Sunday, March 24, 2013

Celebrating GIRLS, Celebrating WOMEN

My childhood was idyllic. I spent the first 12 years of my life in the suburbs of Allahabad, called Bamrauli.

The colony i grew up in during the mid 60s to mid 70s  was a sprawling self sufficient one,  went running into acres.

It had everything from a Kindergarten school, a club, Residential and official  buildings, a swimming pool and entertainment center, hundreds of fully grown trees, creepers, bushes, seasonal and hardy plants, nooks and corners and a hundred other things to explore as a child.

But more than the physical aspect of the environment it was the elite gathering of neighbors that went a long way in molding my personality and giving me valueless.

Since i was one of the four daughters, there was never a question of discrimination  My father who was more instrumental in imparting values to us, since Mum was always busy  looking after a family of six, never ever told us not to do certain things.  What he did tell us always was to conduct ourselves with grace and dignity.

Thanks to the warm, spacious colony i grew up exploring the outdoors. And playing every other game like pithoo, court and so on.

So venturing out of the house in the grueling heat of June, we would head to pluck the first bounty of raw mangoes, steal guvavas from orchards, maraud the neighbor's tree of every imaginable fruit like jamun and bers.

Climbing trees, hunting for bird's nests, collecting little velvety insects in our match boxes  floating paper boats,  dancing in the rain, we did to all, within the sheltered confines of the colony.

Since it was  a unique Civil Aviation Training Center, called CATC, people from all over the county lived there. 

My immediate neighbors were a Bengali and Manglorean family.  My closest childhood friend was a Muslim. My closest school friend was a Christian .  My KG Principal was a South Indian. My grade 2 class teacher was a Sikh lady. Besides this we also had a couple of Nigerians doing their training from  the colony .

During the evening, at the club, a few Anglo Indian ladies would join us to play Tambola.

So i grew up in a forward,  ahead-of-its times environment which was not only enlightening but essentially secular.

Those twelve years were not just the foundation of my life, but  became my  life's ethos.

Did i feel CHERISHED?

Absolutely. We were given everything a budget could afford.  Education. Games. Holidays. Excursions. Attractive clothes. Participation in cultural programmes.  Dance classes.Gardening and more.

I never ever felt that i was different from boys. We mingled easily with our neighbors. The demarcation came when i shifted to Zambiaat he age of 12.  A year later i became a teenager  or a 'Young lady'. I studied in a all girls school and suddenly the happy, carefree childhood was replaced with a 'conscious' growing up years.

But the idyllic childhood of  Bamrauli would warm the cockles of my heart  and whenever there were moments when i could not do certain things on account of being a 'girl', i would reminisce about my happy childhood.  Twelve  years of blissful growing up was a treasure trove for me.

Toady, as a mum of two grown girls things are very different.

Do i feel today's girls are EMPOWERED?

Yes, certainly. Women have made their  presence felt in every field.   From Defence , to Judiciary. Politics to Scientific Research. NGOs to CEOs. Entrepreneurs and more.

The IT revolution has contributed largely to women's empowerment.  Access to knowledge and world events have empowered women.  They have made them realize about their  rights and how to go about fighting for them.  Rememeber the PINK CHADDI campaign,  post the moral policing in Mangalore? Yeah, women  are no longer  a mute witness,   but are not only speaking  their minds but taking action too.

We have a brave Sabina Lal fighting for justice  for her sister Jessica.  We have late Kalpana Chawla and Sunita trailing a blaze in space. We have beauty queens vowing the world , putting India on the world map.

Yes,  today's woman is empowered but there is still the looming shadow of patriarchy   The Delhi gang rape is a rude reminder of that. The  Rape Bill passed was a diluted version of the expected Bill.  But it happened , due to national and International pressure.

How can we SUPPORT our girls?

By educating them.

By instilling confidence in them.

By giving them equal opportunities as compared to boys.

By making them pursue their career goals before getting them married.

By  making them eloquent about their wants and needs.

By making then discover Incredible India or letting them  go backpacking across Europe.

Do i have a   SPECIAL girl in my life?

Yes! I  have TWO!

My girls :)
My elder daughter not only completed her Masters, but is working with an organization and pursuing her passion at the same time.  While she works during the weekend, many weekends, she does  Ramp Walk, pursuing her passion for modelling.

But what is most heartening for me as a mother,  is when she accompanied me on my  spiritual journeys.  When i expressed the desire  to go to Amarnath,  she happily joined me.  And when i fell ill in Sheshnag, she became the mother and looked after me so that i could quickly recover and complete my journey and have darshan of the Ice Lingam at the Holy cave.

And she repeated this feat when she once again took leave form her job , and accompanied me to Mahakumbh in Allahabad. At Varanasi the priest was so happy to see her that he remarked:

" Maa ko teerath yatra pe le kar aayi ho!"

My younger daughter too has proved her mettle.  She was a delicate baby but proved her tough side when she decided to opt for doing her Internship in Pune rather than in NCR. 

Six months later, she is back, having successfully completed her training.  And with an Appreciation letter form the Hotel, for going beyond her duties, like grooming the new joinees and guiding them.

My girls are indeed precious to me. It is my endeavor that they experiences life  in totality and be empowered. And when the time comes, start a family and make loving and responsible mothers and wives. Yeah, this is my dream for them.

I pray that our country breaks the shackles of Patriarchy and truly treats women with respect, dignity and equality. The day that happen, we will make our ancestors and country proud.

[This Post is part of the  following contest by Women's Web.

This International Women's Day, let's celebrate femininity! Participate in our 'Celebrating Girls, Celebrating Women' contest! ]

Saturday, March 23, 2013

IndiChange : An Equal Life

The menace of Violence against women in our country was shockingly brought  into focus when 23 year old Physiotherapy intern was brutally gang raped in Delhi and succumbed to her injuries after battling for her  life for 13 days.

I was so Moved by her Death that i not only blogged about it but chose to break my silence and share my two incidence of sexual harassment.

During the 13 days she lay in hospitals,  her body indented with  more than half a dozen tubes, alternating between breathing on her own and via the ventilator , the nation woke up to the extremely gruesome reality of violence against women.

For the manner in which the victim was raped and maltreated indicated that the case of rape had little to do with sex and erotica  but everything to do with VIOLENCE against women.  How else can you justify the perpetrators inserting metal rods in her body? Mutilating her digestive and reproductive tracks?

But her death, became a  reason of outrage for the country .  Protests took place all over the country.  Bangalore, Chennai, Kolkotta, Hyderabad, Mumbai, VIshakapatnam, Tiruvananthapuram.

In Delhi, the angry public took the agitation to India Gate and Raisina Hill, the  residence of the President of India and the parliament.  Women bravely faced the  unjust out lash of  Delhi Police , uncaring of  being targeted unfairly.  All they cared for was to make the voice heard, Justice for the gang rape victim. The agitations was also represented by a large section of men. 

The outrage  became both a national as well as International issue.  So much so that former Chief Justice of India,  J S VERMA was asked to prepare a report of all that  was needed to bring about reforms in the current Rape laws.

29 days later, and after having gone through 80,000 suggestions from public, he tabled the report. The report clearly stated that the failure on the part of the government and the Police was responsible for Violence  and crimes  against women .

As a result of the report a Bill was passed in the Lok Sabha.  It was indeed disappointment that on the day of voting, a large number of members were absent.  What was even more shocking was the apathy of those who were present and the totally unwarranted remarks they made on the issue.

If our  elected leaders are so immune to the reality of the crimes against women how can we expect people with little  education to  respect women and treat them with  DIGNITY and EQUALITY?

The law which was finally tabled  did not meet all that was expected. Nevertheless it is a beginning in the right direction.  According to the last  there is death penalty for extreme case of rape and 20 years of imprisonment for other cases .  Acid attacks, Stalking, Voyeurism  and trafficking of women are punishable under Crime law.

Rape is notoriously under reported simply  due to social stigma.  But also because of the insensitivity of dealing with the reports.  The victim is made out to be the perpetrator, which is adding insult to the injury.

It is shameful that the capital of the country is also the rape capital of the world.  Is this  the face of Delhi we want to project to our fellow countrymen  and to the world at large?

Perhaps it is in view of this that a few men  from Bangalore and the Capital sought out unique ways to express their anguish at the horrendous treatment of women in out country.

A few good men from Bangalore wore skirts and protested against the crime against women.

And possibly inspired by the Bangalore men. 50 men from India who are part of India for integrity and Delhi Bikers gathered in new Delhi, India,  to offer "Public apology" from Delhi men to commit to changing men's attitudes towards women.

The rape stats are shocking. In the year 2012, till the third quarter the number of  rape cases reported were as below:

Inida                 18, 358

USA                 93,934

South Africa     54, 926

We in India believe that it is  illiteracy, backwardness and narrow mindedness  of the people which is responsible for the ill treatment and violence against women in our country   How then can one justify the chilling  statistics of USA? 

It is clear that the plight of women across the world is  pretty much the same.

 Another gang rape which became a world issue is the tragic case of  the 16 year old girl who was gang  raped by  two emerging football stars in Steubenville.

The most unbelievable part of this rape case is that the American media is more concerned about he careers of the tho boys who raped the girl.  The victim is believed to be receiving death threats.  Not just that, a women Blogger  Alexandria Goddard who took pains to fight for the rights of the victim was shunned and maligned by all, including her best friend and her mother.  How can we even think of getting justice for women if women themselves  became our sworn enemies ?

Many NGOS are doing  praiseworthy work to bring about a sweeping CHANGE for women's rights.

Breakthrough’s Bell Bajao! launched in India in 2008,

 is a cultural and media campaign that calls on men and boys to take a stand against domestic violence. The campaign seeks to reduce domestic violence and to highlight the role that men and boys can play in reducing violence.
 Breakthrough believes that in order for women, families, communities and nations to realize their full potential, we must bring domestic violence to a halt – everywhere. Bell Bajao calls on men and boys worldwide to ‘ring the bell’ to interrupt domestic violence. We believe domestic violence is everyone’s issue and see men and boys as our partners rather than perpetrators.

V-Day is a global activist movement  founded by Eve Ensler,

   a Tony Award winning Playwright, performer, and activist, is the author of THE VAGINA MONOLOGUES, translated into over 48 languages and performed in over 140 countries. V Day's   aim is 'to end violence against women and girls'.

This year on 14th February , which is Valentines Day V Day celebrated is 15th anniversary by a campaign called : ONE BILLION RISING.

. V-Day is a catalyst that promotes creative events to increase awareness, raise money, and revitalize the spirit of existing anti-violence organizations. V-Day generates broader attention for the fight to stop violence against women and girls, including rape, battery, incest, female genital mutilation (FGM), and sex slavery.

Outraged by the Delhi gang rape, EVe Ensler travelled to India to witness the ftermth of gang rape and remarked;

"Having worked everyday of my life for 15 years on Sexual violence, I have never seen anything like this, where sexaul violence broke throught he consciousmness and was on the front page , nine articles in evey paper, in the center of every discourse, in the center of colegfe students discussions, in the center of any restaurant you went in.  And I that what has happenbd in India , is really leading the way for the world.  It  has really broken through.  They are actually fast tracking laws.  Theyt are looking at sexual education.  They are looking at the bases of patriarchy and masculinity and how all that leds to Sexual violence".

Stop Rape is another  a UN Body working in this field.

UN Action Against Sexual Violence in Conflict (UN Action) unites the work of 13 UN entities with the goal of ending sexual violence in conflict. It is a concerted effort by the UN system to improve coordination and accountability, amplify programming and advocacy, and support national efforts to prevent sexual violence and respond effectively to the needs of survivors.

A lot is being done, but MORE needs to be done.  At the Law making and enforcing level.

What CAN we do?

The NGOs are doing their jobs. We need to COOPERATE  with them and give them our time.

In every neighborhood there is a NGO doing  a little job.  JOIN hands and help bring a Change.

BLOG about Women's plight.   I blogged about a wonderful International women's Day initiative , 'A Rocking International Women's Day'  IndiChange is a wonderful platform provided by Indiblogger to focus attention  on Women.

AS MOTHERS  teach your DAUGHTERS that they are equal in all aspects to their brothers.

As mothers teach your SONS  that their sisters are EQUAL is all aspects to them, and deserve the same professional education and opportunities as them.

As TEACHERS inculcate the GENDER EQUALITY in children. 

Tell your maids and other women from lower strata of life to send their daughters to SCHOOL.  In some states like Haryana, girls education is not only free but they are being gifted cycles to  reach their schools.

Participate in any ACTIVITY   meant to highlight the plight of women.  During the aftermath of Delhi Gang rape case my daughter and I participated in a Candle light March from Sector 15 Faridabad.

A Change will not happen overnight.  But we have to take the first step and put it into MOMEMTUM.

I end this post for I CHANGE with the hope that it will once again stir the minds of people, awaken in them the need to redress women's Violence issue and Women will have 'AN EQUAL LIFE' across the world.

[This entry is my effort to IndiBlogger's campaign - ISB iDiya for IndiChange - with under the topic -

Blog about any social cause you are passionate about, and its potential solution. If there are any inspiring people or organizations working towards solving it, blog about them as well. INR 30000 goes towards an NGO of your choosing!]

Saturday, March 9, 2013

A ROCKING International WOMEN's Day

As Women's day approached, around 8th march, I was mighty pleased to see that Indiblogger had arranged for a meet. Only this time, the venue was not a commercial  upmarket hotel, but the hallowed British Council in new Delhi, giving the meet a truly International flavor.

Add to this appearances by actor Rahul Bose, Entrepreneur Priya  Paul, Sitarist Anoushka Shankar made me drop my other plans of celebrating women' Day. What i did not know was the surprise package in the form of Mahabanoo Modi Kotwal and the Musical band SWARATHMA.

Perhaps some sixth sense made me aware that his event would turn out to be a most spectacular event - celebrating womanhood.  so I decided to wear  a saree and adorn my favorite peal string with it.

The evening was supposed to take off  at 5.30.  Despite my best efforts to be on time, I was caught in  the traffic jam but still managed to reach by 5.45 p.m.

As i walked towards the open courtyard of the British Council, i was fazed to see a vibrant jam packed gathering with a high tech stage erected for stellar performances.

INDIBLOGGER and BREAKTHROUGH , a unique Global Human Rights Organization which

" Believes that:

'Human rights begin  in our own hearts, homes and action".
Who work to make human rights real and relevant to everyone no matter where or how they live.

Who Create innovative, relevant Multimedia and pop culture that bring  human right issues and values to the mainstream.

Who Inspire people to take bold action for social change - among their own peers and in their own spheres.

Who Envision a world where all individuals and communities live with dignity, equality and justice.

had decided to launch 'RING THE BELL' campaign.

Breakthrough's BELL BAJAO , launched in India in 2008, is a cultural and media campaign that calls on men and boys to take a stand against domestic violence.  The campaign seeks to reduce domestic violence and to highlight the role tha tmen and boys can play in reducing violence.

For the year 2013, Bell Bajao's slogan is :

"When Men Gather it is not always Trouble"

"Treat Women with Respect".  " Make a Promise".

Ring the Bell calss on men and boys around the world to take a stand and make a promise to act to end violence against women.

From 8th march 2013 to 8th march 2014 , we are going to get a Million Men to make a MILLION promises to ACT  to end Violence against women. 

Anoushka Shankar performing

Priya Paul and Rahul Bose

Anukriti ringing the Bell

Electrifying performance by Swarathama band

Say NO to violence 

The goodies we got

The symbolic bell

Panel discussion on Advertisement and Masculinity

After  the introductions by Sonali Khan of breakthrough, the kicked off to a mind boggling start.

The British High Commisioner Sir James Bevan  addressed the audience with a heart warming speech, spoken not forma written paper but from the heart.

he ended by saying two famous quotes on women:

"Well behaved women seldom make history"

"Feminism is the radical notion that women are human beings".

The special guests Sir James Bevan, Rajan Anand CEO Google, actor Rahul Bose, Ms Indrani Jaisingh, Additional Solicitor Governor of India, Priya Paul then rang the symbolic bell.

Incidentally the roof of the stage was totally covered with Bells hanging.  On both sides of the stage were two symbolic ceremonial bells.

The first Panel discussion wads about the social  legal and leadership tasks by women.  Priya paul acknowledged the support and encouragement of male members in her family who helped her carve her destiny as an entrepreneur.

Rajan Anandan took the pledge that he would only fund those start ups in IT which have women in their team.

Next it was time for a revelation for me.  Forgive my ignorance, but i had not heard of Mahabanoo Modi Kotwal as my theater  activities have been near zilch.  I had planned to Google her before going for the event but couldn't.

So, as i saw a middle aged lady, dressed immaculately in white, walking with utmost dignity to the stage , there was a fervor of anticipation in me.  The white attire seemed to have some secret message.

As she sat down, she talked about a chance meeting with Eve Ensler, the author of Vagina Monologues and how the meeting changed her life.,

She started reading from a bunch of flashcards about "Yoni" or the Vagina. Her  diverse  narration about the yoni held me spellbound. I had never heard anything like this before.  It was almost like being set free, to have her talk about the yoni in such an eloquent manner.

a while later she read out a heart warming poem by Eve Ensler titled 'Burqa'.

I listened to this poem too in rapt attention   The reason being , as a child living in Allahabad, i was fascinated by the Burqa.  I would watch in awe Muslin women from nearby village stop by at our garden fence to pluck henna leaves. As a child i had wondered what life was like to be ensconced in a flowing black robe that covered you  from head to toe.

Forty years later nothing as changed.  time has stood still.

I watched women from Middle East, wearing Burqas,  get their Comprehensive health Check up done at Appolo Hopsital, thanks to medical tourism.

It is indeed strange that it took a western women to explore the plight of a Burqa clad woman.  Just proves that East or West, women are alike and so are their aspirations and sentiments.

Nest Mahabanoo recited a poem on 'Mini skirt'.  She declared that the mini skirt was a symbol of Azaadi.  her means to ' add masti in my chaal '.  and NOT an invitation to RAPE.

Needless to say the Vagina Monologues rendition in Hindi by Mahabanoo was the spectacular surprise of the evening for me, and you can forgive me for patting myself to make it to the British council.

The evening was slated to rise to a crescendo with two scheduled Musical program mes.

SWARATHMA, a musical band from Bangalore rocked the audience.

The first song they performed was 'Door Kinara"  which had been composed in collaboration with Shubha Mudgil.  The song ws about the quest for a mystical land.

The seconf song had the members of the band sporting  Nehru cap.  The song was  a satire about the failed promise of every political party in the country.

The third song was the most attention grabbing and poignant.  For it was based on Child Sexual Abuse.  

Titled 'Gum' meaning 'lost', it had powerful lyrics:

परदे मेरे गवा  हैं 

उनको ही मेरी परवाह है .......

The fourth song was in Kannada about Bhumi becoming swarag ( Paradise)

The fifth song was again in Kannada  a high voltage youth targeted one, where the lead singer not only did break dance but had the entire audience standing and clapping and dancing in a frenzy.

The sixth and the last song was about LOVE....

जन्नत है प्यार के द्वार ........

As they took their bow, the band took a pledge to help Stop violence through their Music.

You can rightly imagine, the smile never left our faces!!!

This concert was followed by  the launch of INDI CHANGE , an initiative by Indiblogger .
to bring in change in society via blogging.

Next to this was a Panel discussion about  'Portrayal of women in Film, TV and Advertisement followed by another talk on 'Masculinity  -  drawing the lines'.

Rahul Bose, Advaita Kala, Rajan Mendonca, Advertising professional from Ogilvy and Mather, Anoop Jhonson, Co founder Indiblogger, took to stage.

Rahul Bose came up with two interesting view points.

First he cited the example of a Cooking oil advertisement.  A worried wife changes the cooking oil that is more friendly to her husband;s ailing heart. Rahul said that the advertisement was totally patriarchal  emphasizing  that the  father was the important , irreplaceable head of the family. Rahul said that the family should have been equally concerned about he health of the mother as she was the care taker of the entire family.  He ended by saying that in the 30 sec ad, 'You have taken the country backward by a 100 years".

The second point he made was about masculinity.  He said that for every abused woman, there is a traumatized/ashamed  father, a traumatized husband and a traumatized  brother.  He felt that it was important to counsel these men and then bring them in the fold of making a pledge for stopping domestic violence against women.

It was strange but this aspect of masculinity had never entered my thoughts before.  Thank you Rahul :).

And with this we came to the grand finale.

Anoushka Shankar took to the stage with Tanmay Bose on the table and two more artists , one each on the flute and a tanpoora.

She played three pieces in all, each based on a raaga.

The first one had been composed by her late father Pandit Ravi Shankar and was based on the moods of a woman.
As the performance progressed, the entire audience listened in rapt attention to the LIVE musical jugalbandi and the soul stirring strains of the Sitar.

the only thing missing were the stars in the night sky.  But the energy, vibration and hypnotic musical extravaganza more than made up for it.

It was worth waiting for four hours to hear Anoushka perform.

Indiblogger and all other organizers, thank you for  such an amazing Women's Day.

AS i end the post, another happy snippet.

Each one of us was gifted a Bag containing  a  Mug and a jotting pad and a pen.

I have placed the mug on my newly created workstation at home.  And among the little nick knacks i bought for my desk from the local Archies shop and Dilli Haat, the mug with its strong message 'RING THE BELL' is the most precious piece on my desk.

Happy Women's Day :)

[Pics courtesy Anukriti Sharma]