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Puppets That Help Women Fight Violence
Abha Sharma

What is a puppet but an inanimate object moved and controlled by others? Is the life of a widow in India any different? In spite of the reform movement initiated by Raja Ram Mohan Roy in the early 19th century, thousands of widows still live a life marked by exclusion, agony and cruelty. The only difference is that today they have joined forces with other abandoned, single and divorced women and are learning to stand up to the marginalisation and humiliation they face in everyday life. Any guesses on who or what has triggered this transformation, especially among the widows living in the tribal areas of the desert state of Rajasthan? It’s the colourful puppets, which in the hands of the empowered widow-activists of the Ekal Nari Shakti Sangathan become brilliant agents of change. Through drama and musical parody, they not only entertain but educate and convey messages on issues like domestic violence and witch-hunting. Although, initially, Mohini Bai, Mamta, Ratan Kanwar and others, who design the shows, found it tough to put their experiences into a dramatic story format, they now derive a great sense of satisfaction from their work.

“Since a large number of widows are illiterate, their in-laws or family members often illegally occupy their land or property. Our puppet performance tells them the steps to follow in such cases.”

[Photographs Available]

 WFS Ref: INDNA23 1250 words

Chennai Girls Sail To New Horizons
Hema Vijay

Picture this: Two teenage girls from middle-class homes in Chennai, Tamil Nadu’s state capital, forego their studies at school, shuttle across the city to divide their time between the gym near the beautiful Marina Beach and sailing into the far seas off the Chennai harbour before rounding off their day studying videos of their sailing style to spot where they could do better. Meet Aishwarya Nedunchezhian, 18, and Varsha Gautam, 16, who are quite obviously not your average teens whose lives revolve around exams, fashion and boys. The duo recently made sporting history when they became the first women sailors from India to win an Asian Games bronze medal. The girls were introduced to sailing after they enrolled in a summer activity of the Tamil Nadu Sailing Association. What began as a weekend-only activity has become a passion ever since they started training in 2011 under National coach Pete Conway. While one milestone has been achieved, the girls dream of bigger boats and greater accolades for their country.

“We set off to sea at the break of dawn every day. Getting back home by 7 pm is a luxury.”

[Photographs Available]

 WFS Ref: INDNA24 1100 words

Mumbra’s Muslim Girls Kick Out Stereotypes
Kamayani Bali-Mahabal

They started off as a secret sports club. What brought them together was their shared love for football, a game they couldn’t dream of playing owing to their conservative family backgrounds. After all, how could young girls who weren’t allowed to even step out of their homes without the ‘hijab’ (veil) run around kicking ball in an open field? But they showed exceptional courage when they defied parental dictate to pursue their passion for the sport. Three years back, Saba Khan, Salma Ansari, Sabah Parveen, Aquila, Saadia and 40 other Muslim girls got out of their homes in Mumbra, a small town 40 kilometres from Mumbai, Maharashtra, to play football, motivated by activists of a local non-government organisation. Today, this group that calls itself Parcham, inspired by Asrar ul Haq Majaz, an Urdu poet who saw women as crusaders with an inherent quality to revolt against exploitation and injustice, has truly lived up to its name. They have not only broken gender stereotypes by regularly playing football but have been responsible for bridging the divide between the Muslims and Hindus in a communally volatile city.

“We wish to play football and other sports. We believe that through sports we can also come together in unity, forgetting our religious and other differences.”

[Photographs Available]

 WFS Ref: INDNA22 1250 words

Virgin Births And Womb Banks: The Sci-Fi Future Of Surrogacy

The 2000, no one in India had even heard of Fertility Tourism. But by 2012, it was one of the big money spinners. Nowadays, couples with fertility problems can choose from a bouquet of services - surrogacy, third-party gamete (egg and sperm) transfer and in vitro fertilization. Although Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ART) were commercially available services since the 1970s in Western countries, India suddenly became a top destination catering to this niche market. Why? There are excellent private health care clinics, English speaking service providers, an abundant supply of commercial surrogates, and, importantly, not only is commercial surrogacy legal but there are no real binding guidelines or government regulations in place. So, what’s the way of the future? In a real sci-fi twist to the ART story, scientists and researchers are now talking of virgin births and womb transplants. Read more about it in this excerpt from ‘Baby Makers: The History of Indian Surrogacy in India’ by award-winning author and journalist Gita Aravamudan, published by Harper Collins, which takes a non-judgmental enquiry into surrogacy.

Cutting-edge research around the world points towards a new era in which embryos created through sexless reproduction could be incubated and brought to term in artificial wombs. So there may come a time when natural human eggs and wombs become obsolete.

[Photographs Available]

 WFS Ref: INDNA25 980 words

A Model Farmer, Savitri Shows Off Her Special Skills
Saadia Azim

Savitri Devi from Jhanji village in Jharkhand’s Deoghar district is a model farmer today. She has been able to successfully incorporate sustainable integrated farming systems (SIFT) techniques on her 60 decimals of farmland to produce bumper crops of maize, paddy, chickpea, millets and potatoes. However, till just three years back, she and her husband were struggling day and night to cultivate their land but all their hard work was to no good as crop failure was common. To feed their family of eight, Ghanshyam, Savitri’s husband would have to migrate every few months to work as a labourer in nearby Deoghar town. What changed her fortunes was the creation of a farmers’ club in the village under a unique food security initiative, where unskilled tillers like her were taught different ways to maximise their yields.

“These clubs have managed to bring disillusioned farmers back to their fields. They have given up the idea of migrating and instead want to train their energies on becoming successful cultivators.”

[Photographs Available]

 WFS Ref: INDNA13D 1250 words
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