Mar
31
Posted on 31-03-2013
Filed Under (WOMAN) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit Sengupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

Nostalgia enveloped Jose and me when we met for dinner at his home in Paris after 20 years. He was my colleague at the French design firm we worked as art directors in towards at end-1970s. We’ve became extremely close friends for all time. I’ve learnt a lot from Jose. We heartily recalled our young Parisienne days, the ideas we shared at work, in art, music and life in general, then chronologically arrived at present times including my latest series in this column on women. That’s when Jose’s wife Christiane laughed ironically saying that if France was not patriarchal, I’d never have met with Jose.

After nearly 34 years I discovered from Christiane how male dominated the French workplace can be.

Jose and Christiane studied at the same art college in Paris. The firm I was working sent a vacancy requirement to the art college, and the college sent Christiane. But the firm refused to take her saying they were looking for a male candidate. Later Jose came to know that just one woman was working there, and in their speculation, if another woman comes there will be a clash. Christiane told Jose to take this opportunity. Jose, of course, got the job easily. So Christiane smiled saying it’s fortunate that Jose went to work there instead of her, otherwise I’d never have met Jose. True enough, but this displayed naked discrimination against women.

In sharing this flashback, many other experiences also fleshed out. Jose narrated how being the only son in his family, he saw and experienced great privilege as opposed to his two sisters. After finishing a family meal, it was taken for granted that he could just leave the table. But the ritual his sisters were compelled to follow was to clean the table and dishes.

Christiane came from a farming family in Southwest France. In her 1960s childhood, she remembers that her grandfather was all pervasive, the total boss of the family. Handling the family’s money, he was the sole decision-maker for any spend. Her parents and her grandmother worked in the farm all day, tending animals and doing physical labour required for livelihood generation. Christiane used to see that after walking barefoot in the fields as was his habit, her grandfather would always ask his daughter-in-law to wash his feet. Christiane’s mother also supported the farming job from morning to night, but she was not entitled to any pocket money. Christiane’s mother and grandmother didn’t have the courage to revolt, but they always encouraged Christiane to go for a job where she could independently earn money. This is the way Christiane could leave her French village home 700 kms away and come to Paris for further studies in an art college.

Since the 1968 revolutionary movement, the social situation in France has changed dramatically. Along with students and working classes, the status of women acquired a new recognition. For example, another friend in the Ardishe region narrated that before 1965, in her 1500 population village she was among two women who studied upto Baccalaureate, the school leaving degree. Children went to school from age 6 to 14 only, there was no pre-primary education. Most girls would tend to domestic chores and become farm helpers while the men joined factories. In 1975, the Veil Law allowing abortion rights to women was introduced by Simone Veil, France’s Health Minister, after much opposition from male Parliamentarians. This facilitated a liberal approach towards male-female partnerships.

The patriarchal system had long suppressed French women. Today when women are breaking free and society is not casting aspersions on their desire for liberty, they are facing different kinds of logistics. A large number of girls prefer to stay in live-in relationships rather than marry. They are afraid to marry because of divorce hassles; an unconfirmed social understanding is that two out of three marriages end up in divorce. Divorce is such a messy and expensive court procedure that everyone wants to avoid it. Divorced women would rather live alone, even if they start a new relationship with a new man. A very common situation you now find is a woman living alone with her children. But not all her children are from the same father, nor are the children necessarily born within wedlock. At the time of the couple’s separation of “concubinage” which is what living together is called in French, the judge at the court decides which parent will pay how much for the child’s upkeep depending on their economic situation. The judge also assigns visit rights to the parent the child does not live with.

Social acceptance of anti-Catholic ways such as abortion, divorce and illegitimate children is giving a new face to Catholic France. In fact the First Family epitomizes the new social mores: the President has four children out of wedlock and lives in concubinage with a woman who’s divorced twice, and not the mother of his children. Clearly French women are taking their own relationship decisions. Yet it’s a double-edged freedom because psychologically and socially, women ask for and take responsibility for childrearing while the men are free to co habit, planting seeds in different gardens.

To download above article in PDF French patriarchy

Financial Express link:http://www.indianexpress.com/news/french-patriarchy/1095376/0

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Mar
24
Posted on 24-03-2013
Filed Under (WOMAN) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit Sengupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

Two thousand years of imposing history surrounds the Vatican, the spiritual center for 1.2 billion Catholics. A new Pope was chosen on 12 March, 2013, but 600 million women Catholics had no voice in this exclusive male club. From among male candidates only, 115 male cardinals did the selection. This is another discriminatory example of injecting a dose of anesthesia, albeit a religious one, to keep women suppressed and under the control of men.

While agreeing that the church’s hierarchy is male-dominated, Sister Mary Ann Walsh of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops says women also take important lay positions in Catholic social and relief organizations. They staff Catholic schools, hospitals and charitable institutions. Other areas of visible involvement of women are the seamstresses who stitch the habits of the Vatican’s religious chiefs, the cooks and servers who feed them and the housekeepers who clean up afterwards. The highest position two women have reached is under secretaries in “superior” levels, but there’s no woman even in the matrimonial cases commission. It’s incredible that the world’s most powerful and oldest continuously practicing Roman Catholic institution has sustained without serious participation by women.

"Certainly the church is not a democratic society in the way civil society understands," said Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins of Portugal. "It’s a hierarchical church, therefore not everyone is equal." Yet according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, "Man and woman have been….willed by God…in perfect equality as human persons.” Neither the Vatican, nor any Catholic institution seems to recognize that. I’ve often heard several women in Europe being morally depressed over the misogynic behavior of men. Even Emperor Napoleon relegated women’s role to be mere baby producing machines. 

The Vatican continues to decide that women have no right over their bodies, that is, abortion is frowned upon. Women also have little right over Vatican administration, so can there ever be any chance of a Madam Pope in the near future? Actually a legend and myth about Pope Joan, a ninth-century Englishwoman already exists. As women in the Catholic Church, were not then and not now either, allowed to train to be priests, she disguised herself under lots of clerical robes and became one. She was so knowledgeable and committed that she overtook the men to be raised to a cardinal and then Pope. Later she “went into labor during a papal procession and the mob descended on her and her child, ending her reign.” Oxford University theologian and historian Diarmaid MacCulloch said Pope Joan’s story is satirical fiction. Perhaps in anticipation, two films have been made on Pope Joan.

When Karl Marx said religion is the opium of the masses he meant that faith makes people into blind, unquestioning followers. Religion seems to so completely obliterate every notion of justice and equality that opium is too mild a comparison. People can wake up from time to time with opium. So it’s actually permanent anesthesia that’s been injected into human society, both men and women. All religions of the world practice this form of anesthesia. When you’re born it’s transmitted into your body, mind and spirit in a way that you’ll find it tough to get rid of it. Even the non dogmatic, non converting Hindu religion has so many customs that smother women. Deep rooted anesthesia, from caste divisions to sati, widows as outcasts and general second or third class treatment, has engulfed women’s role crafted by men.

Speculation continues to be rife as to whether the high rise of allegedly masculine homosexuality and child abuse and conspiracies inside Catholic institutions was among the real reasons for Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation. Cases of sexual abuse have been reported in Canada, Ireland, United Kingdom, United States of America, Mexico, Belgium, France, Germany, Australia, New Zealand and a few countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia. In 2004, the John Jay report tabulated a total of 4,392 US priests and deacons against whom sexual abuse allegations were made. Benedict XVI is the first Pope in some six centuries to step down rather than die in office. He’s set a new trend as though he’s the head of a corporate job, not a spiritual leader. There’s certainly scope for this never-before-done act to spread trends in newer areas, hopefully in favoring women too. Aside from becoming a Pope, can a woman priest become a mother?  

Several Catholic women from the US, UK and Australia gathered in Rome when the new Pope Francis was being selected, and let off small puffs of pink smoke to protest against women being continuously excluded from the priesthood. They were mimicking the puffs that are let out from the Sistine Chapel chimney when the cardinals decide on a new Pope. Miriam Duignan of  ‘Women can be priests’ Association said, “Jesus did not exclude women… So why do cardinals…make a point of actively excluding women? And of criminalizing anybody that speaks out in favour of women priests?”

Will there be gender balance in the Vatican in the near future? Is it not illogical that when the Catholic religion considers procreation as so important, the Holy See refuses to recognize the value of women female as a part of the Vatican?

To download above article in PDF Madame Pope?

Financial Express link:http://www.indianexpress.com/news/can-we-have-a-madam-pope-/1092451/0

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Mar
17
Posted on 17-03-2013
Filed Under (WOMAN) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit Sengupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

Wagging tongues of neighbors should not disturb her family’s status when a woman earns more than her husband. Usha behaves unpretentiously so nobody finds out the money she makes. This 30-year-Old’s spunk in zigzagging through a restrictive social system makes her a role model for millions of aspiring young girls in India.

Her father had 14 cows and 9 children; he raised his family from milking cows and selling milk. Usha schooled upto Class 7, but stopped when her father died; 6 years later her mother passed away. Her elder siblings arranged her marriage to a factory worker 5 years ago. Her husband’s take home salary is Rs 20,000 per month. Usha learnt to drive the scooter they bought after marriage. One day a neighborhood girl asked her for scooter driving lessons. The girl subsequently got a license. Next, her friend came to Usha, and soon word-of-mouth spread. So Usha started scooter training classes for women only. It’s really creditable that she commands a rate of Rs 350 per hour, higher than professional training schools because she teaches with passion and engagement. Students spend upto Rs 7000 over 3 months. Usha says with spectacular confidence that she’ll continue to acquire 7 to 10 students every month.

Before marriage Usha was helping a reputed landscaping professional. She learnt gardening and has diversified into this profession. She’s independently picked up customers whose lawns she manicures, hedges she trims, perennials and trees she nurtures, and garden beds she fills with seasonal flowers and vegetables. She manages her business with broken English, broken Hindi and an array of South Indian languages. Her strongest work tool is her discipline with time commitment, precision and refinement. As I was curious, she confided that except for her husband, she keeps it a secret that she makes Rs 100,000 per month. From this she spends about Rs 40,000 for petrol and garden labour, paying Rs 500 a day for superior skills, Rs 250 for basic labor. With no educational degree, Usha’s ambition is for her two toddlers to become an engineer and doctor. She wants them to be proud professionals, and not hide behind society’s expectations, the way she’s doing today.

As she took leave, the jeans-and-kurti clad Usha took another leap, not figuratively, but onto a new 150cc motorbike. Smiling brightly she admitted she’s crazy about this heavy vehicle bought in her husband’s name as his permanent factory job entitles him a bank loan. She loves the control she exercises when speeding. Her business will increase she says as women driving motorbikes is a growing new market demand. She latched on her helmet, revved up the engine, and vrrroooommed off, leaving me in admiration of her entrepreneurial spirit. Not only does she earn, with pure guts, triple her husband’s salary, she’s continuously ideating on how to augment her revenue.

Why am I writing about Usha? Because hers is a sparkling example of what women with sheer willpower and scant education can do. The only encouragement they need is non-interference, no rules to block their dream. Usha’s self-taught PR proficiency in handling clients is amazing, as though the hospitality industry trained her in soft-skills. If socially neglected women can rise through their own initiative, it’s a brilliant sign of our times. Usha has no inferiority complex that the mainstream employment market passed her by. She has ingeniously overcome repression faced by women.

Corporate house discussions on International Women’s Day veered around how “women should not watch the clock for 6pm as that displays insincerity at work, they should not be too emotional as that portrays gender weakness at the workplace.” I totally disagree with both stances. Women return home to start another full time job of childcare, cooking and cleaning up after everyone’s gone to bed. Men and women’s emotional quotient is not comparable. Women’s inbuilt biological sensitivity, including a baby growing in the womb for 270 days, requires love and patience of a degree incomprehensible by men. If women consider that burdensome, human society will shrink. So how can we ask women to bury emotion at work? It’s more productive to teach men to accept women’s emotion more positively, and train women to handle insensate male colleagues.

There’s ample evidence of women’s performance at critical times. In a World War I documentary film, an elderly French woman recounted her wartime nursing experience of how she excessively poured affection like a real lover on a devastated British soldier who’d lost his leg to keep his mental stamina up. During World War II, one third of US government jobs were held by women. Unfortunately, as per Washington State Historical Society, “Most were forced to leave because their service was only considered necessary while men were away at war.”

Men in patriarchal cultures have formulated social systems to their advantage. When women like Usha are taking responsibility of modern day hunting-gathering, it’s time to recognize them. If men cannot muster enough guts to admit women can have caliber, they should at least not come in the way of women’s aspiration in life.

To download above article in PDF Earning more, but secretly

Financial Express link:http://www.indianexpress.com/news/earning-more-but-secretly/1089180/0

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Mar
10
Posted on 10-03-2013
Filed Under (WOMAN) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit Sengupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

From my experience of conducting executive training workshops on selling automobiles, I can genuinely empathize with the tension the salesperson goes through. In India, the world’s most heterogeneous society, not a single customer buys a car in one visit.

Multiple visits are made to the dealership to determine the purchase decision. Customers go to competing dealerships as well as to competing automobile brands. It’s a spectacular show when the joint family comes to buy a car. Without the whole joint family’s approval, there’s no question of a purchase. The younger brother will never buy a vehicle more expensive than his older brother’s one unless the latter gives him permission. The salesperson is hard pressed to check the eye movement and determine the body language of different family members. They are all influencers to his achieving the sale. Suddenly a sister-in-law may say the headlamp’s no good, a nephew the wheel rim ugly, his mother may find the horn sound very jarring. Already they’ve visited this showroom 7-8 times, and visited other brands too. This showroom’s salesperson is at wit’s end to convince them by meeting everybody’s need and desire. At the last moment, just when the purchase is about to materialize, a family member can declare that his friend says the mileage this car gives is too low. So everything dissolves to naught. In selling a mass car, you can imagine what a genius the salesperson has to be to address his heterogeneous customers in India.

Our socially arranged marriages happen in more or less the same way, but with more discipline. The bridegroom is always in a position of power, so squeeze the bride’s family all the way. Carrying that mentality, the boy’s side go bride hunting to even 20 different homes, and they’re entertained everywhere. His has two regiments, the men’s group for investigating the bride’s wealth; the women’s group for examining the bride as product quality. In general, the criteria determining man-woman compatibility include matching of horoscopes, family reputation, religion, caste, vegetarian or non-veg diet, the bride’s docility, skin colour, fecundity. The groom’s profession commands the dowry price. The highest weightage goes to IPS/IAS officers, followed by doctors, then others.

The boy’s side arrives like a winning battalion expecting to be extolled. I’m not generalizing; just narrating some childhood observations from being present in the arranged marriages of our joint family members. Different women have since confided in me their frustrating, resentful feelings. In multiple visits to the same girl’s family, it seems the boy’s side feels free to criticize, even abuse feminine sensitivities. Humiliating comments from accompanying people are: she doesn’t walk demurely; when she smiles all her teeth protrude; she doesn’t sit gracefully, she takes long, man-like steps; her glamour disappears when her gums appear on smiling; she speaks too loudly; she doesn’t serve to with humility.

When the bridegroom’s men get into wealth assessment manoeuvres, the women’s regiment goes for surprise checks to investigate the family’s living standard. They follow the would-be bride into the kitchen purportedly to check her art of cooking, washing and serving, so essential in a joint family. Actually at close quarters, her real body color vs. fairness cream usage is minutely ascertained. If she sings or dances its counted as added product value although she may be disallowed from using these skills later. If her career is accepted, it’s for the extra income the family pool will get. Clearly her patience and adjustability are winning factors.

On a recent visit to an old friend’s home, I found everybody in a mourning mode. His daughter’s marriage cancelation story tumbled out. It was worse than the analogous joint family car purchase cancellation upon hearing about low mileage, a quality they’d not experienced yet. The marriage decision was solidified several months ago after the bridegroom’s family verified everything. Before the “real” religious ceremony marriage, a “new” trend nowadays is to legally register the marriage. These formalities were happily concluded at the court amidst joyous family members. After reaching their respective homes, the bridegroom’s side called off the marriage. My friends were dazed. I don’t know how you, my reader, will take the shocking reason for discontinuance.

Present in the court was the bride’s maternal uncle who has some skin de-pigmentation on his face. On returning home someone whispered to the bridegroom that skin de-pigmentation can be hereditary. So he promptly cancelled the marriage. Skin pigmentation is a beauty issue that does not interfere with general health. Its likelihood of occurrence in the next generation is rare. Can you imagine this innocent girl’s horrible plight? She’s legally a divorcee. When I narrated this to my 86-year-old father who also has skin de-pigmentation, he had no answer. He confessed to always having a sense of impending guilt, and relief that my son, grandchildren or I have no skin de-pigmentation.

Perhaps my friend’s daughter is fortunate she escaped this family where trust is so fragile. But the bridegroom’s behaviour is proof of how arranged marriages are treating women as products that have to perform to exacting standards laid down by men. Luckily a new trend has emerged where a girl and boy who want to marry beat the system by involving go-betweens, making it appear like an arranged marriage. The pretence is to avoid shocking their parents. This is love, yet an accepted marriage according to India’s social system.

Over centuries, amongst royalty in Europe, India and Japan, marriages were political, arranged for empire building. Daughters were useful currency to help form strategic alliances and strengthen the country’s military position. In India, women’s dignity is wiped away by arranged marriages that making her a mere embellished commodity. I believe in marriage that results from love and affection between two individuals. Others may enjoy its celebration but without interfering in the couple’s private decision. Society must concede equal rights to women, at par with men, to select their partner and boldly stand by their choice.

To download above article in PDF Social marriage product

Financial Express link:http://www.indianexpress.com/news/social-marriage-product/1085709/0

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Mar
03
Posted on 03-03-2013
Filed Under (WOMAN) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit Sengupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

This coming week on March 8 International Women’s Day will be discussed and celebrated across the world with ‘Gender agenda: Gaining momentum’ as the theme. First observed in 1909 by Socialist Party of America, the UN proclaimed this date as UN Day for women’s rights and world peace since 1977.

Yet unending vulnerability continues to plague women in society from time immemorial. This abuse for purposes of sex is a kind of relay race both within the family and outside, whether it is molestation, genital mutilation, groping, rape, prostitution or violence when the body is denied. So many authors, poets, painters, singers, filmmakers and philosophers have eulogized love and affection between men and women in books, paintings, songs and movies, but the brutality of men towards women has not changed till today.

Just imagine your daughter is coming home from college. A gang of men suddenly grab her, forcibly toss her into a car even as she screams, cries, throws her hands and legs, tries to bite her abductors, but she’s overpowered. There’s a bridegroom at the other end waiting to marry her. Marriage preparations complete with ceremonial rituals are ready to be performed, family and friends invited to enjoy the wedding reception. Only the bride is missing. So a girl is kidnapped and brought to fit the role. It’s a bona fide marriage where she’ll become part of a respected family, but she’s given no choice.

How does this story strike you? Unfortunately it’s no absurd tale I’m recounting to you. It’s a traditional ritual in Kyrgyzstan to this day. A 5-part documentary by Thomas Morton for VICE News records how, like the sport of catching an unwilling bride, young men run after fat goats, dive to seize them, hack the neck, clutch at the struggling, bleating animal as it slowly bleeds, as per custom. Other boys participate, besieging the goat until it becomes limp-less, ready for cooking the wedding feast. They even play polo with a freshly killed goat.

The ala kachuu (to take and flee) custom is technically illegal in independent Kyrgyzstan, but rarely are bride kidnappers prosecuted. Even being a Muslim country, where religion forbids bride kidnapping, has not prevented society from practicing this tradition, gloriously. Fulbright scholar Russell Kleinbach says, half of all Kyrgyz marriages are based on the practice of bride kidnapping, of which two thirds are non-consensual. NGOs working there figure ala kachuu is between 68-75%.

This barbaric, hell-like custom for women seems incongruent in picturesque Kyrgyzstan, renowned for brave nomadic horseback warriors who once ruled a vast Central Asian empire. Extolled for their legendary equestrian prowess, Kyrgyz horsemen ride rough terrains, continuously lashing their superb, impeccably trained animals to conquer territories with speed. In this paternalistic society, perhaps their power over beautiful stallions translates to exhibiting control over women. So with total command they confidently abduct a bride to fulfill their requirement. Many young girls have committed suicide after such marriages that virtually amount to rape.

If you look at ancient history, marriage by capture happened throughout Mediterranean areas. In Greek mythology, stealing the beautiful Helen of Troy triggered the Trojan War. Rape of Sabine women is an infamous episode of how Roman men abducted women from neighboring Sabine when Romulus founded Rome in 750 BC. Emperor Constantine’s 326 AD edict prohibited marriage by abduction. But this shocking tradition is still alive. Russia’s Northern Caucasus region is witnessing an increase in bride capture since the fall of USSR. In Mexico’s Tzeltal community the girl is taken into the mountains and raped. The bridegroom waits for the bride’s father’s anger to cool down, before coming to negotiate a bride price and bringing him traditional gifts like rum. In fact bride price, the opposite of dowry where the boy’s family has to pay the girl’s family, is prevalent in some parts of India too, but without kidnapping. Northeastern tribes of Mizos, Zemi Nagas and Kukis have to buy their wives by paying a marriage price calculated in numbers of mithuns (wild bulls or cows). Among Romani gypsies of Europe, UK and Ireland, bride kidnapping is a documented marital practice used to avoid paying the bride price.

Marriage by capture has occurred in Serbia, Montenegro, Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, Azerbaijan and Georgia, and is still common in Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Judicial enforcement for it remains lax in Bulgaria, Turkey, Moldova and Chechnya. It even exists in parts of China, in Africa’s Rwanda, Ethiopia and Kenya and South America’s Chile. Among Native Americans, the kidnapping of children, teenagers and women from neighboring tribes and adopting them was common in earlier times.

Trafficking of women as wives, akin to bride kidnapping, is increasing in India as there are fewer women to men. When so many countries are still in the Dark Middle Ages as far as acknowledging equality of the sexes, it’s certainly an uphill task to sensitize them to my call of “Respect and Save Women.” For starters, International Women’s Day can help by pressing the government in every country to implement all its existing laws that provide justice to women.

To download above article in PDF Bride kidnapping

Financial Express link:http://www.financialexpress.com/news/bride-kidnapping/1082260/0

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