|HER WORLD||Sunday, June 23, 2002, Chandigarh, India|
life begins at 50
on women on rise
From the grassroots
life begins at 50
LOSING a parent at thirteen was my first encounter with reality, followed by the painful teens. Teens, of conflict where the Heart went one way and the mind the other and parents found some third lane in between. Teachers swayed from over ‘guidance’ to total indifference. Relatives branded you spoilt, off track or simply fast if you were seen heard or perceived to have been next to some one from the male species. In a convent, 35 years back, we were made to feel guilty for having beautiful bosoms. Neighbours misjudged ones total character at 15, 16 or 17 because of minis or bellbottoms. Collages and beatles was the albatross around your neck. Marriage was my ticket to freedom.
Freedom from being judged or misjudged simply because now one was the wife of that respectable youngster from a hallowed Punjab family, and thus if my all in all husband did not mind what I did, it was all right. Suddenly jeans were cool, hair cut was in and every foray into a drink or two became social etiquette. It did not matter that my "soul mate" my ‘he man’ the one because of whom all was ok was a mere 22 . Husband is husband!
The cool life soon brought kids. Kids brought immense happiness but greater responsibility and a lot of financial crunch. Even if moneys was tight, our first born got juice, fruit, cheese, eggs, milk, cereal etc. etc. etc. because Dr. Benjamin Spock wrote about the diet. Even if personal transport was a rarity , baby was lugged to the zoo, the museum et al and while he ate and drank and climbed into my lap. I watched the "sher and cheetah" and the Japanese dolls content in the bookish misnomer of bringing up an intelligent and aware one-a-half year old. Though a more aware and comfortable mom the second time over I had not contended with one kid’s effort into attention seeking forays or the other one’s jealous tantrums, neither with lipstick paintings on the well nor nailers on the carpet while one copied the teachers writing with chalk on make believe black boards on doors or cupboards, the other decided to call moms attention from guests by potting under the beds. Not to forget their hip teens, it was trying to keep balance between communication and guidance on the no-trouble path. Coping by trying to remember my teens and being parents now. Cutting corners to pay for great education, tuitions, hobbies, holidays, parties and finally have them into good professions.
After all the giving, takings,
adapting adjusting, analysing to finely contend with that hollow in
the heart that twisting of the gut, in learning to let go of ones
kids, to let fly and refocus on I, me, myself’. Suddenly I am at the
top of the heap. There is more confidence even though the waist has
expanded. Sans makeup too one feels beautiful. All churning done, one
finally, has the feeling of control in life. Romance, sex appeal, job,
understanding life itself or death, relationship or friendship casual
or formal — everything is so clear and simple. Suddenly, life no
longer is a question. It is a beautiful, smooth sail. I can do
everything I wanted to do in my teens. I can express everything I felt
in my twenties. I can laugh at all the insecurities of the thirties, I
can face age and indulge in everything that gives me happiness. Doors
are opened, chairs are offered, youngsters are in awe of one’s
experience and wisdom, life has just begun at fifty.
on women on rise
MEMBERS of two warring factions in the border village of Neolan in Fazilka sub-division of Punjab allegedly paraded naked the womenfolk of opposite groups due to a row over a reported love-affair between a boy and a girl of the two groups of the same village. Both the parties had lodged their complaints with the police.
In a gory murder, a man allegedly murdered his wife after torturing her with a hot iron to make her confess about an illicit relationship. The accused, Arjun, murdered his wife on February 1 and dumped the body in a storeroom of the house in a locality of Ludhiana before fleeing. The deceased was working as computer operator with the Ludhiana Municipal Corporation while her husband had been working in a bakery shop. The police had arrested the accused.
Three persons were booked in a dowry case by the Sultanwind police in Amritsar after Harjinder Kaur committed suicide. She had consumed poison a few days ago. Her father, Mangal Singh, in an FIR registered on January 30 had alleged that Harjinder was harassed and beaten up by her husband, mother-in-law and sister-in-law. They were demanding more dowry. In another incident, an eight-year-old of Nizampur village was allegedly raped by Kuldeep Singh of the same area on January 30.
Satya Pal Dang, CPI leader, in a letter to the Punjab Governor, Lt. Gen (retd) J.F.R. Jacob, had complained that the main "culprits" in the sexual harassment cases in the Guru Nanak Dev University were not given adequate punishment. He said in three cases of sexual harassment he found that the guilty person, a reader, did not only got scotfree, but was also promoted and made professor. Another reader accused of such an act was only asked to resign from headship of the department. The resignation was attributed to some personal reasons. In another case, a Head of Department, after being found guilty, resigned on health grounds.
In another case, the father of a panchayat pradhan, belonging to Scheduled Castes, was badly beaten. The father was not able to lodge even FIR against the villagers out of fear. The fear was so much that the family had left even the village.
The fault of the Panchayat pradhan was that he had fallen in love with the neighbour’s daughter who is a Brahmin and they married in a temple after running away from the village. His father was beaten on December 20,2001, by the family members of the girl. The mother had been threatened that in case an FIR was lodged, her son would be murdered. The father was admitted in a Ludhiana hospital, by saying that he had fallen from a higher place.
In Haryana a number of incidents had taken place in the last few years in which boys and girls of different castes had married and later the panchayats had either asked them to leave the village or break the marriage. In one case the boy and girl were literally killed by stones by the villagers. In another case, first both the boy and the girl were asked to behave like brother and sister. However, the girl refused to do this as she had already given birth to a child. On this, they were asked to leave the village. While such cases in Haryana had been reported in the press, no action perhaps had been taken by the police against the persons or panchayat members who had taken law into their hands. At least the actions have not been reported.
The Central Government in the annual report of Department of Women and Child Development (Ministry of Human Resources Development) for 2000-2001 has admitted that efforts of both governmental and non-governmental women’s organisations and women’s activists to contain violence against women have not been able to meet with much success, as the incidence of atrocities against women has been increasing. Violence against women, both domestic and at work place, continues to exist as is evident from the increasing incidence of rape, dowry-related cruelty and murders.
As per the data published by the National Crimes Record Bureau, New Delhi, out of the total 1,15,723 cases related to women and registered under IPC in 1996, rape accounted for 14,846 (12.8 per cent), dowry deaths 5513 (4.8 per cent) and cases of torture 35,246 (30.5 per cent).
In 1994, 98, 948 cases were registered under crime against women compared to 83,954 cases in 1993 and 79,037 in 1992. The figure was 74,093 in 1991 and 68,317 in 1990.
The National Commission for Women is a statutory body constituted under the National Commission for Women Act 1990 to protect and promote the interests and to safeguard the rights of women.
From January to December 2000, the Commission received a total of 5,268 complaints, which included dowry deaths 527, murder 235, rape 277, molestation 11, dowry harassment 963, sexual harassment 131, bigamy 110, desertion of wives 267 and other types of harassment 2,747.
Besides constituting various committees to redress the grievances, a member of the Commission visited the Remand Home at Varanasi and was appalled to know the state of affairs of the Home. The girls were detained in the Home on flimsy grounds and lured to prostitution. Her enquiries revealed that five girls were murdered because they refused to indulge in the flesh trade. This was confirmed by an inmate, Ruby Singh. She later escaped from the remand home with great courage, according to the report of the Department.
Commission for Women has initiated an ambitious programme entitled
"Preparing the Women for Tomorrow." This is a pilot project
involving five women colleges of Delhi with an awareness module on
legality, media, nutrition and health, consumerism, human rights, sex
and sexuality and programmes to build capacity for management of time,
interpersonal relationships, emotion, and develop skill for
communications, thinking, negotiation and problem solving. The aim is
to empower young college going girls who would be the women of
SUBHADRA Patnaik works with a foreign bank. Originally from Bhubaneswar, she has been living in Mumbai for the last 10 years. Away from her family, but not alone. About four years back, she moved in with a friend whom she got to know at an evening music class she had enrolled in. A male friend, who was a little more than just a friend. Six years have passed since then. The two are still great friends. And still unmarried. As for family, last year was the first time Subhadra’s parents visited her and Soumitra. Subhadra looks at this as a positive sign. She believes that this is the first step they’ve taken towards accepting the fact that their daughter is different. Subhadra and Soumitra prefer the so-called insecurity and illegitimacy of a live-in relationship than the falsehood of a pretentious happy marriage. And kids? No kids. Not now, at least. Maybe later. And maybe, marriage for the sake of kids.
Subhadra Patnaik represents a growing breed of young professionals in Mumbai who are very clear about their priorities in life. Personal happiness is upfront.No compromises, no societal niceties just for the sake of pleasing family and a horde of anxiety-prone relatives. A relationship was a must. But a feeling of not-being-hemmed-in is a must too. As Subhadra says, "Marriage compels you to take each other for granted. There is a certain complacency in the institution itself that makes you forget that you just can’t take each other for granted. A false sense of security settles in thanks to the large network of relatives. Marriages, births, festivals, everything keeps you so preoccupied — and this is true even if you are not staying in a joint family set-up that you just fail to notice when the cracks begin to appear in the relationship. On the other hand, in a live-in relationship, things are different right from the beginning. Most Indian families do not look on this kind of bonding as ‘respectable’ and the girl is inevitably labelled as a ‘chalu’. Which works incredibly to the couple’s advantage. Both families keep away, at least in the beginning, giving the couple ample space and time to get to know each other really well. This is an important period for the couple. For, no matter how close and how long you have known each other, it’s only when you start living together that you go through the acid test".
Often the test torches the relationship. Like it did in the case of actress Tina Munim and actor Rajesh Khanna in the eighties. Embattled in previous relationships, the two got together and tried to build a home and bring peace to each other’s lives. Initially, it raised several eyebrows, especially since Tina came from a conservative Gujarati family but the two of them were in love and quite clear that this is what they wanted. The partying, the socialising, the happiness in the early days lulled then in the beginning to believe that they could pull this off and the relationship had worked, but soon the fights started and a few years later, the couple split. Like any other split, this one too must have been painful but since there was no marriage, there was no question of a divorce and therefore the split was less messy. It made it much easier for Tina Munim to walk into the waiting comfort offered by business tycoon Anil Ambani. Now, of course as the Ambani bahu and the mother of two children, heirs to the Reliance empire, the tryst with Khanna must be less than a distant speck in memory.
Surprisingly, despite the bohemian status showbiz enjoys in people’s minds, they are essentially a conservative tribe. That is not to say that they are holier than thou. They are not. But liaisons are inevitably clandestine and generally fly-by-night variety. Bondings are almost always thoroughly legal and immensely showy. The perfect happy couple who pose for news-hungry cameramen and grace the glossy pages of newspapers and magazines. What happens once those shutterbugs scoot away is a different story altogether.There are seldom any exceptions to the rule. And if there are, it’s almost always those who are least likely candidates for this kind of relationship and have almost always broken up eventually. Like yesteryear villain Ranjeet and his long-standing relationship with a lady called Pushpa. The couple lived together for several years.In fact, she played his hostess, his secretary, his confidante and soulmate. She was no siren either. In fact, she looked so domesticated that she would have given the worst behenji a run for her money. Eventually though, the two split and Ranjeet married a svelte and sensuous young lady. The couple have teenaged children now and are reportedly supremely happy.
Then there’s the more recent story of Kamal Haasan and Sarika. An over-ambitious and dominating mother made Sarika’s growing years hell to live with. When she met the much married Kamal, after several aborted relationships, she was more than ready to seek refuge. The two lived together, had two children and finally got married. One would have imagined that a couple who have decided to hold out marriage for such a long time and even had kids before marriage, would be doubly sure when they finally got married that they would want it for keeps. But queer are the twists of fate. A new woman had arrived on the scene, and Sarika finds herself at the same crossroads his first wife did, several years back.
Sometimes though living together for some time, before getting married, works. Wonder if anyone remembers a pretty actress called Rameshwari? She had made her debut in a Rajshree film called Dulhan Wohi Jo Piya Man Bhaye. A major hit, she was flooded with film offers. The pint sized Rameshwari with her long hair and demure appearance was billed as the next Jaya Bhaduri. Surprisingly, she never made the grade though. Her personal life surprised many too. While still at the FTII, she had moved in with her boyfriend, Deepak. The two lived together through her fabulous debut and her incredible lows. Finally, they got married and last heard, were blissfully happy.
Strangely enough, all these live-in relationships happened only in the eighties and early nineties, and perhaps much much earlier. These days, when ‘taboo’ and ‘social outcast’ are words that only describe inadequacies at parties, one would have imagined that ‘sab kuch chalta’. Not so. Barring a Madhu Sapre-Milind Soman, who lived together in London for sometime before calling it quits and returning home, there aren’t too many takers in showbiz for a live-in-relationship.
JOSHIMATH: In 1973, Gaura took the women of her middle Himalayan village of Raini, to the cedar forest above, to hug and protect its trees with their bodies, and stop government contractors from felling them. That was the beginning of the Chipko Movement.
Ten years later, Gaura and her people in villages around were banned from entering the forests they had so painstakingly preserved, from the time of their ancestors. The government had created a national park there, named after the Nanda Devi peak towering above it. The government also closed it to villages surrounding it.
The village people were part of the forests. They had their shepherd huts or "channni" on pastures, where they used to take their winter-starved sheep and cattle, to fatten on the nourishing alpine grass that grew there in the summer and rains. Animal droppings fertilised the pastures.
Besides its varied wildlife, the park was home to medicinal plants and herbs. Villagers used to harvest and use them. In autumn, when these matured, a festival was held, and, led by their women singing songs, people went there to gather ripe berries, leaves and roots. Elders saw to it that they did not denude the park and left sufficient quantities behind for regeneration the next year.
The government destroyed this collective control of villages. Now herb dealers send teams of labourers to steal forest produce, including garlands of lichen hanging on oak trees. They take as much as they can, because it means more money to them. This illegal activity has led to extinction of several plant species.
Earlier, Dhan Singh’s family in Lata village used to dry the herbs and roots on its roof and then grind some into powder, to eat or apply to cure fevers, head and stomach aches, cuts, burns, tumours and other ailments. After the closure of the park, they have now to go to the nearest government hospital, some 30 km away, in Joshimath, when they fall ill. There doctors are difficult to find because they do not like to stay that far away from the border town and go away on leave. The hospital is generally without medicine. A doctor writes a prescription and the patient then buys the drugs at a pharmacy.
The government, by taking over the forests, has killed the traditional system of medicine and a part of the people’s culture. The autumn festival of gathering herbs is held no more. The younger generation is unfamiliar with the names of plants, herbs, edible barriers, mushrooms, and trees. It, however, knows the names of a dozen drugs it buys regularly, which come to them packaged from some distant factory. It has thus become the victim of the global market.
In earlier days, when the wild cherry (painya) used to bloom, to signal winter’s end, village maidens lit lamps at the base of their trees and went around them singing in celebration.
Then at dawn, on opening one’s front doors in the morning one used to get the surprise of finding masses of yellow "fyunli" flowers, the first offering of spring, heaped on either side, by little girls of the village. They would come daily during the first month of the spring, but so early that one never saw them.
The "painya" and "flunli" still flower but maidens no longer worship the trees. No more do people discover blossoms heaped on their doorstep in spring.
The process of development came to this border in a tragic manner. Most mountains here are sheer rock and cultivable land is little. Whatever there is, remains under snow and frost for four months of the year. Some food crops, like rice, can never be grown here because of the cold. The people, of Indo-Tibet an origin, called Bhotias, used to sustain themselves through trade with Tibet. The 1962 India-China conflict brought that trade to an end.
Much of that trade was carried on the back of big mountain goats. Trader’s families spun and wove small saddlebags with their wool, which carried goods up to 15 kg each. A trade caravan journeying to Tibet, on meeting a big snow slope, would halt and start unloading the goats. It was a simple and easy, unlike unloading bigger animals like mules and yaks. Some members would then slide down on their back to the bottom of the snow slope and stand there. The men on top would start sliding down the loads, which were caught and gathered by those below. Then goats would be made to lie on their side and sent sliding down, to be received in a similar fashion. After that, they would be promptly re-loaded and the caravan would be on its way. One could not do that with mules and yak.
I travelled with these caravans. We would rise at two in the morning, light fires to prepare tea and tsampa (parched barley-flour), have a breakfast of them, gather the animals, loan them and march off at three. Someone minding the animal-train in front would then break out in a loud, haunting melody, filling that wild, uninhabited grassland with human sound.
The 1962 border conflict brought that trade and its way of life to an end. Villages, which had thousands of sheep, did not know what to do with them anymore, and so they sold most of them to butchers.
Now the goats and sheep are gone. The old Tibet trade has not been revived. Forests have been closed to people whose forefathers had taken care of them. New employment has not opened up. These people are now forced to buy things they were unused to.
Against arbitrary policies, the people of this border region have launched a movement called "Chhino! Jhapto!", which means, swoop and snatch, to repossess their alienated rights. The first step of this exercise was taken some years ago, when villagers of Raini, Lata, Dronagiri, Jumma, Ringi and several others, women and children included, accompanied by drummers and some cattle, had marched into the Nandadevi Biosphere Reserve, closed to them, to assert and regain their rights to pastures and forest. The Uttar Pradesh Government had sent a big busload of PAC to the Forest Department hut on the pasture land of Lata Kharak, to stop this mass of villagers from violating the forest law by prohibiting their entry, but they could not stand the cold.
I was one of those travelling with the villagers during their two-day climb. Up, at the pasture hut, armed forest guards tried to prevent the villagers from proceeding further. But the heroic women of the region could not be stopped. From other paths poured in villagers from Jumma, Dronagiri and other villages and there was no way the armed men could block their march to their old traditional pastures.
From the tall pasture grass,
villagers recovered skins, bones and skins of deer and other animals
killed and eaten by poachers, who seemed to have a free run of the
forests, after the active protection of the population around was
removed by barring entry to them. In April this year, the Uttaranchal
police recovered 19 glands of the endangered musk-deer, three bear
bladders and some skins being smuggled out of the region. After the
Forest Department closed the forest to the local people and thus
removed their active protection, entry has become easy for poachers. Grassroots
I recently happened to watch an episode of Kamzor Kadi Kaun (Star Plus, May 21, 9 p.m.) titled the ‘Women’s Special’. But I was greatly surprised on hearing the terms used by the anchor of the show, Neena Gupta, to address and describe the women participants of the show. A rought translation of her words would show the cause of my surprise and anger:
1) be put in the grinder (by the other participants).
2) be mixed in the food processor (by the other participants)?
3) use a broom to clean up (the other participants)
4) sing a lullaby? & so on.
Apart from this, Gupta remarked about one of the participants regarding herself a beauty queen and further grouped them all as ‘Sautans’. (co-wives).
The glance is enough to show us that for the makers of this show, a woman is still placed in domestic context only. The magic of a woman being presented was so cliched and out-dated that it must have hurt the sensibilities of plenty of viewers. Not a single reference was made to the role of women outside the home and it was assumed that women are still confined to the four walls of their homes with the exception of becoming beauty queens. Thus, a woman is either a drudge or a glamour doll. Of course, this does not imply that household more to women than food processor, mixers, brooms etc. What was needed was a broader and a more comprehensive view of today’s woman who can perform all roles equally well.
One did not expect the maker of several sensitive serials about women to use such language, but then the script-writers and producers certainly are to blame here. It is time some one told them that a women’s special episode does not have to necessarily focus on the stereo-typical and forced role thrust on women by the society.
The only saving grace of the show was that Neena Gupta herself acknowledged that this episode had been relatively free from the politics and manipulations of earlier episodes. The participants sure did make amends for the insensitive and disparaging attitude of the makers of the show.
This programme is known for being insulting and demeaning to its participants but this time it went a bit too far and offended the sensibilities of today’s women.I sincerely hope that you will kindly give some space to these views in your most esteemed newspaper.
The myth of equality
This refers to Vimla Patil’s ‘A home without sense of belonging’ (May 5). It is no secret that it may sometimes take almost the whole of her life for a daughter-in-law to be treated as an integral and inseparable member of her matrimonial family. She would often be censured if she commits the ‘crime’ of showing attachment and concern for her parents. Naturally all slogans of gender equality are shattered like exploded myths when we not just raise our eyebrows but vehemently protest if a daughter-in-law makes even a suggestion of offering some financial help to her aged, ailing and needy parents. Such a treatment of woman is limited not only to the uneducated or rural, the lower and middle classes of the society. Women from all sections of life face the same feudalistic treatment. Selfish, indifferent and even callous approach towards women and their needs and aspirations, is still prevalent in our society.
The basic reason of such prejudicial and even inhuman approach to a woman’s duty and responsibility to her parents, is a lack of educational awakening not in women, but in men. Despite the so-called equality of sexes, men still consider women inferior and expect them to submit unconditionally to the whims of men be it husbands, brothers, or even fathers.