HER WORLD Sunday, January 4, 2003, Chandigarh, India

Social monitor
Draconian dimensions of gender crime
According to The UN report on status of women released by Secretary-General Kofi Annan last month, crime against women has increased, especially in the last decade, says Nanki Hans

At last, a political party of their own!
For the members of India's first women's party, brimming with hope and energy, the sky—and not just half of it—is the limit, says Geeta Seshu

Spirit of enterprise
And the plaque for creativity goes to...
Rashmi Talwar
HEN Jaspreet Kaur showed a hand-crafted plaque of the Golden Temple, Amritsar, to the management of the Harmandar Sahib, it was readily accepted. The European-style art form on metal for the Golden Temple is the first attempt made by anyone in this direction.

Mind your language!
Areet Kaur
HE world is no longer a place where women’s aspirations do not count. Hence the goal to eliminate gender bias in writing, speech and images.





Social monitor
Draconian dimensions of gender crime

According to The UN report on status of women released by Secretary-General Kofi Annan last month, crime against women has increased, especially in the last decade, says Nanki Hans

THE UN report on status of women released by Secretary-General Kofi Annan last month said that crime against women had increased, especially in the last decade. Worse, it had assumed a draconian dimension in the form of AIDS. Whether a prostitute or a housewife, both are at a risk of contracting the fatal disease. Of course, the carrier in most cases is the man. Man's sexual behaviour is now posing a direct threat to a woman's life.

Worse, even while alive, HIV positive women face atrocities in a village in Bathinda, Punjab, when Karamjit Kaur's husband, a truck driver, died of AIDS in February last, she was thrown out by her in-laws, who blamed her for "murdering" their son. In yet another incident in Tamil Nadu, when a 30-year-old woman was tested HIV positive, all hell broke loose.

Her children said they were 'ashamed' of her and abandoned her in the hope that she would die. After months of neglect, with none to feed or clean her, she was rescued by a women's self-help group, which found her body covered with sores and maggots. There have been at least two instances of HIV positive women being stoned to death by villagers in Andhra Pradesh.

The government has been running advertisement campaigns with celebrities like Shabana Azmi to dispel wrong notions on AIDS and stop victimisation of victims, but has gained little success. "When my husband died of AIDS, nobody from the neighbourhood came. I sat with his body the whole night alone. Nobody came to the cremation," reported a 25-year-old housewife from Chennai.

Sandhya, also from Chennai, faced a similar ordeal. "When the doctors at the ESI Hospital learnt that we were HIV positive, our names were deleted from the register and we were treated like untouchables," she told the media on December 2, 2003.

The government has so far failed to react. There is no institutional intervention on the behalf of the victim, who is stripped of all rights.

Another reason cited for the increase in violence against women is the rise in conflict in various parts of the globe — Bosnia, Chechnya, Congo, Afghanistan. It is a well-known fact that women and children are the worst sufferers in any conflict. In the Rwandan genocide of 1994, at least 5 lakh women were reportedly raped and in Bosnia in 1992 at least 20,000 women suffered rape.

In Congo, the five-year war has left thousands of women with a medical condition called vaginal fistula, which leaves them smelling due to the tearing of the bladder or rectum. Rape has been so brutal and systematic here that women have been left with lifelong debilitating health problems.

In war, rape becomes a primary weapon and at times a tactic by commanders to gain control of scarce resources food, water and fire wood. Women who are in charge of the hearth, are intimidated into surrendering these resources.

In post-Taliban Afghanistan, women continue to face restrictions in their movement, expression and attire. An 11- paged study on ‘‘Taking cover: Women in post-Taliban Afghanistan’’ by Human Rights watch documents incidents of threats and attacks on women including rape. It says women continue to live in an environment in which their personal security is always under threat.

In similar is the tale in the Kashmir valley were women have suffered bestiality at the hand of men in uniform and the militants alike. On April 19 this year the media reported the case of a 17-year-old girl having been raped by BSF personnel in the presence of her helpless widowed mother in a village near Pahalgam. Sadly, no baba of stature thought it necessary to visit the victim.

There have been several instances of militants raping and hilling women in the valley too. In one such case, an 18-year-old Gujjar girl was abducted, raped and beheaded (her brother was also shot) in a village in Poonch district of Jammu. Numerous protests by valley residents against atrocities remain largely ignored by the media and the government.

During the Gujarat riots lost year, the citizens initiative fact-finding team found that young girls, pregnant women, women with new-born babies had been chased, caught, raped, cut into pieces or burnt alive. But these barbaric, dehumanising acts failed to move our Defence Minister George Fernandes who shocked the nation, casually justifying that the atrocities committed on women in Gujarat were ‘‘nothing new’’. The remarks had women MPs seething as the All-India Democratic Women’s Association and the National Federation of Indian Women said ‘‘it was not only unthinkable coming from a member of Parliament, but also inhuman’’. Women organisations demanded apology and held protest marches. But all this had little effect on the minister or the powers that be.

In the male-dominated world, gender violence is not treated with the seriousness it should. Empathy for the victim is lacking. What is needed is exemplary punishment. A tribunal needs to be set up to try cases of sex abuse during conflict, be it in any part of the world. The abusers need to be ruthlessly chased, caught and brought to trial as in the case of tribunals trying Nazis for the extermination of Jews. Nothing short of this will do.


At last, a political party of their own!

For the members of India's first women's party, brimming with hope and energy, the sky—and not just half of it—is the limit, says Geeta Seshu

No men allowed. Not as active members, and definitely not as leaders. In the world's largest democracy, half its electorate is staking its claim to power— a political party of women, by women—but for the people.

On November 27, 2003, 56 years after Independence, an application for the registration of this first women's political party was filed at the Election Commission in New Delhi. The Womanist Party of India (WPI)—or its Hindi equivalent, the 'Bharatiya Streevadi Paksh' - is a no-holds-barred attempt to correct the huge imbalance of power in the country.

"The demand for this party has come from below. It is a response to the need of women for a forum, a platform for their political aspirations," says Varsha Kale, WPI President. Support has come from women in rural Western Maharashtra, Pune, Solapur and even Mumbai.

"Ours is not an NGO. We are not a social welfare organisation, though working for social development is part of our goal. We are interested in political power, 100 per cent of it, not 33 per cent," she adds.

The party, for which at least 10,000 women have signed up, has the requisite 100 members for its registration formalities. Its target for the next few months is to achieve a membership of 500,000. A membership drive has not yet been initiated; attempts are still on to popularise the concept of a political party for women and by women. However, the WPI is planning to field candidates for the Maharashtra state elections and the Lok Sabha elections in 2004.

The party uses bangles for a symbol because women of all cultures, classes and creeds use bangles—and because men look at bangles as a sign of weakness. And its flag is purple because that is a colour chosen by the women's movement the world over. The Womanist Party of India is here to stay. Eschewing the term 'feminist', since it connotes urban, upper class women, its members have chosen instead to use the term 'womanist'.

"We have had many queries from women working in different political parties but we have told them that they must resign from their political parties, think carefully about their commitment and then take a decision," says Kale. Laughing, she adds, "We've even said - come to us at the last minute after your own party rejects you and denies you a ticket; we'll accept you."

The party hopes to raise funds for its activities and election campaigns strictly within the limits set by the Election Commission. However, members who wish to contest elections must raise the money for the deposit themselves.

Since, under the Indian Constitution, the party cannot bar membership to anyone on grounds of sex, it has thought up an innovative ploy to keep men at bay. Men who wear bangles can attend meetings and become members, but will be accepted only as primary members. The active members—read women—can contest elections under the party's banner.

While the WPI was born on November 13, 2003, its gestation period has been much longer. In 1996, Kale, a social activist, was working on a research project on the 73rd Amendment with a Mumbai-based NGO, the Vikas Adhyayan Kendra. She was looking at the implementation of the amendment on panchayati raj institutions and how reservations for women have worked at the grassroots level. She found many flaws in the law.

A major lacuna was that the reservation of seats was effected by rotation. This meant that women who became members of gram panchayats (village councils) or even sarpanchs (heads of village councils), lost their seats after a five-year term. And that they could seek elections after a gap of 10 years, when the seat they had worked for and prepared for, was reserved again for women.

"We found that women did enter the political arena, and they did make an impact. Even if some were under pressure or were puppets, others did make a difference. But after their term was over, they were forced to return to the confines of the home," asserts Kale. "Our study revealed that women had awareness and political ambitions, but they had no money and no political support. They were seen as vote banks but they were not given party tickets," says Kale.

In Maharashtra, from the late 1990s onwards, the participation of women in panchayats has seen an increase. Today, there are about 10,000 women serving in gram panchayats as members or even as sarpanchs. At the same time, there is little or no visible participation of women in any movements for their betterment, adds Kale.

"We found that, on the one hand, men are getting organised in 'purush haq samitis' (men's rights groups) and government support for women's development schemes is on the decline. On the other hand, social organisations or social movements have lost their strength. So women really don't have a forum to speak up for them."

According to Kale, the most crucial issue for them was the secondary status of women. Even development societies in Maharashtra that fund farmers through the district cooperative banks, do not allow women to become members because women are not seen as farmers but only as workers. This, says Kale, not only denies women an important source of funding but also an identity as co-owners of agricultural property.

Initially, the attempts of Kale and her colleagues, social activists Sanjivni Nangre and Shobha Karande, was to work towards a forum for women's rights. In December 2000, a meeting was called in Kavate Mahankal, a village in Sangli district of western Maharashtra to discuss this need.

Participants deliberated on whether a forum would be the right answer to tackle political issues. Could women's issues be dealt with only at the social level? What about political power structures? But for the women who came for the meeting, there was no doubt. They took it that a separate political party was being formed and asked for application forms!

By May 2001, discussions for a political party began to crystallise. Kale and Nangre began meeting women in small groups in Ahmednagar, Pune, Solapur, and even in the ladies' compartment of local trains in Mumbai! Everywhere, the response was enthusiastic. A Shiv Sena Mahila Aghadi member joined up on the spot, saying that this political party would be for women, and therefore for people like her.

Leaders of other political parties, however, have been cautious and sometimes dismissive. "Some of us, like Nangre and I, come from political backgrounds. My uncle was a former Congress MP. Our families told us they could not give us any encouragement, leave alone permission to form a separate political party. They didn't want the family honour to be besmirched!" says Kale.

No one seems to understand that women need a political party because they don't have security, they don't have anyone to speak up for them. If women come together, they could form a pressure group and increase their bargaining power, she says.

In the days to come, members of the party will meet to discuss and deliberate various issues and work out a manifesto. A think-tank has been formed which will articulate the party's views on all issues ranging from reservations for women (currently, the party's demand is for 50 per cent reservation) to legislation and development policies for women.


Spirit of enterprise
And the plaque for creativity goes to...
Rashmi Talwar

Jaspreet working on a plaque of the Golden Temple
Jaspreet working on a plaque of the Golden Temple

WHEN Jaspreet Kaur showed a hand-crafted plaque of the Golden Temple, Amritsar, to the management of the Harmandar Sahib, it was readily accepted. The European-style art form on metal for the Golden Temple is the first attempt made by anyone in this direction.

Amritsar’s Jaspreet Kaur found instant acceptance for her ‘first-of its-kind’ creation of "embossed plaque of the holy Golden Temple. Handier and easy to handle, it was readily acknowledged as an apt gift for visiting dignitaries to the holiest Sikh shrine.

This woman entrepreneur took a lead in making a memorable gift for notable public figures who visit the Golden Temple. Gold polished, lacquer finished, framed and encased in a velvet jewellery box, the new creation immediately became a hit when it was selected over the traditional model of the Golden Temple encased in glass.

Jaspreet’s joy knew no bounds when her very first creation was gifted to President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam by the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabhandak Committee (SGPC) in March last year (2003).

The tremendous response to her creation propelled an assignment for ‘a special piece’ for the Canadian Prime Minister’s visit to the Golden Temple. She created a dazzling plaque with a smattering of cultured diamonds as the haloed sun rays and framed with an inlay of real pearls and blue sapphires. Even the velvet jewellery box for this plaque was encrusted with ‘traditional kundan work’. The gift drew profuse appreciation by Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretian on his visit to Golden Temple on Divali day on October 25 last year."

Queries flew in from the Chief Minister Amarinder Singh’s office for another piece that could be presented to the Armenian President on his visit. However, it could not be readied in the short duration, she claimed.

A dual polish (gold-silver) plaque was presented subsequently to British Columbian Premier Gordon Campbell recently. " The plaque is not only handier as a memento but can be conveniently carried home by visiting dignitaries compared to the bulkier counterpart of the model of Golden Temple. Besides this, it has an added advantage of multiple display choices. A sturdy back-stand holds it as a photo frame, it can be displayed on a plate stand or could be simply hung on a wall."

Many of the large mock models of the Golden Temple became cause for baggage rationalisation, but these plaques have the immediate and sleek advantage over that, says the young artist.

Thirty-three-year old Jaspreet started out with an input of Rs 4 lakh that she earned from a lecturer’s job. A gold medallist in MA, MPhil history, she is proud to have created hitherto a product that commemorates history. Her destiny automatically connected her with Sikh history after she married Manbir Singh, the grandson of Master Tara Singh, the seven- time president of SGPC. Armed with a degree in electrical engineering and a keen artistic taste, Manbir became the inspiration and guide for Jaspreet when she came up with an idea of the European-style embossment to be replicated for the Golden Temple on a brass plate.

Countless computer designs and six months of tireless effort to make a master-layout of the Golden Temple with near perfect angles of its varied architectural marvels proved fruitful, she says.

Innumerable rounds of metal casters in Ludhiana, Delhi, Moradabad, Malerkotla finally narrowed down the choice to Aligarh for their quality finish. "The milling of the structure could be done by machines but hand cutting, chiselling, metal chasing of the eleven inch thick brass plate is the toughest part.

"Later, the finished plaque is given pure gold polish and electro-phoratic lacquer treatment to retain finish and negate oxidation visible in blackening" says Jaspreet.

However, Jaspreet wants to retain the exclusivity of her product. The success of her creation has boosted her to innovate and use her skills to create plaques of other shrines like Gurdwara Khadoor Sahib for their 500 anniversary celebrations of Guru Angad Dev next year. She is already in the crafting stage for other shrines including Gurdwara Hazoor Sahib, Mata Vaishno Devi and Gurdwara Hemkund Sahib.



Mind your language!
Areet Kaur

THE world is no longer a place where women’s aspirations do not count. Hence the goal to eliminate gender bias in writing, speech and images.

What is gender bias?

Words we commonly use are gender biased. "Weatherman" suggests all weather reporters are males. "Countrymen" implies only males inhabit the land. "Mankind" portrays maleness as the norm for our species.

Making a difference

Biased language is fuzzy language. It distorts perceptions and it dampens young women’s aspirations. It is insensitive too. If your letter addressed "Dear Sir" ends up on the desk of a vice president who is a woman, you’ve committed a major business blunder.

Inclusive language

Until recently, most people didn’t see anything wrong with the generic "he" (every student should bring his roll number) to refer to both men and women. Women’s growing disagreement has inspired some pretty cumbersome proposals. "S/he" makes readers wince. "He or She", "Sir/Madam" grates with constant repetition. Therefore Make the sentence plural:

"A doctor should always be sensitive to his patients" to

"Doctors should always be sensitive to patients".

Refer to "Chairman" as "The Chair". Replace "man" with "person", "manhole cover" with "sewercover".

To avoid the "Dear Sir" dilemma address by title or role. Such as "Dear Managing Director", "Dear customer".

Use "Ms" salutation instead of "Mrs" or "Miss" Make exceptions only for women who sign themselves Mrs or Miss.

Always use a woman’s professional title (Judge, Professor) in situations where you would use one for a man.

Avoid "Mr and Mrs" salutation. "Anita and Raj Chauhan" would be preferable.

A businessman is a business executive. Call girl is prostitute.

Fireman is fire fighter. Delivery boy is courier., Clergyman is cleric, cameraman is camera operator, housewife is home maker.

The human family

Generic use of the word "man" may backfire. A politician calling for "unity of mankind" will be excluding half the populace! Replace brotherhood with kinship or community, common man with average person, countrymen with compatriot, man hours with staff hours, workmanship with craft. We are not rewriting the language. Rather, the language is evolving to keep pace with times.