Monday, May 12, 2008

Voice of a mother from Varanasi of India

Voice of a mother from Varanasi of India
History and Geography of mothers from Cybele to Julia Ward, Seema, Savitri, Durga…
Shruti Nagvanshi 12/5/2008 1:08:44 PM(IST)

Contrary to popular belief, Mother''s Day was not conceived and fine-tuned in the boardroom of Hallmark. The earliest tributes to mothers date back to the annual spring festival the Greeks dedicated to Rhea, the mother of many deities, and to the offerings ancient Romans made to their Great Mother of Gods, Cybele. Christians celebrated this festival on the fourth Sunday in Lent in honour of Mary, mother of Christ. In England this holiday was expanded to include all mothers and was called Mothering Sunday.

Photo: Cybele -- She is the Mother of the Greek gods; Peace! Virtue!--Like Hindus' Devi Durga

In the United States, Mother's Day started nearly 150 years ago, when Anna Jarvis, an Appalachian homemaker, organized a day to raise awareness of poor health conditions in her community, a cause she believed would be best advocated by mothers. She called it "Mother's Work Day."

Fifteen years later, Julia Ward Howe, a Boston poet, pacifist, suffragist, and author of the lyrics to the "Battle Hymn of the Republic," organized a day encouraging mothers to rally for peace, since she believed they bore the loss of human life more harshly than anyone else.

In 1905 when Anna Jarvis died, her daughter, also named Anna, began a campaign to memorialize the life work of her mother. Legend has it that young Anna remembered a Sunday school lesson that her mother gave in which she said, "I hope and pray that someone, sometime, will found a memorial mother's day. There are many days for men, but none for mothers."

Anna began to lobby prominent businessmen like John Wannamaker, and politicians including Presidents Taft and Roosevelt to support her campaign to create a special day to honour mothers. At one of the first services organized to celebrate Anna's mother in 1908, at her church in West Virginia, Anna handed out her mother's favourite flower, the white carnation. Five years later, the House of Representatives adopted a resolution calling for officials of the federal government to wear white carnations on Mother's Day. In 1914 Anna's hard work paid off when Woodrow Wilson signed a bill recognizing Mother's Day as a national holiday.

At first, people observed Mother's Day by attending church, writing letters to their mothers, and eventually, by sending cards, presents, and flowers. With the increasing gift-giving activity associated with Mother's Day, Anna Jarvis became enraged. She believed that the day's sentiment was being sacrificed at the expense of greed and profit. In 1923 she filed a lawsuit to stop a Mother's Day festival, and was even arrested for disturbing the peace at a convention selling carnations for a war mother's group. Before her death in 1948, Jarvis is said to have confessed that she regretted ever starting the mother's day tradition.

Despite Jarvis's misgivings, Mother's Day has flourished in the United States. In fact, the second Sunday of May has become the most popular day of the year to dine out, and telephone lines record their highest traffic, as sons and daughters everywhere take advantage of this day to honor and to express appreciation of their mothers.

However much a mother may love her children, it is all but impossible for her to provide high-quality child care if she herself is poor and oppressed, illiterate and uninformed, anaemic and unhealthy, has five or six other children, lives in a slum or shanty, has neither clean water nor safe sanitation, and if she is without the necessary support either from health services, or from her society, or from the father of her children.

- Vulimiri Ramalingaswami, "The Asian Enigma"

Friends, Not only in India but in whole world condition of women are becoming bad to worse. Violence against them is increasing. Women are the most affected at the time of war as well as peace. Their life and dignity is not secured inside or outside of home. Everywhere greedy eyes are at set to exploit the women’s body and soul.

Women have no independent entity in this society. They are like an easy prey, which can be consumed easily. Women face violence and torture from their birth. They do not have life of dignity and honour as a human being. There is no doubt that our society has been driven by the Manuist tradition based on patriarchal supremacy and exploitation. If one looks at the conditions of Dalit women, he will get upset deeply.

Where women belonging to caste Hindus community face two-fold exploitation the women belonging to Dalit community face three fold exploitation due to Brahamanical and patriarchal dominated policies which are following-

1. Caused by castist discrimination.

2. Caused by patriarchal values.

3. Caused by poverty.

The exploitation and torture of Dalit women often of such nature and so inhuman that an outsider unknown to the caste system could hardly imagine it. Sometimes they are made forced to walk naked and sometimes they are brutally killed. This is the very reason why women tortured by such a cruel and inhuman way become forced to adapt the path of Phulan Devi. On the vulnerable condition of women neither media is sensitive nor the so called intellectuals. Analyzing the conditions of Dalit women exclusively, we have decided that on the question of torture of Dalit women and for their liberation, it needs comprehensive, deep and wide campaign. We talked with some like-minded people and groups and reached to a common understanding, which came forth in the shape of Savitri Bi Phule Mahila Panchayat.

This conference is being organized to sensitize the people of each community against the violence and torture of Dalit women. In India, population of Dalit community is nearly up to 16 crore 70 lakh and population of Dalit women is nearly 8 crore, which is 47.06% of total Dalit population. It means population of Dalit women is nearly 16.3 percent of total Indian population. Each 12th woman can be identified as Dalit woman. Today 89.5 percent Dalit women are living under acute poverty in spite of the fact that these dalit women are contributing a lot in national production as an important and huge source of labour force. They are involved in agricultural production and non-agricultural production. Among them 94 percent Dalit women are made forced to work at a low wages under unorganized sector, it is ironical that such a big labour force, which is playing so important role in the national production, are totally deprived of their human Rights. In their 4th annual report, national commission on Sc/St has reported that yearly 25,000 women are facing torture and violence caused by caste discrimination. But actually such type of complains against Dalit women are far more.

There, a comprehensive study was conducted on 500 victim women belonging to Dalit community taken from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Pondicheri (Puducheri). In this study different forms of violence against women are detected, as for example Physical assault, verbal abuse, sexual exploitation, rape, abduction, forced prostitution, murder etc. which are inflicted by the men belonging to caste Hindus. Apart from that there are some more form of violence are reserved only for Dalit women as misbehave, verbal filthy abuse, sex violence, force to walk naked, Dalit women are forced to throw urine on their own face, they are tortured by taking their teeth and nail out, to cut the breast off, to pour the petrol in their vagina are commonly occurred.

Women frequently face violence and torture in their life but due to weakness of judiciary and predominant patriarchal mentality perpetrators easily escape out of the hands of rule of law. All studies and research work indicate that even not 1 percent perpetrator has been convicted in the matter of violence on women. In such a condition how can one hope to get justice for the women? There has been important contribution of Dalit woman in the social development of India and its history. It is ironical that this Manuist society never accepted the contribution of Dalit women in Indian society. It can be said that all literature and history is nothing but documents of so called heroic saga of patriarchal greed and Brahamanical values because there has not been mentioned the contribution of Dalit women. These reactionary historians have intentionally forgotten the heroic role of Jhalkari Bai in the struggle of Indian national independence.

They never remember revolutionary role of Savitry Bai Phule who dared to open school for girls first time. They exploited Dalit women by making forced them to adapt the life of a prostitute as Devadasi in the name of religion and god. But when an upper caste Hindu forcefully make sexual relation with a Dalit women then how she becomes touchable it is a mystery. They forget that when hands of labours unite they can throw the reign of terror away. Our supporters and we Dalit women declare that now it would not happen. We will hit hard to abolish the Brahanical and patriarchal tyrannies. Our struggle is not against the men but against those traditional reactionary ideas and system, which creates mentality to enslave the women. Our struggle is in the support of all those voiceless communities, classes who are grinding under imperialism, Manuistic and patriarchal system. Friends what might be done in such a situation without raising the question of liberation of Dalit women? Whether we can talk about the liberation of women as a whole.

It is not possible to think of a batter society without solving the problems of Dalit women. Struggle of Dalit women is a symbol of struggle of social honour and to have an independent recognition as a human being. There should be ensured social security by giving them employment. So we call for all these progressive forces working for the upliftment of the whole society to come forward and to join the struggle against the exploitative system based on patriarchal supremacy. A better world and better society can only be constructed by our collective effort and struggle.

Taking this into the view Shruti formed Savitri Bai Phule mahila panchayat in 2002 and Seema, Kalawati, and Durga joined her. Now it has taken the shape of an organization by carring out continuous of struggle. On 10th march which is death anniversary of Savitry bai phule, Savitri mahila panchayat has decided to celebrate this day as national women liberation day and has clarified that until women belonging to upper caste Hindus do not come out of Varna system and until the question of Dalit women would not be in the centre of Indian women’s movement there is no meaning of celebration of Mother Day.

The persistence of hunger and abject poverty in India and other parts of the world is due in large measure to the subjugation, marginalization and disempowerment of women. Women suffer from hunger and poverty in greater numbers and to a great degree than men. At the same time, it is women who bear the primary responsibility for actions needed to end hunger: education, nutrition, health and family income.

India has a long history of activism for women's welfare and rights, which has increasingly focused on women's economic rights. A range of government programs have been launched to increase economic opportunity for women, although there appear to be no existing programs to address the cultural and traditional discrimination against women that leads to her abject conditions.

India, with a population of 989 million, is the world’s second most populous country. Of that number, 120 million are women who live in poverty.

India has 16 percent of the world’s population, but only 2.4 percent of its land, resulting in great pressures on its natural resources.

Over 70 percent of India’s population currently derives their livelihood from land resources, which includes 84 percent of the economically-active women.

India is one of the few countries where males significantly outnumber females, and this imbalance has increased over time. India’s maternal mortality rates in rural areas are among the world’s highest. From a global perspective, Indian accounts for 19 percent of all lives births and 27 percent of all maternal deaths.

"There seems to be a consensus that higher female mortality between ages one and five and high maternal mortality rates result in a deficit of females in the population. Chatterjee (1990) estimates that deaths of young girls in India exceed those of young boys by over 300,000 each year, and every sixth infant death is specifically due to gender discrimination." Of the 15 million baby girls born in India each year, nearly 25 percent will not live to see their 15th birthday.


The exceptionally high rates of malnutrition in South Asia are rooted deeply in the soil of inequality between men and women.

"…the poor care that is afforded to girls and women by their husbands and by elders is the first major reason for levels of child malnutrition that are markedly higher in South Asia than anywhere else in the world."

This point is made in the article, The Asian Enigma, published by Unicef in the 1996 Progress of Nations, in which the rates of childhood malnutrition in South Asia are compared with those in Africa. We learn that malnutrition is far worse in South Asia, directly due to the fact that women in South Asia have less voice and freedom of movement than in Africa. "Judgement and self-expression and independence largely denied, millions of women in South Asia have neither the knowledge nor the means nor the freedom to act in their own and their children’s best interests."

"Gender disparities in nutrition are evident from infancy to adulthood. In fact, gender has been the most statistically significant determinant of malnutrition among young children and malnutrition is a frequent direct or underlying cause of death among girls below age 5. Girls are breast-fed less frequently and for shorter durations in infancy; in childhood and adulthood, males are fed first and better. Adult women consume approximately 1,000 fewer calories per day than men according to one estimate from Punjab. Comparison of household dietary intake studies in different parts of the country shows that nutritional equity between males and females is lower in northern than in southern states."

Nutritional deprivation has two major consequences for women: they never reach their full growth potential and anaemia. Both are risk factors in pregnancy, with anaemia ranging from 40-50 percent in urban areas to 50-70 percent in rural areas. This condition complicates childbearing and result in maternal and infant deaths, and low birth weight infants.

One study found anaemia in over 95 percent of girls ages 6-14 in Calcutta, around 67 percent in the Hyderabad area, 73 percent in the New Delhi area, and about 18 percent in the Madras area. This study states, "The prevalence of anaemia among women ages 15-24 and 25-44 years follows similar patterns and levels. Besides posing risks during pregnancy, anaemia increases women’s susceptibility to diseases such as tuberculosis and reduces the energy women have available for daily activities such as household chores, child care, and agricultural labour. Any severely anaemic individual is taxed by most physical activities, including walking at an ordinary pace.

Market economy is highlighting the mother day, but killing of female foetus through sex-selective determination, killing of women for dowry, violation of right to choose by upper caste Hindus male funded by funding agency, exclusion of women from right of property, plight and struggle of Dalit and tribal women, child sexual abuse are not focus points for market economy.'s_Day

Shruti Nagvanshi is founder of Savitri Bai Phule Women Forum