Tag Archives: violence

Burn Baby, Burn

sati 2

I read about “sati” in history class. My eleven year old mind was unable to comprehend the horror behind such an act. I, who is scared of minor burns (a fact that prevents me from being able to safely fry fish in the present time), couldn’t imagine sitting willingly on the funeral pyre of my deceased husband.

Traditionally, the idea was that of “self immolation” (upheld by examples of goddesses from Hindu mythology, like Parvati); in reality, most acts of “sati” were forced upon Hindu widows (mostly, child widows who had initially been married off to old men on their death beds) in pre 1829 Bengal. The practice wasn’t abolished in other parts of India until much later.

Nowadays, instances of “sati” are few and far between. Of course, you still have modern day versions of the practice where women die of mysterious gas explosions in the kitchen.

Not much has changed, I am afraid.

My poem, “sati,” is in Diverse Voices Quarterly . Read it here.

 

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Amber Dean on Big Susie’s Sex Worker Advocacy Group

I conducted this interview on 15th November 2010. It was published by The Ally on 24th January  2011.

An exhibition held at the end of summer in 2009 at the You Me Gallery in Hamilton sparked controversy and gave birth to Big Susie’s Sex Worker Advocacy Group when it showed photographs of street based sex workers taken with surveillance cameras. Amber Dean, founding member of Big Susie, explains further about the exhibit that sparked the idea for the group, “The owner of [The] Pearl Company… put together an art show that exhibited photographs and surveillance images that he had taken of women doing street sex work outside of his gallery and theatre. And, he exhibited these [photographs] without their knowledge and… consent”.

The artist in question is Gary Santucci, whose exhibition was described on the You Me Gallery website as “turn[ing his] lenses on the city’s underbelly and [his] mind to the immense question of how we can make positive social change”. Dean, who has done academic work in the area with her PhD on representations of women doing sex work in inter-city neighbourhoods elsewhere in the country, considers that Santucci could have been “well intentioned but he ha[s] absolutely no analysis about sex work”. He had “no concern for the kinds of risks that he was exposing these women to when he… put up these pictures”. 

The uglier picture behind Santucci’s “well intentioned” art exhibit lies in his personal agenda to secure zoning permits for his art gallery and theatre. Santucci wants to be seen as a “moral crusader… who wanted to shine a bright light in the dark corner of Hamilton that nobody wanted to look at”, but either fails or refuses to take into account the consequences of his art show. According to Dean, “[t]here has been a real increase in hostility towards these people who do street based sex work in Hamilton, especially in the last year that started with [Santucci’s] art show, but has mobilised with some neighbourhood groups that have gotten involved organizing with the police out of a desire to just displace street based sex workers to push them out of residential areas into somewhere else”. Big Susie aims to counteract the negative attitude that has been in place since Santucci’s exhibition. Dean contends that “there… was nothing in Hamilton that was specifically doing advocacy for sex workers on a sex positive basis and was advocating decriminalizing”. As recently as last fall, Big Susie came into being with their five board members and a mailing list of a large number of supporters drawn through their past two events, and through support and funding from CUPE (Canadian Union of Public Employees).

But coming about even as a small collaborative group wasn’t easy: “We received some positive… and negative press. Some of that negative press suggest[ed] that by promoting sex work, [we] are also promoting violence against women”. However, after having received funding from CUPE  and overwhelming turnouts at their last two public events, Big Susie has been optimistic about their growth. Currently, the group hopes to have new people join their board and help build the organization, as well as, hold workshops specifically for street based sex workers on “harm reduction” and “basic safety and first aid”. 

To know more about Big Susie’s Sex Worker Advocacy Group, or to get involved, email bigsusies@live.ca.

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Pride Toronto’s 30th Anniversary Media Launch Party, sans the G20 madness

I had been warned. Not once, but several times. 

“Are you mad?!”

“What if something happens?”

“Can’t you go after the G20 is done?” (My ever worried mom.)

“You know, they arrested 1000 protestors in New York last year.” (A concerned friend who claims he was not trying to scare me. Right.)

“You are so irresponsible. When will you grow up? Anything can happen down there.” (My dad. Obviously.)

However, being a little lusty for a first time experience, and reminding myself that a professional journalist wouldn’t bat an eyelid, I took off yesterday to attend Pride Toronto’s 30th Anniversary Media Launch party in the heart of downtown.

Held at Woody’s and Sailor (465-467 Church Street), in the midst of the LGBTTIQQ2SA* community in downtown Toronto, the event marked the kick-off for the Pride Week this year.

Gia Heart Cox

Gia Heart Cox

Being a newbie attendee, I quickly attached myself to a nonchalant man with a huge camera hanging down his front sitting quietly at one of the corner tables. He turned out to be David Marsden of Marsden Global. The Mars Bar. I didn’t know who he was yesterday, and now I mourn my ignorance. Over my vodka tonic and his large red drink, we discussed homosexuality in the South Asian community. We were soon joined by Igor, his assistant (?) and a freelance photographer (who is a business analyst by day but didn’t like talking about it).

Choreography by Scott Fordham

Choreography by Scott Fordham

Marsden enlightened me with nuggets of information about the history of the LGBTTIQQ2SA community in Canada. For example, it was Pierre Trudeau who first abolished Canada’s sodomy law that allowed for the decriminalization of homosexuality. He is fondly remembered for his famous quote, “The government has no business in the bedrooms of the nation”. Marsden was surprised to hear that such a law was eradicated in India as recently as last year.

Christian Jeffries

Christian Jeffries

Miss Conception

Miss Conception

Dubbed as being worse than an Indian wedding by a fellow newbie attendee due to the lateness of the starting time, the show kicked off by a performance by Miss Conception, who had the crowd roaring at her depiction of Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance”.  Other performances included Gia Heart Cox, Christian Jeffries and a choreographed dance by Scott Fordham.

Deb Pearce

Deb Pearce

Deb Pearce, the emcee, kept asking the audience to throw toonies into her “vagina”, aka the white bucket between her thighs, in return for free drink tickets. Her sarcastic wisecracks kept the livewire ecstatic atmosphere alive.

 
 
 
We were also joined by Glen Murray (the former mayor of Winnipeg (1998-2004) and the first gay mayor in North America) as well as, a mother who was proud to support her gay son. Murray was slightly miffed about the Pride Week Toronto being pushed back a whole week due to “20 assholes”. 
Glen Murray

Glen Murray

I left the party happy, glad to have attended despite all the many warnings. Until I heard the news on the radio this afternoon.

 Apparently, a bunch of “G20 protestors” dressed in black and with ski masks, vandalised parts of Queen street in downtown Toronto by breaking windows and setting police cars on fire. Known as Black Bloc (tacticians who disrupt peaceful protests instead of an actual organization), they forced many places to go under lockdown such as hospitals, Eaton Centre and the Union Station. The Yonge-Bloor subway line (the same one I used yesterday) was shut down as a result of their violent behaviour. Some peaceful G20 protestors were hurt in the rampage, while many shopkeepers watched on helplessly as their shops were vandalised.

I wonder if the violent reaction had anything to do with the raids and arrests of many peaceful protestors last night

In any case, only one more day of this G20 madness.

In the meantime, happy pride week?

Launch party pics: Copyright Sanchari Sur

* Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual, Transgender, Intersex, Queer, Questioning, 2-Spirited and Allies

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