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No Mr Right For Bhutanese Girls

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

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

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

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

Tracing The History Of ‘Purdah’ in India
Book Excerpt

Like all religious and social practices, the ‘purdah’, which has come to be regarded as a symbol of ‘honour’, control and seclusion, too, finds its roots in history. The tradition of strict ‘purdah’ came to India with Amir Timur, who made the declaration that as they were ‘now in the land of idolatry and amongst a strange people, the women of their families should be strictly concealed from the view of stranger’. This was continued by subsequent ruling dynasties, including the Mughals, and with time only became more and more rigid. The ‘purdah’ curtailed the freedoms of a Muslim woman, excluded her from an outer world full of action and challenge, and made her subservient to the will of the man – something that has not really changed even centuries later. This excerpt from ‘The Status of Muslim Women in Medieval India’ by Sudha Sharma, published by Sage Publications, takes readers back to the 14th century, a period when the restrictive practice of the ‘purdah’ first came to the subcontinent.

‘Amir Khan, a noble, felt dishonoured when his wife could not observe purdah in an effort to save her life by jumping from the back of an elephant she was riding, who had run amuck, and decided to divorce her.’

[Photographs Available]

 WFS Ref: INDP525 1200 words
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