Archive for the ‘survival’ Category

Smita Sharma is a woman with a mission. This young lady has been traveling to remote villages of India to photograph victims of rape and bring their stories to the world.

A rape victim caught on Smitha's frame

One of the rape survivors photographed by Smita Sharma

So far, she has photographed 27 women belonging to different states of India and the photos were showcased at an exhibition held at the India Habitat Centre in Delhi recently.

While the exhibition based on her project got rave reviews, and huge response from international media as well, it made Smita’s resolve to launch her awareness campaign even stronger.

She says: “Whenever I go to meet any victim, the last thing I ask is how it happened. I meet them as a friend. They are so horribly ostracized and shunned that sometimes I am the only one they have probably talked to in ages and shared a hug with. In my interactions with the rape survivors, I have realized there is a trend.

“Among the 27 women I photographed, 25 have been raped by people they knew. The rape was meticulously planned because the rapist kept track of the victim’s movements. In some cases, the perpetrators were arrested. In some others, they were not. In many cases, they were arrested but they are out on bail now.

“But in all cases, the onus of blame and shame has been on the woman. I met the family of a deceased 80-year-old lady, who had been raped by a 17-year-old boy and people laughed at her because they felt she was responsible for her rape.”

For the rest of the article go to Asia Times

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RJ Snigdha and Roopa Sengupta organised the event Wonders of Women in Bangalore to salute women of substance

Bangalore witnessed a unique event recently. And there was actually a reason to say WOW. In a glamour-obsessed society when achievers are most often singled out by the way they look, the industry they work in or the network they have, RJ Snigdha decided to organize an event where she felicitated ‘real’ women.

A finalist at the Miss India pageant, a radio jockey and a super mom, RJ Snigdha said, “Since 2012 I have been weaving this project to salute the woman of ‘real’ substance.”

Called Wonders of Women, hence WOW, the event was held to felicitate unsung heroines – women who have battled physical handicaps, domestic violence, social and peer pressure, terminal diseases and have still become achievers and reached professional heights.

Roopa Sengupta, a corporate professional, who helped RJ Snigdha organize the event said, “These ladies have been nominated either by their neighbours, friends, colleagues, relatives or through the social media”

The event is a dream project of RJ Snigdha, who has been an anchor, a host at various large events for the past decade and is now actively into organizing her own events through her own company Get Going for the past four years.
Snigdha said: “Many a times when ‘Super Woman’ or ‘Super Mom’ contests were held, where I have been a participant myself, I have seen that organisers/ judges do not recognise the woman or mom who might have faced umpteen challenges in life and yet approached life head on with dignity and aplomb. This has always bothered me. That is why I started WOW. I believe you just salute women of substance there can’t be a contest about it.”

WOW is a non-profit event and the concept is to recognize and felicitate unsung women achievers who have seen hardships and faced challenges in life and yet are living examples today and inspire many other such women around them.

This touching tribute was followed by a musical evening by an all women band playing and singing upbeat Bollywood songs to enthrall the audience.

An all-women band performing at WOW

An all-women band performing at WOW

 

Suzette Jordan (Pix by Diganta Gogoi published in Friday)

Suzette Jordan (Pix by Diganta Gogoi published in Friday)

Strangely Suzette has been on my mind for the last few days. Mainly because of everything that’s been going on about the documentary India’s Daughter. Many friends were asking me why I hadn’t written anything on the documentary on my blog.

I hadn’t because I was angry. One interview of a despicable rapist triggered such a debate and such quick action was taken by the government. But if you Google you will find a 100 interviews and articles both in Indian and international media on Suzette Jordan, the woman who had the guts to reveal her face after being gang-raped on Park Street, but the Indian government never bothered to order a probe into her case. Never bothered to check how a Chief Minister could write off a rape saying “it is a concocted story.”

I kept thinking Nirbhaya is gone but Suzette is there – still fighting, still struggling, still facing her rapists everyday in the courtroom, but her case and ordeal continues to be dragged on and on in a sham called a fast-track court. Nirbhaya’s family was given money, an apartment and jobs, but why did it continue to be a lone battle for Suzette Jordan?

Does tragedy work better in India?

Will Suzette’s death now bring the poignancy that her story lacked so far?

Now she will probably be, finally forgiven, for going to a disco late at night (the worst blunder an Indian woman could commit)? Her struggle will now be glorified, help will come to her family or will she still remain an untouchable, like she had become, because one insensitive lady one day had declared that Suzette was lying when she reported her rape?

When I heard about her death my first instinct was to believe that she had probably been murdered because there were plenty of people out there who would have loved her dead. I couldn’t imagine she had succumbed to meningoencephalitis.

We spoke last on Facebook messenger on February 27 and she wrote, “All okay with me except my back problems.”

This was Suzette Jordan. She might have been fighting a thousand battles at that moment but she always had the positivity to say, “All okay.”

Now I see people are writing that she had a contagious laugh had a great sense of humour. Why wouldn’t she? She was every woman and being a rape survivor did not take away her right to laugh and have a life.

I had once gone to interview Suzette on a summer afternoon and their home was like any other household. Her daughters were excited to spot a feline near their pet cat Hunter. They had a friend with them along with Suzette’s nephew. The kids were telling her, “Looks like Hunter’s got a girlfriend”, and all of them were laughing.

Completely unpretentious and at ease in her two-room modest apartment in Behala, Suzette brought up her two lovely and intelligent daughters being the best mother she could be.

On hearing about Suzette’s demise I thought of her daughters, of her mother Gilda Jordan. What they must be going through. Suzette was so protective about them. Once she said, “I am so paranoid about my daughters that because of me they don’t have a normal teenage life anymore. I am perpetually calling them on their mobiles.”

But the girls never held it against her. They loved their mother with all their heart and despite the fact that their life changed completely after that fateful night the girls continued to be the pillar of support in her life, the reason for which Suzette always said she had the will to live, the will to fight.

But very few people know Suzette’s battles brought small victories for Indian women. Even if the Indian Government did not announce a probe into her case the Delhi High Court invited her twice to know her views on her trial. She had told them that the two-finger test was the most humiliating thing any woman had to go through.

Since then the test has been banned in India.

Suzette was the kind of woman who demanded respect and ensured people gave her that. “Rape is not my shame,” is something Suzette always said.

This statement defined her.

It would be unfair to say that Indian society shunned Suzette Jordan completely. She explained her dichotomous experiences best when she said, “On the one hand I have been invited to talk shows on TV, NGO inaugurations, school seminars and award functions but on the other hand despite my work experience I have not landed a job. After the incident happened if I was asked by my landlord to vacate my apartment, the landlord of my current apartment rented this place to me despite knowing everything about me. I have had parents of my daughters’ friends agreeing to send their kids over to my place to spend time with them because I was scared for my daughters to go out.”

In the last interview that I did with Suzette she had said: “If I have come this far, I am not willing to give up hope. There has to be justice. But once the case gets over, hopefully I will be able to find some peace. I won’t have to remember every gory detail of what happened to me that night and talk about it in court day after day. I won’t have to see the people who did this to me, every other day.”

Justice is what Suzette Jordan deserves, not a candle march not flowers at her grave.

 

Behind this lovely smile is hidden a struggle that Suzette Jordan has to live every day. Pix: Diganta Gogoi

Behind this lovely smile is hidden a struggle that Suzette Jordan has to live every day. Pix: Diganta Gogoi

When I started writing this post I had meant to write something else, but so much happened in the last few days that I ended up writing something else altogether, changing my mind constantly as I got hooked to the news, analysis and – a letter.

I feel rape has probably become just another morbid story like so many other stories told in India every day. It is something like this: Rape happens, then media goes into a frenzy, helplines, SMS lines, come up, we cry hoarse then we go back to live our own lives, until another rapist strikes.

Women in India live with their instincts. Period! They live on luck too. When luck runs out God help us. (No one else probably will).

I have dozed off in my office car often while returning home after midnight. I just trusted my instincts and the smile of the driver who greeted me every evening.

Are my instincts good? Maybe. My luck? Must be. I have landed in situations too. Many times. But wriggled out using my brain, brawn, threats, other people’s help, mobile calls – and luck of course.

Check: You are lucky if you have not been sexually harassed in Kolkata

So the Uber cab controversy (whether they continue to do business or not in Delhi, about background checks of its employees, about repeated sex offenders being let off on bail) does not seem to bother me because I know one Uber gone will make way for another Unter (German antonym for uber and rightly means “under” and this is a figment of my imagination) and Indian women will be left fending for themselves, as usual. There will be luxury, yes. Safety? Doubtful.

Uber Cab. Picture taken from the net.

Uber Cab. Picture taken from the net.

The media would ride on the controversy wave to do stories but they won’t even know when palms would be greased, permits would be made and the Unter would make inroads into Delhi roads.

In the midst of it all this who is left out in the lurch? The victim, of course. The unlucky one, who was just at the wrong place, at the wrong time, with the wrong person and whose instincts just failed her for a moment and finished her forever.

I have been interacting with Suzette Jordan, the Park Street rape survivor. Although she has shown immense courage but it has been a lone fight for her from day one. No one has offered her a job despite her work experience. No one cares how she is surviving with her two teenage daughters or how she is dealing with the trauma of facing her perpetrators in court every day – for more than two years.

Media does not continue to report on the nitty gritty of Suzette’s life because I am sure it is already too mundane to be reported. They took notice when she was not allowed to enter Ginger, a restaurant on Hazra Road in Kolkata. Everyone went into a tizzy, supporting her on social media and some well-known names in journalism, all the way from Delhi, even went on to say that the license of the restaurant should be cancelled,

Does anyone know what happened after that? It’s business as usual at Ginger I suppose.

I read Shenaz Treasurywala’s letter.

I could identify with her letter and I am sure every Indian woman (and sensitive man) could.

If Shenaz writes now about the fear of rape that Indian women feel I had written about it in 2006 in an article in Times of India when rape hadn’t made it to the hot seat of headlines in India yet.

I can see we think similarly and I appreciate she has taken a stand.

But there are people who are saying it’s a PR stunt before the release of her film.

Could be? But would you go and watch some insipid film titled Main or Mr Riight spending Rs 300 from your pocket just because Shenaz here wrote this letter? I wouldn’t. I am sure you wouldn’t either.

And somehow I can’t find the connection how this could help sell her movie unless it’s based on sexual harassment of women.

It is not. And while Shenaz’s letter is still notching up hits on the net the film has already been written off by critics after the first show.

She addressed it to powerful men. Why not? These men have the power to bring change. Don’t they? Amitabh Bachchan’s polio campaign did help eradicate the disease in India. And if the PM of a country does not have the power to bring change who has then?

veeranganas

Veeranganas are an all-women commando team keeping the streets safe in Guwahati. (Picture taken from India Today)

Talking about change. Have you heard of the Veeranganas? It’s an all-woman commando platoon guarding the streets of Guwahati and making it safer for women. Veeranganas have been created as a joint effort by Assam Police and Assam Government after a girl was molested on the streets of Guwahati.

Veeranganas have, for the first time, made me feel that a police force and government are serious about women’s safety. Otherwise if you are asking a woman to SMS before she steps into a cab and then you say you will track her on GPRS I am not sure how serious you are. Would GPRS tell you that four men got up in the cab in between and raped her while it was moving? I would like to know. And would you be able to reach on time to save her? Or would GPRS help you track the rapist after the crime has been done?

When a solution is thrown at us in the name of helpline, SMS et al don’t we need to ask how will it make us safe?

How many of you have used a helpline in times of need? Can you tell me? If you have and help has come your way please let me know. I would like to share your experience here.

Till then I will always side with the Veeranganas  more than the SMS, apps and helplines. The latter create fear for women the former create fear for men.

For me this is being proactive about the issue and not being blasé. And that is what matters.

Tomorrow I will publish an interview of Photojournalist Anindya Chattopadhyay, who talks about meeting victims of acid attack and the impact they had on him.

 

 

 

Swati Vakharia is an IT expert, who has started her website with a vision for women

Swati Vakharia is an IT expert, who has started her website with a vision for women

One good thing about blogging is you get to meet like-minded people in the virtual world. Swati Vakharia is an IT expert based in Baroda, with a company of her own. When I came across the website www.womenpla.net started by her, I quite liked the mix of content in the site. We got talking and here are the questions I asked Swati and her replies are interesting and thought-provoking…

What according to you is the biggest challenge Indian women face right now?

In India, we have a list of challenges actually! But the biggest one I feel is “safety”. Why is it that we never feel safe when we are stepping out of our homes? I have visited few other countries and I have seen women safely stepping out, in some places even at midnight.

India is our home and it really feels bad if we do not feel safe in our own country. I have seen many Indians do not allow their daughters, wives, sisters to work or study in other states of the country as they are not sure how safe that place would be for them. This situation constantly curbs the freedom of Indian women.

From the issue of rape in India, to Indra Nooyi’s confessions to Satya Nadella’s remark on pay hike, do you feel that the social scenario for Indian women is turning out to be really morbid?

I feel really bad that India is the 4th most dangerous country for women in the world according to a survey conducted by TrustLaw Women. From safety to self-respect women are always walking on the road of compromise. There is a need in a change of mentality in our society. It’s high time we all take a stand. 

Why did you want to launch a website like Women Planet?

Well, Women Planet is an attempt to get all those (and not only women as the perceived notion might be) together who believe that women hold immense potential to make a real difference. We are looking at this website as a platform to get not only like-minded people but people from different walks of life to share their experiences. The content of the website aim to educate, empower and entertain.

I love the way you write www.womenpla.net beta then cross it into beti. What’s the idea behind it?

Indians most often prefer a boy child over a girl. This is our way of showing that the girl child is equally important. We redesigned and re-launched www.womenpla.net few months back and as it is working in beta mode, we planned to write it as beti to pass on our message in a little different way.

Swati campaigning against female foeticide

Swati (left) campaigning against female foeticide

There are so many websites on women, how do you plan to be different?

I am happy that people are really coming up with something or the other to support women. I am not attempting to be different but I want to give genuine and usable information to my readers so I have a panel of experts where we have doctors, nutritionists, make-up artists, mind healers, psychiatrists, astrologers and more.

You are also having an annual magazine. When most of the bigger magazines are folding up how do you plan to survive?

The annual magazine is our attempt to get connected with more and more people and spread awareness and happiness. We are thankful to some corporate firms who supported us in our first edition of the magazine. The magazine is an extension of the website at the moment and that is why we are giving out free copies. Link for magazine download: http://womenpla.net/annual-booklet

What next from here?

We would like to conduct seminars, workshops, events to debunk myths around women and create new perceptions. We have many ideas and plans and with our expertise in online media, our initiatives in print media and our charitable trust womenplanet.org coming up soon we will be able to execute our plans in a bigger way.

For instance we want to come up with a hand booklet on health and hygiene and distribute them in rural areas where girls really lack the education and information in tackling these things.

 

In our entire life we probably haven’t met one of them, and chances are we never would, but as soon the word “Devadasi” is mentioned to us our mind gets transported to the era of the Maharajas, to the Nat Mandir (dance hall of the temple) where a beautiful woman, resplendent in gold is dancing in front of God, in a classical dance style Odissi or Bharathanatyam.

Devadasis in ancient India

Devadasis in ancient India

But the adult and the enlightened mind knows that behind this beautiful picture is also the picture of a young girl sacrificed to the service of God, shackled to a life of sexual exploitation that throws her into a vicious cycle of social manipulation where a Davadasi’s daughter has to become a servant of God.

In fact, this post that I am writing today is about a few Devadasis in Karnataka who refused to continue to dance to the tune of Goddess Yellamma, to whose service they were dedicated at the age of six or seven. They wanted a way out of the system and send their children to school and its people like you and me who have shown them the way.

When the NGO Milaap – you must have noticed them appearing in pop ups in numerous websites asking you to loan (mind it not donate) Rs 2500, to someone who needs it to change his or her life – claimed they have been helping Devadasis find a new future I wanted to know more. I came to know Milaap has joined hands with Mahila Abhivrudhimathu Samrakshana Samsthe (MASS) a collective of former Devadasis, and has been giving out loans to Devadasis to build a life for themselves.

I wrote to Sourabh Sharma, founder of Milaap.org and wanted to know real stories. Sourabh immediately got back with the relevant information. I realized the success stories are heart-warming and what is more fascinating is so many people have played a part in these success stories just by lending a part of their own income to the people who need it more.

A former Devadasi herself, Mahananda has employed four former Devadasis in her sewing business

A former Devadasi herself, Mahananda has employed four former Devadasis in her sewing business

Success story 1: Mahananda

This 34-year-old woman now employs four former Devadasis in her sewing enterprise. Her younger daughter studies in class eight, and plans to pursue a career in science. “Girls should prosper. I have painstakingly brought my daughters up so that they are able to live a good life and I want to see them prosper,” she says.

Shobha could not find employment for years till she started on her own, raising buffalos and selling milk

Shobha could not find employment for years till she started on her own, raising buffaloes and selling milk

Success Story 2: Shobha

Every year she made a promise to herself that she would find some job to earn a legitimate living but every year she realized no one was willing to employ a Devadasi. Every year she went back to selling her body but she was determined none of her four children would see the life she had seen.

So Shobha registered for help from MASS and Milaap and learned to raise buffaloes and sell their milk. She applied for a loan, and used the money to buy a buffalo. She saved, repaid her loan, and requested another. She bought more buffaloes, earned more. Today, she is securely out of the Devadasi system and her children are in school.

After Mangal's grocery store took off she got a marriage proposal which she accepted

After Mangal’s grocery store took off she got a marriage proposal which she accepted

Success Story 3: Mangal

Mangal’s success with her grocery store not only gave her and her teenage children a new life of dignity – it also got her a husband (given that no one marries Devadasis). They have a child together. And Mangal, who realized the importance of financial independence, continues to grow her business.

Here’s what I found out about the Devadasi system:

Does the Devadasi system still exist?

Although states like Orissa, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka claim that they have done away with the Devadasi system, Karnataka even passed the Devadasi (Prohibition of Dedication) Act in 1992 the National Commission of Women found out that Andhra Pradesh had 16,624 Devadasis within its state and Karnataka has around 22,941.

Mala took her first leap out of the Devadasi system when she opened her pan shop

Mala took her first leap out of the Devadasi system when she opened her pan shop

Who is a modern-day Devadasi?

French-American author Catherine Rubin Kermorgant spent four years researching among Devadasi women in Karnataka. She interviewed five women and wrote her book Servants of the Goddess: the modern-day Devadasis.

In her book she mentions Ganga who was dedicated to the Goddess because her father had promised to do so if her mother recovered from a serious ailment. Her mother recovered and she was made into a Devadasi – one woman’s life was finished to save another’s.

Although dedications are banned now but these are still carried out surreptitiously as the girl is bathed in neem and turmeric and taken before God and told about her duties which includes never retaliating to abuse and “giving shelter to strangers”.

Ganga further said, “Some landlords consider it a matter of prestige to deflower as many young girls as possible. In Mumbai, virgin Devadasis fetch a high price. By deflowering a Devadasi, a man can cure himself of disease. He can purify himself. If the goddess wills it, then it is possible.”

“And what about AIDS?” Catherine had asked
“It is said you can get rid of it by giving it to a client,” Ganga said.

The National Commission of Women say that women still become Devadasis because of dumbness, deafness and poverty. Women who are deserted by their husbands, widowed, or living with AIDS dedicate their children as Devadasis when they find it difficult to get them married. They subsist on the money that their daughter earns. In fact, most Devadasis now hail from poor families and are responsible for earning for the entire family.

So far the life expectancy of a Devadasi has been low. She usually does not live beyond 50.

And even if she get’s out of the system it’s hard to make two ends meet and lead a good life. Read Ratnamma’s story.

Kallava became a Devadasi at six, gave birth to three children in her late 40s and now pays her children's school fees from her goat rearing buisness

Kallava became a Devadasi at six, gave birth to three children in her late 40s and now pays her children’s school fees from her goat rearing business

 

Former Devadasi Kasturi is in the textiles business

Former Devadasi Kasturi is in the textiles business

If you want to help another Devadasi to break free from the oppressive system go to www.milaap.org and give a loan. You will get your money back along with the satisfaction that you have changed somebody’s life.

If women are expected to dress decently in Kolkata men should be expected to do the same

If women are expected to follow a dress code in Kolkata men should too

Bidhannagar Police recently came up with tips to keep women safe in Kolkata, but they were criticized for being regressive and sexist. I think it is perfectly fine for the police to come up with tips for women to follow to ensure their own safety but the same ones should apply to men also. I have interpreted the same 12 tips for men and here it is….

1. Dress decently: Men should avoid wearing those sleeveless Ts with their underarms screaming for a shave, avoid those micro under wears while taking a bath openly right on the main road at community tube wells and avoid those lungis …about which the lesser said the better.

2. Have emergency speed dial numbers in your phone…so that you can be a real man and help people if they are in a difficult situation and not walk away thinking it’s none of your business.

3. Self defense…yes, more precisely martial arts. Learn the values of honouring women and protecting the weak and poor that these art forms stand for.

4. Be aware of people around you…and not keep scratching your crotch in public or urinate in public places, smoke on people’s faces, use the choicest expletives while conversing loudly in a public place with friends or over your mobile, huddle together in front of “FL Liquor” shops and drink openly.

5. Avoid late nights…this is a must. Inebriated men, motorbike gangs, men on the prowl, should retire to bed early.

6. Carry pepper spray...then you will be aware of the fear and the desperation that drives a woman to carry a spray.

7. Be well behaved… ensure that you do not stare at the breasts and bums of every passing woman, don’t pass comments and cat calls, don’t attempt rape, molest or commit rape.

8. Stay in groups…Grouping sensitized men with insensitive ones will help in halting moral degeneration. Ensure you stay with such groups.

9. Avoid travelling in crowded buses or trains…because this way you get into a situation when you can’t keep a check on your libido and your hands start wandering around. Avoid it.

10. Avoid going to isolated places…once again if you spot a lone woman in an isolated place your urge to show your power and manhood might get the better of you.

11. Walk in well-lit and frequented areas…this way people can see you and you can keep your animal instincts under check.

12. Be street smart…Urban dictionary interprets street smart as: “A person who has a lot of common sense and knows  what’s going on in the world. This person knows what every type of person has to deal with daily and understands all groups of people and how to act around them. This person also knows all the current things going on in the streets and knows how to make his own right decisions, knows how to deal with different situations and has his own independent state of mind.” Every man should be this.

 (This post is not meant to generalise men in Kolkata but it has been written to make a point.)