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Once A Star Athlete Bibiana, 17, Is Now A Domestic Worker
Rakhi Ghosh

Like many impoverished women from her state, when Bibiana Kulu, 17, was in need of a job to support her family, her friends put her in touch with a broker who promised to do something for her. A few months down the line Kulu found herself in Mumbai scrubbing utensils and cleaning homes. Okay, so you might wonder what's new about a poor rural woman moving to the city to make ends meet as a domestic worker. Well, here's the twist in the tale: Kulu is a state and national level athletics star. Today, she has been forced to chuck her once-fulfilling sporting career so that she can help out her widowed mother, who is a minor agricultural worker in their Saleghagra Lojhapada village in Odisha. Like Kulu, Rashmita Patra, 23, a football champ from Kendrapada is running a betel shop, while Pramila Trishani, a weightlifter from Koraput, fears she would soon end up like Kulu and Patra. There's a lot of raw sporting talent in the hinterlands of the country but what they desperately need is financial support and lots of nurturing.

“I still miss the playground and feel that playing football is in my blood. But owing to a financial crisis look where I have ended up.”

[Photographs Available]

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Violence And Early Marriage Impact Assamese Girls' Health
Rashme Sehgal

Violence has the most telling and long-term impact on the lives of women and girls, whichever side of the clash they may be on. In Assam's Kokrajhar and Dhubri districts pain and fear are well-etched in the memories of the Bengali-speaking Muslim settlers. In 2012, the region had witnessed bloody ethnic clashes between the Bodos and the Muslims, which stretched for over two months killing more than 100 people and displacing nearly half a million. Today, although uneasy peace prevails, the existence of many a young woman has changed forever. Under-age Muslim girls are being married off because their parents fear for their safety and honour in case they get caught in another conflict. Consequently, not only has early marriage robbed them of their childhood but also jeopardised their health. Assam has the highest Maternal Mortality and Infant Mortality Rates in India – and violence definitely has a part to play in this unfortunate reality. Yet, the boat clinics are working hard to reach out to the community women with incentives to improve their lot.

Doctors insist that political stability is a pre-requisite for family planning interventions and for girl child literacy to succeed in this region.

[Photographs Available]

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‘Just Leave Women Alone’
Elsa Mathews

Somewhere in Paris, a little girl is playing on the street. Her mother calls her home constantly berating her for not cleaning herself and telling her that she has to keep her body clean because men prefer it that way. Her father greets her with comments about her ‘child-bearing hips’. He invites her to sit on his lap and asks her to keep her little hands in between his legs ‘for some warmth’. Thus begins French actress and writer Eva Darlan's one woman show, ‘Crue et Nue’ (Raw and Nude), an hour-long monologue in which Darlan enacts her experiences with boyfriends, high heels, her jealousies, utopian diet regimes, violence, abuse, religion and sexuality. An adaptation of her book by the same name this is Darlan's way of lashing out at a society that compels women to conform to its patriarchal dictates. With generous doses of humour, she motivates women to “be comfortable with who they are” and “express themselves freely”.

“Like Barbie we have to wave and smile. We are supposed to show ourselves as perfect to other women but this is a lie.”

[Photographs Available]

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A Lonely Homecoming For Kashmiri Pandit Women
Shazia Yousuf

Pushpa Kaaw, 55, loves the Kashmir that lives on in her memory: her in-law’s house in Jawahar Nagar, their joint family of almost two dozen members and a whole bunch of women busily going up and down the wide stately staircase. Today, however, her husband and she live in a small rented room not far from where their own house once stood in Srinagar. Kaaw had found herself at a crossroads on the night of January 19, 1990. She had to choose between her husband and her son. To get away from the violence she moved to Jammu with her five year old while her husband stayed back. For two decades, she forged on alone in refugee camps and rented accommodations in Jammu but once her son got a job she came back. Of course, every day brings heartache and opens up new wounds for Kaww. Like her there are thousands of Pandit women who have lived through tough times. But being back in their homeland has not been all about nostalgia and happiness. Many are grappling with anxiety while others are lonely because their children don’t want to make Kashmir their home.

“Even now, I sometimes tie my scarf around my face leaving only my eyes exposed. I know it is all in my head and that there is no danger anymore but I still do it.”

[Photographs Available]

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Jharkhand’s Anita Devi Will Finally Have A Toilet Of Her Own
Dilnaz Boga

Anita Devi, 50, of Dumri village in Bero block of Jharkhand’s Ranchi, leaves her chores midway to rush to attend the meeting at the panchayat office. As she arrives, the officials announce that Dumri will soon be witnessing frantic construction activity as their proposal for building toilets in every home has come through. For Anita, this is simply the best news she has heard in a long time. Soon, like their neighbouring Gadri village they too would be open defecation free. As per Census 2011, only 7.7 per cent of households in rural Jharkhand have toilets making it the state with the highest rate of open defecation. But efforts are on to change this reality that not only subjects women to humiliation but increases their vulnerability to disease and violence. Several villages in Bero block are now utilising the provisions of the Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan, the government’s sanitation programme, to ensure that life for tribal women like Anita will never be the same.

“We should have made toilets many years ago. Life would have been so much easier then.”

[Photographs Available]

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