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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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Free Legal Aid Helps Dalit Women Fight Crime And Exclusion
Shuriah Niazi

Earlier this year, in a small village in Chhindwara district, Madhya Pradesh, a hearing- and speech-impaired minor Dalit girl was brutally gang raped. When the victim's mother, a daily wager, mustered up the courage to go to the police she was turned away as the authorities were ‘unable to understand’ what the child wanted to convey. Disappointed, she simply resigned to fate - till someone told her about a toll-free helpline she could call to register her complaint. When she called in and explained the situation, a team of legal experts from the Forum for Social and Economic Rights, a group of advocates that fights cases on behalf of victims of rape and other crimes, instantly came to her assistance. It took a month – and meetings with the State Women's Commission and Director General of Police – but an FIR was lodged with the promise of a fair investigation. Like this disabled minor, the Forum has been able to ensure justice for several voiceless girls and women with support from a unique initiative being implemented in the region.

‘We work to protect the Dalits and others who suffer social discrimination. Most of the lawyers associated with the Forum, too, hail from the weaker sections of the society. So they have natural empathy for victims whom they represent.’

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