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A Budget With New Challenges For Women
Rajiv Saxena

As expected, Union Budget 2014-15 was an amalgamation of mind-boggling figures, largely incomprehensible jargon, alluring promises and some words of caution, albeit couched in smart ambiguity. While numbers by themselves signify little and are, in fact, gender neutral, the message that Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has given through this annual statement of accounts is hard-hitting: it’s a No to sops and subsidies and a Yes to a market driven economy. What does this mean for Indian women? Simply put, they need to gear up for more challenging times ahead. Of course, in this season of austerity there is some reason to hope for change. Issues related to safety, health, drinking water and sanitation, which directly impact women, have been addressed. While an outlay of Rs 150 crore has been provided to tackle women’s security concerns in the big cities, ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’ promises to protect the interests of the girl child.

There is no reason why young women can’t make the most of more gender neutral schemes like the 100-crore entrepreneurship development programme for the youth. After all, they have been doing well as small business owners in the SME sector.

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Marriage Matters: Kashmiri Girls Can’t Find Suitable Partners
Sana Altaf

Zarah (name changed) is 31 years old and single. For the last couple of years her traditional Kashmiri family based in Srinagar has been trying hard to find a suitable alliance for her and lately this has become their only agenda. At home, Zarah, a banking professional, has to listen to her anxious parents discuss matrimonial prospects day-in and day-out. When she is in company, people come up to her to express their ‘sympathy’ and wonder why she is as yet unhitched despite being “beautiful and qualified”. Like Zarah, Iram, 28, an IT engineer, Sheeba Khan, a government servant, Rafia Nazir, a Ph.D scholar, and several other educated, independent young women are constantly being subjected to intrusive queries regarding their impending nuptials. Over the years, while Kashmiri women have successfully managed to overcome their conservative social set up and step out of home to pursue higher studies and well-paying jobs, they can’t seem to catch a break when it comes to the question of their marriage.

“There are many men around who have well settled businesses but they are not educated. How can I marry such a guy?”

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Remembering Zohra Segal

In 1930, she went to Germany to study modern dance – a most unusual choice of career for an aristocratic young Indian woman. In 1935, she joined Uday Shankar’s famed dance academy in Almora where she fell in love and married scientist and dancer Kameshwar Segal. In 1945, she joined Prithvi Theatre in Mumbai, and made her big screen debut a year later with ‘Dharti Ke Lal’ … Get a ringside view of Zohra Segal's life on the stage and screen, in India and England, as she grew to become one of India's best loved actresses, in this excerpt from ‘Close Up: Memoirs Of A Life On Stage and Screen’, published by Women Unlimited. Feisty, irreverent and candid, Segal, who passed away recently after celebrating her 102nd birthday earlier this year, was all this and more.

I hated myself as Lady Lili Chatterjee. My dialogue was artificial and brittle and my appearance, far from being aristocratic, made me look like a tarted-up ayah. With tears in my eyes I said to myself, “If this is all you are capable of, Zohra Segal, it would be better if you gave up acting!”

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Tribal Women Guard Their Forest To Ensure Food Security
Sarada Lahangir

The Ghodasal Dongar (hill) is lush with mango, jackfruit, guava, tamarind and sal trees that help sustain the 36 tribal families living in the nearby hamlet of Pathargarh in the Bisam Cuttak block of Rayagada district in Odisha. Every day women like Ratani Jakesika, 35, make their way to the ‘dongar’ to collect edible greens, fruits tubers and roots that supply the requited nutrition for the proper development of their children. In the absence of suitable livelihood opportunities, especially in during the rains, it is this forest that saves the community from hunger. Naturally then the women are protective of this life-saving green cover. So much so that when in April 2013, the forest department proposed to undertake mass plantation of commercial varieties like teak and eucalyptus, the villagers strongly opposed the move forcing the department to plant more fruit trees instead. Today, inspired by Pathargarh’s women and supported by a local non government organisation that has been spreading awareness on the issue of forest protection for food security, around 120 tribal women across 60 villages have taken to forest conservation in their area.

“The forest is protecting my children from starvation. So is it not my duty to protect it from extinction?”

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In Bengal, Women Agriculturists Take Charge
Ajitha Menon

Agriculture is hard work. And contrary to the general perception, women, rather than the men, do most of the farm work. From helping to prepare the land, to sowing and harvesting the crop, to looking after processing and storage, Gouri Mondal, 45, of Pathar Pratima village in West Bengal’s South 24 Parganas district, toils tirelessly on her husband’s two bigha farm. What’s more, she even takes care of the seed collection and preservation. But Mondal’s role is not just limited to tilling and caring for the land; she is also making her presence felt as the recently-elected state committee member of the Kisan Swaraj Samity (KSS) in Bengal. More and more women farmers like Mondal are now coming forward and taking their place within farming organisations, participating in the discussions and voicing their concerns. Together they setting the agenda for organic cultivation and looking for sustainable growth options to improve their economic condition.

“The government has to ensure income security for farmers and see to it that financial support systems like subsidies, credit and insurance, benefit a larger numbers. Small farmers often get marginalised.”

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