WOMEN Sunday, June 20, 2004, Chandigarh, India

Grassroots power
Women Sarpanches in Haryana villages continue to perform their duties with diligence in spite of the many challenges they face. With unflagging enthusiasm, they have undertaken a number of development activities in their villages. Rahul Das reports.

“I am going to put my best foot forward, but it is a long journey”
Jayaprada won the Rampur seat as the Samajwadi Party candidate, Vickey Lalwani caught up with this beautiful lady on the sets of Mahesh Manjrekar-directed Deh to quiz her about her film plans and her new avatar as a politician.

Pakistani crusader against bigotry
s a writer, Nasreen Anjum Bhatti has never been hidebound by the forces of fundamentalism reigning in Pakistan. Conscious of the misrepresentation of Islam in the name of cultural preservation, she has evolved her own style to mirror the social reality.




Grassroots power

Women Sarpanches in Haryana villages continue to perform their duties with diligence in spite of the many challenges they face. With unflagging enthusiasm, they have undertaken a number of development activities in their villages. Rahul Das reports.

Phool Wati
Phool Wati

The children of Harda village don’t mind going to the local government school which now has cemented rooms. Till about four years back, parents preferred to send their children to nearby villages for schooling rather than the dilapidated local school. The scenario changed after Phoolwati, an illiterate woman, was elected sarpanch. Realising the importance of an educational infrastructure, Phoolwati ensured that the school rooms were cemented. She has already taken up the next project of getting a boundary wall for the school.

It was tough for Phoolwati as a woman in the male-dominated set-up. She took it up as a challenge and managed to convince the locals. Making officials respond to the local needs was a bigger challenge and it two years to get rooms cemented. "I am conscious that our children need proper educational facilities. They no longer have to go to nearby Nagla or Saha for schooling. I am not deterred," she said emphatically.

She is trying to get a fully-functioning deep-bore tubewell in the village which would meet the requirement of water for the village. "People ask me carry out work but my appeal to the authorities fall on deaf ears. I sometimes feel frustrated," Phoolwati admitted.

Usha Johar, Sarpanch of Bihta village, has managed to carry out a number of development activities. The village `Vridh Ashram' which she has got made for senior citizens has been received well by the village elders.

However, she faced an unexpected hurdle when she wanted to make toilets for ladies in the village. "I am surprised that there is no separate scheme for building toilets for ladies in the village. Being a lady, I understand the problems faced by the village women so I wanted that toilets for ladies should be made, keeping in mind the hygiene requirement. But, it seems that it may not be possible, The authorities must understand the ground situation and prepare schemes accordingly. Also, the projects must be executed in a time-bound manner," she suggested.

Harvinder Kaur
Harvinder Kaur

The women, who have been elected as Sarpanch, have had a roller-coaster ride in the last four years. While some of them have had the satisfaction of executing works, there are others who have had to face harassment. Harvinder Kaur, Sarpanch of Duliana village, said that she faced a major allegation of financial irregularity. "At every step, I had to face problems. The development work moves at a snail's pace," she lamented.

"The allegations have upset me. I have worked with sincerity in the village," she said. She stressed that she has not got bogged down by caste-factors and she got Harijan chaupal made. Also, a `puliya' is proving to be convenient for the villagers for traveling.

The neighboring Duliani village had a woman Sarpanch who had set an example for the women of the area to take on this crucial responsibility. Madhu Bakshi, who is no more, was elected as a Sarpanch at a time when there was no reservation for women in the Panchayati Raj.

Kanwar Pal Singh, Haryana Pradesh Congress Committee Panchayati Raj Cell general secretary, observed that although the women Sarpanch and Panch are facing a host of challenges, they have been diligent in discharging their duties. "Rajiv Gandhi had a vision for women's empowerment through Panchayati Raj. The vision is gradually turning into reality and women Sarpanch have been able to empathise better with the villagers. The government must impart proper extensive training to the women Sarpanch so that they can work better," he said.

Kulwant Kaur
Kulwant Kaur

Kulwant Kaur, Sarpanch of Hamidpur village, is facing a double challenge. She is a woman and she belongs to a backward community `Gadriye'. She was elected Sarpanch following the death of earlier woman Sarpanch Mahindro Devi. Sitting in her home on the outskirts of the village, Kulwant Kaur said that she is not getting the desired cooperation from the other Panches. "Local politics is definitely hampering my work. I want to carry out a lot of work in the village like the school ground being leveled and a 'johar' being dug up so that excess water can flow into it but I am facing difficulty," she states matter-of-factly. "Despite the hinderances, I am happy to have got the opportunity to serve the villagers by being elected the Sarpanch. I may consider standing for election next time again," she said. "The cremation ground shed has been put up and the village 'phirni' is underway. Once the 'phirni' is complete, it will be convenient for the villagers to travel through," Kulwant Kaur added.

Kusum Chabra
Kusum Chabra
— Photos by Neeraj Chopra

On one hand women Sarpanch are soldiering on despite the odds, on the other hand there are women who have decided to call it a day. Kusum Chabra, Sarpanch of Saha village, said that she wanted to quit nearly two years back but she was persuaded to continue by the village women. "I am not an escapist. But, sometimes I feel bad when people do not understand my problems," she said. "I have judiciously utilised the Panchayat fund as well as the Vikas Samiti money. I understand the problems of the villagers. For ensuring that water stagnation does not take place, the drains have been cemented," she added.

She observes that women indeed find it difficult to discharge the duties of the Panchayat. "I have a family to look after. Whenever, I have to go out, my husband has to accompany me. Besides this, there is lot of party politics which slows down the process of getting work done," she said.

"No one can make everybody happy. I have made up my mind and I am not going to contest for the post of Sarpanch next time," she says emphatically.

These women are wearing two hats - one for discharging their duties towards their family and the second for carrying out their duties for the village. Despite the odds faced by them, their spirit is not dampened and their enthusiasm for work is not diminished.

The litmus test for these women will be the next Panchayat election. How many of the women Sarpanch succeed in coming back as Sarpanch will be a measure of their success in this term.


“I am going to put my best foot forward, but it is a long journey”

JayapradaJayaprada won the Rampur seat as the Samajwadi Party candidate, Vickey Lalwani caught up with this beautiful lady on the sets of Mahesh Manjrekar-directed Deh to quiz her about her film plans and her new avatar as a politician.


After winning the Rampur seat in the recent Lok Sabha elections, what are your plans for your constituency?

Frankly, I experienced the shock of my life when I first saw Rampur. The place is very backward. Apparently, people have lots of expectations from me. Some of them think that an angel has arrived and there would be miracles overnight. I wish it was so easy. I have explained to the residents that their earlier votes have been misused, that is precisely why they are facing acute problems of water, electricity, roads, etc. I am going to put my best foot forward, but it’s a long journey. I hope we get funds soon for these development works.

You changed loyalties from TDP to SP...

(Interrupts) I started my political career with NTR. So I have always belonged to the school of secularism. I was terribly pained when the Gujarat riots could not be controlled. I could see a lot of Muslims shying away from us. My philosophy of life was being disturbed. I could not compromise on my self-respect. My decision was an unconditional and motivated move, with the desire to work for the uplift of the downtrodden, particularly of women. I was impressed with the secular credentials of the SP (pauses). I am going to use my identity as a film star for every possible welfare of the people of my constituency. If I hadn’t been Jaya Prada, I might not have won the election. I very well realise this and I am not going to sit on only the laurels of winning. People remember my performances and popularity of 20 years before and I have no right to disappoint them.

We saw you in Khakee recently and in Bharat Bhagya Vidhata three years back. How was it working in these projects?

Working in Khakee, under Raj Kumar Santoshi, was an amazing experience because he is unarguably one of the best directors we have. Bharat Bhagya Vidhata was fine as long as it was being made. But once the film was ready, the final product hadn’t shaped out as per the narrative.

You were doing Sipahee. There’s a buzz that you are opting out of the project?

I am still debating, but yes, I might opt out. After my Rampur victory, I don’t think that I’ll be able to allot so much time to the film. Even earlier, they wanted dates in April which I could not give because the election work was at its peak then. So, I have not been able to cope with the schedules. Think of it, what’s the point in hanging out there? Add this to the fact they have financial problems. What I was told earlier about the film was different from what it looks just before the start. Let’s see. I am taking the decision in the next two or three days. Also, I am doing N.Chandra’s forthcoming flick (untitled as yet).

Do you have any other film coming up?

Mahesh Manjrekar’s Deh (co-starring Dino Morea, Amrita Arora and Mahesh Manjrekar). I am very eagerly waiting for this film. I might be doing a film with Amitabh Bachchan, the details of which I would leave it to the producer to announce formally (smiles).

What is Deh all about?

Deh is a very bold movie where a wife find (played by me) herself trapped in a bad marriage. I walk out on my husband (Manjrekar) and get attracted to a younger guy (Dino) who allows me to grow as a person. The film propagates that marriage is not the be-all and end-all of life; if this institution has clicked, it’s fine, but if it hasn’t, both partners would be better off if they call it a day.

Did you think twice before accepting such a bold role?

No. There’s nothing wrong in what has been shown. Every move of my character is justified. A bold woman, some modern thoughts, what’s the big deal if she is out to see happiness? You live only once, don’t you? I am absolutely convinced about the character I am playing in this film.

You have some intimate scenes with Dino...

(Laughs and Interrupts) We are playing only reel characters, not real characters. We never felt personal, it has been done at a very healthy and dignified level. Throughout my career so far, I have never done anything vulgar. This time is no exception.

Would you do a film with you in the backdrop, I mean, you not playing the protagonist?

I would avoid such roles. I want meat, not fluff.

But then, your role in Khakee was not meat by any standards?

I agree. But you see, that role provided me an inlet to get back into the industry. After Bharat Bhagya Vidhata bombed at the turnstiles, I was once again like a struggler. I needed a film which would click. Thankfully, Khakee proved just that. Frankly, I had a bigger role than what turned out to be. My husband was unwell, he underwent a liver transplant; all my schedules were thrown haywire.

Were you surprised at the mandate which Congress received?

People always want a change. Besides, I think they realised that only metros were prospering whereas the basic amenities of water, electricity and education had been ignored. How long could they keep their patience?

Who was your choice for the PM? Manmohan Singh/Sonia Gandhi/someone else?

It would be unfair to make a comment now that everything is done and decided. You should have asked me this question two months ago (laughs). (TWF)


Pakistani crusader against bigotry

Nasreen Anjum Bhatti depicts contemporary Pakistan in her writings. Nasreen Anjum Bhatti depicts contemp- orary Pakistan in her writings. — Photo by Parvesh Chauhan

As a writer, Nasreen Anjum Bhatti has never been hidebound by the forces of fundamentalism reigning in Pakistan. Conscious of the misrepresentation of Islam in the name of cultural preservation, she has evolved her own style to mirror the social reality. Nasreen is among the few women writers who have demonstrated the courage to depict contemporary Pakistan in their writings, so much so she is averse to seeking comfort in the routine of glorifying rigidities.

She believes in the necessity of reform and declares, “Many of us are sick of the lame interpretations of Islam, which actually extols peace. It is time we called a spade a spade and accepted the challenges facing Pakistan. My writings are not about women languishing in love. They are about an emerging consciousness about the need to break free of the trammels of absurd reason. Whether it is poetry or prose, I concentrate on the psyche of women and their role in modern-day Pakistan.” The dismal education scenario is the most outstanding concern of the writer in Nasreen, who was recently in Chandigarh to attend the World Punjabi Conference. The first woman station director of Radio Pakistan, Nasreen believes in the power of the written word to shake women out of slumber.

“I write in the Shahmukhi Punjabi. All my works pose questions on issues relevant to the status of women. Often I draw from real-life success stories of women pilots, doctors and engineers in Pakistan. The idea is to underline how literacy, which is as low as 33 per cent, can be empoering. Discrimination among boys and girls is a major reason for this abysmal scenario. Paradoxically, many women are entering the political scene. There are 300 women MLAs in the Punjab assembly alone.”

Tracing the roots of this trend, Nasreen refers to Benazir Bhutto, who exemplified woman power in Pakistan. Long after her, women continue to nurture political ambitions. Today, an average Pakistani woman is conscious of her rights. But she is still fighting for equality. Violence against women is a big concern. Women are at greater risk within the house than outside. My writings are about all these problems,” says Nasreen, who has published many anthologies of poems.

The one titled, Neel karain Neelkan, deserves a special mention here. Loaded with invective verses targeted at the dogmatists, these poems laud the role of women, even in suffering. Says the poetess, “Men take pleasure in our pain, least realising that their pleasure is subject to our suffering. The moment we start resisting, their pride will give way to shame. My writings are about resistance. I draw immensely from the imagery of Sufi folklore.”

While her poetry offers resistance, Nasreen performs an absolutely contradictory role at work. As Deputy Controller of Radio Pakistan, she is bound by government rules. Does that not cause anxiety at any level? Nasreen replies, “We have the freedom to conceive programmes. Political interference is not as strong as is thought to be. In fact, we even broadcast programmes for Indians. We have a regular Punjabi Darbar in which shabad kirtan is broadcast.”

On the creative front, Nasreen is writing a research paper titled, Personica of Third World. In this work, she seeks to trace the origin of musical styles in Third World countries. “An anthropological study meant to study the class basis of musical evolution. Our music and instruments speak of the class we belong to. Those belonging to the lower strata need no microphones. Theirs’ is a full-throated rendering, in synch with their uninhibited style of living. As we climb up the class ladder, music becomes sophisticated, reflecting the mindsets of the class practising it,” says Nasreen.

She is also about to publish pen sketches of 26 women of substance. This list figures three prominent Indians, including Amrita Pritam, Amrita Shergill and Indira Gandhi. — A.T.


Making waves
In her grandfather’s steps

Kiera Chaplin, the leggy model-actor, grew up in Lausanne, Switzerland, the adopted home of her legendary grandpa Charlie Chaplin. Irish-born Kiera, 22, is starring in Rajshree Ojha’s English film Yatna in the role of a young girl from France who is bored with life and heads for India. There she falls in love with an older man. Kiera is admittedly a great fan of her granddad’s school of filmmaking and shares his trademark grin. We can hope she shares the acting acumen too.
Kiera Chaplin