2017 Election Watch for Gender Equality

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The year opened with the announcement of election dates for five Indian states. We’ve pulled out our Gender Equality Election Checklist and are putting the energy we can towards getting people to think about gender equality as nomination lists are drawn up, manifestos are released and campaigns unleashed across the subcontinent.

talking-gender-equality-at-election-timeDrawing on the main points in the Checklist, this article elaborated on how a political party might implement each of them. Where do you find women qualified to be representatives? How can a party avoid the hate speech-makers and those charge-sheeted for sexual violence in its candidate lists?

This blog will attempt to serve as a gender equality election monitor for the next three months.

Do we think that Indian political parties, steeped as they are in patriarchal privilege, will change because of our blogposts? Of course not. But if we can get voters to think twice or mediapersons to add gender equality questions to their interviews, we will have made a little difference. Each vote counts. Each effort counts.

 

PRAJNYA COMMENTS ON THE DRAFT NATIONAL POLICY FOR WOMEN 2016

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PRAJNYA TRUST COMMENTS ON THE DRAFT NATIONAL POLICY FOR WOMEN 2016

June 1, 2016

We, at The Prajnya Trust, would like to start by commending the Ministry for Women and Child Development for placing such an early draft of the National Policy for Women 2016 in the public domain for comments and suggestions.

We submit our comments and suggestions herewith. These are organised by section, reflecting the structure of the draft. We have chosen to focus on a few priority areas, reflecting our own work foci. At the end, we add some overall comments and suggestions.

  1. Introduction:

I.1.6       The juxtapositions in this paragraph are misleading. Growing awareness makes increased reporting possible; increased reporting is not a negative, because it indicates awareness. Expansion of work opportunities co-exists with weak bargaining power, but more importantly, the changing nature of the workplace has created new workplace risks for women. These examples should be chosen with more care than as filler text because through them, the Ministry is signalling to society what the government thinks of as desirable and what they think is the root of the problem.

  1. Governance and Decision-making

IV.i         Parity should be the means to achieve equality, so that 50% would be the standard required nomination and representation of women at all levels.

IV.ii and IV.iii will remain on a wish-list without incentives for increasing the numbers of women working in these sectors.

IV.iv       The absence of gender disaggregated data is an obstacle in every sphere. Gender-disaggregated data and gender audits deserve to become priorities across all policy areas, not just here.

IV.v        It is also important to strength government departments’ compliance with gender equality laws (like having an Internal Complaints Committee for workplace harassment complaints) and to sensitise whole organisations to gender concerns.

IV.vi       In addition to strengthening SHGs and other grassroots women’s groups, it is important to build a pipeline that will enable them to enter the mainstream of politics and policy-making. Reservations are a part of that and so are voluntary party quotas. Skill and confidence building is another key ingredient and the National Policy should recognise that. This area also has potential for government-civil society partnerships.

IV.vii      Improving  the capacity of elected representatives and those rising through the ranks towards nomination gives meaning to equal representation.

What we miss in this section:

  • Campaign finance reform so that women are not at a financial disadvantage during elections.
  • Misogynistic speech and gender-based violence chargesheets should disqualify a candidate until and unless acquitted by a court.
  • Requirement of equal institutional support by political parties to male and female candidates.

Please see our Gender Equality Election Checklist: https://keepingcount.wordpress.com/2016/04/14/prajnya-gender-equality-election-checklist/

  1. Violence against Women

Section V speaks of a life-cycle approach and then identifies three types of violence for special attention. Focusing attention and resources is a good idea. The draft policy takes due cognizance of cyber-crimes as an area that needs attention.

V.vi        There needs also to be an increase in the number of women in police and paramilitary services.

V.vii       Decision-making around setting up new institutions and initiatives is neither consultative nor inclusive. As a result the policy (like the government) commits to models and approaches whose short-comings are already evident elsewhere. This would be a good place to commit to an open and consultative approach (like the one for this draft policy) when planning such measures.

On the question of shelters and crisis homes, there are reviews that suggest a great qualitative variation in philosophy and service delivery. To arrive, consultatively, at common norms and best practices, as also to create an “industry” body for self-regulation would be useful.

V.viii      To reiterate the point made earlier, a comprehensive gender-disaggregated database is needed, not just one on violence against women. There is some expertise in civil society that the government should tap into while funding and maintaining this database.

V.ix        While it is fashionable to speak of engaging boys and men, it is important to consider the extent to which our present violence against women outreach actually engages even women and girls. Public outreach has not been a part of government policy on this (except relating to child sex ratio).

We would also like to point out that the draft National Policy for Women displays the government’s binary thinking on gender.

Gender identity is a spectrum, and gender is what is experienced rather than what is prescribed based on biological details. While a government may quite fairly choose to focus on one section of society, that focus is best made with an inclusive perspective that acknowledges that just talking about women and men or casting them respectively as victim and oppressor is misleading. Thus, when we speak only about violence against women and engaging men and boys, we assume that one group is always the victim and the other either silent witnesses, accomplices or assailants. Our binary, heteronormative thinking creates two air-tight categories and loses sight of the large numbers of men, women and others who fall outside them. Any policy guidelines or projects conceptualised on this simplistic and insensitive view of gender relations are doomed to fail.

Related to this is anxiety about the impact of social change on men and boys.  Take the statement in VII.7.7.vii— “Given the number of new laws and policies related to gender-based violence, paternity leave, child support and gender equality broadly, it is crucial to understand the impact of such national-level and policy-level changes on boys and men,” notwithstanding the repetition of “rights-based approach” in the Introduction, you are pitching gender equality as a zero-sum game between two mutually exclusive gender groups. The reality is that gender equality is a win-win solution which can be beneficial to everyone.

V.x         This is why the point about gender sensitivity training is so important—not just for men and boys, but for all genders, in mixed and segregated groups.

What we miss in this section:

  • The draft report turns a blind eye to sexual and gender-based violence in conflict, in custody and in crisis in general. It may be that perpetrators are state or non-state actors, but ending impunity is the responsibility of the state. “Women in disturbed areas” can count on no support from the Ministry of Women and Child Development, it seems. We would like the policy to recognize the reality of sexual and gender-based violence in conflict, custody and crisis situations and to commit the Government of India to ending impunity, no matter who the perpetrator.
  • The draft also fails to mention sexual and gender based violence as a backlash to inter-caste and inter-religious relationships (‘honour’ crimes). Not only is such violence prevalent in several parts of the country, the Indian Penal Code has no provision to identify this as a distinct crime. Young people who choose their partners from beyond caste and religious boundaries, their families and sometimes entire communities are targeted by hooligans, and the state must commit to ending such crimes. By ignoring this violence, we implicitly sanction it while mouthing platitudes about social equality.
  • Marital rape is a reality for girls and women across the country, and creating awareness about the issue as well as formulating a mechanism to counter it must be on the Government of India’s agenda while formulating a National Policy for Women. At the least, the draft must commit to a consultative process on removing the exception to marital rape in the criminal law.

Suggestions

Action Priorities

The draft policy uses the word ‘priority’ to refer to action areas. We suggest the identification of a short list of action priorities instead, which can become the framework and filter for resource allocation and programmes in each of the action areas.

The three action priorities that emerge from the draft policy itself are:

  1. Gender-disaggregated data collection and resource creation
  2. Promoting and achieving compliance with existing gender equality laws within public, private and informal sectors
  3. Creating an enabling environment with focus on infrastructure, credit and training or capacity-building

Displacement

The omission of displacement is glaring. Refugee and Internally Displaced women face a range of problems peculiar to their dislocation from home. Rehabilitation services apart, their citizenship and  legal rights need  protection. Their absence from the National Policy for Women cannot be excused.

Timelines

The setting of timelines need not be left entirely to the Action Plans that new agencies will set up. They might be built into the Action Priorities themselves.

We at Prajnya welcome the inclusive, consultative mode in which the draft National Policy for Women has been placed in the public sphere. It gives all individuals and groups, regardless of location, size and celebrity, an equal chance to weigh in on an issue of concern to them.  We hope this inclusivity and consultative practice will be sustained as the Ministry’s preferred way of making policy.

Media training on gender and disasters, November 14-15, 2014

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On November 14-15, 2014, in partnership with Oxfam India and the All India Disaster Mitigation Institute, Prajnya organised a training programme for mediapersons on gender sensitive reporting of disasters. Here is a report posted today by Oxfam India on the same. The authors highlight some of the tips shared at the training:

“So how does one ensure that coverage of gender issues is reasonably good during disasters? There are no exhaustive, steadfast rules but ticking some of the checkboxes below can surely help:

  • Before disasters
    • –Establish contacts with key public-private players
    • –Become familiar with disaster prone areas and gender issues
    • –Don’t wait until disaster strikes – investigate levels of preparedness and vulnerability of women
    • –Keep the memories of past disaster alive
    • –Cover positive actions and stories on women’s vulnerability to disasters
  • After disasters
    • –Investigate causes of disasters with data
    • –Demand and look for gender desegregated data
    • –Cover stories of socio-economic and cultural impact of disaster on women
    • –Cover stories that establish leadership role of women in recovery
    • –Keep the topic alive; recovery is a long process.”

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August 29, 2015: The Oxfam report is copied below as the link is not working any more:

Considering Gender: A Mediaperson’s Guide to Covering Disasters

Posted Dec 26, 2014 by Preeti Mangala Shekar and Ramakrishnan M

On November 14 & 15 this year, a workshop co-organized by Oxfam India, Prajnya (a Chennai-based feminist research and advocacy group) and the All India Disaster Mitigation Institute (AIDMI) brought together over a dozen journalists, activists and community experts to discuss how the media should be covering disasters.

Natural disasters such as earthquakes, the horrific 2004 Tsunami or cyclones that have become routine along India’s eastern coasts in recent decades have been a vital focus for Indian media but how do they report on them? How are women’s voices, agency and roles portrayed through pictures, as experts, news sources and so on?

The workshop started with getting basic terms right and not using certain ones interchangeably (like hazard & disaster — a hat tip given by one speaker was that establishing the difference between the two makes it clearer for the lay reader). Next was to use data or facts such that it creates a feeling of emergency in the mind. Consider the value of adding this to any disaster report in India:

Despite being one of the top 10 disaster-prone countries (27 out of 35 states and union territories are regular victims of some form of disaster or the other), our government enacted the Disaster Management Act only in 2005, after the South-East Asian tsunami.

To take this one step further, we can actually use figures like these with devastating effect to prove the gender angle is very important during natural catastrophes. Findings in recent post-disaster scenarios have shown that women represented an estimated 61% fatalities in Myanmar’s Cyclone Nargis, 70% after the 2004 tsunami and a horrific 91% after Cyclone Gorky hit Bangladesh in 1991. On an average, they are 14 times more vulnerable than men when it comes to fending for their lives during a disaster.

On the question of why this has become a pattern — especially in the Indian subcontinent — has a lot to do with the patriarchal culture that has remained unchanged for a long, long time. Women are usually under pressure to stay at home and take care of family requirements even when the home in question dangerously borders the disaster’s strike area. Ramya Kannan of The Hindu, during the workshop, explained how another answer (in the 2004 tsunami context in Tamil Nadu) remained hidden in plain sight. Fisherfolk who sell the catch by the shores are mostly women, while the men are almost always away at sea.

With all this baggage of disadvantage, it most certainly doesn’t help women survivors when the media squarely depicts them as passive victims and not as powerful or resilient agents of change that many are. As Swarna Rajagopalan of Prajnya succinctly put it: “What we look for, we see.” Ironically, for some reason, hurricanes and typhoons are mostly designated with a female name (Katrina, Sandy & Nargis to name a few)!

Journalist and author Ammu Joseph’s talk reinforced the depressing truth around that cliched adage — the more things change, the more they stay the same. Even though most journalism schools drill some form of awareness into their students about using a gender lens while covering stories, a reality check reveals that less than one-fourth of people heard about or read are women (Global Media Monitoring Project, 2005) and the same study rightly stated that the absence of gender in “hard news” stories reflects “a blinkered approach to the definition of news and newsworthiness.”

So how does one ensure that coverage of gender issues is reasonably good during disasters? There are no exhaustive, steadfast rules but ticking some of the checkboxes below can surely help:

  • Before disasters
    • -Establish contacts with key public-private players
    • -Become familiar with disaster prone areas and gender issues
    • -Don’t wait until disaster strikes – investigate levels of preparedness and vulnerability of women
    • -Keep the memories of past disaster alive
    • -Cover positive actions and stories on women’s vulnerability to disasters
  • After disasters
    • -Investigate causes of disasters with data
    • -Demand and look for gender desegregated data
    • -Cover stories of socio-economic and cultural impact of disaster on women
    • -Cover stories that establish leadership role of women in recovery
    • -Keep the topic alive; recovery is a long process

About the authors:

Preeti Mangala Shekar is an independent journalist who is based in the US
Ramakrishnan M is part of Oxfam India’s digital communications team

Related: Read Oxfam’s new report on how timely funding from the public helped people in crisis during the 2004 tsunami

Notes from a roundtable on gender and disasters, December 23, 2014

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Gender and Disaster Reconstruction: Insights and Lessons

December 23rd, 2014

Rapporteur: Archana Venkatesh

This roundtable session on how gender awareness has the potential to play a role in disaster management took place in the offices of the Tamil Nadu State Planning Commission. It centered around presentations by speakers from The Prajnya Trust, the All India Disaster Mitigation Institute, Swayam Shikshan Prayog, and the State Planning Commission. The other participants came from related state government departments. The focus of this session was primarily on formulation of policy on disaster management, based on the assumption that gender influences how people experience disasters as well as relief.

The session opened with a brief statement of purpose by Mr Sugato Dutt, Member-Secretary of the Tamil Nadu State Planning Commission (TNSPC). It proceeded with a round of introductions, and a statement of welcome by the Vice Chairperson TNSPC, Ms Santha Sheela Nair.

Dr Swarna Rajagopalan, Managing Trustee of The Prajnya Trust, made the first presentation. She gave the audience a comprehensive overview of the topic, and also pointed out that while we talk about gender awareness in policy making at length, we also need to consider the everyday impact of gender on the ground in a disaster situation. We need to examine the gendered consequences of disasters, and look for a way to address them. She added that there are varying guises of gender politics at play in disasters, including labour, safety, and the case of marginalized groups.

Dr Rajagopalan drew attention to the shortcomings of a generalized policy of reconstruction rather than a context-specific one that takes advantages of existing systems of economic/political activity to create policies for relief. The main problem with generalized policies is the important observations they miss in their one-size-fits-all type of solution. For example, they often reinforce normative gender roles and ignore any possible existing subversion of them – women often engage in economic activity that promotes reconstruction, but this work is not recognized by relief organizations, let alone co-opted into their policy. Above all, there is a failure to recognize that there needs to be equal representation at all levels of reconstruction, from policy planning to the fieldwork. Gender awareness is not a little box on a checklist that needs to be checked, but a fuller understanding of any situation.

Dr Rajagopalan stressed the need to look beyond the axioms of gender and disaster (such as the idea that women are always the most victimized class of people in a disaster; or even the idea that gender is only about women). In order to do this, she suggested we re-examine individual needs and contexts through three lenses: vulnerability, visibility and voice. The most important question to ask ourselves while going into a disaster situation is this: whose voice is seen as the default one? Whose is the most visible perspective? Very often, the answer to this question leaves us in no doubt that individuals experience a gendered reality. Thus, we need to reconsider assumptions about who are the most vulnerable populations in a disaster, and turn this around to reveal their potential for action and reconstruction.

photo 39Mr Mihir Bhatt, Director of the All India Disaster Mitigation Institute, gave the second presentation. Speaking about Women in the Emergency Response Phase, Mr Bhatt looked at the results of a comprehensive study undertaken in 2014 to examine the impact of the response to tsunami relief in Indonesia, India and Sri Lanka, with a specific focus on Tamil Nadu. The study used various methodologies, including appreciative inquiry, group interviews, and some quantitative methods. Data was collected in 15 locations along the coast from Chennai to Kanyakumari, from over 1500 families. The focus of the study was to study the impact of two main measures of relief: shelter and livelihood. Mr Bhatt shared a few observations about the positive impact of relief measures in these two, and other (allied), areas. Firstly, he noted that the number of families that were counted as being below the poverty line (BPL) had decreased in the past ten years. Secondly, all children of school-going age were enrolled in and attended school regularly. Thirdly, the overall investment in houses (built by the government as part of the relief measures) had increased, improving the asset by addition of rooms, etc. Finally, though income from coastal fisheries had decreased, an increase was observed in inland fishing. Mr Bhatt suggested that these observations demonstrated that tsunami relief work has created social and economic opportunity in the affected regions. He also noted that there was a rising awareness of green energy at all levels, and this would have to be studied further.

A question was raised about the role of Self Help Groups (SHG) in the affected regions. Mr Bhatt responded that the history of SHGs in the region meant that there was some familiarity with concepts like financial discipline and financial literacy, which was helpful for the recovery process. Another commenter shared a number of stories about women taking on leadership roles in situations arising from relief work, and the challenged these women face.

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Ms Vandana Chauhan gave the third presentation of the day, speaking about Lessons from the Post-Tsunami Decade on Women’s Agency and Leadership. She examined the findings of a comparative study undertaken in India, Indonesia and Japan. The study stressed the importance of action oriented emergency plans that were concise and readable.

Ms Chauhan examined the requirements for capacity-building among women, and suggested that the following factors were most important: confidence, decision making power, setting up of a standard operating procedure in case of disasters.

In her assessment of the impact of relief measures on affected areas, Ms Chauhan noted that relief measures related to livelihood, asset creation, access to primary healthcare centres (PHCs), education, and governance have been largely positive. In terms of livelihood, measures intended to augment income generation are still in effect today and continue to promote the independence of women. Asset creation can be observed in the form of developing opportunities for housing. Education in particular shows a positive trend: the demand for women’s education. All these situations present an opportunity for leadership, especially by women.

Ms Chauhan closed with some lessons for the future. She advocated an increased awareness of the local context while enacting relief measures, as well as the use of traditional mechanisms and channels in incorporating the local community in relief programs. Ms Chauhan was of the opinion that this was important to ensure sustainable recovery.

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A commenter demonstrated how far relief work has come in the past couple of decades by comparing work in 1990 in Orissa and current relief work. It was noted that a key aspect of this improvement was better preparation. Some concern was also expressed about the position of children in disasters, especially with the increased risk of communicable diseases. An audience member also advocated a more streamlined bureaucracy to prevent doubling up of activities in relief work.

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Ms Prema Gopalan made the fourth presentation of the day, about Engaging Women in the Post-Disaster Reconstruction Process. She drew attention to the potential of disaster relief work as an opportunity for the empowerment of women. Looking at the activities and organization of women’s groups, Ms Gopalan also noted that gender affects men and women differently – and that it is particularly important to remember this while formulating policy on relief work. It is important to ensure that women are facilitators of recovery. It is also essential to recognize women’s role in mobilizing the community. In this regard, disasters create situations in which traditional social and cultural norms are broken, allowing for the participation and leadership of non-traditional classes – such as women.

Pointing to case studies in Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Gujarat, Ms Gopalan demonstrated the success of local women as mobilizers and trainers in the community. Advocating for self-help, she recommended that communities should map their own vulnerabilities and capacities in planning disaster relief. Aid should be given directly to the affected communities rather than through bureaucratic channels. Investment by the government needs to be protected by community leadership, and women play a key role in monitoring this. In Ms Gopalan’s own experience, she found that infrastructure and services are protected in the long run if women are involved in the management of them. She also drew attention to the success of women-led preparedness task forces, where women wrote their own manuals for preparedness (against disasters). By viewing women as active agents in their communities, a new perspective emerges.

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The Vice-Chairperson of TNSPC asked if there was any resistance from men to the leadership of women. Ms Gopalan responded that there was some resistance at first, but in disaster sites, men did not object to women taking responsibility, and women themselves were eager to change the status quo. She reiterated the importance of disasters as an opportunity for women to change the status quo of gender relations.

A question was raised about specific ways to encourage women’s leadership in disaster management. Ms Gopalan suggested that we need to have less specialization in NGOs, and that NGOs need to work in conversation with each other and the government.

A question was raised about the increased participation of women in politics as a measure of women’s empowerment. Ms Gopalan felt that this doesn’t really promote women’s empowerment for various reasons. However, Dr Rajagopalan pointed out that the presence of women in politics is more of an intrinsic good since it represents more women in decision-making processes.

Members of the TNSPC pointed out that NGOs need to function through the year rather than only in disaster situations. A commenter also raised the importance of educating boys at the school level to ensure gender sensitization. The Vice Chairperson noted the relief work done by religious organizations in Tamil Nadu.

Ms Gopalan agreed that NGOs need to work together, with the facilitation of the government. She also reiterated the need to ensure that women are stakeholders in their own communities.

A question was raised about the possibility of community monitoring of funds, given the controversial history of this initiative. Ms Gopalan was of the opinion that the success of this would depend on the government officers to a certain extent, and how responsive they are to the idea. Mr Bhatt also pointed to an example of community responsibility in Assam. Schoolteachers took responsibility in conducting safety audits in schools. He also emphasized the role of women schoolteachers in formulating safety codes for schools.

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The final presentation of the day was made by a Consultant in disaster management and training in the TN State Disaster Management Agency on behalf of the Revenue Administration and Disaster Management Department. He drew attention to the common perception that one shouldn’t raise the cry of gender in a disaster situation. This perception is problematic, since women and men experience disaster in different ways. He stressed the need to have equal respect for male and female survivors. Speaking of some of the main features of TN Disaster Management, he spoke of the presence of planning at various levels, and various time frames. He also advocated the importance of increased participation of women at decision making levels, the importance of education about disaster management in schools, and incorporating SHGs in capacity building.

The Vice Chairperson asked if women were really in a position of authority to make decisions rather than just filling up quotas on committees. The Consultant answered that they were part of committees, but lacked real power. A commenter pointed out that out of 5-6 lakh SHGs, 50% of them had real leadership by women, but not in the area of disaster management. Interestingly, a commenter pointed out that 70% of the people who attend disaster management workshops are women. Are they including in decision making processes? Not really. However, there has been a growing change in this trend in recent times, especially at the community level, where there is more participation by women. The space has been created for women to make decisions, and this is a hopeful development.

Ms Gopalan said that this needs to be taken to the higher levels od decision making too. Empowerment can be seen at the village level, but not at the Taluk and District levels.

An audience member also pointed to the need to select attendees to training programs more carefully based on their capacities. There is also a need for training about disaster management in villages. A suggestion was made to include Panchayat Level Federations in this initiative.

Mr Bhatt asked if there was a difference in the way disaster management policy was formulated in rural and urban parts of Tamil Nadu. The Vice Chairperson asked if codes were in place for Chennai City. Members of the City Corporation answered that they were. The Revenue Department representative added that the Anna Institute of Management (AIM) was consulting with the TNSPC in the creation of a State Disaster Management Plan. Members of the AIM were also present. Dr Rajagopalan suggested that members of civil society should also be consulted in the formulation of this plan, in order to conduct a gender audit of disaster management policies.

The Director of AIM pointed out that it had been useful to have AIM step in, since the formulation of this plan had been shunted from department to department earlier.

Ms Gopalan noted the cyclone shelters lying empty in Andhra Pradesh because there was no community ownership of the shelters. The Director of AIM pointed out that specialized shelters were unlikely to work effectively. Rather, the creation of multipurpose centres would be recommended.

Members of the TN Disaster Management Agency gave an overview of their plan to increase community ownership of shelters by transforming schools, community halls and training centres into shelters. The Revenue Department and the Public Works Department would maintain these shelters, with committees at the community level.

Dr Rajagopalan closed the discussion with a quick highlight of the main questions.

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Smriti Dakshina: Thank you, Mami!

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So I was one of those reluctant, ungrateful wretches who sat down for paattu class sullenly, fidgeted all the way through, never practised and had giggling fits when she heard unfamiliar words (which was all the time, considering the state of my Tamil and Telugu, then and now). And I am classic example of one who now feels deep remorse for having been such an awful student.

Thankfully, I could sing. I take solace from the fact that on top of my dreadful attitude, my teachers did not have to put up with zero musicality. It may have blunted their frustration.

Like all good projects, this one was born out of my own sense of guilt and remorse. The fact that I think women’s work should be documented just made it all the more important to do it, however simply and quietly. I have been talking about this for a few years to anyone who will listen, but it was a recent conversation with my friend Dr. Sudha Raja, herself a prominent music educator, that has got this going. Thank you, Sudha, for agreeing to work with me on this.

So here is my tribute to my many paattu teachers.

Picture the Bombay monsoon of thirty-forty years ago: blinding sheets of rain cascading for three months; flooded roads, crowded buses; damp flats with clothes drying everywhere. And in the middle of this mess, a lady in a nylon saree, carrying a flimsy umbrella, more wet than dry, ringing the doorbell to cause my heart to sink: “She’s come!” One hour with the reluctant student, one hot cup of coffee, and she leaves, often on her way to the next reluctant brat.

Lakshmi Mani: My first “Paattu Mami” and maybe the sweetest of them all. I was eight, I think, and she was already teaching my cousins music. She was warm and friendly and affectionate, not just towards me but also my sister, who was just two then. With this Mami, I went through the drill of all the early exercises, geetam, the two swarajathis I still can sing and a couple of varnams. She was endlessly patient, I remember, and indulged my preference for ‘theory’ over ‘singing.’ My mother and visiting grandmother worried that they never heard my voice–she sang along with me all the time, and my singing then constituted the musical version of mumbling along.

My sister who loved Mami’s little red purse with a picture on it, would claim it as soon as Mami entered and then sit outside through my entire class, play with the purse and sing all the songs with us. So Lakshmi Mani Mami was also, unintentionally, her first music teacher.

At some point, the mumbling became an issue, perhaps. I cannot recall why but my classes with Mami ceased. Even today, I can recall her smile and the twinkle in her eyes vividly.

In the meanwhile, the Ananthacharya Indological Research Institute had opened in GD Somani school near our home, and they started a Kala Vibhag that offered all manner of classes. Shakuntala Ramaseshan was the next teacher I remember. A very young woman with a little child and a very sweet voice, she was “Shakuntala” to us 12-13 year olds and never “Mami.” My sister was part of this class. The one song I remember learning from her is the Dashavatara poem by Jayadava. This was to be performed at the Guru Purnima programme of the Institute. I am ashamed to say all the “big girls” bunked the programme and only my sister–about 6 or 7 then–performed. All by herself.

Shakuntala moved back to Chennai (where are you now?), and her mother-in-law, Mrs. Subramaniam, also a very good singer, took over the classes. As I write this, I remember her with great affection. Again, it’s strange but I cannot remember what I learnt from her, just that I did, and that I really liked her.

In between, at some point, I learnt from a lady called Shyamala Parameswaran, also at Ananthacharya. She also taught veena, but this cannot have lasted very long. I don’t remember much of what I learnt with her, but I do remember her face.

The very, very little veenai I remember comes from my first and last real veena teacher–Padma Varadan. Padma Aunty had gone to school with my mother, and when she played, the veena sang. I would go to her house to learn and I would actually practice veena more than my vocal lessons, but she shrewdly saw that I would never have the discipline her teaching required. My classes ended abruptly but I never found (or sought) as good a veena teacher as her. And yes, Padma Aunty, if you can read this from where you now are, I can still slowly play the seven notes you made me master before I stopped!

My last female teacher, Annapoorna Bhaskaran, traveled a very long distance to come teach us. A very serious young woman (as she must have been though we did not think so then), she would rarely smile. And do you blame her? If all her students were like us, there couldn’t have been much to smile about in her line of work.

It was the oddest thing. We would stand in our balcony and watch for her bus. We never saw her alight or walk the short distance that would have brought her to the road median, but there we would suddenly spot her, about to cross over.

For all the years that I learnt music, and all the teachers who struggled with me, it is the songs Annapoorna Bhaskaran taught me that have instant recall. She taught each song the same way each time, and that is harder than you can imagine. The training in our system is to keep improvising and to discipline that to suit the grasp of your student must be a gift. By virtue of those identical repetitions, she ensured that all our lives, those would be the songs we remembered.

Annapoorna Bhaskaran was also the most meticulous about writing down the sahityam and other details. It’s another matter entirely that the transliteration of Tamil and Telugu words into Roman-script syllables (scarcely words) would set off uncontrollable giggling during class time. The notebook we had for her class is now in tatters; it has traveled the world with me and we have gone back to it time and again.

Many, many years later, when I was teaching in Michigan, I took a few lessons from my friend’s visiting mother, Mrs. Ananthakrishnan. I learnt a few songs from her, and this time, I really enjoyed the lessons a great deal. I also learnt a couple of songs during a visit to my aunt, Kamala Kumar, who has been teaching music in Calgary for decades. By this time, I had learned to value the opportunity.

My years as a music student also included two male teachers, but this story is not about them. It is about these dedicated women who made it possible for me to appreciate good music. I hope they are all well. Thank you so much, wherever you are, for the gift of music! May it stay with you forever, too!

In your view: Top gender issues for India

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A couple of weeks ago, I crowd-sourced your view on the three top gender issues for India. Between email, Twitter and Facebook, I got about 23 responses–a couple irrelevant and a couple late. Based on your responses, this is the short note I prepared. I am sharing it because several people were curious, and also as a matter of placing this on the record.

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At the core, the fundamental gender challenge in India is a lack of equality which leads to a lack of equity. In anticipation of writing this paragraph, I crowd-sourced views on the three most pressing gender issues in India in a 3-5 year perspective. Four sets of inter-related issues emerged: equality, livelihood, reproductive rights and health and sexual and gender-based violence.

The first rubric of “equality” raises two important concerns–the pervasive impact of patriarchal social structures and culture and the inequitable reality that in every sphere the playing field is uneven for men andwomen. The lack of equality manifests first in families where girls and women face discrimination. People who responded listed ways in which patriarchy worked–from male preference which affects everything from the survival prospects of girl children to equal access. Women are saddled with the burden of safeguarding tradition and cultureand this also becomes the rationale for restricting their choices and options. In fact, women are “never given a choice,” whether it is in the choice of dress, career, college or partner. Stigma applies to any choice a girl makes,and silence is a corollary. But patriarchy is also reinforced by modernity; stereotypical media representations andobjectification of women are an example. Patriarchal thinking is perpetuated by social conditioning and is expressed in “deep-rooted casual, everyday sexism, with misogyny at its extreme.” Equal access to a playing field that is level pertains to every stage and every sphere–nutrition and food security, health, education that does not reinforce discrimination, law and justice, and childcare. An equal playing field arguably begins with usable, affordable public toilets for women (or even a toilet in every home) and ends with women playing a real, active, visible and vocal role in the public sphere.

The second rubric of ‘livelihood’ has three dimensions: equality of opportunity, capacity-building and workplace safety. Equality of opportunity extends beyond equal access to livelihood choices and chances to recognizing women’s work as work, to assigning value to the unpaid labour of women and to closing the pay-gap. Capacity-building includes both livelihood and life-skills training. Job-training andplacement help, as well as practices such as job-sharing and flex-time were specifically mentioned. Women’s financial literacy (money management, small enterprise management and retirement planning) was also suggested as an area of work. Non-discriminatory and safe workplaces are critically important if women are to enjoy livelihood security.

The third rubric of “reproductive health and rights” covers health and sex education, which teaches boys and girls about their bodies, sexuality, health and violence. The absence of such educations results in an inability to deal with violence. But at the core of this rubric is surely the question of access to safe, affordable, timely and good health care, including safe abortion. Maternal health needs and maternal mortality are oft-mentioned concerns.

The fourth rubric of “sexual and gender-based violence” includes not just the acute lack of personal safety for women but also flawed systems of justice. The accent on protecting women by creating restraints and walls around them, rather than creating conditions to prevent violent behaviour is also a part of this rubric. Of the different forms of violence, female foeticide, honour killings, sexual assault and rape, workplace sexual harassment and domestic violence were of greatest concern, in that order.

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The ‘raw’ list of responses is given below, sorted under the four rubrics. I have done the minimum editing, and some of you will recognize your words.

EQUALITY

  • Equity
    • Female literacy
    • Equity
    • Access to law
    • Education for girls.
    • Equity
    • Education
    • Access to safe and affordable childcare;
    • Useable, affordable public toilets for women
    • Representation of women in local bodies, politics, unions. In a REAL way–numbers and voice.
    • Women agency and initiative, at the workplace and in the public sphere.
    • Food security for women
    • Access to education, Discrimination in schools – It’s common for boys (as victims of upbringing) to think girls don’t deserve respect and it is appropriate for boys to exert power over girls. Most text book material don’t acknowledge the contribution of women
  • Patriarchy (Structure plus culture)
    • Social conditioning and norms
    • Male-preference, cutting across ages – patriarchy – with consequences for everything from access to school to nutrition
    • After all, the preference for a male child. Female infanticide. Sex-selective abortion
    • Stigma selective applies to girls for all choices (eg cohabitation)
    • Why are women never given a choice? I can’t choose my dress, my career, my college, my partner.
    • Tradition as a way of restricting women, the burden of safeguarding tradition and culture
    • Media objectifying women, media representations of women, stereotyping women
    • Culture=related stigma and silence.
    • Deep-rooted casual, everyday sexism, with misogyny at its extreme
  • Family practice
    • Gender issues are often family issues. Education & protection for children’s rights supports overall reduction in family violence.
    • Foetus to Grave equality,
    • Declining sex ratio
    • Gender equality
    • Conflict and injustice in families, discrimination at home – The belief that women should be controlled by men and are a part of man’s property.

LIVELIHOOD

  • Equality of opportunity
    • Recognition of women’s work as work/ equal pay
    • reducing the pay-gap
    • Opportunity
    • Opportunity
  • Capacity-building
    • Low financial literacy. NGOs could host workshops & counseling for women on money mgt, small biz fin mgt, retirement planning…
    • Job training/placement help for women (especially for returning to labour market); job-sharing & flex-time
  • Workplace safety
    • Livelihood and workplace safety
    • Workplace discrimination

REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH AND RIGHTS

  • Health and sex education
    • Inadequate training and knowledge on male-female bodies, sexuality, violence – resulting inability to deal with violence.
  • Access to safe, affordable, timely health care
    • Health
    • Health security for women
    • Access to safe, affordable, timely health care
    • Access to healthcare
    • Access to safe and good healthcare
  • Women’s sexual and reproductive rights
    • Access to safe and legal abortion.
    • Maternity needs recognition
    • Maternal mortality would be high on the list
    • Maternal mortality

SEXUAL AND GENDER-BASED VIOLENCE

  • Violence and lack of safety
    • Safety
    • Safety of women
    • Safety of women
    • Safety of women
    • Crimes and violence against women, all forms.
    • Particularly domestic violence and rape.
    • Sexual assault
    • Sexual violence
    • Personal safety (though this applies to all, it’s more acute for women).
    • The skewed sex ratio – female infanticide, female foeticide
    • Female foeticide
    • Female foeticide
    • Female infanticide.
    • Honour killings and khap panchayats
    • Honour killings.
    • Kumki: // Honour killings
    • Workplace sexual harassment
    • Sexual harassment — street, cyber, workplace
    • Acid attacks/attacks because women spurn men — Been keeping an eye on this across the country and there is a scary increase in the number of cases of men attacking women they decide to fall in love with, ex-wives and former girlfriends. Acid, knives, the weapon doesn’t matter the intent is to control and refuse to let women make decisions of their own. This also involves a large amount of stalking.
  • Lack of justice for violence against women
  • Accent on protection rather than prevention
  • Accent on women being safe rather than preventing/teaching men not to be violent.
  • Accent on protection.
  • The issue of provocative dressing as a cause for rape.

Please feel free to leave other views and suggestions as comments.

Special post: “My ‘everyday’ mother” by Swati Parashar

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First posted on May 12, 2013 on http://kaalratri.com/2013/05/12/my-everyday-mother/

My ‘everyday’ mother

How does one mark ‘mothers’ day that is everyday? How does one celebrate the everyday life of a mother? I called my mother in India for a brief interview, she obliged. She always does. I told her I was going to blog this and she insisted it was ok; she did not want anything censored. So these are snippets from the life of my mother, Uma.

Hers is not a unique story she always insists because many women are still in the same situation of being at the margins and bottom rungs. She was born quite late to her mother (she had siblings who were parents by then!) in a village in Bihar and was promptly abandoned by my grandmother (nani) who thought the evil baby was responsible for the death of her own father! Her brothers’ family took pity on her and she managed to survive some sort of infanticide. Her early memories are of being treated like a poor ‘servant’ girl in the house of her own brothers; couldn’t eat this and that, couldn’t sit here or there, had old worn out clothes from others, and had to cook and care for the children of the house. Occasionally she remembers the fist fights with her own nephews. I do take after her!

She was married at the age of 13 and she promptly reminds me that for three years before the actual marriage her brothers were desperately trying to find a match for her. Really, at 10 they thought she was ready for marriage!  She was married into a conservative, patriarchal family of 8 girls where none went to school and some were married at the age of 10!  Life was no fun in the village where she worked hard in the day time and dreamt of a better world in the nights.  My father, the only son of the house, was in a town further away trying to finish his Bachelors degree and find a job. Political activism of the early 70s in India inspired him but life willed otherwise.

She tells me without  hesitation, her happiest day was my birth (perhaps because it came after an agonising wait of 8 years that included cruel social taunts…a woman ought to do the job she is meant to do, legitimise her existence as a married woman only through motherhood?!). She tells me, she loved the fact that she now had one human being she could call her ‘own’, her status changed over-night. I have three other wonderful siblings and they kind of know, I am the special child; they have learnt to live with it. 🙂  Mummy mentions that she would have preferred to stop after two. But, she shows me the mirror of a brutal patriarchal society where contraception was inaccessible to women…I probe the logic…. “because men/society thought that if women had access to it, women would become immoral!”.  I am stunned.

And now the most important regret of her life which became the strength of her 4 children. My mother is illiterate; I recall as a child trying to teach her to sign so she would not embarrass us by using the thumb impression for official papers. She battled it out with a heartless family and an oppressive, patriarchal society to ensure we received the much valued, ‘English medium’ education. Those who are from India would know what I am talking about. I remember our occasional conversations when I got home from school where she would ask me about what school looked like, how we ate lunch together, what teachers wrote on the black boards. She took great pains to ensure my school uniform was always ironed (I hate ironing still!) and that my lunch box always had what I wanted, even with the limited means she had.

I have had to make peace with my own past in so many ways. I remember how embarrassed I always felt when mummy visited school because she couldn’t speak English. I went to Delhi for my undergrad and would lament that she never wrote me letters even in Hindi; she told me she would try and sent me 2-3 short letters which filled me with intense shame (not long after I realised the shame was mine, not hers). I complained about her ridiculous spellings, her complete lack of any understanding of Hindi vowels (she messed up the ka and ki)…and then the letters stopped. It took me many more years to convince her that I could live with the badly written letters. She finally sent me a birthday card when I was studying for my PhD in England. It just said, ‘mummy’ in Hindi and was poorly spelt, again!

She visited me in Australia last year and didn’t quite enjoy the solitude of Western societies. Not knowing the language (English) made it difficult for her to travel around but we had our share of fun. She especially loved  the Alpaca and the Australian red wine! She will visit me again this year she says, a promise she hasn’t kept so far due to pressing engagements with her two wonderful and loving grandsons in India.

Her understanding of her religion (Hinduism) is all about doing her duty. In the most desperate of situations, I never saw her give up, weep her heart out, or resort to rituals, temple visits. Her dharma is her karma she says. She believes in the divine power of the universal mother Kali, benign and ferocious. The only time she prays is during the Durga Puja (the 9 day festival of the Goddess). Her own name, Uma is one of the many names of the Goddess Parvati.

When with me she always wants to visit any place of worship especially churches because I went to a Catholic school (she thinks that had something to do with good education!). Last year we had a fantastic conversation about Tathagat (Buddha) and she wanted to visit Bodh Gaya which is not very far from our home in Ranchi. After the visit and after she heard about his spiritual quest, she promptly told me, “I would have also received enlightenment had I tried, but your father wouldn’t have it so!”  I was delirious with laughter.

An orphaned, illiterate, child bride married into an orthodox, oppressive, patriarchal family in India and then overcoming her own anxieties, fears and apprehensions to look after a very demanding family of 4 difficult children and a husband,  mummy wanted to be a teacher. She is happy I am one now. I once asked her what she wanted to reincarnate as (Hinduism is great fun that way…it’s a wonderful source of moral/spiritual imagination). She replied instantly, a bird…..I was not surprised.

My mother’s story is not unique; it is the story of thousands of women in India and that is what is so heart breaking. She continues to talk to the community about the importance of educating girls and against female foeticide and infanticide. I recall another wonderful moment when I informed my mother (with some trepidation) of a friend marrying her lesbian partner. She told me, it was perfect because in that relationship there would be no husband!

I haven’t learnt anything from her, to be honest. I am her; I am my mother’s dream; I am her greatest fear; I am her hope for the future. Mother’s day is an everyday for me, and because I cannot share my glass of wine with her today in person; here’s my tribute to a woman who makes my feminism possible. She won’t be able to read this…but she just told me, she is very PROUD of me.

Mother’s Day and family history

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The next post on this blog is by a Friend of Prajnya, Dr. Swati Parashar, who writes about her mother. What is special about this post is that Swati took the time to call and interview her mother and learn about her life. She heard some things she knew and some things she didn’t. With Swati’s permission, I am cross-posting in this blog with a link to the original blog.

The reason we really appreciate this, is that this is the kind of work we want to promote. We want people to ask in their families and listen to stories that are now being forgotten. Every life is remarkable and every person has a story. But most stories are forgotten, especially the stories that women would have to tell.

If you have stories from the women in your family, let us know, and we can discuss the possibility of your recording them via this blog.

Swati’s post follows next.

Can India take a leaf out of Goa’s laws?: Guest post by Samita Sawardekar

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Samita Sawardekar, who is an investment banker based in Mumbai & writes on economic & other issues, writes for The PSW Weblog on dowry laws and how much they matter. This is her considered viewpoint, and we invite you to engage with it. Do you agree? Why or why not?

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Can India take a leaf out of Goa’s laws?

By Samita Sawardekar

Goa is known for its famous beaches, its sussegad attitude and way of life that has captivated thousand of people across India.  However, it has some unique laws, which are also worth emulating.

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It all started with the SMJ episode on Dowry that got people talking about this cancer that has affected much of Indian society. While I did not see the episode, it clearly resonated with many, provoking fierce debate in newspapers and on-line forums.

What is dowry?  Dowry refers to anything from cash to gold and other material goods which the groom and his family may ask the girl and her family to pay to seal the marriage. The girl’s father is often forced to pay exorbitant sums far exceeding the assets owned, and it is not uncommon for the family to take on debt to meet these dowry demands.

While the act itself is condemnable, the social consequences of this are immense and tragic.  Because of this practice, girls tend to be viewed as a financial burden and get discriminated against from birth as the incentive to invest in the girl child, whether in terms of health or education, in minimal.  The corollary is an increased preference for the male child, who in addition to being someone who carries forward the family name and looks after parents in their old age, is also seen a means to collect dowry.  This bias coupled with a move towards smaller families has seen a shocking surge in female infanticide as parents use advancements in medical technology to abort female fetuses.

As a result, the male female ratio in India is highly skewed at  940 females for every 1000 males in 2011 (Thank you, SH, for the edit!).  In contrast, the ratio is 1030 in US and 1020 in Scandinavian countries of Norway and Sweden.    This malaise is particularly strong in states like Punjab and Haryana where the sex ratio has dropped below 900.

In an attempt to eradicate the practice of Dowry, the Dowry Prohibition Act was enacted in 1961.  While there have been several attempts at increasing the penalties and improving the policing, that is clearly not enough.  While public education about the ills of dowry is necessary, one also needs to go to the root of the problem and attempt to address it at the source.

The original rational behind dowry was economic rather than social.

The system arose as a means to bring about fair distribution of ancestral wealth amongst the children. In patriarchal societies, sons, who usually stayed with the family post-marriage, were given immoveable property such as land, houses etc. In contrast, daughters who typically moved away post-marriage, were given moveable property such as gold, cows, horses etc.  It was thus a voluntary mechanism to distribute family assets between the children and to ensure the financial security of the girl child.

As often happens, over time, the custom degenerated to the system that exists today where dowry is demanded by the boys’ family to seal the marriage.

Given this background, one way to address the root of the problem is to reduce the economic rationale behind dowry and thereby reduce the incentive and indeed the “need” to ask for dowry.  In addition, a focus on women empowerment that increases the ability of women to resist such ills and bring a change in society is likely to yield better results.

In this context, one can look at Goa, which anecdotally appears to a more egalitarian society than many parts of the country.   Statistics also appear to point in that direction – any additional research on this is welcome:

Parameter Year India Goa Kerala Highest Lowest
Literacy Rate (%) 2011 74% 87.4% 93.9% 93.9% (Kerala) 63.8% (Bihar)
Per Capita Income in Rs. 2011-12 60972 192652 83725 192652 (Goa) 24682 (Bihar)
Females per 1000 Males (Sex ratio) 2011 940 968 1084 1084 (Kerala) 877 (Haryana)
Crime against women  2008 23.9 8.1 23.7 40.5 (Tripura) 2.14 (Nagaland)

Sources: Other figures from Statistics on Women in India 2010  published by National Institute of Public Cooperation  & Child Development. Number of crimes against women per total population in lakhs as per National Crime Records Bureau.

As one would expect with greater income & literacy levels, the gender bias tends to reduce.  However,  Kerala, which scores well on these parameter and has the highest sex ratio in the country, seems to falter on the crime against women parameter.  The system of dowry is also known to be widely prevalent with negotiations on the amount of dowry being a key decision factor in finalizing  a marriage. In comparison, Goa scores well on these parameters and the dowry is not widely prevalent.

While a range of factors undoubtedly contribute to this state of affairs,  one of the contributing factors is the Goan Civil Code, some specific provisions of which are discussed below :

1. Uniform Civil Code 

Article 44 of the Indian Constitution says the “the State shall endeavour to secure for the citizens a Uniform Civil Code throughout the territory of India”.

Sadly, more than 60 years later, this important directive principle is yet to see the light of day. Even today, multiple civil codes exist and the law varies depending on the religious community to which the individual belongs.

Goa, however, has the unique distinction of already having a uniform civil Code governing all its citizens irrespective of which religion they belong to.  The Code, which has in fact been in force for more than a century, is a legacy of the 450-year-old Portuguese rule in the State.  It regulates matters relating to family, contracts, succession and property and is based on the principle of equality of race, gender, caste and creed.   The law has been adhered to and strictly followed by all communities in Goa, with a vast majority choosing to ignore those usages and customs of their communities that are in conflict with the Code.

2.  Laws of succession

The Goan Civil Code stipulates that at least 50% of the property has to be set aside for distribution among the legal heirs viz. the lineal descendants (son & daughter) and ascendants (father and mother). In other words, the law prohibits individuals from making a will and bequeathing more than 50% to somebody who is not a legal heir.

There are several points to note here:

  • The law does not distinguish on account of sex when it comes to descendants, and ascendants.  All heirs get an equal share irrespective of their gender.
  • Secondly, a legal heir is entitled to his/her proportionate share of atleast 50% of the property and in the event there is a breach, the state can intervene and restore the same to the heirs.
  • While a legal heir can renounce his/her rights, the law explicitly prohibits renunciation during the life time of their parents even by way of ante-nuptial contract.  In other words, even if a declaration is obtained from the daughters at the time of the marriage that they have been given money by their parents on account of their future and indisposable share, the same is illegal and cannot be enforced.

This provides the girl child with significant financial security as she is entitled to her share of her parents’ wealth by law even post her marriage. This also reduces the economic rationale behind dowry.  The boys side knows there is no need to “ask” for dowry because she has a rights to her family’s assets even post her marriage.

In contrast, no such protection is available under the Civil laws prevailing in the rest of India.  Women typically forgo their share of the family estate as families routinely will away a large majority of the estate to their male heirs.  In such situations, dowry becomes a mechanism to ensure that the girl gets a fair share of the family wealth.

3.  Laws regarding marriage.

The Goan Civil Code  has a unique concept of “Communion of Properties”. While the  law permits marriage under 4 regimes,  an overwhelming majority (more than 98%) of the population tends to get married under the “Communion of Properties” regime whereby whatever is brought by either of the spouses before the marriage and whatever is acquired or earned by either of them during the subsistence of the marriage, is common till the dissolution of marriage”.

In other words, each spouse, by mere fact of the marriage, gets rights to one half of all assets owned by the other whether ancestral or earned.

There are 2 more significant points to be highlighted here :

  • this “common” property cannot be sold or encumbered by one of the parties without the explicit consent of the other.
  • this right continues after the dissolution of the marriage, either by death or by divorce.  Thus, in the event of a divorce, the woman is legally eligible for 50% of the property/income and there is no question of her being dependent on the spouse’s discretion to get a fair maintenance.  Similarly, in the event of death of the husband, 50% of the estate is separated as a share of the wife and only the remaining 50% can be distributed among the heirs.

This is a significant step towards women empowerment as it provides financial security and protects her rights in a very fundamental manner.

In contrast, the concept of “communion” is totally unknown in Indian law.

As per prevailing Indian laws, the woman has precious little financial security post her marriage as she is not legally entitled to her husband’s earnings and his dependent on his benevolence to fund her needs.  The situation is particularly skewed against her especially if she is a homemaker without any independent source of income.

Moreover, in the event of divorce, the maintenance she gets depends on the benevolence of her husband. Infact, it is not uncommon the woman to struggle to get her fair share.  Often incomes are unreported and difficult to prove in a court of law.  Also in many business families, a bulk of the property/income accrues in the name of the joint family and proving the independent income of the husband is particularly difficult.

The financial rights of women are thus very poor and she is often exploited financially in the event of death or a divorce.

Recognising this issue, the Government has proposed the Marriage Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2010, which seeks to give a woman a share in her husband’s property in case of a divorce.

4.  Laws regarding registration

In Goa registration of marriage is compulsory by law.  In fact, over the years, registration has become an integral part of the marriage ceremony in Goa.

This is not the case in the rest of India where registration is optional and often not done.  As a result often women, especially in the event of a separation, struggle to provide the necessary proof and get their dues.

The late Prime Minister Nehru said, “Legislation cannot by itself normally solve deep-rooted problems.  One has to approach them in other ways too, but legislation is necessary and essential so that it may give that push and have that educative factor as well as the legal sanctions behind it which help public opinion to be given a certain shape”.

The Goan Civil Code, apart from being uniformly applicable to all its citizens, has progressive and egalitarian laws that empower  women in a very fundamental manner.  Over time, this has helped to shape the cultural and social arc of Goan society and undoubtedly made it a far more equitable society.

India will do well to take a leaf from Goa and move in the same direction.

 

Acknowledgments

  1. Shri. M.S. Usgaocar, Former Additional Solicitor General, India and Advocate Gurudutt Mallya for their valuable insights
  2. Margaret Mascarenhas (who has written the must-read novel “Skin”) article on this titled “Legal Legacy” which you can read here.

Being Dalit-American: Article

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Thenmozhi Soundararajan writes about growing up Dalit in the caste-conscious Indian-American community:

The Black Indians,” August 20, 2012.

“We were also Dalits living underground. Caste exists wherever Indians exist and it manifests itself in a myriad of ways. The Indian diaspora thrives on caste because it is the atom that animates the molecule of their existence. In the face of xenophobia and racism abroad, many become more fundamentalist in their traditions and caste is part of that reactionary package. So, what does caste look like in the US?”