Archive for the ‘Indian Women’ Category

Jeeja Ghosh with her daughter Hiya (Picture from the internet)

Jeeja Ghosh is the Brand Ambassador for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections appointed by the Election Commission of India, which wants the forthcoming elections to be the most inclusive one.

“The EC has organized camps to enroll voters with disability. Initiatives are being taken to make the polling booths accessible. I am happy to help in every way I can,” said Jeeja, who has been an inspiration to many.

She shared with me that she has helped in the creation of Cards to educate the disabled on the voting modalities and procedures.

Jeeja Ghosh needs no introduction. Born with cerebral palsy (a condition caused by lack of oxygen in the brain either during pregnancy or birth) and an indomitable spirit, she has overcome many a hurdle to tread into uncharted territory.

A graduate in sociology from Presidency College (now Presidency University), Jeeja did her post-graduation from Delhi University. Most would have stopped at that. But Jeeja went on to do a second masters in Disability Studies from Leeds University, UK. Back home, she became the head of Advocacy and Disability Studies at the Indian Institute of Cerebral Palsy.

She gave up the job last September because she intended to challenge herself further. She, along with partners Chandra Sen Gupta and Sayomdeb Mukherjee, co-founded non-profit organisation ‘Inclusion Infinite Foundation’ as well as limited liability partnership firm Ebullience Advisors. Both are startups breaking new ground in the sector and replace the charity-based model with a rights-based one. The idea behind two companies is that one will be able to support the activities of the other.

At a very personal level, Jeeja had pierced yet another glass ceiling when she and her husband Bappaditya Nag adopted a baby girl, Hiya. In doing so, she became the first Indian woman with celebral palsy to adopt a child. Now, 11 months later, she is relishing the new role even as she confronts new challenges that motherhood entails.

“Motherhood is extremely rewarding and enjoyable. But it is also challenging,” she said candidly.

The biggest challenge, Jeeja said, has been to find a nanny for Hiya. The realisation that she needed help was very early. “Looking after a toddler can be demanding. Hiya is a very ebullient child. She runs all around the house. I need someone to run after her,” she explained. But these challenges pale in comparison to the joy that Jeeja and her husband are experiencing. “Watching her grow every day is a wonder. The twinkle in her expressive eyes, the dimple in her cheeks when she smiles… she never ceases to charm us,” said Jeeja.

Hiya, Bappaditya and Jeeja (Picture from the internet)

Bappaditya, who met Jeeja in 2008 and fell in love soon afterwards, tied the knot in 2013. That his father was orthopedically disabled and mother was blind in one eye meant he had some idea about disability. But he learned about cerebral palsy only after meeting Jeeja. “I fell in love with her naughtiness, her humour. She is also my mental strength and support,” he said.

Realising pregnancy could be risky for Jeeja, the couple decided to go for adoption and applied to Central Adoption Resource Authority (CARA) in 2016. The road to motherhood was not smooth as the couple struggled to convince the adoption committee that she was capable of motherhood. They met the child in Keonjhar, Odisha, where she was abandoned at a hospital by her biological mother after her birth in January 2018. They instantly fell in love with her.

But it took several trips to Keonjhar, mails to various authorities and furnishing documents to get the nod. On the way, humiliating questions were thrown at her. The district child protection officer described cerebral palsy as a ‘mental disease’ and expressed apprehensions about Jeeja’s communication skills. Finally, in June 2018, the authorities handed the five-month-old baby to the couple.

In December, Jeeja lost her octogenarian mother, a dementia patient, who lived with her. “My mother never gave up on me. She faced a lot of challenges during my childhood. I am now ready to face the challenges that Hiya throws at me,” said Jeeja, chin-up and ready to rock the world.

(This article is written by Aloke Kumar, who shared this first on his Facebook wall)

For more on Jeeja read here.

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Those who have been following my blog will know that I believe in challenging perceptions with every post I upload. This International Women’s Day I am very happy to narrate another story that shatters all ingrained perceptions about women.

When you ask a carpenter to come over to your house to make a wardrobe or fix a broken bed or a table, you would not expect a woman to walk in. But the time has come when you should not be surprised if a woman does this work for you. There are no gender stereotypes anymore. Literally!

Recently, some women were invited to an art gallery, where various objects were displayed inside a wardrobe. They were asked a simple question: Which of the things they saw were made by women? As each of the women inspected the objects, all guesses gravitated towards the objects, like clothes, jewellery, art etc. Not one participant thought that the wardrobe itself could have been made by women.

They were then introduced to India’s first all-women carpentry team trained by the NGO Archana Women’s Centre. Greenply, in association with this Kerala-based organization, that works towards empowering women has done, what till now, was unthinkable in India.

(This video is directed by a woman too, Anandi Ghose.)

Breaking stereotypes

When it comes to training women to earn a living most NGOs focus on teaching them sewing, embroidery, organic farming or making dairy products. No one thought women could work with wood and make a wardrobe from scratch. Archana Women’s Centre has been empowering women with skills that include unconventional trades like building technology, carpentry, ferro-cement technology (making of thin but strong structures for buildings), bamboo technology and production of concrete bricks.

The fact that Greenply has come forward to collaborate with women carpenters, trained in the centre, is a big step forward.

The website of Archana Women’s centre says: Archana Women Centre moved into its own office magnificently constructed by a women masons group in the year 2006. It was erected to challenge the conventional male centered concept of development by empowering the marginalized and under privileged women in the society and arm them with the weapon of self reliance and dignity. AWC is determined not to follow the traditional jobs which keep women low paid, low in status and low in self image. Instead, AWC tries to initiate more and more women especially from the construction sector, who are destined to stay as helper for all their life, to the dignified and highly paid jobs of masonry, carpentry, ferro- cement technology, bamboo technology etc.  Our goal is to dismantle the barriers of gender discrimination prevailing in the technical employment sector, by means of training, empowerment and continued motivational support to women.

Our goal is to dismantle the barriers of gender discrimination prevailing in the technical employment sector

On the other hand women play a definitive role in Greenply’s business enterprises. Their plant in Tizit, Nagaland, employs over 130 women – nearly a third of the workforce. It also works with a network of over 550 female architects across the country. At every stage, they strive to find ways to empower and include women in their ecosystem, where they can drive the industry forward with their enterprise.

With this initiative, Greenply turns those efforts towards the one discipline which, despite being so closely tied to their industry, has so long been a man’s domain – carpentry. And they make just one appeal to all – stop saying women can’t.

Today happens to be my blog’s Seventh Anniversary. It has been an eye-opening and fulfilling journey so far.

HAPPY WOMEN’S DAY!

 

Sharmistha Mukherjee Cheema’s passion for cooking made her start her FB Page Delectable Delicacies and then …

Even if they are far away some people have a way of infusing joy in your life everyday and Sharmistha Mukherjee Cheema is one such person. I studied in Presidency College in Kolkata with Sharmistha and her smile was as infectious then as it is now. But as we were busy with our chats in the college canteen over fish chop and coffee, listening to lectures in class and exchanging notes in the library, we hardly got to find out much about each other beyond the college campus. I didn’t know then that Sharmistha had a passion for cooking, which I now know, 20 years later.

And with this passion, sitting in her beautifully decorated home in Delhi, she has done something for her classmates, living in all corners of India and abroad, that we never imagined was possible. Through her Facebook Page Delectable Delicacies – that has almost 700 members – she has brought out the closet cook in us and connected us over food.  Tossing up recipes, clicking snaps and putting it up on her FB page is a simple pleasure in life that we all look forward to.

Sharmistha is like the Guru now, holding our hand and leading us through her simple yet veritable recipes and we are savouring the excitement of the journey as much as the tastes we are creating ourselves.

From tossing up four-course meals for parties to experimenting with traditional dishes, Sharmishta’s college mates are being creative in the kitchen most of the time and then when the photographs go up it’s bonding time over comments. We share recipes and feedback too.

Sharmistha has managed to make Delectable Delicacies a group where you go to feel energized and creative. Apart from our college crowd there are plenty of other enthusiastic members who inspire. In other words Sharmistha has created a space in the Social Media, which is real, which is happy, which is de-stressing and motivational.

Here’s an interview of the lady herself where she talks about how it all started and how Delectable Delicacies is touching lives. Over to her:

 

Prawn Cocktail, a favourite from Peter Cat and Mocambo in Kolkata, made by Sharmistha

When did you realize you have a thing for cooking?

I realized it very early, when I passed out from school and before joining college. There was a period when my mother was away from home for a month or so and I started cooking and experimenting with recipes.

When did the idea of starting this FB page come to you?

The idea came to me when I shifted to Delhi in 2014. Since I had left my job and I had ample time a lot of my friends used to ask me for recipes. So I decided to start a page where they can have easy access to those recipes.

On a daily basis how much is this page Delectable Delicacies a part of your life or how much do you think it touches the members’ lives?

On a daily basis, it is a huge part of my life because that has given me a sort of recognition. It inspires me to try out new recipes. It has also helped me improve my food photography skills. Well, the members get to know what they could opt for in breakfast, lunch and dinner. It has also inspired a lot of my friends, who were closet cooks, as it gave them the confidence to try out different stuff and post their recipes.

Sharmistha has a variety of mutton dishes in her repertoire

Have you become a better cook after starting the group?

In a way, I would say yes, because it has helped me in expanding my knowledge about food. It keeps me accountable to keep experimenting and learning more about different cuisines. I constantly try to post recipes that might not be widely known, so it helps me keep up with current food trends, and in some cases, it also compels me to revisit my memories and draw inspiration from there.

Is the group an example of the power of social media?

Initially, my group just consisted of my friends. It was at a time where there wasn’t much hype about social media. But in the present, social media has become extensive. It’s not just my group that has given me recognition, but also other groups on social media of which I am a part. The power of social media has allowed me to establish connections across the world.

Can cooking be therapeutic?

Definitely, but given that I am in the mood for it. Everyday cooking can actually be exhausting.

How do you manage to rustle up so many varied dishes in so less time?

I think it’s just because I love to eat and try out different dishes. Lack of variation in what I eat on a day-to-day basis bores me. My love for food is indirectly proportional to my patience level, so I try to find an in-between.

You are acknowledged as a culinary expert by many hotels and restaurants. How did they come to know about you?

I credit all the groups that I am a part of for that. I have been regularly posting my recipes on various groups and it is through those that people have come to know about me.

When they invite you to their food tasting sessions what do you bring to their table?

I ensure that I bring my basic food knowledge. I research a lot about Indian cuisine and I have a fair knowledge about world cuisine because I have been exposed to it and I am generally a food nerd, who likes to read up on food a lot. I also ensure that I give my inputs that might help them enhance their dishes.

Have you thought about showcasing your culinary skills to people beyond your guest list?

We did a pop up a few months back where we showcased traditional Bengali cuisine. I always try to rake up traditional Bengali recipes and share it with the group.

The spread at her home on Bengali New Year

Chicken Bharta another Kolkata favourite

QUICK Takes

A blunder you will never forget: Making pakodas for Punjabi Kadhi for the first time. The pakodas were as hard as deuce balls.

The dish that gave you the confidence: The first dish that comes to my memory is Chicken Bharta, which I made when I was 19.

The dish you are most jittery about cooking: The only thing that I am jittery about is frosting a cake, it really makes me nervous.

The best compliment ever: Recently my friend, who is a Bengali based in Delhi, had a proper home-cooked Bengali meal after a long time. He almost had tears in his eyes, and he said that it reminded him of his mother’s cooking.

Your kind of comfort food: Anything with egg.

The street food you die for: Singhara and Telebhaaja – only in Calcutta

The thing you envy in other cooks: I only envy cooks who can frost well

If you ever start a restaurant it would be…

A rustic café with a European vibe that has a menu that constantly changes according to the season.

Desserts are her speciality

10 tips that will make cooking a simple and relaxing process
  1. Cook what you want to eat.
  2. Don’t complicate recipes by adding too many ingredients.
  3. Stick to local produce as much as possible.
  4. Take it easy—choose a recipe that’s simple.
  5. Do your research.
  6. Prep in advance.
  7. Don’t let the recipe constrict you.
  8. Play around with ingredients.
  9. Cook with your loved ones.
  10. Sip some wine to keep yourself sane.

 

 

 

A case has been filed against Indian singer Papon for kissing a minor girl on a TV Show. Pix from the internet.

When it comes to any kind of incursion into a child’s personal space a child will always look up to the parents for protection and it is any parents’ duty and utmost obligation to ensure that. But when a father says that it is perfectly fine for singer Papon to go ahead and kiss his 11-year-old daughter on camera because he is like a “father figure” to her – mentoring her in the TV show Voice India Kids – then there is something seriously wrong in our society.

Raveena Tandon rightly tweeted that the father might have been saying this under pressure from the channel. In fact, I feel that it could also be an ambitious father who doesn’t want to dash his daughter’s chances of becoming a singing sensation and he has accepted like many others that things like this “happen”.

The first thing that struck me after seeing the video (that incidentally I watched again and again to see if I am being fooled by a wrong angle that Papon later said) is if this is happening in front of the camera and is being passed off as chalta hain, then what must be  going on behind the camera?

See what I mean.

As a mother Papon’s behavior gives me the creeps. It’s not only the way he kisses the girl it’s also about the way he pinches another girls cheeks before that and in the way he puts Holi colours on the girls nose before he kisses her. There is something perverse about it.

When you see the video it’s all out there. I fear no amount of explanation can absolve him. That people instantly reacted on social media, that Papon had to step down as a judge on the show, that so many celebs denounced his behaviour and that a Supreme Court advocate Runa Bhuyan filed a complaint against him and the Assam State Commission for Protection of Child Rights is looking into the case, shows that India is changing. And for the better.

It was alright but not anymore

Recently I met this uncle who belonged to my father’s circle of friends. I refused to talk to him and just walked off behaving we never met. He had a daughter my age. When he got drunk his elbows would go haywire whenever he would go near any woman irrespective of their age. Our fathers and uncle who were perfectly aware of his behavior would tell us to stay away from him at all social dos. That’s the step they would take.

I thought if we had someone like this in our gang of friends behaving like this with our children, what would we have done? We would have definitely told a person like this not to party with us anymore. We would have never accepted behavior like this. That is the difference between our previous generation and our generation. The difference between the India we grew up in and the India our children are growing up in.

Don’t shove it under the carpet anymore

Child sexual abuse is the greatest reality in our society. Unlike rape, eve teasing or molestation, we don’t even know when children are being harassed, how it is happening and how it is scarring a child for life. The onus lies on us to be vigilant. We should teach our children from a very early age to differentiate between bad touch and good touch and they should be able to talk to us if there is any sense of discomfort anytime. Schools are also playing a major sensitization role these days.

Recently a family staying in our apartment building temporarily had two lovely daughters with whom my son became friends. They had an uncle staying with them who was pinching my 7-year-old son’s cheeks, maybe just out of affection, but my son did not approve of his behavior. I always look at it this way that as adults if we don’t like strangers touching us or disheveling our hair out of affection how do we expect our children to accept and enjoy it?

The next day I was stepping out of my house to have a word with this gentleman when my son came running home.

“Ma, I have good news. That uncle has left,” he laughed.

I laughed too. But I told him next time anything happens like this keep me posted I am there for you. I gave him a hug and he dashed off to play.

Women are predators as much as boys are victims

Child sexual abuse is not a gender specific thing when it comes to victims and abusers. Boys are as much at risk and women could be perverse too. There have been plenty of instances.

A report published in The Telegraph, UK says, “When Marie Black, 34, was given a life term in Norwich she was sexually abusing children for 10 years. She was at the centre of an “utterly depraved” sex abuse ring. Black organised parties where children were ‘raffled’ to people who would then abuse them.”

Women are pedophiles and they are into grooming minors too. Many adult men in India today will tell you about their childhood experiences with maids at home, neighbours next door or the aunt who often visited. It is harder for men to talk about the sexual abuse they have faced because there is always a tendency to laugh it off presuming boys don’t face it.

Do check out this video of Demi Moore kissing a minor then you will know what I am talking about.

 

We should never be embarrassed to confront people

 I have seen many times our elders were embarrassed to confront people and talk to them about this deplorable behavior because they were our close relatives, friends or some people important to the family.

I always believe it’s the faith and dignity of our children over anyone else so there is no embarrassment in confronting people.

Also as parents we are more aware now unlike our earlier generation. If I tell my mother that there was this uncle who was like this, she would stare in disbelief and say, “Jah! What are you saying?”

So when I was a child if a man in a public bus offered to put me on his lap because of a dearth of seating space in the transport she would gratefully plonk me there.

Now if a stranger tries to teach my son swimming in the pool. I just holler to him firmly, “You can leave him alone.”

I recently realized that there are behaviours that we have internalized as given and do not protest. I was taught a very valuable lesson by a friend recently. I was sitting in his car when he had gone to get something from a shop. Out of nowhere an old man appeared and started relieving himself in front of the car. The usually shouting, protesting me just looked away, unable to react. My friend came and gave the man an earful and almost beat him up.

I realised sometimes we look away in embarrassment. Using abusive language in front of women and children is another passé in India but it’s high time we point out it’s unacceptable too.

We should use our instincts

Instead of relying on children to come with a complaint and then taking steps it should also be our responsibility to identify a potential predator and deal with the person accordingly.

Recently we had taken our son to a table tennis coaching centre so that he could join classes there. A gentleman took us around and introduced us to some of the mothers who were there with their children. Everything was fine we had almost taken the admission forms when suddenly this gentleman started talking about his surgery and started unbuttoning his shirt in front of all the ladies to show the scars of his surgery.

I felt this was grossly inappropriate behavior and I simply did not feel comfortable leaving my child in his care.

A peck needs to be taken seriously too

After watching the Papon video Farah Khan said it made her feel “uncomfortable”. This is precisely the point. Anything that feels “uncomfortable” is just not done. Period.

Uncomfortable is unacceptable and we should not wait for uncomfortable to turn into unbearable before we react.

Papon might be the fall guy in this case but this sends out a strong message to all those indulging in behavior like this behind closed doors. If you are discovered God help you!

 

 

Sukumar Ray and Suprabha Ray

By Tumpa Mukherjee

On October 3 this year it was the 125th birth anniversary of Suprabha Ray. The present generation has hardly heard her name and perhaps the world knows her just by one line – wife of Sukumar Ray and mother of Satyajit Ray.

But her existence and identity was much more than this one line. I am privileged to be born in a family, which knew her very closely. My dadu (my maternal grandmother’s own brother) Dr Surit Mukherjee, was her physician. But she treated dadu like her own son till the last day of her life.

Dadu was popularly known in his time as Noshu babu and I called him Chini dadu. It is unfortunate that Chini dadu is no more with us but everyone, who had ever interacted with dadu, still speak about him with fondness and respect.
In my family my mamas, mashis called Suprabha Ray Tulu mashi. They still speak about Tulu mashi. She was a very strong and dignified lady. After the untimely death of Sukumar Ray and the failure of their family printing business, she moved with her three-year-old son to her brother’s place. But she was never a burden on him.

As a young widow she traveled everyday by bus during 1930s and 1940s from South Calcutta to North Calcutta where she worked as the Superintendent of the handicraft department at Vidyasagar Bani Bhawan”

As a young widow she traveled everyday by bus during 1930s and 1940s from South Calcutta to North Calcutta where she worked as the Superintendent of the handicraft department at Vidyasagar Bani Bhawan founded by Abala Bose. I have heard stories from my mom and mashis that she used to tell my grandmother that nobody knows how she struggled and brought up Manik (Satyajit Ray) single handedly.

She was excellent in knitting and stitching especially Kashmiri stitch. In fact Kashmiri wallahs (people coming from Kashmir to sell products in Calcutta) would be stunned seeing her Kashmiri stitch. She was a brilliant cook and excelled in both vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes. She made excellent payesh and she would keep it for my Baromama (mother’s elder brother) because he was very fond of payesh.

She had made a sweater for Manik using two strings and by making knots with the strings, but later on gave it to Baromama. He told me that whenever he would wear the sweater, people would ask him who made it.
It was Chini dadu who convinced Suprabha Ray to accept Manik’s (Satyajit Ray) decision to marry Moinku (Bijoya Das). She was initially not sure because they were first cousins.

Later when Satyajit Ray, after his marriage went abroad, Chini dadu and his family, comprising my dida (Joytirmoyee) and their daughter Krishna and son Bachu, went and stayed with them.

Krishna mashi called Suprabha Ray Didimoni. She told me every morning she would wake up and sing Brahmo upasana sangeet in front of Sukumar Ray’s photograph. She was a very good singer. She had recorded a song with HMV in Calcutta. She used to teach Krishna mashi and tell her stories of Brahmo Samaj, Sukumar Ray and other things that interested her. She would draw two lines and then would make different types of floral designs. She was a perfectionist in everything. from cooking to knitting.

Every afternoon she would sit with my dida and other women and would teach them different types of stitches, different types of cutting, making shameej (a blouse worn mostly as undergarment by women of late nineteenth and early twentieth century), katha. She used to make panjabi, pyjama for her sons which included my dadu.

She was a good sculptor too. With the help of norol (traditional nail cutter) she would draw on a slate. 

She was a good sculptor too. With the help of norol (traditional nail cutter) she would draw on a slate.  In fact she had made a lovely bust of Gautama Buddha which I saw occupying pride of place in Ray’s Bishop Lefroy Road home.

In fact, during Krishna mashi’s wedding it was Manik (Satyajit Ray) who had drawn her biyer piri (flat wooden desk type where traditionally Bengali brides sit for marriage).

Suprabha Ray breathed her last on November 27, 1960. It was Chini dadu who performed the last rites. Since Manik was heartbroken and refused to light the funeral pyre, Chini dadu performed the last rites.

I am told she was very down-to-earth, simple, but a strict disciplinarian. It is very sad that very few people know about her talents and potentials. I think she got completely overshadowed by her genius husband and internationally renowned film maker son. I think she was a woman who suffered happiness and sadness simultaneously. After seven years of her marriage her son Manik was born and at that time Sukumar Ray fell ill and subsequently died of Kalazar. From the age of 2 years 4 months she brought up Manik alone .

Satyajit Ray is a renowned name, in fact, a cult figure in Bengal. He enjoys a demi-god status among Bengalis. But he never inherited the creative instincts of his family through direct interaction with his paternal side. Upendrakishore Ray Chowdhury died six years before his birth. Sukumar Ray died when Satyajit was two years 4 months old. But it was his mother who brought him up, taught him, looked after him, cared for him, communicated their creative, literary legacy to him. But it is an irony of patriarchal society that Satyajit Ray is referred mostly as grandson of Upendrakishore Ray Chowdhury and son of Sukumar Ray. Suprabha Ray has faded into oblivion.
But she has always remained with me ever since my childhood through oral narratives of my family members.

Tumpa Mukherjee is working as Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology , Women’s Christian College, Kolkata and is researching for a book on Suprabha Ray.

The Bengali version of Birangana was Published in the August issue of Femina Bangla

Nisha’s shift always ended at 3 am. Others at the call centre switched between early and late shifts, but Nisha preferred the late shift because she gave tuitions in the evening. At 23, she was juggling a job at a call centre and teaching a dozen school children just to pay the medical bills for her mother, who had been suffering from a rare bone disease for the last 5 years. Since her father’s demise two years back, it was just the two of them.

Nisha had lived in this lane in Bhowanipore since her birth. Theirs’ was a sprawling old mansion that had seen good days but now that there were only two women living in it, they had to be doubly careful about bolting all the doors to the balconies and the terrace carefully from the inside. Her mother was more scared of thieves and intruders, although she wasn’t. She felt pretty safe in her home, cocooned from the outside world in the locality she lived in, because here everyone knew everyone else. While going to work she would wave at the para (locality) boys steeped in concentration over the carom board. One of them would invariably say, “Sabdhane jash. Taratari phirish.”

While getting back home, usually one of her male colleagues would be there in the car and they would wait till Nisha unlocked the front gate, went inside and locked it again. Sometimes there was the concerned colleague who would disembark the car and wait till she went inside and sometimes there was also the selfish colleague who would insist on being dropped off first.

That night Nisha was travelling with a selfish colleague who also lived in Bhowanipure, but he insisted that he got dropped off first. Nisha was the last person to tell him that this was the most boorish thing to do. She dropped him off and proceeded towards her home.

As she was opening the lock of her gate, she realised the driver also didn’t have the patience to wait. He just screeched off. Nisha thought after a long day at work it was probably unfair to expect chivalry from a driver at 4 am, who was anyway driving through half-closed eyes.

Then it happened. Nisha felt someone was holding her by the waist from behind and the next moment she felt someone thrusting something inside her mouth and the scream got stifled in her throat. Now she could see clearly in the moonlight.

There were five men, one of whom she knew from the locality. They were now trying to push her into the waiting Maruti van. Nisha gathered all her strength to push them away, but they were too powerful. Then she saw a blinding light.

The light came from the headlights of three bikes that had stopped. The next moment the men were shrieking in pain. They had been hit by something. She was now free. While one man was lying on the floor, the other four managed to get into the car and scoot.

“Are you alright?” a woman asked Nisha.

Her head was still reeling. The lady held her and she steadied a bit. She was in a black short kurta and black leggings. Her hair was long and she would be around 30. She was wearing black sneakers.

“Do you know him?” she asked pointing at the man lying on the footpath.

“Yes, he lives in the locality,” I replied.

“He will be a good example then,” she said.

The other two ladies were similarly dressed and now stood beside them. They both were carrying some kind of gun which Nisha later came to know were taser guns.

“Who are you?” Nisha asked.

“We call ourselves Birangana.”

Nisha wasn’t quite ready for what the Biranganas did the next day. They came back in their black clothes and black bikes and paraded the man all around the locality saying he had been caught last night assaulting a woman.

“If a man is trying to take away a woman’s honour, it is his shame. And it is our mission to ensure that any man who tries to assault a woman feels ashamed. Terribly ashamed,” they said on the loudspeaker.

Nisha had thought that people would retaliate, they would criticize this action. Instead the women clapped and jeered and many men slapped and kicked the offender supporting the action of the Biranganas.

The story in Femina Bangla

*

The college lecture hall was packed with at least 200 young women. Nisha sat in the front row.

The lady at the mic was saying, “During the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971 when the Bengali Nationalists wanted a separate state and clashed with the Pakistani Army, rape was used as a weapon of war. The Pakistanis tied up hundreds and thousands of women and gang raped them and most were dumped in mass graves. Those who survived, to give them dignity, the newly established state of Bangladesh called them Birangana. But this led to their further social ostracization and these women still live in the shadows in Bangladesh and Pakistan. We believe a woman should not only be called a Birangana because she survived rape, but she should be a Birangana because she put a stop to the culture of rape.”

There was pin-drop silence. Everyone was listening in rapt attention.

“We believe that rape is a weapon of power that is used over women to subjugate them, to take away their freedom and honour. Our society has progressed leaps and bounds, but rape continues to be the scourge of our society. Each and every woman lives in the fear of sexual assault. At home, in the workplace, on the street, in public transport – are they ever completely safe?”

Nisha’s mind trailed off to that night when the three Biranganas saved her. It has been two years since then and much has changed.

The Biranganas had started a women’s movement in Kolkata demanding safety of women. Women joined the movement in hordes and they quickly spread their wings to the rural areas as well. They were all over the state on their bikes in groups of threes, especially after dark, patrolling the streets. They had been able to bring down the crime rate against women in the state of West Bengal from 17 per cent to 2 per cent in one year.

Nisha’s association with the Biranganas changed her life entirely. She no longer needed a male colleague to drop her late at night, she did not feel the cold sweat when she turned the key in her lock at 4 am.

Achieving this state of mind meant back-breaking training in the Birangana training centres, but she took it without complain. She toughened her body and mind and became an expert in self defense.

Nisha could hear her name being called. She was to speak now.

“I survived an abduction and rape attempt, but I decided never to live in fear. A woman is truly independent when she doesn’t have to look over her shoulders when she is walking down the streets. I don’t anymore. It is a very liberating feeling,” she said.

Nisha came out of the lecture hall with a smug smile sitting on her face. She was in a black kurta and leggings and black sneakers. She took her black bike off the stand. It vroomed into life.

She had to report to patrolling duty. She was a Birangana now.

  • BY AMRITA MUKHERJEE

You can check out my collection of 13 soul-stirring short stories Museum of Memories here

 

 

 

 

I had started to write this post in a certain way. A visit to Facebook changed it completely though. And I am glad it did because this post is undeniably about Facebook and social media.

I chanced upon this picture of this lady in a golden gown, looking like she would pop any moment. There was her husband kneeling down and kissing her bulging tummy. The picture had been clicked by a professional photographer whose credit was also given there.

I should have gone, “Aww, how cute!” but I cringed instead. I somehow felt this was the most private moment of an expectant couple that they had not left any stones unturned to turn public. But that is what social media is all about isn’t it? Making the private public and ensuring the public desire that private.

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