HER WORLD Sunday, July 29, 2001, Chandigarh, India

Thank You, Readers!

A phenomenal number of readers have responded to our contest on the topic "What holds back Indian women?," We are overwhelmed. Scrutinising of the entries and selection of the 10 best among them was a difficult task for the judges. The prize-winning entries will be published soon. We would like to thank the participants for making the competition a grand success.


Are we not disrupting natural law?
Daleep Kaur Tiwana
his is the same country where once it was believed that even for the severest vow all one had to do was to tear a single leaf off a pippal tree. Where if a cat were killed accidentally, it was believed that the sin couldn't be washed off until a cat made in solid gold were given in charity. Where a single act of cow-slaughter was enough to spell ruin for seven lives in a row. Where taking a single human life was treated equivalent to slaughtering a hundred cows.

Pioneers in reform
Rashmi Talwar
espite the fact that she has a marked preference for small families and supports the "right to abortion", Vimla Dang, patron of the Punjab Istri Sabha and former MLA condemns the medical practitioners who conduct sex-determination tests and destroy the female foetus.

More sinned against...
Nanki Hans
he was poor, from a backward caste, and a woman — that too a rebellious one, a surefire recipe for trouble. There were just too many barriers — class, caste and gender — that she had to face. She chose to defy all of these and thus invite the wrath of society.

Dulhan wahi jo degree thukraye
his refers to the article "Dulhan wahi jo degree thukraye" by Thangamani (July 22, 2001) wherein the writer has described how the precious technical degrees are being wasted by our young women in their post carriaagge lives now a days.




Are we not disrupting natural law?
Daleep Kaur Tiwana

This is the same country where once it was believed that even for the severest vow all one had to do was to tear a single leaf off a pippal tree. Where if a cat were killed accidentally, it was believed that the sin couldn't be washed off until a cat made in solid gold were given in charity. Where a single act of cow-slaughter was enough to spell ruin for seven lives in a row. Where taking a single human life was treated equivalent to slaughtering a hundred cows.

This is the same country where each and every atma was regarded as an inseparable fragment of the Parmatama.

This is the same country where devtas would often incarnate themselves in human form to rid the earth of the evil influence of the rakshasas. This is the very same country where it was believed that every man born on the face of earth must, of necessity, pay off three types of debts; that of the ancestors, of the gurus and of the mother. It was also believed that while the debt towards the ancestors and the gurus could always be recompensed during a lifetime, mother's debt could, quite simply, never be paid off.

Now in this very country, whenever men and boys think of abusing each other, they end up abusing their mothers and sisters. Whenever a riot or a war breaks out, it's invariably the women who have to bear the brunt of all loot, aggression and mutilation.

Now as man's struggle assumes menacing proportions in such obvious ways as economic, religious, cultural and not-so-obvious forms as psychological, intellectual or emotional, his oppression of the woman in both visible and invisible ways has apparently multiplied manifold. Murder, rape, bride burning, prostitution, divorce and female foeticide have become work-a-day experiences. We read the news or hear of the stories, but all we do is just hang our heads in shame, lapsing into a helpless, guilty silence. So much so that even God, society and law appear to have become a party to this conspiracy of silence. Why? Because, after all, it's only through human beings that God must raise His voice. Society is nothing but an aggregation of the dominant group that constitutes as well as supports patriarchy. And law must always look for incontrovertible proofs. Who would like to risk his or her life just to be able to provide them with the proofs law needs? Besides, every human being thinks; why must I bother? That's why...that's why in times of crises, every woman thinks that a daughter must be killed the moment she is born...

In the olden times, even if someone so much as entertained a thought of killing a daughter, s/he would be deterred either by the fear of committing a heinous sin, having to face the wrath of God, living down the shame committing a homicide or just the temptation of seeing the face of the unborn one. But now just pay up five-seven hundred rupees to a lady doctor, get "it" washed and come back home. Neither does it cost anything much nor does it leave trace of any kind. And she thinks, what's the harm in it after all? Hasn't it saved her from a hundred thousand troubles?

Today, the woman knows that in this kaliyuga, a daughter grows up the moment she is born. Because nowhere, at no particular age and at the hands of no man is she safe. Almost everyday, we get to read about small children being seduced, molested and raped. Many more in number are those news items that don't get published anywhere. And perhaps a million times more are the rapes that men often commit in their minds. Forgive me but truth is really a bitter pill to swallow. So where the heck should a woman hide her daughter? After all, she has to attend to her work as well. Most of them have extremely demanding jobs to do Joint families are nowhere in sight. Nor do we spot many nanis or dadis around who could either keep a vigilant eye on the young ones or nudge them along, using their words of wisdom. There aren't many warm-hearted neighbours either with whom one could share laughter or tears. And the vulgar programmes on the media only make the matters a little worse, not better.

Even if these difficult periods were to pass off somehow, and one were not to think much of the ever-spiralling expenses on education, what does the girl learn from it all, anyway? There is virtually no difference in the way boys and girls are taught, despite the fact that both have to lead very different kind of lives as they go along. Because of the influence of the West, they have begun to regard themselves as equal to boys in almost every respect. They seem to have become oblivious to the fact that though 'we're equal, we are not the same.' Like boys, even their education is restricted only to the level of bare information. There is nothing in it that could take them anywhere towards the cultivation of the mind or the culture. The upshot of all this is that often an educated girl just turns around and sermonises her own mother saying, 'Well, why can't I also gallivant around the way boys do? If going astray doesn't ruin the life of a boy, how could it ruin mine?' What is worse, the father is always there to chide the mother for every little wrong that the daughter does. The mother has to bear the brunt of it all because the father is always scared of what the daughter might say or do.

Well, somehow if this stage were to pass off peacefully, the problem of fixing a job or marrying a daughter off always stares in the face. Are there plenty of jobs waiting to be picked? No way! Besides, even if the girl does have a job, you have an obligation to marry her off. So, one is always trying to skirt one's way around this obligation by marrying her off. But marriage has become such a difficult proposition these days. You may pour your life's savings into it, yet there is always something more that you could have done!

Besides, a girl who has been brought up on a par with the boys in her parents' house finds life almost unbearable in her in-laws' house.

As a result of all this, things come to a head, what with the quarrels becoming a routine affair and violence taking a toll of domestic peace, even life, at times. Hostility between two individuals often becomes a pretext for animosity between two families. And in an effort to show each other down, often both the parties descend to subhuman tactics.

The kind of scarring it causes to the children's sensitive minds or the kind of wounds it inflicts on their tender hearts is something that may take almost a lifetime to heal.

So the more pragmatic among the parents think, it would be much better to kill the girl as soon as she is born or rather much before she's actually born.

What do we do then... what should we do? Won't men turn into wolves tomorrow when the population of girls declines? Aren't we slowly heading towards the Apocalypse? Isn't this a gross violation of Nature and natural order that we now are beginning to impose our own will upon Hers? They say, if strife and violence always rack a household, flowers and fruits rarely ever grow there. That being so, won't nature wreak vengeance upon us for committing female foeticide? They say, if a daughter leaves her house with a sigh, all the nooks and crannies begin to quake with fear. And if a girl is killed, won't it kill the very spirit of the house? Won't that house then become a permanent abode of the ghosts? In such soulless houses, what meaning does the life have when you just live as a ghost among several other ghosts? Why lead such a purposeless existence, at all?

All this may sound rather bizarre. But no, there is nothing bizarre about such things, except that we have stopped thinking about them altogether.

If you don't have a daughter and your son doesn't have a sister, how will the acts sprout in the soil of your house? Who would celebrate the joys in your house? Who would rain the clouds of love and affection into the vast desert of your life? The real issue is: how should female foeticide be stopped?

Tests should be banned forthwith. If tests continue, then that hospital or clinic where these are being conducted should be closed down permanently.

Not only should the identity of the informer be kept a closely guarded secret but s/he should also be given a reward of one lakh for disclosing information about such heinous acts.

And if the wife indulges in female foeticide, her husband should be made to lose his job. And if the wife goes ahead without the knowledge of her husband, she should be sent to jail for, at least, one year.

Anyone found guilty of raping a child should be shot dead in full public view.

Moral education should be made compulsory for all students, both in schools and colleges.

Only one person should be employed from a family. Both husband and wife should not be.

Rather than spend money on the wedding or give away dowry, money should be deposited in the girl's name so that all her life she gets a regular income by way of interest. And in event of her death within twenty years of her marriage, her entire money should go to the government treasury. And if she dies after twenty years, then all her money should be equally divided among her children.

If an accidental death occurs in a family, regardless of whether it is a suicide or murder, that particular family should be blacklisted and subjected to social ostracism. And everyone must know about the wrong doings of that particular family.

Towards the end what needs to be internalised is the wisdom of the Upanishads, which say that by protecting one's wife, one protects one's children and by protecting one's children, one protects oneself. And daughters are, of course, included among the children.

A Sahitya Akademi award winner, the writer is an eminent Punjabi novelist.

(Translated from the original in Punjabi by Rana Nayar)


Pioneers in reform
Rashmi Talwar

Despite the fact that she has a marked preference for small families and supports the "right to abortion", Vimla Dang, patron of the Punjab Istri Sabha and former MLA condemns the medical practitioners who conduct sex-determination tests and destroy the female foetus.

She is of the view that a preference for the male child arises out of the inferior status imposed upon women in society and within the family — a direct outcome of economic and social inequality. In addition, prevailing feudal practices such as dowry etc. aggravate matters.

Ms Dang maintains that women should be granted equal rights to property, opportunity, education and employment. This alone would contribute towards the uplift of women and significantly reduce exploitative practices. Ms Dang feels it is "disheartening" that the recent Akal Takht directive to the sangat to shun female foeticide has not had the desired effect. Religious heads like former President Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee, Bibi Jagir Kaur has not even been reprimanded by the Sikh clergy. Despite facing charges of killing her own daughter, she is moving about freely. This, has led to the people not placing too much faith in the seriousness of the directive issued by the Akal Takht. This is the year of empowerment of women but has little to show vis-a-vis the Bill that grants 33 per cent reservation for women in state assemblies and Parliament which is still to see the light of day.

A fundamental change is required for social and economic uplift of women. For this, all progressive forces and women’s organisations should wage a collective, and continuous struggle so that a requisite change in attitudes can be brought about.

Law has never been a deterrent for crimes against women. Vile social customs and materialism has contributed towards exploitation of women. Small wonder that in such a scenario "inhuman" practices like female foeticide continue unabated, comments Laxmi Kanta Chawla the BJP MLA from Amritsar. The Akal Takht’s directives to the Sikh sangat to shun the practice of female foeticide is appreciable. Implementing such a directive and outlining action against violators (which could include doctors carrying out selective abortion of the female foetus) is missing. In the absence of such checks and balances on society in general, no discernable change has been witnessed up till now, feels Ms Chawla.

She herself refused to be a part of the kanyadaan custom during her marriage and has retained her parental surname. She feels provisions of law against those perpetuating crimes against women should be strictly implemented. Religious heads should take a lead and dispel religious notions that reinforce prejudices against the female child. Girls should oppose all those rituals and customs that erode the dignity of women.



More sinned against...
Nanki Hans

Phoolan DeviShe was poor, from a backward caste, and a woman — that too a rebellious one, a surefire recipe for trouble. There were just too many barriers — class, caste and gender — that she had to face. She chose to defy all of these and thus invite the wrath of society.

Phoolan Devi, the Bandit Queen, was more sinned against than sinned. Yet, the elitist media was quick to pronounce a verdict after her brutal assassination: Those who live by the sword, die by the sword. Not true, I say.

Those who dare to be different, are out of tune with the popular hum-drum, fall at the hands of assassins, who represent intolerance in society. The apostle of peace and non-violence, Mahatma Gandhi, was done to death by intolerant fanatics and so was the great Martin Luther King.

However, my aim is not to glorify Phoolan Devi and violence or even compare her to social reformists like King, but only to remove the fallacy that violent men and women face violent ends and hence the assassination of Phoolan Devi is justified and even acceptable.

Phoolan Devi may not have been a social reformer (but a social rebel, surely), but she definitely cherished the desire to reform her ways.

She opted to surrender before the law. She was not arrested by force. She willingly laid down arms. She spent 11 years behind bars though she was let go without a trial. She did make an earnest effort to return to the mainstream, but it appears she was never totally able to shake off the stigma of being a bandit.

We speak of the need to reform criminals. Here was a reformed, hardened criminal, yet the media pundits were quick to remind the people of the 'atrocities' she had committed even after she breathed her last. The focus was on the Behmai killings, because the killed were all upper caste and all men. Widows of the killed were shown by TV channels saying Phoolan Devi deserved to be killed. It is indeed strange that the anger of these women was not directed against their men who had paraded Phoolan Devi stark naked in the village. Even if all of them had actively participated in the crime, the act had their aquiscence since they had chosen to keep mum.

This must not be construed to imply that the Behmai massacre was justified. But facts must be put in a perspective. Upper caste men took the law into their hands to humiliate a poor mallah woman in the worst possible way. She took the law into her hands to eliminate them and efface the calumny she had suffered. Both parties perpetrated crime, yet one involved sympathy of the people and the other revulsion. Is this fair?

A TV channel showed Phoolan Devi's former husband hurtling nothing less than abuses at her, quite unmindful of the fact that she was married to this man when she was 11 and the marriage was null and void under the law. This man, perpetrator of a crime, had no locus standi to say anything against her. Despite being brutalised, Phoolan Devi, whose life was an amazing saga, retained an almost childlike innocence. Asked in an interview by the writer, in 1993, as to what she really liked, she had replied "green bangles".

We as a society failed to dispense justice to Phoolan Devi while she was alive. Let us endeavour to be a little just to her now that she is dead.

Destiny has saved her from oblivion.

The nature of her death is bound to bestow on her the status of a legend, at least among her own mallah community, or else she would have gradually faded into nothingness.


Dulhan wahi jo degree thukraye

This refers to the article "Dulhan wahi jo degree thukraye" by Thangamani (July 22, 2001) wherein the writer has described how the precious technical degrees are being wasted by our young women in their post carriaagge lives now a days.

It is a fact that when the choices have to be made after marriage between career and home, a large number of young women don the garb of a housewife and bid adieu to their bright careers. The reasons are basically two fold; either they are pressurised to leave their enviable jobs or the husbands tell them in passionate and very persuasive words that since they are there to look after them, any way, what is the need for them to work? Majority of young women, with stars in their eyes and rosy dreams in their hearts, fall for this loving and lovable ploy and become economically dependent that can in many cases later turn out to be instrumental in their being treated as door mats and contemptible burdens. What if something goes wrong later on? What if after many years she is compelled to fend for herself?

Having given up her economic independence at the peak of her career which would have got her respect and dignity from her husband and in-laws in these times of economic pressures, she very frequently finds herself being knocked about from side to side, being insulted and victimized as well as being shown the rejection slip at every well deserved job. After all these years of being a simple housewife, in case the husband fails to recognise and respect her great contribution of love and care to the family, where does she go? Where does she stand? She has lost the touch with her area of work, she become less energetic, many rules and regulations have changed and there are much more energetic and fresh candidates to choose from. Mostly she won’t be able to survive competition from those much younger candidates. Her degree would most probably have stopped being and avenue to economic support for her.

Why to commit such a blunder and become an economic liability when you can earn your own money and lead a dignified life as well as be a source of great co-operation to your husband? Just look around you. A great number of women who were driven by girlish emotionalism and false sense of security had to repent over this decision later in their lives. Besides, there is no antithesis between being a career woman and a good wife and mother.

But the suggestion that they should be made to sign a bond is a bit going to the extremes. If our young women realise the significance and basic wisdom of putting their hard-earned degrees to good use and not throw them off like a hot brick when they get married, it is more than enough.

Amrit Pal Tiwana




Reference article: "Dulhon wahi jo degree thukraye" (Her World : July 22,2001). I fully endorse the verdict given by many studieo : "Career women not only are good home-makers, but also rear confident and independent children, who are often achiever "Accord sing to me—as well. A woman is trying to be dishonest to herself and is disgracing the degree she has earned & the qualifications she has acquired if she decides to sit idle & relax in the leisurely status of a house-wife after her marriage. In this regard, she is showing utter disregard to her obligation she owes to the society She has no social or maral right to let her qualifications go waste and deprive the society and the country from driving any benefit from her knowledge. Her conscience must prick!!! We know of many cabs of non-working wives of business men/rich farmers in Punjab just relaxing at home - attending kitty parties, playing cards & neglecting their children. They have all the times of the world at their disposal—waiting it in shopping idle gossips, kitty parties but none what-so ever forgroming their children. It is, therefore, unfair to conclude that non-career married women may prove to be good home makers. On the contrary, an idle mind can be devil’s workshop. I just do not understand the question of opting matrimony over a career or choosing home over career. This question should not arise at all. If a husband can continue to work after marriage, so can a wife if she wishes to. The dictates of prevailing economic constraints-rising prices, raise in living standards/life styles demand that both husband & wife must work. They have no other choice. Equating career with being bad wives/mothers is definitely a very out dated & ancient concept which no modern girl should or would accept. Incase some girls are still prisoner of this concept, then I do not mind supporting the suggestion made in this article: "make technical degree holders sign a bond, so that they work at their professions at least for 10 years." My only apprehension is that those who are bent upon relaxing at home in traditional house-wife roles, may offer an excuse : "They are trying but not getting a job in this era of "Vanishing Jobs" due to growth showdowns in most sectors." Good luck to them!!!

Onkar Chopra



Divorce: Attitudes change

Apropos of "Divorce: Attitudes change, so do responses" (Her World The Tribune July1,2001). Let me share some of my views on absenteeism of sex in couples: Health wise it is proved that regular sex life of a couple results in much better health as it is proved medically that regular sex life burns the calories.

Many times it is observed that after marriage, especially after a gap of few years, the sex life of many couples almost vanishes. The reasons are tensions; responsibilities of children, joint family system and work stress, which results in monotonous life without sex.

Sometimes, such kind of tension, situation and circumstances results in a distance between the couple-as there is no physical intimacy and sometime when the victim is only one spouse i.e., as when one partner remains out of which tension because of his/her positive thinking - he. She needs regular sex and then worst result may be divorce. However if both the parties are victim of such kind of tension full life of married couple continues even without sex.

Mahesh Kumar