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A Letter From A Prostitute
Book Excerpt

There are many notions and perceptions attached to women in prostitution. Some consider that women find freedom from patriarchal structures in prostitution; that college girls prostitute themselves for the sake of consumerism —to buy shoes, lipsticks, bags, perfumes… There are some who are convinced that prostitution is a livelihood choice many women make when confronted with sweat shop work, domestic servitude and oppressive marriages. The reality, as witnessed by Ruchira Gupta, long-time activist organising girls and women suffering from inter-generational prostitution in the red light districts, was very different. She saw very little ‘agency’ in their lives, which is marred with violence, desperation and destitution. ‘River of Flesh and Other Stories: The Prostituted Woman In Indian Short Fiction’, published by Speaking Tiger, is Gupta’s attempt to provide an insight into the link between women’s inequality and prostitution. This excerpt is from ‘A Prostitute’s Letter: To Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru And Qaid-e-Azam Jinnah, penned by Krishan Chander, one of the great pillars of the Progressive Writers' Association.

‘Don’t worry, I am not going to reveal the history of my disgusting life. I am also not going to tell you how and under which circumstances I became a prostitute. I am not going to take advantage of any sober sentiment to plead for false misery.’

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 WFS Ref: INDP524 1200 words

American Women Must Rise Above Patriarchy
Elayne Clift

Despite the 1973 landmark Roe v. Wade Supreme Court ruling that legalised abortion in the US, several states in the country have tried to impose strict regulations on abortion clinics, which go beyond what is necessary to ensure patient safety. Many of these regulations have been struck down by lower federal courts so states have found newer ways to restrict access to abortion, including limiting public funding and instituting ridiculous rules about clinic facilities. In her latest book, ‘All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation’ Rebecca Traister has articulated the humiliating and intimidating legislation as ways to restrict women and define their lives within the proscribed historic roles defined by marriage. The rising number of single, autonomous, economically and politically independent women in America, she points out, is challenging patriarchal patterns and control once managed more efficiently via marriage.

“The expanded presence of women as independent entities means a redistribution of all kinds of power, including electoral power, that has until recently been wielded mostly by men.”

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 WFS Ref: OPIP523 890 words

The Camera Is On Muslim Women
Kamayani Bali-Mahabal

It’s a powerful film, Tiryaaq, which literally means an antidote. It’s a narrative that is meant to reach out to regular people and the patriarchal powers of polity, clergy and family with the intention of not just unravelling the insidious functioning of caste patriarchy and religious fundamentalism but also training the spotlight on the struggles of countless Muslim women who are confined within the contours of ‘nation’, ‘community’ and ‘family’. Conceptualised by activist Hasina Khan, this is a story told by the women of Bebaak Collective, a group of 15 different organisations from Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, among others. There’s Khairun Nishad from Ahmedabad, who talks about reforming the Muslim personal laws to achieve gender justice, Reshma from Baroda passionately gives voice to the woes of Muslim women and demands “social security, citizenship rights and the implementation of the recommendations of the Sachar Committee in all the states”, Rehnuma of Farrukhabad shares a chilling tale of discrimination meted out during the mid day meals in her school, Abida from Dehradun recounts her efforts to do away with the ‘burqua’ (veil)... Insightful, poignant, informative and enthusing, Tiryaaq is all this and more.

“The film belongs to all the groups who are part of Bebaak collective; it belongs to each of those women who shared their struggles, dreams and aspirations.”

[Photographs Available]

 WFS Ref: INDP509 1250 words

In High Spirits – The Women of Bihar
Manisha Prakash

The bold announcement of prohibition in Bihar may have been widely described as “bad economics and risky politics” but for the scores of women who have been campaigning tirelessly for a liquor ban for years now this is a validation of their beliefs and hard work. Today, Sushma Devi, the Mukhiya of Domath panchayat in Bettiah, Pramila Devi of Parbatti in Bhagalpur, Jaymala Tiwari of Pragatisheel Mahila Morcha in Rohtas, Vibha of Samastipur, and hundreds of thousands of women associated with over five lakh self-help groups (SHGs) in the state are relieved and happy that they finally have “the license to correct the errant fathers, brothers, husbands” and build the good life they deserve. Yes, there are going to be challenges in enforcing the ban; yes, there will be many alcoholics who will need support in terms of rehabilitation facilities before they can give up the habit – but the women are willing to take all strong steps, from keeping an eye on their friends and family to working with the government to creating competent treatment and counselling services, to ensure that alcohol addiction, which presently is all-pervasive, becomes a thing of the past.

‘Women have taken out rallies in villages against the sale and consumption of alcohol, have ransacked liquor shops, beaten drunk husbands, and battled the threats of the liquor mafia, but with the law on their side they finally see hope.’

[Photographs Available]

 WFS Ref: INDP510 1200 words

From A Dispassionate Health Worker To An Involved “Life Coach”
Mehru Jaffer

For nearly two decades Poonam Tiwari, 47, was a family planning worker whose job was essentially about collecting statistics. Although she had been tasked with visiting homes in a designated area in Kanpur, an industrial city in Uttar Pradesh, where she was supposed to reach out to couples and young women with information on contraception, child birth and proper spacing between children, she never felt competent enough to give them such advice – “I knew exactly what I had to say but I was not sure why the people should listen to me. I don't think at the time I was quite sure as to why planning one's family would be good for couples and for society”. Over time, she moved to Shivgarh, a rural administrative block of Rai Bareilly district, where, quite unexpectedly, she found herself being roped into a health initiative where she had to interact with scientists and experts working at a special lab in the area that is looking for workable solutions to lower the maternal and infant mortality numbers in the state. From being someone who was only rattling off information to largely unreceptive community members she has now transformed into a ‘life coach’ who engages in a dialogue with women so that together they can come up with ways to overcome issues related to maternal and child health.

“We talk about ourselves, our personal problems and how we plan to solve them. We share solutions with each other like how to prevent pregnancies and to avoid abortions. Our discussions are reviewed by a panel of experts and returned to us as feedback.”

[Photographs Available]

 WFS Ref: INDP511 1150 words
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