5 0 O Y E A R S O O F O I N D I A N O I N D E P E N D E N C E
This issue which focuses on women and society was published on June 19, 1998
|Vimla Dang on how Feudal
mindset still dogs womens struggle...
Sharmila Joshi says women succumb to violence due to economic dependence...
Sujata Madhok points out a vast majority lives in abject poverty...
Sheila Didi says administrative will is lacking...
M. L.Kak interviews Kashmiri women who say "We have to change the patriarchal system...
OPINION: Rashmi Sharma, Madanjit Kaur, Oshima Raikhy, Nargis Bir Singh, Shabana Azmi, Meenu Kulkarni, Mohini Giri, Jayashree Anand, Shobha Broota, Shahnaz Husain, Sadia Dehlvi, Dalip Kaur Tiwana, Yasmin Hazarika, Tulsi Patel, Pam Rajput, Rashmee Mehta, Vandana Shiva
dogs womens struggle
A fair deal, equitable system urgently needed
by Vimla Dang
While the country is celebrating the Golden Jubilee of Independence, we salute the brave martyrs, both known and unknown, who sacrificed their lives at the altar of freedom. We recall with pride the noble deeds of thousands of women who responded to the call of Mahatma Gandhi and came out of their homes, braving brutal British repression, and courted arrest. In some areas of the country, women even took to arms.
Leaders of the national movement led by Jawaharlal Nehru took a progressive stand regarding womens rights and proposed radical changes in the Hindu law relating to marriage and succession. After 15 long years of struggle, four Acts, forming the core of the Hindu Code Bill, were passed by the first Parliament. These were the Special Marriage Act, the Hindu Marriage Act, the Hindu Succession Act and the Adoption and Maintenance Act.
In Amritsar, Jan Sangh women burnt copies of the Hindu Code Bill. When I first came to Punjab, I found that stiff opposition had been worked up against the Hindu Succession Act. This Central Act had granted equal right to daughters and sons in property, including agricultural land. The Punjab Istri Sabha ran a mass campaign and did a lot of lobbying, too.
It printed a special booklet in defence of the Act. Aruna Asaf Ali and Vimla Farooqui, president and general secretary of the Bharatiya Mahila Federation to which PIS is affiliated, presented a memorandum to S. Gurnam Singh, Chief Minister, Punjab, asking him to withdraw the amendments. Tara Bai, president, AIWC, Violet Alwa, the then Deputy Speaker, Rajya Sabha, also made a appeal against the amendment.
A similar stand was taken by the Haryana Assembly led by Bhajan Lal, Chief Minister, against the Act. We greatly appreciated the stand of late Om Prabha Jain, a Congress Minister, Haryana, for her consistent stand in defence of the Act. Raksha Saran and Pritpal Wasu of AIWC also joined us. The Punjab Istri Sabha and the Haryana Mahila Sabha organised dharnas outside Punjab and Haryana assemblies. A joint delegation of the Punjab Istri Sabha and Haryana Mahila Sabha met Bhajan Lal but he refused to budge.
Let it be noted that the amendments proposed by the two assemblies were rejected by the Centre more than once. In fact, some state governments, like Maharashtra, have adopted special state legislations, withdrawing the right of the father to deprive the daughters by will of their share in paternal property, a weakness of the Central Act, thus putting the sons and daughters on an equal plane.
Women of our country had expected that freedom would end their poverty. But even after 50 years of Independence, India is still listed in the U.N. human development report as one of the poorest countries in the world. But from a chronically food deficit country it has become self-sufficient. That is good, yet one-third of our people go without adequate food. Over 70 per cent of our people live in villages and 40 per cent of them are living below the poverty line.
In 1970, we women participated in a countrywide land struggle organised by the CPI demanding basic land reforms. There was an Akali government in Punjab then. Over 140 offered satyagraha with me at Bedi farm in Ferozepore and were jailed. Hundreds of others were lathicharged by the police and driven away.
The public distribution system has totally collapsed. The Budget adopted by the U.F. government in 1997-98 had enhanced subsidies on foodgrains and fertilisers and promised to give 10 kg of rice and wheat at half the price to those below the poverty line.
This has not been implemented. It is my opinion that the policies of the present BJP government, continuation of liberalisation, globalisation and privatisation will lead to further price rise.Women cannot advance without education. Over 60 per cent of our female population is illiterate. We are far behind in providing free and compulsory education to all. Even today, 50,000 villages do not have a primary school. About 4,40,000 are without any upper primary school.
Recently, an alarming trend has emerged in the field of education in Punjab. The number of students in the age group 14-18 belonging to the Scheduled Castes fell from 1.24 lakh in 1992 to 1.22 lakh in 1993 and to 1.18 lakh in 1994. The share of the Scheduled Castes girls in the total enrolment in the age group 14-18 fell from 18.32 per cent in 1993 to 17.36 per cent in 1994 (Economic Survey of Punjab, 1995-96). However, in recent years enrolment of girls has increased though there are dropouts. About 54 per cent of the schools in the villages in our country are without water, 79 per cent without lavatories and 66 per cent without playgrounds.
During the previous Congress government in Punjab, education was made free for girls up to the graduation level. This has definitely helped the girls. Those upgraded do not have full staff and adequate accommodation. Many girls have to go to private institutions which charge heavily. The students and the womens movement are demanding that we spend at least 10 per cent of our Budget on education. For girls we need more polytechnics and hostels.
Employment is an important index of economic status of women. Work participation of females has risen from 14.22 per cent in 1971 to 22.27 per cent in 1991. However, this progress is quite unsatisfactory. In India, women constitute 90 per cent of the total marginal workers, but in the organised sector, they constitute only 4 per cent. About 30 million women work as agricultural labourers. The others work on roads, brick kilns, construction projects etc.
In industry, women have been thrown out so that expenses on maternity benefits etc. are saved. Women do not get equal pay for equal work, except in government factories. There is no law for the protection of women who are given work in private sheds and houses. Since Independence, there has been tremendous progress with regard to the status of women, though not all of it is satisfactory. Actually, there has been a contradictory process.
On the one hand, there has been some awareness about the need for gender equality. Womens organisations have led powerful movements and struggles for their rights. Many laws to protect them are on the statute book. On the other hand, oppression and atrocities against women have been on the increase for some years now. Cases of wife-beating, dowry deaths, kidnappings, molestation, rape and aminocentisis (killing of female foetus in the womb) are common.
Everyone knows that a number of cases are not registered with the police due to the social stigma attached to rape cases. Newspapers are full of alarming news about rape cases, including gangrapes of minor girls. Our organisations, including the Punjab Istri Sabha, are taking up cases of social oppression all over the state and in the Union Territory of Chandigarh. It cooperates with AIWC, Red Cross, ASHI, Janwadi Istri Sabha and some others. In the cities and villages, trade unions, kisan organisations and youth associations give us all help. Members of panchayats are also approached whenever possible.
In matrimonial disputes our approach generally is to bring about reconciliation between husbands and wives by patient, persuasive and impartial handling of cases. Experience shows that police interference does not always help. Only in very special circumstances do we report cases to the police and that, too, to very senior officers to get their help. Womens cells of police have not proved to be very effective so far. In cases of dowry deaths, we have succeeded in getting some culprits arrested and punished. Conviction was secured in Amritsar in two cases of rape recently.
There are times when we need the support of people against particular cases of violence against women. The response has been tremendous. Our opinion is that there should be no party considerations. In Punjab there was the case of Kiranjit Kaur of Mahal Kalan in Sangrur district. The girl, a minor student, was kidnapped, gangraped, killed and buried in the neighbouring fields. The police, backed by some political leaders and vested interests, tried to hush up the case. Rallies were held. The stinking body was ultimately traced after 10 days. I have never in my life seen such massive protest rallies as the ones in Mahal Kalan demanding the arrest of the culprits and action against police officers. Success in this case was achieved after a prolonged struggle.
There is the recent case of Preeto Bai of Ferozepore. The women was raped by two brothers. She fought her case boldly. Both the culprits were convicted for 10 years imprisonment by the Sessions Judge on April 29, 1998. They then disappeared from the sessions courts. Two days later, they attacked Preeto Bai while she was asleep in her village and with a sharp weapon chopped off her left leg.
On reading the news, I went to Ferozepore with a group of women and employees and met Preeto Bai in the Civil Hospital, Ferozepore. We gave her some monetary aid. Later, we met the SSP and demanded the immediate arrest of the culprits and security for the family. The culprits were arrested after two days and are in jail. Mandeep Kaur, a polytechnic student of Ferozepore, was kidnapped over four months ago and most likely done to death. Manjeet Kaur of a private nursing home seems to have been driven to suicide. The police have not been acting properly. People are now demanding that the case be handed over to the CBI.
Increasing social oppression in our opinion is not only due to persistence of old feudal ideas but also to the fact that we now have a consumerist society. Money and more money is becoming the sole aim not only of the upper but also of the middle classes. This has led to tremendous increase in corruption and degeneration of moral values. A criminal politician-police nexus has also evolved. With money power and VIP links, people can get away even with crimes such as rape. Womens organisations must, therefore, fight relentlessly and demand a new system in society based on justice and equality and free from feudal rituals and exploitation.
Women must fight for an end to discrimination between a male and female child. Textbooks in schools must instill the idea of equality of the sexes from the beginning. Economic independence does not by itself lead to equality in the family. Highly educated women with big salaries meekly tolerate maltreatment and beatings.
An alarming development is the eulogisation of the practice of sati. Agitations during the Roop Kanwars episode in Rajasthan brought to light that there have been 40 reported cases of sati since independence. Is it not a shame? The acquittal of all the 32 accused by the sessions court and their public garlanding in this case shows the emergence of Hindu revivalist forces. Similarly, the judgement of the Supreme Court was nullified in Shah Banus case to please the Muslim fundamentalists for partisan political ends.
The establishment of National Womens Commission with statutory powers is a great step forward. We feel that similar commissions must also be set up in the states.
The writer is an eminent social activist and a former legislator.
|They succumb to violence due to economic
Yet, women in India survive, grow and achieve so much
by Sharmila Joshi
IF you consider the innumerable forms of violence women in India are subjected to, its a testament to their determination and strength that so many women survive, grow, and achieve so much.
Lets take the case of Rukmini, a fictitious person, representative of women in our society, and very real in all the violence she experiences. Violence, after all, is not just physical or mental. Any form of gender-based discrimination constitutes violence. It harms the woman, it violates her rights.
Rukmini almost lost her chance to be born. To her middle class parents in a small town, a possible fourth daughter was an unwelcome liability. Rukminis father proposed amniocentesis a pre-natal medical technique which indicates, among other things, the sex of the foetus.
Tests like amniocentesis and chorion villus biopsy, devised to detect genetic abnormalities, were banned for sex determination in Maharashtra and Rajasthan a decade ago. A similar national Bill awaits ratification since 1992. Meanwhile, the tests are still offered in clinics in Mumbai, and other cities, as a package deal. If the foetus is female, the cost of the test covers the cost of the subsequent abortion.
But her mother resisted, and Rukmini was born. If she had been born in the Salem or Usilampatti districts of Tamil Nadu, or in Bihar or Rajasthan, she may not have lived beyond a few weeks. She may not have survived either in the resettlement colonies of Delhi or Thane in Maharashtra, which also sporadically report murders of female infants.
A midwife or a female relative would have killed her by any of these methods: by stuffing her mouth with black salt, lacing the milk fed to her with pesticide, tobacco paste, or grains of paddy husk which slit the tender gullet, suffocating her with a wet towel or a bag of sand, feeding her juice of the poisonous oleander bery, starving her to death, strangling or drowning her, or leaving her out to die of cold on a chilly winter night.
Such contempt for female life, in conjunction with a high maternal mortality rate (570 per 100,000 live births), the gross neglect of womens health and dowry deaths, accounts for millions of missing women in India.
A recent UNDP report says India has 10 per cent fewer women than would be expected in demographic terms. The national sex ratio in 1991 was 927 women to every 1,000 men, down from 972 in 1901
The very neglect of girls is indirect infanticide, says demographer Malini Karkal. Therefore, it is violence. A March, 1997, study analysing data from the 1992-93 National Family Health Survey shows that boys are breastfed for a longer period of time than girls, and that girls are consistently less likely than boys to be reported ill with the three common childhood diseases diarrhoea, fever and acute respiratory infection.
Having survived all these threats to her brief life, the future is hardly promising for baby Rukmini. Her parents cannot afford to, or think it unnecessary, to send her to school. She, like over 60 per cent of Indias nearly 150 million girls, will remain illiterate. Instead, she will be conditioned to be docile and domestic.
During her tentative childhood, Rukmini will also face the constant possibility of molestation and rape. Of the 10,068 rapes registered in India in 1990, 2,105 were of girls aged 10 to 16 and 394 of girls below 10. A mid-94 survey by the Bangalore-based National Institute of Mental Health and Neurological Studies of college girls showed that one-third had experienced sexual abuse by the age of nine.
As soon as it is possible, Rukminis parents will marry her off. Of the 4.5 million marriages that take place in India every year, says a 1994 UNICEF report, three million involve girls in the 15-19 age group. In some districts of feudal Rajasthan, over 45 per cent of young girls in the 10-14 age-group are married.
Her parents cannot afford it, but Rukminis wedding will be accompanied by a huge dowry, even though the practice is illegal. Inevitably, poor Rukminis dowry will not satisfy her husband and his family. They will harass her. Then, the husband will resort to physical violence, battering Rukmini every day. But our Rukmini is lucky; she will not die due to dowry-related violence, like one woman does every 102 minutes in India.
But a desperate Rukmini cannot return to her parents home. Apart from the social stigma of such a move, her father, by now a proud parent of a son, does not recognise her as a legitimate inheritor of his property. Her right to her matrimonial home will also be denied to her. If she were Muslim, Rukmini would be legally denied maintenance after divorce. If she were Christian, she would not be able to divorce her brutally violent husband because the relevant personal law (except in Maharashtra and Kerala) permits divorce only when cruelty is compounded by proven adultery.
If Rukmini becomes widowed, in many parts of India she would lose any right to dignity and happiness. In Rajasthan, she might be forced to immolate herself, like Roop Kanwar was, in 1987. In Tamil Nadu and West Bengal, she could be discarded in a decrepit widows home, where all she can look forward to is death.
Throughout her fearful existence, the perpetrators of violence in Rukminis life are not only her family. If she ventures beyond the confines of her home, she could be one of the women molested every 26 minutes in India, or raped as one woman in every 54 minutes, or kidnapped as one woman in every 43 minutes (National Crime Bureau figures).
She could even end up in a Mumbai brothel, raped and beaten until she is too broken to resist.All these, and many more, forms of violence have been suffered by Rukmini, who is representative of all women, for centuries. In a study titled Violence Against Women: New Movements and New Theories in India, social activist Gail Omvedt of the Shetkari Sanghatana in Maharashtra, says evidence of patriarchal domination over women is evident as far back as 3,000 BC. It probably existed even before that.
It is with this perspective that several campaigns in the womens movement in India have focused on amendments in laws. In doing this, several struggles have been fought for Rukmini and the millions of women she represents.
A campaign against rape in the early 1980s is generally regarded as the catalyst which sparked off the contemporary womens movement in India. In 1972, Mathura, a 16-year-old tribal girl, was raped by two policemen within a police compound near Nagpur.
In 1974, the Sessions Judge acquitted the accused on the ground that Mathura had a boyfriend and was habituated to sexual intercourse. The High Court reversed the order. But in 1978, a three-Judge Bench of the Supreme Court once again set the culprits free.
This set off the campaign, which included public protests and wide media coverage. In 1980, the law related to rape, unchanged for 120 years, was amended, though not entirely to the satisfaction of the campaigners. By the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 1980, the onus of proof of consent was shifted to the accused, but only in cases of custodial rape (involving policemen, public servants, wardens and so on). The amendment stipulated seven years as the minimum punishment for rape
Around the same time, media attention was drawn to dowry deaths with increasing reports of deaths of young brides in kitchen accidents. Kanchan Bala died in Delhi in March, 1979, and was the first case to be recognised as one of bride-burning. This was followed by the death of Tarvinder Kaur, also in Delhi, in May 1979.
By June that year, a vociferous campaign was under way, demanding stringent action against the perpetrators of such murders. The 1961 loophole-riden Dowry Prohibition Act was amended twice, in 1984 and 1986, making demands for dowry a non-bailable offence and shifting the burden of proof to the accused, amongst other changes.
Over the next decade, other campaigns have also resulted in changes in, or introduction of, laws. In 1986, the Cr P C was amended (Section 498A) to create special categories of offences to deal with cruelty to wives (domestic violence) dowry harassment and dowry deaths. Following a concerted campaign in Bombay, amniocentesis was banned for sex-determination in Maharashtra in 1989.
Legal provisions were accompanied by other changes. For the first time, women began to openly talk about hitherto taboo subjects like domestic violence, rape and incest. Womens rights and legal activist Flavia Agnes, wrote a book called My Story, Our Story, of Rebuilding Broken Lives, detailing the physical violence her husband subjected her to.
But all the positive changes pale in comparison to the simultaneous status quo in other arenas such as unchanging attitudes, a more exploitative media, a rising crime graph and in the area of legal justice.
If oppression was to be tackled by passing laws, writes Agnes in a critique of legal amendments, then this decade (1980-89) could be adjudged as the golden period for Indian women activists.
The enactments conveyed a positive picture of achievement, but the statistics revealed a different story... The rate of convictions under these lofty and laudable legislations was dismal. Hence the deterrent value of the enactments was totally lost.
But social change takes time. Along with the negatives, points out Omvedt, the activities of mass-linked womens organisations, party womens wings and urban feminist collectives are also spreading.
Old theories, stereotyped ideas and conventional methods of action are being challenged, she writes. In fact, it is the mass movements arising from those at the very depth of an exploitative and destructive social order, particularly the movements of peasant, adivasi and Dalit women, and the theories coming out of them, that are in the forefront of dealing with the challenge and the crisis.
The writer works for Womens Feature Service, New Delhi.
lives in abject poverty
Gender bias, infanticide bane of Indian woman
by Sujata Madhok
SAY womens issues, and a whole bunch of cliches comes to mind rape, dowry, crime, violence, sexual harassment, incest, wife-beating, discrimination, rights, quotas, gender, sexism, feminism. The list of problems and issues seems endless. But a basic, underlying issue invariably gets ignored the fact of poverty.
Yet, it is now well established that the poorest households in any society tend to be those headed by women. Though too little Indian data exists on this phenomenon, it is known and officially accepted that the vast majority of Indian women lives in poverty all their lives. The government acknowledges that the 1991 census and the National Sample Survey (NSS) data of 10 per cent such households is an underestimate.
The estimated 20 per cent rural women-headed households (where women are widows, deserted wives or where men have migrated) are particularly vulnerable, as women rarely have legal titles to land, which is the critical survival resource in the countryside.
Landlessness and seasonal unemployment is the fate of the majority. In the past, access to forest products like timber, the mahua flower, the katha tree, and to foods like nuts, roots, fruits and berries, edible grasses and bamboo shoots provided income and sustenance during lean periods. As these sources are drying up, the burden falls most heavily on the women who bear responsibility to somehow make provision for the familys sustenance.
Caste hierarchies, a feudal-patriarchal culture, the absence of land reforms, anti-agrarian economic policies, polluting technologies like chemical pesticides and fertilisers, and dearth of health and education facilities do little to improve their lot.
If the village woman escapes female infanticide at birth, survives infanthood despite discriminatory feeding and health practices, and grows into adolescence, she faces the next hurdle of post-puberty marriage and early motherhood. Repeated pregnancies and undernutrition endanger her health and can be fatal.
Her lot is sickness, overwork and powerlessness in the family hierarchy. Gender bias restricts her mobility, education and acquisition of skills, ensuring that she cannot earn an adequate income. Should her husband migrate to the city, desert her or die, she can barely survive. If she is lucky, she dies a suhagin.
A 1987 survey of women workers by the National Commission on Self-Employed Women based on 1.5 lakh questionnaires found that 35 per cent of respondents earned less than Rs 3,000 in a whole year.
This, despite the fact that these women perform a multiplicity of economic activities ranging from wage labour to self-employment. On an average, each woman was doing four kinds of work for insurance, labouring in the fields for wages, working the family plot, rearing livestock and processing agricultural produce for sale. Her work contributed roughly 40 per cent to the income of the family.
The rural wage labourer was found to earn the least less even than women engaged in independent work or in contract, piece-rate work at home.Yet, census data shows that between 1981 and 1991 the number of rural women agricultural workers increased by a phenomenal 36.15 per cent. Clearly, landlessness and poverty is forcing more rural women into the labour force to earn a miserable wage.
The argument that this increase reflects more accuracy in census definitions and data is a partial and inadequate explanation for such a huge jump.
Traditionally, women are paid lower wages than men. Usually, the discrimination is justified by demarcating jobs as either mens work or womens work. Even the governments periodic notification of minimum wage rates for agricultural labour, has not effected any change.
Activist Brinda Karat in a two-part article in The Hindu says this exploitation is being taken a step further. She cites farms and sugarcane plantations in Andhra Pradesh where women are being hired to do the planting normally done by men. The exploitation of cheap women labour has become an important instrument to increase profits, she writes.
On the one hand more women and men are looking for wage work in the countryside than ever before. On the other, points out Karat, the switch from agricultural crops to cash crops generally means that less labour is required. The consequence is more poverty and migration, forcing yet larger numbers into overcrowded cities.
Gender differentiated wage rates in industry too are marked, with women earning roughly half what men earn. The enactment of legislations like the Factories Act and its accompanying rules, the Industrial Disputes Act and the Minimum Wages Act have not led to women earning equal or fair wages. Studies, such as the Bridge Briefings On Development and Gender, recount that women are paid much less than men for the same work or similar work.
In part, this situation arisen from the fact that most womens employment close to 95 per cent is in the informal sector. What employment growth there has been for women in the formal sector, has been mainly in the public sector in the 1980s. Within the private formal sector, there has been little growth after the 1970s, contrary to popular belief which is based mainly on increased employment for women at the higher levels in a companys hierarchy.
For most women, the struggle for survival defines their entire existence. But caught up as the media, the womens groups and the mushrooming number of gender experts are in debating the multiple manifestations of sexism, they tend to ignore this harsher reality.
Problems like domestic violence or alcoholism are often symptoms of an interplay of factors ranging from patriarchy to poverty. To stress only one factor is misleading. If you are a middle-class woman, there is a possible solution to dealing with the problem of an alcoholic husband go to a social worker or counsellor or psychiatrist for help.
But if you live in a slum, and your husband is an alcoholic, and you cant afford the next meal, and the landlord threatens to evict you because the rent is three months overdue, and your sons are becoming vagrants, youve never heard of a psychiatrist, and the government-sponsored theka next door continues to sell temptation at your doorstep despite your protests and those of the neighbours, are the solutions that simple?
Consider how poverty affects the daily life of the woman in the slum, where the degradation of the environment has led directly to the decay in peoples personal values.
Back in the village, the public well was a meeting spot, especially for women who come to collect the days water supply. The public pond was a place where bathing was fun, children splashed in abandon, women chatted over the household washing....
In the urban slum, overcrowding and shortages turn the sharing of common facilities into a nightmare. Women are forced to fight for water from public taps that are dry more often than not
Living cheek by jowl, sharing small common spaces like yards or open grounds, queueing up to use the woefully inadequate public toilets, all become sources of endless conflict. Neighbours beat each other up over the smallest provocation; sometimes the fights become lethal.
Slums account for much of the urban sprawl. according to the estimates of the Task Force on Housing and Urban Development in 1981 between 30 to 45 per cent of the population of metro cities like Bombay, Calcutta, Delhi and Madras were living in slums. (The Task Force studied data from the Census, the National Sample Survey Organisation, and the Town and Country Planning Organisation, among others).
Instead of facilitating housing, government spending on housing dropped from 34 per cent of the budget in the First Plan to nine per cent in the Seventh Five Year Plan.
The writer is a journalist and a social activist.
|Educating a woman means educating a family
by Rashmi Sharma
A lot has been said and written about the 50 years of Indian Independence. Even the Indian Parliament convened a special session to discuss what the members thought to be the issues most fundamental to the development of Indian society and economy. We know very well society cannot develop without the development of its womenfolk.The Constitution of India enjoins upon every citizen the duty to renounce any practice derogatory of the dignity of women. Our religious scriptures also accord due respect to women and assert that God lives where women are worshiped. In this way our Constitution legalises what our scriptures prescribe as a social duty. The need to incorporate their injunction into the Constitution of India arose due to the prevailing atmosphere in which the women were denied their place in society and subjected to humiliation, which reduced them to a position inferior to men.Mahatma Gandhi and a host of other leaders connected with the freedom movement realised this and set out to liberate women in order to enlist their valued cooperation in the all-round advancement of India. Hence, the need to put women issues into the Constitution
In true spirit, the principle of the basic equality of sexes has never been put into practice. That cannot be possible without the development of women. For this, education of women is a must. Educate a man, and you educate one person. Educate a woman and you educate the whole family. This is a well-said dictum. For this the Government of India should make education for women free and compulsory.Women in India have covered a great distance in the last 50 years. They are coming up in all spheres of life. They are joining universities and colleges, entering into all kinds of professions like engineering, medicine, teaching etc. If the provisions of the Indian Constitution are observed in letter and spirit, the future of Indian women is quite bright. The time has come for adopting a revolutionary approach. With the introduction of 33 per cent reservation for women, the nation, or for that matter, the world can be lifted to heights of greatness and distinction. There is a great need for awakening of women socially. Without social amelioration, political rights have no value. There is a visible gap between the law as it stands and the law as it operates. The need is to bridge the gap. It is one thing to declare, and another to enforce. The potential of human rights law vis-a-vis women is worth addressing in India, especially in view of the Indian Constitution, but the problem of enforcement should not be underestimated. The fact that women tend to suffer human right abuses in a specific way has often been ignored.
The writer is a social worker and has won several awards .
Awaken her socially, and see the difference
|Mans pysche must change
by Oshima Raikhy
The 21st century must become synonymous with the time the woman finally got her rightful place in society. And her status at home will largely determine her standing in the world. Respect for a woman, her needs and aspirations is essential because only then can she give her best to society. A happy woman will make a loving home and bring up sons and daughters who have a healthy outlook towards life and are not scared to denounce the evils afflicting every little step of our walk towards a peaceful existence.Thus, to begin with there must be democracy in the family. The husband and wife should work as a team with both partners having an equal say in decision-making. The woman must not be condemned to play the role of a maid to the man - whether it is father, brother husband, father-in-law, brother-in-law or son.Society needs to be rid of a lot of shortcomings that have only undermined the position of woman. Just as the practice of sati has been abolished (well, almost), the world would be a far better place if people spent their time in constructive activities rather than collecting dowry for their daughters or marrying them off during childhood and leaving them to their fate or satisfying their lust by kidnapping, raping and dumping girls.In order to iron out the unevenness in society, the women must be educated and they should learn to assert their rights and shun the injustices heaped on them. The real change will be when mans psyche undergoes a transformation and both men and women meet mid-way rather than the girl always making all the adjustments.The writer is President, Punjab Istri Sabha.
(Interviews conducted by The Tribune staffers--Harvinder Khetal, Tripti Nath, Jangveer Singh and Varindar Walia).
|Adam for field, Eve for hearth no
We have to change the patriarchal system
by M.L. Kak
WHETHER out of convenience, or conviction, or tradition, Indian society, over the centuries, has been unfair to the fair sex, and Jammu and Kashmir state, which has over 30 lakh women as per the 1981 census, is no exception.
Prominent women, whose contribution in the development of education and in social service has been outstanding, agree that during the last three decades women have marched ahead in fields which used to be dominated by men, but even in the changing scenario for the fair sex the age-old discrimination against women has assumed a new and unfortunate trend in the shape of female foeticide.
According to Shakuntla Seth, a prominent educationist who has remained active for 45 years in promoting avenues for female education in Jammu, female foeticide is a reformed version of Rajput tradition of killing their daughters soon after they were born. She is of the opinion that discrimination against women has its roots in the tradition in which parents watch with tears in their eyes the birth of a female child and are thrilled if a male child is born.
Mehmooda Ali Ahmed Shah, considered to be the founder of modern educational system for women as the first Kashmiri principal of the Government College of Women in Srinagar, says that despite the fact that the freedom struggle threw up many women stalwarts, the patriarchal social system has denied women their right to have a place of honour in society.
They have been denied, under this system, equal opportunities to grow and work in their chosen field of activity. If we expect a fair deal from society, we have to change the patriarchal system, she explains, adding that over the centuries Indian society has been plagued by the feudal system as far as its treatment to the fair sex is concerned.
She does not believe that legislation will create a miracle for women if the social system and its values and attitudes do not experience any major change. Legislation does not percolate to the grassroots level. And these laws will have no meaning if the male-dominated society does not accept them and implement them. She says, We have laws against dowry, against bride-burning, against female foeticide but these crimes against women remain unchecked.
Dr Nirmal Kamal, Professor in the Department of Economics in Jammu University, expects society to change its outlook on women. We are treated as an instrument of entertainment. We are victimised, exploited and used to serve the interests of man.
The petite Dr Kamal does realise that in the evolutionary process man for the field and woman for the hearth is a thing of the past. However, women are yet to be politically and financially empowered. Shakuntla Seth moves a step further and says that we expect the society to alter its attitude and stop treating women as mere sex symbols. What looks sickening is the way the male-dominated society treats women as pleasure dolls, thinking that she has to live for man and die for him. She is of the view that the situation has eased for women in the urban areas of the country but it continues to be difficult in rural areas. Here women have been denied opportunities to lead an honourable and self-sufficient life.
For Dr Koshalya Wali, eminent educationist and a true Gandhian, male chauvinism has denied the fair sex the right to be a human being.. Boys have the right to flirt with girls, remain engaged for months and then demonstrate their right to accept or reject the girls they were engaged to be married, she bemoans. The Constitution provides equal opportunities to women, but in practice women face discrimination, she explains.
Dr Wali would like one to differentiate between literacy and education on the plea that despite the fact that the women literacy percentage in India, including Jammu and Kashmir, has increased, most of the women are not educated in the real sense of the term, as they are yet to experience development of their body, mind and soul. To her, women stand on the crossroads of home life. Even working women have to labour in the kitchen before going to the office and after returning from it. Their status is nothing better than that of a bonded labour.
She says the dowry system has become a major social menace under which the male-dominated society exercises its right to select a girl as a daughter-in-law on the basis of the wealth she will bring as dowry and not on the basis of her merit. Mrs Seth and Dr Wali say it is unjust if working women are forced to act almost like bonded labourers in the kitchen. She is expected to perform all the domestic chores before going and after returning from the office.
Mrs Seth laments even those working women who draw good salaries are teased by their in-laws for having brought meagre dowry without realising that their daughters-in-law have been given a sound education so that they can contribute several thousands of rupees to the domestic pool every month.
Their common refrain is that women in India, including those in Jammu and Kashmir, have not been allowed to develop self-confidence. It is so because before marriage the fair sex is under the thumb of the patriarch, and after wedding in awe of her husband and father-in-law.
Mrs Seth says in the West, a single woman can move about and travel to distant lands as a tourist but in our country even four women feel scared in the presence of one man.
Mehmooda Ali gives credit to late Sheikh Abdullah for having been instrumental in providing women in Jammu and Kashmir opportunities to receive education which has helped them to fight for their rights. In fact, she says, the Naya Kashmir plan, conceived by Sheikh Abdullah prior to Indias Independence, too, has helped women to grow emotionally and mentally. She is not in favour of launching a campaign on the pattern of Womens Lib as was done in the West. We have our culture. We are not for westernisation but for a change in the attitude of the society so that the fair sex enjoys honour, freedom and equality. To her there is a need for changing the society and its norms, which will take time.
Mrs Seth is not optimistic about the prospects of women launching a crusade against male chauvinism. We have not united to see women candidates get elected to the Lok Sabha, or to the state assemblies.
Dr Nirmal Kamal is of the view that gradual social evolution has brought women out of depression and deprivation but what is needed is a revolution so that women get their rights and are not treated as sex symbols.
Dr Wali has one complaint that women have outclassed men as engineers, architects, doctors, teachers and administrators but they are yet to be treated as human beings at a par with the male sex. She is of the view that increase in divorce cases is the result of male chauvinism, but Ms Mehmooda believes that for a smooth married life understanding between the husband and the wife is necessary.
These prominent women do not want doles from society. They expect women getting parity with men, and this can be achieved once society changes its outlook. They refer to the government plan of introducing reservations for women so that the Lok Sabha and state legislatures have sufficient number of women parliamentarians. In this connection they are of the opinion that reservations may help women to have greater political power but their ultimate status and dignity of life is to be determined by society.
They are optimistic about the society witnessing a transformation, provided women show determination in receiving higher education. Education alone will force society to change its attitude towards women, they observe, adding, our society has deprived the country of greater progress by keeping the fair sex as a decoration piece only.
The writer is The Tribunes Special Correspondent based in Jammu.
|Administrative will is lacking
by Sheila Didi
One of the biggest obstacles in the way of emancipation of women in this materialistic world is the evil of dowry. Worse is when at times women themselves play a role, whether active or passive, in the perpetration of this practice.Article 15 of the Constitution provides special provisions for women and Article 50-A presages duties on individuals to renounce practices that are derogatory to womens rights and certain laws have been amended from time to time for the betterment of women.
The post of dowry prohibition officers was created as also the setting up of dowry prohibition advisory boards was envisaged.But what has happened? How many raids have been conducted? How often have the boards, wherever formed, met and what is their contribution? There seems to be a lack of administrative will in tackling the problem.
Drastic steps are needed to achieve the goal. Inept officers should be replaced with dedicated ones and they should be sensitised to the gender issues. Family courts are also the need of the hour to not only expedite dowry cases but also provide some kinds of counselling. Above all, women should unite and agitate for their rights. Nobody will give them on a platter. Another experiment towards this aim could be the introduction of a subject on family relations at school.
Children must be taught to respect fellow human beings, especially elders. Once the values of humanity are ingrained in them, half the problems will vanish.Needless to say that given a chance, women have always proved their mettle, both at home and at work. But to achieve a balance, reservation for women in Parliament is necessary, just as in the local bodies.
The writer is the President of the Chandigarh unit of the Punjab Istri Sabha
A comprehensive legislation is required
|Include our voice in all dialogue
by Shabana Azmi
AS identity is based on several factors, there are expectations I have from society as an Indian, as an individual and as an artiste.As an Indian, I think that the bottomline of all negotiations should be our Constitution a Constitution committed to gender equality, secularism and democracy.
As a woman, I expect that finally space be given to women to participate in the global dialogue, whether it is on issues of industrialisation, or political and environmental issues. What I call the feminine gaze should be included in all dialogue happening locally and globally. All problems so far have been sought to be solved by men, which means that 50 per cent of mankind has not been included. This is why women are demanding inclusion in all spheres of life in the global dialogue.
Ultimately, when we talk about empowerment, it means participation in the decision-making process. The quality of education needs to be improved. There has to be a political will to alleviate poverty. If the government and the NGOs work together, the problem of poverty can be tackled effectively.
There should be a healthy exchange of ideas between the East and the West. It is the business of the East to inform the West of its values.
(The writer is an actress and a Rajya Sabha MP)
We must live for a cause
Treat us with dignity
Modify the legal system
Respect our thoughts
A give-and-take relationship
We must get rid of hypocrisy
|Culturally we are orphans
by Dalip Kaur Tiwana
I AM not a rebel. The woman writers of today do not understand the difference between revolt and deviation. They talk of revolt as a means of taking a step forward but do not know whether it will benefit their cause or not.
Literature has become a means through which personal ambitions of money, property and promotions are achieved. Writers have made literature a system through which they justify their own views. There should be a fine balance between action and contemplation.
Another thing which has afflicted our society is the end of role models. Society no longer has men of substance in most spheres, which has demoralised the coming generation. Culturally we have become orphans, with the family set-up breaking.
It is due to this degeneration of culture that we get this shabby treatment from society. The need of the hour is the protection of the soul for which the entire world can be sacrificed.
I have faced problems because I am a woman. When I entered the field of literature, there were few women in it. However, I was fortunate to get good guides. Even when I was doing my doctorate, I was told by a department head of the university not to side with my guide, or I would not get my degree. However, I remained steadfast and eventually cleared the viva.
I write one novel a year and complete the work itself in five days after the idea comes to my mind. However, I entered the literary world by accident. I had taken up Punjabi in postgraduation in protest after my uncle requested me to come home to Patiala when I was studying law as well as attending classes of M.A., history, in preparation of civil services examinations.
I took to Punjabi after my teacher, Pritam Singh, read out my test report in which I got two marks out of a total of 10. I felt instigated enough to say I would come first and started working even harder after the death of my uncle, who had adopted me, a short while later. I eventually stood first in the class.
While in Punjabi University, I was persuaded to write a story for the university magazine, which caught the eye of Vice-Chancellor Teja Singh. He encouraged me to write more stories, and my first collection of stories was published from the money I got from scholarships.
Following this I started writing novels and got the Sahitya Akademi award for my second novel Aho Hamara Jeewana in 1972. I have written 20 novels, besides a collection of seven short stories.
( The writer is Professor in the Punjabi Department, Punjabi University, Patiala, and a Sahitya Akademy award winner)
Why this social oppression?
Consumerism is the villain
Give us equality and respect
Recognise our dual role
We are Shakti