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India
Rampyari Loves Her Unique Tribal Schoo
Sarada Lahangir

As soon as Rampyari Tulegam, 16, sits behind the wheel of the tractor, with her two friends by her side, the confidence and happiness she exudes cannot go unnoticed. It looks as if she is ready to take on all of life's challenges head on. In rural India, while it is not uncommon to find women toiling away in the fields as agricultural labourers, it's certainly rare to see young girls driving the tractor and tilling land. In Mungelli district of Chhattisgarh, there is a unique school being run from Bondtra, a small dusty village, where Rampyari, Sumitra Siyaram, Seema Purti, and 60 others are getting the incredible opportunity to gain some valuable life skills. All of them have been forced to drop out of a conventional school due to crushing poverty but, today, at this residential institution they are learning several important lessons. From farming to computers, the fine craft of embroidery and even cooking, these girls are equipping themselves with skills that can enable them to have a good life.

“Every woman should know all the works related to farming. Initially, I found difficult to drive the tractor but now I can do it easily. We used to depend on the men for cultivation. Not anymore.”

[Photographs Available]

 WFS Ref: INDN908 1200 words


India
Widows of Vrindavan Still Yearn For That Place Called Home
Rashme Sehgal

Financial independence can truly be life changing. This is a reality that nearly 800 widows living in Vrindavan, Uttar Pradesh, are experiencing today, as they are assiduously being wooed by the sons and daughters-in-laws, who had once turned them out of their own homes, to return. And all this because, at present, a well-known social organisation is giving them a monthly pension of Rs 2,000 to meet their basic needs. Most of these abandoned women hail from West Bengal and have spent many a night on the streets, begging outside the Krishna temples that dot this town. Lonely and bitter they refuse to relent to the urges of their so-called family. While the widows who are receiving this stipend are not complaining, women's rights activists do not believe that cash doles can solve any of their problems. What is needed is a strong livelihood scheme that can help them sustain in the long run and, of course, the long overdue enactment of the draft bill that promises the protection, welfare and maintenance of widows.

‘It's all a matter destiny. If any one of my three girls had even given me an old sari to wear and a dry crust of bread to eat, I would have lived with them. But once my husband died they did not want me in the house. I became the object of their derision.'

[Photographs Available]

 WFS Ref: INDN909 1100 words


India
For Valentina, Singing Is Her Job, Her Life
Ninglun Hanghal

Music is in Valentina Gangte's blood. As a child she would always sing in her church choir in Mizoram, a small northeastern state. Her elder sister, aunts, cousins have all been professional singers and Valentina has followed suit. As one of the leading female singers from the north east in Delhi today she has no paucity of work. But that does not mean it's been easy going for her. Unlike most of her friends, who are employed in more formal jobs, Valentina's schedule as well as her earnings are erratic. She has to keep a close watch on the contracts that are drawn with the hotels and resto-bars that book their shows, she needs to be updated on all the latest songs, and, in a city like Delhi, she can't hope to get home before the wee hours of the morning, which makes her vulnerable to abuse. Like her, Rini Fanai, who hails from Manipur, has also made music her career despite the many challenges. But this duo wouldn't trade the mikes for computer monitors for anything.

“I make sure that transportation is included in the contract. There may not be pick-up if the venue is closeby or I am performing in a group, but I ensure that there is a drop provided after the show.”

[Photographs Available]

 WFS Ref: INDN911 1250 words


India
A Walk Through the Cardamom Hills
Sudhamahi Regunathan

For the weary traveller, the undulating and washed landscape of the plantation town of Kumily in Idukki district of Kerala is a sight for sore eyes. Besides being clean and lush green, it's the heady fragrance of cardamom that instantly envelopes the senses here. This region of India is the home of the aromatic spice that many deserts and rice preparations cannot do without. Of course, a walk through the picture perfect plantations will reveal another interesting reality: that without the women of this area there would be no cardamom in several kitchens across the world. Donning special boots and a plastic sheet that works as a makeshift raincoat, they smoothly glide through the cardamom trees skillfully plucking only the ripe fruit. But it's certainly not as simple as it looks – several hours of bending over the shallow roots of the cardamom tree, which is where the green, berry-like fruit grows, eventually takes a toll on their physical well-being.

‘For generations we have plucked cardamom and so we instinctively know the ones that can be picked. The ones that are ready come off with just a gentle touch.'

[Photographs Available]

 WFS Ref: INDN913 900 words


India
‘Why Should Women's Freedom Be Compromised?'
Savita Verma

‘It has happened many times … in crowded buses, the metro… I have seen girls being violated, harassed, groped but I choose to remain silent, even though I curse the perpetrator in my mind. Today, I have changed… from now on, I have decided to intervene whenever and wherever I see a woman being assaulted.' The credit of this transformation in Lalit Sanwal, 21, a student of a Delhi University college goes to a play he watched recently in the city. ‘Voices of Men', a multimedia act by US based activist Ben Atherton Zeman tackles important issues such as sexual assault, date rape, dating violence, domestic violence and sexual harassment, through humour, celebrity male voice impressions and video clips, and promotes self-reflection and violence prevention efforts, especially in men. Research has shown that inequitable gender norms influence men's interactions with their partners and children, so the need to include them in the ‘war against gender violence' is absolutely essential. Zeman's attempt at making boys like Sanwal recognise that “if they can be a part of the problem, they can also be part of the solution” seems to be working.

Superficially it appears women are empowered, but actually they face inequality and harassment at all levels. Women need to feel secure and it is our responsibility to make them feel secure.”

[Photographs Available]

 WFS Ref: INDN910 1100 words
 
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