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June - July 2004


Lifestyle

When more is less: Jeeroo Roy Immortalises Girl Child 2004 in her painting

Whilst bride burning, dowry deaths and honour killings are topics which have been widely discussed, the media seems to be more concerned with its social behaviour patterns. As women ourselves, we feel and share the pain and helplessness of the burnt brides in a patriarchal society where rules and laws are made by men for women, and have attempted to bring this out in these series of paintings.

Jeroo Roy was recently in Kolkota, India where she met with Mr Gautam Ghosh - a consultant in the field of health care development including HIV/AIDS related issues for the Government and works with the International Agencies. There Mr Ghosh introduced her to three Women's Group organisations, the NARSS -Nari Adhikar Raksha Samannaya Samity (Women's Rights
Protection Co-ordination Society), GUP-Gana Unnayan Parshad and JWP (Joint Women's Programme).

All these groups are involved in helping women caught up in the atrocities stemming from the patriarchal society where they are at the worst receiving end. The groups work both in urban and rural areas with women in domestic situations, and with sex workers for HIV/AIDS awareness and their and their children's health and education. They deal with cases of rape, marital rape, physical, sexual and psychological abuse and sexual abuse of the girl child in the family.

The primary focus of the groups is helping women know their legal rights, attaining justice for the parents of young women callously done to death for not having brought enough dowry, and to help a woman recover dowry when she has been thrown out of her marital home. Arming the woman with some relevant knowledge of laws, such as the Indian Penal code Section 125 (for maintenance), and Section 498 (for violence and dowry deaths), helps the woman's self-esteem greatly as she feels less a sense of isolation and helplessness.

In cases of young brides getting burnt badly and sometimes dying as a result of kitchen/paraffin accidents, isn't it strange how 'careless' the brides appear to be in the kitchen, as its only the new daughter-in-law has these 'accidents', never the mother-in-law nor the sister-in-law.

Amongst the many cases the Women's groups come across,far worse than visible physical torture is the invisible mental torture, which slowly but surely eliminates a woman's sense of being and reduces her to a state of total mental breakdown often leading to suicide.

The problem stems off from the age-old established patriarchal society, bound by customs, religion, superstition, honour, and where the birth of a girl child is often lamented or her life cut short through female infanticide - though banned, the practice of scanning is still commonplace to abort a female foetus. The existing cruelty of FGM (female genital mutilation) practised within certain communities, is again based on so called religion and tradition to
'purify a woman'. This is also true of Sati (widow-burning) in India, which is banned but still
prevails in some parts.

Its a little known fact that FGM was legally practised in UK on some British women in the Victorian times, till it was banned by the government in 1936. British women have struggled and fought to earn the right to exist equally. Not so the case in many Third Worldcountries.

We hope through this exhibition, that we can create awareness in those who might be unaware of these existing atrocities against women, and draw victimised persons out of their tabooed silence to speak out. It may be just a drop in the ocean, but neither can we sit still and do nothing.

The full version of this article is available in the print edition.

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