India: Amidst celebrations, deep concerns re female foeticide, poverty, domestic & dowry violence .. Print E-mail

 Sunday March 9 2008

New Delhi: Celebrating womanhood

DISPLAY OF STRENGTH: On the occasion of International Women’s Day, members of Mothers and Sisters Initiative (MASI) and All India Forgotten Women sit on dharna in Delhi under the banner of ’Women Against Misuse of Women-Protection Laws’ (Sushil Kumar Verma)
Sunday Magazine ~~ March 9 2008


Sad Sunday


With so many incidents of harassment and exploitation surfacing every day, can we really claim that the status of women is improving?

Right to childhood: Child abuse will come in the way of girls’ education (AP)

The euphoria over India’s achievements in the field of sports on Sunday, March 2 ­ the under-19 Cricket World Cup victory, the win over World Champions Australia in Sydney by the Indian Cricket Team, and the Indian hockey team defeating Austria in Santiago, Chile ­ was somewhat dimmed for me by three news items that appeared in Mumbai’s newspapers. One could argue that one should not get so perturbed at such news, that newspapers always report bad news and that often such news is exaggerated and sensationalised.

It would be comforting to believe this. Unfortunately, the real story is likely to be worse as these stories are probably indicative of many more such incidents that never get recorded.

The most upsetting was the report about a 12-year-old Nepali girl who had been tortured and sexually abused by her employers. The Superintendent of Police (Thane Rural), Naval Bajaj was quoted as saying, “The little girl’s condition is spine-chilling. She has scars from deep stab wounds all over her body and we cannot even think of the scars these incidents have left on her mind.” (Mumbai Mirror, March 2, 2008) The girl’s mother was a domestic help who trusted her employer when the latter took the little girl with her to Pune. Little did she suspect that her child would be the victim of this kind of torture.

Traumatised lives
On the same day, another story appeared in the newspapers about young schoolgirls in class III and IV, studying in an English medium primary school outside Mumbai, being sexually molested by their school principal. He would call them for extra tuitions on a Saturday and instead of teaching them, he would molest them and threaten that if they told anyone, he would ensure that they failed in their exams. Three of the girls finally broke down and told their parents. As a result, the parents lodged a complaint with the local police and the man has been arrested. The law will now take its own course. But in the meantime, these young girls are traumatised and their parents are beginning to wonder whether it is safe for anyone to send their daughters to school.

Last month, another story from an educational institution in Gujarat raised similar questions. In that instance, in the town of Patan in north Gujarat, an 18-year-old Dalit girl training to be a primary school teacher revealed that she had been gang-raped on numerous occasions by six male teachers for six months. They threatened to fail her if she reported these incidents. The Patan issue has now become a political hot potato with students of the teachers’ training institute demanding a judicial inquiry.

The third is the story of the wife of a jeweller in Mumbai who has been thrown out of her house with a 20-month old baby and a two-year-old because she failed to produce a son. After the first daughter, she was forced to undergo two abortions because they found out the sex of the unborn child. The third time, she carried the child to term only to realise that it was another girl. Her husband and his family have thrown her out of her house. They were even willing to commit her to a mental institution. The woman turned to the police for help. Hence the story has been told.

Three different stories but one common thread ­ the vulnerability of girls and women inside and outside their homes. The first story of the 12-year-old is especially heart-rending because it emphasises the absence of any protection for young girls who are forced into domestic work. Women who work in homes often take their young children along with them. While the boys are sent to school, the girls are made to help the mother in the domestic chores. In time, the minor who should not be working at all becomes a part of the household. Some employers are kind and virtually adopt such children making sure they are looked after. Some even pay for them to go to school. But there are those like the employer of the 12-year-old who exploit and torture them. Nine times out of ten, silence surrounds such atrocities; no one knows, no one complains. And lives are permanently destroyed.

A set back

The incident at the English medium primary school outside Mumbai is also troubling at a time when concerted efforts to educate girls are beginning to pay dividends. At least up to the primary level, there is a noticeable increase in the number of girls who enrol in schools. You can see these girls excitedly running towards their schools in the morning. The quality of their education might be indifferent. But at least the first step has been taken.

If incidents of this kind of sexual molestation circulate, the entire effort to increase girls’ education could be set back. Parents would prefer to protect their daughters by keeping them at home rather than risk sending them to such schools. Or they might make same sex schools with same sex teachers a precondition. Of course, none of this can guarantee that their daughters will be “safe”.

The story about the woman being thrown out for producing a girl child does not shock anymore because so many such incidents are reported. We have to despair when we think about the issue of son preference in the context of women’s status in India. All the hype about a handful of successful women cannot detract from this shameful reality ­ that girls are simply not wanted. How can we break the stranglehold of this mentality that denies women the right even to exist? As long as this attitude dominates, can we really claim that women’s status in this country is improving? A day after International Women’s Day, celebrated these days more by companies selling consumer goods than by women, we must pause and reflect.
Saturday March 8, 2008


Identity crisis: Can we find our fistful of salt?

By Devaki Jain
Can we identify concerns that go beyond sexuality to one which is, let us say, mental, to womens ideas?
[Note: Gandhi worked the magic of "truth force" in 1930 via a "Salt Satyagraha" or, as he called it, "a battle of right against might"]

The observance of International Women’s Day today brings to the fore the important question of “identity of woman”. The affirmation of identity as woman has been on the radar for centuries and in all layers of articulation.
The famous debate of Gargi with Yagnavalkya and her success going back to centuries BC, or nearer home in Karnataka, the protest and victory of Akka Mahadevi, or the struggles for recognition by women within the working class or peasantry or writers or painters, and further with the proposal for quotas, etc all affirm the presence and use of this identity.

While every time the celebration day or the other such women’s advancement events appear, the question arises ­quite legitimately ­ which women? Class, caste, religion, location, occupation, age and every form of classification, reveals the heterogeneity amongst this “imagined” identity called women, and now political ideology adds another important divide in choosing the platform for the voice of this movement.

Those who are progressive would write that it has not made a difference to say a Dalit agricultural woman worker living in a backward area. At another end, we celebrate the emergence of women leaders in so many professions, corporate sector, media, literature, cinema and so on. Nowadays we high profile girls and say this is a celebration of not only girlhood, but protecting the girl from all, various challenges that she ­ poor or rich ­ would face, many of it related to her physiology.

So, which women and which identity do we want to position for this year’s women’s day in Karnataka? Is it possible, having gone through such celebratory experiences, to shift this characterisation of International Women’s Day into what could be a more enabling platform or platforms? Can we shift the platform from identity by physiology to identity of opinion? Can we identify concerns that go beyond sexuality or sexual identities to one which is, let us say, mental, to women’s ideas, from bodily identity to experiential identity?  Is there a bonding, possible here, or does it melt again into other identities?

After 60 years of planning, policy and institutions devoted to women, several tears have appeared in the fabric that we were trying to weave ­ a blend which respects diversity but deeply entrenches equality ­ political, economic and social. There was an unspoken notion, perhaps spoken also (for reasons not always acceptable to feminists) that women had a special culture, were more nurturing, peace-negotiating, practical and even honest. This last point is often emphasised in evaluating self help groups and how women repay loans more regularly and fully than men. Following that stream of thought, it was also thought that left to women, the world would be a less unequal and less conflict-driven place.

Identifying such characteristics ­ however troubling to those who would not like to identify any essentialist identities ­ gave a hope that women, since they were really illustrations of the prismatic and extremely embedded examples of inequality, discrimination ­ would be the champions of not only their own quests but their efforts would enable an overall situation of less unequal, less oppressive societies and economies.
Thus the argument for giving women leadership was also that it would bring about a more just and inclusive world; that there is a difference in ways of dealing with issues, and in choices. These ideas, I suggest, move the identity away from the body, ie they are not part of the biological identity and its implications, they are related to the consciousness, to intellect. They are in the realm of thought and therefore intellectual.

Going further, could it be suggested that the platforms for women’s day, reflect women’s ideas, their aspirations and suggestions for a just and equal society? Could it go beyond the women and child development domains such as health, water, nutrition and reproduction, to how we want to shape India? Envisioning change after “Leading India” has become the mode today. How to build a platform across our divides where we bring to bear our ideas, suggestions not only for our immediate needs but for the overall scenario?

This may look impossible ­ given the diversity, the heterogeneity that I described earlier ­ but, in fact, it is the only way to build solidarity. One is reminded of Mahatma Gandhi and his brilliant idea of picking up a fistful of salt from the beaches of Gujarat, and galvanising a divided India to fight together in the Quit India Movement. What was that insight? Surely, it came from Mahatma Gandhi’s identification with the most deprived and with an item, which was a basic necessity across all divides ­salt.

Can we, for women’s day, find our fistful of salt? An identity with the “last woman”, but a fist raised high for all?
 Saturday March 8, 2008

Empowering women

Investing in women helps several generations.

In recognition of the immense gains that are to be had from investing in women and girls, the United Nations has made it the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day. Investing in girls and women amounts to investing in the future as women are the primary caretakers of children – the future generation. So investing in women ensures returns over several generations. Investing in the nutrition and well-being of a pregnant mother ensures a safe delivery and a healthy baby. Malnourished mothers give birth to babies with physical abnormalities.

Educating a woman is the best way to improve the well-being of the entire family. Educated women are more likely to see the benefits of having their babies immunised against polio and measles. They tend to have fewer and healthier children, and these children are more likely to attend school. Women contribute significantly to poverty eradication, economic development and reconstruction of war-torn societies. Investing in girls and women results not only in their individual well-being but also, in that of their families and communities. It has an impressive multiplier effect.

Despite the many gains that are to be had from investing in girls, our society discriminates against girls from the womb to the tomb. Female foeticide is increasing in India at an alarming rate. Girls are discriminated against in the family with regard to accessing food, clothing, healthcare and education. Problems like malnutrition and illiteracy are higher among girls. They are vulnerable to violence in the home and outside, and paid lower wages than men at work. They are seen as burdens by their family as parents have to fork out huge dowries to get them married.

The government has launched a scheme called “Dhan Lakshmi” to improve the wellbeing and life chances of the girl child. Parents will be given a staggered cash incentive of Rs 2 lakh to ensure the good health and wellbeing of the girl child. They will have to fulfil certain conditions, such as register the birth of the girl, follow the immunisation schedule, enroll her in school and delay her marriage till she turns 18 to be eligible for the money. There is a cash incentive now for parents to stop ignoring the wellbeing of their daughters. However, the scheme should go beyond providing cash incentives to ensure better care of girl child. It should include a long-term campaign to eliminate the patriarchical mindset in our society.
 Saturday March 8 2008

Half the sky

Women hold up half the sky, said Mao Zedong years ago. If we ruffle through glossy supplements on International Women’s Day it would seem as if this is true. Women CEOs are dime a dozen. There are female achievers in all well-lit arenas of social life. But if we look at the vast unlit terrains of Indian society, the self-congratulatory smile disappears. The woman’s lot is still dreary and dismal there. The CEO might be lording over her male colleagues, but her housemaid is still kicked around by her husband. Much of this part of the sky is cloudy. But there are flickers of light, switched on by movements such as women self-help groups. Fitfully but surely, these groups, set up with financial and community action objectives, have brought in genuine empowerment of women. They have proved what we have known always ­ that economics is the key. But the master key is still politics in India. Even the platform for compulsory primary education of girls has to be built and sustained through politics. The women CEOs and other achievers have thrived in the climate of opinion created by long-drawn out political action.

They owe more to their slogan shouting sisters than they would care to assume. The World Economic Forum has placed India ahead of nations such as the United States and France in political empowerment. Translated, this means that there are more women in legislative bodies and more pro-women legislation. This is well and good, but it need not make us smug, for it is about formal politics, which is not enough. It is true that a halo of legislation surrounds a college girl as she walks along the street now. But legislation empowers only when it is translated into action, for which we need creative and compassionate politics of the collective kind. For ultimately, “the woman’s cause is the man’s,” as the poet said. Sceptics merely have to look at what ordinary women of India were before Mahatma Gandhi came into the scene and what they metamorphosed into by the time he died. He of all people knew that you have to go down to earth to claim for women their rightful share of the sky.
 Sunday March 9 2008

Karnataka: Concern over female foeticide, infanticide


Sirsi: Prenatal sex determination with the intention of preventing female births must be viewed as a manifestation of violence against women, a violation of their human rights, said S.R. Nayak, Chairman of the Karnataka State Human Rights Commission.

He was speaking after inaugurating a one-day seminar on “Female foeticide and gender imbalance – medico-legal perspectives” organised at the MES Law College here on Saturday under the joint aegis of the Karnataka Institute for Law and Parliamentary Reform (KILPAR) and the college.

He said that the problem should be addressed with seriousness to find an enduring solution. “If female foeticide and infanticide continued, within about a decade India will face a very critical problem in maintaining genetic balance,” he said. He said that modern medical technology was being used in the service of this religion-driven devaluing of women’s rights.

Mr. Nayak said that the trend was stronger in urban areas and among educated people.

He said that the deep-seated attitudes and practices against women and girls could be eroded only by a combination of monitoring, education, campaigns and effective legal implementation.

Dakshinamoorthy, director of KILPAR, Bangalore, delivered the keynote address and said that the institute aimed at creating awareness and higher education along with current socio-legal thought.

Uttar Kannada District Judge K. Somashekhar and chairman of the college G.G. Hegde Kadekodi spoke.

MES chairman Shantaram Hegde Shigehalli presided over the function. Principal of the college J.R. Talgeri welcomed. Pramath Adiga proposed a vote of thanks.
 Sunday March 9 2008

Kerala: Meet highlights woes of women in State

Staff Reporter

  • Awareness needed to achieve freedom: Sreedevi
  • Panel held over 100 campaigns in the last 2 months
  • Move for 10 per cent Plan funds for women lauded

Kozhikode: Kerala State Women’s Commission Chairperson D. Sreedevi has said that 80 per cent of the women in society were grief-stricken.

Presiding over the seminar and observance of International Women’s Day organised by the Commission here on Saturday, Ms. Sreedevi noted that women suffered a lot in Kerala society. None could blame them even if the women strayed into prostitution. The right kind of awareness was needed for women to achieve freedom from this situation.

The Commission had conducted nearly one hundred awareness programmes in the months of January and February itself. The films and documentaries on women empowerment made by the Commission would be shown in each and every village of the State so that it moves the hearts of the public and drive home the message.

Jurist’s call
The former judge said that there was a need to pressurise the government to implement the suggestions that the Commission had forwarded to the government and which had not been implemented so far.

She lamented that degradation of moral values had happened in society. Human beings were not hesitant to kill one another. The demand for dowry was on the increase. Women had to suffer physical abuse and were often driven out of their homes in the middle of the night by drunken husbands. She also said that other grama panchayats should take a cue from Panencherry and Azhutha grama panchayats on how to implement women empowerment programmes.

Problems studied
She said that the Commission had already studied the problems of women entrepreneurs and widows in all the 14 districts of the State. It was still in the process of studying the problems of home nurses.

Mridul Eapen, member, State Planning Commission, inaugurated the seminar on the topic ‘Women Component of Plans (of Local Bodies) – Review from 1996 to 2000.’ She said that the need of the hour was to gender sensitise the society. It was for the first time that the State’s Finance Minister had talked of allocating at least 10 per cent of the State Plan fund for projects benefiting women.

Quota for women
Meenakshi Thampan, member of the Women’s Commission, said that various women’s organisations were agitating for implementing 33 per cent reservation for women in Parliament. Though the BJP had 33 per cent reservation for women in the party, it should have reservation for women in the decision-taking committee of the party if it was really genuine in its intentions. The Election Commission had already left the onus on implementing the reservation on the parties.

P.K. Sainabha and T. Devi, members of the Commission, also spoke.
 Sunday March 9 2008

Andhra Pradesh: Education, health key to women’s development: Shailaja

Staff Reporter

VIJAYAWADA: Krishna district Collector Shailaja Ramaiyer on Saturday called for effective steps to ensure education and proper health to women, so as to raise their status in society.

Addressing a meeting jointly organised by the Department of Women and Child Welfare Agency and the Forum for Child Rights to mark the International Women’s Day, Ms. Ramaiyer lamented the dismal scenario as far as education and health of the women in the State were concerned.

She said from developmental perspective, women in Andhra Pradesh lagged far behind their counterparts in other States.

Pointing to the alarmingly high neo-natal and infant mortality rate, she said for every 1,000 children born, 56 were dying. Maternal mortality rate was also a serious cause for concern. She felt that the non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and anganwadi workers involved in implementation of welfare schemes for women and children should shift focus on education, health and nutrition. Emphasising the need to protect the rights of children as well, she said the rights of women and children were linked.

Economic status
Ms. Ramaiyer felt that natural resource management was the answer to improve the economic status of the vast population of women working in fields as agricultural coolies. They should gradually be shifted from the farm sector to the cottage industries, thus elevating their status from an agricultural worker to that of a small-time entrepreneur.

Project Director of National Child Labour Programme K. Siva Sankar presided over the meeting.

e Project Director of the Women and Child Welfare Department M. J. Nirmala, Zilla Parishad Vice-Chairperson T. Padmavathi, Chairman of the Child Welfare Committee of Krishna district Thomas Koshy, senior advocate Karnati Ramamohan and secretary of the Legal Cell Authority of Krishna district Srikanthachari spoke.

 Sunday March 9 2008

Andhra Pradesh: “Emphasis on women’s empowerment”

Special Correspondent

  • Government trying to remove misconception that girl child is a burden, says Minister
  • ‘Centre identified AP as role model in welfare programmes for women’
  • Bank loans for women groups to be hiked to Rs. 12,000 cr. next year: YSR

Sign of approval: Minister N. Rajyalakshmi affixing her signature to launch a signature campaign as part of Women’s Day celebrations in Hyderabad on Saturday (Mohd. Yousuf )

HYDERABAD: Women and Child Welfare Minister N. Rajyalakshmi has said that the government was making a sincere effort to project women as a force to reckon with by empowering them.

Significant event
Participating in the official International Women’s Day celebrations here on Saturday, she said the occasion was all the more significant for the State in this background. The government tried to remove the misconception that a girl child was a burden on the parents.

She heaped praise on Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy for doling out sops to all sections of people without their asking.

“No other Chief Minister favoured women as Dr. Reddy. Loans at three per cent interest rate borrowed by women’s groups was a major success story of the government,” she said.

Major Industries Minister J. Geeta Reddy said that the contribution of women was being recognised, albeit slowly.

Director of Women and Child Welfare Y.V. Anuradha said the Centre had identified Andhra Pradesh as a role model in developmental programmes for women.

CM’s message

A message of the Chief Minister, which was read out on his behalf since he could not attend the programme on account of eye ailment, said that the bank loans for women groups would be hiked from Rs. 7,000 crore to Rs. 12,000 crore next year. K. Ramadevi, chairperson, Andhra Pradesh State Social Welfare Advisory Board, also spoke.

Ms. Rajyalakshmi launched a signature campaign taken up by the Women and Child Welfare Department as part of Women’s Day celebrations with the theme ‘survival to success : celebrate her life’.

She affixed her signature on an enamel board installed at the venue.
Sunday March 9 2008

Karnataka: Unite to fight against atrocities, women told

Staff Correspondent

  • ‘Take benefits of government programmes’
  • Call to intensify campaign against female foeticide
  • Initiative of sex workers in spreading awareness among women lauded

Belgaum: Women should unite to fight against social evils such as foeticide, poverty, exploitation and atrocities, said Deputy Commissioner M.E. Shivalingamurthy at a function organised to mark International Women’s Day here on Saturday.

He said the Government had launched several programmes for the welfare of women and girls leading to their empowerment in various fields, including education and governance. Women should come forward to take advantage of these programmes, he said.

Drawing attention towards the falling sex ratio owing to female foeticide and gender discrimination in the country, he called upon women to intensify their campaign against the problem and assured help from the administration.

Addressing the function organised by Sakthi Mahila Sangha, a collective of women in sex work, and BIRDS, a voluntary organisation, activist Usha Rani complimented the organisers for taking up HIV prevention programmes and their fight to ensure that the marginalised women got their rights.

District Health Officer D.C. Mannoli asked the women to take care of their health by utilising the services available at government hospitals.

Brian Gilligan, project director of Corridors, a voluntary organisation, appreciated the initiative of sex workers in spreading awareness and healthy habits among women.

“Peer educators are more effective than outsiders and these women have shown the way in spreading safer sex practices to prevent HIV,” he said. Social worker R.M. Patil, who is instrumental in launching various programmes for the welfare of marginalised women and a movement for the eradication of Devadasi system, called upon the women to fight for their rights.

Several organisations and institutions also observed the day.

Members of the district unit of the National Federation of Indian Women took out a procession in the city and submitted a memorandum to the Government demanding more committed measures to stop atrocities against women. Women associated with the KLE Society, including the staff of the KLE Prabhakar Kore Hospital, also participated

 Sunday March 9 2008

Karnataka: Domestic workers take a day off from routine tasks

Bangalore Bureau

Union organises cultural programmes in various areas

Raising their voice: The Karnataka Dalita Mahila Okkuta members staging a protest against female foeticide, in Bangalore on Saturday (K. Gopinathan)

BANGALORE: In what could be a first of its kind, a number of domestic workers in the city declared a holiday for themselves and indulged in a bit of fun in their own localities.

On International Women’s Day, members of the Karnataka Domestic Workers’ Union organised cultural programmes in areas where they live or work.

Sunanda M., who was part of the celebration at the Koramangala unit, said that about 40 workers from Srinivagilu, L.R. Nagar, Ambedkar Nagar and Mestri Palya participated in the programme. Similar programmes were held at Srinagar, Lingarajapuram, Bangarappa Nagar, Yeshwantpur, Fraser Town and Jayanagar.

The Janata Dal (S) has decided to field at least one woman candidate from each district in the coming Legislative Assembly elections.

Addressing women members of the party on International Women’s Day on Saturday, the party State unit president Merajuddin Patel said one woman from each district would be given ticket to contest the elections. Janata Dal (S) women’s wing president Padmavathi Gangadhar demanded allotment of more seats for women in various committees of the party. The party should field at least 50 women candidates in the coming Assembly elections, she said. The city also witnessed several rallies, organised to highlight the problems faced by women. In a marked departure from the usual, people from marginalised sexualities, genders and castes held a candle light vigil to “assert the rights of all women as human rights.”

The All-India Mahila Samskruthika Sanghatane held a protest, highlighting how governments had failed in responding to women’s issues. Members of Karnataka Dalita Mahila Okkuta staged a protest against the atrocities on Dalit women and female foeticide.

Addressing the protesters, the State convener of the okkuta, Indira Krishnappa said the women were discriminated socially, economically and politically. Atrocities on women, particularly Dalits, were on the rise.
 Sunday March 9 2008

Women’s Bill will be tabled this session: Manmohan

Special Correspondent

All party-meet on March 20 to arrive at a consensus; breakthrough in talks hinted at

Patient hearing: A delegation of women parliamentarians presents a charter of demands to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New Delhi on Saturday, International Women’s Day (PTI/ Kamal Singh)

NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Saturday assured a women’s delegation that the long-pending Women’s Reservation Bill would be tabled in Parliament in the post-recess period of the ongoing budget session.

The group, which included Members of Parliament, had called on him on the occasion of International Women’s Day.

The Prime Minister is said to have told the delegation that an all-party meeting would be convened on March 20 to arrive at a consensus and hinted that there had been some kind of a “breakthrough” in negotiations with other political parties on the issue. “Dr. Singh said he was confident that the Bill would be passed, though he regretted that it had taken so long,” Akhila Sivadas of CFAR told The Hindu.

The Prime Minister made it clear that he would endeavour to see the National Rural Health Mission a success at the end of his government’s five-year-term. “If this mission succeeds in reaching out to women with health care services, then the present government can take the credit for doing something substantial for the women of the country,” she said.

The delegation presented a charter to Dr. Singh demanding that the political class go beyond rhetoric and give 33 per cent representation to women in legislatures and provide gender-sensitive governance.

A similar charter was presented to Vice-President Hamid Ansari who exhorted the women to make the spirit of International Women’s Day an every day phenomenon.

Presenting the charter, Congress Member of Parliament Krishna Tirath said 33 per cent representation in Parliament and Assemblies was a pre-requisite for the empowerment of all sections of women.

Mohini Giri of the Guild of Services said that in the wake of conflict, strife and the ever-widening social divide between the rich and the poor, prayers, petitions and protests were the most powerful instruments that women had to resort to draw attention to their concerns.

All-India Democratic Women’s Association general secretary Sudha Sundararaman said the charter had brought together every concern that was essential to ensure inclusive governance to a woman.