Disadvantages of being Muslim women LUCKNOW: M R Syeda Hameed’s report on the status of Muslim women in India, entitled ”Voice of the Voiceless”, is a bold initiative, documentating in no uncertain terms the double disadvantage of being women and Muslim in India. As member of the National Commission for Women, Dr Hameed conducted public hearings from Kerala to Kashmir, Calcutta to Surat. Everywhere, it was the same story, as women spoke of community objections to sending girls to school after puberty, the dangling threat of triple talaaq, zero maintenance, multiple marriage and absence of child support. The greatest fear for Muslim women is the triple talaaq axe. Sometimes, says the report, it is uttered in rage and irresponsibility, in a single breath, ruining the lives of the women and children forever because they have no recourse for maintenance. The document obliquely touches the sensitive question of Mulsim Personal Law. It shows clearly how Indian Muslim women in particular are legally disadvantaged as compared to Mulsim women in other countries.
In Turkey, the traditional Muslim law has been replaced by a modern civil code, and even in countries like Iran men and women have similar rights of divorce. Indonesia and Malaysia have abolished polygamy and there is an express or implied abolition of the so-called triple talaaq. In India, a man can keep four wives, divorce his wife whenever he wants without assigning reason, even in her absence. If the husband cannot pay maintenance the responsibility devolves to Waqf Boards, which are penurious. There is no child support either. All this is attributed to doctrinnaire, patriarchal interpretations of the Shariat, because it is not codified. There are however pockets of light. Chennai for instance has a strong Muslim women’s reform movement. In Vijaywada Muslim women have been praying in mosques for over 50 years. There have been strong protests against triple talaaq in Bombay. In Lucknow we know how 18 years old Sadaf Rizvi broke tradition by offering Friday namaz at the Bada Imambara some years back. The following week nearly 150 women turned up to pray. As one woman in Calcutta said during the hearings, ”Why don’t they admit that we are living in the 20th century, hence old laws should not apply.
When it comes to men they talk of human rights, then why not for women.” Disappointingly however, the report ends on a typically equivocating note. ”The NCW would like to address civil society and enlightened Muslims to eschew outdated practices which are distortions of traditional Law. Muslim Law should be codified, second marriage should be made as difficult as possible, a solution to triple talaaq should be worked out within Shariat law, marriages should be compulsorily registered, and divorced women must have right to maintenance despite the decision in the Shah Bano Case, 1986. Above all, the Muslim girl child should become first focus in all government schemes. While the women’s voices transcribed are authentic, painful, the document untimely remains stereotyped, lightly treading the delicate tightrope on sensitive issues without offending the community, to which the author belongs, while purporting to have the interests of women at heart. In this case, we all know very well that half measures will not work. Only bold initiatives will, but nobody has the courage to take them after the outcry over the Shah Bano Case. Significantly, other countries that have affected change in laws for women are predominently Muslim ones.
We cannot dare touch the issue because we are ”secular”. The report is silent about women’s voices from Lucknow. Only some ”progressive” steps are mentioned, like the case of Sadaf Rizvi, and an interview with the late Ali Mian, who impressed the author with his breadth of vision and gender sensitivity. To quote: ”Maulana Ali Mian’s contention was that there was substantial difference between Islam as religion and as it was practiced by Muslims. Whereas there is no religion which accords as much rights to women as Islam, Muslims generally do not practice the tenets of Islam. In fact they extrapolate from it only that which is convenient or useful in maintaining their superiority over women. It is not the teachings of Islam which are lacking in any way, it is the interpretation or ignorance of the Muslims. The question is how to change this mindset and how to show the quom that this mindset is harming their own image beyond repair.” Inevitable diplomacy apart, the document is an eye-opener to the plight of Muslim women in this country. Certainly they come across as what the author terms the weakest link in the generally disempowered chain of Indian womanhood.
Obviously then, any recommendations for their empowerment will have to be two fold — first, general recommendations, that apply to all women; second, specific recommendations that aim at Muslim women in particular Need for women to break free stressed HUBLI: Indian society is in an unfortunate situation. There are so many religions, castes, sects, creeds which are dividing it and I look forward to the day when even the division between man and woman seizes to exist. Indian society has been male-dominated and right from the scriptures to the present day thinking, it was said that women were ‘devis’ but in practice they were treated as ‘dasis’. This was stated by Governor V.S. Ramadevi in Hubli on Tuesday. Inaugurating the the III literature conference organised by the North Karnataka Women Writers Association, she said that in a male-dominated society, it was but a shortlived necessity that women writers had to form a separate association because of the constraints that they lived and worked. But sooner the gender divisions had to be broken and only class writers had to subsist.
She warned the women writers that they were getting swayed by the superficial realities and ”a thorough sensitivity towards the problems of the humans should be depicted.” Warning that it was women themselves who were depriving themselves of the opportunities, she said that to create masterpieces in writings the experience of life had to be varied. Only when the women writer crossed over the threshhold of her home and circumstance, could she become an excellent scribe. Till now women were only writing about their household chores, their problems, their frustrations, marriage preparations, child-rearing and also devotion to God and her family members, she said. ‘Ittivritta’, the experience as told was very important and women the Governor said had multiple perspectives, while man tried to write in his own personal viewpoint. She said that this was a dominant trait of every girl and this could be fully exploited by the arts.
Rama Devi warned that the writers were the creators of reality and women writers as intellectuals should not try to glamourise issues, events and personalities, but should try to work towards the true empowerment of women. The governor lamented that these days womens’ magazines, womens’ pages and womens’ issues were being published ”just for the heck of it”. Many of these writings or pictures did not have social responsibility. Urging the gathering of women writers, she said that women should help women lead purposeful lives and not misguide them with unwanted sophistication. The problems being faced by women in this country regardless of which denomination they belonged and their social status were enormous and literature should be the lamp to bring them out of their limitations. She said that women should strive towards real equality, which meant freedom to lead ones’ own life the way one wanted and not misplaced beliefs that modernity and equality meant – wearing westernised clothing, keeping upto fashion trends etc. Leading partner of Infosys, Bangalore, Sudha Murthy said that women should not become vulnerable by being dependent on their father, husband and son and sons-in-law and living in an illusory world.
She said that more than 70 per cent of mental patients in the country were women. This was because once the illusion on which they had led their lives broke, reality for them was incomprehensible. Minister for Kannada and Culture Rani Sateesh who also spoke at the function said that with Rama Devi in Bangalore, the Raj Bhavan was a close destination to all women of Karnataka. She said that Karnataka should be proud to have a lady governor. Earlier, the president of the conference and Association, Sarojini Shintri said that women should become sensitive to the problems such as poverty, ecological degradation, war, famine, violence etc and strive towards peace AHMEDABAD: On the Occasion of International Women’s Day, The Times of India posed the question ‘Is the socio-economic status of women in Gujarat better than in most other states?’ to prominent women of the state.
Their responses, though varied, give an insight into the issues confronting women in the state. Most of them felt that though in comparison women in Gujarat may fare slightly better than, say, their counterparts in Bihar, such comparisons were hardly heartening. Ila Pathak, co-ordinator, Ahmedabad Women’s Action Group: There is no indicator that suggests women in Gujarat are better off than their counterparts in other states. Yes, they might be socio-economically well off in comparison to women in Rajasthan or Bihar, but in comparison to Kerala, they are nowhere. Moreover, with twenty women mysteriously dying in the state every day and lakhs of females being killed ever before they are born, how can we say the fair sex enjoys a better position? I feel my twenty years of complete devotion to the cause has yielded nothing… there’s still a long way to go. Ela Bhatt, founder, Self Employed Women’s Association: There is no one answer to whether women here are socio-economically better off. In Gujarat, there are certain pockets where women are socially upward but economically backward and vice versa.
Women here are more aware of their status and rights than other states. But here too, awareness is the end of it for most harassed women as there is no strong support system to count upon. Sheba George, co-director, Sanchetna: The two true indicators of women’s advancement – poverty and violence – are severely falling short of expectations in the state. True, Gujarat is more safe and prosperous. Women can move about freely even at midnight and are earning Rs 60-80 as wages everyday. But, inflation is killing them; they have to put in more hard work. Sustaining families has become a tricky issue for the poor or even middle-class women. Kajal Patwa, Jyoti Sangh: The socio-economic status of women in Gujarat is undoubtedly better than those in other states, especially Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh. However, the rate of domestic violence is on the rise here. At least 5-7 women are burnt to death and a minimum 40-50 cases of domestic violence are registered. Self-reliance or better jobs have unfortunately not resulted in any change in the status and position of women in the family.
Rani Advani, advocate: Gujarati women might be better off than their counterparts in Bihar & UP; but in terms of health, education and awareness they are worse off than those in southern states and the eastern states where women enjoy a different kind of status. One can say in absolute terms that the social status of women is surely getting worse as cases of atrocities and harassment against them is on the rise. In the immediate post-Independence era, Gujarati women were more progressive and enjoyed greater freedom. Yogini Brahmabhatt, president of the ladies wing of Gujarat Chamber of Commerce and Industry: It is unfortunate but true that women in the state in no way enjoy a better socio-economic status. Of course, a greater number of women are now stepping out of their homes and working towards economic self-reliance – but these are just a few in number and in very initial stages. Even socially, there is no improvement. Women have started venturing out for social freedom, but there is no support from the family or society at large or respect for the fair sex.
Mrinalini Sarabhai, noted dansuese: A lot of work was and is being done by women in Gujarat ever since the pre-Independence time. Women have been aware of their problems, and, there were and are a lot of voluntary agencies to guide them towards a better life. However, it has not resulted in a better socio-economic status which is not good. This will not happen until men realise that women should also share an equal status and come forward to help them achieve the same. LUCKNOW:IT was good to note that the philosophy department of Lucknow University, under the guidance of its head, Dr Roop Rekha Verma, was gradually emerging as a catalyst for women’s issues in the city. Sometime ago it organised a screening of the film Asli Azadi, portraying women’s role in the Freedom Movement. The film showed how even when women were present, their role was only supportive and marginal. So while it was emancipated enough by the standards of the day, it was emancipation within limits imposed by the patriarchy. This had already been dealt with in these columns.
More recently, we had a talk by the noted feminist historian, Prof Uma Chakravarty of Delhi University, on the same theme: how malestream history has ignored women’s roles and perceptions. Women’s perspectives were absent even in the various subaltern studies that had concentrated on oppressed males like Dalits and tribals, rather than on women within this oppressed category. Result:Even more marginalisation of women in academia. Prof Chakravarty’s main contentions were that women were still absent, that any female-centred interpretation required both reading between the lines, and a consistent questioning of conventional sources like Manu that had only served to reinforce patriarchal norms. A classic example of this was how, for centuries, all of us who had studied history, were conditioned to believe that ancient Indian women had freedom of education, thought and speech. The famous debate between Gargi and Rishi Yagyavalkya was quoted as proof. The message being: women were so free that Gargi could dare take on a “Rishi.” The truth, however, was distorted. Gargi was actually forced into silence by Yagyavalkya, who, when he realised he had lost the argument, cursed her: “Be quiet, foolish woman, or your head will burst into a thousand pieces.” A typical case of male intellectual dominance, couched in a facade of liberalism.
Historians were responsible for this, because they did not lead new trends but merely follow agendas set by others. Which was why a gender-sensitive history had to wait for the women’s movement and was not an automatic trend that emerged out of scholarship. It was not, however, all darkness and gloom, as any student of women’s studies would tell you. During the last decade women’s history had taken off with a recognition that it was a perspective that needed further exploration. Feminist scholars had not only been able to insert women into history, but also examined the relationship between gender and various social and economic processes. They had been aided in that by the rise of feminist publiations and journals. The talk threw up some interesting issues. Today, women were more visible, but they continued to be marginalised. Witness the backlash against feminist scholars at the highest levels in universities. The political dimensions of such marginalisation needed to be seriously noted. Did it mean then that a woman either toed the malestream line or was condemned to float around the margins?
Also, mainstream history texts continued to exclude women’s research, the tendency still being to view women’s history as separate, not mainstream. Will her story then only serve to ghettoize women further? Herstory was a clear case of the women’s movement informing and reinforcing women’s studies. The extent to which women’s studies informed the movement was an area for scrutiny. These were points to ponder and perhaps include in further agendas. The good thing about such interactions was that they brought students of women’s studies out of the ivory tower into the real world. This is essential if such fledgling areas of study were to be vibrant and relevant. They also provided a stimulating meeting ground for citizens who were interested in women’s issues. The large presence of men was a welcome sign and showed that women’s issues were being taken with the seriousness they deserved. Panchayat polls: women voters outnumber men this time BELLARY: Women voters are more in number than the men in the zilla panchayat and taluk panchayat elections. Deputy Commissioner Rajkamal told reporters on Tuesday that the total number of voters were 8,07,724 and of them 3,99,065 were men and about 9,594 women voters were more than men taking to the total to 4,08,659.
Women aren’t ready to take the wheel in buses TWO years ago, when the Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation opened up the job of bus drivers to women expectations ran high. But till date, not a single recruitment has been made — the primary reason being that no women candidates have come forward to take control of the wheel. While khaki-clad women holding leather bags and issuing tickets on KSRTC (including BMTC) buses are now quite a familiar sight, it appears that women are not too eager to become drivers. Chief traffic manager BMTC, Dastagir Sharief says, “As part of our 30 per cent reservation policy for women, we have several posts vacant for bus drivers. We do not know why there is such reluctance on the part of the women to become drivers, but we have gone to the extent of arranging special training for women drivers if we get candidates. We want the women to come forward and take up these posts and to encourage them, we also have several incentives. The department also feels that since women have done so well in other fields they will outdo themselves here.
Sadly, we are still waiting.” But in the case of conductors there have been a large number of women applicants, though there is currently a freeze on their recruitment. Sharief says that after KSRTC reducted the height criterion for women conductors, a large number of women applied. “But because of the problem concerning grace marks for rural reservations, and the HC and SC rulings, we are not in a position to recruit women conductors right now. We have 264 women conductors on our rolls and not a single woman driver,” he adds. Divisional controller KSRTC Bangalore Division, Paramesh, says that the women conductors have fitted well into their jobs, “Other states have women drivers who are doing really well. Contrary to the common belief that women are not good drivers, they are very cautious and have good road sense. The job of a driver requires a lot of commitment and we know that women can do it.” “It is a strenuous job and there is a lot of risk as so many lives are in your hand. Bus drivers are often accused of being rash and in case of accidents, the mob does not spare them.
Women drivers will have a doubly tough job as there are late hours and strenuous shifts,” says a woman conductor from Depot no 4, who gave up her dreams of becoming a driver because of family pressure and opted to become a conductor instead. But Sharief clarifies that while the training for the women will be at par with men, certain provisions will me made for them keeping in mind family status and shifts. “We do not mind taking them even on a trial basis and seeing if they suit the job. After training, they can decide if they want to stay or not.” While KSRTC is several inputs from employment exchanges for the post of female conductors, they will have a long wait before the recruitment finally kicks off. “We are informing women who apply for the post of conductors about the requirement of women drivers, hopefully they will come forward and become drivers in a few months,” says a BMTC officer. Whether the post industrial era has marginalised or empowered women is a debatable issue, but the fact that industrialisation has made the working environment more hazardous for women, requires no debate.
In Gujarat a large number of women work in the unorganised sector, where they are doubly oppressed- both as workers and as women. Working conditions in most Indian industries being what they are, the female worker is twice as much vulnerable to the occupational hazards, as her male counterpart, for not only her own body but also her womb- the future generation is at risk. Agriculture still remains a major source of livelihood in Gujarat with about 30-40 lakh workers engaged in agriculture and related occupations. Out of these, a sizeable number are women. Apart from the usual tasks of sowing, weeding, etc the women agricultural labourers are also engaged in the spraying of chemical pesticides. Most of these women are not aware of the damage that these chemicals do to their bodies. In addition some of the pesticides being used in Gujarat and elsewhere in the country are banned in the West due to their highly toxic nature, such as DDT and Methyl Parathion.
None of these agricultural labourers are provided with masks to prevent the inhalation of toxic chemicals. Goggles to protect the eyes are also not provided. Organophosphates, the most deadly constituents of the chemical pesticides, have the potential to damage all the vital functions of the human body including the reproductive system. Chemical pesticides are profusely used in the cotton growing areas of Gujarat from where numerous cases of pesticide poisoning, cancer, stunted and malformed children are regularly reported. This can be directly linked to the extensive use of toxic pesticides and lack of elementary precautions. The tobacco processing industry also employs a large number of women workers. When the tobacco leaves are cut and rolled, a large amount of dust is directly inhaled by the women. It coats the mucous membrane of the windpipe and the victims can neither spit nor swallow. It is also suspected that the tobacco dust adversely affects the menstrual cycle in women and milk production in young mothers. Gujarat is the largest producer of salt in the country and about one lakh Agarias, both men and women, work in the salt pans. Most of these salt pans are situated in far flung coastal areas where no health care facilities are available.
No gum boots or gloves are provided to these Agarias who, for hours, stand in highly saline water and handle salt with their bare hands. As a result, many of them, including the women, suffer from various skin infections and due to the stark whiteness of their environment, face the risk of partial blindness. The sick and pregnant women seldom get timely medical aid and many of them suffer from severe anaemia and post delivery complications. As a result most of their children too suffer from malnutrition. The ship breaking industry is a relatively new sector offering labour opportunities to women. About 400 women labourers work at the ship breaking plots at Alang. They carry dismantled furniture and other items as head loads that are removed from the ship’s cabins by the male labourers. These women then discharge their loads onto the plots. Most of them are between 15 and 35 years old, which is the child-bearing age.
The wages at Alang are better than what these women may earn as agricultural labourers, but Alang has earned disrepute for its highly hazardous working conditions and toxic pollution. These women are exposed to both these evils.They are not aware of the different kinds of pollution that their bodies are exposed to, as they stand in ankle deep waters and work in plots thick with fumes from metal welding. There are many other areas such as construction sites, municipal works, where women labourers form a large part of the immigrant, contract labour force. They toil for hours exposing both, themselves and their children to poor working conditions and exploitation. What is worse is that, most of these women are not healthy to begin with. They suffer from malnourishment, anaemia and general disability because of inadequate diet. Most of them have to work because they belong to landless families and must offer their labour for a pittance.
In the new millennium, while their more fortunate, urban counterparts seek a new identity these women continue to suffer and struggle for mere survival. Dairy project a boom for rural women LUCKNOW: * Shanti Devi Yadav, a middle aged women living in an interior village of Barabanki, some 30 km away from Lucknow, who had been serving her family for more than 20 years and had never stepped out of her home, has now discovered a new engagement for herself and a source of earning too. She was pursued by a neighbour to purchase a buffalo. She was a little hesitant but started milk trading despite resistance from her family members. Now after putting in three arduous years, Shanti has bought six buffaloes and has also become the secretary of the Mahila Dugdh Samiti in her village. Working under her are 50 women. Now her husband and kids also help her out in running the business. * Shanno, who was married to a labourer in Chittapattie, a village in Faizabad district. The family lived in acute poverty and sometimes was starved for food. Their life changed totally when a social worker told them about the Mahila dairy project, Shanno felt very inspired and started saving for a cattlehead.
Today three years after she made the decision, she now owns five animals and the family is living very comfortably. Shanti and Shanno are not the only rural women who have made a success out of their lives by running dairy farms, but there are as many as 76,000 who are supplementing their family income through the highly ambitious “Women dairy project” launched by the Cooperative of Dairy Development. Their entire life style has changed. They have not only become economically independent but now also have a say in panchayat meetings. Although, life has become slightly tough for them, they have to put in four to five hours additionally looking after their cattle, but most of them do not mind this because they used to spend this time earlier gossiping with their neighbours. Hundreds of women in remote villages are running mahila dairy samiti and thus helping out in Operation Flood in the state. Wives of rich farmers have also joined the group to make themselves economically independent. As per the scheme floated by the HRD ministry for the upliftment of the rural women in Uttar Pradesh, state government initiated “Ambedkar Vishesh Rojzar Yogana” in 1991-92 in 59 districts of the state.
The objective is to economically strengthen these female members, they are given loan through another scheme of the department. Secondly, they are imparted practical training through cooperative Dairy training centres about managing the milk committee, first aid help, artificial insemination, feeding and milking the cattle. These dudh walies have to form a union called Mahila Dugdh Samiti which manages the marketing of the milk to the milk cooperatives and get the money. Any women who owns one or more animal can become member of this society. The Cooperative of women dairy (CWD) provides subsidy on the purchase of the cattle grains to the members. The other facilities include free medicines to the cattle and grant for insurance of animals. It is a slow but steady process, eight years ago, when this project was launched, then it was too difficult to convince the women and their family members. But now in most of the villages women at least know about this scheme. The awareness level has gone up and so is the number of its members. According to Shailendra Srivastava, manager of the project so far 1,897 women milk societies are formed in 59 districts providing employment to 76,436 women and generating 55,587 litre milk per day and a payment of Rs 5.60 lakhs per day. This achievement in itself tells the changing phase of rural area, he added.
Physical abuse of Indian women in homes is rampant: Survey LUCKNOW: For long it was believed that women were subjected to harassment and violence in the streets and at their work place. But now it is becoming increasingly clear that women are not necessarily safe in their homes. Wife-beating, sexual abuse of the girl-child and other forms of physical and psychological torture of women are commonplace in homes. It is a worldwide phenomenon and India is no exception. However, statistical data on the incidence of domestic violence in India is scant and the few studies which are available indicate that physical abuse of Indian women in their homes is quite rampant. A survey, spanning seven Indian cities and covering both rural and urban populations, reveals that 45 per cent of the women surveyed had been subjected to at least one incident of physical or psychological violence in their lifetime. In fact, the study indicates that severe physical violence is all-pervasive and though slapping was not included while undertaking the survey, yet 26 per cent women said they had experienced moderate to severe form of physical violence. ”This figure would go up considerably if slapping was also included in the study,” explains Geeta Rao Gupta, director of the US-based International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) which conducted this survey. The findings of the survey, released at an international conference here over the week-end, was discussed threadbare by the experts attending it.
The survey, according to the ICRW, covered the seven cities of Delhi, Lucknow, Vellore, Bhopal, Nagpur, Chennai and Thiruvananthapuram. It showed little variation in the prevalence of domestic violence within the different regions and different population groups. The study shows a high incidence of psychological abuse with 43.5 per cent of the women experiencing at least one incident of psychologically violent behaviour like insults, threats, inducement of fear or abandonment. Significantly, women living in nuclear families were found to be more vulnerable to violence than those living in large families. According to the survey only 23 per cent of those living in joint families became victims of violence. Though the study did not focus on this aspect, the data collected showed that joint families perhaps did act as a deterrent. The findings also shatters the myth that working women are less prone to such violent acts. In fact, the study shows that more working women are beaten up at home. Women going out to work apparently expose themselves to greater risk of violence, more so by their unemployed husbands, says the report. The study further reveals that more than 54 per cent of the surveyed women who reported injuries had regular employment.
Nearly 90 per cent of the women who reported an injury in the last year were working women. Despite all this suffering, barely two per cent of the victims went to the police to report these instances of torture; only 62 women out of the total 10,000 sought help from the police and only 16 got some relief. And yet, most of the women – 95 per cent of those surveyed – chose not to opt out of marriage. The survey also came out with the startling revelation that instead of being protected during pregnancy, women were actually more prone to violence even during this period. Govt, NGOs differ over women’s status NEW DELHI: The Indian government and NGOs will present a contrasting picture to the world about the status of women in the country at the special session on women in New York next week, which will review how member countries have implemented the commitments they made at the 1995 Beijing conference.
The government’s country paper, prepared by the department of women and child development (WCD), has compiled various official schemes for women but does not assess how effectively these are being implemented. The report hides more than it reveals as it side-steps sensitive issues like the impact of globalisation on women, and ends up telling only part of the story. The country report admits it had committed to formulate and operationalise a national policy on women, set up a commssioner for women and increase the education budget to six per cent of the GDP. The NGO report points out that none of these promises have materialided even five years after the Beijing conference. The national policy on women, drafted in 1996, is yet to be approved while the move to set up a national commissioner has been turned down by the home ministry, says the NGO report. Admitting its commitment to six per cent of GDP for education has not been met, the country paper promises to make up for this through a special programme of free education for girls up to college level – never mind that this scheme is yet to take off and after two years is still doing the rounds of various committees.
The government paper has done a real tightrope walk while dealing with issue of the impact of globalisation on women. Noting that such an assessment is not easy, it, however, claims that initial assessments show the lot of a sizeable section of women has ”improved due to fall in inflation, expansion of employment opportunities and cheaper white goods providing greater comfort”. At the same time, the report admits that studies on the impact of liberalisation on women indicate a need for re- framing policies for access to jobs and preserving them. The government cites the National Crime Records Bureau figures to accept that crimes against women have increased, but says it has taken several measures to deal with the problem – like setting up all-women police stations in 14 states and strengthening present laws, an exercise undertaken by the National Commission for Women (NCW). The government paper does not mention that most states now want to close down these ”ineffective” police stations while the NCW’s 200-odd recommendations, including amendments to laws on dowry and trafficking, have been virtually ignored.
No place is safe for a woman, not even home NEW DELHI: Query a police officer on crime against women and he (the use of masculine gender is deliberate) will instinctively reach for his statistical handbook. He will tell you how rapes declined by two per cent (All-India figure for 1998). And how strict police action ensured women feel safer than ever before. But pouring over data culled by Delhi Police and the National Crime Records Bureau can only indicate the number of women who muster enough courage to report crimes. It quite effectively hides how unsafe women really feel. And it almost never tells you, that quite like those black borders around NCRB’s data-charts, women are hemmed-in by a male attitude which virtually screams in their face…”I can do it and get away with it.” And the shame is perhaps most stark in the nation’s Capital. It’s evident in abundance amongst men who refuse to vacate seats earmarked for women in DTC buses and then attempt all kinds of physical contact with them. And in those who try their best to brush against women while walking past them on roads.
Or even in those men who deliberately, sometimes even forcibly, enter ladies compartments in local trains to ogle and tease. But why go that far? Lone women drivers are routinely honked at and often chased and scared to death by jeering male drivers. In Delhi, rarely, if ever, will you find women travelling alone after 8 pm. The mantra here is, just about anything can happen to women. And anywhere. Former Delhi Police commissioner V N Singh once called it a problem of north Indian attitude. People here are crude and love to flaunt their masculinity, he believed. A rapidly expanding clan of the nouveau riche have actually made many of them believe money can get them anything, he felt. Little wonder, the Capital reported 553 rapes in 1997, 441 in 1998 and 399 in 1999. That apart, 975 women were kidnapped or abducted, another 587 molested and 1,281 sexually harassed last year.
And these are just those who mustered the required courage to report the incidents. How strongly this attitude runs in their veins is evident from the experience of scores of women officers in Delhi Police manning the police control room. Each day, about hundred men – with no apparent fear of law – call up the emergency number 100 and only have obscenities to report. Last year, a MTNL employee used his Rohini exchange number to call women police constables at least 75 times in a single night. The police could track him down and booked him. But they can’t be that lucky with men who commit crimes within the boundaries of their homes. Though the number of cases of cruelty by husbands or in-laws jumped from 771 in 1998 to 971 in 1999, the exact magnitude of this problem can only be guessed at. The police, sometimes rightly, say their effectiveness is limited in such crimes. Even in police, women officers complain they are discriminated against. That they never get good field postings and are preferred for softer assignments.
They are right. Out of 117 police stations, Delhi has only one woman SHO, no woman assistant commissioner of police in any of its 37 sub-divisions, no deputy police commissioner to head the nine districts and no joint police commissioner for the three ranges. Now, Union home secretary Kamal Pande talks about an all- women police station in Delhi. It is needed sooner than later. Perhaps with a facility which allows complaints by women to be mandatorily registered there irrespective of jurisdictional restriction. Specially, because NCRB has projected Delhi will become the most unsafe city for women by 2020. Taking stock of violence against women NEW DELHI: Violence against women causes more deaths and disabilities than various illnesses put together, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). A three-day workshop, organised by the Society for Operations Research and Training (SORT) in collaboration with the Centre for Operations Research and Training (CORT) here, emphasised that violence against women should be recognised as a violation of human rights.
The workshop was supported by WHO, UNICEF, the Ford Foundation and the Population Council. A CORT study identified refusal to sex as one of the most common reasons for male aggressiveness. More than two-thirds of women in rural Uttar Pradesh were subjected to violence for refusing sex to their husband and one-third were subjected to forced sex. Such violence could have fatal effect on women, leading to suicide or killing, the study said. Another study of court records in Maharashtra showed 120 cases of dowry deaths and all these women were below 25 years of age. Another study from Delhi revealed that 56 per cent of all suicides were by women. ”Marital discord” was the common reason. Studies among poor rural women in India have shown that the extent of violence can be as high as 76 per cent. A recent study by the International Centre for Research on Women found that 45 per cent of the women interviewed had been abused by their husbands.
Violence against women is also as widespread in Bangladesh. In his paper, M E Khan of the Population Council identified five factors that triggered violence: managing household work, sexual relationship, dowry demand, poverty and economic dependency of women. Saroj Pachauri, Population Council’s Asia director, emphasised the need for research on gender-based violence. Intervention could be successful only when scientific data was available, she said. Gender-based violence considerably increases women’s risk of poor health. The World Bank estimates that rape and domestic violence account for loss of five per cent of healthy years of life of women aged between 15 and 44 years in developing countries. Sea-change among women of feudal Bihar NEW DELHI: ”If without knowing anything Rabri Devi could become chief minister, then why can’t I? I too may be an illiterate, but I can articulate my ideas.
As for writing, I can put my thumb impression as well.” If these comments of a 35-year-old Harijan woman, Sudama Devi, from Chhatra district in caste-ridden Bihar are any indication, then a quiet revolution seems to be taking place in the state. Backward class women are now able to not just voice their views on all subjects, but also bring in social changes – an almost impossible feat till some years ago in feudal Bihar. For Sudama Devi, who was married off when she was just 15 to a rickshaw-puller, life was a daily drudgery of working from morning till evening. At the end of a hard day’s work, she earned a pittance of Rs 4 to Rs 5. ”I didn’t know what eating a full meal was. There was never enough food, with five children to feed.” Life has changed in this area after 40-odd women were organised into a group by an empowerment scheme, Mahila Samkhya. These women initially spent their few leisure hours becoming literate.
”We would save oil so that we could write at night after finishing the chores.” In fact, the handi in the kitchen became a convenient place to practise writing their names. These women have come to Delhi along with 1,400 others from all over the country for a workshop. Today, Sudama Devi is no longer struggling to earn a living. She has set up her own small business and is assisted by her husband who has stopped pulling the rickshaw. It’s a similar story for the others, all beneficiaries of a micro credit scheme launched in this area by these women. It took some time for this group to organise enough capital for this scheme. After much persuasion the district collector agreed to give the group a loan of just Rs 2,000. This was soon repayed and they came back with the amount doubled. Now, the group has received a loan of Rs 15,000, which has been distributed equally among 15 members, who in turn revolve it amongst a group of five members each.
With this financial empowerment has also come the next step: Social change. The women had the local distillery shut down by their sheer force of numbers. Of course, it was not easy, says Josephine, a younger member of the group. The men came charging at us. ”Who has given you so much sense? they asked. We were also accused of going out and learning all the wrong things.” However, better sense prevailed with the village panchayat too agreeing with the women. Now, says Sudama Devi, this group has managed to put a check on not just alcoholic husbands, but wife-beating, dowry demands, and early marriage as well. A fight against a proposed firing range in the area is still going on. ”We will not lose hope,” say the women. Says another, ”Laloowa ke darwaze tak jayenge (we will go uptill Laloo’s doorstep).” As for Laloo Yadav not becoming chief minister, the women are happy. ”He lost from our area,” says one. ”Development is taking place in our village because Laloo Yadav is not present in every home,” quips another.
Clearly, these women have come a long way GOPESHWAR: Garhwali women – fair, slim, beautiful, literate and ever smiling. Isn’t that the picture that comes to mind? It is amazing how these women carry the burden of running the household single-handedly, while their men idle away their time. A woman’s day in Garhwal starts at four in the morning. She gets water in ‘Kasera’ (Bronze vessel) from the water source, which can be situated at a distance of one to five kms. She has to get water twice a day-every morning and evening. Then, she attends to the domestic animals. She cleans and feeds them.
The fodder includes dry grass called ‘Bural’ or ‘Bhusa’ and also green leaves (when ever available). Milch cows and buffaloes are also given ‘pinda’ (made by cooking green leaves). After this the lady cleans the cow shed, throwing out cow dung. Now comes the turn of house cleaning. Alongside she prepares breakfast, usually chapattis and subzi, for her family. She readies her kids for school and serves breakfast. She then goes marketing for daily necessities. On her return she prepares lunch, which usually consists of rice and dal. She keeps the lunch in such a manner so that kids, after coming back from the school, can eat themselves. Then she sets out for the jungle. The women go to the jungle for grass and wood. Grass serves as fodder for the cattle and wood is used in the chulha. They have to walk long distances, over five kilometers during lean summer months. Obviously, the walk includes climbing and descending hilly terrain. It is about four to five hours later when they finally return with a gigantic load on their heads.
Moreover, with depleting forest cover, the walk is increasing with every passing day. In the jungle, these women face grave dangers like man-eating leopards, slippery steep surfaces and even falling down from the trees (which they climb for green leaves). They also have to constantly face the wrath of the forest officials. One can commonly see frail women with headloads thrice their size walking on the longwinding road proceeding towards their houses. They are also responsible for cultivating their meagre land holdings to grow wheat, soyabean, mustard etc. In the evenings, she milks her cows and buffaloes before preparing dinner. After the family has had dinner (obviously, she is the last one to sit for dinner and gets leftovers), she washes utensils. Meanwhile as her chulha is free, she preapres ‘pinda’ for the animals (by boiling green leaves).
During all her evening activities, she gets her children to sit near by and study. Their education is a priority. It is over ten in the night. The lady who has been working through out the day goes to bed only recoup enough energy to toil the next day. The men in Garhwal too go to bed after a ‘tiring’ All the work they do during day is to sit, play cards and carrom and discuss politics – domestic as also international. The evenings are spent in drinking and more often than not, followed by wife bashing. The only actual work they ever do is ply the plough in their small farms, labouring for hardly a few days in the entire year. The women in Garhwal do not have a minute to spare. Women, working through the day and ight, shouldering all responsibilities, tired yet smiling and working, keep wishing tomorrow would be another day.