Wednesday, May 27, 2015

At 81, This Unsung Hero Is Turning Women's Lives Around

What did you do withMONEY EARNED from rolling papads?"

"I ran my home", she said with full confidence. "I lost my husband when I was only 30 years of age. But because I was already working at the Shri Mahila Griha Udyog Lijjat Papad, and earning, I could educate my children, settle them all, and even build a house for myself."

This was the exchange with a woman in her mid-60s, present amongst a congregation of more than 1,000 women, rural and urban, belonging to marginalised sections of society from within the city of Jabalpur, assembled in a large auditorium for celebrating their accomplishments.

A slightly younger woman said, "I contribute to my home income, educate my children, and have some savings for a difficult time".

I asked one more... she confirmed the same spirit of self-reliance.

I wondered how these women became substantial income earners by rolling papads.

I got the answer from the event as it unfolded - Vivek Tankha (Co-Author) and I were the presiding guests at this annual event.

I saw a remarkable example of what honest and passionate leadership can do to bring workers, in this case, women, above the poverty line and make them bread earners, house owners, and bank account holders, with children educated and well-placed.

Women were earning good amounts thanks to equitable and productivity-linked distribution of profits earned collectively by nearly 4,000 women of Lijjat Papad's Jabalpur Branch, one of 81 branches of the firm which is headquartered in Mumbai.

Here is what got us so enthused to share this success story.

Shri Mahila Griha Udyog Lijjat Papad, popularly known as Lijjat Group, is a legendry Indian women's cooperative involved in the manufacturing of various fast-moving consumer goods. Its Jabalpur branch in Madhya Pradesh was established in the year 1974 with 15 members; today it boasts of a membership of 4,000 women.

Members are women essentially from families below the poverty line. The mechanism of membership is collaborative which is nomenclatured as cooperative.

Members constitute the work force of this collaborative effort. The remunerations are linked to the levels of their productivity. Each determines how many hours she will work. Members can take work home.

This branch alone has an annual turnover of nearly 43 crores.

This year, the Society generated a profit of nearly 8.5 crores, which, like in all previous years, has been distributed among the members. The collaborative effort is also wedded to the highest principles of transparency and trust. Each paisa of profit gets transferred to the accounts of all 4,000 members (presently) under the Central Government 'Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojna' scheme in proportion to their productivity. (To date, more than 60 crores of profits have been distributed among members).

In addition, the Jabalpur branch also contributes and maintains EPF & ESI payments accounts - an additional social security measure to aid and support its members.

Lijjat Papad's Jabalpur branch is no less empowering than what we have seen in the best cooperative movements like Amul; but because of where it is located, it's an unsung story.

The mentor, Pushpa Berry, (81 years of age), has led this entrepreneurial and social revolution of a workforce of 4,000 women. Her selfless and meticulous management has enabled this large population of women to lead a life of dignity and self-empowerment. She is their pillar of strength. She has chosen not to live with her wealthy sons in Singapore; she wishes to work and serve her members till her last breath.

Pushpa Berry believes that any sick unit can be turned around with this kind of equitable, productivity-based, revenue-sharing model. No loans, no debts. All self-driven, and trusting. A hundred percent Mahatma Gandhi's model of Trusteeship...

India is full of such success stories. We just have to recognise them. I hope the Madhya Pradesh government will take note.

With inputs from Mr Vivek Tankha (Senior advocate, Supreme Court, Former Additional Solicitor General of India and Former Advocate General of Madhya Pradesh)

(Kiran Bedi is the first woman to have joined officer ranks of Indian Police Service. Recipient of Magsaysay Award (1994) for police and prison reforms, she has also worked as a UN police advisor. A tennis champion, she earned a PhD from IIT Delhi and is a Nehru Fellow. She's founded many NGOs and is the author of several books.)

Story First Published: May 27, 2015 00:38 IST

Monday, May 18, 2015

We must teach youngsters to value time:

Summer break in schools has begun. We at the Navjyoti India Foundation are organising summer camps for our rural and resettlement colony children. The idea is to enable them to utilise the time in a creative manner. They can learn the creative arts and skills for which they don’t get time during school days.
The foundation organised one such function at Sohna village the other day. We involved neighbouring schools to inform children about the camp and the opportunities the organisation planned for them at their doorstep.
When asked to address the children, I shared with them a good practice my mother used to make us sisters follow through the summer break. I asked the students as to what they thought was the reason I did exceptionally well in academics and could answer most of the questions in class despite my missing classes on account of my tennis.
They thought I was intelligent, hard working, disciplined, fond of studies and had a sharp memory. Only one boy got it right saying his mother also ensured the same practice for him.
My mother loved education. She was particular about how we spent our time. As soon as summer holidays began, she would take us sisters to a bookshop, get us the books for the next class in advance and made us read them at least for two hours daily.
I used to read the books out of sheer curiosity to know what all was new. There was no pressure of exams, hence it was learning coupled with fun. Besides, mother would get us story and general knowledge books which we devoured with equal felicity.
I asked the children if their parents made them do this. From among nearly 200 children only two hands went up. These were of brothers, one of whom had got it right earlier.
So we decided to include the activity in the summer camp as an hour of self-study, calling it ‘Know Your Books in Advance’. The children welcomed the idea. We decided to teach them to use the library we have and the computers for learning. We would also ask seniors to teach juniors to inculcate confidence among them besides improving their communication skills.
Majority of the children were from rural background, perhaps first-generation learners. I told them, “See how much I have benefited from utilising my time in a better way as I listened to my parents. I continue to benefit even when my parents are not in this world. And today I am in a position to guide you.”
So the message is that the right practices, at the right age, with the right guidance, and children respecting them, makes them reap benefits all their lives.
I asked them as to how many of them would ask their parents to get them the books for the next class and attend a class of self-study, and even teach their juniors for an hour as part of the summer camp. All hands went up.
This is what the young generation needs or they would waste their time. Summer vacation is for creative learning -- music, art, skill, yoga, meditation, sports, computers, craft, social service, biking and trekking.
This is what we the parents, teachers and organisations owe to our children. We must instil value of time in youngsters.
“Use your summer vacation well as my mother taught me to, and reap the rewards,” I signed off. Fortunately, they were all ears. For me, it was a duty well performed. For our organisation, it was sheer joy.

Friday, May 15, 2015

When Cops Throw Bricks or Shoot Their Seniors

The recent case of a Delhi police man, captured on camera losing his cool by hurling a brick at a woman traffic violator (in retaliation to the woman driver hurling a brick at him, also recorded on camera), is indicative of an increasing malaise in policing systems and people's behaviour towards rule of law.

This sort of behaviour of both the police and the community is not a one-off incident in Delhi - there have been one too many cases like this in the recent past across the country.

This piece focusses on the police officer's conduct and the proposed corrective measures being considered by the Police Department in Delhi - whether these are holistic enough, and how else can we work on corrections for the larger good of society.

Just a few days ago, there was a case where an Assistant Sub Inspector of Mumbai Police shot his superior dead and then turned the gun on himself. It is believed that the junior officer was seeking leave, and was not getting it. This later led to a statement from the Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Devendra Fadnavis, on the need to examine how cops can get a weekly off.

Leave in police services is a privilege and not a right per a pre-independence law that has not changed since then. Leave of police personnel is cancelled or suspended at the drop of a hat in India, a land of holidays.

There have been a few studies in recent years estimating the actual work load at police stations. Though not specifically aimed at the investigation function, these provide some clue about the existing gap.

A recently-released Bureau of Police Research report on eight-hour shifts in police stations looked at the existing "supply" and found that the majority of police stations had its staff putting in work days stretching from 11 to 14 hours. Further, most police station members could get only one or two weekdays off during the month. The report estimates that to enable policemen to work 48 hours a week with an assured weekly holiday, it will take 68% enhancements in the police stations' strength. Another highlight was that of the total strength, only a third was posted in police stations, though, admittedly, it was the most important part of police organisation. Indian police strength is 2.28 million personnel with a vacancy of 24.56% as on 1.1.2014. Source: BPRD (Bureau of Police Research and Development)

When departments have large vacancies, it leads to increased pressure on the present strength which has its own (often stress-induced) destructive behaviour.

This is expressed within the service and people in incidents termed road rage and other violence which are repeating far too often. The key difference is that just a few get publicly exposed while others go unreported, but leave behind increased hostility and a disconnect both within the department and between the cops and the people.

Such a situation cannot go on and needs urgent repair. It's a question oflife and limb of the nation.

Here are two initiatives noticed:

1. By the Police Commissioner in Mumbai where the Mumbai Police has started to look for answers to certain stress-induced or related behaviours. The rank and file have come together in batches to undergo psychological analysis to identify problems and seek remedies both for the individual and departmental resource management. The exercise is being led by Police Commissioner Rakesh Maria with the support of the Bombay Psychiatric Society. The questionnaire being filled by cops comprises of 68 questions which includes their conduct with their family, their relationship with their colleagues, and even this: "I have difficulty in remembering what I did the previous night after I was drunk".

Seniors leading this first batch said, "A larger message needed to be sent to the force that they should fill the forms with honesty and that they should not think their careers would be affected if they speak up against their seniors".

The officers assured the ranks that their responses shall be kept confidential and dealt with only by the experts. They will evaluate andcontact the concerned officer directly to suggest remedial measures required. They will, as the expert said, identify those fighting depression, stress, or addiction will be approached for treatment.

The Mumbai Police leadership has decided to cover the entire 50,000 force for psychological analysis.

Why not do something similar in other states? This in fact needs to be an ongoing exercise inbuilt to stay ahead and stay alert.

2. By Delhi Police Commissioner BN Bassi when he said, "We will need systemic changes to see that even under pressure, our officers act as per the law. No matter what the situation, they must behave with courtesy and not lose their temper." He further said, "As far as training of our officers is concerned, our objective is to see that our officers must not react out of rage".

He also suggested that policemen should carry devices to make sure their interactions with the public are recorded on audio tape or camera. He said the aim at the training level was to nurture among the personnel the ability to stay calm.

Staying calm, managing stress, the capacity to absorb hostility, feeling of deprivation of certain basic essentials, family and social responsibilities, and financial inadequacies to meet the expectations of growing children, single-income families...all this needs advanced management techniques.

There is a strong case for a comprehensive approach to Human Resource Management in police services, which ensures constant watchby seniors, periodic review, career progression, medical check-ups, closer communication, family welfare, etc.

In brief, 3 Es... Empowerment, Engagement, and an Ecosystem in human resource management.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Onus back on us after Nirbhaya, Moga cases

Can we prevent Nirbhaya and Moga kind of cases? In the Nirbhaya case, a young woman was thrown out of a bus after being gangraped. In the Moga incident, a 13-year-old girl was teased and pushed out. In both cases, the victims died.

Both cases led to massive public outrage, humbling the government of the day.
The Justice JS Verma Committee was set up to recommend changes in the law, processes and procedures. In the Moga case, the deputy chief minister (Sukhbir Badal) had to withdraw his fleet of buses plying in Punjab and even shell out around Rs 24 lakh from the transport company funds for the family of the deceased. It's perhaps a first-of-its-kind incident in recent memory.
The question I wish to pose is: are such tragedies preventable? To answer that we have to identify the root cause. And unless the root is treated, all else is reactionary, as is the case now. It comes when the damage has already occurred, as in the Nirbhaya and Moga cases.
Let me explain this. The molesting men are not born molesters. They became one. How did they become, and why did they, are the basic questions to be addressed. But not many are asking this. The incidents are getting lost more in political insinuations.
Key questions
We need not be shy of asking: who was responsible for bringing up such kind of men? What kind of nurturing environment did they get? Who did not teach them respect for others and women in particular? Who did not teach them good behaviour? Which school did they go to? What did the teachers not teach them? What did they not learn from them? Did they study or just while away time? Were they serious in their studies? Or did they drop out, or fail? What did the school and parents do then? What kind of friends did they have? Were they keeping late nights? Did they start on alcohol or drugs early on? Were alcohol or intoxicants being taken in the house by the father in the presence of the boy who became a molester? Did he take to vagrancy as a teenager? What did the parents do then? Did he tease girls and were any complaints received? Was there domestic violence in his house? And was he witness to disrespect of women? Did he have sisters? If married, how is he treating his wife?
Negligence in dealing with many of these questions creates potential deviants. All men are not similar. We have very decent people who become protectors. On the other hand, we have molesters. The difference is in grooming.
Therefore, the primary responsibility of prevention is in the hands of parents and teachers. They have to stop letting loose a new generation of potential deviants. Once we create better humanity, it will not hurt and disrespect women and the vulnerable.
Real challenge
The answer lies in creating better quality of humanity. The real challenge is: what do we do with millions who are already on the roads, in the streets, homes and buses, as employees and co-passengers?
The answer is: we rework on them. They have a family in their homes. Let their parents and wives step in. Even their siblings and children. Let them become a strong social pressure group on them to never cross the line of decent behaviour. They also have the elders in the house. Each family must resolve not to be ever a participant in disrespect for a woman. And they begin from their own homes and families.
Then come their employers. The work place must take charge. Train them, and warn them that they never indulge in such an act. Their character verification and antecedents must be checked before employment. And refresher training is a must to keep them sensitised. Their habit of drugs or intoxicants should be kept under watch as this is a serious inciter of violent behaviour.

The Moga case was preventable if other passengers in the bus had intervened. Had they protested, they could have stopped the ongoing nonsense and the tragedy.
What is the point in daily prayers, community langar and kar sevas when we are not going to help someone in distress?

Even in the Nirbhaya case, for long period of time, the victim lay naked on the Delhi road after being gangraped. People drove past, but no one stopped.
We must learn citizenship. We are neither taught, nor do we learn it. Good citizenship, learnt at an early age, makes one a good human being who would neither hurt anyone nor will be indifferent at the time of need.
We can think in terms of enacting a Good Samaritan law which makes it legally binding on the community to help and intervene. But law is as effective as its society is willing.
I think while we do this: we also ensure all buses have GPS (global positioning system)-linked buses to capture evidence of accused as well as passengers. It will record evidence of the culprits and prevent their escape. Like in the Khanna bus case, where the driver and conductor let the molester escape. Everyone will be on a watch.
But the overall situation is pretty bad, more so in our region. It's a real shame on us all. What kind of persons we gave birth to and let them become? The onus therefore is back on us, to at least save the coming generation.

Monday, May 04, 2015

The Sordid Reality of Marital Rape

"My husband raped me daily. He forced himself on me, every single day, even on the days I bled. He did not spare me all through the pregnancy and even till the last day of delivery of my child ... I want no woman to lose time to speak up against such an atrocity. Speak out early, so that you do not continue to suffer as I did. I was scared of him all along."....Now I am strong to reject such a man." (A woman on a TV program)

"Is a wife merely body parts?" I ask.

What compels a wife to continue living with her husband who is a sex-maniac? What kind of man commits such atrocious acts on his wife, almost daily? Why does he treat the mother of his own children in such an inhuman way? How does he get away with this brutality? Is it because marital rape is not a criminal offence, compared to one committed on an outsider? Is he abusing this distinction? Is marriage for such depraved men a license to rape because of the 'implied consent' which comes with wedlock?We had a rather insensitive statement from Minister of State for Home Haribhai Parthibhai Chaudhary in the Rajya Sabha on April 29, 2015. I quote:

"It is considered that the concept of marital rape, as understood internationally, cannot be suitably applied in the Indian context due to various factors, including level of education, illiteracy, poverty, myriad social customs, and values, religious beliefs, mind-set of the society, to treat marriage as sacrosanct."

It is this statement which has stirred the latest debate on marital rape. And legal luminaries and social activists are expressing strong arguments for a change.

Wonder on basic tenets of common sense, how does a cruel marriage remain sacred? What is sacrosanct about it?

Unreported marital rape is a sordid reality of millions of women in our country as surveys conducted by the UN and other agencies reveal. Men themselves too are confirming the results. It's as high as 75% women subjected to marital rape at some point or the other. Not to forget millions of girls in our country are married off at a young age.

Victims continue to suffer for several reasons, dependent on their socio-economic-psychological situation.

Bertrand Russell in his book Marriage and Morals wrote "Marriage for a woman is the commonest mode of livelihood, and the total amount of undesired sex endured by women is probably greater than in prostitution."  

In December 1993, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights published the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women and declared marital rape as a human rights violation.

Similarly, the Council of Europe Convention, in force since 2014 August, declared non-consensual sexual acts committed against a spouse or partner as illegal. This convention is legally binding in Europe. Other countries where marital rape is illegal include the US, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Israel, Sweden, Russia, Poland and many more.

In India, marital rape can come under cruelty clauses of section 498A of Indian Penal Code. Cruelty, though not specifically defined, covers physical and mental harassment. Punishment is maximum three years with fine.

Another section of law, 375 IPC defines rape, but says it is not rape if it is intercourse between husband and wife, and when such wife is not younger than 15.

Very few women include sexual assaults/cruelty in their complaints to police, courts or family counselling centres. Information about this is deficient in the public domain.

Under the Domestic Violence Act of 2005, sexual violence is a non-criminal violation. On a complaint received from an aggrieved wife, the Court can call the husband to hear him. Once heard, (lawyers not mandatory), the case is usually referred to a mediator for resolution, if possible. If the complaint is found correct, and mediation fails, the Court can pass a Protection Order directing the man to correct his conduct. The direction of the Court is legally binding. On violation of the direction, the wife can go back to the Court to complain. Violation of the Protection Order can call for short imprisonment. Police help can be taken. However, the process remains a protracted civil matter between the victim, the accused and the Court.

This is functional to an extent. But not effective in practice, as has been seen and reported - in part because of long queues and infrastructure inadequacies. Also, if mediation does not work, the victim has to fall back on herself or family support.

In Washington State laws on marital rape, there are heavy financial penalties imposed in cases where marital rape is established.

One of my Foundations has been running family counselling centres for the last 25 years. Its records show that once the woman acquires the courage to complain, she does not go back to endure cruelty.

But she wants to see her husband punished, and finds no avenue for that. Instead it is she who struggles and suffers most if she has children, no financial resources and is without family support. The IPC sections of cruelty take years in trial. In view of this, victims remain victims. They either give in, or give up.

One thing is evident - that in cases of sexual violence in marriage, the woman is a victim. If a marriage is still continuing, it is because she is submitting to it, she is weak, poor, and afraid, has children, is dependent, roofless, and reconciled to fate. She is also often ignorant of the legal help available.  

One wonders what kind of children does such a woman in distress give birth to and nurture. What kind of home environment will these children grow up in? What kind of fathers do such men make? And will the victimised mother welcome a girl child who may grow up to suffer the way she has? Can such a mind-set be ruled out? I have seen this prevailing with its serious social implications, contributing to the imbalance in gender.  

The need of the times is to considerably transform our humankind, their values and education - this is real long-term prevention and correction. It begins with every home, every school.

We need to educate our boys and girls differently and equally at the same time. The criminal justice system can effectively serve as a deterrent only if the law breakers are a small percentage, but not if the crime is an un-reported 75%. This is an epidemic.

Hence, Indian society needs comprehensive socio-cultural-legal solutions to this prevailing unstated cruelty if it wants healthy children from happy parents in caring homes. In the West such changes came post the 1970s. When will we introduce them?

Till then, political leaders must realise that there is nothing sacred in an exploitative marriage. They must stop making regressive statements.

(Kiran Bedi is the first woman to have joined officer ranks of Indian Police Service. Recipient of Magsaysay Award (1994) for police and prison reforms, she has also worked as a UN police advisor. A tennis champion, she earned a PhD from IIT Delhi and is a Nehru Fellow. She's founded many NGOs and is the author of several books.)

Story Published: May 04, 2015 00:54 NDTV 

Monday, April 13, 2015

Empowerment: Teachers, parents can create leaders

When does leadership begin? Is there an age for learning leadership? Is there an environment for learning? Is leadership about access to opportunities? Why do we need a leader? Should leaders be looked up as role models? And are they? How can we become leaders?
These were some of the questions raised and even mailed to us subsequently after the launch of ‘Making of Top Cop’, an illustrated story book on my formative years, by head boys, head girls and more than 1,020 students from 28 schools in New Delhi, accompanied by more than 120 teachers, parents and others.
The subject of an open house was ‘It begins with us: the role of parents and teachers in inculcating early leadership’.
After a brief presentation by Dr Amrita Bahl (editor) on early leadership learnings drawn from the book, we the organisers had planned to invite students to ask questions on early leadership, and also think through, with short responses from us - the panellists comprising tennis champion Karman Kaur, Delhi Public School (DPS) principal Dr Racha Pandit, Navjyoti Foundation director Neetu Sharma, IIT alumnus Ashok Kumar and Diamond Publications publisher Narendra Verma, besides myself.
We chose the subject based on a very successful experiment in one of our remedial education projects being run by Navjyoti Foundation.
In this, as we worked on the project, we realised that our reach was below the needs of many other thousands of children of the resettlement colony. The challenge now was how to increase our reach to bring the other deprived into our fold.
We decided we would first create leaders of those already with us and then make them reach out to others. Leadership begins with what you have… and from where you are... as we believe.
We asked hundreds of our own children to share their interests; what they liked doing and if they knew something on their own.

Promoting skills
We grouped children as per their interests, across classes. They formed themselves into faculties of IT (information technology), music, yoga, sports, crafts, drawing, drama, teaching, book-reading, story-telling, dance, singing and so on. They all chose their coordinator themselves, on six-monthly rotation, and declared themselves as departments.
Now they chose a registrar, a girl and a boy. We the teachers became mentors. We steered them to promote their respective activities. And provided need-based self-help guidance.
They came together for Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, Environment Day, celebratory days, while focusing on promoting their own skills, within the group and outside.
They started to run literacy, home work and skills classes on their own initiative. Each one assumed responsibility to reach out to more and more members of their community. They planned collective activities of the weeks and ran their own events to which we got invited.

Early leadership
They intervened and stopped early marriages of their friends in the localities and brought back dropouts to school.
Some made their parents and older siblings literate. Seeing their confidence, we as their teachers organised inter-school competitions. And also got them admissions in specific vocational institutes which would hone their skills.
They returned with recognition and more confidence as also visibility and respect in the community. This increased their capacity to give and share. In a nutshell, early leadership was born and was being expressed already.
These children, born in first-generation learning, crowded schooling, but being nurtured and steered by an NGO (non-governmental organisation) with local volunteers in post-school education gave them values required in leadership. Today, each one of them is growing up to serve.
Each one feels others’ needs as their own, and that they can contribute to meet it with all they have. It’s an inclusive growth of leadership as against the exclusive development of only competing with others for oneself.
Today’s youth needs this. Rich or poor. Rural or urban. Boy or girl.
This change does not need much money. It needs passionate partnerships, willingness, and orientation among our existing corporates, schoolteachers, parents who themselves may not be literate or even poor.
Youth of the wealthy, where there is too much to take, and parents very busy in their own commitments, need to be engaged in giving and sharing, beyond social networks and engage with the community and social issues early on.
By this we shall create a new generation of young Indian leaders, skilled in the areas of their choice, but sound in character with a strong sense of ownership. They will be givers, collaborators, compassionate, inclusive and sensitive towards others, because they were so when they were small.

Budding collaborators
The interesting part is that even when they compete, they are learning to be collaborators. When they win, they learn to respect defeat. When they speed, they also learn to offer a hand to someone fallen. And when defeated, they go up and congratulate the winner.
Our Gurukul model of Navjyoti as an experiment is going through these tests. We have created a critical mass of hundreds of student leaders already. It is for anyone to see and learn.
But our concern is with millions beyond.
A country of the youth needs each child/youth to be a leader within. Skilled with a tool kit of values, and who learns to share. We cannot lose time.
But who will provide this learning and sharing environment for leadership not to be a mere position, but transformative and entrepreneurial human power, generated in India to build India? It is this concern which led us to initiate this introspective dialogue.
We believe it begins with us, the teachers and parents, harbingers of life and living. We know the way, we are showing the way, we now wait for it to become a caravan.

Monday, March 09, 2015

Agenda for women

Just a few days ago, we organised convocation upon the successful completion of a vocational course for women in the villages of Haryana.
It was sheer joy hearing the beneficiaries of the course recount what they had done since they had become skilled. Each was self-confident and financially almost self-reliant; and in many cases, even supporting the family financially and running the home. Many had put their children in better schools, started small businesses, saved some money, and earned a great deal of confidence.

They recalled how it all started.
They shared with us how they dared to venture out of home, stealthily in most cases. They would switch off their mobile phones so that their husbands did not get to know they had come for training, as one of them narrated. She would tell her husband that the device had run out of battery and there was no way to recharge it, as the village had no electricity.
The same woman said that her husband would not allow her to even leave home, while he himself was posted outside the city, and after his death, the skill of stitching and tailoring that she had learnt now had come to her rescue. She now was the family’s lone breadwinner, sending her two children to school, and looking after her ailing mother-in-law.

Learning to step out

She now runs a small shop to sell designer garments, employs other women, and trains them free of cost. Before this convocation, the students had been asked to present whatever cultural programme they liked. They presented a small skit. They scripted it and acted it out. It showed a family where the daughter was not allowed to step out of the house but told to stick to cooking and cleaning. One day, an NGO worker visits the family and asks the girl how she spends her day.

The girl says she does nothing much. 

The social worker invites her to learn how to stitch, tailor, and design clothes. She says she cannot until her father allows her.

The social worker approaches her father, and sure enough, he declines to give her permission, saying his honour would be hurt if he allowed his daughter to step out of the house. When the social worker goes into the merits of the daughter’s being skilled and ensures her father that no way the family honour would be hurt, he relents. This was based on a true story, but not all stories end this way.
The play was written and enacted by the women of the village. It reveals what is still the general condition, with some emerging exceptions no doubt but few and far between.  It exposes the huge restrictions that girls and many women of today are living under. They are still being held back, even when an opportunity to learn is next door. Imagine how it must be when the opportunities are far.

The most harmless domestic animal

What do we do? How can India moves forward fast enough, if fathers, husbands and brothers continue to be so closed-minded, insecure, and selfish? It hurts me to see girls held back in 2015 only because of gender, place and lack of opportunities; opportunities that many of us got decades ago.
I am reminded of a story I read long ago. Titled “The Most Harmless Domestic Animal”, here’s how it goes in the words of a daughter: “When I breathed for the first time, you told my father: ‘Start saving, it’s a girl.’ At 5, you told me, learn to read and write, so that a boy will come for you. At 10, you told me: ‘Save yourself, you are a girl.’ At 15, you told me stay home, learn to cook, wash, and remain silent and obedient. At 20, you told me don’t come back to us. Years went on and I kept my promise, nobody ever had a complaint. I was the most harmless domestic animal man ever had in history.”

Collective effort required

Girls are products of home and school. Both nurture her. What if she is deprived of these, of if none lays the foundation for her growth?
We have a duty, each one of us here, to make individual and collective effort to give our new generation of girls easy, secure and assured access to opportunities for a robust India. We need to create measurable systems where the local administration with the help of people’s representatives takes on the challenge to address these social issues at every level starting from panchayat, to reach out through dialogue. Credible NGOs at the grassroots, working with women in rural areas, need to be co-opted. Only then will I say that our India is inclusive society, the India of our dreams