The article ‘Fight your attacker Tooth and Nail’ appeared recently in Hindustan Times on March 8th, 2014. You can access the article here http://paper.hindustantimes.com/epaper/viewer.aspx (bottom right corner). The article was an excerpt from a recently released book Fit to Fight by Vesna Jacob. This book seems to have come out in an opportune time, with rising media coverage of and public attention given to crimes against women.
From what could be gleaned from the article, Fit to Fight is meant as a guide for women to protect themselves from attackers. It has self defense lessons for women and girls and also a section that advises women on different ways to save themselves from attacks. One example is – ‘..Ask him if he has a daughter or a sister, and how he would feel if they were in your shoes..before you get to the physical part of the attack try to use every single thing that comes to your mind that can make your attacker hesitate..’. The book seems to have many more such lessons for women.
This book is only one among many such self-defense books, which focus on ways that women can use to prevent attacks against themselves. Also, in recent public debates about crimes against women, there has been a recurrent argument about women needing to know how to protect themselves from attackers. Well meaning films, articles, and other media have focused on how women need to be strong and fight against violence. However, such arguments leave me disturbed at some levels, because they put the responsibility of preventing violence against women, on women themselves.
What kind of message does a book like Fit to Fight give to women and girls facing very real threats of violence every day? What do we think of teaching self defense to girls as a way of protecting themselves? Does such focus on girls and women give them a sense of agency to fight violence, or does it put additional burden of preventing violence on the victims/survivors of violence?
Every year on 26th January and 15th of August, girls and boys from Vacha centers in Mumbai & Kalyan in Thane come out with a community newsletters .
They voice their thoughts & concerns about issues in their locality. It is also a platform to share their experiences and creativity. They form their own committees for resource mobilization, Writing articles, photographs, creative page as well as editorial and dissemination.
Each release is inclusive of community event and action such as street play, rally, public speech, poster, photo exhibition, slide presentation with power points on issues like education, gender equality, ration etc.
We share with you some glimpses of the newsletters and accompanying events. Do write back to us about this.
Jyoti Punwani meets girls at Vacha’s Community Centres. A link to the article
“Don’t worry guys, you will find the best looking women when you leave this campus. Aur woh tumhaare liye roti belengi“
This was the remark made by Palash Sen, lead vocalist of the band Euphoria, at this year’s IIT-B fest to the men in the crowd, making a reference to the lesser number of women in IITs as compared to men. Instead of expressing concern about this fact (which is a manifestation of the gender divide in higher studies), such a remark justified the higher presence of men in the crowd and successfully ‘othered’ any women that were present. There were many cheers from the audience, but also some jeers from both women and men in the crowd. The jeers got drowned out then, but opposition to such blatant sexist remarks did not. One of the students at IIT who was present at the concert, Arpita Phukan Biswas, posted in her blog about Palash Sen’s remarks and the post went viral. Many supported her views of not suffering sexism silently, while the post also got some negative comments.
Such a remark is condescending not just towards women, but men too. It not only assumes that women are for “beloing” rotis, it also assumes that most men would expect their wives to do so.
Palash Sen also sends the message that “beautiful” women cannot be intelligent and vice versa, and perhaps that “intelligent” men are not beautiful? Such remarks by celebrities have a significant effect, because they are followed and admired by a lot of people. Be it songs, movies or comments on such concerts, they become a part of common and accepted discourse. People take it lightly and if one opposes such remarks, it is said that it was “just a joke”. Arpita Phukan Biswas was one of the first to oppose Palash Sen’s remarks and we support her. Sexism is not funny, period. Having a good sense of humour does not mean laughing at sexist jokes. There surely are many other ways of healthy laughter. There should be zero tolerance towards sexism just as there is towards racism and casteism.
When you go to a toy shop and ask for a toy, the shopkeeper has one question ready- “For a boy or a girl?” It seems that for the shopkeeper, it is very difficult to show toys without this information. Girls can’t play with cars and boys can’t play with dolls, as if the toys refuse to be played with by them. and we follow this blindly. Do not give equal opportunities to both girls and boys to experience wide variety of play materials and games.
Recently we went to a toyshop to buy games for the girls of Vacha. It was a little difficult for us to even see the toys that are “meant” for boys according to the toy companies and the shopkeepers. Hence we decided that we won’t mention the gender. The shopkeeper was keen to know whether it’s a boy or a girl for whom we wanted the games. We just ignored his question and it was indeed easy for us to select games without any shocking reaction from the shopkeeper. You really don’t need to look for a game on the basis of the gender of the child. Just choose a good game or a toy which you think is best suited for a particular age and is engaging. That’s all that matters.
Same goes for jobs. Go for a job that you think will define you. Gender shouldn’t matter because what you can do is not because you are a girl or a boy. Let people stare, criticize and blame you for doing something that only guys are “supposed” to do. Dream big because dreams don’t know you are a girl or a boy!
This does not happen only in India. click on the link below to see these powerful girls.
पण महिला मुतारीचे
प्रश्न नाही सुटले
करुन आता भागले
मात्र कोणतेही मान्यवर
या प्रश्नास नाही जागले
कधी खोटी यांची आश्वासने
तर कधी नुसती पोकळ हमी
मात्र प्रत्यक्ष हालचालीची
पाहिली नेहमीच आम्ही कमी
महिलांसाठी अगदी शेंगदाण्याच्या
साली एवढा हा जेंडर बजट
मग कोणाला काय?महिला मुतारीचा
प्रश्न कोप-यात पडलाय भिजत
महिलांचा मुद्दा खरंच आहे का ?
एवढा शुल्लक वाटण्यासारखा
की याला नुसती उडवा उडवी
आणि निव्वळ तारखां वर तारखा
करार,नियम आहेत का? या बी.एम.सी
आणि शौचालया दरम्यान
का कोणी उठवत नाही सवाल ?
या प्रश्नाबाबत ब-या होतात हं
सर्वांच्या भूमीका मवाळ
न्यायालय ठोठावेल अपराधीला
ही सजा पाहा
की एक दिवस जाउन
महिला शौचालयात राहा
काही क्षणातच जीव
सोडेल कदाचीत अपराधी
कारण एवढी दूर्गंधी आणि अस्वच्छता
त्याने पाहीली नसेल कधी
स्वतंत्र मूतारी असावी महिलांना
ही संकल्पनाच नाही
मुंबईतील प्रत्येक शौचालय
देतोय याची ग्वाही
रोखून, लघवीसाठी महिलांकडून
मागीतले जातात पैसे
पुरुषांसाठी फुकट आणि
आमच्यासाठी विकत हे चालायचे कैसे?
नाही पाहिली मी विकलांग महिलेसाठी
लघवीला बसावे की नाही
याची पडते तिला दुविधा
कोणी आम्हा सांगीतले की,
मोफत मुतारीचा सुचनाफलक लावू प्रत्येक शौचालयाबाहेर
पण आता वेळ आली अशी की
सुचनाफलक द्यावा लागेल यांना आहेर
शौचालयाच्या कांउटरवर असतो
जाणा-या प्रत्येक महिलेस
शौचालय वाटतो परका
याकारणाने मुली महिला
जाणे टाळतात येथे
तासं-तास लघवी तुंबवून
आरोग्य समस्येची सुरुवात होते.
कळत नाही किती दिवस
प्रशासन चालवणार हा खेळ?
हाताळावा हा मुद्दा लवकरच
अजुनही झाली नाही वेळ
नगरविकास खात्याने या प्रश्नाची
आता तरी दाद घ्यावी
महिला मुता-यांची बांधणी करावी
– दिपा पवार (वाचा)
‘ This is a timely publication on the most neglected segment of our society, adolescent girls. perceived as a burden by parents, neglected by policy makers, subordinated by patriarchal system, adolescent girls in India have to tread a tight rope walk. The author rightly avers that in India, that experiences of adolescence for girls are greatly different from that for boys…..’ Prof. Vibhuti Patel reviews the book in Indian Association of Women Studies (IAWS) Newsletter of January 20013. Click on the link for the full review: http://www.scribd.com/doc/128199909/IAWS-Newsletter-January-2013
The newspapers amply captured how the unexpected heavy rainfall on a lazy Sunday ushered in the famous Mumbai Monsoon on 9th June, 2013; but what most people might not ever get to know is how on that very same day, around 200 young girls truly ruled the often neglected playground at Khotwadi, Santacruz.
So, the next question that comes to mind is – How did they do so? And what’s so special about that?
Vacha, a women’s rights NGO, active in Mumbai since 1987, organized this Sports event with the help of girl leaders selected from Vacha’s different Community Centres spread across Mumbai – as the girls beamingly asserted that these Kabaddi and Cricket tournaments have been specifically conceptualized and planned by girls, for girls!
Before we forget, one cannot look away from the reality that there are still a few countries where girls are forbidden from participating in Sports – thankfully, India has never been one of those. But, when you hear a small girl in 4th standard chirp “I don’t play anymore. I used to play when I was small” one is not only forced to question the notion of how much younger does one need to be to play, but also probes us to confront the boundaries in our very own minds which take most girls further and further away from the neighbourhood playgrounds.
The rains were relentlessly pouring with literally no ray of sunshine in the sky – however the drenched playground did not dampen the spirit of the Vacha girls who despite the heavy showers decided to go ahead with the event – come what may..
Thus, the day constituted of brief matches of kabaddi and cricket between teams from different bastis and a series of interesting game stalls for the non-participants.
Soon, in no time “rain” became a secondary issue, as the air began to get filled with the lively competitive commentary – throwing audience like us into the suspense over which team would win?!! Mind you, the commentators ensured that the so called losing team rejoiced even more loudly; yet, it was still pretty intriguing to see how a little girl burst into pools of tears after losing a game – I’m not saying it’s a happy sight – but it was very new to watch a little girl from a Mumbai basti express her disappointment on not achieving her objective, while her co-team members or saheliyas tried to revive her spirits by saying how their team atleast got to learn what could they improve on in order to win next time.
And in an hour or so a bunch of primary school girls questioned – “why only the didis were playing in the competition while they could only watch” – thereby triggering many other independent kabaddi matches – which brought out the range of players present – some were troubled over why their friends were not saying “kabaddi-kabaddi”, there were others who seemed to believe that the crux of kabaddi lies in pushing their friend in the puddle of water with a vengeance. On the cricket front, there were some who were just glad to hit the ball with the bat, while some other fielders were more than happy if the striker hit a 4 or 6 as that would give them a wonderfully plausible excuse to wade through oodles of flooding water just to get the prized ball.
Spectators were there too – residents from the surrounding buildings were braving the harsh rain to peer through their windows; men from the neighbouring basti had come to see what the “hulla-ballo” was about, little boys who usually preside over this playground were instead watching the match from the side-lines – the tables had indeed turned! Though, could one also take an ambitious and difficult step into the future and envision a tournament involving mixed teams of girls and boys?
In all honesty, one wonders how the above audience may have taken all this – did they speculate over whether these girls would fall sick after getting wet in these ceaseless rains? Or did they disapprove the uncouth display of freedom the girls showed while playing in their damp clothes? But they don’t know that in those three hours the girls had singlehandedly transformed “sports” to “games” to “just running around” to “letting oneself go” to “moments without any worries.”
Of course, this is truly just the beginning – at the end of the day all the girls have to go back to their homes – to the world of “shoulds” and “should nots” – some girls’ mirth may continue to linger even after they reach their homes, some may be slowly dwindling into the apprehension of the impending argument with their families over why they are soaked, and some may have already started crying over how angry their brothers would be when they see that they ripped the raincoat in all the running and jumping.
Therefore, these girls (each a leader in her own right) have a long way to go – but this Sunday, this rain, this playground, this sudden freedom – cannot be taken away from them – this ‘time’, their ‘time’ is for them to keep and hone..
– Ruchira Goswami