On Art! Geeta Patel Tackles Religion and Culture Through Film

Geeta V. Patel certainly isn’t the only person in Hollywood using the big screen to tackle serious issues. That she does this across genres, however, makes her stand out. The Indian-American writer, director, and producer has already made a documentary about the conflict in Kashmir, a romantic comedy about modern arranged marriage, and is currently working on a film that promises to change the face of action movies. She was also selected as one of 29 filmmakers to represent the United States abroad in a US State Department initiative in the arts.

In her 2008 documentary, Project Kashmir, Geeta deftly grappled with thorny issues like war, borders, and religion. She, along with a Pakistani-American friend, traveled to Kashmir to investigate the long-standing conflict between the Hindu-Kashmiris and the Muslim-Kashmiris. In the film they confront their conflicting personal perspectives about the conflict and attempt to foster dialogue between these two groups.

Geeta then inadvertently began filming a movie that looks at semi-arranged marriage. While she was fiddling around with a new video camera one day, Geeta’s recently-single brother, Ravi, wondered aloud whether the system that worked for their parents might also work for him. Thus, Meet the Patels was born, and follows Ravi’s journey through this process, which he embarks on with his parents and sister in tow. Despite being a romantic comedy, the film, currently on the film fest circuit, addresses universal questions about finding and keeping love.

Geeta’s latest project, an action movie called Mouse, not only introduces a new form of martial arts, but uses action to tell a story about love, freedom, and the incredible power of consciousness. And, perhaps most interestingly, Geeta says she is using the action movie genre to inspire nonviolence.

Looking forward to seeing what stories my friend of two decades tells next.

 

 

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The Bay of Bengal Maritime Arbitration Case: Part II

Delimitation of EEZ and Continental Shelf

In order to delimit the areas beyond the territorial sea, the Tribunal first determined the relevant coastlines of the Parties and subsequently the relevant area. Its task was “…to identify the coast that generate(s) projections which overlap with the projection from the coast of the other Party.” The Tribunal found that India’s relevant coastline stretched further south west to Sandy Point as opposed to Devi Point as India had claimed. It also found that the projections from the northern tip of the Andaman Islands (India) qualified for the identification of the relevant area. It delimited the relevant area accordingly.

In his dissenting opinion, Dr. P.S. Rao, criticized the identification of the coastline stretching to Sandy Point and the relevant area, by pointing out that the international jurisprudence demands that the construction of the relevant area be “… as strict as possible to denote the disputed area as closely as possible…”. He also disagreed on identification of projections from the Andaman Islands, as its coastal front is neither opposite nor adjacent to the coast of Bangladesh.

Preference was given to the Equidistance/Special Circumstance method for delimitation of delimitation of the EEZ and continental shelf within 200nm, over the angle bisector method proposed by Bangladesh, for the reasons of transparency and the fact that Bangladesh’s arguments for angle bisector line weren’t found to be convincing. The Tribunal reasoned that the instability of Bangladesh’s coast doesn’t render it special circumstance as it was possible to identify the base points, nor can future possibility of climate change be taken to adjust provisional equidistance line.

Delimitation of Continental Shelf Beyond 200NM

The Parties and the Tribunal both agreed on the point that there is a single continental shelf , and that there is no difference between the continental shelf within 200nm and the so called ‘outer continental shelf’. The Tribunal recognizing that both the Parties have entitlements in continental shelf beyond 200 nm, decided to delimit the continental shelf beyond 200nm using the equidistance/relevant circumstances method as it has used for delimiting the shelf within 200nm.

The Tribunal accepted Bangaldesh’s argument that the concavity of Bangladesh’s coast indeed produces cut off effect. It ruled that the provisional equidistant line was not equitable as it prevents Bangladesh from extending its maritime boundary as far as International Law permits, thus defeating the principle of equitable use of the sea area. Thereby rendering it a special circumstance, the Tribunal proposed adjustment of the equidistant line within and beyond 200nm.

The final adjustment of the equidistant line gave out more area to Bangladesh. This adjustment was criticized by Dr. P.S. Rao, as in his opinion the Delimitation Point from which the adjustment was affected was well before the point where a significant cut off occurs. This adjustment is not sufficiently justified. Also, the fact that the adjusted line concurs with the bisector line proposed by Bangladesh is arbitrary and run against the majority’s own rejection of the bisector line. Continue reading

The Bay of Bengal Maritime Arbitration Case: Part I

Introduction

On 7 July 2014, the Permanent Court of Arbitration, the Hague, passed the award in the Indo-Bangladesh Maritime Arbitration Case (The Bay of Bengal Maritime Boundary Arbitration). The case was initiated by Bangladesh against India in October 2009, pursuant to Art. 287 of the UNCLOS, after 11 rounds of negotiations between the parties over five decades proved to be indecisive, and often marred by local politics. Following pages give a summary of various issues and facts considered by the tribunal to reach the final award.

The Tribunal was composed of: Judge Rudiger Wolfrum (President), Judge Jean-Pierre Cot, Judge Thomas A. Mensah, Dr. P.S. Rao, and Prof. Ivan Shearer. Dr. P.S. Rao reserved a concurring and dissenting opinion.

Background

The Indian Independence Act, 1947 of the United Kingdom, partitioned from India the state of West Pakistan and East Pakistan. East Pakistan was carved out of the Bengal Province, with West Bengal remaining in India. In order to demarcate the boundary between East Pakistan and West Bengal, the Bengal Boundary Commission was set up in 1947 chaired by Sir Cyril Radcliffe. On 13 August 1947, the report was submitted describing the boundary, and is known as “Radcliffe Award.”

Thereafter, in the light of disputes on the application of Radcliffe Award, an Indo-Pakistan Boundary Disputes Tribunal was set up, known as Bagge Tribunal. The Award of this Tribunal dealt with segments not relevant to this case.

On 26 March 1971, Bangladesh declared Independence from Pakistan and succeeded to the territory of East Pakistan and its boundaries.

The boundary between India and Bangladesh runs across the Sunderban Delta region. The southern section of the land boundary lies in the riverine features, which fall in the Bay of Bengal. This delimitation exercise involves delimiting the boundary river, identifying the terminal point of the land boundary, to delimit the territorial sea, the EEZ, the continental shelf within and beyond 200nm.

Jurisdiction

The Parties were deemed to have accepted arbitration in accordance with Annex VII since there was no declaration made by either party under Art. 287(3) (Choice of Procedure), nor had any party made a declaration under Art. 298, thereby, not excluding the current dispute from compulsory dispute resolution mechanism entailing binding procedure. The Tribunal assumed the jurisdiction to ‘… adjudicate the present case, to identify land boundary terminus and   to delimit the territorial sea, the Exclusive Economic Zone and the continental shelf between the parties within and beyond 200nm in the areas where the claims of the parties overlap. Continue reading

The US Takes on Antiquities Trafficking (And Why You Should Care)

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A Cambodian boy looks across the Mekong Delta to the temple of Phnom Da.

As the World Economic Forum concludes, in an editorial on the Huffington Post, my colleague Mark Vlasic and I have urged the political leaders attending Davos to pay heed to an international criminal industry that is costing the world billions in financial losses, and more irreparably, destroying something with no price tag: our cultural heritage.

Right now looters are reducing countless ancient sites to rubble in their search for buried treasures to sell on the art market. The ensuing trafficking of antiquities and other stolen cultural objects reaches every corner of the globe, and experts fear, may be funding organized crime and terrorist groups. It is also a very attractive way to clean “dirty” assets in the face of otherwise strengthened anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing laws, which as former United States prosecutor Rick St. Hilaire notes, “are often limited when it comes to the trade in cultural property.”

For these very practical reasons, the U.S. Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), Department of Justice (DOJ), and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) — as well as foreign and international law enforcement such as Scotland Yard and Interpol — are now prioritizing their efforts to fight antiquities trafficking. U.S. agents and attorneys in particular have had a recent string of successes on this front. Just this month the federal government returned $1.5 million worth of plundered statues to India. And last month, it celebrated another victory when Sotheby’s Auction House agreed to repatriate a $3 million masterpiece to Cambodia, which had been hacked by thieves from a sacred temple during the country’s bloody civil war (both stories were reported by Tom Mashberg in the New York Times here and here).

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Sex selection abortions in India and the United States

In an article in Slate, “It’s a Trick“, I described the great care taken by the makers of “It’s A Girl,” a “documentary” on sex selection abortion in India and China to disguise connections to anti-abortion groups in the United States and to use the language of women’s equality movements.  Many feminist groups across the country and on university campuses have been screening this movie.  When I was asked to moderate a discussion after one such screening, I became curious about the financing sources for the film and the background of its director.   Through searching the ownership of several domain names, I found that Evan Davis, the director of the film worked for Harvest Media Ministries, a media company that makes anti-abortion and other videos for Church groups.  When I asked him about his financing sources, he refused to disclose them, but did admit that some donors were people he met during his tenure at Harvest Media Ministries.

The “documentary” paints a partial picture of the complexities of the situation in India.  Without  knowledge of the realities in India, some people may have been misled by the slanted portrayal to support the film and donate to charities it promotes.  The only scenario on abortion presented in the film is one where those who believe in autonomy rights of women and those who believe in the right of the fetus agree – a woman should not be forced to have an abortion because her fetus is female (or for any other reason).  To this end, the movie extensively covers Mitu Khurana, a woman who left her husband because he physically abused after she refused to abort her female fetuses.

The film, however, fails to depict the most common cases in India –- women who make the choice to abort a female fetus without physical violence or overt coercion.  Poor women in villages have told me that they do not want to bring girls into the world and do not want them to go through what they have faced.   Some might argue that these women cannot make this choice “freely” in the context of widespread “son preference.”

The other type of situation that the film fails to depict is one where a woman would face violence from her husband and in-laws if she didn’t abort the fetus, but gave birth to a girl instead.  Mitu Khurana’s family is depicted as middle class and she escaped from her husband with the financial support of her parents.  Countless poor women do not have that luxury.  Indeed, they are in a “double-bind” — they face violence at home if they do not have an abortion, and face jail if the do.

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Protection (from rape) or Freedom (to have sex)?

The debate in India surrounding  reforms to the sexual violence laws are a reflection of the changing mores in Indian society.   With economic liberalization in 1991, a strong middle class with access to new goods, movies, and ideas has emerged.   As a result of the mass protests in the aftermath of the brutal gang rape and death of Jyoti Singh Pandey, the President signed an Ordinance reforming the sexual violence laws on February 3, 2013. (The Ordinance took some provisions from an amendment to the Indian penal code that was pending in Parliament prior to the gang rape and adopted some provisions suggested by the Verma Committee report, but rejected other important provisions from that committee.  The Verma Committee was formed by the government after international and national attention focused on the issue of gender-based violence).  Article 123 of the Indian Constitution permits the President to put into place laws that have the weight of an act of Parliament when Parliament is in recess.  But the Ordinance expires on April 4 unless Parliament adopts it or an amended version of it.  The real deadline they are racing against is March 22 because Parliament is in recess again after that.

Key areas of disagreement such as the marital rape exemption and the availability of the death penalty in some cases of rape remain.  Yesterday The New York Times India blog highlighted one issue of debate — whether the age of consent for purposes of the statutory rape provision should be 18 or 16. The Ordinance placed the age at 18 but prior to that it was 16. The new bill that is being considered seems to have lowered the age of consent to 16.

It is some prominent feminist lawyers that have argued in favor of lowering the age of consent.  Indira Jaising points out that “[i]t is quite normal for people to have sexual relations at 16 or 17 years of age. . . . How can we make illegal what is normal?”  Additionally, Flavia Agnes pointed out in an article that appeared in Asian Age on December 23, 2012 that “one-third of all rape cases are filed by parents against boys when their daughter exercises her sexual choice and elopes.”  Thus, if the age of consent was increased, it would give parents more opportunities to mis-use the law. Continue reading