|HER WORLD||Sunday, August 4, 2002, Chandigarh, India|
to fend off like hubby
I feel strongly
For a country of our size, it is a pity that most of the healthcare planning for women is done on the basis of indicators for their reproductive health. There is hardly anything on record about their general health status to help formulate these policies. No wonder health facilities continue to elude women, especially in the rural areas, says Raman Mohan
NOBEL Laureate Amartya Sen once said that with its present population of one billion, India had to account for some 25 million "missing women". If western standards were applied, India too should have had about 105 women for every 100 men today. Thus, presently there should have been 512 million women in India. Instead, statistics show that there are only 489 million women in the Indian population today. This means that there are approximately 20-25 million "missing women" in India. Included among them are some who are killed inside the womb, and those who die because they are denied the opportunity to live.
A recent study by the United Nations revealed that women’s groups and grassroots NGOs in many parts of India had found that the supposedly primitive practice of female infanticide was flourishing. Commonly reported methods to kill a baby girl include lacing their feed with pesticides, forcing down a few grains of poppy seeds or rice husk to slit their tender gullets, or stuffing their mouths with black salt or urea.In some regions, babies are fed the juice or paste of poisonous oleander berries. Yet others are suffocated with a wet towel or a bag of sand.
Female foeticide and infanticide alone have not left 25 million missing girls and women in India’s population. Girls in India are subjected to discrimination in almost inhuman ways at every state in life. The UN-sponsored study found that "fewer months of breast feeding, less of nurturing and play, less care or medical treatment if they fall ill, less of special food, less parental attention" were the common forms of discrimination against girl infants. It is this life-long discrimination that is the real killer of girls. No wonder then that women in India have a much shorter life span than their counterparts in other parts of the world.
Presently, the average life expectancy of a woman in India is 63 years, compared to 83 in Japan. Of course we have come a long way in this field considering the average life span of Indian women in 1951 was just 32 years — just half of the present. Even within India, life expectancy differs from state to state.In Kerala, women live up to 75, while in Bihar and Madhya Pradesh a woman, on an average, lives up to just 57 years. It is only in Punjab and Kerala that women can expect to live beyond their sixties. In the rest of the country life ends for them much earlier.
Of every 1000 children born in India, 70 still die before their first birthday. The female infant mortality rate in the country is much higher than that of male infants. The UN study found that it was not poverty alone that killed baby girls — the choices made by her parents and family had a far greater role to play in curtailing her life. Custom and tradition shaped these choices and when resources were scarce, these could make the difference between life and death.It also found that baby girls were more likely to die in families where there was an older male sibling — strong circumstantial evidence of discriminatory care. The most important of these is the denial of education. Studies show that a few years of education of the mother can reduce the infant mortality rate by 40 per cent.
A woman continues to suffer even as an adult. One of the most common ailments among women is anaemia, a sure sign of lack of proper nutrition. This increases their chances of giving birth to underweight and malnourished children. Besides, ill-health and lack of proper medical facilities increase their chances of dying during delivery. It is therefore no surprise that nearly 300 Indian women die every day during childbirth or of pregnancy-related causes. This is roughly equivalent to one death every five minutes. More than 40 per cent of these deaths are in Uttar Pradesh, where there is a maternal death every minute. The study found that maternal mortality rates in India are 100 times of what they are in the developed countries, and significantly higher than in some developing countries like Sri Lanka, Vietnam and Cuba.
For a country of our size, it is a pity that most of the health care planning for women is done on the basis of indicators for their reproductive health. There is hardly anything on record about their general health status to help formulate these policies. No wonder health facilities continue to elude women, especially in the rural areas. Studies show that only 42 per cent of births in the country are supervised by health professionals. Most women deliver at home with help from fellow women in the family who have neither skill nor resources to save the mother should that be necessary.
According to the study, close to two-thirds of all deliveries in India still take place at home. The proportion varies from less then 35 per cent in urban areas to more than 75 per cent in rural areas. In states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, only about 15 per cent of children are born in a medical institution. There is a huge difference in the situation and prospects of an urban middle-class woman and a woman from a poor family in a village in Uttar Pradesh or Bihar. The urban woman is probably well-nourished, has been going to a doctor regularly for check-ups, and has been given anti-tetanus injections. She will deliver in a clean room with a trained nurse in attendance and a doctor within reach in case of emergencies. For her, delivering at home is a matter of choice.
The village woman, on the other hand, has a high chance of being anaemic and underweight, of not having seen a doctor and not being protected from tetanus. She would not have access to a doctor or hospital in her own village. For her, delivering at home, rather than being a conscious choice, is a consequence of her lack of choice.
Even when it comes to motherhood women have little choice when to have a baby or whether to have one at all. The choice is left to the husband and his assessment of his needs and his economic status. That’s not all. Perhaps it will surprise you that even when contraception is considered necessary, it is the woman who is the sacrificial goat. Consider this—of all the sterilisations, female sterilisation accounts for 95 per cent. Add to this fact that as a method of contraception, sterilisation accounts for 75 per cent of all contraception methods put together. That should give you an idea of the fate of women, considering female sterilisation is generally more complicated than male.
All this boils down to the fact that even motherhood continues to kill women more than what may be considered as natural.
to fend off like hubby
ON the 35mm format, a few feet away from me, the mother is hollering at her daughter. Football ka goal hi karti rahegi to gol roti-shoti kad banana sikhegi., meat-sheet, chicken-shicken, dal-shaal - you know, the works.
Many goals and film rolls, or reels or whatever, later, it's time for interval. The hall lights up and silence breaks. The place is packed for a 9-12 filmi encounter. Surprising, considering Chandigarh is rather rudely known as the city of the dead. And if that be the case, I reckon, Gurinder Chadha's film sure has a number of guys returning from their graves. But people here are pretty animated. Good old rounds of coke-shoke, chips-ships have begun to happen. Same old young, good-looking hunters are out on their 10-minute prowl before the film restarts. Studs all, jean-jacket, love-locket, comb-in-back-pocket. Tongues wagging softly to each other as eyes rove to spot the next prey. Same old good-looking, young things pretending to be invisible, tossing their mane, laughing nervously like a rhyme without reason.
Closer home, my next-chair neighbour, his generous backside obstructing my view on my right, is busy. Has been for some time, I think. He's been watching the film with the better part of his derriere perched precariously on the edge of the seat and his neck craned to his right into the small of his arm. Perhaps, he likes to watch his films, particularly if they are feminist and funny, from the corner of his eye. Perhaps, he is simply improvising on a hatha-yoga position. I smile at the thought. Or, perhaps, he has newly discovered the joys of a cell phone. He is playing games on it, I think. SMS-ing? Nah! That's too cerebral for such a juvenile ambience. What else is it if not juvenile when people are actually cackling away at a film that shows stupid things like female football - I try to mind-read him. So, for him it’s game time. So completely is he enchanted by that little gizmo that he is slowly, but surely, sliding down his seat without quite knowing it himself. His kkkkkknee is now dangerously close to mine. Quite like his left arm that grazed my right a short while ago. I hastily make way for his well-fed, booted limb lest it. Oh well! He doesn't seem to be doing it deliberately. He looks too bored, too buttonholed, and frankly, too dumb for it. In fact, he appears to belong to that sad species of males whose mamas haven't taught them to stay in their clothes and chairs. All the world's their stage and sprawling all over it their birthright. You can spot this breed practically every place — home, bus, train, cinema.
Back to the vertically challenged neighbour. Half down already, he figures somehow that he will soon be flat out on terra firma if he doesn't get back on his feet. He picks himself up and appears to be really sitting as people normally do when they are in chairs. But soon enough, he begins to balloon out. His legs - they wouldn't keep together. He conveniently inflicts the left one on my space as I shrink towards my left and my husband. I've been doing this for most of the film and I am tired of staying squeezed. I also want my armrest back. I try catching his attention. Blast that cell phone - he is just so besotted with it he has eyes for none else. And so, bravely and loudly I croak to my husband, "Why can't people keep their legs to themselves? Why can't they sit instead of dilating all over the place?"
Quick on the uptake, husbandji gives me his seat and crosses over to mine. For the first time our man looks up, a hint interest in his beady eyes. Brute power meets not-so-brute power. Husbandji knocks his knee against his neighbour's and shoves it in its place. As he stares, husbandji stares back, elbows out the guy's elbow and lets him have it - at an impressive decibel. Baithne ka shaoor nahin hai kya, specially jab ek lady saath baithi ho? That effectively deflates him and he is back to his phone. I whisper gratefully into husbandji's ear, "Thank you."
But the decibel has done
the damage. A couple of studs, one certainly more like a mule, are
smirking away. One of them pipes up to his mate, Aise baith sakte
hain ya nahin, all the while making some rather primitive,
male-franchised gestures. The guy's crazy I think as I try to scorch
him down with my eyes. The other guy is smiling away, smugly,
foolishly hoping for a reaction. It comes, of course, from husbandji
in rather unprintable ways. The two mumble something like a ‘sorry’.
I don't hear too well. It's lights out and film on. The young heroine
is dodging and driving the ball into the D. And it's a GOAL.Great
film! But I am uncomfortable. At the end of Bend... I wonder
how to fend off such men.
HOPES, fears, uncertainty and loads of enthusiasm, is what I carried in my baggage when I started my journey to Singapore. Though a nature-lover’s dreamland and shopper’s paradise, Singapore as a destination meant much more to me than just a place to holiday in. I was going there to begin my journey towards peace and to cement my commitment to building a better world. The very thought of being part of a peace conference termed "Focus on Kashmir," made me jump with excitement.
A group of 40 students from India and Pakistan were being brought on a single platform. Fortunately, I was among the first participants to reach the United World College of South-East Asia, Singapore, on June 21. That meant I could settle down in my beautiful room before the conference actually began. Initiative for Peace, a group of students and teachers from the United World College of South-East Asia, Singapore— UWCSEA—was the workforce behind the conference. We were made to feel at home by Dario Lerer, as he co-ordinated the conference.
Participants kept pouring in until the evening the next day. And then the action finally began. On the night of June 22, sleep was the last thing on our minds. We talked, laughed, chatted and danced late into the night.
With a brief introduction and orientation, the next day, began our enthralling packed-with-activity week. A presentation on peace activism by Gerson Andres Florez Perez, a sixteen-year old Columbian Nobel Peace Prize nominee 2002, set the mood for the conference.
The conference was dotted by lectures, discussions, workshops, cultural activities and social interaction. A session called ‘Construction of history’ informed us about how true the facts in our history books are. We noticed that the Indians and Pakistanis are being taught different versions of the same events. This is unfortunate because it sows seeds of prejudice right from childhood. A conflict management workshop by Keith Fitzgerald, Managing Director, SEA — Change, gave us invaluable insights into processes of negotiation. Rope-course training by Asia Networks was an exercise towards building trust and effective communication.
Admiral L. Ramdas, former head of the Indian Navy, currently the Chairperson of the Indian chapter of the Pakistani India Peoples Fourm for Peace and Democracy, enlightened us with his views and experiences.
The programme culminated in a joint statement calling for a peaceful resolution of the Kashmir conflict and outlining concrete initiatives to achieve this goal. The Statement of Common Ground implores the members to play a decisive role, in fields like education and policy making, to bring about effective change.
Apart from the scheduled activities, we talked endlessly, danced all night and sang beautiful songs together — We who believe in Freedom, Aise zameen aur aasmaan, Mat baanto insaan ko. We understood each other’s language. We wore the same dresses. There was nothing that marked a Pakistani as different from an Indian. In fact, we realised that we are battling the same problems back home and it was important for us to fight them together.
It is difficult to pack in, all that I learnt and felt, in a limited span of time. Each session I attended left an indelible impression on my mind. I left Singapore, more learned, better informed and, most important, with a bunch of friends from across the Line of Control. Tears rolled down our cheeks as we bade farewell to each other. But down within our hearts, we parted with an iron commitment to make a difference.
Our aim now is to build an extensive grassroots network in both India and Pakistan, working towards peace. ‘Focus on Kashmir’ will spread the message of peace for we firmly believe that as the youth, we have the right and the obligation to determine our future ourselves.
I will never forget the twinkle in everyone’s eyes when we drafted our mission statement. "We are a youth movement united in our efforts to build mutual trust and understanding for sustainable peace". Our journey has just begun. We all walk together, hand in hand, in our pursuit of peace. And nothing can deter us, for we believe.
"First they ignore us,
Then they laugh at us,
Then they fight us,
NINETEEN-YEAR-OLD Zhuo Ling created history in China when she won third prize in the prestigious Miss Universe contest, overcoming strong contenders.
To the bewilderment of the tall, slender and ravishing Chinese lass, the crown of glory has turned out to be a crown of thorns in her motherland.
Ever since Zhuo won the third prize at the Miss Universe beauty pageant in San Juan, Puerto Rico, China has not acknowledged her accomplishment and the official media even launched a tirade against her feat.
The attitude of the mandarins and media is even more puzzling as it was the first time a Chinese contestant had entered an international beauty competition. One newspaper commented that the country should be "ashamed" for Zhou becoming Miss China and enter the contest based only on looks.
She should instead have demonstrated some talent, such as playing the piano and won on that basis, it said.
However, as a consolation, some publications in Zhuo’s hometown, Shanghai have come out with articles describing her as the "oriental beauty".
Saddened by the attitude on the Chinese mainland, Zhuo recently went to Hong Kong to talk to the media there. It lapped up her presence in the territory with glee.
"Zhuo Ling is something new. With her confidence and poise, steely determination to succeed and quick mind, she reverberates with all the spirit of up-and-coming mainland generation, Post Magazine, the Sunday edition of Hong Kong’s leading newspaper, South China Morning Post commented.
"Unlike any other generation in Chinese history, she (Zhuo) and her peers have grown up in a country increasingly characterised by expansion, growth and optimism," the paper said.
Zhuo’s run up to glory did not come easily.
Her parents divorced when she was just 10 years old. Zhou was brought up by her father. Then her selection as Miss China also raised a storm in media circles.
Zhuo has denied reports that she was the only contestant at the final event held in Guangdong province.
Some reports claimed that the beauty pageant in Guangdong was shut down before voting took place by officials who mistakenly believed it was not licensed.
"That’s not true," Zhuo said, adding that 40 finalists from across China made it to the event held in March.
She said the contest was curtailed as she began her victory catwalk in another part of the stage, giving the impression she was the only entrant.
Her presence in Hong Kong has also generated another controversy with the organiser of the China section of the Miss Universe contest planning to sue Zhuo for an alleged breach of contract.
Undeterred by the controversies surrounding her, Zhuo said she doesn’t expect to change the entire concept of womanhood. However she does wants, at least, to share her experience with the next generation of potential Miss Chinas.
Says Zhuo:"I want
to show them it’s an honour, that it’s not just about superficial
beauty but about different aspects of being a woman."