Tuesday, 10 March 2009

March 8 - India's International Women's Day

- brian mendonca

This Women's Day I did not make it a point to call up my lady friends and greet them. I did that last year, but this year I was not so sure. Cursory probing prior to March 8 had seen (some) women slamming the day as tokenistic. Others felt that the hype did nothing to reduce acts of violence on women.

I opened the day bringing home 2 gigantic pink carnations in memory of my mother, and placed them near the stalks of deep red gladioli which were already in the vase. Mum and dad had brought us up strong and firm in values in Goa - something that has stood the test of time. My sister is surrounded with the love of her in-laws in Pune and is just about keeping pace with her 8-month-old bundle of joy, viz. her daughter Maegan.

A survey of the day's newspaper's showed a number of young women, including single mothers, were quite happy living alone. Perhaps one is single-minded about this, as are the Maoists in South Bastar who forgo having children as this is not feasible since as they say, they live in conditions of war.

The Economic Times had the tall and lissome Anna Bredmeyer (50) draped over her bike and who also loves Mercs. As Anna waits in a rustic dhaba by the highway sipping her ice-cold beer, waiting for her friends, I turn the pages to see a few more women in their magnificent machines.

Waving a thumbs-up sign from her MIG 35 was Suman Sharma - the first woman to fly such a beauty. By the way she is also the first Indian woman to co-pilot the F16 IN Super Viper. Squadron Leader Veena Saharan and Flight Lieutenant Monica Lakshkar too looked superbly confident as they steered Indian Airforce's gigantic IL-76. Veena is the first woman pilot to fly this aircraft. She is with the IAF's 44 Squadron which has its IL-76 base at Nagpur.

Biocon was Kiran Mazumdar Shaw's baby. Steering her fledgling company over 30-years she is now into biopharmaceuticals. 'Enzyme technology is about innovation' she says recalling how she formed the company in 1978 in the garage of her rented house. Today Biocon is ranked as one of the top 20 biotechnology companies in the world.

For social committment, the haunting face of Irom Chanu Sharmila still lingers. Irom has been on a fast for the past 9 years seeking removal of the Armed Forces Special Forces Act 1958. She was released from judicial custody in Imphal on March 7, 2009.

The Hindi edition of Hindustan Times brought a thought-provoking story on mother's who had lost their children. Neelam Katara lost her son Nitish (21) to powerful barons in Uttar Pradesh. After battling it out for 6 years she finally got justice. Even Nitish's fiancee - for whom he was killed - recanted. Englishwoman Fiona MacKeown continues to fight for justice to track the killers of her daughter Scarlet in Goa last year. Sabrina Lal fought - and got- justice for her sister Jessica Lal who was gunned down in cold blood in a lounge off Mehrauli in 1999.

At the end of the day, as feminist theatre activist Payal Agarwal said, 'For a woman, everyday is a struggle.' I had interviewed Payal (30) on AIR's Rajdhani channel for broadcast on March 8, 2009 at 9.30 pm. Another lady smsd after the broadcast that she found the 14 minute programme 'informative and inspiring.'

I think we need to inspire one another towards a more gender-sensitized society. And we need to support women to make the decisions that change their lives. Latika in Slumdog Millionaire (2009) makes a choice to marry outside her community, as her name suggests. From an orphan to a gunman's moll she finds true love because Jamal Malik waits for her.

As I gathered my newspapers on that Sunday morning I chanced upon a group of street children - all of them boys about 10 years old. Wait a minute! There was something odd about one of them. She was a girl! The only one among the boys and acting with a certain bravado. She was also wearing a dirty (white) T-shirt and I noticed the area on the T shirt which covered her pubescent breasts was far more soiled - suggesting that they had been amply handled. I went back to talk to her but she was gone. She could have been one of the slumdogs but her sexuality had destined her for a different path.

In the evening I scooted back from a picnic lunch in the Deer Park in South Delhi to pick up dear Mrs Ahuja who had just turned 75 on March 3. She had wanted to see Slumdog Millionaire and I promised her I would take her. In between bouts of sciatica she sat on the edge of her seat not wanting to miss any of the action.

What intrigued (and amused)me was that two of the staid business papers (FE and ET) on Women's Day 2009 gave ample space to the 50th birth anniversary of Barbie doll! Mattel makes sure Barbie is all things to all people with 18 million registered users on Barbiegirls.com. Mattel pulled out the stops Monday at Mattel's Malibu Dream House party for a big birthday bash which supermodel Heidi Klum was supposed to attend.

A doll, a fashion icon? For 50 years?! It does take some savvy marketing and a morphing of so many female desires. From around the world. But in a sense, here we have an inanimate object to which a lot of women and girls look up to. In a consumerist and globalised world it takes an elite few to avail of that luxury.

Meanwhile in India the sordidness of the girlchild will not go away. There's still so much that can be done. If we only make that choice. The teenaged doe-eyed Arushi Talwar(14) was done in virtually in her own bed in her own house in Uttar Pradesh last year - and the country's apex investigating body the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) is clueless. It took a single bullet to erase the smile of TV journalist Soumya Viswanathan (25) as she returned home from work at 3 a.m. last year. Soumya is, or was, from Kerala which just reported two sisters, Subina (19) and Sujana (22) committing suicide on Tuesday (10 March) by setting themselves ablaze at their home at Irinaavu, in Kannur, North Kerala. The elder sister was engaged to be married recently.

These young women have been plucked from life in the prime of their lives for no fault of their own. India must answer for them.

Because the media forgets too easily.
'There's more to life than marriage,' Hindu, March 8, 2009, Magazine, pg. 5; 'Single but not lonely,' Times of India, TimesLife, March 8, 2009, pg. 2; 'With battle on their minds, Maoists prefer to go childless,' Times of India, February 21, 2009, pg.11; 'Why should men have all the fun,' Economic Times March 8, 2009, Backpage, pg 12; 'Mighty wings,' Hindustan Times, February 14, 2009, pg. 10; 'Gajraj now has a woman mahout, Times of India, March 7, 2009, pg.15; 'The risk that worked,' Financial Express, March 8, 2009, pg. 2; 'Vo chalee,' Hindustan, New Delhi, March 8, 2009, Remix, pg 1; 'Midlife crisis? No way!' Financial Express, March 8, 2009, pg.15; 'Barbie turns a year younger?' Economic Times, March 8, 2009, Backpage, pg.12; 'Two sisters set themselves ablaze, Indian Express, March 11, 2009, pg. 7; Logo courtesy UNESCO International Day of Women
This article was published in Indian Currents, vol. 21.12, 16-22 March 2009, New Delhi, pages 10-11. Also at www.indiancurrents.org.in


Anonymous said...

great piece...u should publish it somewhere!!

vin said...

A very thoughtful piece written with lots of feelings that are hard to find these days.And it has been written after doing a lot of research too! Keep it up.
We are living in a world full of paradoxes.Infact, these paradoxes are the driving force behind all the activity that we witness day in and day out.And one of the biggest paradoxes is the man woman relationship. Although the two sexes were made to complete each other,but more often than not ,they end up competing with each other.Their opposite attributes tend to generate more hate than love.All that is needed to turn this hate into love is a change in attitude.
But this change doesn't come easily and sometimes one's whole life is not enough to bring about that change.In this context Guru Gobind Singh's quote comes to mind when he said 'The whole life is nothing but a journey from self to self'.Anyway, I think a little more maturity on the part of males can work wonders in bringing about a more gender-sensitized society which has been wished by you in this write-up.