Annual Report 2013-2014
Every year, since its inception, the Foundation invites an eminent person to deliver a lecture on the subject of women and human rights. Last year, Padma Bhushan Smt. Sharmila Tagore delivered the nineteenth Justice Sunanda Bhandare Memorial Lecture on "Representation of Women in Indian Cinema and Beyond" on 27th November 2013 at India International Centre,New Delhi.
Smt. Tagore lamented the slow progress towards establishing an equitable society even 65 years after independence. Unless certain fundamental issues are addressed, women's empowerment will remain a mere rhetoric. While education, employment opportunities and social networks have given voice to some women, many still continue to suffer injustice, she said.
Patriarchal ideas have a strong hold on our collective consciousness which resulted in the preference for son in the Indian family. This entrenched mindset leads us to consider girls as an economic burden. People tend to view a woman either as devi or as property of man, but never as an equal. It is not surprising that a highly visible media like cinema, particularly Hindi cinema, has perpetuated these cultural myths.
Smt. Tagore made a refe rence to an ad issued by Delhi Police saying: 'Be a Man, Protect Women', which reinforces the view that a woman needs a man's protection. She also cited a statement made by the CBI Director Ranjit Sinha, 'If you cannot prevent rape, enjoy it.' What message he is sending to his subordinates, she wondered.
When Smt. Tagore began her career, not only was the portrayal of women problematic but acting itself was considered a disreputable profession. The father of Indian cinema,Dadasaheb Phalke, had to settle for a man to play the female lead in "Raja Harishchandra" in 1913. Situation had not changed perceptibly in the decades that followed. Much later, in 1957, when she acted in "Apur Sansar", she was asked to leave school. The Principal felt she would be a bad influence on other girls.
Since then, societal attitudes towards films have changed dramatically. Our films have made undeniable progress in technical terms, but when it comes to the portrayal of women, the changes are merely cosmetic. Films continue to brandish an image of women which is largely decorative and secondary. Of course, in parallel cinema and some regional cinema, women are presented in an entirely different light -- more equal and more realistic. But it is mainstream Hindi cinema which is the dominant film industry in the country.
The 1930s saw the emergence of Devika Rani, the incomparable woman producer, Fatima Begum, the first Indian woman director and Durga Khote, the woman who took the extraordinary decision of acting in films at a time when it was considered a dubious profession. In Mary Evans, popularly known as Fearless Nadia, we had a feminist much before the term gained currency.
In the forties, cinema changed from being a social forum to a commercial industry where entertainment was paramount. As men made up the majority of viewers, women were depicted in a way that would appeal to the male audience.
The 1950s saw Bimal Roy depicting strong and realistic women characters in his films Sujata and Bandini . In Mother India, Nargis essayed what is probably the most iconic female role in the history of Indian cinema, while Mughal-e-Azam had another memorable woman, Madhubala in the lead role. However, the success of these films also resulted in the stereotyping of women characters in the mould of glorified mothers or large- hearted courtesans. The decades after the 1950s have been particularly disappointing with women being increasingly relegated to playing glamorous sweethearts.
In 1968, our society could accept a man marrying an actress, but letting her continue to work in films was beyond its comprehension. Yet, in her case, the combination of marriage, motherhood and a successful film career did not seem to cause any friction.
In our society, powerful decision-making roles go to men and goody-goody ones to women, she observed. A girl seldom gets to live life on her own terms. She has to be monitored and patrolled. Khap panchayats today have taken this to another level in the way they dictate how their women should behave.
Smt. Tagore observed the near-complete absence of working women in our mainstream cinema. Women's roles in films should have changed in the nineties, a period which saw women take to the workplace in large numbers. But the leading ladies in films were quite content to wait for their Prince Charming to come and carry them off to the fairy land of marital bliss. However, a film called "Dor" had the courage to portray a young Hindu Rajasthani widow, for whom life does not stop with the death of her husband. Films like these opt out of the patriarchal construct.
She questioned whether it is fair to single out one institution,cinema, when almost all institutions are equally guilty of gender discrimination. The Constitution of India guarantees equal opportunity and status to women. The principle of adult franchise seeks to ensure women's full participation in the shaping and sharing of power. But political expediency often takes precedence over justice.
Today, in India 'women's empowerment' is a government slogan. Yet, Indian women, seemingly protected by law, celebrated by the media and championed by activists, remain second-class citizens. She hoped that quality education can bring change.
Only when we give the twin pillars of human life -- care-giving and bread-winning -- equal value will men and women attain parity at work and at home, she said. The rigid lines demarcating the perceived roles of a man and a woman in society need to be merged and muted. She expressed the fond hope that in the not-too-distant future another speaker at this forum will have the satisfaction of saying that Indian women have made considerable progress towards realizing the motto of this Foundation: 'The Freedom to Choose, The Right to Excel'.
Chief Guest of the function, Shri Justice P Sathasivam, the Chief Justice of India, said that the representation of women in Indian cinema offers unique reflections of India's modern history and the shifting expectations placed upon women both on screen and off screen. The films released in the 21st century depict stronger and more profound women characters, he said.
Justice Sathasivam also said that films should be utilized as a tool for women's empowerment. Women characters should possess guts to dismantle the existing power structures. Cinema must create a separate and independent space for Indian women to help them realize their dreams, he added.
Shri Justice N.V. Ramanna, Chief Justice of Delhi High Court, who presided over the function, said that Indian cinema has undergone several changes over the years. The focus of the camera has been shifted to woman's identity as an individual. The changing portrayal of women reflects the change in attitude towards them. The medium of cinema, which has great impact on the common man, can bring a wareness among women about their rights, he added.
The Awaz Uthao Campaign, launched on the occasion of the International Women's Day on 8th March 2011, aims at creating awareness about the safety of women and girls and at empowering them to deal with cases of sexual harassment and assault.
Justice Sunanda Bhandare Foundation, in association with Guild of Services, organized a campaign on 17th January 2014 at Goela Dairy, Najafgarh. Ms. Manu Chaudhary and Mrs. Diana Khambata represented the Guild of Services. The campaign was coordinated by Ms. Mukesh Rani. Shri Dalip Singh and Shri Bhandare recounted that as a college student of 18 years of age, he had swept the toilets in the sweepers' colony in Mumbai to abolish the menace of untouchability against the sweepers.
Shri Bhandare highlighted the need of both household latrines and institutional toilets to prevent diseases and to add dignity to life. That would ensure security of women and would save them from harassment and embarrassment, he added. He advised the participants to practice cleanliness in their day- to-day life by following a few steps which include keeping the house and the locality clean, throwing the garbage in the dustbin, making use of public urinals and public utility services, not to spit in open places and not to burn garbage. He called upon them to contribute their bit to create a clean and pollution-free environment.
When Shri Bhandare interacted with the women and children participating in the camp, they told him that there was no independent toilet for them. They had to walk a long distance to reach a toilet and wait in a queue for a very long time till their turn came.
Shri Bhandare went round the colony and verified the facts and told the people that he was ve ry sad about what he had seen. As a token, he and many partici pants swept the road.
On the last Friday of every month, an in teraction of NGOs and Women's Rights Groups is he ld with the Special Police Unit for Women and Children, in the Conference Hall at Nanakpura, New Delhi. Joint Commissioner or Special Commissioner of Police chairs the meeting where the representatives ventilate the grievances of the people of their area and the difficulties they encounter. Their cases are taken up with respective departments and outcomes are explained in the next meeting.
Our Foundation has been participating in all these meetings. Among the many cases, it has raised the case of a safai karmachari named Suman.
Last year, Suman, who lives with her husband, son and physically handicapped and mentally retarded daughter at Badarpur, approached the Foundation with allegations of harassment against some anti-social elements. Her son, Anand was twice attacked by a group of four young men; he was hit on his face and was unable to open his mouth and even his mother was attacked when she came to his rescue. The Foundation brought it to the notice of the Commissioner of Police and is pursuing the case to give justic e to the harassed family and to bring the anti-social elements to book.
The Foundation's Centre for Counse ling and Legal Aid in Delhi, assisted by a panel of professional counselors, lawyers and volunteers, rendered speedy and effective justice to women in distress during the year. Cases of harassment were referred to us in workshops, consultations and by volunteers working in the field. Our legal experts took up their cases and offered them advice free of cost. They even helped them in filing cases and seeking legal remedy to their suffering.
Looking after the rights of the differently abled persons has been a top priority for the Foundation. After the enactment of Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995, the Union Government and the Governments of States and Union Territories were neglecting the implementation of the various provisions of this Act. The Foundation filed Writ Petition No. 116 of 1998 in the Supreme Court of India for implementation of all the provisions of the Act.
Initially, there were two respondents, but later 32 others including all states and union territories were impleaded as party respondents. The Government and Universities were not allowing visually challenged, to teach in any school or college. In 2001, the Foundation got an Order for appointment of visually challenged candidates to teaching posts. This broke the barriers against the visually challenged to be teachers in any educational institution. However, it took eight more years for Ms. Manjula Rath to get the post of a Lecturer in Delhi University. The Foundation pursued the writ petition with diligence for 16 years and won it in the long run. The Petition was finally disposed of by an Order dated 26-03-2014 of 3 Judges Bench presided over by Chief Justice Lodha and comprising, Justice Mukhopadhaya and Justice Misra in favour of the disabled persons with the following observations and directions:
13. In our view, the 1995 Act has to be implemented in the letter and spirit by the Centr al Government, State Governments and Union Territories without any delay, if not implemented so far.
14. We, accordingly, direct the Central Government, State Governments and Union Territories to implement the provisions of the 1995 Act immediately and positively by the end of 2014.
15. The Secretary, Ministry of Welfare, Government of India, the Chief Secretaries of the States, the Administrators of Union Territories, the Chief Commissioner of the Union of India and the Commissioners of the State Governments and Union Territories shall ens ure implementation of the 1995 Act in all respects including with regard to visually disabled persons within the above time
The Foundation has instituted Annual Justice Sunanda Bhandare Award to be bestowed on a woman showing outstanding courage and dedication. The award, which carries a citation and a cash prize, is awarded every year to an individual or organization that displays extraordinary courage and dedication in furthering the Foundation's goal of gender justice.
The first annual Justice Sunanda Bhandare Award was given away last year to Ms Laxmi, a remarkable young woman who braved all personal odds as the victim of a heinous acid attack for rebuffing the undue advances of a man and displayed extraordinary courage by seeking relief for her as well as other victims through a public interest litigation against such terrible acid attacks in the Supreme Court that resulted in enhanced punishments under the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013. It was because of her indomitable spirit, the wholehearted efforts of her dedicated lawyer and the unstinted support of the press and public, acid attacks are considered a grave crime punishable by a minimum sentence of 10 years and a maximum fine of Rs 10 lakhs. Moreover, restrictions have been imposed on the sale of acid
Under instructions from Commissioner of Police, Special Police Unit for Women and Children Nanakpura planned to organize a meeting on 15th of every month to discuss the issues for safety and security of women in Delhi. The first such meeting was organized on 14-1-2013 in Conference Hall, Special Police Unit for Women and Children, Nanakpura, New Delhi subsequently followed by 10 monthly meetings in which steps taken by the police for the safety and security of women were explained and discussed with NGOs and their feedback taken on regular basis. A number of safety precautions were discussed and analyzed. These have been published in "Stop Violence Against Children and Aap Ke Adhikar"
Lt. Governor Delhi organized meetings with various NGOs at Raj Bhavan on 24-12-2012, 19-3-2013 and 13-08-2013. Points highlighted by the various NGOs requiring urgent attention in regard to Safety and security of Women were brought to the notice of Hon'ble Lt. Governor.
Special CP (Traffic), who has been coordinating meetings both at Nanakpura and in LG's office, informed that action on most of the points has already been initiated by Delhi Police. The sexual offender's registers are being maintained in the police stations and photographs of the convicts have also been uploaded on the Delhi police website. Text of all the proceedings are available in our booklets and uploaded on the Delhi police website.
The Foundation's Counseling and Legal Aid Centre in Delhi, assisted by a panel of professional counselors, lawyers and volunteers rendered speedy and effective justice to women in distress during the year. The harassed victims, approaching police stations in distress, referred to us in the Gender Awareness Programmes, were provided free legal aid by our legal experts.
The Public Interest Litigation filed by the Foundation in the Supreme Court of India for the implementation of the statutory provisions for Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995 is making good progress and is at the final stage
The Foundation, in association with Sur Nirman organized a Legal Awareness Programme on Saturday, 15th June, 2013 at Pandav Nagar, Delhi. Our legal experts enlightened the participants about gender sensitization, rights of Muslim women and various safeguards available to them. In questions and answers free legal advice was also given to the four ladies who were facing difficulty in their marital life.