"Every day is women’s day" said Manjula Devi P N, a JP Nagar 3rd phase resident, employee of Corporation Bank and a volunteer with the Samarthanam Trust for the Disabled. Living with polio, this post graduate, bureaucrat’s wife and mother of two started spending time with the children and others at Samarthanam in 2004, having decided that she must give back something to society. She spends a few hours every week mentoring youth, reading to children or assisting them with their lessons.
Keenly interested in the issues of the mentally challenged, she also helps in raising funds for Samarthanam by talking to various individuals about Samarthanam’s achievements and the critical difference that it has been making to the lives of the differently-abled. Further, she never hesitates to raise her voice about the concerns of the disabled at her workplace compelling the management to make the environment accessible and comfortable for physically challenged employees and customers.
Although she believes that it is not an Indian concept, Manjula feels that a day for women is essential as it highlights their importance in life and society. But she adds that the attitude of many men towards women in India has not progressed with time.
While her husband (who was her professor in college) has been very supportive, people tend to sympathise with and admire him for having willingly married a physically challenged woman. She admits that she has learned to live with such remarks.
Among the other women that I talked to at Samarthanam were Vasanti Savanur, one of its trustees and K Lalitha, the volunteer coordinator who helped me understand that women are a strong force at the NGO. Also, I was pleasantly surprised to hear from some of the younger female beneficiaries turned employees of the organisation that they have studied about IWD in college. They included a shy young lady with partial vision married to a visually challenged sportsperson who is a member of the Indian blind cricket team.
Another was Geeta Mahantesh, the wife of Samarthanam’s founder and a graduate in special education who is involved with the institution’s college enrolment and outreach programme. Those who know Mahantesh consider this soft spoken mother of two little children is fortunate to have such a dynamic husband. Others who only see him as a visually challenged appreciate Geeta for willingly marrying him but she handles both reactions with ease.
Another inspiring lady who made JP Nagar 2nd Phase her home is the 80 year old former Deputy Secretary, writer, translator, and poet, S K Ramadevamma. A graduate of Maharaja’s College, Mysore this oldest child of a self-taught and encouraging mother and a schoolmaster studied psychology when it was a relatively new discipline. Acquiring degrees and diplomas in law, journalism, Hindi, French, Bengali to name a few, she has been penning poems since teenage although she has been actively persuing writing after retirement.
Living in south Bangalore has helped her pursue her interests in reading, history, literature and so on and so forth. Indian Institute of World Culture and Gokhale Institute in Basavangudi, Rangashankara in JP Nagar has good libraries and host programmes relevant to art and culture.
Even though Ramadevamma has never celebrated Women’s Day as it was not known in her younger days, she considers it is necessary to have a day set apart for women. While she has not experienced gender discrimination, she admits that there are not many women in senior positions in government organizations.
Manasi Prasad is a passionate musician and dancer who has been living in Jayanagar ever since her family relocated from Kuwait in 1991. Heading the music project of the Brigade Group, a Corporate Social Responsibility initiative, this graduate of the BMS College of Engineering and IIM, Bangalore declares that south Bangalore has influenced the threads of tradition in her persona, albeit subconsciously. She can’t think of living anywhere else despite having travelled across India and three continents for her performances.
In Manasi’s experience, the performing arts, especially music and dance provide a level playing field for all genders. She sometimes finds women in this profession having an edge over men far from the taboos of yesteryears, unlike the corporate sector.
According to Manasi, Women’s Day recognises what women have been achieving collectively over the years and the significant positive developments in their status. "My mother, who taught me music initially and is a very strong woman certainly didn’t have the liberty that women like me have today", she adds.
While participating in the inaugural programme of Mahila Horata Okootta’s (MHO) IWD centenary commemoration near Mahatma Gandhi park on MG Road, I spoke to Rita S (name changed to protect identity), a young policewoman accompanying us. Posted in a station in central Bangalore and living in west Bangalore since two years , this social science graduate from north Karnataka who learned of IWD as a high school student feels that the day is an effective symbol of the critical role of women everywhere. Rachna also stated that she has not experienced discrimination from her male peers and co-workers thanks to the mandatory training and awareness sessions on gender sensitivity imparted to the Karnataka police force.
Last but not the least, we spoke to Pushpa, a 31-year-old mother of three based in Ragigudda who earns her living by cleaning floors and washing dishes in a few houses and an office in the neighbourhood.
A member of Stree Jagruti Samiti for around 10 years, she has been actively involved in campaigning for the recognition of domestic work as employment and securing identity cards, dignified treatment, medical benefits, paid leave and fair wages.
Talking on the sidelines of a public meeting on the status and struggles of women workers in the unorganised sector at NGO Hall in Cubbon Park, Pushpa expressed that it is important to have a Women’s Day to remind everyone that women are also human beings who are entitled to the rights and freedom that others have. This is more meaningful when it comes from a lady who is fighting a case against her estranged construction worker husband for maintenance of her sprightly young children whom she is struggling to educate in a Kannada medium school nearby.
Returning by a BMTC saada bus around 9 pm from a celebration of IWD on March 8th at the Samsa open air theatre (behind Ravindra Kalakshetra), I overheard a lady remarking "There is less crowd and traffic today as women must have gone home early to enjoy women’s day!" ⊕