story of cycle sister
today 50 years ago
drivers more aggressive
For the past 20 years, Sister Sudha Verghese, has untiringly devoted herself to the service of Musahars, the most backward among the Dalits of Bihar. Ambarish Dutta meets the Padma Shri recipient.
IN this jet age, she is heralding a revolution on a cycle. Her only belongings are her cycle and a bag.
Fiftyseven-year-old Sudha Verghese, recipient of the Padma Shri this year, has dedicated the past two decades of her life for the empowerment of Musahar, the most backward among the Dalits of Bihar and UP. They live in abject poverty in small hamlets in Bihar and UP.
Popularly known as Cycle Sister in and around 50 villages of the Danapur and Phulwari Sharif area, about 40 km from Patna, Sudha first came to Bihar from Kottayam district in Kerala with Notre Dame sisters at the age of 16 in 1965.
Later in the 1970s, after her graduation, she returned to work in the schools run by Notre Dame. But Sister Sudha Verghese did not like the urban-centric approach of Notre Dame and was more interested in working in villages.
During her initial visit to different areas of the state, she was deeply shocked by the condition of the socially ostracised Musahars.
In 1986, she created a stir of sorts when she started staying at a Musahar village near Danapur. "People from other castes and communities despised me but I did not bother. It was a small beginning for me," she said.
According to Sister Sudha, even today the literacy rate is just 0.2 per cent among Musahar women, and 2 per cent among the men.
Working for the uplift of Musahars has been no easy task. In 1987, she found that the stipend the government had allocated for Musahars was being usurped by middlemen. "When I protested against this, I was issued threats. I, however, did not give up and continued making Musahars aware of their rights."
Her second experience was more appalling. In 1989, a Musahar woman was raped but the police refused to file a report. "I went to the police station, but the police refused to believe that the woman was raped." In fact, she says, the policemen wondered who would rape a woman from the Musahar community, which is known to survive by eating rats and rearing pigs, and do not know much about sanitation and cleanliness."
She chased the issue and finally forced the police to register a case against the culprit, who was a local Yadav strongman.
Courtesy Unicef, Sister Sudha now runs 50 educational centres for adolescents that are spread over the Danapur and Phulwari Sharif area. Over 1,500 Musahar girls attend these centres.
Sister Sudha’s focus now is not only to impart education but also to restore social dignity to Musahar women, who are learning to save money in banks and post-offices, and trained to earn their livelihood.
According to the Sister, the centres for adolescents run by her, which are known as Kishori Siksha Kendras, are entirely managed by small women’s groups (SWG) and are being funded by Unicef.
The Sister, who for the past 20 years has been spending at least 12 hours a day on a cycle touring villages, says: "Initially, I created awareness among women about their rights through Nari Gunjan, an NGO formed by me in the 1980s. Social and physical exploitation was rampant but women were scared of raising their voice against it."
But things have changed now as Musahar women now frequently visit police stations to lodge complaints against physical abuse.
And nothing perhaps demonstrates the change better than the smile on the face of 12-year-old Musahar girl Khusboo. "Had I not joined Kishori Siksha Kendra, my parents would have married me off. I have started studying and will not marry till I am 18."
January 29 was a red-letter day for Sudha Varghese. She managed to secure permission from the State Welfare Department to run an educational centre with food and lodging facility for Musahar girls.
It is, however, a different story that the entire school was renovated by her as the State Welfare Department — paying little heed to her 20 years of service to Musahars — said it would watch her work for three months before considering any grant to the school.
As many as 100 Musahar girls started staying in the school from January 29. The funds for the school, says the Sister, would be generated through self-help groups of Musahar women.
Her commitment prompted her to secure a law degree from Mysore University in 2000 at the age of 50, and she is now often seen in Patna courts fighting cases for Dalits.
When she learnt that she would be receiving the Padma Shri, she was surprised. The greatest reward for her, she says, is the smile on the faces of Musahars.
More and more career women in metros are finding it difficult to find a suitable groom as our value system has not changed much. Men still prefer a homemaker wife, while women remain shy of settling for anybody less qualified than themselves, finds Ritusmita Biswas
SHE works in one of the largest multinational companies in the city and draws a whopping salary of Rs 90,000 per month. Thirtyfour-year-old Sharmila Majumdar is beautiful and attractive. A postgraduate from IIM Ahmedabad, Sharmila, however, is desperate to "get settled" in life. But she is yet to find a right match for her.
Sharmila is not an exception. There are several other women who are shelling out hefty sums to the marriage bureaus across the metros hoping that they will find that special someone who will add a dash of colour to their routine lives.
In fact, a survey of the premier marriage bureaus in Kolkata and Mumbai show that several of their clients are successful, independent career women who are in their mid-thirties. "With more and more number of women being highly educated and thoroughly career-oriented, the equation in the marriage mart has changed. Earlier, women were usually seen in the role of homemakers even if brilliant in studies and were married off at the first opportunity. But today, many urban women wait till their careers take off to think of marriage. "On the other hand, even today most men look for a bride who is young, not so ambitious and essentially a homemaker," says Bidyut Ghosh, proprietor of a premium marriage bureau in Kolkata.
Agrees Jeet, a just-married professional in his early thirties: "If I am well-settled financially. I definitely looked for a bride who is essentially a homemaker. The basic purpose of marriage is to create a home and if we both partners are high-flyers, how can we have a well-settled home?"
His claims are rubbished by Jaya Barua, a senior media professional. "Basically, men feel insecure about marrying more successful women," she says. Till date Jaya has not married as most of her suitors had hinted that she shift to some other more "womanly" profession. "But I am not ready to do so. It took me years of hard work to achieve the place I am in now, so how can I just sacrifice everything for an elusive institution called marriage?" she says.
Agrees Neha Jain, a marketing manager with a reputed national organisation. "Absolutely out of the question. Under no circumstances can I give up my career. Marriage is important but it can wait until I find an option that is suited to my lifestyle and career," she says.
Psychoanalyst Indrani Ghosh, however, says that often around 35 women undergo an emotional metamorphosis. "I remember this particular case when this woman, around 36 years of age and a senior manager with an MNC, had a nervous breakdown. She came to me for treatment and while talking with her I realised that acute loneliness was the major cause of her problem. Women, I believe, have some natural urges, like that of being a mother which they cannot defy. And why only women? Marriage, or any sort of emotional companionship, is the basic need of anyone and so denying this basic need for unduly long periods of time can spell psychological trouble." She, of course, did not ask her client to get married at once as she was not in the right frame of mind but she did ask her to take a break and explore other avenues in life like maybe some interesting hobby.
Over the years, the crisis of women in the marriage market has worsened, confirms Bidyut Ghosh of Bibaha Bandhani. "The basic rule is that every woman is an eligible candidate but every man is not. With more and more women carving out a niche career for themselves and the rising level of unemployment in the country, the numbers of eligible bachelors has waned." Moreover, women do not want to marry men less established or less qualified than themselves, Ghosh observes.
A senior official of Tathya Kendra, another popular marriage bureau of Kolkata, points out that for every 350 would-be brides, there are not more than 30 grooms enrolled in their bureau. Is there a way out of this crisis? "Yes," says software engineer Satarupa Ray: "Firstly, one has to realise that there is no crisis. I have seen among my friends that however educated or established a woman is, she is often desperate for a relationship. This should not be the case. After all, marriage is a necessity for both men and women. Moreover, educated women should have the mental strength to defy societal taboos and get married to a man who is less educated, successful, younger or shorter than her." — TWF
"The problem that has no name`A0— which is simply the fact that American women are kept from growing to their full human capacities`A0— is taking a far greater toll on the physical and mental health of our country than any known disease." — The Feminine Mystique
IT is not only American women but women the world over who have experienced "the problem that has no name." If any single book could spark off a revolution, then it would not be hyperbole to give the credit to Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique. Women would come up to her and tell her how she had changed their life and echoed what they had felt all along and not been able to voice.
If the first step to emancipation is consciousness then Friedan raised the consciousness of a generation of women. She focused on the frustrations of those who were conditioned to ride piggyback over the achievements of husbands and children. At a time when "career woman" was a dirty word, and women revelled in circumscribed, straitjacketed roles, her views were a shocker. A bright student, she was active in Marxist and Jewish radical circles in her youth and attended Smith College, where she edited a campus newspaper.
Friedan helped organise NOW (National Organisation for Women) and the National Women's Political Caucus and NARAL, the abortion rights organisation. A key leader in the struggle for the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment Act, her positions on social issues such as equal pay and opportunities and abortion seemed extreme at that time but became acceptable later on to add impetus to the second wave of the women’s movement. For her 15th college reunion, she conducted a survey of Smith College graduates which focused on their education, subsequent experiences and degree of satisfaction with their lives. Ironically, this was the college where Friedan’s mother had wanted to go but did not. The article on the survey, bemoaning the lost potential of women graduates, was submitted to women’s magazines and rejected by all even after she reworked it four times. She then turned it out as a book after being fired from the UE News during her second pregnancy. She believed that the has succeeded in burying millions of American women alive." A lot of what Friedan wrote about in the 1960s and 1970s still has a resonance in India, where women are trying to make choices and take decisions that challenge the accepted notions of "womanhood."
Friedan believed that men weren't really the enemy—they were fellow victims suffering from an outmoded masculine mystique that made them feel unnecessarily inadequate when there were no bears to kill. The real enemy is women's denigration of themselves.
A woman, according to Friedan, handicaps society, either by slavishly copying the pattern of man's advance in the professions, or by refusing to compete with man at all. In her own words`85 "To have used my life in a way that opened up possibilities of life for those that came after me`85 I feel good about that." — A.N.
IF you think you’re safer in the hands of a male driver than a female one, then think again, for a study on accident statistics has found that women drivers, especially 33- year -old ones, are safer drivers than men.
Researchers from the University of Calgary, Canada, found that not only are women drivers in general more safety-conscious in their late twenties and early thirties, but with only four fatalities among 33-year-old women for every billion kilometres driven, they are far safer drivers when compared to 20-year-old males who have an average of 40 fatalities.
The study found that male drivers only become safer later on in life, with most at their safest between the ages of 33 and 54. Sue Nicholson from the RAC Foundation said that one of the reason why 33-year-olds were safer drivers was because they often have young families at that age.
However, she added that this trend might change in coming years.
"Women of that age will often have young families. They may be choosing to drive in a safer way. There will be more women on the roads in the next couple of decades. I think the gap will lessen over time. More women are getting company cars," the Scotsman quoted her, as saying.
Neil Greig, head of policy at the AA Trust in Scotland, said that one of the reasons why men often met with accidents was because they were more aggressive drives.
"Men tend to drive more aggressively, so when they have an accident it tends to be more serious," he said. — ANI