Women Empowerment and Gender Issues: Peace, Harmony and Happiness
India’s Independence and Independence of Indian women, both have different connotations. Constitutional rights are for citizens but in reality women are still struggling to avail their citizen rights. If we want to assess the status of any country, state, village or family on the parameters of peace , happiness and harmony, all we need to do is to assess the state of women in the community there.
Since ancient times, we have been carrying out female feoticide or even worse female infanticide in a desire to have only a boy child. And if either by the grace of god or destiny, they do survive, we find multitude ways to put them to discrimination throughout their lives. Although our religious philosophy considers women as an incarnation of goddess, yet we even deny to recognize them as a human being.
Gender is a socio-cultural word. The occupation and behaviour of men and women in our society are defined based on the Societal definition/perception of the same. However, the word ‘sex’ only defines a man and woman from the viewpoint of bodily and physical event.
In our societal, historical and cultural perspective, gender comes into play in relation to the strength that a man and woman possess, where men are always considered to be more powerful than women. Therefore, gender should be considered a man-made concept whereas sex is a natural and physical uniqueness of human beings. Thus, Gender inequality can be termed as discrimination with women on basis of their gender. This type of unexplained discrimination against women is prevalent all across the world with it being more prominent within India.
Due to the prevalent socio-cultural milieu, women have also accepted their sad state in the society and have become an equal part of this patriarchal society.
Gender discrimination presents itself in different forms in the society – Female foeticide, Female Infanticide, skewed sex ratio, low women literacy, high maternal mortality rate. These are important parameters to present the state of women in India.
According to the Census 2011, India has a sex ratio of 943 and Haryana, Punjab and Chandigarh have a sex ratio of 879, 895, 818 respectively. Also, Census 2011 puts Male Literacy at 82.14% whereas Female Literacy was at 65.46 %.
I think that for change to occur at the grassroots and to better these numbers, it is necessary to put an end to such discrimination by raising a voice against it. Along with this, there is need to deliberate and discuss about solutions. The deliberations happening in this direction should happen at the grassroot level so that the changes happening in the field of Women Empowerment and Gender issues can give birth to Peace, Harmony and Happiness in the society. We did some similar efforts in some sections of society in the state of Haryana, about which you will be able to understand in the later part of my speech.
When there is a strong will power, working even in adverse circumstances becomes possible
I was chosen the Sarpanch of Village Bibipur, District Jind on 6th of June 2010. After being elected as Sarpanch, I said in my maiden speech that I don’t know how I will do it but I promise to bring my village’s name on the map of India.
After this I brought my Panchayat online through a website which had all information related to the panchayat, its work, voters list etc. thereby making it the first hi-tech Panchayat in all of India, for which it earned fame and name all across India.
Thereafter, we started a campaign by the name of “Mission Possible – Gaon bane Seher se Sundar” under which we worked on cleanliness in the village, solarisation and beautification of the village. For this work, we won the first prize of Rs. 50000 at the District level.
“Beti Hui hai” (Daughter has born) – The Three Magic Words
The biggest change came into my life when on 24th January 2012, my daughter was born at stroke of midnight in a private hospital. The nurse who came to us with this information had a very pale expression on her face and whispered carefully “Beti hui hai”. I had a happy face and while leaving the hospital I gave Rs. 2000 to the Nurse asking her to distribute sweets in the hospital. I also instructed her to inform all that a daughter is born in Sarpanch Bibipur family. However, the nurse was reluctant in taking the money saying that Rs 100 would do and the reason she gave was that she could accept such a huge amount only if it was boy child instead of the girl. Also she suggested that the Doctor might scold her for taking such huge amount as a token of gift for a girl child. This was first such incident that brought paleness to my happy face.
Woh kitabon mein darj tha hi nahi,
Jo padhaya sabak jamane ne
(Translation : It was never available in any book what was taught to me by this world and its experiences)
The next day, when I started distributing sweets amongst the Government official, a few of them without asking whether it was a girl child or a boy, congratulated me for having a boy as my sister had rung the plates that night to announce a new-born in the house ( A tradition followed in Haryana Villages for announcing the birth of a boy-child). People didn’t know of it being a girl child until the ritual of “Chatti ke Geet” (a local tradition that designates the birth of a girl child) happened. They were shocked to know about the truth. This incident kept bothering my soul for the next few days and I came to the understanding that through these incidents the society was trying to make me realise that being a father to a girl child puts one into a separate section of the society. Around 18 months later, my maiden visit to a health care sub centre, I found to my dismay that the females were hugely outnumbered.
Abhi Roshan hua jata hai raasta Woh Dekho ek aurat aa rhi hai
(Look there, that path is lighting up Treading on it is a woman nonetheless.)
Post this, after several meetings and brainstorming sessions and finally on 18th June, 2012, we announced for a women Gram Panchayat Meeting to abolish the ill practise of female foeticide which acquainted me to a fact that women refrained from attending meetings at the Chaupal and covered themselves even when passing by it. Chaupal was believed to be symbolic of the patriarchal pride. However, our consistent efforts and pursuing bore fruit and we could convince them that was a step needed for their upliftment. These bore fruit when more than 250 women gathered ,for the first time, at the Chaupal.
When I narrated the entire incident (of my daughter’s birth at the hospital) to the women, then instead of showing disapproval they shrugged it off, saying this was nothing different than what had been happening! On telling them about the poor sex-ratio in the place, a dweller, Sheela Devi pointed out that they had been taught that lineage could only be carried on by sons and if women conceive more girls they were to be murdered inside the womb. The discussion led me to conclude that this was a universal problem and especially prevalent in our country.
To put an end to this menace, a four member committee was formed comprising of three women and one man, with the mandate to register all the pregnant women in the second month of their pregnancy. They also had to create a list of houses which had a pregnant women with one girl child already in the family and to aware them on health concerns related to pregnancy.
Seeing the positive impact of this Gram Sabha in the village, I realised that I was also a representative of Nogama Khap (consisting of 22 villages in it) and that this topic can also be raised and worked upon in that capacity.
Those days Khap Panchayats were being portrayed in a negative light due to the cases of Honor Killing.
I was working on harmonious relationships between the villages and on arbitration on different issues in the communities. I put forth the idea before the Khap Panchayat to also work together on the issue of female foeticide.
Those days a programme named “Satyamev Jayate” was being televised which portrayed Khap Panchayats as being against women. In this regard I sent an invite to the host of the show, film
Actor, Aamir Khan to attend the Khap Panchayat meetings. Further I did talk to the representatives of Khap Panchayats to include women representatives in the Panchayat but it was protested against by many members. Also when the members got to know about me inviting Aamir Khan to Khap Panchayats, they protested against it as well. We had deliberations over this, and I proposed that we can skip the proposition of inviting Aamir Khan in favour of including women representative in the Khap.
Finally this was agreed upon in unison. There was a wave of happiness amongst the women when they were informed of this decision, however the idea of putting forth their views in Khap Panchayats, gave way to silence amongst them. The question about female participation from my family was raised to which I asked my sister Ritu and put forth her name after getting an agreement at my family’s end to this proposition. Thereafter we organised training classes for women on how to speak at Khap Panchayat meeting at the Village Chaupal. This form of Khap Panchayat got recognition and talks about it became common all across India and this is why we decided to invite the Khap Panchayats of Delhi, U.P. and Rajasthan as well.
We organized a Mega Khap Panchayat on 14th July, 2012 which was attended by around 130 Khap Panchayats, their representatives and various women and men. The Mega Khap Panchayat proved to be a good platform as women across all ages defied social norms to voice themselves and their opinions, condemning the atrocities they were facing, female foeticide, domestic violence, women’s rights on property and various other relevant issues. We were surprised to hear of a bold 92 year-old Santosh Devi quipping about how she had been married as a 15 year old to this village and was uneducated. She added, “since everyone was vocal about women’s rights then I would like to say that we women have been bearing these discriminatory practices for a while now and that we have had enough of this nonsense. We now “demand” change.”
The session, lasting for five hours concluded that the Government should use Section 302 to punish the offenders of female foeticide. The importance of the Maha Khap Panchayat increased manifolds when resolute women returned to their villages to rightfully self-proclaim their place in the Khap Panchayat.
Gaon (Village), Gotra, Guhand
It should be told to the youth, both men and women, to understand the concept of 3 Gs. Although a mere understanding shall not suffice unless it is imbibed. If carefully examined, if nuptial knots are tied outside one’s Village, Gotra and Guhand (Adjacent Village), the sanctity of the societal web remains intact. Along with this, we successfully banished 700 year-old customs promoted by Satrol Khap, spread across 44 villages. We divided the Khap into 4 Sectors so that the inter-sectoral marriages were now a possibility. We even agreed to felicitate inter- caste marriages.
Through the Khap Pathshala , we aimed to preserve the cultural heritage of Khap, increase participation of women in decision making in the modern age and involve several University Scholars in our drive.
Gram Sabha, Khap Panchayat and Workshops to abolish Honour Killing
To put an end to the menace of Honour Killing, A Gram Sabha (Bibipur and Khap Panchayat- Maham Chaubisi) was organised and it was decided that any individual/ group involved in the heinous crime shall be abolished by the society. Additionally, a workshop on the same was organised at HAU, Hisar which was attended by Khap representative, Gram Panchayat Representative, Police, Teachers and students with equal enthusiasm.
Beti Padhao Campaign
Sadly, most of the girls do not undergo graduation studies and their education remains limited to Class 12th. Therefore, it was unanimously decoided by the Gram Panchayat that it would provide financial and moral support to girls to pursue higher education. This bore fruitful results after 3 years of ceaseless toil.
To allocate and spend 50% funds , with due support and agreement from women, on Gram Vikas/ Rural Development
Chief Minister, Haryana; Shri Bhupendra Singh Huda, awarded our Gram Panchayat with 1 Crore on 15th July, 2012 , out of which 50% shall be used in Rural Development as was unanimously (men and women) decided.
Flag Hoisting by Mother of single Girl Child
A decision was taken by the villagers on 1st August,2012 that flag hoisting on 26th January and 15th August hereon, shall be done by mother of single girl child. She would also be honoured as the chief guest of the entire program. The success of the initiative could be assessed from the fact that we received over 42 applications from across the nation in the first edition.
Well Wishing on birth of daughters by Eunuchs
In a meeting in November, 2012 ,with the third gender, we unanimously agreed that they shall wish even on the birth of females as against the norm. I initiated the practise when I was blessed with a baby girl and wished whole heartedly by them!
Our Gram Panchayat was felicitated on 14th april, 2013 for its extensive work on Gender Sensitization and gender equality. The incentives received were utilized for establishing a Library for girls to aid in exam preparation, at the Village Chaupal.
Women Empowerment Stage
The Village Platform has always depicted the patriarchal society in India , therefore in a symbolic act, the women empowerment stage was formed at the centre of the village platform so that women could organize meetings to discuss social causes.
When the Panchayat was felicitated with Raji Gandhi Panchayat Sashaktikaran abhiyan award, then the fund was used in addition to the Panchayat fund and the main road in the village was built and named Lado Marg, after the women of the village.
Bahu Do- Vote lo (An awareness campaign for gender sensitization)
During the Lok sabha elections in 2014, we worked towards gender sensitization amongst the leaders through this campaign. We made a group of Avivahit Purush Sangathan ( Unmarried Men Group) and spread their presence and impact across 16 places in Haryana, putting forth their demands and difficulties not only in front of the local candidates but also wrote a letter to the Prime- Ministerial Candidate. Additionally to put an end to bride trafficking, we worked to spread awareness about the importance of marriage registration through another campaign.
Selfie with Daughter
I found that daughter seldom found a place on the walls of the house. Coincidentally, one day when my daughter was clicking a selfie seated next to me, while I was watching a song (SElfie Le le Re) in the famous movie, “Bajrangi Bhaijaan” ; an idea struck me! Why not we begin a social media campaign to empower the daughters of the country? This would help the youth understand and empathize with the issue of gender equality. Therefore the campaign, “Selfie with Daughter” was born wherein we awarded the best selfie with “Selfie with Daughter Award”. This campaign has since its inception, been praised umpteen times by the incumbent President and the Prime Minister.
When I kept receiving selfies from across the Globe even one year after the campaign, I set up www.selfiewithdaughter.world online museum in which over 10 Lakh Participations have been registered.
Gharon Ke Naam The, Naamo Ke Saath Aude The… Bahut talaash Kiya, Koi Insaan Na Mila.
The Houses bore names, names had designations,
But however much I searched, I failed to find a human soul.
Name Plates after daughters of the house
We broke a tradition in our village by putting name plates bearing the daughters’ names on each house as against the custom of using the men’s/Gotra’s name to emboss the name plates. We succeeded in replacing 1700 nameplates!
Lado Swabhimaan Utsav
This Programme was organized to get women social, economic and political rights. In this, the head of the family pledged the daughter/granddaughter her rights by placing his turban on her head.
In addition to the aforementioned initiatives we also launched the following campaigns for the empowerment of women such as : Pehle beti ko Bachao Phir Bhagwan ko Manao, Teaam Lado ka Gathan, Jagruk lado- Surakshit Lado Likhit Pariksha, Hightech under Burkha – For muslim Women, Tau- Tai Ramp Show with bati Bachao Bati Padhao Dialogue, dadi agar chahegi toh poti zaroor aayegi, Best Woman Chef of village, Digital India with Lado- Campaign for educating women in computers, Sabla, beti kii Badhai, Meri Pehchan- Meri Beti, Putrivati Bhav AAshirvad, Prasav Poorna Bhrun ling Parikshan aur kanya Bhrun Hatya- Ek hi sikke ke do pehlu, kuljyoti, galiyon ke naam janmjaat betiyon ke naam, Mahila Suraksha- Kiska Dayitva, Coffee with daughter, Gharelu Mahila Sashaktikaran, mahila Shakti Sthal, Swasthya Lado, Lado ki Teej, Pad Mitra, My Profile Pic- Women, beti ki Azadi, daughterhood, Inspiring Daughters, Papa ki Pyari hoti hain Betiyan, ek Khat Beti k naam, Selfie against Dowry, Selfie with Daughetr and Tree, Selfie with daughter Classes ( classes on gender sensitization). The impact of all these campaigns could be seen with the increased female sex ratio.
Bibipur Model of women Empowerment and Village Development
In 2016, we consolidated the “Bibipur Model of women Empowerment and Village Development” under which we adopted Vill. Tadola, Dhatasth District , Jind and Vill. Udana, District Karnal and began working on Village Development by Women Empowerment. These efforts bore fruit and the positive impacts could be seen in the villages.
Significant Contribution – SmarTgram Initiative
Our former President of India- Pranab Mukherjee adopted 5 villages initially on the principle of 4H (Happy, Humane, Hi-tech, Harmonious). He aimed for a holistic development and the concept of SmarTgram was born. The initiative was later extended to 100 villages in Haryana. Within this model, we incorporated “Bibipur Model of women Empowerment and Village Development” in which “Village Development by Women Empowerment” efforts have been undertaken in the last two years. Our Former President while addressing Vill. Daulah, Dist. Gurugram, Haryana asserted that only when the daughters prosper will the village prosper. These words echoed in every household of the village significant participation could be observed eversince.
Currently, Pranab Mukherjee Foundation has been rigorously conducting Outreach Programmes across the 103 adopted villages to spread awareness against Child Marriage, Female Foeticide, Veil system, encouraging women representatives to execute their Panchayat responsibilities on their own, establishing “Lado Pustakalaya” in the villages, encouraging women towards self employment and entrepreneurship.
The shift in the perspective of women can be assessed from the adage :
“ Beti ma ke Pet me toh khatajya
Par baawal ke Bagad main na khatave” Which now has an additional line
“Beti toh sasre main achhi lage
Beti aur vote jaat aale na mile
Ek aankh ne ke meeche ark e khole”
These couplets significantly reflect the changing perspectives of fathers in villages who not only take pride in their daughters but understand that whether it is a daughter or son, they are equally priceless and should be encouraged towards education and prosperity so much that they become capable enough to choose their partners.
In today’s scenario, daughters in Haryana are establishing themselves, leaving a mark wherever they go. They have proven themselves in male centric sports like wrestling, winning on national/international platforms such as Geeta Phogat, Vinesh Phogat, Sakshi Malik. Apart from these यू female Pilot Priyanka, Miss World Manushi Chillar, Gold Medalist Shooter Mannu Bhakar, Khap Panchayat participant Ritu and many more have been bringing laurels to the state and the country defying all social norms. They have changed Haryana’s perspective towards women and made us believe that women are no less than men. Today when a daughter is born in the hospital then a “selfie with daughter” is instantly posted online. They actively post photographs of their newly-born daughters and garner likes instantly!
We need to sensitize today’s youth to our cultural, traditional and redemption practices and find leaders alike Jyoti bai Phule and Raja Ram Mohan Roy with modern ideologies, who will sensitize and spread awareness such that we arrive to a day when there will be no need for all these campaigns and initiatives. When female foeticide and all gender related inequalities will be a thing of the past. With this we would put an end to the issue of declining sex ratio, which signifies the number of females against every 1000 men.
Policies made for women and their development should consider the Women and Child Development Ministry’s views and suggestions because Marketisation and Consumerism affect the lives of women greatly in the pursuit of availing these services.
Therefore to bring women empowerment on centre-stage, we need to put an end to the menace of Gender Issues for which we need to sensitize men towards gender issues and empower women and make them aware towards their rights.
Founder – Selfie With Daughter Campaign and Foundation
Advisor-Pranab Mukherjee Foundation