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India
Giving Words And Voice To Mizo Women
Ninglun Hanghal

Although she’s been writing about the socio-political developments taking place in her home state of Mizoram as well as the larger north-east region for years now, her latest offering, ‘Zorami’, the first ever novel written by a Mizo writer in English, took Malsawmi Jacob a decade to pen. The reason: she would simply go “numb with pain” listening to the recorded interviews of the people who lived through the most traumatic period in Mizo history, on which her narrative is based. Jacob has drawn on the Insurgency years of the Sixties to tell the story of young Zorami. Coming of age the same time as the political unrest and struggle for independence gathers momentum, the young girl’s life and experiences reflect those of her people, land and culture. Through her protagonist’s account Jacob has tried to present a picture of reconciliation, non-violence and peace for Mizo people.

“This novel came to me in English perhaps because I wanted to tell the story to people outside our state; in a sense, I wanted to make the Mizo voice heard across the country and the world.”

[Photographs Available]

 WFS Ref: INDP524 1100 words


Bhutan
No Mr Right For Bhutanese Girls
Krishna

It is a picture postcard country, whose breath-taking landscapes and rich culture beckons foreign tourists in large numbers each year. And yet, as one travels through the stunning Bhutanese terrain, one realises that everything is not as idyllic and effortless as it seems. Despite the fact that people are extremely proud of having created their own barometer for measuring economic progress, the Gross National Happiness index, life’s not all that “happy or content”, at least, for the women. Patriarchy and polygamy essentially sanction male infidelity leading to unstable marriages that usually end up in divorce. In fact, the divorce rate in this secluded Buddhist kingdom is a high 70 per cent and more often than not it’s the women who end up being short-changed. Today, girls like Sonam Rabgye and Dolma, who grew up dreaming of their Mr Right, have no choice but to accept the unfortunate reality that they would probably never get their happy ever after with “the one”.

“Infidelity is increasing at an alarming rate. The young wife is expected to earn the daily bread and that bottle of liquor that the husband wants at sundown. Ours is a male-dominated society, there is nothing the women can do but toe the line.”

[Photographs Available]

 WFS Ref: BHUP523 1200 words


India
She’s A Tourist Guide And She Loves It
Elsa Mathews

In popular imagination a tourist guide is usually a man who accosts people outside monuments and other historical sites offering guided excursions. This image has been further reinforced by the 1965 classic film, ‘Guide’, where cinematic legend Dev Anand transforms into Raju, a happy-go-lucky freelance guide who paves the way for a talented, but cloistered, married woman to rediscover her passion for dancing and free herself from the clutches of a loveless relationship. However, think for a moment, is it possible to imagine a woman step into Raju’s shoes, as the footloose, fancy-free guide? Perhaps not, due to the stigma attached to this vocation. And yet, surprisingly, Indian women have been working as tourist guides since the 1970s. An opportunity to meet people from all over the world, to travel to different cities, while earning good money on a freelance basis are just some of the factors that attract women to this otherwise disreputable profession.

“Though it is a very interesting profession, it is not considered respectable. Also people have no awareness about it. When I say I am a tourist guide, they say ‘Raju guide? Like Dev Anand?’”

[Photographs Available]

 WFS Ref: INDP523 900 words


Haiti
Calming Tensions and Spurring Women To Vote
Nadege Beauvil

Back in 2006, in the lead-up to Haiti’s long-awaited general elections, Nadege Beauvil, 45, was a volunteer with Haiti’s national women’s umbrella organisation, Femmes en Démocratie. It was a Saturday morning, the day before voting day, when she received a call that 200 angry women election observers were demanding to meet with her. She didn’t “have a cent in my pocket at the time, so I had to borrow money from the neighbour to take a cab”. When she reached, the room was tense and a cacophony of voices arose from the women volunteers who had travelled from different regions to receive kits to observe the elections. They were upset because the ‘gratification money’, a subsistence allowance to cover their minimum food and travel expenses, was less than expected. They wanted to walk away. It took some cajoling before the women agreed to monitor the elections as planned the next day. Fast forward to nine years and Beauvil, who is now with UN Women, still finds herself “convincing penniless women to go above and beyond, which is no small feat”.

“I told her how much we depend on them and even if sometimes we work through a weekend, we all do it, because we’re that committed to the cause - our cause - empowering women!”

[Photographs Available]

 WFS Ref: HAIP524 850 words


India
A Loving Mom to Children of Inmates
Rakhi Ghosh

It all began in 2003, when the Odisha government was implementing a reforms programme in prisons across the state. Social activist Nirajalaxmi Mohapatra, who was a part of this effort, used to regularly visit jails to counsel women inmates. On one occasion she happened to see two children playing in the prison courtyard. After some inquiry she found out that they were living there with their mother and grandmother. Shocked to see two children inside the Bhubaneswar Special Jail, when she asked the jailor why they were there she was told that the entire family had been convicted in a murder case and there was no one to take care of them. As per the prison by-laws children can stay with their parents till they turn five and then if the authorities agree, they can extend their stay for another year. But after that they have to leave. The jailor added that because these children were shunted around they never got the chance to live a decent life. She went back home a troubled person that day and spent many sleepless nights before she came up with a concrete plan - a hostel for children of inmates. Today, this is a safe space where the young ones get an experience of normalcy, as they study and indulge in extra-curricular activities. Of course, the demons and bad memories of their past do resurface from time-to-time but they have their Niraja-ma to help them work through it.

“There was time when having a convicted criminal for a father adversely impacted the entire family, especially the children. The hostel provides them with an alternative now. I strongly believe that society also needs to change its attitude towards these children.”

[Photographs Available]

 WFS Ref: INDN529R 1200 words
 
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