This story is of another Bhil tribal woman Karoti Bai. She is an actvist in the women’s organisation ‘Kansari Nu Vadavno’. It is active in Khargone district of Madhaya Pradesh, India. Karoti Bai started work with her Barela cmmunity and she first noticed that most women suffered from a lack of reproductive health services. Some of the women even died while giving birth to a baby. Such mortality is painful for their small children and family. It is easy to die because there is no public health care system for poor tribal people. The immunisation system for infants and pregnant women is also not functioning properly. Karoti Bai has seven childern but she didn’t get any reproductive health care from the government health system and had to fend for herself. That is why she is not well and is suffering from reproductive health problem (white vaginal discharge). She wanted to solve that problem and applied to the government for setting up a public health care system in her village along with other rural areas. So the women’s organisation under her leadership asked for a health care center from the Government. This issue was taken up by many of the women and pressure was put on the Government. the Government instead decided take action on the women’s organisation and violently crushed it by sending Karoti and others to jail under false cases. This was easier for the Government instead of providing health facility to the women. So when condemning violence against women we have to speak out against the patriarchal violence of the State against its own women citizens.
There was a news report in the daily newspaper Hindustan Times Indore Live edition of 3rd Decemeber 2010 that World Health Organisation is holding an orientation programme for measles immunisation with NGOs . Is there a need for WHO to be involved directly with the immunisation programme ? Or should it instead be putting pressure on the Government of India to do this . Many of the Government departments like Women and Child Devolpment and State health departments are working in this field and claiming that infant mortality and maternal mortality rate is going down . The reality, however, is opposite so that the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare Under Secretary Rekha Chauhan has been forced to state that the government was commited to making all efforts to bring qualitative and quantitative changes in health delivery mechanism across the country . This commitment gets shaped into reality through the National Health Mission. Earlier the news had come in September 2008 that many children died due to malnutrition in Khandwa, Shivpuri, Sheopur, Satna and Jhabua Districts in Madhya Pradesh. When this news came the State government tried to deny it but the Right to Food Campaign stressed that malnutrition due to Government inaction was the cause . The first report showed that 12 children had died in 2 months in Khandwa district and 70 were in hospital . Then the government came under pressure and the administration in Indore dismissed the reports . Meanwhile State Commissioner Alka Upadhyay visited the area and examined the children with the help of doctors and sent around 85 malnourished children to hospital. After that State Women and Child Development Commissioner reached there to inspect the relief work . Then Union Women and Child Development Minister Renuka Chowdhury also said that the State Government does not admit that the children have died from malnutrition . Officials instead blamed NGOs and the Media for malnutrition woes . Sheopur District is one of the malnutrition hotspots of the world . This observation was made by the Joint Commission of Enquiry instituted by the Commissioner for Food Security appointed by the Supreme Court of India . The SC for the first time intervened when 13 childern died in Patalgarh village in Sheorpur district in 2005 . The SC directed the district administration to set up an anganwadi and strenghthen the Public Distribution System in the village . The infant mortality rate is high in M.P. and according to an Action Aid investigation the malnutrition rate is 69 % as against the Women and Child Devlopment Department’s report that it is 52 % in M.P. Thus malnutrition is the main cause of children’s death . UNICEF also involved itself to know the truth . The NGO Right to Food Campaign filed a case in M. P. High Court in this matter . The Court asked the Government to give details of the immediate and long time steps taken as regards prevention of the death of children . The State Government then came under pressure to act . Ultimately NGOs came out with a Bhopal Declaration demanding universalisation of Integrated Child Development Services . They claimed that 97,000 children under one year of age had perished in the State in the last 40 months. However , it is not possible for ICDS to remove the malnutrition problem in the State because there is inadequate investment for health care . State Government has enacted a number of laws and policies to ensure women and child health on paper . But there is no plan to establish adequate health care centers for rural areas even after the National Rural Health Misson was constituted in 2007 . The Union Minister for Women and Child Development Krishna Tirath said that State government can’t absolve itself of responsibility for the children’s deaths after a sudden visit to Meghnagar in Jhabua District on April 2, 2010 . 19 children had died in Shivpuri district again on October 2010 and this despite measures reportedly taken after the earlier in 2005 . The real problem is that there is a lack of job opportunities , drinking water and sanitation facilities , electricity supply , education system and health facilities . The people are consequently forced to migrate. As an example two lakh families migrate to Gujarat from Jhabua and Alirajpur Districts alone every year for three months after living and working in abysmal conditions . So in essence the problem of malnutrition is more an economic than a heath problem. If the government invests in provision of adequate social and development services to the poor then they will themselves be able to take care of themselves.
Ms Michelle Bachelet Executive Director UN Women Re: Reproductive Health of women at the Grassroots Dear Madam, United Nations Women should pay attention to women and child health care with the help of feminist groups. Women’s groups have a good idea about how to tackle reproductive health problems at the remote village and urban slum level. The UN Women should encourage governments to provide infrastructure and funds for implementation of reproductive health care in remote rural areas and urban slums through small women’s groups or NGOs. The government should ask for only progress and audit reports and give a sufficiently long time for impacts to be verifiable. NGOs are already working on development issues at the grassroots and have got recognition for their work. So it would be a good decentralized system for reproductive health care. There are many types of NGOs, most of them are implementing government development programmes very efficiently. Those who are capable of undertaking women’s reproductive health care should be included for monitoring and giving training to the implementers at the grassroots. Some well known NGOs like Search , Hitkarini , Sahayog, Masum, CEHAT and others have developed well tested systems for remote location health delivery in India. The Indian Government doesn’t want to encourage NGOs to do this because it wants to keep control over this work as in other development work, displaying a typical dog in the manger attitude . Women and child health care is not an important issue for the government beyond mouthing platitudes. The experience of the reproductive and child health mission shows that there isn’t any tangible improvement on the ground and money is being spent only on the administrative set up and publicity. There is a basic need to establish functional primary reproductive health care centres in all deprived areas in India but this is not being done. Recently 25 Women died during childbirth and 911 infant deaths occurred between April and December 2010 in Barwani district in Madhya Pradesh in India. This information was brought to light by the organiasation “Jagrit Adivasi Dalit Sangathan’’. This sangathan protested this and in response the government lodged criminal cases against many of the protesting women and put them in Jail. 600 children in Sanver which is one of the backward areas in Indore district of Madhya Pradesh in India were found to be suffering from various stages of malnutrition. As an ameliorative the government started to give biscuits from 1st January 2011 to the aganwadis or crèches run by the women and child health department. Health related problems are being treated through aganwadis. Interestingly there is only one worker , one weighing machine, nutritional supplementary serials for infants , one attendance register, one carpet, one chair and a table and from time to time an ANM (Auxiliary Nurse Medic) comes to the aganwadi for immunization. This is how the serious health problems of poor women and children are being dealt with all over the country. There are many more examples of women’s and infant’s deaths in India. This raises many questions regarding the government’s commitment to improving the health of women and children. The Indian government had agreed with the UN guide lines but has not followed them. Thus, it is essential that UN Women should interact directly with women’s groups and NGOs specializing in reproductive health care so as to put pressure on the Indian government to drastically change and improve the way reproductive health care is being provided in this country. I dare say that the situation is similar in all the developing countries and poor women are suffering from government neglect. So UN Women should plan and pursue a worldwide programme for involving women’s groups and capable NGOs in effective reproductive health care delivery to poor women and pressurise governments to implement this programme. regards Subhadra Khaperde Kansari Nu Vadavno (Bhil Tribal Women’s Organisation) 74, Krishnodayanagar Khandwa Naka, Indore – 452001 INDIA ——————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————- As the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women officially begins its work this month, World Pulse is asking women worldwide: What is YOUR vision and recommendation for UN Women? We invite you to raise your voice by writing a letter to UN Women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet outlining your recommendation for how this new UN agency can truly affect change on the ground to promote gender equality and uphold the rights and needs of women both on a local and global scale. Learn more: http://www.worldpulse.com/pulsewire/programs/international-violence-against-women-act
I returned to my village Jepra for the last rites of a cousin of mine and came face to face with two other living tragedies. Keja joined the Ekta Parishad with me as a creche worker all of 23 years ago and fell in love with a boy of another caste and got pregnant. Her family refused to allow her to marry that boy and brought her back home. She has stayed an unmarried mother all her life without any support from her family and now lives on a meagre government pension while her son does casual labour in the farms of others. Binda my elder sister is also leading a lonely life with her son. After marriage thirty years ago she found that her husband was already married. Later he married a third time and shunted Binda back to her village to live alone with her son. The rural society in my village is so highly patriarchal that there was no safety net for these two girls when they faced difficult situations at an young age. One suffered because of socially unacceptable love while the other because men could indulge in such love with impunity. I reminisced some of the great times we had had together as young girls and both these women said that they had not laughed for a long time and were only doing so with me. While returning to Indore I could not but think that it was a miracle that I had broken free of the clutches of the patriarchy of my home village by refusing to marry according to my family’s whims and have instead worked as a social activist against patriarchal oppression. The miracle was the first brave step I took in running away from home to join an NGO. That gave me the confidence to challenge established hierarchies and I have done so ever since. I rebelled against my own NGO because it too had patriarchal tendencies. I rebelled against the patriarchal government to fight for reproductive and sexual health and rights for poor tribal women and even went on hunger strike in jail for this. Later I fought the higher educational establishment which tries its best to keep under privileged women out of its ambit and have completed my M.Phil in social work. Now I intend to do a Phd despite the difficulty in finding a guide.
Recently the salesman of the public distribution outlet in village Chapria some forty kilometers from Alirajpur district in Madhya Pradesh took out all the wheat, rice and sugar meant for subsidised distribution to the villagers during the night on 2nd February, 2011 and then lodged a complaint with the Police outpost in Phoolmal village nearby that some unidentified thieves had stolen the foodgrains and sugar. The policemen from the outpost then made a visit to Chapria village on 9th February in search of a person named Kalia and not finding him caught hold of his wife Vechli and gave her a solid caning on her buttocks and thighs and left her writhing on the ground. When her cries brought the other villagers to her house the policemen threatened them with dire consequences if they did not bring Kalia to the outpost and returned. The villagers next day instead of visiting the police outpost took a circuitous route to Alirajpur and came to the office of the Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath. Shankar, the secretary of KMCS immediately had an application prepared and went with them to complain to the Collector and the Superintendent of Police. The SP, a woman, was aghast at the purple weal marks of the beating on Vechli’s body shown in the picture below and immediately ordered her to be taken to hospital and also ordered that the two policemen on duty in Phoolmal Chowki be called for explanations. The media too were given the story and the next day the papers were full of it. While all this was happening the people came back to the KMCS office from the hospital with the woman saying that the doctor had said that the wounds were superficial and needed only first aid and no hospitalisation. Shankar had to rush back to the hospital and give the doctor a dressing down to get the woman admitted. The huge negative publicity in the press forced the administration to suspend the PDS salesman and also announce that special efforts would be made to see that the foodgrains, sugar and kerosene did indeed reach the people and were not siphoned off. The official enquiry regarding the culpable police personnel is still going on. It remains to be seen what the Police action is against their own culprits. What all this underlines is the impunity of the government functionaries which allows them to indulge in corruption and oppression due to the lack of exemplary punitive action by higher authorities who are in turn bound less by rules and more by the interests of scammers. There are only a few areas in this country where there are organisations like the KMCS that can challenge this impunity in any effective manner. That the KMCS now has the power to do so is because its members have fought for many years and borne many sufferings to build up this power. Even so this power is tenuous because if the state decides it can at anytime crush the organisation. So democracy is not something that can be easily established when there is a huge centralisation of economic and political power.
The Supreme Court of India has passed on 22.7.10 what can only be termed as a fascinating landmark judgment in favour of women. I am attaching this judgment for the benefit of members. The case relates to the amount of payment in compensation to be made to the legal relatives of a housewife killed in a motor vehicle accident. However, in passing the judgment one of the Honourable Judges A.K. Ganguly has made some strong obiter dicta on the adverse gender bias against women in the Census of India definition of work that are absolutely top class as follows – Despite the clear constitutional mandate to eschew discrimination on grounds of sex in Article 15(1) of the Constitution, in its implementation there is a distinct gender bias against women and various social welfare legislations and also in judicial pronouncements. Clause 6 of the said Schedule ( under section 163 A of the Motor vehicles Act, 1988 ) provides for notional income of those who had no income prior to accident. Clause 6 has been divided into two classes of persons, (a) non-earning persons, and (b) spouse. Insofar as the spouse is concerned, the income of the injured in fatal and non-fatal accident has been categorized as 1/3rd of the income of the earning and surviving spouse. It is, therefore, assumed if the spouse who does not earn, which is normally the woman in the house and the homemaker, such a person cannot have an income more than 1/3rd of the income of the person who is earning. This categorization has been made without properly appreciating the value of the services rendered by the homemaker. To value the income of the home-maker as onethird of the income of the earning spouse is not based on any apparently rational basis. 4.This bias is shockingly prevalent in the work of Census. In the Census of 2001 it appears that those who are doing household duties like cooking, cleaning of utensils, looking after children, fetching water, collecting firewood have been categorized as non-workers and equated with beggars, prostitutes and prisoners who, according to Census, are not engaged in economically productive work. As a result of such categorization about 36 crores (367 million) women in India have been classified in the Census of India, 2001 as non-workers and placed in the category of beggars, prostitutes and prisoners. This entire exercise of Census operation is done under an Act of Parliament. 5.Under Section 4 of the Census Act, 1948, the Central Government may appoint a Census Commissioner to supervise the taking of census throughout the area where census is intended to be taken. 6.The Central Government has made Census Rules, 1990 under Section 18 of the Census Act, 1948. Under Rule 5(c), (d) and (e) of the Rules, the functions of the Commissioner are listed, which include devising the census schedules or questionnaires, compiling and providing guidance in taking and computing results and publishing the statistics. 7. The Census Commissioner released data on classification of population by workers and nonworkers based on provisional results of the Census of India 2001 on 30th January, 2002. Thus, the categorization, compilation and computation of the data was done under the supervision and guidance of the Census Commissioner. This is totally a statutory exercise by public authorities. Therefore, this approach of equating women, who are homemakers, with beggars, prostitutes and prisoners as economically nonproductive workers by statutory authorities betrays a totally insensitive and callous approach towards the dignity of labour so far as women are concerned and is also clearly indicative of a strong gender bias against women. 8.It is thus clear that in independent India also the process of categorizing is dominated by concepts which were prevalent in colonial India and no attempt has been made to restructure those categories with a gender sensitivity which is the hallmark in our Constitution. 9.Work is very vital to the system of gender reconstruction in societies and in this context masculine and feminine work is clearly demarcated. The question which obviously arises is whether Census definition of work reflects the underlying process of gender discrimination. 10.Women are generally engaged in home making, bringing up children and also in production of goods and services which are not sold in the market but are consumed at the household level. Thus, the work of women mostly goes unrecognized and they are never valued. 11.Therefore, in the categorization by the Census what is ignored is the well known fact that women make significant contribution at various levels including agricultural production by sowing, harvesting, transplanting and also tending cattles and by cooking and delivering the food to those persons who are on the field during the agriculture season. 12.Though, Census operation does not call for consideration in this case but reference to the same has been made to show the strong bias shown against women and their work. We hope and trust that in the on-going Census operation this will be corrected. There is of course also the point that why should prostitutes be considered as non workers when they are forced to sex work due to the patriarchal social structure of society. This has eluded the honourable judge but this is pardonable given that despite being a man he has penned such a fantastic judgment. Anyway, this can be taken up with the Census Commissioner by the National Commission for Women which can also push for legalisation of sex work in India. All in all I must say that I am thrilled that the Supreme Court has given such a judgment against adverse gender bias with regard to the valuation of women’s work which has always been a sore point for me.
I am coming back to my journal after a long hiatus of over two months during which I was busy in the field and rarely approached my computer. One of the most shocking statistics is that South Asia is both the biggest source and destination of women and girls trafficking in the world. Mainly for prostitution. This has made me think about this problem and also do a bit of reading to try and find out why trafficking and prostitution are so widespread throughout the world. There is one main pull factor and one main push factor responsible for trafficking of women and girls and both are related to the kind of anti-people development that is taking place in India and in the world as a whole.The pull factor is the need for women sex workers in urban areas where there are innumerable men of all classes living without their families in pursuit of employment of one kind or another. The push factor is the extreme poverty in rural areas where there are few employment opportunities. Both these situations have arisen because of centralised modern development which concentrates investment and development in urban areas to the neglect of rural areas. Even in the developed nations there is tremendous internal migration as people have to move around in search of employment. There is also the question of why some women have to do sex work. Well this is something embedded in the history of patriarchy. The feminist historian Gerda Lerner in her classic “Creation of Patriarchy” has shown from her readings of archaeological and textual research of the pre-historic times that women were subordinated even before the creation of private property. When a tribe won a battle against another it found that it was easier to abduct and imprison the women than the men. The level of technology of weaponry at the time was such that it was very difficult to keep men imprisoned for a very long period of time. With women, however, things were easier as they could be made pregnant within a matter of weeks and thereafter once they bore children then they would naturally stay on. This is what led to the subordination of women even before the emergence of private property. The family system came later with the development of private property when it became necessary to identify male progeny to hand down inheritance to private property. This further strengthened the patriarchal system. Then with the beginning of urban civilisation the phenomenon of men having to live without families in cities emerged and so the need for some women to do sex work in cities so that the overall family system remained intact and was not threatened by men without families wanting to satisfy their sexual urges. Over thousands of years as the economic and social systems have become more and more centralised the demand for sex workers has gone on increasing and so has the poverty in rural areas. Thus, the problem is a complex one that cannot be solved just by empowering women alone. Feminists have questioned the hypocritical sanctity given to family as an institution which reinforces patriarchal oppression of women and development radicals have questioned the centralised development system which oppresses the vast majority and also devastates nature. So there has to be a change in the social, economic and political systems that create a huge demand for sex work in urban areas on the one hand and also increase poverty in rural areas on the other.
The maternal mortality rate in India is 400 deaths per 100000 live births and in the state of Madhya Pradesh it is even worse at 490 per 100000 live births. Recognising this to be a serious problem the Government of Madhya Pradesh has introduced a scheme called the Janani Suraksha Yojana or Maternal Security Scheme. The stress in this scheme is on increasing the number of institutional deliveries and the mother is also paid Rs 1600 to facilitate this. There is also a provision for a special ambulance at the nearest government health centre or hospital for ferrying women who have entered into labour to the health centres. These special ambulances have been named Janani Suraksha Express or Safe Motherhood Express. However, the reality in remote tribal areas is quite different. In Sondwa block in Alirajpur district of Madhya Pradesh there is only one qualified doctor at the Primary Health Centre in Sondwa. Consequently he is tremendously overloaded. He along with his nurse and attendant together demand Rs 800 from the expecting mother and her family to deliver the baby. Moreover this doctor gets irascible when the mother in labour is brought to the PHC at night time. The special ambulance has broken down and so most expectant mothers have to be brought to the PHC in private jeeps at their own expense which is about Rs 1200. One such mother from village Attha was brought to Sondwa on the night of 4th October 2010. The doctor got very angry and started shouting that they should not have come to him. When the driver of the jeep protested that there was no other doctor and he had to deliver the baby the doctor got even angrier and phoned up the Police Inspector complaining that some hooligans were threatening him. The Police Inspector who was drunk came and immediately began beating up the driver and his helper. Both were beaten up badly and locked up in the police station. One is left wondering as to when the poor women in this country are going to really get a genuine safe motherhood express service.
There are many castes, cultures and religions in India and in all of these many types of violence take place against women. First of all there is mental and physical violence by a woman’s husband. Apart from this the other members of her in-laws family like mother, father and brother in law also oppress her in many ways. This domestic violence largely remains shrouded in secrecy as society discourages women from complaining about this. It is the single most virulent cause for women taking their lives or being killed. I will give an example. One woman Narmada Ramteke was married through arranged wedding to one man Atmaram Khaperde in 1991. She came from her mother’s house to her husband’s house where she had to adjust to the new environment. Her father in law was a simple person and her mother in law had expired. Her husband was very cruel and immediately began beating her and demanding more dowry as an excuse. He continued to beat her even when she became pregnant. She went away to her mother’s home and there her first child was still born. Later her mother came with her to stay in her husband’s house. That did not solve the problem because her husband beat her mother up also. After this her mother took Narmada back to her home. A caste panchayat ( community dispute resolution mechanism) meeting was called and there Atmaram signed an agreement on a judicial stamp paper that he would not beat Narmada in future. After Narmada came again to Atmaram’s house he again started beating her. She had two more children, both girls, by him. In having these children in a short space of time her reproductive organs were affected and she suffered from prolapse of uterus. This is when I stepped in because Atmaram is my brother. I warned him not to behave like this and got Narmada operated and treated for her prolapse. After this Narmada joined an NGO where she began working for child care and immunisation. This did not go down well with Atmaram because he became jealous of his wife and began unnecessarily suspecting her of infidelity. Once again the beatings started. Once he even beat up Narmada in public. This was too much for Narmada and she went away to her mother’s house with her daughters who were now in their teens. Once again a caste panchayat meeting was arranged and Atmaram promised not to beat Narmada up any more and so she came back to live with him. However, things did not improve and so one day Narmada took poison and was taken seriously ill. After that she was taken away by her parents and they had her treated. A case under the Domestic Violence Act and other criminal acts was filed against Atmaram. However, he managed to bribe his way out of this with the help of caste elders. Now Narmada and her daughters live separately and survive on Narmada’s work as an NGO worker. Narmada’s story is not an isolated case. Millions of women in India are suffering similar harassment from their husbands and society and laws are not able to give them any relief. In Narmada’s case I too could not do much because the whole society is highly patriarchal. Thus, even though we have a strong Domestic Violence Act its provisions are not properly implemented and it is easy for the husbands to bribe their way out because society favours men. There is consequently a need for pressure from all sides to be brought to bear on Indian society to make it more conducive for women to live in their husband’s homes. The passage of IVAWA by the United States Government will help it to ensure that violence does not take place against women in India in programmes that are funded by the USA. —————————————————————————————————————————————————————————— Please join the PulseWire community in speaking out against violence and urging the U.S. government to pass the International Violence Against Women Act (I-VAWA). Write your letter in your PulseWire journal to share your personal and observed experience in gender-based violence, both in your life and within your community. Tag your journal “IVAWA”, and World Pulse will send your letter directly to President Obama, along with letters from women around the world. Learn more: http://www.worldpulse.com/pulsewire/programs/international-violence-against-women-act
Jendli Bai is a Bhil Tribal Activist woman of the Kansari Nu Wadaveno. It is a women’s organisation in Khargone District of western Madhaya Predesh in India . She had also played an important role with the tribal organisation Adivasi Morcha Sangathan and she has acheived fame for her work for her tribal community . She is from village Jamasi. She got married with a landless man and so came back with her husband to work as labourer on her father’s farm . Her father said that she can stay near by her father’s house and make a small hut . The availability of their cheap labour helped her father. She depended on the sympathy of her family members. So Jendli was staying peacefully near her father’s house. Then the State Government cracked down and crushed the tribal organisation with police repression and Jendli ‘s house was demolished . At this point her brother said that Jendli should not rebuild her hut on his land. Jendli’s father wanted his daughter to stay with him and became angrry and fought with his son. So his son left his father and went away. Her father was sad but he could not allot a small piece of land for his daughter because the rest of his community also opposed this as it would set a precedent of giving land to daughters . So she was forced to stay in an open place due to patriarchal pressure. Jendli despite being an activist and helping her community in its fight for rights could not get a share of her father’s land which she was entitled to by law . This is an example of social violence against women because without property rights they do not have any independence and have to bear domestic violence also. So there is need for international pressure to support the Indian women’s fight for property rights as a key factor in ending domestic violence against women .