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Striving To Give Kashmiri Sisters Safe Water
Afsana Rashid

Ensuring safe drinking water for her “sisters”in the village and, consequently, easing their workload has, so far, been ‘mission impossible’ for Kulsooma Begum, 37, the Deputy Sarpanch of Hamray-Pattan in north Kashmir’s Baramulla district. Despite her best efforts, in the last four years since she came to power, she has only managed to get the water pipelines laid. According to Kulsooma, overcoming the inactivity and poor coordination among the various concerned government departments has been a tough challenge, although she is hopeful that very soon she would be able to fulfil her poll promise. Some kilometres away, Raja Begum, Sarpanch of Palhallan ‘D’ is facing a similar situation. For her, too, the availability of clean water is most important on her agenda, something that she has been fighting for since many years now. While Kulsooma and Raja are greatly regretting their unfulfilled promise – after all, they had come to power in the village on the basis of the assurance of providing potable water – the women in their hamlets are not ready to give up on their ‘aapas’ (elder sisters) just yet because they believe that it’s their best chance at being heard and considered by the powers that be.

“Many a time we have come out on to the roads to press for our demands. Though the authorities have promised us action, till date nothing concrete has been done on the ground. ”

[Photographs Available]

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Helping Women Deal With Alcohol Addiction
Linda Chhakchhuak

Today, globally India shows the third largest increase in alcohol consumption in the last 20 years, up by 52 per cent. In 2012-13, the India Centre for Alcohol Studies (INCAS), a government research body, had predicted that alcohol consumption among women in the country would grow by 25 per cent in the next five years, higher by 15 per cent than the overall rise projected for the industry. Unfortunately, the ‘good times’ only lead to not-so-good-times for many who start off as recreational drinkers but soon become habitual. As is the case with addicts around the world, according to Alcoholic Anonymous (AA) India, women here, too, find it difficult to say, “I am an alcoholic”, words, they believe, are the first step towards dealing with this addiction. In the north eastern states, while it’s easy for women to buy a drink, it’s difficult for them to find a de-addiction facility that caters to their needs. In fact, gender bias rears its ugly head even here, as families are ready to go all out to help a son but are only too eager to ignore, deny or hide a daughter’s problem.

‘It’s cathartic to hear that someone is going through the same problems as me. Saying “I am an alcoholic”out loud is also healing.’

[Photographs Available]

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A Stage Diva’s Memoir With Song, Sayings And Soul

Sushila Lotlikar was barely in her teens when tragedy forced her to give up her education and join Parshwanthan Altekar’s Little Theatre in Mumbai in 1940. However, this young Konkan girl soon became a hit on the Gujarati stage and went on to storm the Marwadi stage. Then, at the age of 21, she retired! On her mother’s advice she married actor-writer Pandit Jaydeo Mishra - because in those days it was “difficult to find a match for a girl who was on the stage, in cinema or theatre… the mother a nurse and the daughter paints her face and prances about on the stage… they wanted nothing to do with such a family”– and settled down to quiet domesticity. But just like she had joined the stage she left it dramatically, so was her return: in a singular twist of fate she came back 22 years later to begin another glorious innings as a character-actor. ‘I, Salt Doll’, published by Speaking Tiger, is the memoir of an exceptional woman who lived through some “interesting time”. The book, translated by Jerry Pinto, is a vivid narrative laced with songs, sayings and soul. An excerpt.

‘Nurses are called ‘Sister’ but in reality, they are seen as women who clean the shit and piss of patients. And widows are no higher in this terrible social hierarchy. Aai was both nurse and widow. Was the acid attack a part of this way of seeing widows and nurses?’

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Chasing Hard-hitting Women’s Stories
Stephanie Raison

‘It’s a scorching Monday morning. About 10 minutes after we turn off the tarmac road my colleague and driver, Andrew, asks me if we are heading in the right direction. The GPS is blank and you can barely make out the bumpy path between huge boulders in this sculptured landscape. I’m sure we’ll meet someone soon &#— a human GPS. A goat-keeper points us on the way, telling us to turn right at the school. Some 30 minutes later, we arrive at a busy marketplace. A familiar splash of orange and pink comes rushing over. It’s Mamma Marietha Maige. Having served two terms as a councillor, Marietha is the first woman to run independently as a district councillor in her area. Together we leave the bustling marketplace. After 45 minutes, we arrive at our destination &#— a gathering of her supporters. It feels like someone has rolled out the red carpet as a swirl of red sand rises into the air to greet us, kicked up from under the feet of more than 300 women who sing welcoming notes and move towards our car. In a sea of hopeful energy, the women are thrilled to see one of their own standing up.’ … When Stephanie Raison, 34, a busy radio journalist, joined the UN Women as an Australian Volunteer for International Development in 2013, she “actually thought it would be a bit of a holiday”and that she would no longer have to “run everywhere, work late nights and weekends”. Whereas things didn’t quite happen as she had expected she’s glad that it’s “rewarding in ways I never imagined”. Read on to get a glimpse into a typical day in her life.

“Interviewing in Tanzania requires patience. Many women are not used to giving an opinion and some view questions with suspicion. I need to pull out my best journalism tactics to make people feel comfortable.”

[Photographs Available]

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Neila’s A True Dance Apsara
Surekha Kadapa-Bose

The soon-to be octogenarian, Neila Sathyalingam, founder-member of the Apsara Arts Dance Company of Singapore recalls dancing as soon as she began walking. And that was way back in late 1930s in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Officially, of course, she started training in Indian classical dances, such as Bharatnatyam, Kathakali and Manipuri, from the age of five. Laughingly, she recalls how her well-to-do family, more into academics than the arts, wasn’t really keen on her pursuing dance as a career – her dental surgeon father wanted his daughter to follow in his footsteps. But the talented and free-spirited Neila chose to stick to her passion and used her powers of persuasion to change everyone’s mind. It’s a good thing she decided to dedicate herself to dance because today her Apsara Arts Dance Company has become one of the leading arts schools in her country and an internationally established arts group known for its committed, creative troupe of performers.

“As a child in my Colombo home, I would wake up at around 4 am and start practicing dance steps much to the consternation of my father. Disturbed by the sound of the ‘ghoongaroos’, he ordered me to practice the ‘bhavas’ (expressions) in the early hours and the ‘thetalas’ (rhythmic dance) during the day. ”

[Photographs Available]

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