Thursday, March 08, 2007

International Women's Day

The present generation, the neo-age past the 1990’s, liberalized and globalised times have brought a frenzy of activity in political and social life, and business and personal spaces. It says thumbs up for women in many spheres and a case of "still working at it" in others. As every year this year also, Mar 8th is celebrated as International Women's Day [IWD] to inspire women, celebrate their achievements and above all make them feel proud of their womanhood.

The 2000+ era has not only been eventful but also brought a huge number of victories for women. It also brought heartbreak when thousands of innocent women and children were killed in mind-boggling terrorist attacks all over the globe, the center stage of this turmoil being Southwest Asia. But as is usual, this generation has two distinct sides to it. On the positive side, women made globalization a reality of their lives when business, politics, and above all ideas and "openness" view took them to various shores and they made a mark in the international arena. The scene is not that hunky dory with all niceties and has its own share of problems for the women, the issues just varies according to class, creed and group. It varies from dowry, to sexual harassment, to subjugation, to eve teasing, etc. But the tone and nature of IWD has, for the past few years, moved from being a reminder about the negatives to a celebration of the positives.

The global political scenario changed when Angela Merkel, became Germany's first woman Chancellor last year and also the first leader since unification to hail from the formerly communist East. Critics for reinvigorating U.S. diplomacy laud Condoleezza Rice, the present Secretary of State for US Govt, though many have questioned whether she could sculpt a much-needed grand strategy. She has responded so far with one built around promoting democracy worldwide, without compromise, as a cure for everything from terrorism to economic downturns. But this strategy already hangs by hairs in Iraq and a tumultuous Middle East.

Opening my morning newspapers, these days I find some interesting news from the US political circle, a welcome deviation from Bush’s volumes of false promises of setting in peace soon. "I’m in. And I’m in to win" was the headline reporting that Hillary Clinton had tossed her hat into the 2008 US presidential race. I assume that Hillary, with her own savvy skills, long exposure to the global media and a master strategist as a spouse will hold herself in the widening field of Democratic hopefuls. It’s a different story that, even if US is called an advanced country, will it accept a female as it’s President. Time will tell and the race is on.

Now come to France, few months back, the Socialist candidate Segolene Royal was the clear favorite for the post of President but today the UMP candidate Nicolas Sarkozy has emerged as the consistent favorite in the polls. Why has the Socialist candidate, the first woman who had a serious chance to be elected President of France, fallen from grace so quickly? No comments again as they say in politics anything can happen and so keeping fingers crossed and waiting for the results.

Well when it comes to France, I know some great people there from this land. I know So for a long time and she is my mentor, my guide and helps me like her younger brother. So is one of the smartest women, whom I know, a business grad from one of the best business schools in Europe. She manages business development in one of the largest technology and product companies in the world and handles its growth for various geographies. I am amazed the way she multi-tasks, from her work to travel, from her music classes [she is a trained musician and performs in Paris] to fitness and reading. So is an avid traveler, a storehouse of various cultures and has journeyed to South Africa, the entire Europe, the US and best part is she knows more about North India travel destinations than I do after her visits to Rajasthan, Delhi, etc. During my last visit to Paris, it was So who proposed that we explore the Chateau of Versailles. It was one of the best places, I have seen to date having seen the other must-see places in Paris in my previous visits.

Now how can I go round the globe and forget the Indian women, the Bharatiya naari.

Last year will remain memorable for two women, one an Italian but naturalized Indian and other an Indian, but naturalized American, joining the exclusive Forbes Club of the 100 most powerful women in the world. Sonia Gandhi, President of the Congress, was ranked the third most powerful woman in the political arena and as everyone is aware as she is the person who actually runs the government, true to the Nehru-Gandhi family style.

Finance and banking, business and industry saw the rise of women who now occupy positions of power and influence on the projected growth of the Indian economy. The list is endless but to name a few are Naina Lal Kidwai of HSBC, Chanda Kochar of ICICI, Lalita Gupte of ICICI, Kiran Shaw Muzumdar of Biocon, Sulajja Firodia Motwane of Kinetic Honda, Padmasree Warrier of Motorola, etc. I mean the list includes lots more and I am sure about that, just that I am not aware about them.

Since the time, I am in B’lore for the last 4 years, I am fortunate to be in association with Vi[ also worked in her team ], an engineer from IIT Kanpur, a mother of two smart kids, a proud wife, a loving daughter-in-law, an intelligent technical architect and a wise manager who has served in some of the best technology conglomerates in the US and in India. I am able to say all these things about her, as I speak to her anything and everything, both professional and personal and its like she listens with a patient ear and then speaks her mind. Of late, I have not visited her place for a while though I speak to her over phone and emails. Yesterday she called and her first reply on phone was "theek hai tum ghar aao, meet V and I [her smart kids] and P [his husband, but I call him dada]". And as usual it ends with an open invitation for nice homemade food. To me it’s like going to my home, when I am at her place and to add to all this, there is Vi’s mother, an elderly lady, the warmth of the house and it feels celestial to be there.

The face of Indian Law and Justice saw a sea change, a sort of revolution when women succeeded in their protests to bring justice to two women, Priyadarshini Mattoo and Jessica Lal who had been killed brutally by hi-society men and the courts had earlier acquitted the killers for "inadequate evidence".

I have spoken so much till now but if you notice, there is one factor common to all. The common factor is education, access to information and opportunities, and their presence in urban areas and centers of growth.

Despite their considerable involvement and contribution, women’s role in rural India is confined to household chores, livestock production/ maintenance, cooking and last but not the least producing kids, preferably boys, otherwise consequences are dire. To put it straight their role has often been underestimated or, worse, ignored. Gender-blindness is partly the result of a paternalistic bias, but also of the attitudes of women themselves, who may have been conditioned by their culture and society to undervalue the worth of the work they do and also about their gender/feminism.But there is a change in trend, these days as voluntary organizations have mushroomed in mid-towns and villages, organizing workshops and seminars on women's issues, giving legal aid, health training, providing for self-help savings. These schemes, doing developmental activities, create an image of tremendous growth and proliferation of the women's movement.

My mind races back to the days of “Doordarshan”, when Ramayana and Mahabharata on weekends were the star attractions. If you can re-collect there used to be an AD that used to be telecast very frequently then, "Saat Swaad main lijat, lijat papad". It was named "Saat" meaning seven as it was started by seven women from the terrace of Lohana Niwas in Girgaum, a thickly populated South Bombay suburb. Today it employs a little over 50K women and has been hailed as one of the greatest rags to riches stories of contemporary India, what started as the all women run and managed co-operative organization before the age of liberalization, globalization and digitization. With time as the sales took a northward ride, the top brass of lijat, adopted all possible mediums to market and promote their papads and other products. Lijjat today commands quite a healthy export sheet, sites like Amazon and ebay are selling lijat papads online. This is what I call the marriage of technology and grass root industry to reach newer heights of success and profit making. Mind you all this, was managed by women most of them who have barely studied beyond primary education.

Also another person, my maa is a simple lady, and after all her children stood on their on legs, she does something that I am really proud of. She along with a few other ladies from our neighborhood in my hometown has started a small center. The backyard of our house serves as the workshop where tribal men and women come and work with her, bringing to life some forms of art and sculpture which are dying and decaying in this age of consumerism. Also note that this is no-profit center and the products are not sold, it just that she wants the tribal art to get due recognition. This time when I was home in Dec’06, I asked her how is she going to run the show, her reply was simple, "I am putting my passion and I believe in what these people are doing. Money is not that important and if people like this they should come forward and take this initiative forward. It’s more like making the tribal people feel that they can also do it". I presented few of the cards to my friends in B’lore and abroad, which I got from home and they were all surprised as everything was handiwork starting from paper to colors to the final palm leaf cards. I love you maa for what you are doing.

Everyday we come across stories of molestation, sexual abuse and rape in media reports. But there are cases that never get reported because the degree of violence of the act is not serious enough to grant it space even in local newspapers, forget leading dailies. What if media doesn’t give them space, there is the big open world of blogs. Recently a women’s movement called Blank Noise, lead by Jasmeen Patheja, who spread her message mostly thorough blogs,[Blank Noise Project] took to busy Brigade Road in B’lore to combat the sexual advances of the male crowd in true Gandhigiri style. Also a few days back while taking to Nik, a junior from my engg school, she told how she punched a fellow male passenger who was trying to be extra smart with her in a crowded bus. That’s smartie Nik, your population needs to explode. Also yesterday late night, I got this email[below is a direct copy paste] from one of my ex-colleagues,S and I will blog on this soon.
Hi RC,

I read your blog Wipe off the Monster and was really touched.
I would request you if you could write something on Sexual Harassment that young girls face from their relatives. This is a very taboo topic but the truth is what all cases you hear is tip of iceberg.

[If you search for Wipe off the Monster on my blog, you can read more there.]

Also I take pride in knowing some simple people down-to-earth, nothing pompous, no airs, no faltu-ka-dhikhawa, kind, genial, affable souls and put to the point, well-liked individuals from my college batch, school mates since my kindergarten days and few friends. Ju is one such person. Also IP, from my nursery days, is a smart person who juggles her simple work life with some yummy cooking and she is a fundu Orissi classical dancer, just that she doesn’t practice that more often these days. Like, I can count these people on my fingers, very few in number but then like Tennyson’s The Brook says "Men may come and men may go but I go on for ever", these selected people have remained the same what-so-ever and are still the same and so the connection continues for ever.

A lot of change has definitely happened for the Indian women in the last 10 years in the positive track, but with lot of dark clouds still looming over. In the process of rethinking the last 10 years of the women's changing image in India, a number of questions come to my mind.

For instance, would the profession of modeling or participation in beauty pageants be an expression of independence and entry into feminist space or falling victim to a consumerist culture that turns women into sex objects? Would 33 per cent reservations for women in elected bodies, women in the police force, judiciary and bureaucracy be expressions of women's empowerment or merely an assimilation of women into the exploitative State machinery?

There are lots of if’s and but’s but in this age of free expression, at least few are voicing their viewpoints with boldness, candidness and practicality.

So make a difference, think globally and act locally, that’s the driving mantra of this age be it work, life, culture, etc. Have a simple day and ensure that the future is bright, equal, safe and rewarding for the entire female fraternity. Make everyday International Women's Day.

Keep reading and remain connected.

[Note: Check out this week’s Outlook magazine, I just read it after I was done with this post, early morning. It has an interesting article on how few Indian women like Vrinda Dar, Anita Nirody and Pushpa Pathak are making a difference in rendering their services for the various rehabilitation and social activities in war torn Afghanistan. Definitely it’s not a job for the faint hearted with rocket attacks, bombing, murder, killing and bloodshed a regular affair there.]

Also this is a special post for RC, as he made his 100th post today.

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3 Comments:

At 3:28 PM, Blogger Nishka K S said...

Hey Congrats on your 100th post!! Way to go!! Keep up the good work.

 
At 7:10 PM, Blogger Aishwarya said...

Hi Tanay...this post is really gud..and many congratulations on ur century!!!

 
At 8:37 AM, Blogger Incognito said...

Its really praise worthy, the honesty with which you create your blogs. I enjoy reading them, every single of them, even though there are times my opinion is at loggerheads with yours.
Look forward to more from you.

 

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