Profile: Vina Mazumdar, iconic Indian scholar-activist

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I seem to remember posting an interview I read with Vina Mazumdar a few weeks ago but there’s no sign of it on the blog. I was reminded of it by @rlalita‘s tweet today of the link to this article:

Akshaya Mukul, Vina Mazumdar, the fighter, TOI Crest, June 5, 2010.

See also this wonderful feature about Dr. Mazumdar by Sheela Reddy: Madam Mossless, Outliookindia.com, May 24, 2010. Like many women, including some at Prajnya (definitely not including this blogger), Reddy tells us Vina Mazumdar does not like being called a feminist. But that’s really what her politics and her work have been, and I would ask, why shy away from the label but that’s me!

Dr. Mazumdar’s work as the Chair of the Committee on the Status of Women in India made a huge difference. Their report, “Towards Equality” measured women’s progress across many spheres and went on to become a benchmark for activists, policy-makers and researchers alike.

Niharika’s Bookshelf: “In Other Words,” an anthology

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In Other Words- New Writing by Indian Women, Edited by Urvashi Butalia and Ritu Menon, Kali for Women.

First published in 1992, Second impression-1995, New Delhi

The knowledge that this anthology was first published over a decade ago, calls for a significant change in the way I should perceive it.  (The after effect- wanting to take a pen, a nice smelling book and put down in ink, the review.) It would do great for us, if we observe what revolutionary progress the genre of short fiction writing by women has undergone over time; taking this one as the relative foundation for the present. The collection would definitely not fall under the bracket of “novel writing”. Nor can it be considered the centrifuge of some intriguing story telling. However, it can definitely be construed as the best initiative taken, the perfect start to inspire, motivate and initiate women to look into their seemingly dull worlds with refreshing new mindsets and paint them to their choice of colour.

Short fiction is a personalised way of story telling. Hence the variety produced differs notably. It looks like the editors have, consciously made this one a compilation of versatile writings. Women writing about women has been a sign calling for empowerment, a plea to the rigid society to look at things in the same background, with a different vision, from the point of the “other”. What touched me most were these stories- “Sara” by Manorama Mathai, “Mallika Farida” by Shalini Saran, “The Smothering” by Ritu Bhatia and “Rites of Passage” by Bulbul Sharma. They possessed a certain substance, a specific criticism of unquestioned faiths, and a keen observation of the blind rituals of society. The monotony of Shashi’s life in “The Smothering” is portrayed with such realism that it feels like one might easily drift into that presence of gloom, the thoughts of which are often instantly blocked to sustain the meaning of living. Her insecurities, her building adjustment, compromise and acceptance of the lonely life abroad with a foreign husband is perhaps the story of many. The child’s naive view of being a ‘manglik’ in “Rites of Passage” and the subsequent treatment that follows this identity is the standard of an impressive narrative- it speaks without elaborate telling. Many of the subtle criticisms made, of culture and people will go unnoticed, unless you look for them. Hence, look for the cryptic poignancy.

Most others are endearing tales of companionship, love and respect. Highly individuate and serving as wonderful reminiscences, they capture the instinctive compassion and empathy that are considered essence of a woman’s nature. This beauty reflects in the writing, and the first person account adds to the charm. You can associate these with your own experiences in the past, the utopia, the small disappointments, the simplicity of emotions and life. It’d be fair to say that it is this kind of writing that seems to have vanished in the last many years; and you can’t blame me for wanting to write down in ink, the review, as I had mentioned! “Thanks, anyway” by Achala Bansal, “Portrait of a Childhood” by Shama Futehally and “The Remains of the Feast” by Githa Hariharan have explored the personal ties and human connection that make periods of life near absolute happiness. Sure, there is an attraction and intelligence in cynicism but I’d say, there is something beyond that too. These stories make up for that connection, the world view, we have almost lost.

The review of Body Maps (A recent collection of short stories by South Asian women), will highlight the difference or progress made in this genre.

Article: “W(h)ither the girl child?”

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Philip Umman, W(h)ither the girl child?, The Hindu, April 25, 2010.

Are things still the same for the girl child in India as they were in the 70s or 80s? Death from ‘accidental’ household burns was a common feature on Page 3 of newspapers those days. The girl child was the beast of burden — looking after younger siblings, working in other households, ignored when it came to education and behind the boys in getting nutrition. But things have changed.

Have they??

Good news! Kerala villages turns dowry tide back

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Ramesh Babu, Kerala village unties the dowry knot, Hindustan Times, July 6, 2009.

Six months of a spirited anti dowry campaign in Nilambur, 400 km north of Thiruvananthapuram, has transformed it into arguably the first village in the country where the giving and taking of dowry has been abolished altogether.

Dowry was rampant in Nilambur, a large village of nearly 40,000 people in Mallapuram district — as in most of North Kerala — earlier. A panchayat sponsored survey in the village last year found 1,300 girls who said they remained unmarried only because they could not afford the dowry required to get a groom. Forty per cent of families claimed they were brought close to bankruptcy by the dowry payments they made. Fifty two per cent of all divorces in the village, the survey found, were rooted in post marriage dowry demands.

Farida S, 27, for instance, was married off at the age of 14, when she was a Class VIII student. Her father paid her husband’s family 20 gold sovereigns and Rs 1 lakh in cash. But within five years of marriage, having given her two children by then, her husband deserted her.

Ummu Salma, 33, was thrown out by her husband’s family, along with her five year old  daughter 10 years ago, after her father failed to meet their repeated demands for dowry.

Suddenly all has changed. Aysha Tekkerparambhil, 36, living in penury with three children, never thought she would be able to get either of her daughters married. In May, thanks to the movement, one Anus Babu, 24, sought her 18-year-old elder daughter’s hand — without asking for a paisa in return.

How did it happen? “We helped people realize the havoc dowry was causing them,” said Aryadan Shoukat, 40, president of the Nilambur panchayat, who initiated the movement. “We asked them to pledge they would neither give nor take dowry.”

No startling, innovative methods were used, just persistence and dedication. There were public meetings in every village ward, door-to-door campaigns, street plays, motivation classes. ‘Dump dowry’ associations were set up. School children were involved in a major way.

“We projected taking dowry as the biggest sin anyone could commit,” said Selina T., spokesperson of the local unit of the HRD run Mahila Kamakhya, which assists the panchayat. “There hasn’t been a single dowry marriage here in the last two months.”

Devaki Jain on the Women’s Reservation Bill

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Devaki Jain, What We Women Want, Tehelka Magazine, Vol 6, Issue 24, Dated Jun 20, 2009.

Development economist Devaki Jain defends the Women’s Reservation Bill in its present form, saying, “The impact of the women’s quota at the panchayat level hints at what the Women’s Reservation Bill can do.”

With this, the PSW Weblog will begin a long overdue series of posts logging important discussions of the proposed Women’s Reservation Bill and its provisions.

Women MPs in 15th Lok Sabha: Dr. Prabha Kishore Taviad

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Basic Information:

Name: Dr. Prabha Kishor Taviad

Constituency: Dahod (Gujarat)

Party: Indian National Congress

Terms in parliament: First term

Age: 54

Contact Information: Jhalod road, opposite Mission Hospital, TA-Dahod, Dirtrict HDahod-389151, Gujarat.

Only woman candidate fielded by a political party in entire central Gujarat, Dr. Taviad was given a ticket to contest, chosen over veteran Congress leader Somjibhai Damor.  A gynecologist by profession, she campaigned door to door, tying scarves on the hands of the voters (like rakhis) which became a trademark of her candidature. One of seven candidates who had fought for a seat in the Dahod constituency, Dr. Taviad’s husband Dr Kishore Taviad is the Dahod district zilla panchayat president, and a seasoned politician.

For more details, visit the following links:

Women MPs in 15th Lok Sabha: Jat Poonamben Veljibhai

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Basic Information:

Name: Jat Poonamben Veljibhai

Constituency: Kachch (Gujarat)

Party: Bharatiya Janata Party

Terms in parliament: First term

Age: 37

Contact Information: Plot No -6, Jay Zulelal Society, Bharat Nagar, Gandhidham District, Kachch

Jat Poonamben Veljibhai is the winner from Kachch District. Despite this being her first elections, she beat out 16 other candidates, including three other women, and Danicha Valjibhai Punamchandra of the Indian National Congress.

Women MPs in 15th Lok Sabha: Shrimati Darshana Vikram Jardosh

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Basic Information:

Name: Shrimati Darshana Vikram Jardosh

Constituency: Surat (Gujarat)

Party: Bharatiya Janata Party

Terms in parliament: First term

Age: 58

Contact Information: 10/430 Third Floor, 431, Tasvir Appartment, Panini Bhit Bhagatalao Soni Faliya, Surat.

Darshana Vikram Jardosh contested these Lok Sabha elections as the BJP candidate from Surat constituency of Gujarat. She is Gujarat BJP Mahila Morcha’s General Secretary for past three years. She upstaged Kashiram Rana, former Union Textiles Minister, former Rural Development Minister, and six-time consecutive winning BJP candidate from Surat seat.

Women MPs in 15th Lok Sabha: Patel Jayshreeben Kanubhai

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Basic Information:

Name: Patel Jayshreeben Kanubhai

Constituency: Mahesana (Gujarat)

Party: Bharatiya Janata Party

Terms in parliament: First term

Age: 50

Contact Information: A-14, Green Park, Ahmedabad Highway Road, Palanpur – 1, Dist. Banaskantha, Phone: 02742-256822 (R), M: 94265 15751, 99784 06098

First time contender in the race to the Lower House, Patel Jayshreeben Kanubhai is a Bharatiya Janata Party loyalist, winning from the Mahesana constituency in Gujarat. She is a former Gujarat State Commission for Women chairperson, and state head of the BJP Mahila Morcha.

Women MPs in 15th Lok Sabha: J Shanta

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Basic Information:

Name: J. Shanta

Constituency: Bellary (Karnataka)

Party: Bharatiya Janata Party

Terms in parliament: First term

Age: 35

Contact Information: 2nd Cross, Devinagar, Club Road, Bellary

The lone woman MP from Karnataka, tasted electoral victory in the 15th Lok Sabha elections, deafeating prominent politicians, including Margaret Alva from the Congress, Tejaswini Gowda of Congress, and  Radha Sundaresh of the Communist Party of India (CPI). Altogether 29 women candidates contested for the 28 Lok Sabha seats in Karnataka. Shantha, a homemaker-turned-politician, has indicated that long pending railway projects in the region are to be her priority.

For more details, visit the following links: