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Posts Tagged ‘Haryana

It’s not just Kangana and Anushka; this story has gone from reel to real. Across Haryana, young women are breaking stereotypes and claiming their place in the world. On the eve of its birthday, Sonia Sarkar travelled across the state to get a feel of their feisty rebellion. Photographs by Rajesh Kumar and Prem Singh

  • MIRROR MIRROR: Students of Bhagat Phool Singh Mahila Vishwavidyalaya see the change in themselves and like it too

Veil over her face, Babli Moudgil kickstarts her scooter parked in a muddy by-lane of Bibipur village in Haryana’s Jind. The day’s work is done, and she is on her way back home.

Moudgil is a busy woman. She owns the sole Montessori school in her village and wants to open a tuition centre there. The once shy bahu is fast becoming an entrepreneur.

“I always wanted to do something on my own. This school has given me my identity,” Moudgil, 28, says. The school was once the family cowshed.

In Panipat, some 70 kilometres away, Renu Pawar, 23, is home from Mumbai, where she worked for six months with Bollywood fashion designer Anjali Jani. Her land-owning family, she recounts, wasn’t happy with her career option.

“There was opposition at home for two years. But I followed my heart,” she says.

A quiet revolution is unfolding in Haryana. Its women, at the wrong end of most things for the longest time, have determined to right them, and though they still lag behind and the battle will be long, they are breaking old moulds and crafting new roles for themselves.

It isn’t as if Haryanvi women haven’t made a name for themselves – take mountaineer Santosh Yadav, model Pamela Singh, actress Mallika Sherawat and politician Kumari Selja, to name just a few. But they came far and few between. Haryana – with a 2001 sex ratio of 861 to 1,000 men, way below the national average of 933 – was seen as the one of the worst states where a woman could be. Domestic violence was rampant, female foeticide a serious problem and honour killings rife.

But in January this year, chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar told the media that in 2015, 12 districts had recorded a 900+ sex ratio. Sirsa – where the ratio was 882 in 2001 and 897 in 2011 – topped the list with 999 to 1,000 boys.

Journeys into the heart of Haryana underline the emergence of women in different ways. Single and married women – from families of landlords, farmers or landless labourers – are studying in colleges, riding scooters, walking the ramp, setting up businesses and choosing careers that they and their families would once have baulked at. In June this year, 47 female sarpanches and anganwadi workers vowed to say no to the ghunghat; they are meant to effect the pledge starting November.

The change didn’t happen overnight. One of the earliest measures that has today borne fruit is the reservation of seats for women in panchayats. The 73rd and 74th amendments to the Constitution in 1993 had initially led to men ruling on behalf of women. But now, more and more women are in control over decisions such as roads, health centres and schools.

Successive state governments have done their bit, too. Over the years, 35 colleges and a university with hostel facilities exclusively for women have come up. The cost of land and property registration for women has been lowered, all-woman police stations have been opened and roads and highways developed, helping women travel with greater ease for education or work.

And the men, for long seen as die-hard patriarchs who did not want their daughters or wives to work outside their homes, are happy because there is money coming in.

“The role of women in Haryana has changed from that of a receiver to a provider,” says social scientist Prem Chowdhury, whose research work has focused on Haryana women.

Villagers point out that men now want their women to study. “Even fathers-in-law come to us and say that they want to invest a few lakhs of rupees in the education of their bahus. And they hope that their degrees will get them good jobs,” says Kavita Chakravarty, registrar of Sonipat’s Bhagat Phool Singh (BPS) Mahila Vishwavidyalaya.

Economic reasons, clearly, have prompted families to embrace change. As in many states, land holdings have decreased with the growth of families. But Haryana witnessed another development – the sale of land to developers because of its proximity to Delhi and the National Capital Region. Old timers point out that a great many people made money, but frittered it away over the years. And women stepped in to help families survive and picked up the reins.

“I tell my parents what is right and what is wrong. They listen to me,” says Jhajjar’s Poonam Rajput, an MPhil student at Maharshi Dayanand University (MDU).

Education, the young women stress, has elevated their social status. MDU’s Aruna Sangwan, who is doing her Masters in defence and strategic studies, points out that she was asked by their pradhan to hoist the Indian flag on Independence Day at a local school, because she was the most educated woman in the village. “That was truly the proudest moment of my life,” Sangwan, 24, says.

Haryana’s new generation of women believe that education gives them careers – and helps them leave stifling homes. “They would never get at home the kind of freedom they get on a campus. Education helps them step out,” says Sunit Mukherjee, MDU’s public relations officer.

Chowdhury points out that a 2011 UN survey shows that women in Haryana want property, education and jobs. That seems to be the mantra in BPS. Computer science student Roshni Saini talks about working abroad. “I have told my parents that my aim is not to get married but to go abroad and work,” she says.

The students narrate their own little stories of triumphs. BPS student Shweta Bura recalls how, at a recent wedding, a young man touched her arm and said, “Soft hai (it’s soft).” It’s also tight, she said, and slapped him. “After that, he didn’t dare to come near me,” Bura laughs.

Changes in law – and media focus on law breakers – may have made a difference to the way men perceive women. Nihal Singh, a former pradhan of Mundhal village, admits that there was a time when men hit their daughters-in-law if they were late carrying lunch to the fields. “Now we don’t even talk to them rudely because they might just complain to the police,” he says.

More and more women are approaching the police. The rise in reporting of domestic violence – up from 3,504 cases in 2008 to 7,393 in 2015 – is attributed to rising awareness. “Women now report cases of marital and domestic violence,” says Renu S. Phulia, women and child development director .

Bollywood is mirroring some of these changes. Kangana Ranaut’s bawdy-butch act in Tanu Weds Manu Returns and Anushka Sharma’s bellicose wrestler in Sultan portray the new Haryanvi woman – self-willed, unafraid. The forthcoming Aamir Khan release Dangalcaptures the real life story of a father in Haryana and his wrestler daughters.

But Olympic bronze medallist Sakshi Malik, who is from Rohtak, stresses that it’s not an easy path for women to take.

“I have asked so many parents to send their daughters for training. But they ask me how long it will take. I tell them that it took me 12 years to prove myself, that one cannot be a champion overnight. But they don’t understand that,” Malik says.

For every success story, there are numerous tales of women who can’t step out of their homes or who face censure. “I cannot wear jeans or use a mobile phone after 9pm because my brother objects,” says Sweety Bharadwaj, a graduate in German language .

In many rural areas, women still wear a ghunghat in front of men and elders. Old conventions – that they cannot sit on the edge of a cot if a man’s head rests on it – are followed in most homes. Women who go out to study or work have to first finish house work – including taking care of cattle.

Moudgil recalls that 10 years ago, when she told her mother-in-law that she wanted to study further, she’d replied: Who will then make cow dung cakes at home? “I told her, I’ll do that, and I will study.” Moudgil, who went on to complete a teachers’ training course and an MA in Hindi, today earns Rs 60,000 a month.

The entrance to her village – which grabbed the attention of the media with its “Selfie with daughter” contest last year – is called Lado Marg, lado being the local word for girl. But the village sarpanch, Deepika Sahu, cannot say a word in front of her mother-in-law.

Sahu looks silently at her four-year-old son, dressed in a T-shirt that says “Boys will be boys”, when asked about her plans for women in the village. He will do what has to be done, the mother-in-law says from the kitchen, referring to her husband, a former sarpanch.

The gender imbalance is most evident in the Muslim dominated areas of Mewat and Pataudi, where few women go for higher studies. In H.L.G. Government College in Tauru, Mewat, of the 103 women students, only four are Muslim.

But there are a few good news stories coming in from Mewat, too. Village Nimkheda elected India’s first all-woman panchayat in 2005. And the people of Dulawat speak highly of Ruby Khan, the first woman in the village to have studied in a college. She is now a nurse in a top hospital in Delhi.

Perhaps the time has come for Sahu’s small son to sport a slogan that says: Boys would rather be girls.

  • Haryana has 35 colleges and a university just for women. Students of Maharshi Dayanand University

  • Babli Moudgil of Bibipur, Jind, has turned a family cowshed into a Montessori school

  • Roshni Saini (front) is studying computer science. She wants to work abroad

  • Not all Haryanvi women continue to bear the traditional burden of the family

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Tete a TeteTete a Tete

Yogendra Yadav is gearing up for the Haryana Assembly elections. As he criss-crosses the state, the AAP leader tells Sonia Sarkar that the Bharatiya Janata Party’s electoral campaign was brilliant and that he wants to learn from it

Some say the bubble’s burst, but Yogendra Yadav will have none of that. He has hit the road and is travelling across Haryana to talk to workers of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which emerged with a bang last year and now appears to have dwindled into a whimper. Yadav, the soft-spoken face of the party, is gearing up for the polls in Haryana, slated to be held later this year.

Clearly, AAP — Arvind Kejriwal’s political alternative — is putting its house in order. “We have to focus on our sangathan (organisation), sampark (connect with people) and sambad (communication) before the Assembly elections,” Yadav says, talking about the party’s new programme, Mission Vistaar. “We are discussing the lessons that we have learnt from the Lok Sabha elections.”

AAP’s rise and fall took place almost at the same velocity. It rose to its peak by winning 28 of the 70 seats in the Delhi elections in 2013, and almost turned to dust a few months later, winning only four of the 400 seats it contested in the Lok Sabha elections held this summer.

Among those who lost — a grand list that also includes party leader Arvind Kejriwal — was Yadav, whose 80,000 votes from Gurgaon put him in the fourth place.

“In the course of campaign, I knew I was No. 3. I didn’t know I would come down to No. 4. That was a disappointment,” he says.

Yadav, occasionally wearing the party’s trademark boat-shaped cap and otherwise fiddling with it, is on his way from Panipat to Ambala, where he has a meeting with party leaders. Our conversation continues as he stops at a roadside dhaba for a cup of tea, which he has with the paranthas and aloo sabzi that his sister has packed for him.

He plans to travel to all 21 districts of Haryana to understand how to make a fresh start before the state polls. “We are trying to reach the last person in every district,” he says.

The Lok Sabha poll results came as a shock to AAP leaders, who had thought they’d perform a lot better than they did. Party chief Kejriwal, in fact, had claimed that it would win 100 seats. “That was his political judgement. Before the Delhi elections, he’d said we’d get 47 seats, but we got 28,” Yadav says.

“Getting 100 seats or so was an unrealistic hope. I have a technical background. I didn’t say a word on the number of seats because I knew we were going for a single digit win,” the psephologist adds.

But he also believes that if the euphoria that was created after the Delhi victory had continued till the end of the general elections, the party could have ended up with 100 seats. “Dilli chunaao ke baad hamari aadat kharab ho gayi thi (we got spoiled after the Delhi elections). That time, our feet were not on the ground. That sort of quick success brings you to power sooner than you deserve. But the people punished us for quitting Delhi,” he admits, referring to AAP’s decision to exit power after ruling for 49 days. The excuse was the failure to pass the Jan Lokpal Bill — an anti-graft platform that the AAP rode to power on.

The buzz in political circles is that it was Yadav who advised Kejriwal to step down.

“I shared the view that if we could not pass the Jan Lokpal Bill in Delhi we had no moral right to remain in the government. But I wanted this decision to be taken in consultation with the people, which did not happen,” Yadav rues.

The differences of opinion within the AAP are out in the open. People have been walking out of the party ever since the poll debacle. Yadav, too, resigned from the political affairs committee last month. In a letter to his colleagues, he referred to the lack of organisational building, absence of mechanism for consulting volunteers and policy deficit as among the many drawbacks in the party.

“This is not the first time that I have raised these questions. This time the public got to know about my concerns because the letter was leaked. Though it is a cause of embarrassment that it is out in the public, I am not ashamed of what I said,” adds Yadav, whose resignation was not accepted by Kejriwal.

In his letter, he said Kejriwal behaved like a party “supremo” and not a leader. It’s not a subject that he wants to elaborate on, but says, “I write more carefully than I speak, so I would rather that my written words be trusted.”

But Kejriwal, he adds, has an “extraordinary ability” to pick a single relevant fact from a heap of irrelevancies. “He has a superhuman capacity to remain focused. He has the gift of bringing people together.”

Yadav and Kejriwal have known each other from the time Kerjiwal ran a non- government organisation called Parivartan to press for the implementation of the Right to Information Act. Yadav had held public hearings on the then newly-appointed Central Information Commission on behalf of Parivartan.

But it was Anna Hazare’s drive against corruption in 2011 that brought the two together, though Yadav had his doubts about the movement.

“I thought it was a very positive movement but didn’t like it the way they were carrying it forward. I told Kejriwal that if he wanted to do satyagraha, he had to read Gandhi. I thought he would never get back to me because not many people like criticism. But he did, and asked me to be a part of the movement. And I joined them.”

Yadav — with his well-modulated voice and felicity with words — was soon one of the leaders of the party that was formed in late 2012. It helped that he spoke both Hindi and English fluently. “I learnt my Hindi from textbooks and Doordarshan. So my Hindi does not bear any regional influences,” says Yadav, dressed in a blue cotton kurta with white pyjamas.

Originally from Saharanwas, near Rewari in Haryana, Yadav, now 50, grew up in Rajasthan’s Sri Ganganagar, where his father was a lecturer in economics.

Yadav says that his father was seven when he saw his own father, a hostel warden in a Haryana school, being killed in a communal riot in Hissar in 1936. “The rioters wanted the Muslim children in the hostel,” he says. “My grandfather told the rioters he would rather have his head chopped. So they chopped off his head. My father saw it all happening,” Yadav narrates.

It was this incident — and the Hindu-Muslim killings during Partition — that made his secular father name him Salim. AAP workers brought the name up during Yadav’s electoral campaign in Haryana, leading to a barrage of scornful tweets and comments on social media sites, describing it as a gimmick aimed at the Muslim vote.

But though the name is used by some friends and family, most people know him as Yogendra. Yadav explains that he asked his parents to change his name because his Muslim name led to taunts in school when he was a small boy. “So I was rechristened Yogendra,” he says.

Unfortunately, he adds, the communal divide that his father witnessed as a child continues to haunt India. “The new generation of India wants to move forward. They don’t want to be in the shadow of 1984 or 2002 but politics will not allow them to do so. It wants to drag them back,” he says.

His own political leanings were given shape when he was studying in Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University by socialist leader Kishan Patnaik, who headed a political body called Samata Sangathan.

“My initiation into public life, in fact my understanding of politics, dates back to that period. But party politics of the visible kind is a new thing in my life,” he says.

Yadav, who taught politics at Punjab University for eight years, joined the New Delhi-based think tank Centre for the Study of Developing Studies in 1993. Under the United Progressive Alliance government, he was a member of the National Advisory Council, from which he resigned, and the University Grants Commission, from which he was removed last year.

A political observer for many years and an able number cruncher, the Phanishwar Nath Renu fan now finds himself knee-deep in politics, leaving him with little time for reading or writing (“that’s a deep regret”), or for his family — wife Madhulika Banerjee, who teaches political science in Delhi University, daughter Sufi, 15, and son, Sahej, 10.

“The first thing I do every morning is check the newspapers to see if there is a stupid story about AAP,” he says.

He also wants to learn some lessons from the Bharatiya Janata Party’s electoral triumph. “It was a brilliant campaign executed to near perfection. If you get two seats in Parliament, you should not lose hope, you should continue to work,” he says, referring to the BJP’s 1984 electoral defeat which left it with just two members of Parliament. “One needs to be consistent for a long time to be able to achieve anything,” he says.

Yadav is doing that, as AAP gets ready to rewrite its own story.