to be among the reasons why Scottish politicians are proposing a wide-ranging anti-trafficking Bill which will define the crime of human trafficking in Scots law for the first time.

But while many believe that the answer to sexual exploitation in Scotland lies in the criminalisation of the sex industry and increased law enforcement – including legislation on human trafficking – sex workers’ rights activists believe that criminalising the purchase of sex will drive issues of exploitation underground and further stigmatise sex workers. It’s naive to believe that criminalisation will stop people from selling sex; if the Bill is passed, sex workers will likely move into unregulated flats where they will be exposed to increased risk of violence, HIV infection and extortion from police and other third parties.

Although there are considerable difficulties in collecting reliable data about the experiences of those who work in one of the world’s most stigmatised industries, there is some evidence to support the fear that criminalisation will have negative consequences for those it claims to protect: SCOT-PEP claims there was a 95% rise in attacks on street-based sex workers in Edinburgh following Scotland’s decision to introduce penalties for kerb-crawling in 2007. Jean Urquhart MSP, Independent MSP for the Highlands and Islands region, also believes that criminalising the purchase of sex will further stigmatise sex workers, making it even more difficult for them to come forward to report crimes such as trafficking and child sexual exploitation.

The meeting at Scottish Parliament also came just days after  Norman Fowler – former Health Secretary who led the UK’s response to the emergence of HIV/AIDS in the 1980s – remarked at the 20th International AIDS Conference in Melbourne, Australia, that sex work should be decriminalised in the UK to slow the spread of HIV and combat prejudice. Fowler’s new book, Don’t Die of Prejudice, documents how discrimination and stigma against sex workers, as well as HIV-positive people, drug-users and gay people, is hindering the world’s fight against AIDS.

It is for these reasons that the failure of MSPs to engage with SCOT-PEP, or any other sex workers’ rights group, raises alarm bells. At a time when arguments should be heard in equal measure, in order to ensure policies achieve their stated aim of safeguarding vulnerable individuals, one of the most important voices in the debate is being silenced.

This post was written by Lauren Wilks.

Lauren Wilks is a PhD Candidate in Sociology at the University of Edinburgh and an Editor at Routes. Her research focuses on the experiences of female migrant workers in the informal economy in Kolkata, India, and is funded by the ESRC. Previously, she was a Student Fellow with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. L.Wilks@sms.ed.ac.uk

Image Source: CC Licensed image by Mikasi, via Flickr