Features this week
November 22, 2014
   

Provocative. Daring.Awesome.Young Kerala Triggers A Debate For Change

   

Breast Ironing: ‘Yes, I Did This to My Daughter’

   

Old and Fragile, Basanti Fights Apathy And Insecurity


 
   

The Different Strokes of Women Text and Photos: Madhubani Artists

   

Legalisation or De-criminalisation? Sex Workers Speak Their Mind

   

Oh, To Be A Woman Rebel

   

How To Transform A Defunct Rural Health Centre Into A Model Facility

   

To Empower Women, Take A Cue From Rural Men In Maharashtra

   

Manipuri Mothers Want Another ‘Women’s Agitation’

   

Deconstructing The Mind Of The ‘Masculine’ Indian Male

   
   


 
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Cameroon
Breast Ironing: ‘Yes, I Did This to My Daughter’
Kirthi Jayakumar

Fomuso Kazua (name changed) was just a few days shy of turning 12 when she attained puberty. That was also when she started showing signs of developing breasts. One day, out of the blue, her mother told her that she would have to do something that would seem unpleasant to Fomuso at first but she had no choice because all girls had to go through it. ‘Everyday she would press down on my chest with a piping hot stone so that my breasts would stop growing. It hurt terribly, but there was nothing I could do,’ she recalls. By the end of that year, the young girl was suffering terrible physical problems: one of her breasts had been scalded into non-existence while the other developed cysts that were very painful. It was only after she turned 23 last year and got to read her first foreign magazine that she realised that not all girls in the world have to go through this ordeal. What Fomuso has described is the brutal practice of breast ironing that is most common in Cameroon – one-in-four girls are subjected to it so that they look unattractive, remain safe from sexual predators and get to go to school.

‘In my community young girls are seen as ‘fresh meat’. I wanted my daughter to study. I wanted her to pursue her dreams without fear. The sad thing is that she could only do this after compromising on her physical health and appearance. She was safe from men.’

[Photographs Available]

 WFS Ref: CMRNB10 1060 words


India
Old and Fragile, Basanti Fights Apathy And Insecurity
Rakhi Ghosh

She cleans the homes of other people to make ends meet. At her 82 years, she finds this work difficult and labourious but she has no other choice. After her husband passed away seven years ago, Basanti Nayak’s children threw her out of her own home. Alone, old and devoid of any money or resources, she spent many nights languishing on railway stations, footpaths and bus stands on an empty purse and stomach till she landed some work as a domestic help. Today, as advancing age rapidly takes a toll on her condition, she has been running from pillar to post to get registered for the widow’s pension provided by the state. Many elderly women like Basanti are living in abject poverty in the urban slums of Bhubaneswar and Cuttack in Odisha after being abused and rejected by their families and relatives. These women are among nearly half of the state’s elderly population who are compelled to work to sustain themselves in their old age.

‘We have no one to take care of us. Sometimes the neighbours help me. I don’t want to be dependent on my children. When their parents age, the children feel they have become a burden on them.’

[Photographs Available]

 WFS Ref: INDNB12 1250 words


India
The Different Strokes of Women Text and Photos: Madhubani Artists
Tahir Ahmed

At first glance, it seems to be just another nondescript rural hamlet in India - acres of flat, green agricultural land, stacks of harvested crops by the roadside, a small cluster of modest dwellings… Yet, this rather plain countryside has a remarkable history and heritage. It is home to one of the most intricate, colourful and expressive traditional art forms – the Madhubani. Ranti village is where the “barely literate” Mahasundari Devi shed her purdah (veil) and picked up the brush to make a name for herself as one of the foremost practitioners of a fine art that typically draws its inspiration from Hindu mythology or scenes from everyday rural life. Today, the great artist may be no more but her sister, Karpuri Devi, lives and paints there along with several other women who are keen to take the legacy forward. Meet Karpuri, 86, Dulari, 49, and Mahalaxmi, 26, three generations of women artists from Ranti and Jaitpur in Bihar’s Madhubani district, who are generously using the characteristic red, yellow, green, black and geru colours of the Madhubani to give this ancient art form their own new twists. An evocative photo essay that captures all their different strokes.

“My paintings reflect the times we live in. They depict women’s empowerment. I truly believe that today we women have to be our own Ram and liberate ourselves. I want to be independent after marriage and continue painting.”

[Photographs Available]

 WFS Ref: INDNB14 900 words


India
Legalisation or De-criminalisation? Sex Workers Speak Their Mind
Kamayani Bali-Mahabal

Recently, Lalitha Kumaramangalam, Chairperson of the National Commission for Women (NCW), openly advocated legalising sex work in India to regulate the trade and ensure better living conditions for women engaged in commercial sex work. According to her, legalisation would also bring down trafficking and lower the incidence of HIV and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Sounds fair, doesn’t it? However, ask sex workers and activists who have been working with them since decades and they have a rather sceptical outlook. They opine that legalisation of the business will not really help the women; it would simply mean that the State would have more control over their mobility and increase their vulnerability to mandatory testing for HIV and STDs. To bring about any real positive change in their lives, the government needs to disassociate voluntary sex work from trafficking and accordingly amend laws criminalising those in the trade. And ‘if there is a law to be created to benefit us then it has to be made with our participation,’ they declare.

“We do welcome the interest of the NCW towards our betterment, but we are aware that legalisation will lead to regulations, which would mean more control over our community.”

[Photographs Available]

 WFS Ref: INDNB11 1200 words


India
Oh, To Be A Woman Rebel
Ninglun Hanghal

Northeast India has been witness to violent cessationist and nationalist movements for nearly six decades now. In Assam, the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) led one of the most prominent and violent “struggles” in the region for three long decades before the peace process began in 2011. Whereas descriptions of armed revolutions are tinged with generous doses of romanticism and mostly revolve around the male cadres, what about the women who join the ranks to fight for ‘freedom’? According to a latest research paper, women combatants have never really been given their due in history. While they too have a definitive political consciousness and are driven by ideas of freedom and unity, they end up leading veiled, forgotten lives. The ULFA women are no different. Today, they have been reduced to irrelevance – on the one hand they have no real role to play in conflict resolution or the peace talks, on the other, they are struggling to make ends meet.

‘The former combatants are never fully empowered or wholly rehabilitated. Even their voices and stories do not find a mention in the footnotes of history.’

[Photographs Available]

 WFS Ref: INDNB13 1200 words
 
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