Conference

Speaking of Caste

In chapters and at annual conferences, volunteers of AID have discussed forms of injustice stemming from various social identities such as gender, patriarchy, and sexual orientation and our own role in questioning the injustice and understanding how we take part in perpetuating them.  Two years ago discussions on gender identity and sexual orientation led to a conference session as well as an amendment to the volunteer code of conduct.  While amending the code volunteers included caste as a basis of prejudice to be eradicated. Continue reading

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Exhortation

Seven Fallacies about Menstruation and Culture

Never have I so acutely felt the weight of Jonathan Swift’s remark, “Falsehood flies, and the truth comes limping after it” as now, after responding to a “viral” article propagating pseudo-scientific mumbo-jumbo in connection with menstrual untouchability, which is a crime against women just as untouchability is a crime against humanity. To top it off, this article suggests, in conclusion, that reviving traditional customs may effect social change and greater respect for women. The author is not some cranky old chauvinist male but a woman who works with government schools and health departments to teach girls and women about menstruation.  Girls certainly do need spaces where they can speak freely and ask questions about menstruation, to know it is not shameful and that their bodies are just fine.  How awesome would it be if after a presentation on the subject they could go home and declare, “I am not polluting, I don’t have to sit in the corner or in the shed. I can go where I want, when I want. I am free! Instead we hear that when girls ask questions about why they are not allowed to touch people, pickers, temples, etc, this particular teacher tells them that untouchability is “a personal choice” and that the myths and rituals reinforcing it are rooted in “ancient wisdom” when women were “worshipped.” How many adolescent girls, hearing a teacher in school offer you on the one hand patriarchy masked as “ancient wisdom” and on the other “personal choice” will choose the latter? I hope this response can increase that number:

Ask Amma

Several people have forwarded to me an article, written by an educator, connecting “ancient wisdom” to the practice of menstrual taboo, and pitying the misguided women who expect modern ideas of gender and feminism to empower them.  After cataloguing popular justifications for menstrual untouchability and suggesting that they come from a time when women enjoyed respect, indeed worship, in contrast to the present context of crimes against women, the author concludes that menstrual taboo is a matter of “personal choice.”

I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.  Would those who condone menstrual untouchability extend their reasoning to untouchability?  Is it also a personal choice for us to connect to the “ancient wisdom” through the practice of untouchability?  With more than enough relatives who would be all too happy to think so, I take this as a wake-up call

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Conference

Women’s Rights Perspective in Birth, Breastfeeding and Food

On 10 March 2014, I spoke about Women’s Rights Perspective in Birth, Breastfeeding and Food at a Training Program on Gender, Work and Health held at the National Labour Institute, Delhi.  In one session, graduate students from institutes in various parts of India attended.  In another session, Health Officials from various countries attended. Continue reading

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Reflections, Report

Studying Society the Sangati Way

What do children study in social studies?   Sangati is a program that encourages children to study society, starting with themselves.  Avehi-Abacus has trained teachers in more than 900 schools of the Bombay Municipal Corporation to implement this program.  I had the opportunity to visit some of the classes during their Sangati session.

The Sangati curriculum is designed with the aim of helping students make sense of their personal experiences at home and in their neighborhoods in a broader social, political and historical context.  The students I met had learned about Savitri bai Phule who worked for the cause of education for women and girls, and read stories raising caste issues such as Premchand’s Thakur ka Kuan (Thakur’s well) and Eklavya.

In the course of the discussion, the teacher asked them questions such as,

“What have been the conventional roles expected of men and women?”
“How has society changed?”
“How does education play a role?”
“Was Dronacharya a great teacher?”  (क्या द्रोणाचार्य महान गुरु थे?).
“If your teacher asked you for such a guru-dakshina what would you do?”

In their discussion we could see that while the material they discussed challenged social conventions and power structures, their ideas of how to challenge these in their own lives were yet forming and would take many more such discussions for them to articulate.
The politics of the classroom and the politics of their present reality layered upon one another, complicating the questions that the teacher asked based on the lesson.   It poignantly revealed how far the students were willing to go in challenging issues of caste and gender which we like to think are settled.
I read some of the textbooks and teacher’s guides, including descriptions of their classroom exercises designed to facilitate introspection on questions of caste and gender.  It would be interesting to try out these exercises ourselves in chapters.  There is so much that we in AID can learn from this program, as travelers along the same journey towards a just society.

Related: 
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Report

Gender Equality in Our Lifetime?

Charlotte, 26 May 2013. Outside the conference room, S. Hiremath greeted me and said, “Congratulations to you and Sunita and the others for that session on gender issues. The way people spoke up and shared their experiences, I did not think I would see it in my lifetime! Really, hats off! How long can women endure this injustice in silence?”

The Survey, the Skit, the Session and the Silence
AID Conference 2013 at Charlotte, North Carolina

Daughter reads _The Art of Freedom_

The Survey Continue reading

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Letter to Editor

Varanasi widows join seers and scholars in seminar, dine together

Varanasi widows join seers and scholars in seminar, dine together
ALLAHABAD, May 27, 2013
http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/varanasi-widows-join-seers-and-scholars-in-seminar-dine-together/article4756702.ece#comments

Comment:

It is very sad that this is a headline, or that such efforts are needed at all.

No woman, indeed no person, should have to live with this kind of injustice, isolation and poverty. The exclusion these women feel stems from the discrimination against women that prevails in educated, middle and upper class society as well. Though women whose husbands have died may live with their families, enjoy comfortable lives and be invited to social functions, some remnant of discrimination remains. I have shared such an experience here:
A String of Jasmine
http://publications.aidindia.org/content/view/890/62/

The initiative to offer education and vocational opportunities to those in need is welcome. At the same time we need a massive effort to educate the seers, scholars, family and society as a whole to recognize the dignity and equality of all women, regardless of marital status.

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