Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Education, Prudence & Literature Must For Women Empowerment: Vaidehi

The President of the Students' Union of a college was asked to address a huge gathering during a function. The girl was so scared and shy that she did not stand up and the crowd laughed at her. Seeing the embarrassment of the President and unable to bare the fact that the girl did not make use of the opportunity given to her, the Joint Secretary wrote an article to 'Sudha' magazine about the incident. When she realised about the sensitive nature of the President and that she had made a mistake in writing the story, the girl requested the Editor to not publish it. It was however published, but with a different name – Vaidehi. This pen name stuck on to the girl who has earned a prestigious place in modern Kannada literature.

Janaki Srinivasa Murthy, well-known as Vaidehi, is a native of Kundapur taluk in Udupi district. She was into writing right from her high school days. Her writings depict the plight of women and she uses this weapon to fight for women and towards social transformation. She has won various awards including the Kendra Sahitya Academy Award in 2009 and the Kannada Sahitya Academy Award in 1993 & 1998.
Vaidehi was in the city on March 21 to inaugurate the Kannada Sangha of Maharani's Arts & Commerce College. She spoke and interacted with young girls of the college after which she shared her views with us.
Come Women's Day, everybody is giving speeches. Girls applaud the speech but continue to bare the harassment; men who nod their heads in agreement with the speaker go home to torment their wives. Then what is the point of these speeches?
Vaidehi: First and foremost, nobody has the right to harass you, physically or mentally; be it your parents or anyone else. Unless permitted by you, nobody can touch you. If a girl is harassed even by her parents, she has every right to protest. There is no need for her to quietly bare the pain fearing society. But how does the girl become aware of these things?
Here is where education comes in. It makes the girl aware of her rights. It enlightens her about the rights and wrongs of society. I personally found my inner strength through constant reading. It makes you aware of the world.

There are Laws and Acts to aid women who are victims of various crimes. But how do you prevent crimes against women and will they get justice?
Vaidehi: By bringing strict laws into force, we can create a fear in people that if they commit a crime, the system will punish them. Once they are warned, obviously people will think before committing a crime. Also many cases have been successfully fought by lady advocates who put their heart and soul into the case to get the victim justice. It would be wrong to blindly conclude that cases of harassment won't stand.

People, without a second thought, point a finger at the girl’s character in situations where a person is being accused of misbehaving with a girl. How can girls defend themselves?
Vaidehi: It is this fear of 'name getting spoilt' that men misuse. The society may pair a girl with others but once the girl strongly opposes and says she is not wrong, no one can do anything. The society always points out saying 'You are a woman' but we never hear the same for men. Once a woman stands up and says 'Yes I am a woman, so what?' everyone will be forced to keep quiet.
We are physically distinguished as women, but in the end we all are humans. Then why discriminate? Also, girls should know the joy of being a woman, of motherhood and at the same time they should also be aware of their rights and the harassment they are made to face. Education, prudence and literature are a must for women empowerment.

What is your advice to budding women writers?
Vaidehi: Be patient. In the beginning, your work may get rejected. But never lose hope or become disheartened. Keep trying until your voice is heard and don't give up. 
(Published in Star Of Mysore dated March 22, 2011)

Ladies Compartment... A Wondrous World of Women

"It’s a common notion that when women gather, they only speak about jewels and saris but that's not true. Nowadays our discussions are based on topics related to current affairs also. The compartment has become more like a learning centre and maybe we would have missed something great in our lives if we hadn’t started travelling in that compartment — a wondrous world of women..."

Our life is like a rail journey. Every station brings in new experiences, new places and new turns. So many people enter our lives and many leave. But the train keeps moving and the journey continues…
The play Ladies Compartment is a similar story but in its literal sense and was staged at Maharani's Arts & Commerce College on March 9 as part of International Women's Day celebration.
Members of the Ladies Compartment
The play is a story of nine women who meet daily in the ladies compartment of the 8.20 am passenger train from Mysore. The story unfolds with one of the friends recollecting the suicide of a fellow passenger she had witnessed the previous day. It depicts the daily struggle of these ladies who need to maintain a balance at home and in the office. Their fight for seat in the overcrowded compartment, yet their adjusting nature, daily conversations, hardships faced by them, have been very well narrated.
Though none of the nine ladies are trained theatre artistes, they have all come together to spread a common message — the problems faced by women. The nine passengers include Dr. Sujata Akki, Lecturer at Govt. PU College, Besagarahalli, Maddur; Rukmini, Principal, DTI, Ramnagar; C.B. Padma, Headmistress National Children's School, Mandya; C.S. Poornima, Lecturer, Pandavapura Girls College; C.Y. Gunasheela, Lecturer, Manipal Institution of Fashion Design, Mandya; Umme Halima, Guest Lecturer, Govt. ITI, Mandya; Maheshwari, Lecturer, PES College, Mandya; Asha Swarnalatha, Lecturer, Mandya and Varsha Rani, FDA, Mandya. 
Says Poornima, who has also worked with GPIER and Janamana theatre troupes in the past, "Earlier we had made a club called the 'Dahipuri Club' in the ladies compartment. Every Friday each of us would get one ingredient and prepare dishes in the train and share will all the passengers in the compartment. Later we felt we wanted to do something more and that is when we thought of staging a play. Dr. Sujata joined the journey in July after her transfer. Since we got to know she writes plays we asked her to write one in which we all could act. This is our way of fighting against exploitation of women. Some of the members faced difficulty in convincing their family members for this. But finally we have staged the play successfully at two places."
C.S. Poornima (left) and Dr. Sujata Akki
The writer and director of the play Dr. Sujata Akki is a native of Bellary. She started writing plays while studying in PU and had also created a group called 'Sister Nivedita Sangha' and would make high school students stage plays. She specialises in folk based plays and has been awarded Ph.D for her study on female theatre artistes of Bellary. One of her plays Madevi, has won three awards. When asked about how this journey began, Dr. Sujata said: "I used to work in Bangalore rural before getting transferred in July. From then I started travelling in the 8.30 passenger train. Many of the other members have been travelling for almost 14 years. However, this drama took birth on Feb. 16. The other members asked me to write a drama to be staged for Women's Day and the next day the script was ready. It is mainly based on our discussions, views and our daily experiences. We have included scenes like a husband beating his wife for money and the power of Sthree Shakthi Sanghas. Each one of us has a hidden artise but don't get the right opportunity. Hence we created this opportunity for ourselves."
Excellent effort by the members
When asked about the response they got for the play staged at Mandya on Women's Day (Mar.8) Dr. Sujata said, "Since the incidences of female feticide are large in Mandya we wanted to stage it there first. I got an invitation to speak during a Women's Day function and I proposed to stage this play. The women folk could connect with the theme of the play and hence we got a very good response."
"At first we wanted to stage the play on the Railway Platform for which we did not get permission. Next we decided to turn it into a street play. But later we got this stage to perform. Every day we would meet right after work for practice and later go home. Times are there when we would practice the songs even while travelling in train," added Poornima.
Expressing the hardships faced by them at the station, Rukmini said "There is only one compartment for ladies wherein almost two busloads of people are cramped together. Even after continued requests for adding one or two more compartments, the authorities have not responded. Also in some of the trains, boys enter our compartment and start troubling the girls."
A scene from the play
Another member Padma said, "It's a common notion that when women gather, they only speak about jewels and saris. But that is not entirely true. Nowadays our discussions are based on topics related to current affairs. The compartment has become more like a learning centre and maybe we would have missed something great in our lives if we hadn't started travelling in that compartment. It is a wondrous world of women."
These ladies are planning to create an association in the name of 'Ladies Compartment' and conduct summer camps for women and young girls in staging such dramas. Let us hope their journey continues and reaches more and more stations to spread their message.

(Published in Star Of Mysore dated March 13, 2011)

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A Ride

While planning a vacation, each person has his/her own choice of place. If one wants to go to a river side, another will wish to see the desert or snowy mountains, etc. But what if all these exist in a single place — right here in India, in Ladakh? The name Ladakh was derived from the words ‘La’ (Passes) and ‘Daks’ (many) meaning ‘Land of many passes.’ Situated in the North Western region of J&K, Ladakh is bounded by Chinese Tibet to the East and South East, Kashmir Valley to the West, Kuen-Lun range and Karako-ram to the North, Lahul and Spiti of Himachal Pradesh to the South. It consists of two districts, Leh and Kargil, among which Leh is the largest district in the country in terms of area.
Dry & rocky mountains, serene monasteries and picturesque lakes competing with the sky for the perfect blue shade are all synonymous with Ladakh. However, there is something beyond all these in this place which makes one go spellbound. I discovered this during a ride on the world’s highest motorable road.
Along the entire stretch of the journey starting from Leh to Khardungla Pass to Nubra Valley, we witnessed different faces of nature keeping us at the edges of our seats. As the ride began, a little distance uphill, we came across the ‘Khardungla frog.’ It’s not a local frog species but a large boulder shaped like a frog by nature and painted very artistically by an unknown person. It is a perfect blend of nature’s creation and man’s imagination. We were also lucky enough to spot the Himalayan Marmot as it usually camouflages well with the stones and is very swift. They are also called as the ‘Tibetan snow pig’ by locals. 
The Khardungla Frog
Himalayan Marmot
As we reached the top, the Khardungla top, at a height of 18,380 ft, we saw nature at its best with a breathtaking view of snow capped peaks all around us. It is marked by the many colourful prayer flags hung all around. And what could be better than enjoying the scene with a great cup of lemon tea or soup — Rinchen Cafeteria (‘world’s highest cafeteria’ as they have named it) is at your service. There is also a souvenir shop located at the top. A long ride down hill and then again through many mountains took us to the Nubra Valley. From Leh to the valley, around 5 hours drive, we passed through South Pullu and North Pullu (both of which are Army camps) and Khardung La in between. All along the journey, we saw differently coloured mountains ranging from rocky brown to purple and at times reminding us of the Grand Canyon in the movie Mechenna’s Gold.
Nubra Valley is drained by the Shayog and Saychan rivers. The Shayog River, originating from the Karakoram Mountains, is joined by Saychan in Shatsa village near Diskit. Due to its soft, fertile soil and comparatively thicker vegetation, the Nubra Valley is also known as Ldomra meaning the ‘Valley of flowers.’
Khardong, Khalsar, Deskit, Hundar, Sumur and Tirith are the major villages of Nubra Valley, offering a variety of camps and guest houses of which we chose Tirith camp. The camp consists of a number of tents furnished just like a hotel room. Also most of the camps have their own kitchen gardens and apple orchards and our hosts were very generous with their supply of juicy apples! 
Tirith Camp
Next day we headed to Diskit which is the district head quarters of Nubra. A rugged road through this village leads to the Diskit Gompa (monastery) situated at a height of about 200 mts. It is the largest and oldest monastery of Nubra Valley. Founded by Changzen Tserab Zango in 1420, it belongs to the Gelugpa (yellow hat) sect of Tibetan Buddhism. The monastery, with the traditional prayer flags and wheels, contains beautiful Buddhist murals and idols of fierce guardian deities, whose heads are uncovered only during festivals. A number of Tibetan and Mongolian texts have also been stored here. It is believed that an evil anti-Budd hist Mongolian demon once lived near the Monastery and was killed here. It is also said that the head and hand of the demon still lies inside. The topmost level of the Monastery provides a panoramic view of the entire central part of Nubra Valley. There is a beautiful 35 mt statue of Maitreya Buddha near the Monastery, facing the Shyok River towards Pakistan. 
Diskit Gompa
Maitreya Buddha
Shortly after leaving Diskit, towards the right, are the sand dunes of Hunder. Breaking the monotony of Monasteries and mountains, this desert is also a home to the double humped Bactrian camel. We were left wondering about its existence here as one look around showed us rocky mountains, snow capped peaks, blue river flowing from glaciers and right in the middle of all these, a desert with two humped camels! Visitors can also take a ride on these camels.
Sand Dunes of Hunder
Bactrian Camel
As we headed back to Leh, Khardungla greeted us again with its beauty. However, this time it was with the start of snowfall (our visit was during Sept.). What more can we ask on a vacation after seeing a river, desert and snowfall, all at once?
So the next time you are confused about deciding a place for vacation, pack your bags and take a ride on the world’s highest motorable road and beyond! 

** Photographs in this article are the property of the author. Kindly do not use it elsewhere**

(Published in Star Of Mysore dated March 9, 2011)

A Heartfelt Guru Dakshina

This Women's Day, I got to interview from my paper, two ladies who have made a name in their respective fields. One of them was my school Principal, the other a senior Advocate. I have learnt so much from my school that it was a great feeling to actually give something back. Following is the interview with my Principal... A heartfelt Guru Dakshina...
Joyce Lobo
School is said to be our second home. Our teachers lay the basic foundation for us in terms of education and thus shape us as better human beings. Teachers are guiding lights who prepare the younger generation to face the ever-changing world. One such teacher who has been a beacon for thousands of students is Joyce Lobo, Principal of St. Joseph's Central School, Vijayanagar 2nd Stage.
Joyce Lobo finished her B.Ed. from St. Joseph's College of Education bagging 9th rank in the University and went on to complete M.Ed. from Annamalai University and MA in English from the University of Mysore. She joined St. Joseph's Central School in 1985 as a science teacher and became its Principal four years later. Now the School is in its silver jubilee year and much of the credit goes to her for constantly teaching the children 'To know, to love and to serve.'

Studies apart, how is the school educating youngsters on respecting women?
Joyce: We give equal opportunity to both boys and girls. In any activity, we don't discriminate among them. In such situations even the girls become confident and competent.
We teach boys to respect their classmates. Only then will they respect their wife, women at workplace and in society in future. We see to it that they don't look down upon others. Even though there is no separate class taken up for these issues, according to the situation we inculcate such values in their minds. When all are given equal opportunity they automatically respect each other.

How are girls taught to safeguard themselves?
Joyce: Since many girls travel by autos and buses these days, safety is a major cause for concern. At school we teach them to distinguish between good and bad touch and also to not allow anyone to take advantage of them. Especially from high school, we see to it that girls are made more aware about their security. Even the parents are open with their children and they also have an important role to play in this regard.
My School
What role does the school play in reducing crime against women?
Joyce: I haven't seen much cases of crime against women here. However, if such cases do occur inside or outside the school, the girls bring it to our notice. We immediately take appropriate measures and also inform the parents.

As a Principal of such a big institution, where do you think India stands in girl education?
Joyce: In terms of girl education, urban regions have improved a lot over the years. Compared to earlier days, now girls are also pursuing higher education and have their own goals. They do not confine themselves within four walls but are aiming much higher. However, girls in rural areas have a very long way to go. Much enlightenment is required for which long term planning and effective implementation is needed. Girls in rural areas too should pursue professional courses in order to become independent financially and otherwise. It is also in the hands of the girls to decide if they want to fight for their right to education or they want to stay at home.

'To Know, To Love, To Serve'
Has there been any challenging situation?
Joyce: I face a new challenge every day. The mindset of students and parents is changing by the years. So we have to keep updating ourselves accordingly.

What has been your biggest contribution to the school? And what have you got back from it?
Joyce: I always try to inculcate good values in the students. I believe that good manners and discipline will allow the students to see life in the right way.
Over the past 25 years, I have gained immense experience on how to deal with people. It has given me the confidence to run such a prestigious institution. It has also helped me think differently and heed to the needs of teachers and children. The experience has made me independent and has given me the strength to face new challenges boldly.

(Published in Star Of Mysore dated March 5, 2011)