November 24, 2002,
that became a home
rights for Nepali women
SMOKING is one of the most peculiar habits adopted by man. People are the only animals who take smoke to their lungs for pleasure. When tobacco first appeared in Europe, there were understandably no words in European languages for this intrinsically strange ritual. Smoking was often referred to as a form of alcohol drinking ("dry drunkenness") or as "fog sucking". Tobacco smoke, probably used initially for religious and ritual purposes, was later inhaled for pleasure and then, for its healing properties.
The cigarette, a product of this century, is a portable easy-to-light match that offered advantages over other tobacco products - it allowed tobacco and its associated chemicals and fibers to be inhaled easily; and it provided an opportunity for a "quick smoke" anywhere and anytime as opposed to the ritual after-dinner smoking of a cigar or a pipe, lit from a candle or a taper held to the fire. The low cost and convenience of the cigarette, combined with increasing prosperity, the growth of leisure and the democratisation of society, provided unprecedented favourable conditions for a massive growth in consumption.
Tobacco consumption was, initially, the preserve of men and it was considered improper for women and children to use tobacco. In the early decades of the twentieth century, cigarette smoking had a clear male identity and very few women smoked cigarettes. The tobacco consumption in women increased with the rise of manufactured cigarettes as a dominant form of tobacco use.
In recent decades, however, surveys suggest that the gender profile is changing, with trends towards increasing feminisation of cigarette smoking. In the 1990s, more women than men are taking up smoking in the crucial adolescent years when smoking careers are established and fewer women than men are giving up smoking in later life. In fact, lung cancer has surpassed breast cancer as the leading cause of death among women since 1987.
Why have women increasingly taken up smoking? Is it a rebellious attitude towards the male dominance or does smoking symbolise independence in thought? Do more women take up smoking because of its appetite suppressing effects or does it signify a "Don't-care" attitude? Are women being victimised by the tobacco companies who create false images of good health, fitness, stress relief, beauty and being slim for marketing their products? Tobacco products are promoted as a means of attaining maturity, gaining confidence, being sexually attractive and in control of one's destiny. Thereby effectively exploiting the struggle of women everywhere for equality and women's rights. Sponsorships of beauty pageants, sports events such as tennis, art and music events, and even women's organisations is a marketing strategy that influences girls and young women to use tobacco.
"When a man can smoke, why can't a women smoke?" is one of the most common reasons cited by women who take up this habit. Cigarette smoking is emerging as a major agenda of feminism in major institutes of repute. Smoking among females has become an accepted cultural norm, and more and more women are actively smoking. It seems that majority of the female smokers are aware of the health hazards but still prefer to go ahead with the habit.
Those who choose to quit have an agenda of postponing their decision till the time they conceive; and that too for a short period of pregnancy, after which they intend to resume their long-nurtured habit.
Is this the independence that the so-called modern career women of our society are seeking? Has the modern woman lost her feel for motherhood? Or is she not aware that smoking sabotages nature's attempt to provide a safe place for the development of the foetus. Pregnant women who smoke are more likely than non-smokers to have a miscarriage; and complications during pregnancy and labour are very common. Nicotine flows freely through the placenta and into the foetus, thereby, poisoning the developing foetus.
Smoking-related morbidity among women is increasing substantially. Tobacco's adverse health effects are universal in that they increase risks of cancer and heart disease among all smokers; but for women, smoking carries unique risks for cancer. In addition to lung cancer, women who smoke have markedly increased risks of cancers of the mouth and pharynx, oesophagus, larynx, bladder, pancreas, kidney and cervix.
They also have an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, particularly when using oral contraceptives.
Smoking affects the reproductive health of women and causes infertility, birth defects, ectopic pregnancy and spontaneous abortions. Smoking is associated with an early onset of menopause, and is a risk factor for osteoporosis and carcinoma cervix in women.
Women who smoke create particular risks for their offspring. Smoking during pregnancy increases the risk of foetal growth retardation and damages the developing brain and contributes to sudden infant death syndrome (cot death). In addition, smoking by mothers may affect their infant children who typically spend most of their waking hours in close proximity to their mothers.
Why should a woman smoke and sabotage her and her family's health? Are any of the reasons worth justification for starting and continuing to inhale the poison? Certainly not! Women are the better halves of the society and we expect them to act that way. They should, instead of drowning themselves to death, motivate their other halves to quit this deadly habit.
In a society where male smoking is an established norm, women are exposed to rampant environmental tobacco smoke, often from their male partner who smokes in the home. Passive smoke contains thousands of toxic chemicals that are even more carcinogenic than active smoking. Women should discourage their husbands to smoke inside the house. Such indoor air pollutants have deleterious effects on the innocent children who stay exposed to such an environment.
Women are increasingly taking up smoking to gain prominence and assert their spending power. They are adopting more dominant roles in the society and acknowledge their liberty by entering into unventured areas. These are disturbing trends and needs social rethinking so that we do not enter into a situation that has crippled the western countries.
To start smoking is no solution for countering the tobacco addiction in males. This would further exaggerate the problem. Increased awareness and plethora of public health information about the health hazards of tobacco smoking should, instead, enlighten the minds of the fairer sex, and they should help their partner and the society at large to stop this path towards self-destruction. Only then can the society be free from the tobacco pandemic.
The ashram that became a home
The Shraddhanand Mahila Ashram in Mumbai completes 75 years of yeoman service to abandoned women of all ages this year. Lok Sabha Speaker Manohar Joshi has unfailingly visited the ashram for 31 years to celebrate Bhai Dooj and to bring financial help and gifts to the women.
EVERY huge tree, with its branches spreading over a sprawling area, begins with a tiny seed. Human endeavour is often described by this allegory. In 1927, after the assassination of Swami Shraddhanand at the hands of a religious fanatic, Rameshwar Das Birla, Barrister Jayakar, B.G. Kher and L. Napoo ó great social activists of the twenties ó came together to establish the Shraddhanand Anath Mahilaashram (conducted by the Hindu Womenís Welfare Society) to fulfil a dream which the Swami had held dear to his heart. Today, after 75 years, the ashram has become a landmark in Mumbai and set an example for institutions which bring hope and light into the lives of abandoned or abused women.
This year, the ashram completes 75 years of its service to women. In the first week of this month, the ashram celebrated the inaugural function of its platinum jubilee with a celebrity of rare sensitivity as the chief guest. Lok Sabha Speaker Manohar Joshi came specially to share the happiness of hundreds of girls and women from the ashram on the occasion. He was the natural choice for the chief guest. Manohar Joshi has been Ďbrotherí to several generations of women in the ashram. For 31 years, while he graduated from being a member of the legislative assembly to becoming the Chief Minister of Maharashtra, then a Central Government Minister and finally the Speaker of the Lok Sabha, he has visited them every year without fail on Bhai Dooj day with a gift of Rs 25,000 and a feast of good food. Last year, for his 61st birthday, he and wife Anagha gave the ashram Rs 61,000 as a gift.
Each year, the bond between this Ďbrotherí and the ashramís sisters has grown stronger and more become memorable! Joshi has always assured women at the ashram that they have a big brother in a chair of power and that they can approach him whenever they face any problem. In a special interview, he said that the three most important gifts women in India should have are: Dignity and respect, Self-reliance through economic independence and the power to design their own destiny. The present government programmes, he said, are inadequate. Women deserve a much better deal from the government as well as society at large and their families!
Talking about the origin of the ashram, Achala Joshi, its president, says, "In January 1928, two orphan girls were admitted to the ashram. With this small but significant beginning, the ashram began to get recognition and grew in stature year by year. Those who administered the ashram understood that women prefer a Ďfamily-styleí management. Those who came to the ashram were mostly helpless rejects of the society. They were young girls who had conceived a child after being tempted with a marriage and a secure home. Some were abandoned women who had nowhere to go while others were widows who were unwanted by their families. All these women became a Ďfamilyí in the Shraddhanand complex. They looked after each other, they cared for the orphan children who came to the ashram; they cooked and kept the house just like normal homemakers. The trustees of the ashram determinedly removed the word anath meaning homeless and disowned from the name of the ashram to emphasise the family feeling.
Through the years, the ashram made every effort to resettle the women through marriage or job training. They were taught various skills to earn a livelihood. Some took on responsibilities of administration in the ashram and were paid salaries. Others were taught embroidery, stitching, bakery, laundry, knitting and machine jobs. Many found jobs outside and became wage earners. By about 1960, the trustees found that many inmates were ageing and the ashram could not look after them in the one building. The Shraddhanand Vruddhashram was built in Vasai, near Mumbai in 1967. In 1974, the Baluben and Jagjivan Mulji Hostel for Working Women (from the ashram and those from outside, who had no place to live in Mumbai) was built. 90 women in the old womenís home and 94 women in the working womenís hostel. In the main ashram, there are 62 infants (0 to 3 age), 40 girl children in the age group 3 to 5; 240 girl children in the age group 5 to 20. The ashramís rehabilitation programmes include adoption education and vocational training, job placement, self reliance, reconciliation with families and marriage.
"In the past 75 years, the profile of an ashram inmate has changed dramatically. More abandoned infants and girl children are brought to the institution than abused women. This reflects the remarkable change in the persona of an Indian woman in the last 50 years. Today, even women from the working class or lower middle class in urban areas ó especially Mumbai ó are spirited and courageous. When they are abandoned, abused or helpless in the face of domestic violence or deprivation, they find jobs and become self-reliant. They do not come to the ashram any more. Even some of those who have stayed on at the ashram for many years have changed. They no longer want marriage at any price.
Take the case of Kamal Reddi. She came to the ashram as a three-year-old girl when her parents died. Now in her 40s, she has consistently refused marriage offers saying that life at the ashram is happy and tension free. For years, she completely handled the job work of Crompton Greaves assigned to the ashram with a team of women. Today she helps in administration work.
Like Kamal, many women who have come to the ashram as victims of domestic violence, rape, incest, dowry harassment and abuse, do not want to be trapped in marriage. They say that among their friends and relatives, few women are happy in marriage and it is better to be peaceful with friends.
The change we see is that single women are coming forward to adopt girl children. Since adoption laws have been relaxed now, it is possible for an unmarried woman to take a child in adoption. The attitude of such women is refreshing. As Manju Bhosle, a successful single parent says, "Marriage has failed the 21st century woman. The institution has not kept pace with changing time. Men have not walked hand in hand with us into a new partnership. As a result, most marriages are a shambles. The old pecking order in a family, with men bossing over as kartas is not relevant today. However, our mothering instincts are intact. Now that the law has empowered women, we can be mothers without the trauma of marriage".
Is the ashram alarmed about the number of girl children abandoned by mothers? Achala says, "You would be surprised how callous women can be. If a woman has borne an illegitimate child and she leaves it with us, she may never ever come back even to see the child! Some of our little girls are found on the streets; some are left with us by parents who canít cope with child-rearing and some are sent to us from the police or juvenile courts. Many are new-born babies found in the rubbish heaps of the city. We nurse them and after consulting doctors, work out their probable date of birth. We name them and give them an identity.
Girls between the age of 6
and 20 live under the supervision of four house-mothers in separate
dormitories. They go to school in groups and are given values to suit
community living. A nourishing diet, extra-curricular activities and
hobbies or skills are provided in the ashram. We get donations from
various people and corporate bodies. The ashram is run by the Hindu
Womenís Welfare Society, but it is open to all girl children and women
of all religions and creeds.
ONE evening, hearing six-year-old Sherry scream, she ran down the hall in the direction of the cry. She found her other son, Anil, two years older and stronger ó grinning outside the bathroom door while his brother continued to wail from within. Suddenly angry, thinking he must have done something awful to his brother, she shoved Anil away from the door so hard that he fell, his head grazing a nearby wall.
She flung open the bathroom door expecting to see blood everywhere, but Sherry seemed fine. He announced, "Mom, Anil turned the light off on me!" Although Seema is a psychologist and supposed to know how to handle people, especially little ones. Yet she lost control of herself and nearly injured her child over a silly, harmless prank, one that she had played a dozen times herself as a little girl. She felt terrible about it.
Our children make parents angry sometimes. They get lazy, they make mistakes, they do silly, mischievous or thoughtless things. But when adults react without thinking, when they shout or strike, they usually accomplish little. And rightly so: they exhibit the very behaviour which they are trying to discourage.
Children do need discipline, but how can elders get them to do the right thing without losing their calm and adult dignity? By studying the parenting styles of people who have raised happy, well-adjusted children, behavioural scientists have identified a number of techniques that are often more effective than punishment in teaching appropriate behaviour.
Here are some effective ways to change behaviour without shouting or spanking that may work wonders on your childís behaviour and help foster harmony in your household.
Many behavioural problems donít require shouting matches or even discussions. For example; "Keep away from that door! (Why not add an inexpensive hook-lock?). "Iím not giving you the house key anymore because you keep losing it!" (I attached the key to my sonís haversack). "Iíve told you not to eat sweets before dinner!. (Hide the snacks). Every time you catch yourself yelling at your child, make a note of it. Later, see if you can handle recurring problems with simple changes in the environment.
Once the deal is struck, you and your child sign the paper and pin it up. Put a time limit on the contract. Circumstances have a way of changing, and you can always renew the contract. One of the most powerful ways children learn what to do and what not to do is by watching you. As you "model" various behaviours, sooner or later your child will intimate you. If you shout to get your way, you can expect some children to do the same. If you watch television instead of dusting the house, your child will likely put off a home work assignment. If you want your children to read, read. If you want your kids to apologise to you, apologise to them when you make a mistake.
More rights for Nepali women
FOR the first time in the history of Nepal, all unmarried women have been granted rights to their parental property, and similarly, all married women, to their husband's property. Following seven years of intensive debate and struggle by women's activists, King Gyanendra Bir Bikram Shah gave his royal assent to the crucial Bill (The Country Code on the 11th Amendment Bill on property rights and abortion rights) in the last week of September.
Earlier in March this year, the country's Parliament passed the Bill that, among other things, guarantees Nepali women equal rights to parental property and conditional abortions. The Bill will now be ready for implementation after it is listed in the legal gazette. With royal assent, the Bill becomes an Act, and under the Act, the fate of married women changes too. Married women will now own one share of the husband's property. The same pertains to divorced women, while widows will now have full ownership of their husband's property.
Whereas earlier, conditions had been put forth that property rights should only be given to those women who are above 35 years of age and if they remain unmarried, the Act now makes a daughter of any age an heir to her parental property. Advocate and women's rights activist Sapana Pradhan Malla is ecstatic over the historical achievement. However, she points out, there is one flaw in the property rights bill; the problem is that though a daughter has been given rights to parental property, she has to return the property if she gets married. The parliamentarians who opposed the Bill justified this aspect by saying that if the parental property is not taken back, the girl will be holding the property right of her parents as well as her husband," explains Malla. Another aspect of the Bill is that conditional abortion has been legalised. The Bill grants women the right to an abortion up to 12 weeks of pregnancy and up to 18 weeks in cases of rape and incest. Additionally, a woman can opt for an abortion at any time during her pregnancy if there is risk to her own health or if the baby is likely to be born with a serious disorder or deformity. The latter would of course, require an appropriate certificate from a doctor. Significantly, the Bill does not require the husband's consent in any case. In Malla's view and that of many experts, the Bill is only a beginning for the hard work ahead. "Our challenge is now the implementation of these rights. The most important thing is to reach the grassroots level."
Malla and her aides will
soon be busy. According to her, there are piles of legal cases that
they now have to start working on. However, the new law does not
address the fate of women currently serving prison sentences,
allegedly for having had abortions while the ban was still in place. A
large number of women have already been imprisoned for illegal
abortions and infanticide. Critics of the Bill however, have a
different point of view. They say that while earlier urban women got
away with clandestine abortions, the Act will only making things
easier for better-off women in the cities. According to the critics,
the law doesn't discuss the fate of hundreds of women who are jailed
all over the country for abortion-related crimes. In this context,
Secretary for Justice, Law and Parliamentary Affairs Uday Nepali
Shrestha says, "We can only release the women with the decision
of the Cabinet as most of them are imprisoned due to illiteracy or
lack of resources."