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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.'

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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.”

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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.'

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‘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.”

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In This Bihar Village Girls Shine As Activists
Anita Katyal

Manisha Bharati, a Class Eight student of Government Middle School in Bhalui village of Vaishali district in Bihar, has only recently discovered the joys of using soap and knows the merits of washing hands to maintain hygiene. She has been telling everyone in her neighbourhood about it with the result that soap sales have gone off the charts in the village. Her classmate, Nidhi Verma, has taken on the task of talking to young mothers about immunisation. Although they find it awkward when she confidently approaches them to make inquiries about their children's vaccination schedule they listen to what she has to say on the importance of proper and timely immunisation. Then there is Preeti whose pet cause is sanitation. She wants to make sure that every home in the village has a toilet so that no woman is vulnerable to violence or ill health due to open defecation. Despite living in a conservative social set up the girls of Bhalui village today are socially conscious, vocal and committed to making their homes and lives better. Who or what has triggered this amazing transformation? Read on.

‘The women were not very knowledgeable about immunising their children. What's the use, they would often ask. Others told me they did not have the time to visit the health centre. But I spoke to them at length and insisted that they vaccinate their children.'

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