Monday, May 07, 2007

South Asia and the girl child: where fiction meets reality

In Kolkata in spite of the squelching oppressive heat and the duststorms that don't happen, one still celebrates…currently we are celebrating the birth anniversary of two great imaginative minds - Rabindranath Tagore and Satyajit Ray. When the lens of the camera, the moving magic of cinema, defies the material and captures consciousness on screen, consciousness made visible through a writer's great art-there we have a real meeting of genius, a blurring of boundaries between fiction and reality.

Two images remain fixated in my mind of two young girls Ratan and Mrinmoyee – Ratan is the protagonist of Tagore's classic short story `Postmaster' and Mrinmoyee of `Samapti'. Both are child-women, with huge expressive kohl darkened eyes, destitute, abandoned by society living in the rural poverty of Bengal. Ratan has no parents, no sense of self and has been abandoned to the elements to survive. She wears a dirty saree not only out of poverty but she has no relational world, no one to live for or change her saree for. Mrinmoyee comes from an internally displaced background. All that I have read about in theory of the multi-dimensionality of poverty comes alive in these two films. Poverty not just as income-poverty but the many-sided vulnerability and powerlessness of being poor, abandoned by society, a girl and a child.

Yet with the combined genius of Tagore and Ray both the `Postmaster' and `Samapti' celebrate the agency, intelligence, creativity and sensibility of these two girls. Abandoned by society, within the world of the creative imagination, Ratan and Mrinmoyee wield extraordinary power over their lives. Ratan a waif, a child woman whips into action when the hero, the postmaster, highly educated from Kolkata, falls ill. She gets a doctor, takes care of him when he is ill and even protects him from a huge onslaught of the elements, a massive storm. Illiterate and ignorant when they meet she learns to read and write from him at a remarkable speed and most powerfully experiences an inner self-awakening intellectually, sexually and emotionally. It is through the consciousness of poverty-stricken Ratan that we experience a self-awakening in the short story/film and we watch the transformation of her understanding of her world. In contrast the Kolkata educated urban adult male leaves the village with a static consciousness, unable to adjust to village life, unable to embrace life and most importantly unawakened.

Tagore's trenching irony is supreme when the hero tries to appease Ratna's grief and tears with money, as he leaves the village.

In `Samapti', Mrinmoyee too is a symbol of freedom and autonomy of being, in spite of being a prisoner of poverty, displacement and gender inequality. A poor, rural girl, she too contests the thinking and choices of the hero a Kolkata educated, urban male. The film's unforgettable image of Mrinmoyee on a swing – celebrating her freedom, dynamic, lofty in space and buoyant – is mersmerising. She challenges society that marriage to an eligible bachelor is automatically to be regarded as empowering. The film powerfully grieves her loss of freedom, her attachment to wide open spaces in nature and her squirrel, her unbounded spirit and portrays by contrast the imprisonment of marriage and conformity.

Mrinmoyee's running away on her wedding night and sleeping outdoors, alone and free challenges powerfully even today…


Miracles said...

For the sake of the child look after the mother

The duality in the treatment and position of women in India has always intrigued me. With all her rich cultural antiquity, diversity and heritage, India has also been a country that has suppressed her women. It is ironic to say the least, because Indians have always worshipped their country as a “janani” or mother. On the one hand they worship this mother, and on the other they disregard their sisters, daughters, mothers, and wives.The invaluable contribution of women in keeping a society sane and stable and on the other hand emotional and psychological bankruptcy of a society where precariously unbalanced sex ratio has created a morally instable society.India is one of the few countries in the world and also where women and men have nearly the same life expectancy at birth. Certainly history of women is not one of unrelieved misery.
Ex UN Secretary General Kofi Annan had stated, "Gender equality is more than a goal in itself. It is a precondition for meeting the challenge of reducing poverty, promoting sustainable development and building good governance."
This recognition is currently missing. Transforming the prevailing social discrimination against women must become the top priority, and must happen concurrently with increased direct action to rapidly improve the social and economic status of women. In this way, a synergy of progress can be achieved.
• As women receive greater education and training, they will earn more money.
• As women earn more money - as has been repeatedly shown - they spend it in the further education and health of their children, as opposed to men, who often spend it on drink, tobacco or other women.
• As women rise in economic status, they will gain greater social standing in the household and the village, and will have greater voice.
• As women gain influence and consciousness, they will make stronger claims to their entitlements - gaining further training, better access to credit and higher incomes - and command attention of police and courts when attacked.
• As women’s economic power grows, it will be easier to overcome the tradition of "son preference" and thus put an end to the evil of dowry.
• As son preference declines and acceptance of violence declines, families will be more likely to educate their daughters, and age of marriage will rise.
• For every year beyond 4th grade that girls go to school, family size shrinks 20%, child deaths drop 10% and wages rise 20%.
• As women are better nourished and marry later, they will be healthier, more productive, and will give birth to healthier babies.
Only through action to remedy discrimination against women can the vision of India's independence — an India where all people have the chance to live health and productive lives — be realized.
India is notorious for its abysmal health services leading to very high infant and maternal mortality rates. Desire for male progeny has caused natural unevenness and numerous problems for women. Nobody will be surprised to learn that having at least one son is associated with a statistically significant and substantively important reduction in the risk of marital disruption among Indian women at lower parities. The relationship between marital dissolution and the sex composition of children is unlikely to change in the near future, despite economic development, increased urbanization and women's educational advances .In India, where sons have traditionally been strongly preferred to daughters, low-parity women with no sons have a significantly elevated risk of having their marriage dissolve.
And the reasons for poor health we can easily blame the issues like reproductive health, violence against women, nutritional status, unequal treatment of boys and girls, and HIV/AIDS besides plenty of others.A simple solution can be seen which includes communication
Women have low level of both education and formal labour force participation; they typically have little autonomy, living under the control of first their fathers, then their husbands and finally their sons. I’m sure these do have a negative impact on the health status of Indian women.
When asked by a village women exactly why do they love their husband 90 % of them say “because if I don’t, he will beat me” such a woman rarely has a control over fertility .Fertility is tangled with women’s health and reducing fertility is an important element in improving the health of a women . It is distressing as this can be prevented of proper health care facilities of the states are checked upon…..
Few pregnant women receive care or parental care. A woman's health, especially among the poor and illiterate, is often neglected not just by her family but by the woman herself. She is taught not to complain and if she does then she is directed either to use condiments in the kitchen or try faith healing. The women of MP are no exception. Reducing the Maternal Mortality Ratio (MMR) by three-quarters in 10 years is now a Millennium Development Goal. Why is MMR in so high and how far are we from the goal? We can unravel the many challenges to save mothers' lives as it requires is just a little effort and concern.

There is a total neglect of a mother's health. The situation is disgusting because a big chunk of all this is preventable. The medical establishment is busy with micronutrients but that is not the answer. Giving one iron tablet to a woman during her pregnancy is too late. One of the 5 maternal death is related to easily treated problems -ie anemia which is curable .The real problem is food. It is all about food, the cost of food and the nutrition content therein. These pregnant women have to fetch the water, make fuel, work the buffaloes, etc., all on the measly amount of food they can afford. How can the nutritive intake be enough? It becomes a negative calorie balance. In short, what is needed goes beyond a medical solution.
To educate about the importance of the health is very important for enduring healthy pregnancy and safe child births. Majority of the births takes place at home because the so called Primary Health Care units are so dirty that infection will probably increase because of them is this the type of Institutional support required to bring down MMR. Women who think they have the good fortune of being close to a government hospital where care would be free is not true always at times they have to 'buy' a bed or sleep on the floor. She also had to 'buy' food. So much so that she even had to 'buy' washing services or wear soiled clothes. Last but not the least the child is not handed over until money is extorted from the family- with no medicines or follow-up monitoring either for her or the baby. Although deliveries in hospital and clinics are preferred, the facilities for conducting institutional deliveries in rural India are more or less non-existent. The mere infusion of funds the system doesn’t work
The awareness that a pregnant woman should be taken care of is just not there .the problem begins form the moment she reaches the hospital. This brings us to the next obstacle. Transport is a big issue. Now with the training, the dais can recognize complications but the money to shift the patient to a hospital is still not there. It is appalling that we do not have EMS (emergency medical services) that is efficient and well staffed, we have to strengthen the PHC and an EMS Is that a guarantee for a safe delivery? Sadly, they do not run 24 hours ,the probability of an Indian mother dying during childbirth is roughly 10 times while antenatal care is overriding in the prevention of pregnancy-related deaths, septic abortions are creepier. The abortions are performed by quacks. And even if the PHCs or district hospitals have MTP methods, the people opt for local help." Why? "It saves them money. These are very poor people and transport costs and medical costs can be saved by walking to a local quack. As a result there are a high number of abortion-related deaths which do not get reported under maternal mortality. Everybody only talks about deaths during the childbirth process.
Death during pregnancy due to post-partum bleeding or hemorrhage is common. The need for blood in such cases is imperative and access is less than ideal. We need to worry about the blood bank policy in India. Heavily driven by the HIV/AIDS lobby, they feel that somewhere the important issue of access to blood has been sacrificed for quality and safety since the policy makers are looking at it all from the AIDS perspective. HIV awareness is good, but blood banks need to be demystified and access and availability improved. It is imperative in case of complications during pregnancy to have blood available. But no. NACO only sees blood banks from their perspective and only in an emergency are you allowed to take blood from the banks. It is a major concern. When it comes to donation, there is a common problem. The strange connection between men, caring for women, and giving blood. If the men have to pay a lot of money and go far to get blood for their wives, they just won't. And men will never give blood. They think a 100 drops of blood equals one drop of semen and thus, giving blood is related to potency. And so many times, when women need blood, it is not available.
Every 5 min a violent crime against women is registered. In certain societies violence, is perceived as normal. Doctors ignore it by saying it culturally sensitive. It is detrimental to the economic development because it deprives the women in as a helping hand in the economy of his house. Studies in Indian villages have shown that raising rural women incomes increase the household income but vice versa with men as men will spend on liquor and tobacco not on their families Violence is a serious health issue.
The most media sensationalized type of violence is the violence against women in India is dowry death either she is burnt or beaten which is again a health issue. They actually have nowhere to turn as the crimes against them are domestic and women have limited resources as they are mostly uneducated. Generally police has not been helpful and very little community support is available thus many victims of domestic violence remain in abusive situations.
More than half of the children are malnourished. Malnourishment is prevalent in all the section of the society, poor nutrition among women begins from infancy and continues till lifetime. Women and girls are the last to eat in the family. This incomplete development poses a risk for women in by increasing the danger in deliveries.
Mother’s education is strongly related to children malnutrition and hence the cycle of the malnourishment never ends. Children of the illiterate mother are twice as likely to be undernourished. Last but not the least the excess of female deaths is the reason of discriminatory treatment girls and women receives as compared to boys and men.HIV/AIOD is a little understood epidemic which will have an effect on women’s health in coming years. Despite alarming growth of the epidemics most women have very little knowledge of AIDS.
Speeches for the advancement of women and adequate budgetary provision to meet the objectives was declared along with the `Mother and Child protection card' for new born children, pregnant women and lactating mothers by our CM . But the ground reality is somewhat deplorable. The health seminars are restricted to the air-conditioned rooms only.
Health care provided by the state is a right of the citizen’s as per the Constitution and women should assert their right to access health care from nearby state dispensaries .Women should be informed and well communicated as ignorance leads to nowhere.
it is heartening that the central government spending on public healthcare -- which currently stands at an abysmal 0.9% of GDP (one of the five lowest in the world) -- will be increased to 2-3% of GDP and so will our state. It is great that there will be three times the amount available today for a sector that needs it badly, but one must plug the holes first. No point pouring all that money into a leaky vessel. Madhya Pradesh are facing a negligent, cruel and corrupt healthcare system and dying during childbirth. When the conduct of hospital staff is questioned, they face retaliation instead of accountability
With bribes, these so-called doctors can get posted to any area they want regardless of what is actually required there. Instead of orthopedist an obstetrician is posted. Human resource management in the health sector seems to be a big issue. We need trained people in PHCs. And people with the right training.
Corruption is not a new problem. Even if the most sophisticated PHC is right across the road the ward boy needs to be bribed with Rs 50 to wheel the mother into the operation theatre and another Rs 100 to wheel her to the ward and most cannot afford that, this final layer is the most important and toughest one to correct. " Bad governance”. The real problem is not technological care but simply what I call the epidemic of corruption in the health services. And this is not just in the public healthcare sector; the private is just as ghastly. The private hospitals are mercenaries too. Good accreditation, accountability, good monitoring, and honest reporting are the only things that will actually bring down MMR, given the other necessities are taken care of. There is rampant corruption in procurement people end up spending huge amounts due to over-prescription of medicines that should be free to them. This is the real problem and no amount of infrastructure improvement will bring down MMR if governance is not improved Increasing health spending
An "Indian Man" is after all made in part by a Woman too. It's amusing to hear that she is sometimes called the 'other woman'! A reality check seems to indicate that she is "the Woman", the one woman who has the greatest influence on him and she is both the 'Mother and middle of most family battles"!
The health of mothers is directly related to a child's health and without due attention to the causes behind high maternal mortality ratios, we are ignoring an important determinant of the health of our nation. In doing so, we may be running the risk of damaging our chances for all-encompassing prosperity. the time has come to give women due place in the society to our mothers, sisters and daughters. To those who make your homes, nurture your children, shape and mould the citizens of tomorrow. Therefore, I am convinced that the empowerment of women must begin at the very beginning itself, even before birth. The unacceptable crime of female foeticide, being encouraged by the widespread misuse of modern technology and its mindless commercial exploitation must be stopped. This dastardly social phenomenon must be socially boycotted and legally punished
In number of occasions women have come together to demand better services from the district and State officials. In late to be seen whether the usual bureaucratic lethargy and cussedness, or citizens.
We must therefore try to restore balance by protecting the life of the girl child from conception, by investing in the nourishment and education of the girl child and in the empowerment of women by taking care of their education and health
It all comes down to political will, even for saving a mother.
However much a mother may love her children, it is all but impossible for her to provide high-quality child care if she herself is poor and oppressed, illiterate and uninformed, anaemic and unhealthy, has five or six other children, lives in a slum or shanty, has neither clean water nor safe sanitation, and if she is without the necessary support either from health services, or from her society, or from the father of her childen
The odds are stacked heavily against her right from conception to the moment she breathes her last. But ever so often women in India break free of the shackles of tradition and prejudice that fix them in defined roles to take on - and conquer - male bastions. The highest national priority must be the unleashing of woman power in governance. That is the single most important source of societal energy that we have kept corked for half a century

son said...

Superbly written. Especially the emphasis and urgency to save the mother which saves the child..and who in turn develops as a powerful,educated member of the society
Sonia Sarkar