‘Profiles of women in slavery in Sindh, Pakistan’ by Aslam Khwaja.

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Profiles of Ms. Meeran and Mrs. Lacho, women in slavery, written by activist  Aslam Khwaja for the Prajnya Archives wall on Facebook.

“Ms. Meeran
Captured by zamindar Lal Mangrio in tehsil Dhoronaro (formerly in Sanghar district, now in Umarkot district) 22 years ago with her family (including her father, four brothers and four sisters) she was released some 7 years ago. When her family planned to marry her within their community the son of the zamindar Ibrahim Mangrio kept her and along with his henchmen, sexually assaulted her.

As a result of this, she had two children. When she gave birth to a girl, the zamindar wanted the baby girl and on her refusal he poisoned the 7 month old baby named Meerzadi. She recently gave birth to a boy named Hanif. Nowadays Meeran is on the run from the zamindar who wants the boy. Recently he offered her Rs. 100,000 but she refused. She lives by constantly changing her place of residence in fear of the zamindar.

Mrs. Lacho
Lalio Kolhi
After employing her family for 2 to 3 years as peasants, a zamindar near Umarkot declared that her family had loans of Rs. 50,000 from him and kept them in chains. One night this family ran from the private prison of zamindar but was captured by armed men who were employed by this zamindar. Lacho’s husband, Lalio Kolhi, was beaten badly and was separated from his family. On enquiring about her husband she was told that he is working on the fields. After some time Umarkot police raided this area and many workers were freed but there was no whereabouts of Lacho’s husband. She is still searching for her husband.”

One barrier down, several to go

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The 36-week training of the first batch of about 200 out of the 612 women recruits, all between 18 and 22 years of age, started at the Border Security Force’s (BSF) training camp at Kharkan village, 15 km from here, Monday. Classes for the remaining recruits will start later.

The women, 45 from West Bengal and the rest from Punjab, were gung-ho about not just the training programme but even postings in inhospitable terrain along the border where the BSF is stationed.

“This is a very happy moment for me. This is an active job and will give job security to me and my family,” Sandeep Ghumman, a graduate, said.

“Both my parents are in the police. The job with BSF should be interesting,” added another recruit, Kiranbir Kaur.

Taking pride in her new uniform, recruit Jyotibala of Punjab’s border district of Gurdaspur said: “I always wanted to serve my motherland. My dream has come true.”

The women will primarily be used along the 553 km international border between India and Pakistan, which has 300 gates along the electrified barbed wire fencing in Punjab.

“They will mainly be used to frisk women from villages along the international border who have to cross the fencing to cultivate land,” BSF’s Punjab frontier inspector general of police (IGP) Himmat Singh said here.

The women, instructed by two women from the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), will be trained in weapons and explosives handling, physical training, drill, map reading, field craft, border management and given knowledge about all major laws including Indian Penal Code (IPC), customs, passport and immigration, he said.

The fencing, erected by India in the early 1990s to curb militants from entering Punjab from the Pakistan side, is about 500 metres to one kilometre from the international border inside Indian territory. This had placed fields of many farmers of border villages beyond the fence. The farmers are allowed to go beyond the fence only for a few hours everyday (from 10 a.m. to 4 pm) to cultivate their land. They are frisked every time.

The BSF, over the years, had been facing problems in frisking women accompanying farmers across the fence. Frisking is essential as a lot of smuggling, particularly of drugs, takes place at the border, BSF officials said.

Over 8,500 women had applied for the 685 posts of women guards with the BSF June this year. Of these, nearly 2,500 were short-listed and underwent physical tests as well as screening and a medical examination before being selected.

‘If Raje had any compassion like a woman, so many wouldn’t have died’

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This is in today’s IE on the Gurjjar unrest; this is what some Gurjjar women said of Raje when she didn’t stop to meet them in their villages. What is the stand on this in feminist literature, I wonder. Do women politicians have double burdens when people expect them to bring what society thinks are female gender-specific attributes such as compassion and empathy to their public tasks? Are they supposed to miraculously combine what is considered of value in both men and women when they are in public posts? Is the feminist stand that it is appropriate to expect this of them or inappropriate? Just wondering…

On another note…

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As we talk about women’s role in public life and politics, I’d like to suggest that at some point organizations like Prajnya begin to record how women have negotiated everyday life over the years. We don’t think about it but it’s deeply fascinating how women’s public life has also shaped their everyday social interactions, and vice-versa. By public life I mean not merely activities to do with governance, but their lives ‘out there in the public.’

Long ago I read a book Listen to the Heron’s Words which was about how women in a particular part of Afghanistan deal with their patriarchal family life. They get together regularly and have these song sessions, meant only for women, in which they basically ridicule their spouses and patriarchal tradition and it’s a barrel of laughs. The men even take them there, drop them there for their evening out, and leave them well alone to enjoy this time. The book was about the different ways in which women build community and social structures that better suit their needs.

It made me think then about all the women/girls who work as domestic help in all our homes. Have you noticed how they have an endless number of relatives? One day they don’t know someone, the next day that person is an uncle or brother or aunt or niece who’s in need of a job or plays some other very vital role in their lives. How much of this is women’s way of coping with a hostile environment (after all, however nice we think we are to them, we don’t know how we come across).

Is this their way of creating secure social structures to make it easier to cope with their public life in our cities?

Just a thought…..