Tuesday February 25, 2020
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‘Daughter’s Pride Festival’: Celebrating India’s Daughters

It will need a lot of perseverance to achieve women's empowerment, says Jaglan, but the hope is that the names of girls being displayed outside doors will herald a brighter future for girls.

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India, Names
There is excitement in Patuka village in Haryana state as a man heads out to put nameplates with daughters' names on several homes. VOA

There is a sense of excitement in India’s Patuka village — adults and children look curiously as signs with the names of daughters are hammered outside several homes. It is a novelty in a village where patriarchal mindsets have long held sway.

As Mubin Sumssu poses proudly with his family after the name of his 14-year-old daughter is posted outside his gate, he envisions a new future for her. “I hope she studies well, progresses in life, does a good job and makes a name for herself.”

This is not the life that girls can traditionally aspire to in this Muslim-dominated village, which lies in one of the country’s most backward districts in the northern Haryana state. Many girls do not complete school and their lives revolve around household chores and looking after siblings from an early age. Most are married off young.

The nameplate campaign, called “Daughter’s Pride Festival,” hopes to make a difference by persuading village families to treat girls on par with boys. The aim: Names of girls plastered outside doors will carry the winds of change inside homes that continue to be ruled firmly by men.

The head of the village council is a 23-year-old woman, Anjum Aara — laws mandating female participation in local bodies have brought women like her to prominence. More educated than most girls in the village, Aara has been emphasizing the importance of educating girls since she came to Patuka after her marriage.

She is optimistic that the latest campaign will raise consciousness about the need to empower women. “It will make people understand that the daughter is the identity of the family,” Aara said. “They will be inspired to educate girls. Those with negative thinking about this will become more positive.”

Patriarchal mindsets

It is not an easy goal in places where women traditionally never had a voice. One village woman approached by a reporter for her reaction to the campaign refused to speak without her husband’s permission. The girls whose names have appeared outside homes are shy and appear to have limited understanding about its significance.

India, Names
Some families in Patuka village in Haryana state are posting nameplates of their daughters as part of a campaign that aims to change patriarchal attitudes and empower women. VOA

Nonetheless, the man spearheading the campaign, Sunil Jaglan, is optimistic that such steps will slowly usher in social transformation. The nameplate campaign is part of a model he followed in his village, Bibipur, when he was its head. It has now been adopted by the government in scores of villages.

Jaglan says it is not easy to persuade men to put their daughters’ names outside homes in villages with deeply entrenched customs.

He points out that virtually no women get a share of parental property despite laws granting them equal rights. Terming the campaign a “mind-strike,” Jaglan says that “this is a symbol to make people understand that putting the man’s name is not enough. The woman also lives there. She also has an equal stake in the home, in the property, in the village.”

The initiative cuts across religious communities in a country where patriarchal mindsets prevail among both the majority Hindu community and minority Muslims.

India, Names
Many families in Alipur village in Haryana state are now educating young girls, and say they will treat them on par with boys. VOA

About 20 kilometers down a road that cuts through fields blooming with the golden mustard crop, 25 out of 700 homes in another village boast of nameplates with their daughters’ names. Alipur is more prosperous, but traditional mindsets rule here as well — women automatically cover their heads when they see men.

Skewed gender ratio

In this Hindu-dominated village, the campaign is addressing another challenge: a skewed gender ratio. In Alipur, as in thousands of other villages, the number of girls dwindled in recent decades due to illegal sex-selective abortions. The practice, known as female foeticide, has flourished in a society that traditionally prefers boys.

Nobody knows that better than Mahesh Jangra, whose home flashes the name of his 10-year-old daughter, Dipti. Growing up in Alipur, he saw many more boys than girls in his village. But he says the imbalance has brought an awakening.

“Now people realize that who will the boys marry if there are no girls?” Jangra said. “First everyone gave priority to sons, now we want to treat sons and daughters equally and put the daughter’s name ahead.”

That is why he willingly put his daughter’s name outside his door, instead of that of his 15-year-old son.

India, Names
Many women in Alipur village in Haryana state keep their head covered, as tradition demands. VOA

So far it is the more affluent families like that of Jangra that have opted to post their daughters’ names. But as they are usually the trendsetters in the village, the hope is that others will follow suit.

Komal, a 19-year-old college student, is one of the few girls who has received a good education. She says her family did not need any persuasion to put her name outside. Komal feels the nameplate will send a message.

“When a passerby sees this, it will encourage them to do the same and take their thinking a step ahead,” she said.

As such campaigns make a mark, the state’s gender ratio has improved from 834 girls for 1,000 boys, according to the 2011 census, to 914 last year.

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It will need a lot of perseverance to achieve women’s empowerment, says Jaglan, but the hope is that the names of girls being displayed outside doors will herald a brighter future for girls.

“I cannot say everybody’s mindset has changed. But if families agree happily, then the message we are giving through these nameplates will ultimately percolate down.” (VOA)

Next Story

U.S. President Donald Trump Announces Military Deal With India

Trump Announces Military Deal With India, Expresses Optimism For Trade Pact

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Donald Trump, Narendra Modi
President Donald Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi shake hands during a "Namaste Trump," event at Sardar Patel Gujarat Stadium. VOA

By Steve Heman

President Donald Trump said Monday the United States will sign an agreement to sell $3 billion worth of U.S. helicopters and other equipment to India’s military.

The announcement came as Trump spoke at a welcome rally in the city of Ahmedabad, where a crowd of more than 100,000 people had gathered to hear from him and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Ahead of the visit, Trump had said a new major trade deal between the two countries would not be part of this trip.  But in his address he promised the two countries will be making “among the biggest ever trade deals,” and said he is optimistic that he and Modi can reach “a good, even great deal” for both sides.

Modi also struck an optimistic note about a potential trade agreement, saying ties were expanding in spheres ranging from defense, the energy sector and information technology, and that a resurgent India would present new opportunities for the U.S.

Donald Trump, Narendra Modi
President Donald Trump, with first lady Melania Trump, pause as they tour the Taj Mahal. VOA

Calling the two countries “natural partners,” Modi said they can help bring peace, progress and security not just in the Indo Pacific region, but in the entire world.

“We are inspired by a long-term vision, not just short term considerations,” Modi said.

Modi hailed President Trump’s visit saying it marks a new chapter between the two countries. “India-U.S. relations are no longer just another partnership. It is a far greater and closer relationship,” the Indian leader said.

“There is so much that we share, shared values and ideas, shared spirit of enterprise and innovation, shared opportunities and challenges, shared hopes and aspirations,” according to Modi.

Trump began his address by uttering the Indian greeting “Namaste,” and said that India “will always hold a special place in our hearts.”

“America loves India.  America respects India.  And America will always be faithful and loyal friends to the Indian people,” Trump said.

He celebrated India as a successful democracy, and said both countries are committed to working together to fight terrorism.

“Our borders will always be closed to terrorists and terrorism and all forms of extremism,” Trump said.

Trump’s visit began with a red carpet-welcome at the airport in Ahmedabad, in Modi’s home state of Gujarat.  Thousands of people then cheered along a motorcade route as Trump and Modi traveled a short distance to a stop at Mahatma Gandhi’s ashram.

Pre-trip beautification effort

Donald Trump, Narendra Modi
U.S. President Donald Trump, first lady Melania Trump, and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrive at the new Motera cricket stadium. VOA

A small army of workers was deployed ahead of Trump’s visit to Ahmedabad to build a 400-meter-long wall along the motorcade route to block the view of where poor people live. The hurried beautification project also includes the placement of about 150,000 flowerpots.

After the stadium event in Ahmedabad and before heading to New Delhi, the president and first lady Melania Trump made a visit to the country’s most famous tourist attraction – the Taj Mahal – where they were given a tour of the site.

Indian media reported Agra will be on lockdown for the visit, although there is concern about controlling the menacing monkeys roaming the grounds of the 17th-century Mughal marble mausoleum.

“The forest department has been requested to ensure that the monkeys stay away from the Taj during Donald Trump’s visit,” Archaeological Survey of India Superintending Archaeologist Vasant Kumar Swarnkar was quoted telling India Today.

While Trump expressed his optimism for a trade deal, he said last week he was “saving the big deal for later on.”

There is mutual agreement on dozens of elements for the pact, but several contentious sectors are unresolved, including medical devices, according to sources close to the talks.

“Whether or not there will be an announcement on a trade package is, really, wholly dependent upon what the Indians are prepared to do,” a senior administration official told reporters on Friday. “That said, we have a number of significant commercial deals, which are of great significance that we’re very pleased to announce in a number of key sectors.”

Indian officials are said to be perplexed that U.S. officials halted trade negotiations just prior to the Trump visit, expressing a view that Washington pursued brinkmanship that failed in the face of a more patient India, which is the world’s fifth biggest economy.

“There’s no great hurry here” to finalize a trade pact, retired veteran senior Indian diplomat T.P. Sreenivasan in India told VOA.

“I was personally a little bit surprised that the two sides weren’t able to get this deal done,” Jeff Smith, South Asia research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, said.

Donald Trump, Narendra Modi
U.S. President Donald Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi wave as they depart after a “Namaste Trump,” event. VOA

Bilateral talks

In India’s capital, bilateral talks are to focus on contemporary concerns.

Indian officials could raise Trump’s hard line on immigration.

“They view the immigration issue — whether it is offering visas to students or the H-1B highly skilled visas or the green card issue — as becoming worse in the last four years,” Pande told VOA.

It is uncertain whether Trump will discuss the issue of Kashmir.

Six months after Modi ended Kashmir’s special status under India’s constitution, local politicians there remain detained and internet service is restricted.

Trump “is not always very thoughtful when he talks about such issues, particularly Kashmir. So that’s a bee in his bonnet and it’s going to come up in some form,” Sreenivasan, a former Indian ambassador to the United Nations, predicted.

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has called for Trump to help resolve the dispute between the two nuclear-armed neighbors over Kashmir, something the U.S. president has previously indicated he is willing to do. But Modi has strongly rebuffed offers from third parties to mediate.

Indian officials are apprehensive about Trump commenting on the Kashmir issue during the visit.

“He might say that ‘I’m a great deal-maker and I can resolve Kashmir.’ But let’s hope he doesn’t,” Pande, of the Hudson Institute, said.

Some members of the U.S. Congress are also expressing concern about Modi’s controversial move to give Indian citizenship to immigrants from three neighboring countries — unless they are Muslims.

Trump, during the India visit, will raise such matters, particularly the religious freedom issue, which is extremely important to this administration,” according to a senior administration official.

“Attempts to lecture, coerce, punish, intervene in India’s affairs have traditionally not been particularly effective,” Smith, of the Heritage Foundation, said.

Trump will be the fourth consecutive U.S. president to travel to India, continuing the shift in allegiance by Washington to Delhi from India’s arch-rival and neighbor.

Khan, after a recent meeting with Trump during the World Economic Forum in Switzerland, said the U.S. president also promised to visit Pakistan soon.

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If “there is no complementary visit to Pakistan or no side agreement on some other way to assuage concerns there, then I think Pakistan will take it as a slight,” said Richard Russow, senior adviser for U.S.-India policy studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. (VOA)