I will–An Ode to Myself, by Michelle Ann James

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I will – an ode to myself

by Michelle Ann James

(Michelle reads her poem.)

“Mirror mirror on the wall, who is the happiest of them all?”
That would be me. Yes. Me.
Happy and in love with myself.
I will celebrate myself like a king would
After his victory.
Conquering patriarchy by its beard.
Then throw a lavish feast, to ravish me
And all those women and men before me
Who held themselves unworthy of debauchery.
I will live for that little girl who was assaulted
Even before she knew she had a vagina.
I will live for that little boy who was groped
Even before he understood what pleasure is.
I will live for that teenage girl
Who feared that discreet knock on her door.
I will live for that pubescent boy
With the story no one would believe.
I will live for that woman
Who slogged her body and heart at the gym
Hoping her man would love her a little more.
I will live for that man
Who sucked it all in and died inside
Because society claims men must not cry.
I will live for all those lives
that patriarchy took.
I will lionize every modicum of my existence
And never shy away from the looking glass.
I will treat myself to rich food
And laugh gallantly.
I will dance and sing to my own rhythm.
And set boundaries –none.
I will strive to be kind and generous.
Humble and wise.
I will glorify my whole being
Relentlessly defend my integrity and pride.
I will not wait for a moment
Or a person
Or a label
Or a phenomenon
To define me or celebrate me.
I will execute my freedom
Most recklessly.
I will live to the fullest and a little more.
I will seek who I am and find her
Bring her to life and let the forces guide her.
I will restore the pride of my clan
I will reclaim every spoil from history
Behold! I will strive to rewrite history
No glory. No shame.
No country. No name.
No pseudonyms. No pretense.
No labels or penance.
Just me. Baring everything.
Never surrendering to somebody’s idea of me.
Never ceasing to be I.
And in a while, you will hear the clatter of hoofs,
Race-less horses and soldiers, hardened from bloody wars.
You will witness a rebellion rising in the east.
Hear! The wind bearing my war cry.
I am the new woman, awakened, reborn.
Flawed and flawless.
Feared and fearless.
No kingdom will have any hold over me.
I am she.
I am me.
And I will be free.
I will.

நிச்சியம் சாதிக்க முடியும் (We can achieve anything!)

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This post is by N. Santha, Prajnya Administrator. Santha expresses her faith that women can overcome any challenges that life throws at them, and hopes that the voices of Indian women will resound across the eight directions of the globe.

பெண்ணின் பெருமை

‘பெண் இன்றிப் பெருமையும் இல்லை கண் இன்றி காட்சியும் இல்லை’

      பெண் என்றாலே பெருமைதான். பெண் என்றாலே திறமைதான். பெண் என்றாலே வெற்றிதான். பல பல சாதனை புரிவோர் பெண்கள்.

பாரதப் பெண்களே நம் தேசத்தின் ஜீவநாதம். அந்த இனிய நாதம் எட்டுத் திக்கும் கேட்க நாம் ஒற்றுமையுடன் பாடுபடவேண்டும்.

‘நாம் ஆண்களுக்கு எந்த வகையிலும் சளைத்தவர்கள் இல்லை’ என்பதனை நிரூபிக்கும் வகையில் மண் முதல் விண் வரை சமூகத்தின் எத்துறையை எடுத்துக் கொண்டாலும் பெண்கள் இல்லாத துறையே இல்லை. என்ற அளவிற்கு வளர்ச்சி கண்டுள்ளமையை நாம் இன்று காணக்கூடியதாக இருக்கின்றது.

பெண்கள் இன்றும் பல்வேறு கொடுமைகளுக்கு ஆளாகி வருகின்றனர்.    (கொலை, கொள்ளை, பாலியல் ரீதியான துன்பங்கள், அடிமை தனம்) ஆண் ஆதிக்கத்தின் கீழ் இருக்கும் பெண்களை வெளி கொண்டுவர வேண்டும். அவர்கள் தனக்கு நடக்கும்  கொடுமைகளை எதிர்த்து குரல் கொடுக்க வேண்டும்.

தனக்கு நடக்கும் கொடுமைகளிடம் இருந்து விடுபட சுயமரியாதையோடும், துணிவோடும், தன்நம்பிக்கையோடும், தைரியத்தோடும், நேர்மையுடனும் விழிப்புணர்வோடும்பெண்கள் போராடினால் வாழ்கையில்  முழுமையான வெற்றி பெற முடியும். சாதனை புரிந்த பெண்களாக மாற முடியும்.

Campaigning Like it’s 1969: Thoughts on the American Election Season

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A few months ago, I was at a bookstore and a conversation started between myself and another woman who was probably in her 60s.  Discussion turned to the already divisive political scene, especially with regard to women’s issues.  “I marched for the ERA [Equal Rights Amendment] and there were a lot of people who did not agree with me, but I have never felt as under-attack as a women as I do right now.”

Listening to politicians discuss rape, abortion, and equal pay in the months since that conversation has given me sad insight to what it must have been like for women over forty years ago.    An all too real joke has been going around this weekend with our time change: “Remember on Sunday to set your clocks back one hour.  On Tuesday, be careful you don’t set the country back 50 years.”

Locally, I have been doing my part for the past three months giving much of my free time campaigning for a female Democrat candidate for State Representative here in Michigan.  She is running on Campaign Reform- so no special interest or PAC money helping her out.  In other words, she is a long shot.  What saddens me even more than seeing a principled female fighting so hard for every vote is knowing her opponent has not been held accountable for his chauvinistic behavior.

In Michigan, where the Legislative branch and Governor are Republican, a lot of legislation has been fast tracked with little or no debate.  Back in June, the House was doing just that with a set of bills which would have made it virtually impossible for any abortion clinic in the state to stay open.   Democrats in the House spoke up and forced a debate on the issue.  At one point during discussion on the floor, Brown commented, “I’m flattered you’re all so concerned about my vagina, but no means no.”

Representative Lisa Brown and her colleague, Representative  Barb Byrum, were censured and told they would not be recognized on the House floor the next day for throwing “a temper tantrum”.

When asked about the incident on a radio show that week, Representative Wayne Schmidt said, on more than one occasion, “It’s like giving a kid a timeout for a day.”  That’s right, my Representative in the Michigan House referred to his two female colleagues as one would refer to children.

Of course, anyone following the U.S. elections even passively has surely heard one of any number of candidates’ rants about women and rape.  Todd Akin opened up this absurd and completely unscientific dialogue when he claimed abortion was not really an issue because victims of “legitimate rape” rarely became pregnant.  A week ago, Indiana candidate Richard Mourdock said he does not support abortion for victims of rape because the resulting pregnancies are “something God intended.”  Just this week, Washington Republican candidate John Koster was quoted as referring the the criminal act as “the rape thing”.  When asked whether he would support abortion for rape, incest, or danger to the mother’s life, he replied allowances should be made for a mother’s life, but “…on the rape thing, it’s like, how does putting more violence onto a woman’s body and taking the life of an innocent child that’s a consequence of this crime, how does that make it better?”

The truth is Akin, Mourdock, and Koster are not nearly as frightening to me as the other Republican candidates running for national office who believe in the same no exceptions rules for rape.  The three in the press sound absurd, these others are not even being scrutinized for their extreme views.

Yet, it really comes as no surprise considering the example being set at the national level.  Governor Romney chose Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate. Many Americans have either forgotten or never knew Paul Ryan supported a bill in the US House that would redefine rape as “forcible” or not.  In other words, if a woman wanted an abortion, she would have to prove the rape was forced.  An unconscious woman, for whatever reason, would not qualify as a rape victim under the proposed new rules.  The bill failed, but Ryan’s belief rape is only acceptable if the mother’s life is in danger lives on.

There is also a movement in some states here–Arizona and Colorado so far– to allow employers to deny women birth control coverage if said employer does not believe a woman should take The Pill.  Women would have to present their case for birth control to their employer, not their doctor, reversing forty years of medical practice. Politicians are putting themselves between women and their doctors in the most personal decisions a woman can make.  At the same time, many politicians are propose to trim budgets by de-funding Planned Parenthood, an organization which provides birth control, STD testing, and cancer screenings (among other medical care) for the poor and uninsured.  More and more women are feeling cornered when it comes to their health care in some of these areas.

But it is not just about reproductive rights. Much has also been made of Mitt Romney’s “binders of women”.  Romney’s response to a question during the second Presidential debate about whether he supports equal pay prompted his story about wanting to hire a woman for an open position and calling for his staff (presumably men) to bring him viable women candidates.  They brought him binders of qualified women and he selected one.

The reality is, women are the majority of breadwinners in America now.  If we are not paid fairly, this entire nation now suffers.  President Obama answered this question by pointing to the fact he signed into law the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act (a bill which allowed women to sue for discrepancy in wages when it was discovered, not in a limited time period as before) and his attempts to get the Fair Pay Act passed in Congress.  Governor Romney’s response to the question of equal pay was to say he hired a couple women while in office and he wants to create more jobs in America, some of which will go to women.  While the binders of women comment has become a punchline in many circles, the harsh reality of his answer has become lost.

I am in my early 30s and have been politically active (though on different sides of the aisle at times) since a fairly young age, but I find myself thinking more about my gender over the past couple years than I ever have before.  In my life, women have been able to march forward towards equality.  As I write this, we are hours away from our elections here in the U.S.  I hope my nation is with me and we continue to go forward.

“Tila Naveen Hero Bhetla”: Guest post by Shilpa Anand

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Sunitabai is taking the day off on 12th. She’s been served a notice to attend her 35 year old niece Vijeta’s final ‘sodh-chitthi’ hearing at the Bandra Family Court.

What’s odd in that ? Well for starters, divorces are not common in that strata of society. For another, bypassing family bonds, Sunitabai is a witness for her soon-to-be-ex-nephew-in-law, Bhavik.

Bhavik has a permanent job in the BMC. He owns a one room flat each in Khar and Nallasopara. Vijeta is living in the latter with their two children AND her new companion.

And therein lies the rub.

Vijeta walked out of her Khar home and moved to Nallasopara some years ago. She told her family she wasn’t happy in her marriage. Flags immediately went up. Worried parents ,aunts and uncles wondered if Bhavik whom they all knew to be such a “decent” guy was an ogre, a wife beater or worse, had found another ‘wife’ .

No, said Vijeta. I never wanted to marry him – he was suitable yes but there was no chemistry. I’ve met someone else whom I rather like– he’s a peon in a govt. hospital, he’s married, also has a child, but we are in love .

“Tila naveen hero bhetla,” (she found a new lover) says Sunitabai, still astonished that her niece would desert a good man and ‘breakup’ another family.

So now, Vijeta, her kids and NaveenHero are living in the Nallasopara pad that belongs to Bhavik .

Bhavik filed for divorce ,custody of his young daughters and possession of the Nallasopara flat. As directed by the court he has been paying maintenance for Vijeta and the kids – debited from his salary account. He found support from Vijeta’s maama and aatya (mum’s brother, dad’s sister) and their families. Vijeta’s parents, while unhappy with her decision, support their daughter .

I don’t know how divorce cases work and why the extended families have received court notices. Sunitabai recalls signing an affidavit that states Bhavik didn’t mistreat Vijeta . On the contrary, she says, he showered her with gifts and jewellery.

Sunitabai feels the judge wont grant him custody of the girls. The flat though, she says, must go back to him.

Where will Vijeta go, I ask? That’s immaterial says Sunitabai. Justice must be served.

Indian women are taking control of their lives. What’s remarkable is that the winds of change are blowing across all sections of society. This isn’t about the morality of Vijeta’s actions, it about her freedom to make a personal choice.

I desperately want to know what happens on the 12th. I desperately want to hear Vijeta’s side of the story.

UPDATE: The court adjourned the hearing till next month for reasons unknown.

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.

Mrinaltai remembered: Obituary by Dr. Vibhuti Patel

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Within a couple of days of Mrinaltai’s passing, Dr. Vibhuti Patel sent us this obituary to be shared on our blog. I am sorry to be the cause of this delay. Particularly sorry because if you grew up in Bombay in the 1970s, then chances are Mrinaltai’s face is the face of ‘women in politics’ for you. The image of her wielding a rolling pin, leading a morcha, is likely to have been one of the defining images of urban politics and citizen activism around urban governance–none of which was language used in those days.

I once met Mrinaltai at a talk and asked her what she thought were the two impediments to women entering politics, and she said, “Muscle power and money power.” I heard that formulation first from her, but have heard many, many use it since. She described the then common practices of list-manipulation and booth-capturing and also spoke about the ability to raise campaign money. The latter hasn’t changed much.

Unlike, Dr. Vibhuti Patel, I did not know Mrinal Gore personally, but this is a loss that fills me with sadness that is personal. With her rolling pin, Mrinaltai also took swipes at the glass ceiling that is still largely in place for women in public life. I hope that will change in our lifetime.

Mrinaltai Gore (1928-2012)

Obituary

by Dr. Vibhuti Patel

On 17th July 2012, Mrinal Gore passed away. With her demise, an era of women freedom fighters with feminist sensitivities in praxis is over.

Inspired by Quit India Movement under leadership of Mahatma Gandhi, 14 year old young girl Mrinal became active in the freedom movement. Drawn to political and social causes, she gave up a promising career in medicine in order to organise the poorest and most powerless.

She married her comrade, Shri Keshav Gore and when he died at a young age in 1958, she founded Keshav Gore Smarak Bhavan which provided democratic platform to progressive forces for debate and discussion, meetings and public gatherings, documentation and institutional base for Samajwadi Mahila Sabha, Bombay Nurses Association, Anganwadi Workers Union, Swadhar and innumerable issue-based action fronts involving liberals, socialists and left groups.   

In the sixties she worked as corporator and then as legislator. Her agitations were always related to basic issues — water, kerosene, inflation — and they were always fierce. But there was no violence ever, neither in her actions nor in her words. Even friends weren’t spared, if she was convinced they were wrong. She was revered and respected by the ministers and chief ministers of her time.

Making of a Legendary Political Persona

In the early seventies, she along with her coworkers formed Yuva Kranti Dal that fought against vested interests in rural, urban and tribal areas as well as caste based oppression, injustice and violence. She believed in transparency and social accountability in public life.

She brought the issue of safe drinking water in the political agenda of local self government body of Mumbai and earned a title of “Pani Wali Bai”. A political reformer by instinct, Mrinaltai helped to set up in September 1972 the Anti-Price Rise Committee, which mobilised the largest-ever turnout of women on the streets ever seen since the Independence movement. At the same time, Mrinaltai also worked within the Socialist Party and outside, to get the government to focus on drought in rural Maharashtra.

The year 1975 was an eventful one for Mrinal Gore. It saw Indira Gandhi’s government impose an internal Emergency and suspend the constitutional rights of the people. Mrinaltai went underground to guide the protests against the Emergency. She was arrested in December that year and placed initially under solitary confinement. Once the Emergency was withdrawn in 1977, she was elected on a Janata Party ticket to Parliament, winning by the highest margin of votes in the entire state of Maharashtra.

She supported renaming of Marathwada University to Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Marathada University. When I led a team to 48 riot torn villages in Marathwada in connection with renaming issue and our team prepared report on atrocities committed on Dalits, she suggested my name to several social organizations and journals so that our report got due publicity.

In 1979, when I was staying at Borivali, we had an acute problem of water and transport, we invited Mrinaltai and we started getting supply of water and later on bus service also. She was always sure of herself and her action. She made rapid appraisal of the ground reality, surveyed pros-n-cons of the scenario, collected documentary evidences and acted after doing lot of homework.  Her demand of community based day care centers for working women’s children was preceded by survey of working women who reported that it was extremely difficult to carry infants in overcrowded suburban trains.

Champion of Women’s Rights

Since 1977, every year women’s rights activists of all hue choose a common theme for commemoration of March 8. Mrinaltai was always there. Now we will miss her the most on International women’s day. Whether it was  in 1980-Anti rape struggles, in 1981-movement against domestic violence, in 1982-solidarity and starting of community kitchens for Textile workers who were on strike, in 1983-Ant dowry movement, in 1984-Dharmandhata Virodhi Mahila Kruti Samiti (women’s Front against Communalism), in  1985-Campaign for Housing rights (Nagari Nivara Sangharsh Samiti), in 1986-fight against draconian population policy, in 1987-campaign against Sati, in 1988 introduction of bill for Regulation of  Pre Natal Diagnostic Test Act; Mrinaltai took active interest in the discussion and participated in action along with her colleagues. At times, she invited us to discuss the technical details of new issues such as amniocentesis, legal reforms, and harmful contraceptives so that she could effectively argue the points in the legislative assembly.

The 1980s found her working with the emerging feminist groups and participating actively in protests against rape and dowry, caste atrocities, sex selection and communalism. A natural organiser, Mrinaltai employed a large spectrum of protest action to get the issue across – from street marches to sit-in and fasts. Not only did she set up a support centre for women survivors of domestic violence, she founded a workers’ association – the Shramjeevi Mahila Sangh – expressly for women employees and played pivotal role in getting 65 acres of land for building housing complex for evacuated pavement dwellers during 1980s.

Till late 1980s, she used to commute by local train in women’s compartment. If trains were crowded, she would stand quietly in train without making fuss. Once, I saw her boarding the train in which I was sitting with my 5 year daughter in my lap. Out of respect for Mrinaltai, I got up. My daughter, Lara asked me, “Why are you getting up? I told her, “We must give seat to Mrinaltai.”  Lara said, “Is she your sister?” I told her, “Mrinaltai is every woman’s elder sister.” All women in the compartment started smiling.

The first ever bill in the country on sex-selective abortions of female fetuses was moved by Mrinaltai as MLA in a Nagpur session of the Maharashtra Assembly in 1987.

I received Citation and Memento from Mrianltai in a huge function of social activists on 2nd April, 2010. For me, it is most valuable award in my life.

Secular Humanism

While talking about secular humanism of Mrinaltai, Ramlath, a feminist activist states, “I had met Mrinal Gore few years ago in her house for a photo shoot.  Since she always had a few activists by her side, I asked would it be possible not to have anyone in the room while doing the photo shoot.  She laughed and took me to a room upstairs and asked me to close the door. I must have spent some 45 minutes with her….She became a lot more relaxed …. started talking about less serious stuff…. asked me about photography/lighting, wanted to know about the light- meter I was using and of course, some personal questions…during our conversation I mentioned about the problems women like me face while finding a house in Bombay because of my Muslim identity, she said she had no idea brokers in Bombay had started asking for passports /pan cards and other documents in order to establish one’s religious identity.  She immediately called someone and asked whether he could help me find an apartment to rent….one could see pain in her eyes when she talked about the greed and hatred in this city…”

The huge Nagari Niwara Parishad Project in Goregaon East is a living memorial for Gore and her work. She persuaded the state government to offer land it had acquired under the Urban Land Ceiling Act to the really poor and needy. Local politicians who feared that Gore will get a readymade vote bank delayed the project. Yet, when the homes were ready after two decades, they were still the most affordable. They were not big flats, but self-contained spacious units built neatly atop Dindoshi Hills. While the younger generation may not remember this, their parents will remain grateful that they could finally own a home in Mumbai, thanks only to Gore.

Reverence of Feminists for Mrinaltai

Veteran feminist Ammu Abraham (of Women’s Centre-Mumbai) who, like Mrinaltai, gave up a promising career in medicine to plunge full time into organising the poor and the marginalized in the 1970s, has this to say about Mrinaltai, “I remember her with affection. As one of the activists in Mumbai who met her at various meetings at the office near Mantralay, I interacted with her quite a lot, on March 8th leaflets, Maharashtra State Women’s Commission and other campaigns. While there was a lot of common ground between us, we did not always agree entirely on issues, but she was never one to take that personally. One of the most generous spirits associated with the women’s movement in Mumbai and Maharashtra has passed away. Hard to say goodbye.”

I had known Mrinaltai from my college days in the early 1970s and she inspired us, social activists of Vadodara to start Anti Price Rise Women’s Committee I 1974 when I was an undergraduate student. When I relocated to Mumbai in 1977 and was active in the united front of women’s organisations, I had to visit Mrinaltai’s residence-cum office regularly for preparation, translation, cyclostyling, posting of circulars, resolutions and leaflets. She always welcomed me with warm smile. While working, if I told her that I wanted to go out for short time; she would immediately retort, “I know, you are hungry.” And she would announce, “Make poha, Vibhuti is starved.” And I would get poha and sometimes Jelebi also. I was so touched by her hospitality, sensitivity, generosity of heart, open door policy and decent sense of humour.

Mrinaltai always respected collective wisdom of women’s movement. She invited young feminists to discuss contemporary issues and introduced best practices of new groups in her organization. To provide institutional support to women in distress, she started Swadhar in mid 1980s at Keshav Gore Smarak Pratisthan formed by her after her husband who was a socialist leader and died at a young age. Here she provided child care centre, library for poor students, counseling centre and meeting place for all progressive forces. She was the first one to launch struggle against sexual harassment of nurses in hospitals and formed trade union of nurses under leadership of Kamaltai Desai.  

Prof. Lakshmi Lingam, Deputy Director, TISS and member of Consultative Committee of Sophia Centre for women’s Studies and Development avers, “Mrinaltai is a truly powerful inspiring woman. She came across as a person with determination in thought and tenderness in the heart. She spoke in feminist meetings whether it is the sex determination tests, violence against women, 73rd & 74th amendments, women’s policies of the Government or the support for working women, with so much of clarity and sense of humor. She truly represented to many of us a person who had the ability to straddle the old and the new and reach across generations with since of sisterhood and modesty. I did not have any personal rapport with her, but met her in various meetings and shared a hand shake or a glance of acknowledgement. These are impressions that will stay with us for a life time and also provide a beacon as to how we conduct ourselves with fellow sister travelers in the movement. Long live Mrinaltai and her like!”

Legendary Leader with Mass Appeal

In 1988, her sixtieth birth anniversary programme attracted thousands of social activists, trade union workers, women activists with their children. By then, her health had deteriorated due to cancer and all of us who supported her work had made contribution to purchase a car for Mrinaltai.

In 2002, we invited her to inaugurate Workshop on Sexual Harassment at workplace and Round Table on Women Empowerment Policy, 2001. In 2003, Mrinaltai invited me at Swadhar to conduct a session on Gender Audit of Budgets. In 2007, when she came for Mahila Milan programme at at TISS, Mrinaltai had become really weak. But she was as spirited as ever. She attended rally of women’s organizations in solidarity with the victims of rape and massacre of Dalit girl, Priyanka Bhootmange and her family members in Kharalanji.

Mrinaltai was a principled politician, honest to the core and great organizer. She stuck out her neck in the midst of adverse circumstances because courage of conviction. Her name was synonymous with any fight for justice and social accountability in public life. She provided her visionary leadership in the area of political struggles, civic amenities, dalit rights, women’s rights, housing issues, Narmada Bachao and innumerable social movements of the marginalized and voiceless sections of society. She was a politician with genuine concern for masses. Her towering personality became more affable due to her humility and love for humanity.

Mrinaltai visited SCWSD and was a Chief Guest of the workshop on Sexual Harassment at Workplace organized by SCWSD in 2002.

Mrinaltai always encouraged women to be self dependent. For her, the concerns of Dalits, women, workers, farmers, and tribals were indivisible and demanded a holistic approach. Her politics, consequently, was always inclusive rather than divisive. This was why she could win the affections of diverse sections of people and come to be universally called “Mrinal-tai”, or elder sister. As veteran feminist and recipient of coveted award “Daughter of Maharashtra” at the hands of Mrinaltai, Manisha Gupte states, “She lives on, especially through her tireless commitment to the people residing in the slums of Mumbai city, and her empathy with women struggling to survive through sky-rocketing prices of household commodities.”

Mrinaltai will remain a constant source of inspiration and role model for many generations of social activists.

Obituary: Leela Dube, pathbreaking anthropologist (1923-2012)

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OBITUARY: Prof. Leela Dube (1923-2012)

by Vibhuti Patel
Professor and Head, Department of Economics, SNDT Women’s University, Mumbai-20. 

In passing away of Prof. Leela Dube on 16th May, 2012, we have lost a stalwart who enriched a discipline of anthropology by bringing insights of women’s studies and enriched women’s studies as a discipline by brining sharpness and technical expertise of an anthropologist.

Dr. Leela Dube’s academic career began in 1960 at Sagar University and she moved to Delhi in 1975. She played a crucial role in shaping Towards Equality Report: Committee on Status of Women in India (1974), GoI discussion of which in the Parliament of India brought women’s studies centre stage in the Indian academia via UGC and ICSSR. Dr. Leela Dube successfully executed innumerable research projects for both these apex institutions for higher education.   She was a mover and shaker in Indian Sociological Society in the nineteen seventies and was responsible for introducing women’s studies concerns in the mainstream sociology. She played crucial role in World Sociological Congress in 1984 in which women activists and women’s studies scholars played dominant role thro’ Research Committee (RC 32). Leeladee chaired a panel on “Declining Sex Ratio in India”, in which Dr. Ilina Sen gave a historical overview of deficit of women in India throughout history of Census of India, Prof. Veena Mazumdar passionately spoke on the finding of towards Equality Report and I spoke on “Sex Selective Abortions-An Abuse of Scientific Techniques of Amniocentesis”. Leeladee summed up the session with her insightful comments on tradition of son preference in India. Her greatness lay in synthesising complex concerns and providing an analytical framework in a lucid and convincing way. In a debate on sex selective abortions carried out in EPW during 1982-1986, her contribution was immense and her predictions about direct relationship of deficit of women and increased and intensified violence against women has proved to be true in the subsequent years.

Due to team efforts of women’s studies scholars (that included Prof. Leela Dube), RC 32 got institutionalised in World Sociological Congress. She invited many activists (that included me too) for an 12th International Congress of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences, Zagreb, 24-31 July 1988 to present paper on “Codification of Customary Laws into Family Laws in Asia”. In the Congress, Leedadee’s speech on feminist anthropologist Eleanor Leacock provided new insights into departure of the feminist anthropologists from its colonial legacy of “Big brother watching you”. Power relations between the North and The South in construction of knowledge and hegemonic presence of ETIC approach in academics were questioned by Leacock as well as Leeladee who propagated “dialogical approach” in anthropological and ethnographic research.

I respected her from distance. I was too awe-struck to go close to her but always appreciated her sharp, witty comments during academic sessions and tea and lunch breaks at innumerable seminars, workshops and Indian Association of Women’s Studies conferences held every two years. She was appreciative our campaign against sex selection. During 1981 and 1991, I got to listen to her speeches, deliberations and arguments as I used to be one of the rapporteurs in most of the programmes in women’s studies held in Mumbai and Delhi. Each time I heard her, I got more motivated to read her papers and later on her books. Her work on Lakshadweep island’s matrilineal Muslim tribe was eye-opening, so was her deconstruction of polyandry in Himalayan tribes in the context of women’s workload of collection of fuel, fodder, water, looking after livestock and kitchen gardening in mountainous terrain resulting into high maternal mortality and adverse sex ratio. She showed interconnections between factors responsible for social construction of women’s sexuality, fertility and labour rooted in the political economy.

A co-edited volume Visibility and Power: Essays on Women in Society and Development by Leela Dube, Eleanor Leacock and Shirley Ardener and Published by Oxford University Press (1986) provides international perspective on the anthropology of women in the context of socio-political setting of India, Iran, Malaysia, Brazil, and Yugoslavia

Her meticulously researched piece “On the Construction of Gender: Hindu Girls in Patrilineal India” Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 23, No. 18 (Apr. 30, 1988)   has been used by women’s groups for study circles and training programmes.

Volume in the series on Women and Households, Structures and Strategies: Women, Work, and Family (1990) Co-edited by Leela Dube and Rajni Palriwala has been extremely useful in teaching women’s studies in Economics, Sociology, Geography, Social Work and Governance courses.

Women and Kinship: Comparative Perspectives on Gender in South and South-East Asia by Leela Dube, Brookings Institution Press in 1997 argues that kinship systems provide an important context in which gender relations are located in personal and public arena.

Her highly celebrated book Anthropological Explorations in Gender: Intersecting Fields (2001)  by Sage Publications is a landmark contribution in feminist anthropology in India. It examines gender, Kinship and Culture by sourcing a variety of distinct and unconventional materials such as folk-tales, folk songs, proverbs, legends, myths to construct ethnographic profile of feminist thoughts. She provides a nuanced understanding on socialization of girl child in a patriarchal family, “seed and soil” theory propagated by Hindu Scriptures and Epics symbolizing domination-subordination power relationship between men and women,

Her last publication was in Marathi; Manavashastratil Lingbhavachi Shodhamohim was published in 2009.

After Prof. Iravati Karve, Prof. Leela Dube was the only scholar who made a path-breaking contribution in anthropology with gender sensitivity. Leeladee made a mammoth contribution in bringing academic credibility for women’s studies thro’ her scholarly endeavour.

In 2007, Leela Dube was conferred on the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Indian Sociological Society, and in 2005 she was given prestigious UGC National Swami Pranavananda Saraswati Award. She remained intellectually charged and busy with scholarly pursuit till the end.

Corrigendum: Mukul Dube informs us that Leela Dube passed away on May  20th, not 16th. “Leela Dube died on the 20th of May, 2012, not the 16th. I was with her at the time.” We apologise for the error.