Friday, July 31, 2009

What Respite for the ‘Daughters of Fire’?

The event, “Daughters of Fire: India Courts of Women on Dowry and Related forms of Violence”, came to a conclusion in Bangalore yesterday. It is significant that such an event on violence against women be held in India as this country is notorious for the lack of even basic human rights for its women. There is a clear public –private divide in the lives of the women in this country. Publicly she is great, ‘shakti’, source of strength, worshipped with folded hands, she is the mother goddess. The mother in the Indian psyche equated to God who has immense impact upon the child and hence the future generations. In the confines of her home, however any amount of injustice may be heaped upon her! Apart from the fearsome experiences related by the women delegates, there was another contributor to the ongoing discussions, one Veena Talwar Oldenburg, a person who is a historian and a feminist writer. I think her find is significant for social scientists, law reformers, women’s activists and history people alike. She found that as early as 1853, the sex ratio in India was quite appalling! Now, discounting for several factors eg the expanse of ‘India’ at that time and the method of recording of census and suspicion of the census officials and consequently giving of wrong data etc, one can be again reminded of the antiquity of the practice of feoticide and infanticide. One can imagine the primitive techniques employed to torture women, making them believe that death of their littlr girls was better than a life as a woman! My belief is that the census documents can be a useful source for the social sciences and is of particular importance to the study of women’s position in society through the ages. Along with this the testimonies put forward by the women should be properly recorded and made available for all women. In this women’s ‘Court’, the eminent former Supreme Court judge Justice V R Krishna Iyer, known for some of the most enlightened judgements upholding women’s human rights, pronounced a death sentence on dowry and urged Vimochana ( the women’s organization that conducted the court) to declare July 28th as the day signifying the end of dowry in this country. Although, it is heartening to read such declarations in the newspapers, I am afraid that they do little to stem the tide of this evil practice. My senses are fine tuned to catch such snippets in the newspapers but what about all those women who are suffering such problems in their day to lives? Would they benefit from this event. The event was held very near my house, yet I could not attend because both the mite and the brat girl was down with flu, so what of the thousands who missed the event for some reason or the other? I remember attending a seminar of Dowry officers organized by the National Women’s Commission and the Indian Law Institute in Delhi, the discussions were good and the facts brought forward were eye openers, however there was one thing that severely restricts the impact of such events- lack of follow up activities. We tend to convene such occasions and are happy to hear 600 or so testimonials and click our tongues at the horror of it all, but where is the effort to bring about a tangible impact of such exercise? In the dowry officer seminar we understood the problems at hand but there was no scope for charting the future moves of all those present, both concerned government officers and lay people like us. There has to be a conclusive and attainable goal set for everyone, something that we can all do once we get home. Maybe the testimonials and judgements can be released in pamphlet form and sold or distributed, or students and teachers and any organizations or just plain individuals can take a pledge to absent themselves from dowry marriages or pledge not to give or take dowry themselves…something concrete step. I understand that exchanging experiences can help the victim to vent their agony and help other women to rebel but should the aim of such events be confined to merely that?? There should be strategies to avoid such tragedies in the future. There should be an effort to reach out to women who are suffering at this moment and to parents who are thinking of entering into negotiations with a family who demand dowry. I can rant away for ever on this but I hope I have been able to put the point across- history people, sociologists, law people, work together on this and strategize and develop ideas for follow up action. I can’t wait to get out there and do something about all this, so help me God!