|HER WORLD||Sunday, August 19, 2001, Chandigarh, India|
Mute womanpower: the Valley’s only hope
At home, with spirituality
LAW & WOMEN
Mute womanpower: the Valley’s only hope
THE alleys of Mochua and Shankarpora, located some 10 km from 89-Srinagar city, are famous for a very depressing reason. Home to many a dreaded militant once, these narrow lanes exude fear no more. All they embody today is a deep sense of insecurity, mistrust and dejection .... being nurtured by hundreds of widows of the region, who have yet not been able to settle scores with life. They will perhaps never be able to do so in this lifetime.
For the women of the Valley, pain is the most dominant component of life. It thus finds an expression everywhere — in their trembling hands which no more adorn the envied house boats of the Dal Lake; in their moistened eyes which pour perennially, sometimes in remembrance of those who are no more, sometimes in the memory of those who left homes never to return; and in their fear-struck faces, which make desperate attempts at concealing violent troughs that mark their past, present and future.
Hopelessness is apparent all around Kashmir and it sure has become louder with the recent acid attacks on girls who were not wearing burqas. The biggest problem lies in the fact that the enemy of peace in the Valley is not identifiable. It sometimes emerges in the form of so-called jehadis, who hurl grenade attacks in peaceful areas; sometimes in the form of die-hard fundamentalists who seek to practice preachings of the Prophet by throwing acid on innocent faces. Whatever the reason and whosoever the enemy ...the truth is bitter beyond imagination. Life for women in the Valley is hell and that they have learnt to survive repeated onslaughts on their life and on those close to them, does not imply that they have grown over the trauma of insurrection and fundamentalism.
As we went about the Valley mapping pain, we came across stories that pricked the heart. At the end of the day one could not help being inspired by these women, who have chosen to strive and seek instead of yielding to fate....
As the car halted in front of a deserted house in Mochua, Shamima Ilahi came out to greet us. She looked frail and worn out, as if wishing for death to happen. Shamima's husband was a dreaded man and she was never quite happy with the reputation he had earned. She constantly feared Heaven's fury, which finally struck her home two years back, when her husband Fayyaz Ilahi, (district commander for Al Jehad), was killed in an encounter.
Ever since, Shamima has been living in the shadow of pain. Her only son (who never saw his father) faces a grim future, with little financial and emotional backup. Ask Shamima and she falls short of words and breath: "I wish I had better strength to rear my only son in a way Allah has prescribed. I always told Fayaaz that his passion for the homeland was misplaced, and also that no one would feed us even if he sacrificed himself on the altar of aazadi. That is what exactly happened. No one from his party came forward to help us."
Today Shamima is involved in a struggle to reinforce dignity in her life. She feeds Fayaaz's father and a son, who loves going to school. Shamima's eyes radiate when she looks at the charming boy: "I will make sure that he listens to me. Fayaaz paid the price of ignoring my advice. He will not."
Shamima's case is not isolated. She has many sisters in suffering, who have lost the world, but have still not lost hope. Strange it might sound, but Kashmiri women have somehow earned the reputation of being fierce fighters. Doctors in the Psychiatric Diseases Hospital in Srinagar confirm that the number of women patients has always been less than that of men. Also, women have proved to be the greatest balancing factors in an average Kashmiri home, torn by strife and pain.
Said a visiting expert, who did not wish to be named: "Medically speaking, it is the woman of the Valley who is subject to greatest degree of depression. Her fear dawns with the day and it never really ends. She has to handle her son's addiction, her husband's moods and what not..." Doctors add that men have proved to be more vulnerable in the prevailing scenario than women.
A reflection of this confirmation was in evidence later at the Dal Lake, where most of the workforce comprises women and even young girls in many cases. Women have taken to many jobs inside the Lake: right from supplying lotus flowers on the bank and running small emporiums to selling vegetables and fruits and even running grocery shops.
As we moved about in the shikara, hunting for women who would like to share their experiences, we came across 53-year-old Najma. She sat in her deserted houseboat, waiting for customers. She talked about the past pangs she and her husband Ahmad had suffered and how she was helping him overcome stress. She said, "It's not easy to forget and forgive. He had decorated the houseboat with Persian carpets. I remember all those antiques pieces which had to be sold one by one. There was a time we earned Rs 2000 a day. Today we don't have a penny. Given the state of affairs, we don't expect any solace in the future as well. But that does not mean we start retreating. Allah has chosen us to face tough times. We are his responsibilities. Who are we to conjecture or worry?" The words stayed like sermons and the heart was overwhelmed. Here was someone who talked real Islam.
What one encountered in strife-torn Kashmir was an amazing blend of pain and hope. And guarding this life-saving blend is the woman of the ravaged Valley, who has to, perforce, shed tears but is not willing to give up. She embodies mute power — the only hope for the Valley.
At home, with spirituality
"There’s no doubt that Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa inspires his devotees to carry forward his mission but the way he made a critically ill, non-Bengali woman living in Punjab a messenger of his will has been truly miraculous." This observation was made by Swami Nityatmananda, a sanyasi bhakta of Ramakrishna, when Ishwar Devi Gupta successfully translated the first volume of his Sri Ma Darshan from Bengali to Hindi in the 1960s.
Since then this noble messenger has translated 15 other volumes of Sri Ma Darshan, which throws light on the great life of Mahendra Nath Gupta ( lovingly known as M and Sri Ma, in Bengali), a close disciple of Ramakrishna who showed how as a householder one could live a divine life, as described in the Vedas. Ishwar Devi has also translated into Hindi the five volumes of Sri Sri Ramakrishna Kathamrita (the English version is the widely read The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna), written by M in Bengali.
Today this propagator of the holy name of Ramakrishna is 86 years old, frail and almost bed-ridden in her home in Chandigarh yet she courageously declares that she still has "a lot of Thakur kaaj to complete." Popularly known as Didi, she is always ready with a kind word for those in distress and never fails to echo the profound wisdom of Ramakrishna to those who seek her guidance in matters personal or spiritual.
At present the president of Sri Ramakrishna Sri Ma Prakashan Trust, set up in 1967 by Swami Nityatmananda to spread the teachings of Ramakrishna, Ishwar Devi Gupta’s tryst with Thakur vaani spans a number of decades.
In 1958, she and her husband Prof Dharam Pal Gupta, who was the then principal of Government College in Tanda, Hoshiarpur, first met their guru Swami Nityatmananda. This mother of five, (four daughters and a son), felt drawn towards the spiritual path upon hearing the learned sanyasi ’s lectures on M, who brought the Vedanta to the homes of the householders. Incidentally, Vivekananda and M were the two main devotees of Ramakrishna; the former was a brahmachari, while the latter was a householder. Swami Nityatmananda had the privilege of serving M for several years and during that course he recorded all the latter’s day-to-day conversations and spiritual discourses in a dairy and later published them as Sri Ma Darshan in 16 volumes.
In 1960, Ishwar Devi was hospitalised and diagnosed with ulcer of the colon. Though her condition was deteriorating each day, her guru Nityatmananda assured her that she would not leave the mortal frame without serving Thakurji. For more than a month, Ishwar Devi battled for life. There came a time when even the doctors gave up hope but her guru’s words kept her going and she promised herself that she would devote the rest of her life to the service of God and mankind.
While convalescing in her home, Swami Nityatmananda often translated and read out to her passages from the first volume of Sri Ma Darshan, which he had then just completed. Ishwar Devi felt a burning desire to read and publish the text. As a result, she not only learnt Bengali but also translated the first volume while lying in bed and recovering from her illness.
This onerous task of translating the text written in a language alien to her was taken up by her " to take a closer look at the life and spiritual progress made by Sri M.... I had one more wish: Seeing the restlessness in society and the deteriorating family values, I wanted to present this great text to the Hindi-speaking devotees of Sri Ramakrishna. This text can not only improve and spiritualise a person but also help a community, country and the world"
Swami Nityatmananda, upon reading the translated work, ecstatically remarked, " Devi, the work of translation is a dull affair, but because of your identification with the subject matter of the book, your translation has come out so lively...it is not only simple and artistic, but also equally lucid, expressive and true to the original....I pray sincerely and humbly at His holy feet that he may inspire you to translate the remaining parts...."
In the years to follow, as per her guru’s wish, Ishwar Devi religiously completed the rest of the translations too. Her husband, who too had been drawn to this path, carried Sri M’s flame through his lucid rendition in English of the Hindi version of Sri Ma Darshan and Sri Sri Ramakrishna Kathamrita.
From 1959 to 1975, till Swami Nityatmananda attained mahasamadhi, this devoted couple had the privilege of serving their guru, who had acceded to their request to live with them. In 1968, after Dharam Pal Gupta’s retirement, Swami Nityatmananda moved with the couple to Chandigarh, where he opened his head office at their residence in Sector 18. During his stay in the city, Swami Nityatmananda gave the final touches to the remaining 14 volumes of Sri Ma Darshan, while his two sewaks tirelessly worked on the translations and the printing of the manuscripts.
Ishwar Devi, who alongside took care of her children and household chores, says that those days she packed 36 hours in a day. She, however, believes that she couldn’t have achieved what she did without the loving support of her husband (she lost him in 1998) and children, who have achieved top positions in their respective fields.
Now, even in her failing health, Ishwar Devi oversees the activities of the Sri Ma Trust, which include helping needy persons, arranging seminars and educational tours, bringing out an annual booklet called Nupur on the birth anniversary of Swami Nityatmananda and supervising satsangs and celebrations at Sri Sri Ramkathamrit Peeth, a temple dedicated to Ramakrishna in Sector 19.
By serving God in the role allotted to her — that of a householder — this octogenarian has paid a befitting tribute to her spiritual masters, who professed that one could serve and reach Him without living the life of a hermit in a forest. She has truly lived up to the teachings of Ramakrishna, whose advice to householders was: "Let the boat be in water, but let there be no water in the boat; let an aspirant live in the world, but let there be no worldliness in him."
LAW & WOMEN
The shy, 21-year-old Anita has just come back to her parents’ house with a two-year-old son after traumatic three years of married life. While, her parents find ways and means to patch up with her over- bearing mother-in-law and a meek husband, Anita is trying to get back to her studies in order to start earning and be financially independent in the near future. She is haunted by the insecurity of losing her son in case divorce is filed for. For women who are in a similar position to Anita, we have compiled a few legal facts in consultation with leading lawyer Ms Nirmaljeet Kaur.
A) Under Section 125:- Any person with sufficient means is bound by law to maintain his wife and child who are unable to maintain themselves.
B) Section 498A:- Clearly states fine and imprisonment extending to three years to a husband or any relative of his subjecting the wife to cruelty.
C) Section 18 — under the Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956:- states the right of a wife for maintenance by her husband during her life time
2) A Hindu wife shall be entitled to live separately from her husband without forfeiting her claim to maintenance:-
i) If he is guilty of desertion or abandoning her without reasonable cause.
ii) If he has treated her with such cruelty as to cause apprehension in the mind that it will be harmful to live with him.
iii) If he suffers from virulent leprosy.
iv) If he has any other living wife.
v) If he has a concubine.
vi) If he ceases to be a Hindu by converting to another religion.
vii) Or any other justifiable cause.
D) Section 24 under the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955:- A non-earning woman has the right to even take the expenses of court procedure from the husband.
E) A latest judgement pronounced by a bench of four judges gives equal custodial rights to a woman and her husband, over children, especially sons. This historic judgement puts to an end, the self-acclaimed natural right of husbands to claim a right over their sons as heirs, even though the initial bringing up was the duty of the mother.
F) Section 19 under Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act 1956: states the responsibility of the father-in-law of a woman to maintain her after the death of her husband/his son.
Dowry is a major cause of conflict and to deal with this anti-social and degrading customs, the Indian Penal Code 1860 and the Dowry Prohibition Act of 1961 have laid down strict strictures to aid the safety of women.
G) Section 304-B Indian Penal Code 1860 — labels a woman’s death due to burns or injury within the first seven years of her marriage as "dowry death". If supported with evidence of harassment for dowry by her husband or his relatives, this heinous crime is highly punishable.
H) Section 3 & 4 under the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961:- Levies years of imprisonment and heavy fine to any one giving, taking, demanding or abetting the ritual of dowry, whether by the direct family or the members of the extended family.
We shall continue our effort to guide women towards legal security in the face of man-made miseries and irregularities. A lack of knowledge about one’s rights only abets suffering.
Are we disrupting natural law?
This refers to the article; “Are we not disrupting natural law?” by Daleep Kaur Tiwana (July 29) in which the writer has described the importance of girls. I agree with the fact that the girls are the real souls of our house but what the world thinks of girls is really a matter of great concern. The reality is that girls are treated like birds in cages. They are not allowed to do anything without their master’s will. Girls are subjected to several types of bans imposed on them. The Constitution of India grants many rights to women but most of them remain unexercised. It is a known fact that we are indebted to women ‘first for life itself and then making it worth living.
One cannot understand how a woman agrees to abort the female foetus just to avoid the stigma of not giving birth to a boy. Education is considered to be useful only for boys. But the real fact is that. “If we teach a man we teach only one person, but if we teach a woman we teach the whole family.”
The present status of Indian women is such that no girl would like to be born as a girl the next time. This is so because they are restrained at every step in their lives. Men very well know that women have many latent qualities in them and if they are given a chance, will prove themselves better than men. But men don’t want to know ledge this because it will hurt their ego. Why is it so with girls alone? Why she alone has to cross the barrier of man-made hurdles. The cosmos in which we are living is the creation of a woman. Future generations come into existence because of women. Even then, women are viewed as an unwanted burden on the family.
I want to put forth a question before the Indian men who play a vital role in creating the present-day conditions for Indian women.
When “she “ takes birth, you become gloomy.
When “she” sits back home, you call her lazy.
When “she” marries you, you burn her. When “she” loves you, you insult her. But can you live without her? Your daughter? Mother? Sister? Wife? The greatness of a country is viewed by the amount of respect and liberty the women enjoy in it.
Sumit Sabharwal, Hoshiarpur
It is quite startling to know that though we take ourselves to be a very religious society, we go on commiting acts such as female foeticide with the same religious bent of mind. According to the writer a daughter is never safe at any place or any age of life. But this is because we ourselves have made our daughters’ lives like that. Why don’t we accept girls as equal to boys and let them do what ever they want to do in their life? Let us free our daughter from the clutches of our society. Let us accept if a daughter doesn’t want to marry and allow her to pursue her career.
I don’t understand why Tiwana says those parents who kill their girls even bepre birth are more pragmatic. It is true that if we don’t have daughter and our son doesn’t have a sister, there will be no one to celebrate the joys of our house. But this cannot be achieved through high-handed methods suggested by the writer Female foeticide cannot be stopped through laws, however strict that may be.
The writer says, anyone found guilty of rape should be shot dead in full public view. Is this going to solve the problem of rape committed by men in their minds (as said by the writer)? Tiwana is suggesting laws for each and every lapse in our society. Already we have so many laws in our country, has that made any substantial change in our society? We have a law against untouchability but has it vanished from our society? No, this is not going to solve the problem of female foeticide. We have to change the views of our society. We have to change our ways. All these atrocities on women do happen in western society also. But the fact remains that they have taken both sons and daughters as almost equal. We may have been saying so from our rooftops but have not yet realised it in actual practice.
Let us treat both daughter and son equally and don’t sow the seeds of weakness in our daughters by caring for them at every step of life. Let them be independent and face the life as we allow our boys to do. This will automatically make them believe in themselves and face life without the fuss of being sinned at by men.
Rajesh Malik, Jalandhar.
True, in the Kalyuga, 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. The fact is that man always conspires to prove himself superior to women. He tries to make her spiritually a slave. It is man’s chauvinism to make him superior.
Women have all the qualities as love, beauty, truthfulness whereas men are devoid of all these qualities. That is, why Manu in his Manusmriti has suggested that for peace in the house, a woman would be beaten once in awhile. The fact is that men are men and women are women, there is no question of comparison. A women is simply great as she has the capacity to create an orchestra of all her virtues and this is why women can make men’s life exhilarating and more ecstatic. In contrast, men have only one quality: He can force the women into the inferior position. This is because man’s strength is destructive, whereas a woman’s strength is creative.
The fact is that women are women and men are men. They are not inequal. But they are unique. What is required is that women should be allowed to create an orchestra of all her qualities. This would tend to make the world a fruitful fantasy ara dream.
Hans Raj Jain,Moga
There is no denying the fact that women have travelled some distance, may be because of the social legislation, the progress made in the fields of education, health or economics or as a result of technological developments, or because of the process of evolution. Though in very small numbers, today we have women in almost all spheres of life. They are doctors, engineers, pilot, journalists, teachers, administrators, members of parliament and ministers. We have had a woman Prime Minister and a president of the UN Assembly.
Yet they have to travel a long distance before they can be equated with men. More males are born in India than females, But the disparity between the two sexes at the time of birth gets perpetrated, if not accentuated, due to higher female mortality. More females dies in India at the stage of infancy as well as during the reproductive stages. The general neglect of females is partly responsible for high female mortality at childhood.
But the continued decline in female population in India in recent years has been substantially attributed to the practice of female foeticide/infanticide which the authoraptly describes as disruption of natural law. This heinous crime and inhuman practice has its impact on the balance of the two sexed3s in the country’s population, otherwise the improvement in female mortality rate, however small should have not permitted a further fall in the country’s sex ratio.
Where do we go from here? How do we create an awareness among all men and women of the role and responsibility of each citizen of the country? How do we bring about the acceptance of the changed role of men and women in our traditional society? How do we ensure that every body feels that the girl child is an equally important member of her family? The task is not easy. Both men and women will have to contribute to achieve these objectives. Let there by a movement of the type led by Gandhi ji for the freedom of the country in which the invited and encouraged women to participate whole heatedly. Let men express the same concern at the pitiable condition of almost 50 per cent of the population.
K. M.Vashisht, Mansa
Pioneers in reform Apropos of “Pioneers in reform” (July 29) Vimla Dang and Laxmi Kanta Chawla deserve praise. I full endorse the Laxmi Kanta Chawla’s views that by implementing inhuman practices like female foeticide directive and outlining action again violators is missing. I fee disheartened to note that the large number of women lead a cloistered existence within the four walls. How they can meet the demands of the spaceage. Less fortunate girls are unable to oppose all those rituals and customs that erode the dignity of women. Prevailing feudal practices of dowry would remain in the absence of seriousness of the directive. Women must have technical and vocational skill to be effective partners in running the affairs of the household. It is possible only if the women should be granted equal rights to property, opportunity, education and employment. The fairer sex must join hands and rule shoulders with the menfolk to meet the demands of the spaceage. Partap Singh, (Kainthan) Dasuya
Apropos of “Pioneers in reform” (July 29) Vimla Dang and Laxmi Kanta Chawla deserve praise. I full endorse the Laxmi Kanta Chawla’s views that by implementing inhuman practices like female foeticide directive and outlining action again violators is missing. I fee disheartened to note that the large number of women lead a cloistered existence within the four walls. How they can meet the demands of the spaceage.
Less fortunate girls are unable to oppose all those rituals and customs that erode the dignity of women. Prevailing feudal practices of dowry would remain in the absence of seriousness of the directive. Women must have technical and vocational skill to be effective partners in running the affairs of the household. It is possible only if the women should be granted equal rights to property, opportunity, education and employment. The fairer sex must join hands and rule shoulders with the menfolk to meet the demands of the spaceage.
Partap Singh, (Kainthan) Dasuya