Love song of Sati

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by Bharati Ramachandran

My little finger lies where the holy waters meet
The earth will be born when our fingertips touch
My tongue is aflame in hilly Jwalamukhi
Taste my sweetness mingled with the mist

You will find my broken heart in the darkness of Gujarat
Light yourself a light, and glue it together
My bleeding eyes see the true colour of hate
Take my sight and examine your own demons

My navel tantalises pilgrims in Utkal
Admit that you want me, first to yourself
My desire’s buried north-east in Kamakhya
Kiss me and bring me back to life

Daksha’s daughter lies strewn across the land
Here a toe, there a wrist, here a leg, there a hand
A throat, a temple, a thigh and a breast
If you can find it to love me, put me together first

My land’s torn apart, its people sundered
Lightning strikes, and the skies thunder
Armies rush at night to attack the enemy mind
By daylight they find they’ve killed their own kind

I’ve lost my power to change destiny
I am scattered, rent and stamped upon
Stop your dance of death, put out the flames
That I invoked but cannot quench

Go to Dantewada and dig out the root cause
My teeth have been buried there for kalpas
Piece me together, and love me like I loved you
Perhaps then, we can give birth to a people new

Bharati Ramachandran helps non-profits tell powerful stories, change attitudes, behaviour and policy, and raise funds. She is a consultant with Prajnya. 

A Women’s Day Toast to Samantha Jones

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By Chintan Girish Modi

Sex And The City is a wildly popular American television show. It ran on HBO from 1998 until 2004 but I got hooked to it only two years ago while watching midnight re-runs on AXN that beep out cuss words and slice off lovemaking scenes. Indian audiences are assumed to be not ready for this, though they clearly have all the stamina to copulate and populate.

My rants about censorship can wait for another day, for today is about celebrating Samantha Jones (played by Kim Cattrall). This successful, vivacious, feisty and unforgettable woman is one of the four main characters on the show. She owns a public relations company that is much sought after, much like her who is well-known among the famous and fashionable set in New York City.

Samantha is often dismissed for being a bimbo, overly concerned with physical appearance, desperate for sex, and seeking body-altering procedures such as chemical peels, cosmetic surgery, and botox treatments. While these aspects of her life are certainly worth discussing as part of a wider conversation around whether choices enabled by financial independence free women of patriarchy or bind them down to newer chains, I want to focus now on the many things I love about Samantha.

1. She is serious about the pursuit of pleasure.
2. She knows how to get what she wants.
3. She does not wait endlessly for THE ONE.
4. She recognizes ‘true love’ when she sees it.
5. She loves deeply but does not hold people back.
6. She is the best cheerleader a friend can have.
7. She cares a damn about what people think of her relationships.
8. She is aware of her weaknesses.
9. She does not play the victim card.
10. She is good at playing to her strengths.
11. She does not let breast cancer bring her life to a standstill.
12. She is politically incorrect.
13. She talks freely about sex.
14. She is a party gal.
15. She is open to challenging her boundaries.
16. She tips well.
17. She understands sexual needs.
18. She has few moral hang-ups.
19. She is an unabashed New Yorker.
20. She can risk looking like a fool but will always show up for her best buddies.
21. She needs no man to complete her.
About the author: Chintan Girish Modi works with Prajnya on our Education for Peace Initiative. He also writes widely on art, culture and gender for print as well as digital publications. He tweets @chintan_connect

#GenderEqualityElectionWatch: Manifest(o) Misogyny: The INC Manifesto for the Himachal Pradesh 2017 Assembly election

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Election Manifesto 2017

In Himachal Pradesh, the Congress is seeking re-election so their manifesto opens by asking: Why the Congress again in 2017? The answers are not very persuasive, the content repetitive and the language weak. But never mind, because this is a gender audit and what we really want to know is what the Congress is promising to women and what its approach is to gender issues. On that note, in the introduction we are told that with the UPA, schemes have been introduced and implemented for the welfare of every section of society including women. They have gone, we are told, beyond the promises of their last manifesto. The introduction reassures us that women will be provided with respect and safety.

The Congress manifesto has a section “For Women” in which it promises:

  • Academic support to meritorious girl students.
  • Hostels for working women in cities.
  • Pension schemes for orphaned girls, girls and women with disabilities and widows.
  • Appropriate justice and administrative measures to fast track cases of harassment and misdemeanours against women.
  • Access to credit for self-employed women.
  • Self-defence training centres in every district to train women.
  • Women’s police stations in every district.
  • Anganwadi Centres in every village to take care of women and children.
  • Expansion of the free ambulance service for pregnant women.
  • A ‘Woman Safety Application’ will be operationalised for women’s safety.
  • Women’s organisations will be strengthened in every way.
  • The grant given for the marriages of the daughters of widowed women will be expanded.

Under the category of health care, it is promised that more women will be trained as nurses.

Overall, there is less text devoted in this manifesto to women (as compared to the BJP) but women for the Congress are students, workers and entrepreneurs. They are professionals—police and nurses. Their health-care needs, at least as mothers, are addressed. Self-defence and safety are addressed here, rather than the patriarchal attitudes that lead to violence, but the tone is less paternalistic.

Talking gender equality at election time (1)

Going by the Prajnya Gender Equality Election Checklist however:

  • Again, the numbers of candidates are low.
  • It is not clear how much support they are getting.
  • Misogynistic speech is a non-issue.
  • There is no promise to end impunity or to bar those who are charge-sheeted for crimes against women.

#GenderEqualityElectionWatch: Manifest(o) Misogyny (1): The BJP manifesto for Himachal Pradesh 2017

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What does the BJP manifesto for Himachal Pradesh‘s 2017 Assembly election promise? More importantly, what does it reveal about the BJP’s gender politics?

Called the “Golden Himachal Vision Document 2017,” the document opens with a listing of ten ways in which the Modi government has strengthened the foundations of Himachal Pradesh; sixth and seventh on this list are the Sukanya Samriddhi Yojana under which 1,80,829 accounts have been opened and the Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao campaign for which Rs. 49 lakhs have been mobilised for this state. The seven health developments listed do not include women’s health measures.

In the list of promises, women follow youth and farmers and precede senior citizens, government workers, army veterans and weaker sections. This tells us that women are considered an important vote-bank, though not as vital as youth or farmers.

The section on women is titled “Empowered woman, equal rights” (Sashakt Nari, Samaan Adhikaar). The BJP states that it is necessary to take steps to ensure that women are equal partners in development, and that respect and safety for women is their highest priority. Development programmes should be gender-sensitive and they would take measures to improve women’s health and livelihoods.

The Empowered Woman Yojana will have a special allocation which will enable the setting up of an ‘Empowered Woman Centre’ (Sashakt Stree Kendra) in every gram panchayat, which will fully empower women and make them independent. The word ‘empowered’ is repeated throughout this document but we do not know what ‘empowerment’ means. Today in India, it is as if repeating ‘women empowerment’ (forget the ‘apostrophe s’) will transform society. In fact, it acts as a smoke-screen that protects patriarchy.

The Empowered Women Centres will generate new job opportunities for women, and support women entrepreneurs, farmers and self-help groups. Women will be offered legal help in the centres and an ‘Empowered Woman Official’ (Sashakt Stree Adhikari) will be appointed for the implementation of the 2005 Domestic Violence Act. (Twelve years later, should this even be a promise?) The Centre will allow women to be a part of decisions made at the Panchayat—a right that the Constitution gives them. The Centre will host (Sashakt Stree Sabha) Empowered Women Assemblies where elected women Panchayat representatives will meet other women and take forward issues, demands and recommendations to the state government level.  Funds will also be allocated towards building the capacity of elected women representatives. The Centres will also be responsible for administering nutritional schemes.

Considering cleanliness to be a fundamental right, the regular cleaning and maintenance of public toilets will be undertaken, the BJP promises. Facilities essential to women’s health and reproductive care will be provided for in public bathrooms—presumably, this refers to sanitary napkins. Allocations will be increased for prenatal and postnatal health care.

The next category of promises relates to women’s safety. The accent here is on protection and the paternalism is underscored by the name of the redressal mechanism to be launched: “Gudiya Yojana” or “Doll Scheme.” Every district will have a 24×7 Women’s Police Station. There will be a 24×7 Gudiya Helpline. Every mobile phone will have a Shakti (Power) button which used, will report the user’s location, name and phone number to the police control room, the nearest mobile police van and station. To increase the percentage of women police recruits to make 33% of the force, is another promise, as are self-defence classes organised in government schools.

To refer to women and girls as ‘gudiya’ may be intended to demonstrate filial affection but dolls are lifeless, lacking in intelligence, unable to think and act and must be acted for and upon. What does this tell us about the thinking of the BJP in this state (or elsewhere)? That women and girls are less than human?

The next subheading is ‘Women-Centred Laws.’ Immediate investigation and strict implementation of laws against rape, dowry, sexual harassment and domestic violence are promised. It is shameful that this should even be a promise; it should be a given.

Women farmers will be given equal rights, and a Women Farmers’ Bill will be introduced to recognise their debts, agricultural inputs and land rights. This last suggestion is the only one that recognises women as agents and contributors to society.

For the rest, they remain mothers and otherwise infantile objects to be protected, provided for and empowered. Government—mostly men, given the nomination statistics—will take care of women and girls, don’t worry. Moreover, many of the promises are tantamount to simply stating that the government will do its job—from safety and health care to recruiting women into the police, these are old policies.

Talking gender equality at election time (1)

It is laughable to apply the Prajnya Gender Equality Election Checklist here but when one does so just as an academic exercise, the omissions and silences in the manifesto are underscored:

  • The number of nominated women is pathetic.
  • It is not clear how well-supported those women are.
  • There is no censure of misogynistic speech.
  • While the BJP promises to protect women, it says nothing about penalising men who have been charged with hurting women.

Tomorrow: The Congress manifesto for HP. 

(Translations mine, with occasional help from Google.)

#GenderEqualityElectionWatch – Himachal Pradesh Elections 2017 – Where are the women candidates?

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This 3-part article is written for prajnya.in as part of the Gender Election Watch Project on Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat elections

Earlier this week, I and Dr. Swarna Rajagopalan from Prajnya began to investigate gender statistics on the forthcoming Himachal elections that are due to take place on the 9 November 2017. Subdivided into 12 districts and 68 Assembly Constituencies (ACs), the state will witness a single phase election. Electoral battles are often a face-off between two key national parties – the Indian National Congress (currently led by the incumbent state Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (led by Prem Kumar Dhumal). With little space for a third alternative, voting remains largely restricted between these two parties; both parties assembled a total vote share of 81 percent in the State Assembly elections in 2012 which the Congress won.

voting

File photo from India News. http://bit.ly/2iNxZyM

An unforgiving observation, however, is the disproportionate gender imbalance in the electoral mechanics. So far, our research has identified merely 15 women candidates from three major parties contesting in the polls – 4 from the Congress, 8 from the BJP and 3 from BSP vis-a-vis a total number of 400-odd male candidates. Although the list expands to 20 when we include independent women candidates, yet the ratio of men to women contestants have remained disproportionate .

No Name of the Party Number of Candidates contesting
1 Bahujan Samaj Party 32
2 Bharatiya Janata Party 68
3 Indian National Congress 68
4 CPI/CPI (M) 30
5 All India Trinamool Congress Data not available
6 Nationalist Congress Party Data not available
Total Number 198*
Total Number of Women candidates 20*

*Based on nomination data from the Chief Electoral Officer, Himachal Pradesh

In the Himachal state elections since the turn of the century, the number of contesting women candidates contesting have remained roughly around 8 percent. In other words, for every 100 people contesting in an election, there are merely 8 women candidates. Elected women candidates average roughly around 6 percent of the total 68 elected representatives in the Himachal State Legislative Assembly. Interestingly, the figure was the lowest in 2012, when only 3 women candidates were elected alongside 65 male representatives.

https://infogram.com/gender-election-watch-himachal-state-assembly-elections-2017-1gqo2qn3kvgw278

This statistic is further intriguing considering how female voting numbers have been traditionally higher over the last three assembly elections in Himachal Pradesh. In 2003, 2007 and in 2012, the percentage of female voters was nearly 75 percent vis-à-vis male voters who were nearly 70-71 percent. Why are parties not fielding more women candidates? The state is yet to see a women Chief Minister.

Where are the women contesting from:

No Party Name of Women Candidates Place they are contesting from
1 INC Asha Kumari Dalhousie
2 INC Viplov Thakur Dehra
3 INC Champa Thakur Mandi-Sadar
4 INC Anjna Devi Una
5 BJP Reeta Devi Indora (SC)
6 BJP Sarveen Shahpur
7 BJP Indu Bala Palampur
8 BJP Kamlesh Kumari Bhoranj (SC)
9 BJP Vijay Jyoti Sain Kasumpti
10 BJP Shashi Bala Rohru (SC)
11 BJP Neelam Nayyar Chamba
12 BJP Vinod Kumari Chandel Doon
13 BSP Pinki Devi Nagrota
14 BSP Saroti Devi Barsar
15 BSP Manjana Devi Jawali
16 Indpndt Nirmala Chauhan Karsog
17 Rashtriya Azad Manch Renuka Dogra Kullu
18 Indpndt Roshani Sharma Mandi
19 Lok Gathbandan Party Paro Devi Sarkaghat
20 Indpndt Kumari Vandna Sullah

Does the system discourage women from participating? What seem to be the barriers to entry? We find that reservation for women candidates can encourage more women to contest and win in elections. The results of the Panchayat and Zila Parishad elections – where reservations apply – illustrate this clearly, as a 2015 State report highlighted:

“In Himachal Pradesh there are 3243 Gram Panchayats, out of which 1639(50.54 per cent) seats have been occupied by women in the 2011 Panchayat elections. Out of total seats occupied by women, 987 (60.21 per cent) occupied by general women, 421,(25.68 per cent) scheduled caste women, 104 (6.34 per cent) scheduled tribes women and 127 (7.74 per cent) occupied by OBC women. Similarly, out to total 77 Chairman Panchayat Simities seats, 42 seats (54, 55 percent) of the seats in this category have been occupied by women. Among total seats occupied by women in Chairman Panchayat Simities category, 20 (48 per cent) occupied by general women, 13(31 per cent) by scheduled caste women, 4 (9 per cent) by scheduled tribes women and 5 (12 per cent) occupied by OBC women. Out of the total 12 seats chairpersons of Zila Parisad seats, 6 (50 per cent) of the seats have been occupied by women in 2011 elections.”

End of Part 1. Part 2 will track media coverage of these women candidates, and Part 3 is a post election piece.

Stats calculated based on public available data on candidates, and from previous Election Commission Reports.  

Revived! Women’s History Roundtable Series: Post-colonial India’s Women Doctors

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On Saturday, October 14th, 2017, we revived our Women’s History Roundtable Series which had fallen by the wayside because of our struggles finding a venue. We decided to go back to our original ways–to find a cafe and we picked Writer’s Cafe to try.  Archana Venkatesh, veteran volunteer, doctoral candidate at Ohio State University and Saakshi Fellow, opened the fourth series and will coordinate for a year.

Women's History Roundtable Series (2)

Private Lives, Public Work:
Women Doctors at work and home in Post-Colonial India

Archana Venkatesh

Abstract:

Women doctors in post-colonial India were an integral part of the developmental regime envisaged by policy makers in the field of public health, especially in efforts to control overpopulation and regulate maternal and infant health in a newly independent nation. In this paper, I examine the life and work of women doctors in post-colonial India using data from twenty oral history interviews conducted with women doctors aged 75-95 years, active in the medical profession from 1950 to 1990 collectively. Oral history interviews provide a counter narrative to the ‘official discourse’. I demonstrate that while the state encouraged women to embrace the medical profession by deploying tools such as affirmative action and scholarships, this attitude did not always permeate the home and the workplace. Many women doctors note that medical colleges and hospitals were highly gendered spaces, something that was particularly apparent during the process of selecting specializations – many were shepherded into the ‘feminine’ fields of obstetrics and gynecology, or pediatrics. However, any expression of dissatisfaction was deemed to undercut their goal of ‘serving the new nation’ by participating in the medical profession. This paper examines how women doctors negotiated competing demands, between national service and individual goals, and between professional responsibilities and domestic expectations. Using oral history as a method, this paper sheds light on the ways in which everyday practitioners, i.e. women doctors, negotiated their participation in the creation and evolution of the developmental state in post-colonial India.

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Lighted to Lighten: Gender Champions at WCC and a new partnership!

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The occasion was International Youth Day 2017 but observed a day in advance, 12th August 2017. A new Gender Champions Club was inaugurated at the campus of the prestigious Women Christian College, under the aegis of the new UGC Centre for Women’s Studies, also inaugurated at the same time.

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This is significant for Prajnya as Women’s Christian College (WCC) and Prajnya have created an institutional partnership for programmes and research with a view to promoting  gender equality.  A gender equality club was envisioned as an opportunity for students to learn about gender issues and a platform where gender equality concerns could be discussed and debated. In the long run, the Club will create a growing community of alumnae citizens sensitised to gender issues and ready to be equality advocates in society.

WCC will establish a student-led club (now named the Gender Champions Club) and support through student participation any specially planned Prajnya activities. Prajnya will engage WCC students in the 16 Days Campaign against Gender Violence; bring programmes to WCC as appropriate; offer volunteer and internship opportunities and be a resource to the WCC community.

For Prajnya, this is a very exciting moment because it takes our work with students further into the planting and processing mode we like, and away from one-off events.

Art Attack! (Playing Gender Hide-n-Seek)

Following the inaugural session, Club members adjourned for Art Attack!,  a three-hour art activity on the theme of Gender Hide and Seek–that is, what is gender, and where is it found? Groups of students created posters and collages, explicated how gendered ideas are pervasive, showing the many places they can be found: language, stereotypes, roles in relationships, work, space use for instances. The posters illustrated how the opportunities are unequal as just climbing up the staircase for the men, but the mountain for the women; right to reclaim the night; breaking the gender roles; and claiming the right to control one’s own body.

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Let this new thinking vibrate, spread and create a space where, in the words of one poster, they can “make right what has gone wrong.”