Kamala – An unsung woman of substance

Kamala – An unsung woman of substance

Kamala Goburdhun née Sinha 15 October 1917 – 13 June 1990

It is Kamala’s centenary today. It will be celebrated in the centre that is named after her and where two of her most cherished ideals are pursued: education and women’s empowerment. It will be a low key affair, a far cry from the loud and impressive centenary celebration of her better half a few years ago. A tribute to who she was: discrete while being strong, opting for the behind the scenes role as that is where she could truly colour the whole show.

She left this world 27 years ago but has never failed to guide me in every thing I have done, just as she did when she was alive. I feel her presence around me with every breath I take.

I am often asked why I decided to set up Project Why. There are many reasons, but one is undoubtedly the lessons learnt at Kamala’s knee. These were cameos of her life that she shared candidly leaving them to seep through my heart slowly, knowing that they would reach their destination one day. The destination was Project Why.

Kamala’s education was nothing short of a saga worthy of being brought to life in a TV soap! Kamala was the eldest child of a freedom fighter and in many ways his favourite. When the first girls school opened the town she lived in, she was rearing to join. Her father indulged her thinking that a few years of schooling would be a good thing. He never knew he had opened the floodgates.

Kamala had two formidable allies in her quest for education: her mom and her paternal grand mom both women way beyond their times. To ‘tame’ the freedom fighter they would use his own weapon: hunger strikes! So when Kamala wanted to study beyond primary school and the father was reluctant out came the big guns: Kamala went on a hunger strike! The two ladies would stand with forlorn faces just as the father sat down to eat and needless to say, he would relent. Sometimes it took more than a day but Kamala was fed at night by her two supporters. Hence she studied all the way to her matriculation. I guess my grandfather thought it would stop there as there were no institutions for higher studies in her city. But he did not know his women. Up came another hunger strike, this time a little longer, but permission was given to go to BHU in Varanasi to do her BA. Then would come an MA and LLB but by that time her father had surrendered totally.

Kamala also convinced her father that she would not marry unless India became independent. She did not want to give birth to a slave child. Life as a old maid was a better option.

So what would this tiny feisty educated young woman do? The unthinkable! Women’s equality is something she believed in fiercely and she knew that was her calling. She wanted to do something meaningful. After long discussions with her freedom fighter father she decided to work for the British so that she could ensure that war widows of WW II got their pensions, a pension that was often usurped by some male member of the family. This meant that she would have to leave her home and live alone in Delhi.  Kamala drove a truck into the remotest villages of Uttar Pradesh and ensured that the young widows got their due. While in the village Kamala would talk to the women on several issues life hygiene, child marriage and girl’s education. All this when women her age were already mothers of many.

Kamala knew how to make a difference. She had the courage to stand for what she felt was right and never shirked from walking the road less travelled.

That is what I try to do to honour her memory.

I miss you Mama!

 

 

 

Not your daughter, wife or mother #GivingTuesday#India

Not your daughter, wife or mother #GivingTuesday#India

In a recent heated debate on women safety, a spirited woman anchor told a politician that she and for that matter all women, were not anyone’s daughters or sisters or wives. She wanted to be considered simply as a citizen enjoying the same constitutional rights!

A recent article entitled: There’s more to women than being betis and biwis, seconds that statement.  Recently two young diplomats, who also happen to be women, were feted for their spirited defence of India at the UN. For the author and for man of us women, these remarks reek of patriarchy. We are sick of hearing politicians spout ‘our daughters’, or ‘just like our daughters’ when any issue concerning women is discussed be it safety or even rape.

Different rules are set up in universities for the so called daughters as it seems that they ‘need’ to be protected! Patriarchy seems to follow women no matter what they do or how high they reach. The sickening ‘in spite of being a woman’ is galling.

As long as this attitude remains, nothing is going to really change.

Women want to be considered as equal partners and so if the roads are safe for men, they should be for women too. We do not want to be talked down too or clubbed as the weaker sex.We want to be treated and recognised as professionals minus the ‘even though they are women”.

Will that day ever dawn?

It is time we looked at rape in the face #GivingTuesday#India

It is time we looked at rape in the face #GivingTuesday#India

Nobel Laureate Kailash Satyarthi’s  launched a ‘Bharat Yatra’ against child abuse on Monday with the words: “Each time when a child is raped, our conscience, innocence is raped. I am not going to tolerate this. I am going to change this.

The sad reality is that a child is raped with regularity in this land of ours. Children are raped within he safety of their homes or school. Just last week a 5 year old was murdered in a prestigious school in India’s capital city. In another horrific incident a minor was gang raped by the school owner and a teacher for months. The incident came to light after a botched up abortion organised by the perps. She is critical.

Nothing has changed in spite of public outrage following the Nirbhaya gang rape. Children are still being raped with impunity. Some cases make the headlines. But others remain cloaked in silence, a silence often linked to misplaced family honour. Rapes remain in the closet. It is time they were brought out in the open.

Madhumita Pandey is a student in criminology. For her doctoral thesis she interviewed over 100 rapists. This was prompted by the question she and each one of us ask ourselves: “Why do these men do what they do?” and then goes on to ask: “what prompts these men? What are the circumstances which produce men like this?” This is something we all want to know. Madhumita set out to find out from the horse’s mouth.

It is easy to call all such rapists ‘monsters’! To bung them in a category that has nothing to do with us. To think of them as some aliens from another planet. Anything else makes us uncomfortable. But that is not the reality. The reality is that they come from within our society. How can one forget that 90% of child sexual and other abuse is committed by people within the family or extended family.

When she interviewed the rapists in jail she realised that most of them are ordinary men, with little education, often school drop outs and what they did was related to the way they were brought up. Boys are given false ideas about their gender and most if not all the women they interact with are submissive. Consent is not part of their lexicon. Gender equality is an aberration.

Let us pause a little and look around us and ponder on the day-to-day reality of children growing up in what is undoubtedly a patriarchal society. Children are brought up in an environment where boys and girls are looked at up differently. If one is king, the other is more a slave! In school sex education has been obliterated as such topics corrupt the young and offend traditional values. All conversation about anything related to ‘sex’ is taboo. Never minds if hormones rage or if the young access the mine of information now available at the swipe of hand on the ubiquitous smart pone.

Rape should it occur, is quickly brushed aside with a boys will be boys, or he had too much to drink, or why was she out at night, or the ever present family honour. One cannot begin to imagine how many cases of child sexual abuse are brushed under the carpet to guard family honour.

So what needs to be done. First accept that the real cause lies within our society and that it needs to be addressed head on. Sex education has to come back on school curricula asap! Young children have to be taught to say NO! They have to be taught ‘good’ touch and ‘bad‘ touch and have to be heard. It is imperative to give children a voice. And it is imperative to respect that voice. Even a sex worker has the right to say NO!

A child needs to have an adult it trusts and can go to in case of need. If not someone in the family, then a teacher or care giver. A loud NO the first time any such dastardly incident occurs is all it needs to stop any further abuse.

Perhaps it is too late to change the well ingrained mindset of adults. Let us at least strive to make the next generation aware of gender equality and consent.

 

The school bizMess #GivingTuesday #India

The school bizMess #GivingTuesday #India

I send my child to school because I believe my child will be safe.

This is undoubtedly what most parents feel when the wave goodbye to their child at the gate of the school or the school bus stand. But all changed on the fateful day when a little seven year old was brutally killed within the walls of his school. The case remains unsolved and gets murkier by the day as a cover up game is on!

The terrible crime sends chills down one’s spine. Imagine a little boy who saunters happily to school in the morning, needs to visit the loo and is brutally killed, his throat slashed. His fault? Trust. Trust that in his school he is safe. A culprit had been ‘identified’. Is he the real culprit. The sexual assault angle has been negated by the autopsy. A fact finding committee has come out with glaring lapses in security measures. The Government has stepped in and may take over the school for a period of time. The case has been taken over by the country’s leading Intelligence organisation. But all this can never bring back the little victim to life.

Today as we sit and wonder why this happened and where did we go wrong, many things come to mind. As we look back on the recent history of education in free India, what stares us in the face is its commercialisation. Education is now a business. and in business it is not the child that is the centre of attention, but the money that can be made. The equation is skewed and unless its is redressed, the likelihood of another child being hurt is very real.

The question is: how does one balance the two, or rather can one balance the two.

I have always held that education should be equitable and free for every child born in this land. Thus education should be imparted in state run neighbourhood schools where children of all walks of life should share school benches. Isn’t education meant to be an even playing field.

Sadly this is not what seems to be the chosen option. Education is a business and no matter how many checks and balances one comes up with, one has to remember that market forces dictate businesses.

Memory is short. Soon this terrible crime will be forgotten. Things will go back to what they were.

Will it take another child’s life to bring us to our senses. Let us not forget that one child dying in one child too many.

 

 

Your child will follow your example, not your advice. #GivingTuesday

Your child will follow your example, not your advice. #GivingTuesday

mapa

Live so that when your child thinks of fairness, caring, integrity she thinks of you. These words sum Ram and Kamala’s life. Today a more than a quater of a century after I lost them, and in the seventh decade of my life, I know I could not have been who I am if not for them.

They would have celebrated their 68th wedding anniversary today. I know they are popping the champagne bottle in heaven and I raise my glass to their happiness.

You may wonder why a blog about anniversaries and personal memories on what should be a post on Project Why. The answer is simple. Project Why is the logical outcome of an only child eagerly following her parents’ example day after day and not their advice. Advice is tinted by social mores, and politically correct guidance, example is from the heart. Advise would have been a lucrative career, a heavy bank balance, luxury holidays and three starred dinners. They gave me all that while I was still a child. I had my fill and sought more, but did not know what ‘more’ was as that never came as ‘advise”!

That came after they left and I sat looking desperately for the legacy they had left behind. It was not in the boxes and trunks and memorabilia that was strewn around me. I was terribly lost. All I had to hold on to were my father’s last words: don’t lose faith in India! It was November 1992.

It would take six long years of loneliness and pain to finally discover what the legacy was. Six long years of remembering their lives, the bittersweet memories, the stories often unfinished and bereft of any moral precept. And slowly it all came to me, in no order at all but somehow fitting the puzzle that would become Project Why. From Kamala’s side it was education, women’s right, patriotism, gender equality, standing for what is right, self-respect, courage and unconditional love. From Ram’s it was humanity, compassion, tolerance, social equality, generosity, giving unabashedly, giving when you did not have and of course culture, savoir-faire, integrity, probity and simple living.

It was left to me to honour this legacy.

And to honour them I set up Project Why with the hope that all the lessons learnt at their knee would be reflected in what I have been striving to do for the past 18 years!

If not for you Kamala

If not for you Kamala

The Trust does not bear her name. Once again it was the flamboyant husband who won the match! But the real inspiration and the quiet and gentle motivating force as always in my life was Kamala Goburdhun née Sinha. Her lessons were not exuberant like those of her better half. They were subdued and tender, cameos of her life she she shared with her only child. In the week mother’s are celebrated the world, I would lie to share some of these stories as each is echoed in Project Why.

Kamala the child was determined to go to school and her doting father did not stop her from getting enrolled in the first school for girls that opened its doors in the sleepy town of Meerut where the family lived. The school was established in 1929. She was already 12 years old but that did not detract her. There was no looking back. For education she would break all the rules. And she had to formidable women in her corner: her paternal grandmother and her mother! The three would devise ways to win over the Gandhian father. Kamala went on several hunger strikes to be able to continue her studies beyond class VI, go to Banaras Hindu University for her BA, do her MA and LLB. Her final degree would be a PHD at Charles University Prague, after the loss of her first born. Kamala was your never give up woman.

But there is more in the life of this small town freedom fighter’s daughter who went on to become an Ambassador’s wife. When she reached the age when girls would be married, she made a pact with her father, a pact both would honour. She was adamant about not having a child in a land that was not free and hence would not marry before India’s becoming independent, and should she still be of age, would marry whoever her father chose.

But that was not all. Her concern for fellow women was so deep, that she agreed to work for the British in order to reach out to ward windows in the villages of Western UP to ensure that that their pension was not usurped by some male member of the family. She drove a truck to reach the far fledged villages. She lived alone in Mandi House Delhi and commuted every week to her home in Meerut in her little Baby Austin. In the villages she reached out to women in more ways than one. A real trouper!

India became Independent. Her father found a man, a man that would take her away on a real magical mystery tour. But the transition from freedom fighter’s daughter to diplomat’s wife was not easy. The first challenge came soon after marriage. A dinner at home where one of the invitees was the British Ambassador. Kamala was appalled at the thought of having to receive him in her home. How could she get past the memories of a little child applying balm to the lacerated backs of her father and his companions when they came back from yet another non-violent protest. This was her task as in those days there was purdah, and women did not mingle with men.

It took her husband oodles of patience and love to explain to her that India was free, and it was the Indian flag that flew on the house she lived in.  She was to the manor born and understood what was expected of her. Again she never looked back and was the perfect diplomat’s wife.

So when I look at Project Why, at the years gone by, at the work we have achieved, I realise that though the Trust bears my father’s name, it is her lessons that are imbued in every breath I take, in every step I walk. My unequivocal and obsessive love for India and my pain at seeing how things are going, my determination to educate as many as I can, my desire to make women stand on their own feet. Everything is what she taught me.

So today I understand that if not for you, Kamala, there would be no Project Why!