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In a country where quality healthcare remains a privilege of the rich and influential, a silent army of women, clad in pink sarees, work tirelessly and selflessly to make basic healthcare facilities accessible to those who live on the margins of the growing Indian economy, particularly in the country’s vast rural hinterland.
Barely getting time to sleep as calls for help keep coming round the clock, this pink army — as they are popularly known — is the backbone of the primary healthcare in India’s 600,000 villages, providing a connect between the community and the inadequate public health system. These are the trained female community health activists — called Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHA) — under the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) of the Indian government.
Instrumental in bringing down the infant mortality rate from over 50 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2005 (when ASHA was launched) to 34 deaths in 2016, these women provide information to people in rural areas about health, sanitation and nutrition; conduct ante-natal and post-natal checkups; assist women during their deliveries, deliver polio vaccines and conduct health surveys.
With many of them mothers themselves, they often take along their children to the clinics at unearthly hours because they can’t leave them behind at home.
Clad in the trademark pink saree, her work uniform, state health worker Godavari Anil Rathore, 23, a resident of Kalaburgi, Karnataka, about 623 km north of state capital Bengaluru, is one of the youngest employed as an ASHA.
“When I was a kid, I remember how my aunt had a baby and lost it just within two months. The baby had contracted malaria after she was born, and my aunt couldn’t bear the pain,” Rathore told IANS.
“It’s an unimaginable pain not to be able to save your own baby, which is one of the reasons why I decided I should help women,” she said.
Rathore has helped over 100 women in her district in delivering healthy babies over the last three years that she has been working as an ASHA.
“It makes me extremely happy looking at women living in the remotest parts of the country with not much money to focus on their health giving birth to healthy children.
“Even though it means that we work an average of 12 hours each day, taking health surveys, carrying out polio drives, assisting pregnant women from the district I live in — right from medical checkups during pregnancy, to the delivery, then getting the baby all the vaccinations, and in the end receiving only about Rs 1,500 for a month.”
Rathore said that every woman she works with “becomes family to me, even if they need me at 3 a. m., I’m there.”
For many Indian villages where hospitals aren’t accessible easily, 860,000 ASHAs across the country (according to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, 2014) are the only ray of hope in providing medical assistance to thousands of people, and have been working extensively on eliminating polio and malnutrition among infants.
Making sacrifices every day to build a healthier society, these women find it hard to even make ends meet, earning a paltry sum for their services. Over 15,000 ASHAs from Karnataka staged a protest last month at Freedom Park in the heart of the city for a better remuneration from the state so that they could live with dignity.
Rathore, like many other ASHAs, barely sleeps, as calls for help keep coming in from pregnant women round the clock, after a long day of delivering polio vaccines or conducting health surveys. Many a time, she can’t leave her two-year-old girl, Lakshmi, behind at home and takes her along.
“Sometimes, I feel I’m raising my child within clinics with my husband not being at home all the time. But I am glad she’s growing up learning to be empathetic, knowing that as humans we must be able to help one another without any hesitation,” said Rathore with a smile.
ASHAs take pride that they’ve managed to get their communities talking about health and hygiene.
“We are overwhelmed to see people in villages pay attention to sanitation and building their toilets and purifying their water, which they earlier didn’t care much for. These are very important when we talk about health,” Rathore explained.
With every right to quit their difficult job, the women say they continue on because the power to be a part of the birth of a healthy life is unparalleled.
Geetha B, 31, from Ballari district, has been an ASHA for nine years now. A mother of two boys, she takes the responsibility of overseeing the health needs of over 1,500 people in Hariginadone village in Ballari district seriously.
“My vision is always towards making the village a better place. I would have assisted at least 300 women in these nine years in their pregnancies and now I see the kids going to school within the village, children I would have helped while growing up to be healthy. It fills me with happiness each time.”
“Pregnancy comes with a hope for every family. Our job satisfaction comes from seeing their dreams come true, in helping India’s next generation grow up healthy.”
A mother of five children, 35-year-old Nagomi K. from Raichur district, about 400 km to the north of Bengaluru, has seen ASHAs help in transforming the villages in the district over the past 12 years that they have been working.
“In many villages, the women are blamed if something happens to the baby. They have to live with guilt that it was their fault that the baby was born prematurely,” Nagomi told IANS.
With their constant visits to the villagers’ homes for checkups, men also tend to learn from them about their wives’ health, which doesn’t happen in healthcare centres, where the men are just asked to wait in the waiting rooms, she said.
“Even though many don’t recognise the work we do, we are trying to act as bridges involving both man and a woman when it comes to a pregnancy, and having villagers lead better lives in general with better health.”
“A lot of times I assist women who cannot even afford a strip of medicine. That’s when I give them whatever money I have so that the health of the community is never compromised,” Nagomi said.
As Karnataka State ASHA Workers’ Association Secretary D. Nagalakshmi puts it, “These women are the lifelines for our country in letting those who cannot access medical help get every kind of support. They must be credited with raising a majority of India’s next generation.”
Each of the 37,000 ASHAs in Karnataka are working despite severe hardships and have some moving stories to tell, but they don’t hesitate to make any sacrifice in building a healthier country, she said.
India ranks 131 among 188 countries on the Human Development Index (HDI) 2016 released by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). India was placed behind countries like Gabon (109), Egypt (111), Indonesia (113), South Africa (119) and Iraq (121) among others. The government is working towards improving this rating by creating competition between states to perform better on key social indicators like infant mortality rate, maternal mortality rate and life expectancy.
(This feature is part of a special series that seeks to bring unique and extraordinary stories of ordinary people, groups and communities from across a diverse, plural and inclusive India and has been made possible by a collaboration between IANS and the Frank Islam Foundation. (IANS) Bhavana Akella can be contacted at email@example.com) By Bhavana Akella
"In India, to be born as a man is a crime, to question a woman is an atrocious crime, and this all because of those women who keep suppressing men in the name of feminism."
Feminism, a worldwide movement that started to establish, define and defend equal rights for women in all sections- economically, politically, and socially. India, being a patriarchal society gives a gender advantage to the men in the society thus, Indian feminists sought to fight against the culture-specific issue for women in India. Feminism itself is nothing but a simple movement that pursues equal rights for women (including transwomen) and against misogyny both external and internal. It states nowhere that women should get more wages than men, that women deserve more respect than men, that's pseudo-feminism.
Pseudo feminists state that women deserve more respect and rights, any other gender deserves no respect. They feel that women should be the ones ruling the world and at higher positions. When feminism takes a turn for extremities it becomes pseudo-feminism and people who label themselves as feminists will bash anyone who speaks against even the wrongdoings of a woman. They'll bash women who're wife and sisters for not speaking up and support any women criticizing political leaders even if it's completely irrational. This is where hypocrisy and pseudo-feminism merge with each other.
They take advantage of the rights given to women to protect themselves to threaten other genders. The rights given to women are supposed to make them feel reassured that they can reach out to the judiciary if their rights are being hampered not to threaten to make the victim sound like the culprit.
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Indian Feminist Movement has made significant progress however, even in the modern world women are still unsafe and are discriminated against when it comes to getting a job, land ownership, and access to education. While filling the official papers it is still asked "Wife of /Daughter of:….."
People in India still continue the practice of sex-selective abortion, abandoning the girl child, not letting girl child study instead they should learn household chores, they are seen as a burden to the family. Such injustices make feminism such an important movement, gender equality is worth fighting for to create a safe environment for women. Feminists over the years have been criticized for focusing on the rights of privileged women and not giving equal representation to poorer and lower caste women, which has led to separate caste-specific feminist organizations and movements.
Some notable milestones in the Feminist Movement
- Raja Ram Mohan Roy campaigned against Sati Pratha (practice in which a widow sacrificed herself by sitting atop her deceased husband's funeral pyre) and child marriage
- Savitribai Phule started the first school for girls at Bhidewada in Pune city in 1848.
- In 1972, SEWA, the biggest trade union for women was set up by Ela Bhatt for women working in the informal sector.
- The Chipko Movement was launched and led by women in 1973.
- #MeToo movement against sexual harassment and abuse was started in 2006 and revived in the year 2015.
People in India still continue the practice of sex-selective abortion, abandoning the girl child, not letting girl child study instead they should learn household chores, they are seen as a burden to the family.Unsplash
Feminism is often misunderstood as pseudo-feminism and hence, becomes the target for public hatred and is accused of wronging other genders under the façade of feminism. It is misunderstood by Indians as female domination instead of gender equality. Indian society and Indian feminists believe that only men are perpetrators of a heinous crime like rape and they refuse to even recognize the men who say they were raped and it's the toxic masculinity in the society that believes how can a woman rape a man? Reality is different from what we believe, women can be the perpetrator too, women threaten to file a case of domestic violence, or sexual assault against innocent people just to fulfill their ego.
Thankfully feminism and pseudo feminism are two separate concepts and feminism is just about equality and not judgment. Indian society and feminists actually need to understand the difference between the two and stop tarnishing the Feminist Movement as a whole.
Keywords: Feminism, World, India, Pseudo-Feminism, Gender
Kerala is a land of many good things. It has an abundance of nature, culture, art, and food. It is also a place of legend and myth, and is known for its popular folklore, the legend of Yakshi. This is not a popular tale outside the state, but it is common knowledge for travellers, especially those who fare through forests at night.
The legend of the yakshi is believed to be India's equivalent of the Romanian Dracula, except of course, the Yakshi is a female. Many Malayalis believe that the Yakshi wears a white saree and had long hair. She has a particular fragrance, which is believed to be the fragrance of the Indian devil-tree flowers. She seduces travellers with her beauty, and kills them brutally.
Yakshi idol in Veroor, Sri Dharamashastha temple Image source: wikimedia commons
The Yakshi is believed to live in a palm tree which can appear like a palace. Victims are taken here before they are killed. Travellers on highways are often advised not to stop near heavily forested areas, or speak to anyone who closely resembles a Yakshi. Some believe she can change form, while other hold to the belief that she doesn't. after securing her victim, the only trace left behind is body parts like hair, nails, and teeth.
They say, like other ghosts, a Yakshi's feet will not touch the ground. This is something to look out for. Mysterious deaths have been reported across the rural areas in Kerala, and all these have been attributed to the legend.
Keywords: Legends, Yakshi, Urban legend, Ghost, Kerala, Myth, Vampire
The LGBTQ+ acronym stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and others. In India LGBTQ+ community also include a specific social group, part religious cult, and part caste: the Hijras. They are culturally defined either as "neither men nor women" or as men who become women by adopting women's dress and behavior. Section 377 of the India Penal code that criminalized all sexual acts "against the order of nature" i.e. engaging in oral sex or anal sex along with other homosexual activities were against the law, ripping homosexual people off of their basic human rights. Thus, the Indian Supreme Court ruled a portion of Section 377 unconstitutional on 6th September 2018.
But the question is, "was India always against homosexuality"? Has the concept of homosexuality being unnatural existed forever? No, in Indian history and Hinduism homosexuality has never been an offense, in fact in several instances it has been depicted how people embraced their identity, be it sexual identity or gender identity. Section 377 was brought to India by the British in 1862, while India was colonized. Even after the Independence, it was only in 2018 that the Supreme Court ruled it as irrational and illogical.
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Homosexuality in Ancient India
When Supreme Court decriminalized homosexuality in India, there was an uproar about it being a western ideology and liberalism. But in reality, homosexuality has existed since the time of the Vedas. The Gay and Lesbian Vaishnava Association (GALVA) researched and discovered that it was around 3102 B.C. (during the Vedic Age) that homosexuality or non-normative sexual identity was recognized as "Tritiya Prakriti", or the third nature. Ancient India not only made mentions of homosexuality but accepted it as well.
Hinduism is the most vastly followed religion in India. Hinduism does not explicitly mention homosexuality however it does contain a homosexual theme and characters in its text. There have been various instances in our scriptures and texts that have introduced us to LGBT+ characters such as the androgynous form of Shiva and Parvati Ardhanariswara meaning "the half-female lord". One of the most popular and ancient texts on sexuality, eroticism, and emotional fulfillment of life, "Kamasutra" has a complete chapter dedicated to homosexuality and homosexual sex. Numerous Hindu sculptures and temples have statues depicting homosexual activities.
Numerous Hindu sculptures and temples have statues depicting homosexual activities. Facebook
Our Mughals were Queer
Mughals are often seen under the light of cruelty, rigid ethics, nobility, and polygamy. Simultaneously, Mughals are also the ones credited for the emergence of Sufism, abolished jizya tax, love beyond religion, classes, and gender.
In the Baburnama written in memoirs of our very first Mughal ruler Muhammad Babur, several instances documented Babur's infatuation and affection towards a teenage boy named Baburi. We also have multiple Persian couplets as evidence of Babur's affection for Baburi. Mughals engaged in homosexuality and pederasty, and they believed that later was a form of "pure love".
But as time passed homosexuality was suppressed more and more though people practiced it in secret if revealed they were punished. According to the Fatwa-e-Alamgiri Sharia-based text of the Mughal Empire, there is a common set of punishments for homosexuality, which could include 50 lashes for a slave, 100 for a free infidel, or death by stoning for a Muslim.
British Raj and Independence of India
In 1862, Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code that criminalized homosexual sex came into force. Even after Independence in 1947, the section remained a part of the Indian Constitution. There were protests all over the country to give people of the LGBT+ community basic human rights but it was not until 2018 that The Supreme Court of India ruled the portion of Section 377 has unconstitutional and struck it off. One judge said the landmark decision would "pave the way for a better future.". With Section 377 gone are LGBT+ people allowed to fall in love freely? No, people are still afraid to love because of the stigma in our society when it comes to homosexuality; they are seen as lesser humans.
ALSO READ: Significant Support for Rights for LGBTQ+
Although the Supreme Court has decriminalized homosexual activities, same-sex marriage remains illegal in the country. Homophobia is still prevalent in India, and homosexual children would rather commit suicide than come out to society with their true identity, that's how harsh of a world we live in. Lacking support from family, society, or police, many gay rape victims do not report the crimes. In 1977, writer and Indian mathematician Shakuntla Devi published "The World of Homosexuals". It was the first study in the Indian context; the book contains interviews with homosexual men set in the years of Emergency. She wrote, "rather than pretending that homosexuals don't exist it is time we face the facts squarely in the eye and find room for homosexual people." We've had small victories in our fight against homophobia and getting LGBT+ community the rights they deserve as humans, but we still have a long and exhausting fight ahead of us.