A change maker for gen­der equal­ity.

Woman's Era - - Short Story - By Su­man Ba­j­pai

Dr Bi­jay­alaxmi Nanda is an As­so­ciate Pro­fes­sor of Po­lit­i­cal Science in Mi­randa House in Delhi Univer­sity and has been teach­ing for past 24 years. Re­cently, she has also started func­tion­ing as the Vice-prin­ci­pal of the Col­lege. Be­ing a fem­i­nist ac­tivist she works with many women groups in In­dia.

She co­or­di­nates a self-funded ini­tia­tive called ‘Cam­paign Against pre-birth elim­i­na­tion of Fe­males’ (CAPF) from 2002 which works with the youth to raise aware­ness and ad­vo­cacy and to sup­port women sur­vivors and vic­tims of gen­der vi­o­lence and dis­crim­i­na­tion. She started this cam­paign to stop fe­male foeti­cide, i.e. pre­birth elim­i­na­tion of fe­males. She feels that gen­der dis­crim­i­na­tion is still pre­vail­ing in the 21st cen­tury even when women have proved them­selves as equal to men in all spheres. Peo­ple have mis­con­cep­tion that only the poor dis­crim­i­nate against the girl-child. How­ever, the cen­sus re­ports tell a dif­fer­ent story. It is ev­i­dent that not the poor but af­flu­ent peo­ple are us­ing new re­pro­duc­tive tech­nolo­gies to ter­mi­nate fe­male fe­tuses. To­day the child sex ra­tio of In­dia stands at only 919 girls per 1000 boys. In the last three decades 30 mil­lion girls have been elim­i­nated in the coun­try due to this. As a teacher she has great ac­cess to in­ter­act with her stu­dents and young peo­ple about this is­sue, and thus is able to in­flu­ence young minds.

A so­cial ac­tivist With her deep in­sights on this is­sue Bi­jay­alaxmi has au­thored a book also. In her lat­est book pub­lished in 2018, ti­tled ‘SexS­elec­tive Abor­tion and the State: Poli­cies, Laws and In­sti­tu­tions in In­dia’, pub­lished un­der Shakti Books, an im­print of Har-anand Pub­li­ca­tion, she has not only stud­ied and re­searched on the is­sue with all its ram­i­fi­ca­tions around po­lit­i­cal and fem­i­nist the­o­ries, but has also un­der­taken field sur­veys in dif­fer­ent re­gions over last decade to but­tress her the­o­ret­i­cal ex­po­si­tions. She has been work­ing on the is­sue since 2001 as a so­cial ac­tivist and fem­i­nist. Her ex­per­tise in gen­der stud­ies has been en­riched be­cause of her con­tin­u­ous touch with the ground re­al­i­ties. She is the founder of the cam­paign against this per­ni­cious is­sue in Delhi since 2002, and is an in­ter­na­tion­ally ac­claimed scholar on this is­sue and has been in­vited by in­sti­tu­tions in the USA, the UK, France, Bel­gium, etc. in var­i­ous sym­po­siums, sem­i­nars and work­shops on this is­sue. The UN bod­ies such as the UN and the WHO have en­gaged Dr. Nanda to pro­vide them with her ex­per­tise on gen­der is­sues and var­i­ous re­ports drafted by her have been ac­cepted and acted upon by these bod­ies and var­i­ous State Gov­ern­ments.

Her book is an in­ci­sive anal­y­sis of the coun­ter­ing of gen­der dis­crim­i­na­tion by the In­dian State. Well-doc­u­mented, with in-depth em­pir­i­cal and qual­i­ta­tive re­search, a rich the­o­ret­i­cal frame­work and con­crete rec­om­men­da­tions, this book has sig­nif­i­cant pol­icy im­pli­ca­tions.

Early in­flu­ences

Her child­hood was spent mostly in the state of Odisha and the cities of Bhubaneswar, Cuttack and Puri. At a very early age she was alert to in­equal­i­ties per­pe­trated in terms of class, caste gen­der, eth­nic­ity, age and other hi­er­ar­chies. Her par­ents with their sim­ple liv­ing and high think­ing, deeply in­flu­enced her thought pro­cesses. She wanted to be­come a bu­reau­crat like her fa­ther and to be able to bring about changes in the lives of peo­ple

through cre­at­ing an en­abling pol­icy en­vi­ron­ment. While grow­ing up she felt that there is a strong need to counter gen­der dis­crim­i­na­tion in the form of son pref­er­ence, dowry prac­tice, de­nial of prop­erty rights, rape , sex­ual ha­rass­ment and de­val­u­a­tion of girls and women.

They were three sis­ters. So her mother had to face the con­se­quences for not giv­ing birth to a boy by so­ci­ety. How­ever, her par­ents sup­ported all three sis­ters and made them ed­u­cated and sel­f­re­liant. When they moved to Delhi, her fa­ther was then in charge of con­duct­ing the 1991 Cen­sus. De­clin­ing child sex ra­tio from 1981 to 1991 had ap­peared as a co­nun­drum to many. She says, “My fa­ther was sure this was not due to un­der enu­mer­a­tion, mi­gra­tion and such other fac­tors. Dis­cus­sions were ini­ti­ated by him on in­tense son pref­er­ence in In­dia and sexs­elec­tive abor­tion lead­ing to de­clin­ing child sex ra­tio (num­ber of girls in the 0-6 years age group was lesser than num­ber of boys). These is­sues be­came a part of our din­ing ta­ble dis­course at home. It touched a chord in my heart due to the in­sen­si­tive re­marks made to us in child­hood for not hav­ing bi­o­log­i­cal brothers. I started read­ing on the is­sue and delv­ing into its com­plex­i­ties.” A new jour­ney

It led her to start a cam­paign called CAFF (then called the Cam­paign against Fe­male Foeti­cide), which was ini­ti­ated with the sup­port of the Cen­tre for Women’s De­vel­op­ment Stud­ies (CWDS). The CWDS fired the fem­i­nist in her. Meet­ing lead­ing women ac­tivists like Vina Mazum­dar and oth­ers, there was a lifechang­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. With their sup­port the cam­paign was able to gen­er­ate aware­ness and ad­vo­cacy on the is­sue of miss­ing girls in In­dia.

The CAFF which is now known as CAPF con­tin­ues to work on the is­sue by en­gag­ing with the youth in Delhi. Aware­ness gen­er­a­tion, ad­vo­cacy, re­search, doc­u­men­ta­tion and sup­port and coun­sel­ing to women sur­vivors are some of its ac­tiv­i­ties.

Eve Ensler, the writer of Vagina Mono­logues and Kamla Bhasin, a lead­ing fem­i­nist ac­tivist from In­dia are also two women who have in­spired her jour­ney. She has also writ­ten a tele­vised se­rial on the is­sue called At­maja. Be­ing the proud mother of a sin­gle daugh­ter, Bi­jay­alaxmi makes a strong ap­peal to all par­ents in In­dia to cel­e­brate their daugh­ters and give them wings to fly.

Af­ter do­ing so much for a cause which is dis­turb­ing for ev­ery hu­man be­ing and the coun­try, she feels she has not reached any­where in terms of achieve­ments. There is much more to be done. This jour­ney of coun­ter­ing gen­der dis­crim­i­na­tion, es­pe­cially in terms of daugh­ter aver­sion, is a mean­ing­ful one. “My sense of pas­sion, out­rage and an­guish against gen­der vi­o­lence has not di­min­ished with time. And I think that is some­thing I can be proud ad­vice to girls and women, not just in In­dia but all over the world, would be to be alert to pa­tri­archy and con­comi­tant gen­der dis­crim­i­na­tion. They should al­ways ques­tion it and have zero tol­er­ance for it. De­vel­op­ing a sense of self through read­ing, learn­ing and en­gag­ing on is­sues of gen­der is im­por­tant for both women and men. I would ad­vise women and girls to break their si­lence on gen­der vi­o­lence, to par­tic­i­pate in move­ments and col­lec­tives fight­ing against gen­der dis­crim­i­na­tion and vi­o­lence. They should know that their rights are not de­pen­dent on pa­tri­archy but on con­sti­tu­tional laws and the ideas and spirit of hu­man rights. We should all know that what we are ask­ing for is ba­sic and in­te­gral to hu­man rights and dig­nity. If women are self-re­liant and con­scious then only they will be able to claim their rights”.­jay­alaxmi Nanda feels that the over­all In­dian sce­nario did re­veal that the women’s move­ments are en­gaged in protests, dis­cus­sions, de­bates and sem­i­nars on gen­der is­sues, but in terms of a rad­i­cal cit­i­zen’smove­ment to guar­an­tee wide­spread change on the is­sue, a lot still re­quires to be done. She strongly ad­vo­cates the ‘syn­cretic fem­i­nist per­spec­tive’, which in her view is like Su­fism, like a Meer­abai song.

Her fu­ture plans are to work on equal­ity con­scious­ness for the youth in­clud­ing all gen­ders. She sees her­self as a mov­ing ve­hi­cle to bring about gen­der equal­ity. We


Never have re­grets be­cause at one point ev­ery­thing you did in life was ex­actly what you wanted.

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