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India
The Burden Of Being A Paharia Woman
Sarada Lahangir

It was evening by the time Champabati Paharia, 40, a widow from Bhaisadani village in Nuapada district of Odisha, got back home carrying a heavy bundle on her head. She had been walking for five straight days returning from a forest 15 kilometres away where she had gone to collect bamboo. However, despite spending all that time and effort she was unable to carry more than six medium-sized sticks that she would use to make household articles, like mats and baskets, for sale in the local ‘haat’ (market) for a few hundred rupees. Champabati, who belongs to the Paharia community, has a tough life just like everyone else in her small hamlet. Other than making a few bamboo articles or picking seasonal minor forest produce that they sell for a pittance they have no other viable source of income to fall back on. Sadly, though the forest is their home they don’t have any formal rights over it as they are not officially on the Scheduled Tribe (ST) list. Be it access to forest land or additional benefits under the Forest Regulations Act (FRA), the Paharias are desperately waiting for the day they, too, can secure their entitlements like other traditional forest-dwellers.

‘If we had community rights under the FRA then we could have planted bamboo in the nearby forest instead of trudging 15 kilometres. We are forest dwellers and have been so for generations but the government does not recognise that reality.’

[Photographs Available]

 WFS Ref: INDO119 1290 words


India
Asha Devi’s Band of Bravehearts
Chetna Verma

Asha Devi gets very annoyed when women are portrayed only as victims in any disaster. The reason behind her distress is that when flash floods had wreaked absolute havoc and wiped out entire hill slopes in Rudraprayag district of Uttarakhand in June 2013, 80 women from her village, Sumari Bhardhar in Jekholi block, had kept their fear aside and come together to save the expensive equipment, furniture and documents of the Rajkiya Intercollege, Tilak Nagar, located at the hilltop about a kilometre away. Despite being illiterate they knew the importance of quality education and were determined to save what they could of the school’s critical infrastructure. Today, over a year-and-half on, the school has been rebuilt on land donated by the villagers and is up and running. So, are the women of Sumari Bhardhar victims or true heroines? While Asha, Shiv Devi and others do admit that women are the worst affected during times of calamity, they have proven that they have the capability and drive to rebuild life from scratch.

“It is true that women are the worst affected, given our lower economic, social and political status. But that is not all. What we do or have done during disasters often gets neglected as the focus remains on our vulnerability.”

[Photographs Available]

 WFS Ref: INDO120 1000 words


India
Snapshots Of The Strength Of The Indian Woman
Bhanu Priya Vyas

Urmila Devi, hailing from the small dusty town of Ghazipur in eastern Uttar Pradesh, is a most unusual, albeit striking, cover girl. The penetrating gaze of this middle-aged mother-of-three at once conveys the strength, poise, and the spirit of the Indian woman. In fact, it was the “surprising self-confidence” she displayed as she posed for German photographer, Nicolaus Schmidt, while a gaggle of her veiled friends looked on curiously, that prompted him to splash her bright face on the front cover of his latest coffee table book, which follows the daily life, trials and triumphs of the incredible women in the country. From the unhurried countryside of Latur in Maharashtra to the urban power centre, Delhi, to the cultural city of Kolkata, Schmidt travelled the length and breadth of India to capture a whole range of new thoughts and actions that define the Indian woman of today.

“Initially they were just faces behind veils to me. It is when they lifted this barrier that one got to see their vigour and supreme confidence.”

[Photographs Available]

 WFS Ref: INDO123 1250 words


India
Looking For Breakthrough In The Fight Against Sex Selection
Amrita Nandy

Laxmi, 35, a domestic worker, saw ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’ (Save the Daughter, Educate the Daughter) campaign’s full-page ad in the newspaper and burst out: ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao? aur baaki ka kya? Beti Khilao. Shaadi Karao. Dahej lao. Uske dukh uthao... (Save the daughter, educate the daughter and what about the rest? Feed her. Marry her. Give her dowry. Share her miseries?)’. Over the years there have been several policy and discursive interventions to deal with the skewed sex ratios and low female literacy although the problem has only grown because, as Laxmi’s comment points out, it is deeply intertwined with issues of poverty, social ills and gender discrimination. Given the shame caused by India’s “missing girls”, Breakthrough, the global human rights organisation, has gone into Haryana, the state with one of the lowest sex ratios in the country, with a wide angle approach that addresses myths and norms and brings related issues, such as women’s mobility and safety, into the fold.

“Mission Hazaar engages with students, teachers, bureaucrats, health workers, panchayat representatives to look for solutions from people who can catalyse real change.”

[Photographs Available]

 WFS Ref: INDO122 1200 words


India
Can Legal Rights Change Sex Workers’ Lives
Taru Bahl

Lilting notes of a popular Hindi film song gently waft through the air. Then the stillness of the night is broken with the music grinding to a screeching halt, as a bunch of men and women run helter-skelter. Within minutes, half a dozen girls are queued up and paraded to the police station, which is a stone’s throw away. Crowds gather on the street and sneer at the girls who trail the men in uniform, submissively? This scene is one that is repeated with an eerie frequency in almost all of India’s busy red light areas. Sometimes such ‘rescue acts’ find their way to an obscure column of a newspaper. However, rarely does the reporter or those who have witnessed the ‘spectacle’ bother to find out what happens to the girls thereafter. Where do they go? Do they live happily ever after, freed from the clutches of their tormentors? An absence of any concrete rehabilitation plan leaves these women with few choices. However, what can perhaps enable them to deal with their vulnerable situation better is awareness of their legal rights.

“To be treated like a thing and not a person is something that dissolves all sense of feeling, emotion, desire and even pain. I don’t want my girls to experience that feeling.”

[Photographs Available]

 WFS Ref: INDO121 1250 words
 
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