SOCIETY

A stitch in time saves lives
Chikan embroidery has become a source of sustenance for women victims of the Godhra violence. Tarannum Manjul reports
Chikan, a name synonymous with the finest embroidery of Uttar Pradesh, has become a symbol of courage and a ray of hope for the women victims of communal riots of Godhra. At a first glance, their pieces of chikan embroidery may look simple and ordinary, just like several others that are made in Lucknow and surrounding areas everyday. But, each of their pieces for suits and sarees have a story to tell.

Women in Godhra are being rehabilitated by SEWA
Women in Godhra are being rehabilitated by SEWA

In the driving seat
JamnabenJamnaben happily dons her driverís uniform and travels about 250 km a day. She, however, finds that prejudices of men havenít changed and lower-level workers are not given the respect they deserve. T. Raina meets the countryís first woman bus driver.
For Jamnaben Dhansukhbhai Brijwasi, 58, her marriage to Dhansukhbhai Brijwasi in 1965 was a turning point.

Hooked to Net marts
The convenient way to shop from home through the Net is fast catching up in India. But there are hitches too with security of payment being the prime concern, says Ritusmita Biswas

Fruitful fare
F
ruits
and vegetables provide high levels of nutrition at a fair price while sweets and desserts are the worst in nutrient-per-price ratio, say scientists. According to a report in the December issue of Journal of the American Dietetic Association, lean meats and dairy products run a close second to fruits and vegetables.

Asian of the year
Surina NarulaSurina Narula, a British Indian businesswoman who is also known as a high-profile campaigner for a number of charity organisations, has been awarded the Asian of the Year 2005 prize. Among other causes, Narula has also raised funds for street children in India. The award has been instituted by the Asian Whoís Who International, the annual publication that chronicles the achievements of British Asians. The first edition of the publication, brought out by Jasbir Singh Sachar, a school teacher-turned-publisher, had only 250 entries of British Asian achievers.



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A stitch in time saves lives

Chikan embroidery has become a source of sustenance for women victims of the Godhra violence. Tarannum Manjul reports

Chikan, a name synonymous with the finest embroidery of Uttar Pradesh, has become a symbol of courage and a ray of hope for the women victims of communal riots of Godhra.

At a first glance, their pieces of chikan embroidery may look simple and ordinary, just like several others that are made in Lucknow and surrounding areas everyday. But, each of their pieces for suits and sarees have a story to tell.

Woven in them are the stories of trauma and sufferings of the women victims of Godhra violence, who are now trying to embroider new dreams through these chikan garments. The bright and vibrant colours of these pieces are a symbol of hope and rehabilitation, for thousands of these women, who have suffered one of the worst ordeals of their lives.

An initiative of Self Employed Womenís Association (SEWA), Lucknow, the chikan garments embroidered by Godhra women are finding sellers not only in Lucknow but even abroad.

"They are bright in colour, hence, are a big hit in the international market," says Runa Banerji, the chief operation officer (CEO) of SEWA, which has been instrumental in making women in the rural areas of Uttar Pradesh self-employed, using chikan as a tool.

After the Godhra violence, several NGOs from different parts of the country went to meet the victims. They offered study reports and fact findings, but none could offer any rehabilitation programme, as most of the victims refused to take any money without doing any work.

Runa Banerji and Sehba Hussain of SEWA decided to make efforts towards rehabilitation of women and make them bread earners for their families. The chikan embroidery training was a part of the rehabilitation activities by SEWA at Godhra, and during their training, the trainers realised that the embroidery not only helped the women in finding an income-generating activity, but also helped in removing their fears and forgetting their past.

"Weíve had several cases where we saw women not only opening up, but also trying to cope with their past and make a new beginning. They all had been mentally and sexually exploited and it took us four months to make them talk to us," remembers Banerji.

The trainers, who were sent from Lucknow to Godhra, have interesting stories to share.

"There was a woman who had been raped by 14 men. Every time she saw white cloth (which is dominant in chikan embroidery), she used to start crying. When we asked the reason, she told us that she had been wearing white when the incident happened. We gave her colourful clothes to do chikan work and, today, she is one of our best craftswoman in Godhra," remembers Chanda, a trainer from SEWA who lived in Godhra for three months.

The fabrics given to the Godhra women ranged from mauve to green to blue and red, but after a year, the women have started using white cotton and georgette too.

Baby, a Hindu trainer, had a tough time getting the trust of the victims, who were primarily Muslims.

"They never spoke to me. Even Runa-Di was threatened, with the maulanas telling her Ďtum kya sochti ho ki bindi lagake aaogi aur hum tum par vishwaas kar lenge?í (what do you think that you will come here wearing a bindi and we will trust you?). But we managed to convince the women that we were trying to bring them out of the trauma," remembers Baby. Today, she is one of the favourite trainers in Halol district, adjoining Godhra.

More than a year has passed and now some 300 women are a part of the chikan-making unit in districts of Godhra and Halol. They earn over Rs 3000 per month.

"They do take more time than the Lucknow artisans but their craftsmanship is truly delightful," says Banerji, who has recently been nominated for the Nobel peace prize for her initiatives of communal peace and harmony.

Apart from retailing these garments in Lucknow, Banerji is even taking these garments to London, where she would be holding an exhibition. "We are planning to go to Gujarat again, as hundreds of women have to be rehabilitated after the floods have hit Gujarat," says Banerji. And to fuse the Lakhnawi andaaz completely with the Gujarati moods, she is also planning to introduce patterns that can absorb both the earthiness of Gujaratís Kutch embroidery and the finesse of Lucknowís chikan.

"My design department is working at achieving this goal. By making both these styles fuse, we will not only make these garments different but would be able to find a whole new market, both in India and abroad, for them," says a hopeful Banerji.

 ó TWF

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In the driving seat

Jamnaben happily dons her driverís uniform and travels about 250 km a day. She, however, finds that prejudices of men havenít changed and lower-level workers are not given the respect they deserve. T. Raina meets the countryís first woman bus driver.

For Jamnaben Dhansukhbhai Brijwasi, 58, her marriage to Dhansukhbhai Brijwasi in 1965 was a turning point. She recalls, "In those days, when a father promised his daughterís hand in marriage to a family, he did not go back on his word. Not even if the family was in dire straits." So, at the age of 17, she was married.

Although she led a comfortable life in her parental home, life after marriage was very tough. It was imperative for both husband and wife to earn a livelihood. Dhansukhbhai, a milk van driver, decided to teach his wife how to drive a bus. "I had studied only up to Class VII. So, I did not have the luxury of choosing what work I would do. Taking up a manís profession was the only way one could earn a decent living," she says.

Today, Brijwasi is the only bus and truck driver in Gujarat. As we walk around the Gujarat State Transport Corporation (GSTC) office in Geetamandir, Ahmedabad, it is evident that this has been her domain for decades. People in the office treat her as they would any male driver. But one is curious, nonetheless - why, of all professions, did she choose bus and truck driving? "This was not a conscious career choice. It was just that my husband taught me how to drive a truck. Fortunately for me, then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi declared 1975-76 as the Year of the Woman. The SEWA (Self-Employed Womenís Association) chairperson, Ela Bhatt, helped me get a job with GSTC."

Brijwasi began work when she was 23, a young woman who had never left home without a ghoonghat before. She had to gather courage, though, and take up the work to feed her family. Today, she happily wears her bus driverís uniform ó khakhi shirt and trousers. "I enjoyed wearing trousers and shirt as it gave me a more authoritative look than a saree would have in the workplace. Also my job was to look confident and not feminine," she says.

A couple of years after she started working, Dhansukhbhai died. The death of her 35-year-old son in an accident, when she was 50, was another big heartbreak. Her work and the struggle to eke out a decent living offered some solace, though.

Brijwasiís work has always ensured that sheís been in the thick of action. She has driven cars, buses and trucks for the government. "My work involves travelling at least 200-250 km in and around Gujarat at all hours of the day." She is not worried about the fact that she is required to work odd hours.

But does she face no sexual harassment at work? How does she protect herself? To this, she firmly replies, "Didi, majaal hai kisi ki ke aankh utha ke bhi dekhe. (Sister, no one dare so much as look at me.) I am wearing my uniform, and I know all the techniques of self-defence. When my husband was still alive, he trusted me implicitly and supported me in my work. If you are firm and self-reliant, there will be no difficulties. God helps those who help themselves, and God was particularly kind to me."

The best part of her job, Brijwasi feels, is that it has made her self-reliant. "Working as a bus driver has empowered me. I donít need a man for any kind of security today. I donít have to ask for money or protection, because I am very capable myself," she says.

But her unique status has its downsides as well: "I feel that, even after so many years of service, a driver is always considered only a driver. We are always asked to wait outside. I have some problems socially also. The Gujjar families of Rajasthan ó thatís my community ó consider me an outcast, someone who doesnít respect customs and traditions. I have single-handedly raised three sons, and am now supporting their wives and grandchildren. But my sonsí wives consider it embarrassing to be seen with me at social functions. They donít realise how hard this has been for me."

As a woman bus driver, Brijwasi has had to face the prejudices and jealousy of both male and female colleagues. "The men havenít changed, and the women are not happy with my progress. All this talk of bettering the lot of women and empowerment should reach the inner bureaucratic circles as well. The government needs to do a lot more to ensure that the lower-level workers, especially women, get their due respect. There should be a certain degree of discipline and professionalism attached to every job ó even for lower-level officers and workers," she says passionately.

Brijwasidays are packed. She wakes up at 5 am, completes her household chores, cooks food for the family and then reaches the bus depot around 9.30 am. She drives her bus, transporting goods from one place to another or dropping passengers from one end to the other, and then finally goes home when the bosses ask her to leave.

Even in the midst of this strenuous routine, Brijwasi has a vision beyond her work. She says, "I want to work for SEWA, and do something for women. Being a bus driver was never an ambition for me. This is my source of livelihood. And what ambition can I have now at this age? I have lived a life of constant struggle to make ends meet, and I will now retire in a few months."

Poverty pushes Brijwasi to work and to obediently carry out her bossesí orders. But what she really wants is to walk into the lives of people, so that her struggles could make a difference to the lives of others. ó WFS

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Hooked to Net marts

The convenient way to shop from home through the Net is fast catching up in India. But there are hitches too with security of payment being the prime concern, says Ritusmita Biswas

Jeet Biswas was away from his home in his first anniversary. However, that did not stop him from ordering flowers for his wife, buying her a dress from her favourite boutique and booking a ticket for her at a city multiplex for her big day.

Rashmi Mehra is just back from Babson College in the US after a three-year tenure and is hooked on to the Net. Everything she shops is via the Net.

Rashmi and Jeet are no exceptions. Over the years, more and more Gen-Xers have made the Internet their window to the outer world. Be it movies, eating out, chatting or shopping, one does not need to go out any more. Relaxed in the security and comfort of oneís own house, one can order food, book tickets for a movie or shop for an anniversary or a birthday.

"The traffic in Mumbai is bad. Itís a pain to book a cab and go to a shopping complex to do the essential shopping. I find it much more convenient to book or purchase items over the Net," says Rashmi.

Self-confessed bookworm Smriti Agarwal, a visual merchandiser by profession, after discovering the "cool discounts" on the Net in a popular book website has not looked back since. "This site offers me excellent opportunities to bid on books and so I can get them at really cool prices," she says.

In fact, Net shopping has come as a boon to many professionals too stressed with their professional life. Parthapratim Mishra, a gynaecologist in a top Kolkata hospital, is an avid Internet shopper. "I am on call almost 20 hours a day. In a profession like ours, itís very difficult to find time to go and shop. But I love shopping and a part of my relaxation procedure is to shop for bric-a-brac for my home or gifts for my near and dear ones," he says.

Internet shopping, however, is not restricted to buying small knick-knacks for home and other less costly items. A survey of sites like eBay.com or Indiatimes.com showed that even expensive items like microwaves, washing machines, food processors and even luxury cars like Ford Ikon are regularly purchased via the Net.

Avid shopper and Net junkie Payal Garg, a call centre executive, says, "Initially my shopping was limited to less expensive items like clothes, shoes, gifts, etc. But over the last few months, there has been quite a significant change in my income and I have purchased quite a few costly items, including an expensive camera phone, over the Net."

Gone are the days when Indians were afraid of using the credit card on a regular basis, forget online shopping. Todayís yuppies, or corporate honchos or internet savvy housewives do not think twice before typing their credit card numbers to purchase a desired good online.

Aware of the growing online market in the country, online biggies have pulled up their socks. Ebay, the most popular online auctioning and selling site has merged with bazee.com to start its Indian operation.

The most popular objects for online purchase in India include electronic gadgets like used I-pods, MP3 Players, cameras, watches and books. Online sale of air tickets too is a concept thatís fast catching up with Indian flyers. With the launch of new airlines that prefer to sell their tickets online and thus save on travel agentsí commission, most air travellers just order tickets on the Internet. And itís a boon in emergencies too. Nandita Ghosh got the news that her father had expired at 10 oíclock at night. She had to fly out the next day. Though distraught, she immediately switched on her computer and booked her ticket with an airline.

Although books and CDs continue to be the fastest selling items online, holiday packages and leisure travel bookings are services much sought after on the Net.

The biggest hurdle in the growth of online shopping in India seems to be the Net crimes that are increasing by the day. Even though virtual shopping is on rise, the big problem is the reluctance of many Indians to give out credit card numbers to e-commerce sites.

A survey by Taylor Nelson Sofors Interactive has revealed that the fear about security of an online payment is holding back many potential purchasers. Manager and proprietor of Discount Info line, an e-commerce site, Kushal Mehra agrees that security is a prime concern. Most online shopping sites are now offering features like cash-on-delivery, etc, to ensure that customers do not shy away from purchasing online, he informs. Secure payment gateways and SSL (secure sockets layer, a protocol for transmitting private documents via the Internet) have also become the accepted norm among e-commerce companies to provide better security to their customers using credit cards to shop online, Mehra adds.

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Fruitful fare

Fruits and vegetables provide high levels of nutrition at a fair price while sweets and desserts are the worst in nutrient-per-price ratio, say scientists. According to a report in the December issue of Journal of the American Dietetic Association, lean meats and dairy products run a close second to fruits and vegetables.

Grains, all meats, and composite dishes like pizza and spaghetti and meatballs did not do that well, said Nicole Darmon of the Institute Scientifique et Technique de la Nutrition et de líAlimentation at Paris. The researchers studied 129 fruits and vegetables and 508 other foods.

The fruits and vegetables ranged from processed and canned products but excluded dried fruits and potatoes, the health portal MedPage Today reported.

The researchers found energy density and nutrient density scores were negatively correlated, showing that high-calorie foods are also the ones with the lowest nutrient content.

Sugar is the cheapest food, the authors said, but that is only true when looking at their calorie-per-price ratio. But when evaluating the nutritional value of sweets and desserts, they did poorly on a nutrient-per-price scale.

The nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables were associated with higher food costs per 100 grams, however, the authors said these foods still provided the best nutrient content for their listed prices.

They say that high daily consumption of low calories, nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables have been associated with reduced risks for cardiovascular disease, cancer, and several other chronic illnesses. ó IANS

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Asian of the year

Surina Narula, a British Indian businesswoman who is also known as a high-profile campaigner for a number of charity organisations, has been awarded the Asian of the Year 2005 prize. Among other causes, Narula has also raised funds for street children in India.

The award has been instituted by the Asian Whoís Who International, the annual publication that chronicles the achievements of British Asians.

The first edition of the publication, brought out by Jasbir Singh Sachar, a school teacher-turned-publisher, had only 250 entries of British Asian achievers. The latest edition has over 2,000 entries.

The award was presented to Surina Thursday recently at a glittering function at the Grosvenor House Hotel in London by Kartar Lalvani, winner of the Asian of the Year award in 2003.

To mark the 30th anniversary of the publication, Sachar announced the launch of two new awards.

R.S. Baxi, chairman and managing director of J and H Sales (International) ó a company dealing in waste paper from the US, Britain, France and several European countries, and exporting them to India, China and many Far Eastern countries ó won the Asian Leadership in Europe award.

Avtar Lit, founder of Sunrise Radio, the largest commercial Asian radio network in the world, was chosen for the Asian Leadership in Diversity Award.

Prominent among those who attended the awards ceremony were earlier recipients of the award, Lord Swraj Paul, Keith Vaz, Bhikhu Parekh, G.K. Noon, Shreela Flather, Raj Loomba, Navnit Dholakia, Gurdip Singh Gujral and Karan Bilimoria. ó IANS

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