A Special Advertising Industry First: Guest Post by Ramesh Narayan


(Ramesh Narayan is the founder of Canco Advertising. His LinkedIn bio describes him as “Writer, photographer, advertising professional,friend.”)

The Abby awards, presented annually at the GoaFest are considered the Oscars of the Indian advertising industry.

And about 4500 entries view for this coveted recognition. The GoaFest jointly organized by The Advertising Club and the Advertising Agencies Association of India is the largest event in the industry’s calendar with about 2400 delegates attending this three day event that has knowledge seminars through the day and three huge awards nights that salute creative excellence in advertising.

This year the Awards Governing Council of the Abby’s decided to have a new category. One that would reflect a genuinely felt societal need, and also send out a very clear signal to the fraternity. And so they introduced the Special Abby for Gender Sensitive Advertising.

The thrust towards this area has not been entirely new in an industry which employs a rather large number of women professionals at all levels.

In fact the industry bodies have been closely working with Laadli an NGO that supports the girl child and the UNFPA in India over the last three years. Jointly they have held a seminar on Gender Violence where the accent was to explain the subtle nuances of gender bias to content creators in advertising and broadcasting. This was followed up by a national survey conducted in three cities on gender sensitivity in advertising. Several NGO’s in this field have been recommending that an Abby for gender sensitive advertising would be a very positive step forward and this year it became a reality.

The senior jury for the category was headed by veteran creative guru K.V.Sridhar (Pops) and a special deviation from a strictly adhered- to norm was made to include a representative each from Laadli and UNFPA.

Needless to add the new category has been enthusiastically greeted by the industry and the media.

So who were the winners?

The Gold

Anouk, Bold Is Beautiful: The Calling
by Hectic Content, Mumbai

The Silver

Truly Madly, #BoyBrowsing
by Contract Advertising

The Bronze

Truly Madly, Creep Qawwali
by AIB Vigyapanti

Lenskart, Eye for an Eye
by DDB Mudra Group, Mumbai


The Jury (4 our of 9 were women)

  • Rakhshin Patel,  pi communications
  • Dr. A. L. Sharada,    Population First
  • Gokul Krishnamoorthy,  Campaign India, Haymarket Media
  • Ashish Khazanchi,   Enormous
  • Mayuresh Dubhashi,  Taproot
  • Sagar Mahabaleshwarkar, Cheil
  • Anuja Gulati,  United Nations Population Fund Agency
  • Tista Sen,  JWT
  • Mahendra Bhagat,  Independent
  • V. Sridhar, SapientNitro (Jury Chair)


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


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.

Being Dalit-American: Article


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?”

Does gender add to insecurities?


Appeared in the Comment section of TOI-Crest earlier this week

Hell hath no fury
Moniben Gupta
May 19, 2012

Mamata Banerjee and J Jayalalithaa – two tempestuous and enigmatic women chief ministers currently dominating Indian politics – share two significant markers: gender and power. Feeding into and strengthening each other, both these elements have contributed to constructing their cult personalities in bewildering and striking ways. A year ago, the two leaders swept to power in their respective states of West Bengal and Tamil Nadu, defeating powerful political adversaries. Mamata even achieved what had at the time appeared to be an unattainable feat: she defeated the potent 34-year-old Left Front government with a sweeping majority.

While the Trinamool Congress leader finally made the transition from being a volatile, feisty street-fighter to Kolkata’s Writer’s Building, the scenario for her Tamil Nadu counterpart was somewhat different. The AIADMK supremo was anointed chief minister for the third time in her long and fractious political career. But unlike Mamata, Jayalalithaa was no stranger to state power and the advantages of leveraging its controls.

With both the leaders now marking the first anniversaries of their recent ascendancy to power, it is a good time to take another look at their personality cults. At the heart of the debate around Mamata and Jayalalithaa are several important and unresolved questions hinging on gender, and the complex power relations inhabiting the domain of politics. Are women politicians expected to be less competitive and aggressive, and more nurturing and compassionate than men? Or is it just a question of power corrupting those who wield it? To properly understand leaders like the women in question here, we need to locate them in a framework moving beyond gender, and then decode the inherent logic of power and how women negotiate it: especially when they alone are in supreme control of their parties and governments.

The narratives of Mamata’s and Jayalalithaa’s political lives are far from similar. Despite the varying trajectories however, both have shared comparable experiences, stemming from the overwhelmingly male political worlds they have inhabited. Both have encountered a fair bit of humiliation – political, as well as personal and physical. But that’s also where their differences begin. Tamil Nadu’s actress-turned politician shared an intense relationship with another icon, M G Ramachandran. Besides being the better half of a popular onscreen pairing, Jayalalithaa was later MGR’s political protêgê. The unconventional alliance brought her heaps of abuse and slander from political detractors, patently shaping in that process her dictatorial style of transacting politics as a way of reinforcing her position of authority – when she finally got it.

Mamata, however, has maintained a scrupulously chaste image: a woman politician who, seemingly, hasn’t ever been involved in a romantic relationship;and even more significantly, hasn’t had a male patron hovering in the background to promote her political career. But this hasn’t spared her the cut of male chauvinism. For most of her political life, Mamata has had to put up with intemperate, sexist comments and ridicule from her opponents.

Instances of patriarchal politics impinging on both women are fairly numerous. Like the shocking outrage witnessed on the floor of the Tamil Nadu assembly on March 25, 1989: when M Karunanidhi, then chief minister, rose to present the budget, and opposition leader Jayalalithaa, raised a privilege issue. What subsequently unraveled on the assembly floor was testimony to the state’s crude and sexist political culture. It is recounted by many that DMK MLAs attacked Jayalalithaa with paperweights. One pulled her sari, another her hair. But such behaviour is not unique to Tamil Nadu. One could argue that all strong, independent political women have to face the brunt of it in one form or another in India. Before coming to power, Mamata too, encountered CPM sponsored violent physical assaults. Most prominent among them was the vicious attack at Kolkata’s Hazra junction in July 1990, which left the Trinamool leader hanging on to her life by a thread.

Getting the better of a political system run mostly by men groomed in the school of patriarchy is perhaps the strongest testimony to the fortitude of both these women. In the process of coming to power in such a polity, however, both women appear to have internalised some of the worst attributes of a masculine political culture. These women have clearly found it difficult to inhabit a male political world. Their constant struggle has even, evidently, contributed to their penchant for political vendetta and megalomania. Mamata and Jayalalithaa have fiercely attacked their opponents and cultivated strong personality cults conveying that they are the final word on matters political. Mamata’s outrage over a cartoon and her imprisonment of opponents, and Jayalalithaa’s infamous midnight raid on DMK leaders are examples of their intolerance.

Yet, gender is not the only prism through which we can explain such tendencies. Women are not intrinsically more compassionate because they are women. Power, especially when unchallenged, evokes similar responses from women and men alike. It nurtures megalomania, greed, authoritarianism, and corruption. Mamata and Jayalalithaa are two exemplary products of such a complex system. Gender adds to their insecurities; it is not a cause of it.


A slice of history: Interview with Ammu Joseph on women and media


Ammu Joseph was recently interviewed for the University of Hyderabad FM radio station. She spoke on women and journalism and the space for serious writing on gender issues. Listen for a wonderful eyewitness account of the history of the women’s movement and changes in Indian media.


March 24, 2012, Hyderabad, Usha Raman interviews Ammu Joseph.

PS: Ammu Joseph has been a Friend of Prajnya from the beginning and has recently joined our Advisory Panel.

Seven myths to dump on this International Women’s Day


(These notes were prepared for the Deccan Chronicle, which is supposed to be using a subset for a Women’s Day feature. The link will be added when located.)

1. Women are the weaker sex.
The very framework of this statement is wrong. Neither women nor men can be characterized as weaker or stronger. This is true even in terms of physical strength, where women have greater physical endurance. In general, all we can say is that individual women and men have their particular strengths and weaknesses and both can be worked on.

2. Women invite violence by their behaviour.

Women’s clothes, their work and even their cooking is offered as justification for their experience violence–at home, at work   and in public spaces. But it’s a myth that women invite violence through their choices because the experience of violence is pervasive and transcends age, lifestyle and every other variable.

3. Gender roles reflect nature.
All women are not innately nurturing and interested in housework. And men are not necessarily assertive, logical and interested in mechanics and sports. We create these cartoonish stereotypes and then brainwash girls and boys into becoming like them, sometimes creating trauma for them.

4. Feminism is against men and women’s rights are somehow opposed to human rights. 

Feminists are not against men. They are simply against social ideologies and structures that discriminate against women. Feminism recognizes women as human beings and women’s rights as also being human rights.Therefore, the question of being opposed to human rights does not arise. Feminism actually benefits men who are also trapped and limited by the social pressures that gender roles and responsibilities place on them. Feminists seek to build a world free of violence where everyone can fulfill their potential as humans.

5. Traditional culture protects women. 
In patriarchal societies, both tradition and modernity treat women as objects, and women experience discrimination and violence in both traditional and modern settings. Tradition condemns women to early marriage, “adjustment to domestic violence,” mutilation and honour killings, for instance. Modernity offers the options of female foeticide, cyber violence, the effects of the spread of dowry and workplace violence. The interface between tradition and modernity also creates openings for harassment of working women on their commute.The root problem is patriarchy which sanctions masculine violence.

6. Women are women’s worst enemies.
Women and men both act out the roles that society teaches them they have to play. Individual men and women are the agents but the root cause of the many oppressions that women face is an ideology that treats them as less than human. Society is women’s worst enemy, if indeed blame must be apportioned.

7. If women are educated and self-supporting, none of these problems will exist.
Educated women live with domestic violence. Affluent women are subject to forced marriage and forced to abort female foetuses. Dowry knows no educational limits. The reality is that education and economic status are no counter to the entrenched injustices of patriarchal society.

Women’s History Roundtable: Feb 11, 2012, Dr. Chithra Madhavan


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Prajnya Women’s History Roundtable Series

Women in Ancient and Medieval South India

Dr Chitra Madhavan
11th February, 2012

Rapporteur: Archana Venkatesh

The Roundtable by Dr Madhavan on the status of women in Ancient and Medieval South India was based on archeological and literary sources, mainly inscriptions. She began with the Sangam Age (3rd Century BC- 3rd century AD), pointing out that almost all the sources of information about this era were literary. Sangam literature dealt with a variety of subjects; including war, love, governance and trade. Amongst the plethora of Sangam literature, there are a number of references to women, from which one can infer their status in Sangam society. Dr Madhavan provided us with a couple of examples: Tiruvalluvar is quoted as having said that it is natural and proper when a man guides a woman, and “shameful” when a woman guides a man. Another (unnamed) source notes that “the wisdom of women is nothing but folly”. On the other hand, there are sources in which mothers express pride in having raised a brave son on the eve of sending him off to war. Thus, the evidence is mixed. However, even sources which speak of strong women (such as the mother referred to above) do not seem to move behind the woman’s role as a wife and mother.

A distinctive feature of the Sangam age was Sati. Sati stones, erected in honour of those women committed sati, can be found in large numbers all over the countryside. Unlike the “hero stone” (in commemoration of those who die in battle), which has the full figure of a man on it; only the arm of a woman is engraved on a sati stone.

A serendipitous discovery made post-tsunami was the remains of a Sangam age temple near Mahabalipuram. Dated circa the 2nd century A.D., a significant find at this site was a stone tablet which featured five dancers performing “Kuruvaikoothu”. With their arms around each other, and their mouths open to symbolize singing, the panel sheds light on how this dance was performed, the kind of clothes and ornaments the dancers wore, and the foot movements involved in the dance. This is the only archeological find that depicts Kuruvaikoothu; our only other source of information about this dance form comes from the literature.

While many queens are mentioned in the literature of the Sangam age, all indications lead us to conclude that the queens had very little actual power.

Dr Madhavan moved on to discuss the Pallavas. The Pallavas had many eminent queens, but very few sources tell us what they looked like. A little known temple in Mahabalipuram – the Adi Varaha Cave temple – contains a very rare sculpture; a portrait of King Mahendravarman Pallava and his two wives. A similar portrait sculpture of his father and his two wives can be found on another wall. This is probably the only place in which such a portrait exists. While the Kings’ names are inscribed on the temple wall, the queens remain unnamed.

A major archeological source about Ancient and Medieval south India is the abundance of inscriptions found in temples. This is especially relevant while discussing the status of women during this era, since many such inscriptions credit queens with having been instrumental in the construction of the temples.
An early example of this is the Kancheepuram Kailasa temple. It was built by Pallava King Rajasimhan in the 8th century A.D. Inscriptions in the temple prove that Queen Rangapataka (so named because of her extraordinary flair for dancing) was active in ordering the construction of the temple and it’s architecture. The Kailasanath temple was a Royal temple.

A similar inscription is found in the Muktiswara temple. It is said to have been build by Queen Dharmamadevi, wife of Pallava King Nandiwarman II. The temple was originally called Dharmamahadevi Isvaram temple, after the Queen who sponsored it. This temple contains an inscription (the first of its kind in South India), detailing the names of fourteen ladies dedicated to the temple as dancers. These Devadasis dedicated themselves to the service of God, including singing and dancing during the temple festivals.

Dr Madhavan then moved on to the Chalukyas, who ruled from Badami from the middle of the 6th century. In the Pallava-Chalukya war (during the 670s A.D.), Chalukya King Vikramaditya occupied Kanchipuram for a brief period. On seeing the Kaliasanatha temple, he was awed by its splendor. At the insistence of his queens, Lokadevi and Trilokadevi (inscriptions make it clear that he brought them along on the expedition), he left the temple undisturbed but took the architect back to Badami. His queens then commissioned the architect to build two temples, which were similar to the Kanchi Kailasa temple.

Vikramaditya VI, who belonged to a later branch of Chalukyas, came to power in the 11th century A.D. A 11th century inscription reveals that his queens issued royal records and were involved in administration of the kingdom.

The longest-ruling dynasty in South India was the Chola dynasty. At its peak, the Chola empire comprised almost the whole of South India and the Cholas had conquered parts of Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Indonesia.

Many Chola inscriptions feature their queens. Queen Vanamahadevi, mother of Rajaraja Chola, is described in one such inscription as having committed Sati.

The Brihadiswara Temple of Thanjavur, one of the “Great Living Chola Temples”, has approximately 60 inscriptions of Rajaraja Chola I engraved on it. Built by Rajaraja Chola, it throws a unique light on his relationship with his sister, Kundavai. Around the main sanctum of the temple, only two names are inscribed- Rajaraja himself, and Kundavai. This seems to indicate that she had a great deal of influence over him.

One of the ways in which women of the royal family used their wealth was to donate it to temples or commission temples to be built. Such donations to the Brihadiswara temple were not limited to gold alone. 420 dancers were “imported” from various temples all over the Kingdom. This is reflected in a unique inscription found on one of the temple walls. It provides, in great detail, the names of all 420 dancers. It includes the terms of their employment, their pay, where they came from, where they lived, and each devadasi’s house numbers – all in a wealth of detail. The inscription further states that in case a Devadasi is unable to perform her duties anymore (in case of death or retirement), her closest relative who could take her place was employed.

Dr Madhavan also provided a fascinating insight on how the Devadasis were named: feminized versions of the ruler’s name; or the queen’s name; or their hometown. Devadasis were a highly respected class of women. They enjoyed the confidence of the King, and were treated with reverence. In fact, Rajendra Chola took an exceptional dancer around the city in his Royal chariot, much like he would parade around his capital with a victorious general.

A significant point that came up was the treatment of women in a conquered kingdom. Sources indicate that when Rajendra Chola defeated the Chalukyas in war, his armies didn’t spare the Chalukya women. They were treated harshly; as Dr Madhavan pointed out, they were “distressed”.

The Hoysala empire was contemporary to the Cholas. The Hoysalas rule from the 10th century to the 14th century. Their capital was Belur (later Halebid). King Vishnuvardhana (12th century) was the first Hoysala emperor who took steps to consolidate the Kingdom. His Queen, Shantala Devi was a noted dancer. Inscriptions indicate that she sponsored the construction of the famous Chennakesava temple at Belur.

An interesting point to note here is that both Vishnuvardhana and Shantala Devi were Jains. When Viashnavite saint Ramanuja was hounded out of Tamil Nadu, he sought refuge in the Hoysala kingdom. It is said that Vishnivarshana’s daughter was possessed by an evil spirit, and Ramanuja was instrumental in exorcising it. Whether this fable is true or not, it is clear that Vishnuvarshana converted to Vaishnavism and built numerous Vishnu temples. However, Shantala Devi remained a Jain, setting a precedent for religious tolerance. Shantala Devi is hailed even today as a noted queen; and Shantala remains a popular name in Karnataka.

No discussion about South Indian history is complete without mentioning the Vijaynagar Empire (established 1336). Dr Madhavan showed us a photo of a fascinating device: copperplate inscriptions, bound together in a loose file. These inscriptions have yielded a wealth of information. It tells us that Gangadevi, queen of Kumara Kampana, accompanied her husband in his campaign against the Muslim ruler in Madurai. She later went on to write an eight chapter poem about his victory; titled “Madhura Vijayam”.

A common feature in the Vijayanagar empire was the donation of money to scholars. Many such lists have been found. In one of these lists, the names of women have been mentioned as recipients of this money. It is unclear whether these women were actually scholars themselves, or receiving money on behalf of their husbands or sons.

A unique document dated 1358 was revealed to be the will of a woman: the only will of a woman found in the archeological data. A noted scholar was gifted a village by the King. When he died, the ownership of the village passed on to his mother. To avoid the infighting among the clan as to who would get the village after she died, the mother wrote a detailed will, leaving the village to the temple at Srirangam. This fascinating document is the only will of a woman in India (in medieval times).

Dr Madhavan’s talk opened our eyes to the wealth of information in temple inscriptions; and how fascinating stories which tell us of exceptional women are interwoven within other inscriptions. One such story was that of a devadasi (Velliamma), who was befriended by a Muslim conqueror of Srirangam temple. Velliama got the tyrant drunk, and pushed him off a roof (of course she jumped off herself as well, in remorse). She was hailed as a deliverer by the people.

While is was clear that by and large, women did not have a very high status in ancient and medieval south India, archeological sources open our eyes to the few exceptional women who were active in administration, construction of temples, or pushing tyrannical rulers off the roof!