HER WORLD Sunday, November 25, 2001, Chandigarh, India
 

A total commitment to writing
Nirupama Dutt
W
HENEVER an unbiased literary history of the Twentieth Century is written, it will be remembered as the century of the woman writer. Even though the literary woman dates back to the ancient times, it is this century that saw the woman writer come into her own and wield the pen with a confidence that was long denied to her. And this is a phenomenon that cuts across countries and cultures.

WOMEN & LAW
You alone can fight for your rights
Nirmal Jit Kaur
S
OME three decades ago, in the course of an inter-school debate ‘The emancipation of woman — a bone or a boon’, a participant used words which still echo in my memory. He said, ‘God made man and rested, God made the earth and rested but since God made woman, neither God nor man has rested!”

WOMEN IN MEDIA
Making news, moulding views
Sonya Dutta Choudhury
W
HEN it comes to the corporate world, whether India or the United States, much has been said about “the glass ceiling” and the inability of women to breach this transparent, nevertheless, solid wall of discrimination.

READERS’ RESPONSE
Women and depression



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A total commitment to writing
Nirupama Dutt

WHENEVER an unbiased literary history of the Twentieth Century is written, it will be remembered as the century of the woman writer. Even though the literary woman dates back to the ancient times, it is this century that saw the woman writer come into her own and wield the pen with a confidence that was long denied to her. And this is a phenomenon that cuts across countries and cultures. And this is not to be judged by just numbers but the quality and the literary merit of their writings. These were writers who could break through the given sexist politics of literature and make a place for themselves as writers who happened to be women.In India, this century sees the rise of the woman fiction writer. We have Asha Purna Devi (Bengali), Ismat Chughtai and Qurratulain Hyder (Urdu) and Krishna Sobti (Hindi) as the pioneering writers in their respective languages who paved the way for many other writers to follow. The importance of Krishna, lies merely not in the fact that she chose a language, which spreads over a large region of the country. Or that she came from the then Hindi-speaking state of Punjab, but the fact that she could tell a story like none other conscious of the history of the century that she was born to. It is the very pulse of the times that she has captured through the everyday people and their lives. And this, while experimenting with language and coming out a winner always.

Of course, to Krishna's credit go many firsts. Her novel Zindaginama, a work of epical scale set in the pre-Independence Punjab which was to be partitioned by the Radcliffe Line to be drawn across it in 1947. The writer who began with a short story first published in 1944 and written a number of novels till she penned Zindaginama was finally given the recognition of being a formidable talent. For creating Zindaginama, Krishna dipped into her childhood and adolescence spent in the ancestral haveli in Gujarat , a part of Pakistan, to relive the rich experience of the lives of the peasants and the landlords. This celebrated writer of a large body of fiction was born in 1925 in Gujarat in West Punjab. She had her early education in Delhi, Shimla and Lahore with fond holidays in the villlage where she built a storehouse of fragrance and memory. However, partition with its bloodshed and migration intervened and her aristocratic family lost many of its holdings. Krishna had to take the post of governess to Tej Singh, the then Maharaja of Sirohi, Mount Abu. Two years later she took up the post of Editor, Adult Literacy, Delhi Administration. It is said that any language has only a writer or two whose writings appear as a 'happening' but Krishna has had the unique distinction of having each of her books welcomed or criticised as a major event. This, not because Krishna was a sensationalist. Krishna remains one of the most serious of writers always but with the courage to write what others may choose to sidetrack. This was more so the case with the powerful women characters she etched. " The writer has to take the second place after etching out the character. Then a spiritual space has to be given to the character to chart out the course of her/his life," says Krishna.

Krishna had made a name for herself in short fiction when her first novel came out in 1958. This was Daar se Bichuri and it told the story of a Pasho who is forced out of her flock and bought and sold like cattle in the strife-torn climate of the Afghan wars. It cuts across religion and culture and written in the decade that followed the Partition of the country in which hundreds of women of women were abducted raped, abused and killed because they belonged to the other religion. Thus Pasho's story is the story of every woman and she yet survives to nurture the child she has given birth to. The story was told with great linguistic economy, an art Krishna was to master, as she moved from novel to novel. This made it more powerful and just the stark description of the events that take place in Pasho's life were enough to send shock waves through people. Pasho was to be the forerunner of the amazing Mitro of the second and much-celebrated novel Mitro Marjani which came out in 1966 and is today hailed as a modern classic. Mitro created an instant stir for it spoke of female desire in no uncertain terms and that too of a married woman in the joint-family framework of a lower middle-class Hindu family. It created an

instant stir. It was translated into Russian, English and Punjabi. Many decades later, Mitro still continues to be a subject for debate. The intensity of emotions she evokes in those who love her and those who hate her is that which would be directed toward a real woman in flesh and blood who dares to tread the forbidden path. This again is a victory of the writer whose characters are so true to life.

Interestingly, years later feminists were to criticise Krishna for making Mitro choose the family. What is pertinent here is that Krishna has never worked in the feminist frame-work as we understand it. Krishna is too major a writer to be taken in by any such trap. The novel comes in the Sixties when feminism as a movement was yet to take shape. Then it was the case of a movement needing writers to support it and thus feminists groups turning to the writings of say an Ismat or a Krishna who have an existence that goes much beyond the ism. The writer herself says, " Mitro Marjani was not a writer's story. It was Mitro's story. I was amazed at the surprises she gave me at every turn. Brought up by her mother outside the walls of patriarchy, Mitro is her mother's daughter who can voice her desires and get away with it. She has no inhibitions about talking of things tabooed by tradition without being offensive. She really impressed me." Krishna's other novels like Yaron ke Yaar,which speaks the language of the clerks in a government office in Delhi and unravels corruption in public life; Teen Pahar, a charged romantic narrative set in the tea gardens in the Darjeeling hills of a woman abandoned for another; Surajmukhi Andhere Ke, which sensitively explores the problem of child rape in which the victim survives to come to terms with her own desire; and Ai Ladki, a remarkable dialogue between a dying mother and her single daughter; Dil-O-Danish,which dwells on the dichotomy of two women and a man set in the cultural climate of Delhi of the early Twentieth Century; and the most recent Samae Sargam, a story of old age; are all milestones which mark a remarkable journey which seems to converge to the centre point of Zindaginama, a saga of love, life and strife told with a truly great flourish. In each of these works she sharpens her style with care to authenticate the situation portrayed. Zindaginama established her instantly as one among the greats. Suffused with the ethos and ambience of pre-Partition rural Punjab, this novel is a visual and dramatic recall of early memories in episodic form. Nand Kishore Naval has referred to it as the most comprehensive, sympathetic and sensitive treatment of the peasant since Munshi Premchand. The narrative flow in the novel is symbolised by the 'the river of life' and the narrative voice is depersonalised. Of this novel which is a gift to the very earth that she was born of, Krishna says, "One fateful morning I woke up with echoes of the Azaan in my ears, and before my eyes stood one minaret of a mosque. I knew then that I was committed to carrying the eternal echo of this voice through the century—Allah-O-Akbar." In this saga of life the experiments with language reached their climax with Krishna incorporating Punjabi dialects into the narrative in Hindi and suffusing the language with a new life. Poet Ashok Vajpayee says of this novel, " The test of a great writer is that she/he take the language where it has never been before. And Krishna passes this test with distinction." Krishna also writes under the pen name of Hashmat and has published Ham Hashmat , a compilation of pen portraits of writers, friends and unforgettable characters. Hashmat for her is not merely a pen name but aspiritual double. "We both have different identities," she elaborates, "I protect and he reveals. I am ancient, he is new and fresh. We operate from different directions. Among the folks Hashmat writes about are taxi driver Jagga Singh, a nameless waiter of La Boheme restaurant, and leading literary contemporaries like Bhisham Sahni, Nirmal Verma, late Srikant Verma, Namwar Singh and many others.

Krishna is a zealous guardian of her freedom as a writer and as an individual. In her own words, " I have always been my own person. It is easier to exaggerate or simplify the difference between people. My biological history says I am a woman. History and individuals cannot ignore each other. I believe that your individuality embraces our innermost uniqueness. And this individuality could be qualitatively different from person to person. And this individuality could be qualitatively different from person to person, not necessarily from male to female. I am a writer who happens to be a liberal, middle class woman. I need to have my freedom for the smooth flow of my creativity. I see in myself a creative writer who has total commitment to her creativity and art." Krishna's life and writings stand testimony to the beliefs she upholds. A very gifted writer reporting on the unreported history of love, loss, of battles won and battles lost. Writing in a climate rife with the hierarchies of literature, Krishna has yet been an influence and inspiration for hundreds of readers: both men and women. And what is it that makes her tick? Krishna says: "Writing for me, is the main activity of my life, not an alternative. In spite of this, I have not written anything in reaction. If I am sad, angry or happy, I do not go near my writing." Here is a writer deeply rooted in the integrated human experience who believes in combining both male and female elements creatively in the content.

A writer who confronts, discovers, defines and redefines with the help of memory. A wordsmith if there ever be one with memory, imagination, experience and study going into making her a great writer of the times.

The writer is an eminent social activist and columnist

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WOMEN & LAW
You alone can fight for your rights
Nirmal Jit Kaur

SOME three decades ago, in the course of an inter-school debate ‘The emancipation of woman — a bone or a boon’, a participant used words which still echo in my memory. He said, ‘God made man and rested, God made the earth and rested but since God made woman, neither God nor man has rested!”

These words, perhaps an exaggeration, do nonetheless reflect very clearly the status of woman and the male attitude towards them the world over, but startlingly so in India and an issue which should infact occasion no debate is very relevant even today.

On the one hand, a woman has been given the highest status as a mother, daughter, wife and sister while on the other hand, the reality is quiet different. It has found its cruel manifestation in female foeticide. Parents say with pride that daughters are more loving than sons but have no qualms in getting rid of a female foetus. We still, in parts of India, glorify Sati where Roop Kanwar a young girl barely out of her teens burnt herself clad in her bridal attire on her husband’s pyre. It has become a place of pilgrimage and source of income for those she left behind.

The introduction of Hindu Code of Parliament in mid-1950 in which substantial changes were sought to be made in favour of women in the laws pertaining to marriage, succession to property and right to maintenance and capacity to adopt a child led to great deal of discussions.

Taking cognisance of difficulties being faced by women, the Constitution of India has made special provision for their welfare. Article 50 of the Constitution provides for a special status and protection for women and to this extent equates them with those who belonged to deprived sections of society. The Directive Principles of State Policy, (Article 39) provide for equal work — irrespective of the sex. The courts have protected the position of the women through their various judicial pronouncements. The right of maintenance, property, guardianship, inheritance and rights against crime and domestic violence are some of the many rights which strengthen a woman by giving her a separate legal entity.

Article 243 & 243 (t) have been incorporated into the Constitution to provide for reservation for women in panchayat and municipal bodies. The local statutes dealing with these aspects have also been amended to bring them in consonance with the provisions of the Constitution. Parliament, however, remains shy in providing a similar reservation with regard to its own membership. Virtually all political parties have adopted public postures of supporting these proposals but have had no hesitation in scuttling any attempt to have them passed.

Economic necessity has driven women to the workplace. Indian women have reached and attained success in various fields including those which have traditionally been the domain of men. Women have joined the armed forces, the police and para-military forces, they fly as commercial pilots, have made successful bureaucrats, doctors and advocates. As a consequence of their taking up jobs, they have been confronted with the problem of sexual harassment at the workplace. The Supreme Court in Vishakha V/s State of Rajasthan directed that in the absence of legislation on the subject, international legislation questions and norms in this regard could be relied upon.

The Court, accordingly, laid down certain guidelines to prevent sexual harassment and for the initiation of criminal proceedings or disciplinary action against an offender. It has further held that directions would be enforceable in law until the legislation covering the field was enacted.

The confidence which women have gained stems from large number of laws made over the last five decades. The Hindu Marriage Act put an embargo on the Hindu male to marry a second time when he had a wife living. It gave women an equal right to claim divorce from her husband on the grounds stated in the Act and a right to be maintained by the husband during divorce proceedings. This right is extended even when she is not living with her husband and also after the divorce in the form of permanent alimony.

The Hindu Succession Act gave substantial right to woman to get a share in the parents property a significant change as till now she was entitled to maintenance upto the date of marriage.

The Indian women, married or unmarried, have also been given a right to adopt a child by the Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act. A privilege earlier rested by the Indian male. The Dowry Prohibition Act was passed in 1961 making the giving and taking of dowry an offence. By the Criminal Law (IInd amendment) Act 1983 Section 498-A has been introduced in the IPC making it an offence for a husband or his relatives to coerce a wife to meet unlawful demands of property. The Dowry Prohibition Amendment Act 1984 also introduced a new offence in IPC-Section 304-B-Dowry Death, tragic but frequently heard name these days!

Consequential amendments have also been made in the Evidence Act, whereby certain presumptions against an accused has been raised making their conviction far easier. The police forces and women associations have also been geared upto to deal with such situations.

A legislation, however, beneficial, is often misused. The ordinary domestic quarrel between a young couple is often transformed by the bride to be a demand for dowry and a suicide by a high-strung bride for reasons unrelated to the marriage taken to be dowry death with odds in court weighing heavily against the husband and his family.

In such cases, the unmarried sister and old parents of the husband are often singled out for special intention. Well aware of this practice, courts now exercise restraint in such cases and an attempt to rope in husband’s entire family is therefore, frustrated. The various statutes and the provisions referred above have much more in them than has been said. What I have given is a bird’s-eye view. In spite of education, awareness and independence, Indian women are still shy of fighting for their rights. They must not forget that they alone can help themselves and thus determine their own destiny.

Nirmal Jit Kaur is a practising lawyer in the Punjab & Haryana High Court.

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WOMEN IN MEDIA
Making news, moulding views
Sonya Dutta Choudhury

WHEN it comes to the corporate world, whether India or the United States, much has been said about “the glass ceiling” and the inability of women to breach this transparent, nevertheless, solid wall of discrimination.

Yet media in India seems to be an exception to the rule. Take for instance the Times of India Group, one of the premier media organisations in the country. The top positions of editorial responsibility are increasingly women’s, whether it is Dina Vakil as Resident Editor, Times of India, Mumbai or Malavika Sanghavi, Editor, Sunday Review. What’s more, the number of women in media is rising. Some of this has to do with natural abilities, competency and hard work and some to do with economics.

As Dina Vakil points out, the large number of women in media at entry levels has to do with the fact that women are secondary bread-winners, unlike men who sometimes can’t afford to support a family on a journalist’s salary. There has also been a move from “lifestyle” stories hitherto regarded as women’s niche, to hard-core reporting. So while you have women Editors like Sathya Saran of Femina,Priyanka Sinha of Society Magazine and Andrea Costabir of Savvy, you also have investigative reporters like Barkha Dutt of Star News and Seema Guha, Times’ Foreign Correspondent.

The traditional male-female divide has definitely blurred with having women reporters like Barkha Dutt from Star News in Kargil, and male reporters like Rajeev Masand covering the entertainment beat in The Express. So what does this mean for news in terms of the quality and perspectives on issues as we read them? News once thought of as ‘women’s news?, topics such as health, family issues, childcare, domestic violence, education, child abuse and the like, are now considered of general interest to all readers. Issue-based reporting, whether on health care or social phenomenon, is replacing the “10 killed in explosion” kind of focus. Given the amount of female talent in editorial positions does this much talked of “glass ceiling” exist? ‘No’, says Nonita Kalra, Editor, Elle Magazine emphatically. Nonita, who has spent the last 10 years working for a range of publications from Business Today and UTV, to being Features Editor at The Indian Express should know. “It’s a level playing field and I don’t believe women are discriminated against. At the The Indian Express, news and features were never dictated by gender. When we reported Kargil, we moved from soldier to mother to wife, all with equal importance”. Dina Vakil agrees,’ “The political correctness, which we have at various points reviled, has had a salutary effect in terms of removing sexist stereotypes and casual comments.” Bachi Karkaria, Group Editor of The Mid-Day Publications elaborates “Women tend to make a lot of excuses in the external environment for the confidence they may lack. Yet I’ve been lucky”, she concedes, “I began work with Khushwant Singh, who was never a chauvinist, either of age or sex, he was the kind of man who didn’t bat an lid even if trainee did a cover story. If women are competent, and are ready for the top position, instead of just drifting from one level to the other, they will get to the top.”

So is this a barrier that’s somewhat internal? Are women not trying, or trying too hard? As Bachi Karkaria points out,: “In trying not to get stereotyped into ‘women’s reporting”, a lot of women tend to overdo the effort to bridge the two styles of reporting. There has to be a level of comfort in their own skin. Today I can comfortably tackle a subject which is unabashedly feminist like the body becoming a brand, because I know tomorrow I am going to write on Phoolan Devi and on the third day on the Summit.”

This sounds very positive, but is it the “whole truth?” Sameera Khan, who has worked for the last 10 years in various newspapers, voices a disquieting thought,''The position of an Editor in the print media has been greatly devalued. Newspapers are a business enterprise like never before and owners want editors who are somewhat pliable and will comply more easily.”

Sameera, who is currently taking time off to work on her book, is involved with the recently convened Forum for Women journalists, where women journalists from all over the countries network exchanging resources professionally and personally. Exchanging notes with journalists from all over made Sameera realise the lot of regional language women journalists. Unlike city-based English media who have come a long way from the time they had to struggle to be accepted by people, whether readers or the people we interviewed or spoke to, regional language journalists in the smaller cities still have a lot of barriers. As illustrated in Ammu Joseph’s seminal study “Women Journalists, Making News?”, which interviewed 200 women journalists all over the country, women journalists were found to have to fight a variety of battles ranging from the traditional reluctance to assign women to “hard issues” and give them desk-based jobs to more fundamental ones like their employers refusal to provide them with a ladies loo. What’s heartening though, is the ways that women have overcome these traditional barriers. Take socialising for instance, the after-work drinking and bonding and, presumably, the exchanging of important tips, an area that has been something of a no-no for a woman, or the traditionally male preserve the sports locker rooms. For a woman journalist on a sports, business or defense beat, this exclusion can seem very frustrating. So how do women journalists tackle being on the social sidelines?Reassessing the potential of this drinking and discussion, many women realised as Sameera Khan succinctly puts it, “You don’t miss much really and you realise all you’re missing out on is a free drink?. Concurs Dina Vakil, “Not going out, boozing, isn’t missing much, I am sure what is discussed is less office strategy than office politics.” It also makes women work harder to find ways and means of overcoming this disadvantage by reading up on the game, asking intelligent questions and establishing a professional relationship.” “ It can be tough,” says Sameera, “specially on beats like Business or Sports.You have these all male gatherings where men crack their jokes, which you can’t really participate in,you are never part of the inner circle.”Yet with all these major and minor struggles, women in media are doing increasingly well. Women seem to have found their voice. This is reflected in the qualitative changes in news reportage — itself, something of a consequence of the increased sensitivity and story-telling ability that seem to come with a feminine focus.— INFS
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READERS’ RESPONSE
Women and depression

THIS refers to Mohinder Singh’s article, “How women can fight the demon of depression” (Nov. 18). The writer may, to some extent, be right in his contention that a woman is biologically more prone to the fits of unexplained depression but it is only a half-truth. The other half is the male dominance and an immoral and suppression of women physically, emotionally and intellectually.

Ironically, we suggest ways of overcoming depression and cheering up, without even making the slightest attempt to create a healthy, social atmosphere for our women even within the four walls of our house. The weak economic position and strains, a woman has to live up with, are neither the creations of her biological system nor are they of her own making.

Ved Guliani, Hisar

Not every one is cautious

I find the cautious attitude of Ms. Patil quite subjective as well as irrelevant. Some people are made in such a way as they will climb mountains and look for new ways of doing things. Others are not. Precautions and security are not for the former. They break myths, they also fail. It is a part of the game. Given a life to live all over again, they would still choose to defy and break and try. What is considered a workable marriage also fails quite as many times, if not more. Suffering is not joy. The suffering of the unchosen kind is certainly not. One type of people would rather choose their suffering. Ultimately, it is nature’s plan to mate the sophisticated with the raw, the complex with the simple, the explorer with the stay-put etc. Young people who follow nature and their heart have often found joys and wealth they would not exchange for any other.

Poonam Singh Preetlari, on e-mail

Search for Mr and Ms Right

This refers to Vimla Patil’s article “The search for Mr and Ms Right” (November 4). Inter-caste or inter-religion marriages in a majority of the cases, turn out to b e problematic rather than furthering national integration. There are mostly the result of love affairs. When in love, the suitors ignore the intrinsic aspects of the wedlock. Parents, quite often, are against such alliances. Some parents detest marriages that are the result of love affairs. In the Indian society when the marriages go haywire, it remains not only the question of the boy’s or the girl’s life but it affects the life of the parents too, because in India mostly joint family units have come to stay, with parents as the important and responsible members.

Parents expect their daughters-in-law to strictly adhere to the family’s traditions, customs and manners—both in letter and in spirit. Instead of reconciling to the changed post-marriage scenario, they feel challenged. If the girls fail to obey the norms laid down by the family traditions willy-nilly, the cracks start appearing in the family life—either between the parents and the couple or between the parents and the husband on the one side and bride on the other or between the husband and the wife. What is the use of such a union in wedded life that creates bitterness, chaos and confusion in the family? Marriages arranged by the parents and the elders are more successful than love marriages. Even the latter can be successful with the parents’ consent. Ms. Patil has rightly stated: “Dowry is not the only cause of burning brides.” Dowry is made out to be the cause even when the marriages fail due to other reasons. Parents ought to be consulted in vital matters like marriage.

Iqbal Singh, Hamirpur

Cinderella revisited

This refers to article “Cinderella revisited” by Benita Sen (Nov 4). Thousands of Cinderellas lose their shining glass slippers every day. Countless feel desperate to see their magically shining resplendent chariots getting re-transformed into pumpkins once again.

If the spouse is confident, emotionally mature and forward-looking, he takes pride in the achievements of his life companion and encourages her however, if he suffers from insecurity, inferiority complex or has a family that controls him like putty, problems ensue. The matrimonial family is then unrelenting while remoulding her into a design of their own liking. That is what results in fractured homes and broken marriages. Humane and considerate families won’t like to her achievements go down drain.

All the same, it must have been noticed that the credit for snatching away the glass slippers of the happy and well-qualified Cindrellas goes not to the men of her matrimonial family, but to the women. They start exerting their influence in different capacities to denude her of all her dignity and selfrespect. They constantly incite her spouse, telling him to “set her right” and to “teach her a good lesson.” It is heartening to see change in attitude of the spouses and how a considerable number are beginning to respect the achievements of their life companions.

Amrit Pal Tiwana, Kalka

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