Stories of women on ground zero of gender battle
By Madhusree Chatterjee, Book: "Sense and Sensitivity: Media's Engagement with Gender Issues"; Editor: Dolly Thakore; Pages: 206; Publisher: Laadli: A Girl Child Campaign by Population First; Price: Rs.500
When police Inspector Narendra Shukla looked inside an AC train coach at Jabalpur Railway Station one day, he saw four frightened tribal girls huddling around a middle-aged woman.
Shukla became suspicious and came to know that the woman was a placement agency agent trafficking the girls under the pretext of providing them employment. The police handed the girls back to their parents.
Many such shocking stories and data find place in this new anthology of gender reportage, edited by Dolly Thakore.
Trafficking is common in all 29 districts of Madhya Pradesh, says Geetashree, a journalist from Mandla district, in her report "Journey in the Darkness of Agony".
She cites the National Human Rights Commission pointers "that most of the girls are trafficked from tribal areas and sold either in the sex market or in Punjab and Haryana, where the sex-ratio is very low".
Patna's Nivedita Jha, a writer on women's issues, quotes March 2009 figures to highlight the extent of neglect and gender discrimination among women labourers in Bihar.
She says six million women are engaged in construction work and 16 million in the unorganised sector.
"Figures reveal that the proportion of women as labourers is increasing. But they get less wages despite laws for same work-same pay. The cause for this is the belief that women are secondary to men," Jha says.
Labour organisations say greater participation of women in the workforce is due to migration from Bihar to other states, as well as increasing poverty. The writer justifies her claim with trends cited by government agencies.
The media has been engaging with gender issues in India for the last three decades when increasing reports about female foeticide began to come out from the heartland states.
But more media and advertising professionals "have now started filtering works by using a gender sensitive lens", says the anthology.
It puts together more than 80 reports to present a holistic picture of the gender injustice in the country and the new ways manifest in society.
The facts are shocking.
A.L. Sharda, director of Population First, which partnered to bring the compendium out, says the 2001 census came as a shock to many working on the issue of pre-natal sex determination.
"While some decline was anticipated, we did not expect the fall in sex ratio to be as sharp from 947 in 1991 to 927 in 2001," Sharda says in the book.
It was acknowledged that the sex selection was the "culmination of many forms of violence, deprivation and undervaluing of a girl in spite of the innumerable laws and policies enacted to protect her rights".
The stories deal with gender abuse that are apparent and masked - from agonising realities women are subjected to every day to the macabre. The seamy belly of gender atrocities in India finds its way into the mainstream in descriptions of 'The Cervical Cancer Bazaar' about young women being given anti-cancer shots by an international NGO to meet inoculation targets.
A study by WaterAid about tribal women from Saharia in Sheopur in Madhya Pradesh says women were locked up in cowsheds during menstrual periods. They used "any material from rag to straw, ash mud and paper as a sanitary guard", thus dying of "rust and pest poisoning" transmitted through such material.
Villages in South 24-Parganas in West Bengal, ravaged by cyclone Aila, have written new "rules" for women: No defecation during daytime. A woman can attend nature's call only after sundown.
The accounts have been edited for the maximum gut-wrenching impact, forcing readers to introspect about the real situation on the Ground Zero of the battle for equal rights for sexes.
(09.03.2013 - Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)