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Celebrate International Women's Month

Nirmala Garimella

Indira Nath in India is among the five women scientists honored with UNESCO/L'Oreal awards, to mark the international women day. Indira Nath,a professor and an authority in the field of leprosy, is the force behind a major advance in developing medication and vaccine for treating the disease that affects 1.5 million people in India. We at Lokvani feel honored and proud at her achievement and take the opportunity to celebrate and reflect on the role and status of women in India today. From almost every perspective, women’s lives have been transformed from their traditional roles in every aspect of society. In India too, a slow and steady transformation is taking place. Although we still battle with issues like dowry, bride burning, Sati, and female infanticide etc. where woman are subjugated, the fact remains that women are now questioning their subordination and finding ways around it.

There have been many examples of women who have trampled the idea of the male bastion from times immemorial that a tribute to their greatness is not enough. So often the question of ‘this is a man’s world’ is suddenly defeated by the actions and greatness of a woman. A fine example is the case of Kali Behn, mother of four and married to a deaf man. Married at age 12 she is now the Sarpanch of Moda Panchayat, in Gujarat. Or take the case of Kanchan Gowde, a lone female cab driver in Delhi among an estimated 55,000 cab drivers in the nation’s capital. She is happy with her job and her decision. We now have women priests in Pune, an unthinkable thought maybe twenty to thirty years ago That is courage at its best. These are our everyday achievers, the unsung heroines who go about their jobs with the same ease as Arundhati Roy who wields her pen to transform and influence the Narmada Bachao Andolan or even lash out at Hindu fundamentalism.

History has shown us that women like Laxmibai of Jhansi and Razia Sultan were willing to take on traditional male roles and come out to fight their battles. In the 20th century Aruna Asaf Ali played a vital role in the Quit India movement. Then of course we have women like Ela Bhatt, founder of SEWA (Self Employed Woman’s association) who has worked tirelessly for the cause of women in need of support and encouragement of any kind. Activists like Medha Patkar, Madhu Kishwar of Manushi, Vandana Shiva have spent their lives agitating for a cause dear to their hearts.

In the political arena is Maneka Gandhi for environment and Shabana Azmi in the Rajya Sabha. Not forgetting the artists in various fields. Sarojini Naidu during the freedom struggle, Vijayalakhmi Pandit, Kasturba Gandhi quietly but surely making an impact. Women writers have immortalized women in their stories like Maheswata devi, Bengali novelist, renowned as a champion of tribal communities. Movies have often tried to bring an awareness of women’s issues. From the popular Mother India to recent ones like Astitva and Bawander that deals with a real life story of Bhanwari Devi, a sathin in Bhateri village near Bassi in Jaipur district, an attempt has been made to portray the role of the women in our society. In sports Karnam Malleswar has been a medal winner in the Olympics.

This is only a narrow snapshot – it is the same India that gives women an unequal share in inheritance, ill treats its widows,desires male progeny and continues to subjugate and submit its women. So the question rises, "Have women come a long way in the 21st century?" The answer it seems to me is yes! We have gained a certain degree of independence, dignity, respect, bargaining power at home, have a say in the family matters, narrowed the gap in political participation, occupational segregation, education and even increased the awareness of nutrition to a certain extent. I am hopeful and enthusiastic about the change that will come about even though slow yet positive. There are champions out there always.!

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