The 13th Memorial Lecture

Every year since its inception, the Justice Sunanda Bhandare Foundation invites an eminent person to deliver a lecture on the theme of human rights and gender justice.

For 2007, the thirteen annual memorial lecture was delivered by Smt. Aruna Roy, the noted social activist and recipient of the coveted Ramon Megsaysay award for community leadership and international understanding. She spoke on 'Democracy: Women's Struggle Against Poverty' at the India Habital Center.

Praying rich tribute to Justice Sunanda Bhandare, who was deeply committed to human dignity and Justice, especially gender justice, Smt. Roy dwelt on the significant contribution made by rural women to our democracy. Drawing on her rich experience of spending more than thirty years in the villages of Rajasthan, Smt. Roy observed that urban India often fails to connect with the problems and issues confronting the rural poor.

She spoke at length about 'fantastic women' who live with dignity and shape our future. They have the strength and resilence to fight battles ranging from right to information to right to work.

Smt. Roy laid emphasis on the wisdom of rural women whose logic is simply infallible. Educated people should 'learn' from then instead of trying to educate them. She said that it is easy to advise a villager to set up a household toilet.but for using a toilet, one needs water, for which one may have to cover a long distance under difficult circumstances. When educated urban people plan for rural women, they plan toilets. But when a women plans for herself, she plans for collecting water.

People in the urban centers often have a flawed understanding of rural sensibilities which results in faulty planning. Someone in his wisdom decided to build houses under Indira Awas yojana at places away from the village. It was found that houses got built, but nobody lived there. Thus there is a huge gap between development processes and people deriving there is a huge gap between development process and people deriving benefits from them.

Mere words of advice often sound hollow. Once a few Professions from Jaipur came to Til0nia to tell women to stop the practice of dowry and child marriage. Awomen named Mangi, who listened to them patiently, said, "Is there anyone of you who has not either given or accepted dowry? You must practice something before you preach it."

Smt. Ray said that the poor women have a sense of sharing, which is very fundamnental to democracy. They try to offer whatever little food they have in their house when a guest comes in. On the other hand, people living in cities simply do not want to see such poor people. They think that the very existence of poverty, poor women in the street, is a violation of peace.

She said that the credit for enacting an important piece of legislation called the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act goes to rural women. They have sense pleaded with Shri Hanumantha Rao, Member, planning Commision to provide them employment and do not doles. They also have the courage to claim minimum wage and assert their will to check records. It is poor people, especially poor women, who have to Information Act which makes all officers and all those who are in public life accountable to people.

She said that it is important to empower women to voice her feelings. Women must get the right to express herself and she must be heard by the society. Thirty years ago, it was difficult to find women willing to address the public. Now, of course, the sitiation has changed. It is hearening to note that three are long queues of women who want to speak on the occasion of Women's Day. They speak about all aspects of life and society, and they speak extremely well, she said.

Shri Mohammad Hamid Ansari, Hon'ble Vice President of India, who was the Chief Guest on the occasion, said that most affected and the most concerned people are the ones who perceive the practical realities of rights and empowerment. Justice Leila Seth paid tribute to late Justice Ashok Bhan presided over the meeting.