Archive for the ‘Women’ Category

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

 

 

 

 

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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.

For the complete article click here

The other day I was talking to my friend and ex-colleague Subhomita Dhar. We started our careers in journalism in the same month in the same newspaper in Kolkata and then we both ended up in Dubai, although she first, me a few years later. She worked in the largest newspaper there and I worked in the biggest magazine house. We both became moms while balancing our jobs and then one fine day we decided to give it all up.

I remember it was my last day at work. I had finally taken the decision, something I felt I should have taken much earlier. Then I could have done away with developing cervical spondilosis, sitting with the baby on my lap all night and sitting at the desktop for 9-10 hours a day, that too exactly six weeks after I had given birth to my little boy.

My urge to hurry home as soon work got over to be with my son was not looked upon kindly by my boss. She always felt that sitting around longer meant more commitment and productivity and I on the contrary, felt that I was managing my time well enough to finish work in advance. The skirmishes became a daily affair and the issues remained perpetually unresolved.

I had always been an extremely career-oriented person and not having a full-time job was the last thing on my mind. I felt my job defined me. I loved my identity of a journalist, who had worked in the best newspapers in India. My pay pack gave me that financial freedom that I always enjoyed.

But the moment I came home my son clung to me in a way that would put an octopus to shame, stirring an emotion inside me that I never knew existed. When I had to carry him to the bathroom even to wash my face, that financial independence, that post I had acquired by sheer hard work, all started paling into insignificance. It took me 10 long months to finally decide that I wanted to be with him 24X7.

It was probably the hardest decision that I had ever taken in my life. Since the day I appeared for my MA exam I had never been jobless, and I was in office till 6pm on the night I went into labour. I was bordering on the workaholic, actually. But I guess my clingy son and an insensitive boss made me change my attitude to my job and life altogether.

But the day I put in my resignation I was determined about one thing that changing nappies and catching up on lost sleep was not the only thing I would be doing while at home.

Within two months I was sitting and writing the first draft of my book, freelancing a bit, I had started my own blog too and of course changing nappies. Little did I know then that I was also re-inventing myself.

So was Subhomita. She had continued in the job longer than I had done but as the days passed she felt her over-bearing nanny was taking over her home, taking decisions for her daughter and sometimes even for her. The final nail in the coffin was when one day Subhomita came home from a night shift and the next morning her nanny told her that she should have tiptoed and shut the door silently because she disturbed her sleep.

Subhomita Dhar gave up her full-time job to be with her daughter and today she is a fitness expert and runs her own fitness studio.

“But as I look back, probably the main reason I quit my job was to be at home when my daughter came back from school, I wanted to be there to hear her stories,” said Subhomita.

Subhomita decided it was time to take charge of her home. Like me it had never happened that she had not worked but she quickly settled into her at-home-mom role dropping and picking up her daughter from school, cooking and doing the housework but things didn’t end for her here either.

She had grappled with weight issues as a young woman and she was determined to change it all. She had been taking fitness classes earlier but now she had more time to devote to vigorous fitness training and learn the nuances of the training process. She started swimming and practicing healthy cooking and learning the virtue of a healthy diet.

We often met for kids’ play dates at the beach and at the coffee shop and we exchanged notes on our transformed lives and future dreams.

We both faced a lot of jibes and judgmental comments for our transformation into mushy moms from career women. But no one actually knew, probably not even us, that we were rediscovering our capabilities beyond our full-time jobs.

That was 2013.

I gave up my full-time job to be with my son and concentrated on writing and became an author.

In 2017 we are both back in India. She lives in Noida in NCR and runs a weightloss studio Dance to Fitness. I live in Kolkata now and I have two books to my credit, a novel Exit Interview published by Rupa Publications and another a collection of short stories Museum of Memories published recently by Readomania, both have been well read, critically reviewed and have been on the bestseller shelves for months. I am already on to my next. Blogging has allowed me to have a distinct voice of my own and I have managed to write some in-depth articles in international magazines and websites.

“I never thought I would run a business one day. I guess giving up my job motivated me to do different things. It’s a great feeling to make people feel good about themselves.”

Dance to Fitness (Crossing Republik) offers Aerobics, pilates, weight training and diet counseling only for women. It has been running successfully for close to two years now enriching the lives of hundreds of women.

This post is for all those who think that women are taking the easy way out by giving up their careers post childbirth.

You never know they might be just preparing to walk a tougher path and take up new challenges. It’s not being crazy to give up a job for your baby it’s actually, at times, an immensely sensible decision.

Indrani Ganguly is the Managing Editor at Readomania

On International Women’s Day I start a series of interviews of women who are fortunate and motivated to be doing what they like doing and what they have always wanted to do. I start the series with the interview of Indrani Ganguly, who was a journalist but editing books gives her the greatest happiness. She is the Managing Editor of the publishing house Readomania. She is a stickler for perfection but not one whose opinion would override others. She believes in her own independence and individuality and respects others’ individuality too. She is one gutsy lady with a great sense of humour, a devoted mother and someone who has the conviction to achieve her goals if she sets her sight on it.

In this interview Indrani talks about the hard work that goes into making a book and her positivity is something to learn from.

How was your experience of editing Onaatah, the National-award winning film converted into a book, which is being launched today?

Onaatah–daughter of the Earth‘ written by Paulami Dutta Gupta is one of the most relevant and sensitive stories that I have edited. Though the peg of the story is dark, the treatment is not. What starts on a poignant note turns into a story of hope. There is no feminist statement or activism in the book. It is a story about simple people and how they help rehabilitate a rape victim by treating her with love and compassion. We see that while the urban educated people treat a sexually assaulted woman as an untouchable and a pariah, the simple rural and uneducated people have better senses. There is a lot of class-based hypocrisy in our country when it comes to a sensitive topic like rape. This book addresses that.

The movie has won the National Award and been showcased in most important film festivals across the country. Rape is a life-altering event, but it is not the end of life. I sincerely hope ‘Onaatah‘ manages to sensitize people and make them treat a raped woman not as a victim but as a survivor.

From being a journalist to a books editor, how has your journey been?

Having done my post-graduation in Journalism specialising in Print media, I started my career in the newsroom. It is one of the most exciting places to be in. The energy is high octane and edition-time atmosphere is insane. Initially I was baffled but soon got sucked into the world of deadlines, minute-to-minute agency wire checking, staying around for run editions and working the graveyard shift. The transition from media to publishing was brought about by a location shift in 2005. Though the pace wasn’t as hysterical, I was doing one non-fiction book every five days. So I wouldn’t call it slow either. I had a very supportive senior editor who taught me the technical nuances and I took to manuscript editing like a fish takes to water. I started fiction editing from 2012 and realised how creative and fulfilling it is. A good editor can turn around a mediocre manuscript to a brilliant one by developing it. There has been no stopping since then. I continue doing academic and non-fiction editing but fiction is what I do every day.

What it is like to be the Managing Editor at Readomania?

Overwhelming actually! Readomania’s Director Dipankar Mukherjee has placed immense faith in me and I cannot let him down. The responsibilities have definitely increased as expected. We have some very interesting titles lined up this year. We also plan to build the children’s literature line. Dipankar wants me to be responsible for that. We are also going big on non-fiction and will also classify our fiction titles. I connect a lot with Dipankar’s vision and I want to stand by him and turn it into a reality. Also Readomania is like one big literary family with a young and dynamic team and some extremely talented authors.

MSQ is your first book as an editor of an anthology and it’s selling like hot cakes. Why do you think people are picking it up?

Technically Mock, Stalk & Quarrel is my second anthology, first as a solo editor though. I was the editorial mentor of Defiant Dreams–Tales of Everyday Divas. That was my first experience as an anthology editor. MSQ is definitely my baby. It is a collection of satirical tales, which emanated from a nationwide contest conducted by Readomania in the summer of 2016 to identify powerful voices that could wage an ideological war against issues that matter. It is an extremely relevant book especially in today’s socio-political milieu. This book takes on some serious issues that ail our country, in humorous, ironical stories. There is a lot of angst in people’s minds and we felt that could be channelled into hard-hitting satire which would not only force people to read but also discuss and debate.

What was the toughest part of editing 29 satires?

We at Readomania are very particular about the quality of our books. Each Readomania book goes through three editorial stages – development, copyediting and finally, at least three levels of proofreading. Things are easier and quicker when it comes to single-author books. Anthologies, however, take a little more time as I had to individually develop each of the 29 stories, send them back to the respective authors for rework and then copyedit the rewritten stories. The manuscript was proofread at four different levels by a team of editors and then finally me. The toughest part, I would say, was harmonising with 29 extremely sharp brains. An editor needs to be very tactful and also accommodating when dealing with so many creative people. She is after all the captain of the ship.

Heard MSQ could make it to the record books? Why is that?

Yes MSQ India’s first satire anthology. We not only created something relevant but also something unique. We will be approaching Limca Book of Records soon for the official endorsement.

You have a fantastic sense of humour and a way with punch lines; how good are you with writing satire yourself?

Ha ha, thanks. Not many appreciate my wry wit though but it is now an intrinsic part of me. If I didn’t have the essence of satire in me, I don’t think I would have been able to develop and edit this book. Satire exists as a way to ridicule and critique the follies of humanity. Through its heavy use of sarcasm and irony, contemporary satire is a sort of glass that reveals some of the silliness of modern life. However, one has to be careful that humour doesn’t become slapstick; irony doesn’t become pithy. I think I have that understanding and feel I can dish out satire too.

Coming to your personal life, you are a single mom with a lovely daughter. Have you ever thought about writing your personal journey?

My life has been quite eventful for sure. A dear friend of mine actually wrote a story on my life which garnered a lot of votes in a short story contest. I think in prose. I always pen down my feelings, although I never share those with anyone. There have been many ups and downs in my life since my preteen days, events which have shaped my personality. Maybe one day I will chronicle everything for my daughter and if she feels it is worth sharing, we can have a book out of it.

How difficult or manageable life has been as a single working mom?

Initially it was extremely tough but now I guess I have got used to it. Work for me was an escape. I used to work for very long hours and it was causing health issues. I still work long hours and most weekends too but I also keep some time for myself. Work no more is an escape; it is a source of tranquility. A child is ideally brought up by both parents, but not everyone is so lucky. I try to fill the gaps in my daughter’s life as much as possible. I don’t treat single parenthood as a handicap. It is in fact empowering. There are some challenges of course. I do wish I could travel a little more though, both for work and pleasure. It does become overwhelming when you have a deadline and also a PTM to attend. Most nights I am busy helping my daughter with her school project after 11pm. But at the end of the day I ask myself—would I have been happier if I had all the freedom in the world but not my daughter with me? Of course NOT! I have now learnt to balance everything in my life and am a happy person. And my happiness reflects in my daughter’s smile.

What would be your message on International Women’s Day?

Your life is your own story. People will come and go just like characters in a story. Do not let anyone’s presence or absence affect you so much that it alters the course of your journey. Stand up for your rights and do not let anyone take you for granted. Love your friends and stay connected with them. And ladies, education is your best friend!

 

 

surrogacy

Surrogacy in India has two sides to it. While thousands of couples (even gay couples) both from India and abroad have found immense happiness through surrogacy, the industry which stands at a value of Rs 400 million, has come under the scanner for its exploitative nature because the surrogate mother in most cases gets into the process because of her financial needs and ends up with very less even though the couple seeking surrogacy pay through their nose.

Without any proper rules and laws in place the surrogacy industry has grown by leaps and bounds, most often by flouting all possible norms.

This is why in August this year the Union Cabinet approved the Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill, 2016, which is aimed at curbing unethical and commercial practices and preventing the exploitation of poor women as substitute mothers.

Malini (Aparajita Addhy) and Sudipa (Rituparna Sengupta) in Praktan

Malini (Aparajita Addhy) and Sudipa (Rituparna Sengupta) in Praktan

As I emerged from the movie hall with my mother after watching Praktan, I heard her muttering, “What was Rituparna Sengupta (Sudipa in the film) thinking?

I was annoyed, more so because it came from my mom, who has always believed women should fly.

“Who do you think I am like?” I asked. “The independent, non-conformist career-minded Sudipa or the home-maker Malini (played by Aparajita Addhy)?”

“Of course, you are like Sudipa,” my mom said without batting an eyelid.

“Then why did you make the comment?” I persisted.

“It’s just that she is such a nag. And Ujaan (Prosenjit in the film) is such a chauvinist. The relationship was a recipe for disaster.”

My mother had just summed up the crux of the film in the most simple way possible. Praktan is a film based on the relationship between two flawed, egotistical people, both of whom believe they are always right.

It’s just by chance that Rituparna is shown to be a woman with a mind of her own who smokes, wears modern attire, is an architect and has financial independence.

Wouldn’t we have hated Ujaan as much had the roles been reversed?

Had his first wife been Malini, a homemaker and he had checked her messages, told her to take his permission before travelling to her parents’ home, had been frugal with his time with her and had told her to leave on a holiday without him and had not turned up as promised, would we have hated him any less?

Sudipa could have been the second wife, the independent, career woman who could have been equally diplomatic, keeping the mom-in-law happy by letting her take the decisions, making the customary phone calls to keep the family in the loop about her whereabouts and at the same time not demanding any time from her husband, but remaining immersed in her own career, then would that have been more acceptable?

Praktan is a film that mirrors reality to a great extent and sometimes reality is regressive. Ujaan tells Sudipa that if his mother never had a problem with the rules in the house, why was she making a hue and cry about it?

In this one liner the filmmakers very clearly show how most Indian men react to independence and women.

Most Indian men grow up seeing their mothers do something and believing that is right. Indian men, who have moms with a career, are often used to seeing them coming home cooking and cleaning and doing the double shift.  So for them, independence comes with the superhuman qualities of doing the balancing act and at the same time conforming to the social norms set aside for women.

There is a scene where after her miscarriage, Sudipa stays up and cries while Ujaan is blissfully asleep. That scene reminded me so much of my friend who had a very difficult pregnancy followed by an operation after the delivery. While she grappled with the pain from her stitches and a constantly crying newborn at night, her husband would simply keep sleeping, not stirring for once. She told me she felt so angry then, that she sometimes thought of walking out of the marriage.

Relationships transform as couples move from courtship to marriage, yet another reality that was shown in Praktan. Sudipa actually had no clue that the suave, smiling, knowledgeable heritage tour guide Ujaan could actually become such a perpetually angry and dominating man as soon his ego was bruised, his belief in his capabilities challenged.

The skirmishes over her paying for their holiday to Kashmir to the misunderstanding over the tags left in the clothes that she gifts him (he thinks it’s to show him the price, while she thinks it would help if there is any need to exchange) or her dream of having a home of her own, very realistically portray the unseen battles that often crop up in a marriage.

In order for a marriage to work there has to be an effort from both sides. While spending time together is a prerogative for a good marriage, but if you don’t understand each other nothing actually comes out of trips to Kashmir or coffee shops.

For instance Sudipa has little understanding of Ujaan’s pride in his work. The scene where she walks in with the news of her own promotion and fails to see the clippings from the newspapers that have featured him, very subtly shows Sudipa’s obsession with herself.

Throughout the film Sudipa keeps blaming Ujaan for prioritizing his career but she also, to some extent, fails to understand his attachment to his family, profession, friends (he does not turn up at a holiday with Sudipa because his friend lost his mother.)

For me Praktan is less about how a career woman is being portrayed. It’s more about two people not making any effort to understand each other, something Malini probably tried to do and Ujaan probably made the extra effort the second time. The reason, most often, second marriages are successful.

Sudipa (Rituparna Sengupta) and Ujaan (Prosenjit) in a scene from Praktan.

Sudipa (Rituparna Sengupta) and Ujaan (Prosenjit) in a scene from Praktan.

No matter how hard Malini tries to prove to Sudipa that she has found bliss with Ujaan and doesn’t mind if he is there for her only a single day in the year, that their marriage is not flawless is clear from a single dialogue from their daughter Uditaa who says: “When mom gets angry at dad saying I can’t take this anymore, he gives her a chocolate and a kiss to make up with her.”

So the fights that were an integral part of his first marriage continue in his second, but this time he makes an effort to bring peace, something he had not done before.

It will also be wrong to look at Malini’s character as a regressive one because she gave up her career post-childbirth, adjusted in an extended family and most importantly, “supposedly” adjusted with Ujaan. If we are doing that we are once again categorizing women with our perceptions.

She is a woman who has pushed Ujaan to start his own business and appreciates him for not asking any details about her past relationship as she has not dug into his.

In fact, as shown in the film, the daughter has played a vital role in transforming Ujaan into a more mellowed and loving man. And why am I not surprised? I have seen the most self-obsessed men becoming doting fathers. And I have also seen men refusing to go home after work because they hated their house stinking of soiled nappies and hated the baby getting all the attention from the wife. I have also seen men choosing not to have children and being perfectly happy with the choice.

It depends on a filmmaker what reality he wants to show. In Praktan they chose to show the first one.

One might wonder why Sudipa was so bothered about Ujaan when she had herself found a worthy life partner and especially after all the pain Ujaan had inflicted her with.

People in failed relationships usually look for closure, a re-inforcement that jumping off the sinking ship was the only way out. Sudipa probably looked for closure too. She started off hating Malini, but as the journey progressed, she couldn’t help but like her over-boisterous persona. She looked at life more simply, a quality that Sudipa appreciated.

In my interpretation, meeting Ujaan was not closure for Sudipa, meeting Malini was.

Praktan is not a film with the most flawless script, but it is a film that holds its own with the most flawed characters.

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