Even Padman Cannot Save These Women From The Practice of Chhaupadi

Hats-off to the Padman team for bringing up the sensitive issue of menstruation in India. I always thought periods was a word more dangerous than “Lord Voldemort” and those who dare to speak about it, open pandora’s box. But now things are changing and not only are we speaking about menstruation but are embracing it too. Sadly this is not the case with everyone. The taboo of menstruation and the draconian practice of Chhaupadi are claiming lives of many females.

As per the old Hindu Custom of Chhaupadi, a menstruating female is considered impure and is therefore banished from her house during her periods. She is made to stay in a goth (temporary mud huts with limited resources), stables or caves during this period. A menstruating female is considered untouchable and it is believed that her impure touch would render everything worthless. She is forbidden to enter her household, touch men, animals or plants and consume certain food articles. Similarly no one can touch her during her periods. Thus even if a female becomes ill, she is not properly taken care off as everyone banishes her.

The practice is still widely followed in few parts of Nepal and has claimed many innocent lives. A nineteen year died of snake bite during her stay in the goth. Another girl died of the suffocation caused by the fire she had lit to keep herself warm during a chilling winter night. Other females have died due to hypothermia, malnutrition, animal attacks, severe bleeding, robbery and rapes.

Reasons for Practing Chahupadi – 1. Fear of God – The people believe that the god would punish those who don’t follow the Chhaupadi Pratha.

2. Banishment from the Society – There is an obvious fear that the society would banish those families who don’t follow the custom.

Impact on Females – The females suffer from physiological, mental and emotional stress. The conditions in the goth are deplorable. The mental, physical and reproductive well being of the females are compromised as they suffer due to poor hygiene, poor nutrition, heavy workload and lack of security. Their basic human rights are being denied to them.

Law Against Chhaupadi In the year 2005, the Supreme Court of Nepal declared the practice of Chhaupadi illegal. A legislation passed by the Parliament effective from August 2018 states that “A woman during her menstruation or post-natal state should not be kept in chhaupadi or treated with any kind of similar discrimination or untouchable and inhuman behaviour”. Anyone who forces a women to follow Chhaupadi may face a three-month jail sentence or a 3,000 Nepalese rupee fine or both. The law will be effective from August 2018.

Conclusion The social workers, government and youth of Nepal are spreading awareness about this evil practice of exile. The execution of the law would be extremely challenging. The main problem is that the females are conditioned and made to believe that they become impure during their periods. Changing this mindset is the government’s greatest challenge. The law is still ambiguous as it does not specify the discrimination meted out to the menstruating females and therefore its implementation is surely challenging. It is ironical that god made all of us but yet when we menstruate, we are forbidden by some to enter temples. It is hoped that like the law eventually ended the evil practices of sati and jauhar in India, the law will be successful in ending the practice of Chhaupadi in Nepal.

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Prostitution Runs In The Family

Ever imagined that a family could encourage its daughters to become prostitutes?

Rajasthan’s Nat community has a tradition of prostitution. This nomadic tribe which previously engaged itself in street performances later adopted “commercial sex” as its traditional occupation. Other communities like Rajnat, Kanjar and Bedia tribes also follow similar tradition in the state.

Family Irony

The Nat community is patriarchal and male dominated. The women in the community may be divided into two groups prostitutes and non-prostitutes. The sex workers in spite of their earning status are shunned by both society and their families. They are given less respect in comparison to the married women.

The sex workers are not allowed to attend auspicious rituals or marry within the community. Conversely, the married women are expected to be chaste. They are expected to wear veils and maintain distance from elders. Pre-marital sex and extra-marital affairs are condemned in the Nat society.

Nat males are forbidden to be clients of the sex-workers. The sex-workers are expected to have professional relations with their clients. They have to share their profits with the pimps and sometimes retired female sex workers. It is observed that a retired sex-worker totally depends on the income of these young prostitutes for her survival.

A sex-worker is the most important earning member in the family who is also bestowed with the responsibility of getting her brother married. However she is not allowed to marry with in the community.

How do they enter the profession?

Segregation of girls start at a very early age. The “prospective” sex workers are given training by pimps and retired prostitutes where as the other girls are taught the fundamentals of family life.

Lack of education, awareness, empowerment and institutionalization are major reasons for the girls to enter the profession.

Ceremony of Nath Uttarai

The clients pay highly for a virgin girl. The first intercourse is mark of celebration with in the tribe. The girl who is dressed like a newly-wed, wears a nose ring which has to be removed by her first client. The client is considered the husband of the girl and he is given preference over other clients in future. The high price for virgin girls motivates the families to sell their daughters soon after attaining puberty.

Concerns

1. Lack of education and knowledge available to young women has adversely affected their ability to make decisions. 2. They are exploited by both pimps and retired female sex workers. 3. There are greater chances of acquiring sexually transmitted diseases especially AIDS as the sex workers practice unprotected commercial sex. There is considerable lack of awareness with in the community with regard to sexually transmitted diseases. 4. The young girls are now being trafficked by the pimps to other areas including Delhi and Mumbai. The clients in the metropolitan cities pay higher prizes than those in the villages. 5. The greed for higher price lures the parents to sell their daughter as soon as they attain puberty. 6. Although they are the earning members of the family, their status is low. 7. The children are financially and socially depended upon their maternal uncle. 8. Since the sex-workers are not allowed to marry in the community, their is an increase of marriages taking place between a Nat Male and A Non-Nat Female.

Conclusion The female sex workers amongst the Nats are being exploited at every stage both by their family and society. The income generated by selling their bodies barely reaches them. The intermediaries take a chunk of profit from their earning. Unprotected commercial sex with clients is prevalent. The rights of their children are hardly enforced. Not only the prostitutes but their children also suffer considerably.

Awareness must be spread amongst the women. Alternative employment should be arranged for those who wish to leave the profession. Education must be ensured for both males and females. The retired sex-workers must be rehabilitated. Presence of pimps and female trafficking must be checked. The involved of minor girls in the trade must be curtailed. Efforts should be made to bring the community with the mainstream. Gradual changes must be brought in the perception of the community as a whole.

Picture Credits:Picapp

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Selling their bodies killing their souls: Plight of widows in Vrindavan and Mathura

Sati as a practice was not invented by Ancient Indian texts but by the greed of people. Most of the contemporary historians believe that the practice of Sati was encouraged to deprive the widows from the property of their deceased husbands. Family members (usually the surviving brothers of the deceased) cloaked their desires under the shadow of religion. Hinduism was used as a weapon to rightly ask for the lives of innocent widowed women. The women under societal pressure were made to self immolate themselves. This served twin purposes; the family was no longer entitled to maintain the widow and her sacrifice ensured that the share of her deceased husband would revert to the surviving members.

It is a privilege to state; the evil practice of Sati is no longer practiced in India. But at the same time it is a shame to admit that the condition of Hindu widows has turned worse with time. Even today most of the widows in the country are abounded from their houses. They have no place to go. They are unable to maintain themselves and thus are forced to take refuge under the Vidhwa ashrams.

Most of the ashrams in the country are situated in the holy cities of Vindravan and Mathura. It is estimated that Vrindavan has more than 4,000 temples and ashrams with about 2,957 widows living in them. The widows seek shelter in the ashrams for various reasons most of them being abounded or sexually abused by their family members believe that holy places like these would help them to attain salvation and would bring them nearer to god. Many regard Vrindavan as the only place where they can live and die peacefully with the protection of all mighty.

Unfortunately these ashrams do not have much to offer. Majority of the widows are seen begging on the streets or soliciting for earning their livelihood. Ashrams encourage practices of prostitution and sexual abuse to gauge funds and finance.  The young widows are often supplied to rich customers by the ashram itself in lieu of a heavy sum. The ashrams are scattered with diseases like tuberculosis, STD’s and dysentery. There is inadequate number of toilets in most of the places. There is lack of proper sewage system and non-availability of running water in these places. The widows are forced to live in an unhygienic and unhealthy environment. They are unaware of the widow pension and health schemes and hardly take benefit of it. Recently issued report by National Commission for Women states that 80% of them are illiterate whereas 60% of them are above 60 years of age. Most of these old widows (even those who are unable to walk properly) have to climb stairs to reach their rooms. Some of them are too old to even cook for themselves. They are forced to sleep on pieces of jute sacks. They are neither supplied with blankets nor hot water in winters. Moreover there is no institutional support for cremation of the dead bodies. The necessities in today’s life are a luxury for these unfortunate ones.

The PIL filed by advocate Mr. Ravindra Bana in the Supreme Court in November 2008 had brought the grievances of this marginalized section in limelight. Supreme Court had issued directions to NCW for conducting a survey in this regard. After much delay NCW has finally released its report on the plight of these widows. It is disheartening that in spite of various initiatives by the government hardly any benefit is availed by these women. The report said “As per records of the district welfare office, 2,819 women received old age pension and 892 widow pensions. However, among the 225 randomly interviewed women 68 per cent were found without pensions and 58 per cent without ration cards.”

The Sevadasi system (service done to the rich and powerful pilgrims are seen as a form of piety) prevalent in these institutions, further encourage practices of trafficking and prostitution. Under this system, the widows are supposed to offer every service to please the owners of Dharamshalas and Bhajan Ashrams in which sex is also included. The Bhajan ashrams offer these widows to earn Rs 3 to 4 a day and some meagre ration, if they assemble in the bhajan ashrams to sing bhajans (devotional songs) in mornings and evenings. The food, shelter and clothing of these destitute women depend on the mercy of these ashrams and some courteous travellers.

Most of the widows who reach these Bhajan ashrams belong to West Bengal and Bangladesh.  The government of U.P. and W.B. have failed to take any collaborative steps to improve the situation of these widows. The widow pension granted by U.P. government is Rs.1, 800 a year, or Rs.150 a month. Although on records it seems that this meagre amount is serving its purpose, in reality it is not. The shelter homes built by the government have only provided limited relief to them. The government has turned a blind eye towards the illegal practices observed in these ashrams. Deepa Mehta who directed ‘Water’, the film which through a fictional story depicted the miseries of the widows living in these ashrams had to face opposition from all sections of the society. The close nexus between politics and religious bigots has always proved dreadful. If the government actively opposes the practices in Vrindavan, it would face opposition from both public and religious leaders. Most of the widows being uneducated become vulnerable. The victims are scared to raise their voices against the Dharamshalas and Bhajan Ashrams as they know they have no other place to go. It is very important that the widows are made aware of their legal and constitutional rights. The pensions must be increased and should duly reach the beneficiaries. Some part of the tourism revenue earned from Mathura and Vrindavan must be utilized for the upliftment of these widows. The welfare legislations like Hindu Succession (Amendment 2005) Act and Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007 have definitely ensured that widows are not deprived of their husband’s property. But unfortunately these widows are found unaffected by the legal developments around the country. They must be provided with vocational training. Psychological and medical help must be made available to them. Medical facilities and hygienic conditions must be ensured in these ashrams. The number of government shelter homes must be increased. Above all citizens must be made aware of the injustices done to this vulnerable section. A public pressure can indeed bring considerable changes in these places. I seriously think by selling the bodies of these pious women, the ashrams are killing their souls and somewhere I hold everyone of us responsible for this injustice.

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The ugly truth regarding the Women Reservation Bill

The Women’s day this year was indeed very special, the parliament passed the Women Reservation Bill with full vigor.

The reservation for women in the political front emerged with the Panchayati Raj Act, 1992 which was passed in Rajeev Gandhi’s tenure. The Act provided for women’s reservation upto 33% in the Panchayats.

Subsequently demands for women’s reservation in Parliament and state legislatures were raised . In 1996, the then Prime Minister H.D. Dewe Gowda promised to fulfill these demands. After almost 13 years; the Women’s Reservation Bill [The Constitution (108th Amendment) Bill, 2008] was finally passed by Rajya Sabha.

The bill seeks to reserve 33% seats for women in Lok Sabha and State Legislative Assemblies. One third of these reserved seats would be allotted to the women belonging to the Scheduled Tribes and Scheduled Castes. However, there is no separate reservation for women belonging to the Other Backward Classes (O.B.C’s). Further it is provided that the reservation shall cease to exist after 15 years of its commencement .

The Bill is highly criticized on several grounds :-

1. It seeks to reserve 181 out of the 543 seats in the Lok Sabha and 1,370 out of a total of 4,109 seats in the 28 State Assemblies for women. It is argued that the number of seats allotted for women reservation is way too high and hence should be reduced.

2. The reserved seats would be allotted by rotation of constituencies. This means that a male legislator would not be allowed to contest from the same constituency again. Thus infringing his democratic rights to contest elections.

3. The choice of people would be restricted to only choose female representatives.

What is the most bothering aspect of the Bill?

I personally feel reservation does no good to the society. The benefits of reservation almost never percolate down to the lower strata of the society. It is widely observed that some families enjoy the perks of reservation from generations to generations. The people with most miserable conditions usually never get the opportunity to enjoy the fruits of the legislative action.

I’m afraid that the Reservation Bill would serve purposes other than women empowerment. When Lallu Prasad Yadav was caught in the Chara Ghotala, he had to resign and Rabri Devi (his beloved wife) became the Chief Minister of Bihar. She was more like a puppet in the hands of her husband. Lallu enjoyed power without any responsibility those days. It would come to no surprise, if in the years to come we will witness more of Lallus and Rabris in the Parliament and state legislatures. Believe me it won’t elevate the existing position of the women in any way. The legislators will use women as a ticket to ensure their seats in the parliament.

Not only this the “rotation of reserved constituencies” would act detrimental to the public interest. Most of the elected leaders work for their areas expecting that their work would be rewarded by re-election. But debarring them from contesting elections again, may reduce their interest in working for the public benefit.

“The reservation shall cease to exist with 15 years of the commencement of the amendment” is also a dubious clause. It has been witnessed in past that the reservation of ST’s and SC’s (which was originally meant for 10 years) has been extended each time. The same may be repeated for reservation of women as well.

Reservation is no solution for upliftment of women in the society. Being a woman I know what a woman is truly capable of doing. We had Kiran Bedi, Jhansi Ki Rani, Sarojini Naidu, Vijay Laxmi Pundit and many others without any reservation. I would appreciate the presence of more Vijay Laxmi Pundits than Rabri Devis any day.

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