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NDA government insensitive to atrocities on women and used their safety issue to win election: Jagmati Sangwan

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By Ishan Kukreti

All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA), an autonomous body working towards creating a better society for women to live in, boasts a membership of more than 1 crore.

Jagmati Sangwan, General Secretary AIDWA, is one of the many women in India who have faced gender based discrimination in their daily lives. But she is among the few who have decided to not suffer it with their heads bowed down, their hands folded.

Born and brought up in Haryana, where minister’s and panchayats are notorious for cooking up culinary or sartorial reasons for sexual crimes against women, Sangwan’s journey is nothing less than awe-inspiring. She has undoubtedly inculcated that one trait for which the people of Haryana are famous, courage.

In an hour long afternoon conversation with NewsGram at the AIDWA office in Shadipur, Delhi, Jagmati Sangwan talked about gender discrimination in India, its causes, government’s attitude towards women safety, her life as a female athlete in Haryana and much more. Here are the excerpts from the conversation.

Ishan Kukreti: What is All India Democratic Women’s Association and how did it come into existence?

Jagmati Sangwan: AIDWA was formed in 1981 by those women who had been a part and parcel of the freedom movement like Susheela Goplan, Anila Naglekar, Laxmi Shegal. The slogan “Janwad Samanata Nari Mukti” ( Democracy Equality Emancipation of Women) was raised by them. They felt that the path of development followed by India had not been addressing the issue of women’s equality.

We feel that Indian women are discriminated at three levels. First as citizens, then as part of the exploited class, and then as gender, in the form of dowry etc. So we take up programs on these dimensions. Our main focus is on the women from the weaker sections of the society.

IK: What are the main concerns about the women issues which AIDWA is looking at?

JS: We do awareness work, agitation, counseling and direct intervention of victimized women and policy intervention. These days our major area of intervention is food security. Our aim is strengthening and improving implementation of National Food Security Act and efficient working of PDS. Civic amenities are also a key focus area. We are also organizing our program and protests around efficient implementation of NAREGA. As a lot of women benefit form this scheme. We are also organizing women on the issue of 33% reservation. We also try to address policy issues related to violence against women.

One of the area of struggle has also been honor killing, in northern India in general and Haryana in particular. We have built a strong movement around this. It has become a national issue now. We forced the Haryana government to build protection centers. We will do massive campaigning in collages and schools in the near future to create awareness about the issue.

IK: You have been active in the struggle for women’s equality for long. What do you think are the major causes for such mistreatment of women?

JS: There are structural issues. Women don’t have equal property rights. Moreover, whatever they have in their name is also not under their control. They are discriminated at the level of entitlement. Then, there are unequal social institutions like marriage, dowry around which there is a whole range of traditions, beliefs and values which are against the equality of women. At the policy making level, the women is seen as a dependent individual and not as equal citizens of the country. The mindset is still very patriarchal and a woman is not looked as someone who has equal claim on the resources and the processes of decision making.

AIDWA Office, Shadipur, Delhi. Photograph by Ishan Kukreti
AIDWA Office, Shadipur, Delhi. Photograph by Ishan Kukreti

 

IK: In the light of increasing sexual violence against women, do you think the role of government has been satisfactory?

JS: AIDWA feels that the reason for increasing cases of rape or gang rapes is the insensitivity of the government. The woman organizations had been asking for an improvement in the laws relating to rape for more than 20 years but the government showed no interest. It was only after the Nirbhaya Case and the subsequent agitation, especially by youth, that the government did something.

Even policies which are being framed are not done with the right perspective and the policies which are in place are not being implemented properly. You see, even after creating a Nirbhaya Kosh, not a single rupee had been spent out of that fund, for the last two or three years.

The insensitivity was the same during the UPA government and its the same during this NDA government. The current government who said things like “Bhaut hua nari par atyachar, ab lao Modi sarkar” has completely used the issue of women safety and security to come gain power.

The UPA government said that it will create a One Stop Crisis Center at every district, but now the NDA government has decided that just one is enough in each state.

IK: Do you feel that the is a difference between the discrimination faced by a women in urban India and one in the rural?

JS: The placement of rural women make them more vulnerable to all kinds of violence. The infrastructure to provide protection and serve justice to the offenders is not available to these women. As compared to a woman in rural India, an urban Indian woman is comparatively well placed. She has some structures at her disposal where they can file their complaints, like police stations, NGOs, civil society organizations etc.

IK: You belong to Haryana were ministers and Khaps say all sorts of things about violence against women, why do you think this is so?

JS: Haryana is a paradox, in the sense that it is a state which is economically better off than most north Indian states, but socially it is the most backward. The sex ratio in Haryana is a shame to humanity, cases of domestic violence and rape are rife. I feel this is due to the political leadership of Haryana which has a very patriarchal mindset. For example, the Haryana government tried to abolish the Parental Property right twice. I don’t think any other state government has tried to do such a thing. Moreover, there aren’t many women in the political parties and government machinery in Haryana. Also, there has not been a social reform movement in the state which could improve the situation.

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IK: How did you get associated with the feminist cause?

JS: I was an athlete, a volleyball player, in a village near Sonipat. And many of my friends, who were more talented at the game than me, had to quit because of societal pressure. They were married off after their 12th exams. I was lucky because of Arya Samaj’s influence on my family and also because I made it to a sports college in Haryana which provided lodging facility.

When I went abroad to represent India, I saw that the techniques employed by the top teams there were those which my village friends had mastery over. This thing touched me at a very deep level and I decided to join the cause of improving and providing equal opportunities to women.

 

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Return to Jammu- A Novel About a Journey

The author has superbly captured the life of the kid in a cantonment, growing up with two sisters, his mother's struggle to run the house on a tight budget and his father, a happy-go-lucky man, who avoids the responsibilities of a good husband.

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He describes vividly how the family shifts to Jammu on his father's transfer, giving even the minutest details of their belongings, and of their journey to Jammu via Pathankot.
Sanasar, Jammu and Kasmir- wikimedia commons

This is the engrossing tale of Balan, a kid from South India who grows up in the towns of Punjab, Jammu and Haryana. It captures the eventful journey of Balan’s childhood, his schooling, and the friends he makes and loses due to transfers of his father, serving in the Indian Army.

“Return to Jammu” is a first-person narration and with the timelines, places and real-life personalities and events, the reader gets a feeling that it is an autobiographical novel. The author clarifies that all characters and the story per se are fictional but confesses to borrowing liberally from many episodes of his childhood in telling the story.

“If you happen to be acquainted with me enough to perceive a passing resemblance of me in Balan, you would be right; and yet if you find the resemblance rather tenuous and liberally adulterated, you will be equally right too,” says the author in a preliminary note.

Settled in Jammu, Balan is admitted into grade two, though just four years and seven months old. He remains younger and tinier than his peer group all through his schooling and even in college.
V. Raghunathan-Author of the book Return to Jammu, wikimedia commons

Balan, son of a junior commissioned officer hailing from Kerala and having Tamilian roots, is born in the Ambala cantonment in 1954. He narrates his story even before his birth, relying on family tellings.

The author has superbly captured the life of the kid in a cantonment, growing up with two sisters, his mother’s struggle to run the house on a tight budget and his father, a happy-go-lucky man, who avoids the responsibilities of a good husband.

He describes vividly how the family shifts to Jammu on his father’s transfer, giving even the minutest details of their belongings, and of their journey to Jammu via Pathankot.

Settled in Jammu, Balan is admitted into grade two, though just four years and seven months old. He remains younger and tinier than his peer group all through his schooling and even in college. Because of his diminutive size, he is saddled with sobriquets like pocket edition, Lilliputian and Madrasi, and sees his self-esteem falling dangerously.

He describes vividly how the family shifts to Jammu on his father's transfer, giving even the minutest details of their belongings, and of their journey to Jammu via Pathankot.
Jammu and Kashmir Map, wikimedia commons

It’s at Satwari near Jammu that he develops childhood friendship with many, most importantly with Jeevan Asha or Jeesha, who was two years older and also taller than him. Soon, however, Balan’s father is again transferred to Ambala and he is separated from his friends, especially Jeesha. He writes letters to his friends and receives responses from all, except Jeesha.

Overcoming all odds and with hard work, Balan completes his studies and joins the State Bank of India. Now a confident young man, he works hard and finally makes it to the Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad. (It was at IIM, Ahmedabad, that the author taught finance.)

Also Read: 70 years after Independence power reaches Elephanta Isle near Mumbai 

There he comes across a girl called Jasmine Pundith. He believes she is his good old buddy Jeesha. Bu she shows no sign of recognition and when he tries to remind her about their childhood friendship, Jasmine tells him that she is a citizen of the US and has no link with Jammu.

Convinced that she is none other than Jeesha, Balan travels to Delhi to find out more about her family. He even returns to Jammu, where he meets her brother Niranjan. What Balan comes to know from him forms the climax of the story.

The book is worth a read also for the author’s eye for detail, whether it is canal system of Jammu, the picturesque Kashmir valley, especially Uri, the pilgrimage to Vaishno Devi, or a visit by then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. (IANS)