|HER WORLD||Sunday, June 1, 2003, Chandigarh, India|
Storming a male bastion
I feel strongly ...
A five-year old is told in his primary textbook that daddy is the king of the family and mummy, a caring deputy. It happens to be one of those textbooks of school children that perpetuate inherent gender bias by assigning traditional roles to men and women reinforcing stereotypes. What is more ironic is that the preface of the book advocates "`85to develop the right social attitudes and values in a growing child`85" Despite a conscious effort on the part of the National Policy on Education (1986) and the perspective plan (1988), women are are depicted in traditional typecasts as cooks, housewives, nurses, etc.
According to eminent Supreme Court lawyer, B.B.Sawhney, at the basis of the problem demonstrating a lackadaisical approach to the education of girls lies in our tradition and culture, social attitudes, poverty, fear of violence and exploitation besides early marriage. How ironic it is to talk about women's empowerment in such a situation!
Though NCERT too has been laying stress on removing the gender disparities specifically emphasising the elimination of sex stereotypes and sex biases from text books, study material made available to the primary school student is replete with instances of such discriminatory attitudes. Be it a book on science, social studies, mathematics, English or Hindi, women can be seen fetching water, working in kitchens or cleaning the room. Lessons too are male-centred where stories are generally about boys. Boys occur in most illustrations and most instructions in workbooks too are addressed to them. References like - "a farmer, his land and his son", "mother fills water in the pots" and "my sister washes clothes" etc.-are all examples of a bias at subconscious levels. Truth is that women are portrayed as gentle emotional beings with less precise minds, somewhat weak, fragile and frail and best when caring and tending to others.
Amongst the findings of a survey report by Friends for Education, a forum for the uplift of education, culture and civic sense, it was found that the average length of a primary textbook in India is about 115-130 pages with every text having an average of 80-100 illustrations with 52 per cent depicting men and boys, 28 per cent neutral objects, 14 per cent mixed and only 6 per cent portrayed women and girl - children. Women, however, are not only losing on the number front alone as the hardest hit comes when we see the constant association of certain traits with males and females. Men man spaces that are conventionally and socially seen as public and outdoor assignments that project them in stronger roles like policemen, engineers, lawyers, professors, pilots, mechanics etc.
Even today the textbooks of the primary children by NCERT show gender bias as most of the really adventurous and enterprising roles like that of astronauts, soldiers and sportspersons, are men. The urgency and importance given to having a son to attain moksha (salvation) and the tradition of kanyadaan (to give the daughter away in wedding) for fulfilling the duties of the grihastha ashram (homely duties) paves the way for the socio-cultural discrimination of girls from the moment they are born. They are treated as paraya dhan (groom's property) and investing in them is considered a waste of money and resources.
The task of ridding these books of gender discrimination will prove to be a Herculean one as according to the research of Friends for Education, most of the primary books and especially of social and environmental level depict women involved in the household chores while men are shown as agriculturists, scientists, inventors, doctors and other professionals.
Girls, in most cases, are shown as passive observers where the boys are seen performing important experiments. Even in the six mathematics books used in the primary classes, men dominate in activities representing commercial, occupational and marketing situations. Not one woman has been shown as a shopkeeper, merchant, executive, engineer or seller.
Even in jobs dealing in money like transaction in a bank, saving schemes etc., are all managed by men even in textbooks at higher levels. Five Hindi and five English textbooks evaluated by Friends for Education show that men are more adventurous, schematic, aggressive and with a scientific bent of mind. In fact these kinds of texts are actually responsible for the lack of interest that girls show for science at the secondary and senior secondary levels. As a result, a majority of girls take to literary and social science courses thus ending up as weaker sex stereotypes. In fact, the truth is that at a subconscious level these texts are preparing boys to achieve in the marketplace while girls are trained to be submissive and to obey at home.
Educational psychologists worry that gender stereotypes adversely affect the emotional psyche of children by forcing them to perform a set pattern of behavior pre-determined on the basis of gender discrimination. Boys are taught to associate most of the indoor activities and the action of caring looking after people with feminine activity. But in the USA, the pattern is different and in a primary level textbook men are also seen doing jobs like baby-sitting, cleaning the house, washing clothes etc. Even at places boys are shown losing tennis and basketball matches to girls.
It was in 1982-83 that the NCERT for the first time tried to identify areas of sex bias in language textbooks. When their representatives met the primary teachers about sorting the problem, it was shocking revelation that they were completely oblivious about sexist stereotypes. Some projects and workshops were launched to build up awareness for the elimination of this gender difference but the situation remains the same even after a decade-and-a half. Even today, in most of our primary schools, girls along with boys are referred to as beta (son) thereby annihilating their mere presence in the class. No boy has ever been referred to as beti (daughter)! Well, considering that the teachers (even the females) barely recognise the presence of girls in the classroom, sensitivity to subtler gender issues as might occur in the texts is a far cry.
But of late, despite the NCERT, having developed a set of guidelines for the elimination of gender stereotyping in textual material and the same disseminated to the authors and publishers, not much has changed. It all began in 1975 after a conference was held to examine the "Status of women through curriculum". Subsequent to this, NCERT has also set up a women's study group that conducts series of evaluation and workshops. Known as Department of Women's Studies, useful research work has been carried out by Sushma Jairath, Janki Rajan, Usha Nayar, Gauri Srivastava, Urvashi Butalia, Sudha Kale and Raj Rani. Urvashi Butalia has also worked in six countries. To her chagrin she complains, "Our commitment to make girls a part of the educational process has not met with even an iota of success in most parts of India. In a country like India most girls get married by or before they are 20.
According to the World Youth Report 2001, 50 per cent girls in India get married in the age group 15-19 and immediately there are pressures on them for early fertility that further reduces their chances of getting along with further studies. Even the schools do not support girls with early fertility with nurseries to look after their siblings. Similar is the problem with schoolgirls of the same age group in the USA who do not pursue their studies owing to increased urges for sexuality but their schools support them with nurseries.
In spite of the sincere efforts on the
part of the NCERT, it is just impossible to keep a vigil on all and
sundry publishers who often bring out spurious publications that can be
detrimental for the crystallizing, young impressionistic minds.
Publishers have to be cautious if any changes are to percolate at the
social level regarding this sensitive issue. It is time that the
blunders we have made at conscious or subconscious levels are remedied
for we owe it to our children that proper gender understanding is
drilled unto their minds.
Storming a male bastion
Frida has evoked renewed interest in a woman and an artist who lived life on her own terms, says Ranjita Biswas
Salma Hayek's labour of love has paid off. For seven years she had been begging Hollywood's big studios to pay attention to her idea about a film on Frida Kahlo, the eclectic Mexican artist. Ultimately, she had to raise funds herself to produce Frida. Her Oscar nomination in the best actress category and the two awards in other categories are pointers to the fact that the world has not forgotten the surrealist genius. Earlier this year, Frida was the inaugural film at the Venice film Festival, the world's oldest such event.
Going through the reports of the renewed interest in Frida Kahlo, my mind suddenly flew to another locale, to cool Canberra, far away from the heat of Mexico. For a good reason. It was my first introduction to the extraordinary painter's work. An exhibit of Frida Kahlo's work was on at Canberra's National Gallery of Australia in the summer of 2001. The haunting self-portraits of the artist, the tropical dream-like quality of her paintings had remained vivid in memory as was the impression of a woman of strength.
The strength is all the more remarkable if you think of the physical and mental agony Frida Kahlo had gone through in her lifetime. At the age of five, polio struck her. A bus accident at 18 saw her confined to the bed most of her time. A pole had pierced through her body in the mishap. Medical science was rather primitive those days and she went through surgery after surgery, 32 in all, throughout her life. Besides, she had to wear alternative corsets and let her body go through mechanical stretching. Many of her paintings were done while lying in bed. She died of cancer at the age of 44. To the critics who say Frida was obsessed with her body, admirers point out that with her body mostly in confinement, her free spirit found expression in these surrealistic self- portraits. Today, we see the human body celebrated and iconised in many ways, in films, artworks, advertisement campaigns, you name it. Frida showed the way 60 years ago, as an art critic observes.
Frida was feted by the foremost surrealist artists of the day. Look at her "The Bride who became frightened when she saw life opened. '' It is a still life of a different sort, ripe watermelons cut and open, and assorted fruits and birds surround it. Or the "Self portrait with necklace" and " Self portrait with braid" (1941) and you can feel raw energy emanating from a woman of power. Frida was the first woman artist to sell a painting to the venerated Louvre. A privately funded museum called Malba by tycoon Costanini in Buenos Aires has a 1942 self-portrait for which the collector paid $3.2 million in 1996, a record price for any Latin American art.
Frida's great love was Diego Rivera, a noted modern muralist of Mexico known for his communist ideals. Her physical condition did not allow her to bear children which was a source of great sorrow to her. She married Diego twice. After the divorce of the first marriage, Frida's self portrait shows her cutting off one of her luxurious braids, as if a part of her body was severed. After her second marriage she has the braid again, symbolically. But she also had taken many lovers, men and women. They included Leon Trotsky, on the run from Stalin who found welcome hospitality in Frida and Diego's home Casa Arul.
Though born in 1907, Frida liked to say she was born in 1910, the year of the Mexican revolution. That was the year when the poor and deprived rose against the rich and powerful who were ruthlessly exploiting them under the benign gaze of dictator Porotfiro Diaz. Frida was fiercely Mexican in her spirit and outlook and hated the interference of America in her country's politics.
At a time much ahead of the Feminism movement of the 70s, Frida lived her life on her own terms and that too in a country notably Catholic in its attitude towards women. Women in Mexico got franchise rights only in 1953, a year before Frida died.
Her talent and tumultuous personal life continues to be the grist for many creative works. The latest are two books, a fictionalised Frida (Penguin) by Barbara Mujica which takes an intimate look at the artist and woman through the eyes of her sister Christina and The Incantation of Frida K by Kate Braveman who herself is an activist from Berkeley from where many of the feminist thinkers emerged.
Pouring a little oil at the gate of oneís house when a bride alights from her doli, to enter the hearth of her in-laws, is only a customary welcome. The real welcome is from the bottom of the crucial senior ladyís i.e. the mother-in-lawís (MILís) heart. Indeed, it is expressed in different ways. At the engagement ceremony of my son, I presented a most unusual gift of a red and golden shaganwala envelope containing a letter, to my would be daughter-in-law! I had written:
My dearest Harleen,
I warmly welcome you, with all my heart to my small family. Who says dreams donít come true? They simply do! You are that girl I have been eagerly waiting for so long! Traditions and celebrations are a way of showing oneís happiness. In fact, the real expression of oneís happiness lies in oneís words and feelings. Gradually, the day is drawing nearer when you will formally become a member of our family. Then you will have another responsibility on your young shoulders, which is, of sharing our lifeís happiness as well as sorrows. I want to tell you that you are not only my daughter-in-law. I have always regarded you and give you the status of my daughter....
And Harleen was really touched at this welcome.
While itís easy to be a MIL, it is difficult to be a good one. If MILs consider their DILs (daughters-in-law) as daughters, then half the battle is won. The remaining half is matter of understanding a young girl, usually in her early twenties, who also anxiously wants to be fully accepted as a member of her new household. Often it will do well for a MIL to step down from her self-imposed authoritative status, not forgetting that she was once a DIL too, who had taken wings from her parental house to make her nest elsewhere.
Remember, while our own daughter gets married and then goes away, practically speaking, the real daughter is the daughter-in-law, as she is the one who comes and stays with us. And accepting someone elseís dil ka tukra as your own daughter, is not easy. It requires a strategy combined of patience, tolerance, understanding, love, tact, respect, encouragement and forgiveness, apart from a dil me jagah for her.
Similarly, a DIL must have regard, respect and love her in-laws as she would do her own parents. Undeniably, MIL-DIL bonding is a two-way process of give and take between two women, one older and the other younger, maturing with time to be a synthesis of tradition and modernity built upon an edifice of love, to generate warmth and happiness in the family.
MILs often discover that their DILs are totally ignorant in stretching the rupee till the last paisa. How can one expect a DIL to know about economy in running a household when she has never done so? While two onions may suffice for a dish, the DIL may chop four. Donít rake up an issue if she burns or overcooks a dish and donít blast a bomb if a vase breaks. MILs also crib that often DILs have no value for their household which they have built with care and sacrifices over the years. DILs tread carefully!
Love is the greatest gift which you can give, to get more in return. Another gift is that of privacy. If there is space, give the couple, apart from a room with an attached bath, a pantry or a kitchenette ó for bed tea or juice and to heat up milk and baby food when the stork arrives. Do pack her off to her room after lunch for a nap or to relax to be refreshed for the evening chores.
Only a woman understands that a young girl needs money for a 100 things like hair clips, sanitary pads, a new shade of a lipper, ice cream for a friend, visits to parlour, or to STD booth to talk to her folks. Slipping in some pocket money in her purse every month will keep her satisfied.
I had also written:
"When I am willing to give you so much of love, then certainly I have the right to sometimes, only if necessary, kuchh keh sakti hoon....
Am I not a mother to my DIL too? As a senior woman in the house, I have authority but to be used with restraint..
I feel strongly ...
News about crimes committed by policemen has become a regular feature. It is a myth that policemen are there for us; that they are here to prevent crime, and to protect us. I don't know how affected they are by it and what they are doing to improve the situation, but the public would rather handle their difficulties themselves than take police help.
Consider. Like many of you, I am a working woman in the Capital. That does not make any difference. One of the most prominent buildings near the Patel Chowk is the Parliament Street Police Station, which has many huge police vehicles parked outside it. The place is full of action with a whole lot of cops outside, having tea and patties, and chatting around. It's quite interesting to watch them make vulgar remarks at ladies passing them one after the other, irrespective of their age, attire, looks, or anything else. This seems like this is the only place where there is no discrimination against colour, creed, or even age! True to their form, as I walk down to my office in Connaught Place from the Patel Chowk roundabout in the morning I am greeted by stares and comments from a good number of policemen standing around in small groups and passing filthy remarks. One day is bad enough but we are talking about five daysó week after week.
At first, I was shocked and it took me a while to get used to being eve-teased by policemen, of all people. Being fresh out of college, I was used to eve teasing by all types of people on the road, but this! It affected my work as I used to think about why this was happening to me. Maybe it was about something to do with the way I dressed, which although I felt was quite normal, decided to change to something more "decent". I switched on to salwar kameez, long shirts, loose pants etc., to see if anything would change.
Nothing did. Then, as it became a usual feature and there was nothing I could do to stop their tongues from wagging on, their eyes working overtime and their saliva from pouring over, I decided to ignore them and not let them bother me. I kept to my normal routine of walking down from Parliament Street through the mob of policemen, and walking to my office in the parallel lane. Now, it actually seems funny how they follow this routine of teasing women everyday, so faithfully. Nothing seems to bother them, not even the fact that a lady might be elder to them. Even the lady policeówho are probably so used to these men and their ways - don't even bat an eyelid when they make those filthy remarks.
This is a land where thousands of victimised women will give you testimony to the brutalities and indignities visited upon them. Many have even died due to the suffering, both mental and physical, as they were unable to cope with life after being physically assaulted. The culprits? Policemen.
Recently, a series of cases were reported against policemen, some of them were absolutely disgusting. They have a certain level of power, which of course is more than they can handle, The unfortunate thing is that the only thing they know about this power they possess is how to misuse it. They are completely oblivious to their moral or social duty to the society they have pledged to serve. Their over-riding preoccupation is only to see what they can get from their position and how much more they can get out of the people. The result? Fear and the common people harassed by the "guardians" of the law themselves.
The question one asks is who are they
after all and who are they policing, when they should be policing
themselves. Of what value are they if the common purpose and function of
their time is to make a nuisance of themselves? In a civil society
wherein the boundaries are increasingly blurred one must ask: Are
policemen protectors of human beings or themselves perpetrators of
crimes they ought to curb?