|HER WORLD||Sunday, March 28, 2004, Chandigarh, India|
baggage of stereotypes
that does not always bind
soothes victims of violence
to keep fit
baggage of stereotypes
AS one heads for Longowal, eight kilometeres from Sangrur, for the National Conference on Women in Development Processes being organised at the Sant Harchand Singh Longowal Central Institute of Engineering and Technology, by the Department of Entrepreneur Development and humanities, the mental image is that of dull and dreary proceedings and routine welcomes and plenary sessions.
A pleasant surprise is the enthusiasm that sets apart the meeting of women. Self-help groups, NGOs, academicians and technocrats from different parts of the country jostled with women from the media to voice their ideas, opinions and of, course, share experiences. Unlike meetings that are regimented by formal proceedings and a strict protocol, what set this conference apart was the flexibility and friendly ambience that facilitated an exchange of views without inhibitions or rigidity.
With different lectures on simultaneously, the participants could choose the module they wanted to participate in. If the lecture on Madhubani paintings enthused the artistically inclined, the philosophical analysis of principles of gender inequality, justice and freedom by a scholar from Visva Bharti gave ample food for thought. The speaker, Asha Mukherjee cheerily informs you that she manages a two-acre orchard singlehanded, in-between lecture tours on philosophy that she teaches. M. Chandra, the secretary of the All India Council of Technological Education, bemoans the prejudices that govern selection of women engineers, even if they manage to overcome the handicap of socio-cultural conditioning. While men are known to change jobs more frequently as compared to women, it is women who are quizzed about whether they will work after marriage and children. In a forceful presentation she made a strong case for making the work scenario more women friendly. Shovana Narayanís dance recital was appreciated by a responsive crowd. In tune with the balancing act of women that was talked about in the conference, Shovana explained how she would leave right after the performance at 10 pm for a meeting early next morning to perform her role as a bureaucrat.
The synergy generated by the exchange of ideas, discussions and active audience participation was contagious. Amazingly, the tremendous amount of synergy was generated not only by the paper reading and subsequent discussions, but also by the informal interaction that took place during meals and in-between sessions. The usual hallmarks of such conferences are academic socialising and bandying about concepts obfuscated by academic jargon. These were, thankfully, missing this once. In fact, there was a sincerity and underlying earnestness on the part of the organisers that communicated itself to the participants. It was this reaching out that gave the conference a unique flavour.
Somadutta Mandal showed a documentary Daughters of the 73rd Amendment in which she showed how three women have carved out a niche for themselves and done remarkable work for the community, she also demolished the stereotype of the innocent village woman as opposed to the empowered urbanite. An impassioned presentation backed by powerful visuals and the audience hungered for more.
Involvement of self help groups and NGOs as well as professionals from the region was laudable. What one wonders is whether all the recommendations and suggestions that were debated upon so fervently will find their way into practice and the gap between lofty-sounding ideals and aspirations can be translated into a workable reality. As a beginning, a tentative first step this conference deserves to be appreciated because it showcased the work being done by women in the region and gave them an opportunity to interact with those from other states. A point worth considering is whether we should speak on behalf of the subaltern or with them. One would have loved to hear a first-hand account from real-life success stories that underlined the grit and courage of women under adversity. The effort should be to involve the grassroots workers and not let discussions remain merely an elitist endeavour.
What gives hope is the audience involvement of youngsters in the discussions on gender bias and inequality. It was amusing how there was an attempt to keep the emphasis only on the child-rearing and homemaking roles alone. The theme was from self to society but bemoaning the loss of the earlier role of women strictly as a mother and wife and implying that by moving out of the confines of her prescribed role and function she was creating a social imbalance and the oft-repeated quote by Napoleon:Give me good mothers and I will give you a good nation was used to underscore the fact that if women did not do their duty, society would suffer.
We are living in times when the
market economy has subjugated both men and women alike and it would be
myopic to absolve either from accountability or responsibility. Even
if a few sparks of change are lit, it would be nice to see some of the
issues acquire practical shape out of the confines of seminar rooms.
But is it expecting a bit too much?
that does not always bind
"LOOK, how well your sister scores, what happens to you?" asks a parent." "See how quickly your cousin does the work assigned to him, why do you take so long?" These are everyday comments but comparisons like these gradually make deep-seated incisions in the psyche of the child. If we just go over the above comments and assess the damage done by them. One has made the child insecure regarding his abilities, which in the long run will affect his confidence level. Also, one has subconsciously planted the seed of helpless resentment against the concerned brother or cousin, in short, sibling rivalry.
The first instance of rivalry is evident when a new-born makes an entry into the household. The parents are on edge because of sleepless nights and the elder one is at the receiving end. The child is already unsettled because of so much importance being given to the new entrant. Everyone who visits cuddles, praises the baby not knowing that there is somebody else in the corner waiting for a kind word. There are abundant gifts, but only for the new arrival. So much of commotion is bound to affect the child. "It might have varied effects on the elder child varying from regression to aggression" says Poonam Tangri, a clinical psychologist "The child might start bed-wetting and start gurgling like its younger sibling to get attention or simply become aggressive. The parent has to be extra careful for, incidents leading to the death of the infant have been known to occur when resentment becomes unbearable.."A lot depends on the age gap between the two" comments Roopinder Wig, a mother of two, "If the age gap is more, the changes can be explained. Favouritism surfaces. I remember purchasing identical clothes, toys for years so that both of them did not suffer in any way. Equal attention is a must."
There is no doubt that education helps a lot in moulding the outlook of the parents, provided they are receptive to the influx of new ideas. The entry of a male child is usually greeted with a lot of fanfare in the Indian family scene but for a sensible parent the enthusiasm on the birth of both the children will be identical. As the children grow up, any kind of comparison is to be avoided as they are two different individuals and the same kind of reactions for similar situations should not be expected.
Sibling rivalry might lead to the personalities of both the children getting stunted. Pitting one against the other might create an inferiority complex which the rivals in the peer group are likely to take advantage of, thereby creating an individual unable to hold himself up against societal pressures later on in life. Conversely, a healthy relationship between sisters or brothers is an asset for each knows one can depend upon the other in any crisis at any stage of life. The psychologist mentioned above is known to include the siblings during counselling sessions regarding behavioural problems and guarantees that results are quicker when the above step is taken... Thus parenting is of utmost importance to help apply balm to the ulcered ego.
However, there is an aspect which even the educated parent might overlook as time passes. They might refrain from a comparison between siblings but they might make comparisons with cousins, especially if they happen to be in the same city and of the same age. The Indian nuclear family system is unique for there is a fair degree of interaction between the various units and therefore cannot be termed as totally isolated. The holistic development of the child requires emphasis on improvement of the personality of the child for the sake of improvement and not improvement relative to somebody else.
In another situation, the parents might be totally neutral but comparisons by uncles, aunts or even grandparents may put an unnecessary pressure on the child, be it studies, looks, behaviour or extracurricular activities. In that case, the onus lies on the parent to undo the damage by explaining that there is nothing wrong with the child and he is fine as he is.
"If untreated this disease might assume colossal proportion," says Satinder Kaur another clinical Psychologist," The enmities leading sometimes to murder is but a manifestation of a childhood malady. Once the spark sets in, it gets magnified with the success of the other. Be it commercially or professionally, old wounds keep festering and love, which, in any case has evaporated long back gives way first to envy and then to hate."
However, the above is an exception. Generally, if carefully handled, as the siblings enter adolescence, they tend to become closer. During the childhood parents get a gift each for both the children, while during adolescence they share their emotions and possessions with each other. The siblings exchange confidences and end up becoming a support to each other.
Give extra love to the elder sibling, when there is addition in the family. At this stage even a minor scolding will seem to her a rejection.
Explain to the child that for both the parents, both the children are equal. The child will understand.
Involve the child in various chores, like passing the hairbrush or oil. It will give the child a lot of satisfaction and will prepare the grounds for bonding between the two.
Never ever compare. They are two individuals and similar types of reactions for a similar situation should not be expected.
Do not put unnecessary pressure on the elder that she being elder should behave in a required manner. Remember, she too is a child.
In case of fights, explain things rationally as to whose fault it is and never take sides.
When getting gifts get gifts for both of them.
Do take out time for both of them separately, either while tucking them up for the night or any other convenient time when each opens his heart to the parent.
Above all, avoid quarrelling in front of children.
Touch that soothes victims of violence
"MY mission is to struggle for establishment of a just society, a society which gives an equal chance to its men and women alike," says 76-year-old Vimla Dang. Born on December 26, 1926 in a middle class Kashmiri migrant family in Allahabad, she alongwith all her siblings joined the Progressive Movement at an early age, becoming activists of the Friends of the Soviet Union Organisation. Ever since that headstart as a social activist, she has been working incessantly for the betterment of society and its inhabitants. Sometimes by trying to change the thinking of people, sometimes trying to change their circumstances through practical action. Even while she was a college student in Lahore, she went to Chittagong (West Bengal) and raised large sums of money for famine relief. In 1952, she married well-known social activist Satya Paul Dang and shifted to Chheharta, Amritsar. There, she organised the women's movement and actively participated in the trade union struggle in collaboration with her husband, fighting for the rights of the downtrodden and helping them to live a respectable life.
She was felicitated with the Padma Shri by the President of India for her social work. She has even been to jail several times. For sometime, she has also worked as a teacher in a private college in Amritsar and was a correspondent for Blitz and New Age for a few years. She was elected to the Punjab Assembly in 1992. Even today, her struggle has not stopped in spite of her frail body and hearing problem. At 82 and 76 respectively, both husband and wife have continued to conduct their regular relief activities through the Punjab Istri Sabha Relief Trust and Aruna Asaf Ali Trust to help families of victims of terrorism, handicapped, the poor and the downtrodden.
Recently, she spoke to Divya Aggarwal at length on various issues:
On the status of women in India:
Women's status can't change without a revolutionary change in the society. This can be achieved through continuous campaigns and joint endeavours. Though we all presume that such a change is not possible, on the contrary, such a change is possible as demonstrated by World Social Forum in Mumbai, where men and women of all shades and opinions assembled in thousands in January this year.
Even today, it's a man's world and it's the women who will have to come forward and raise their voice to make their presence felt.
On the Womenís Reservation Bill in Parliament
The Bill, if it gets the clearance, will be a great step towards giving equal opportunity to women in governance. Thirtythree per cent reservation for women in panchayats and local bodies has brought in about 10 lakh women in these areas. But this reservation is being denied in our Parliament. Unfortunately, women have occupied only 8 per cent of the total seats in Parliament. Itís sad that in spite of being the largest democracy in the world, India lags behind in such basic issues.
On being asked how the Bill can be passed, she says, "Change can be brought if the ruling party joins hands with the Samajwadi party, RJD, Shiv Sena, Congress and Left parties. That way they will get two-thirds majority in Parliament and then it will facilitate the clearance of the Bill.
On her social service activities:
Talking of social service always reminds me of Jawahar Lal Nehru's words,
"The best patriots in my opinion are those who feel the urge to do something practical for suffering humanity". The ideas of patriotism and social service were instilled in me during our school days in Lahore in the early 40s by the effort of Sarojini Naidu, Mrinalini Chattopadhyaya and Suhasini Jambhekar.
In 1943, Bengal plunged into a manmade famine when lakhs of people were dying of starvation and disease and women were forced to sell their honour for a morsel of bread, we went there to express solidarity to those people and raised money for the Prime Ministerís Relief Fund. Then in 1946, we worked hard to help the victims of widespread Hindu-Muslim riots in Mumbai.
After my marriage, I settled in Chheharta, the industrial suburb of Amritsar. In 1965, Chheharta was heavily bombed by Pakistani invaders on the last day before cease-fire. The whole place was strewn with dead bodies. At the break of dawn, a group of social workers including myself stood amidst shambles in Chheharta bazar to collect funds to cremate the dead bodies.
After I was elected the President of Chheharta Municipal Committee, we conducted free eye camps and rendered medical aid to the poor and needy.
On work done as a patron of the Punjab Istri Sabha:
As organisers of Punjab Istri Sabha, we took up scores of cases of social oppression, fought atrocities against women, helped settle matrimonial disputes and tried to get old age and widow pensions. The most notable work done by our organisation was to help terrorist violence victims.
As early as 1986, the Istri Sabha started helping innocent victims, the wounded, injured and maimed by bullets in indiscriminate shootings, massacres and bomb explosions by terrorists. We collected funds, and also shawls, sweaters, clothes and utensils to help those people. We helped to rehabilitate them through scholarships and stipends to children for study and to those who have lost the earning members of their family. Eminent people from all walks of life have been coming forth with help and support. We have also given cash awards to women who resisted terrorists. Relief is collected and disbursed irrespective of one's religion, caste and creed.
On her marriage:
My marriage to Satya Paul Dang is different from usual matrimonial arrangements in the sense that we are equals in all sense. We are both working in our respective fields outside home, and when at home, we share domestic responsibilities like equals too. He has taken more than his share of responsibility for domestic work as I am unable to attend to certain things because of health reasons.
Issues the country is facing:
Labour issues are one of the basic issues we need to handle today. There is very less percentage of women and adolescent girls who are employed in the organised sector. They are overworked and underpaid as are child labourers.
Communalism is yet another burning
issue in this seeming secular nation. This was well demonstrated
through the Staines murder case and the carnage in Gujarat where
thousands were looted, killed, burnt and raped.
Shop more to keep fit
A survey by store chain, Woolworths has revealed that women burn up 193 calories on a typical shopping trip.
According to a report in The Sun, the survey has found that women walk around dozens of stores and clock up 133 miles a year.
However, most women do not regard shopping as proper exercise.
The report says that Woolworths quizzed 4,500 women about their shopping habits and worked out that 4,059 steps are taken each time they go hunting for bargains, which is almost half the daily number of steps recommended by heart specialists.
Three quarters of women said that when they go shopping with a friend they spend even more time going round stores.
Nevertheless, even 193 calories is roughly equivalent to a pint of bitter, a hot cross bun, 41/4 Jaffa cakes or one 67g Kentucky Fried Chicken drumstick.
A British Heart Foundation spokesman said, "Walking is a relaxing and enjoyable way to keep healthy. And as it requires no equipment or expense it is the perfect way to get more exercise."
"We were surprised high street shopping is clocking up so many miles and helping to keep customers stay healthy," said Nicole Lander, head of corporate affairs at Woolworths.
One in five women quizzed admitted making emergency dashes to the shops at least once a week for items such as forgotten gifts, the report adds.
The same proportion liked to spend an entire day shopping but less than half were methodical about it. Infact, majority of women admitted that shopping is fun for them.
The fact that an average trip lasts 21/2 hours confirms that men and women donít make ideal shopping companions. A poll last year had revealed that men usually lose patience with shopping after 72 minutes. ANI