A national level campaign cum workshop was held from 22 to 24 December, 2018 with various communities in Sheohar, Bihar. The idea was to have a workshop with those present there and to look into the conditions of the workers. The groups working in different part of the country also joined the national campaign in which Environics trust was also part of it.

The campaign “Ride for Gender Freedom” started by Rakesh Singh, a journalist and an author, who hails from a small village in Muzzafarpur in Bihar has been traveling all over the country for the past 53 months on bicycle. He started the cycle rally as he was appalled and extremely disturbed by the increasing cases of acid attacks on women and the involvement of their own loved ones in these crimes. He therefore, set out on this rally in the quest of an answer to this appalling behavior.

Team members

He started from Chennai on 15th March 2014 and has since met more than ten lakh people across the country. He spoke extensively about patriarchy that is deep rooted in the country and the systemic violence that women are meant to suffer throughout their lives. He also spoke about the discrimination that women face since the time before birth until they die. He spoke about the discriminatory practices of rituals and about the patriarchal basis of religions. Though he asserted the need to educate women, he also exposed the hypocrisy of the so-called educated upper-caste, upper-class people who are even more rigid and patriarchal than the lower-caste, lower-class people. He also spoke about the male gaze that has dominated the society and all the wrong societal gender norms. He touched down upon every societal evil and spoke about the need to educate women to fight the discrimination underlying in the society. He questioned every practice that discriminates women and speaks about revisiting our thoughts and mentality is for women and their rights.  It gave a platform for various working groups to emphasize in the gender issues. A three day meeting was organized which started from 22-24th December 2018 in Sheohar, Bihar.

This three day meeting had people coming from every walk of life such as students, farmers, Anganwadi workers, journalists, housewives, teachers and professors, artists, musicians and several organizations especially the ones working on the issue regarding gender empowerment.  The event provided a platform for having a dialogue on gender equality, called as “Gender Samvad”. Many communities raised the issues of gender discrimination, gender based violence and women security.  Since at Environics Trust we believe in Gender Equality, thus we helped in organizing “Gender Samvad “and communicating about social protection.

As Gender Samvad focused more on women empowerment and awareness about inequality, Gender Samvad invited more women speakers such as Rajathi Salma, Kamala Bhasin and Professor Medha who shared their life struggle, the inequality and how they came out of it.

Renowned Tamil author, columnist, social worker and speaker Rajathi Salma addressed the gathering by telling her story that being born in a small Muslim family she was not allowed to study after the age of thirteen. Her father had four girls from the first marriage and wanted a son, he disliked her as she was the first child from the second marriage. She was restricted to go out till she got married. Even after marriage her situation didn’t improve because of conservative in-laws. Although she never stopped educating herself and use to compose poems on scraps of paper and sneaking them out of the house. At the age of seventeen she published Kala Chuvadu. She further added that even now girls in Tamil Nadu are not allowed to go to school after 12 years, she was the lucky one who could escape the situation but girls in the community are still facing the problem, assigning them to do household work and stay at home whereas boys are sent to school and even go out to earn

Kamla Bhasin is an Indian Developmental Feminist activist, poet, author and social scientist. She started the discussion with the meaning of “Gender” was discussed, Gender is a socially constructed term which defines the roles of the biological sexes in the society. She started by reminding us that according to human rights Article 1 which states that every human by birth is equal and free. We have gathered to protect our human rights and think what is more important and what our priority is. Stating example from Bihar, she further added that this state has witnessed a lot of struggle for women’s rights and the air of change has been started again by Rider Rakesh. We need to take forward this work and understand why a “man” is talking about taking women and equality in society. Talking about the constitution she added that it has been written by 90% of the male population which raises the question whether men can do justice and decide about women’s rights in an already patriarchal society! This is also being perceived that women are talking against men but this isn’t a fight between men and women, we are fighting against patriarchy. It’s a social system and a way of thinking which says that men are superior. It’s not just men but even women are patriarchal than men at times, which comes from the role of men in patriarchy. This is the fight against mentality and not against men. It’s about freedom from such a thinking which at any level and time discriminates between the two genders. Even boys have same restrictions as girls which is not being realized, men are often asked or rather been told to act upon the socially defined role of a Man in the society which limits their approach to think and act otherwise.

Professor Medha who teaches Hindi language in Delhi University narrated her story and struggle by stating a childhood experience, she stated that people suggested convent school for her brother whereas government girls school was suggested for her, however even she got admitted in convent school but that whole incident is still fresh in her mind. Another incident which made her realize the inequality she was facing was that she was not allowed to go to Patna to prepare for medical and had to stay in Muzzafarpur. When she was in B.Sc. first year (1998) she organised a session on sex education which was a big thing at that time, however she was supported by her father at this instance. She was also not permitted to go to JNU for her higher studies stating that the environment is not good but then her mother took a stand for her. To conclude, she stated that even coming from an educated middle class family, she also faced gender discrimination at her own level. Taking inspiration from her mother she also motivated all the women present that it is important to dream but it’s also important to respect that dream and stand for that dream. She motivated the mothers present in the gathering even more stating that if they take a stand for their daughters and their dreams no matter how much hindrance is being created by society nothing can stop their daughter’s dreams to fly high.

She also raised a question that even though we reach to a certain height are we really free from the male oriented society? The answer being no. She further explained that faces may have changed, challenges may have changed but there are other new restrictions especially on middle class and upper middle class women. It’s the new truth that women are being harassed in their homes in some way or the other but they come out to talk about gender equality and sexual harassment. Times has changed, women have changed, they have new difficulties and new challenges to overcome but we also forget that who is preparing men for these new challenges.

Mr.R Sreedhar addressing the gathering

This three day event ended with a declaration and a way forward session headed by R.Sreedhar, Geologist from IIT Roorkee now Managing Trustee of Environics Trust, New Delhi. Working for more than 30 years for communities, described as a living encyclopedia of coal and mining sector in India by Rider Rakesh. He observed that in Gender Samvad, everyone including small children to old people participated. In this meeting many people shared their work experiences and their organization’s experience with us. This meeting was a helping hand for people to analyze different situations women face and different circumstances they come from.

This three day meeting had people communicating through music, helping people to understand how important equality and assimilation is for our lives. Sambhaji Bhagat a Marathi singer through his songs made us think that discrimination is not only for women, but different types of discriminations are being faced by the people. If we believe in equality then there should be no discrimination in our life and society. If we look at the world data of last year, we can see that,     if the world has earned 100 rupees, then 70 rupees of it belongs to the 1% of the population.

68% of our country’s capital is only with 21 families. This is also a kind of discrimination. We need to question the policies and its formulation which is somehow leading to the discrimination going on and if we look at it as a development, our problems have increased even more. Today, if we see who faces more discrimination, then the woman who lives in the villages, who does not have the land will be the one under that radar. Taking an example the highest poverty in the country is seen in Angul district of Orissa, where there are many coal mines. The poorest women are belong to this district, whose condition are worse. A 45-day survey was done with the help of an institutions, which found out that more than a hundred women are unwed mothers. Such tragedy is going on and we are unable to do anything. Inspiring from these things, Rakesh ji started cycling because such incidents like rape, acid attacks, human trafficking in many areas have been and still is prevalent. To change this process, we have to work at different levels. Focusing on working at different levels he described below and wanted different views from the people gathered.

  • An idea about how we can continue the process that started from Sheohar.
  • A new kind of rhythm has been arranged with the efforts of Rakesh ji. People coming from different places, organizations, background i.e. Teachers, businessman, artists/Musicians are from different directions and have different identities. How the organization/group formed in the Gender Samvad should be in touch with each other and how can we all together take this process forward.
  • What role can we play even if the government forms adequate policies? What are the arrangements on these issues?

Views and Suggestions given by the groups and people

  • Further co-ordination among people oriented with Gender programs and such program needs to be taken forward. A direction to the effort needs to be given, it should not end and it should be a continuous process. All the people who have come forward should work together at their level. The government implements many policies, but we are not able receive the benefits from those policies. People and organizations associated should try that we reach there and convey it to the marginalized population around. Effort should be made to try that people get the benefits of such policies.  Work from the grassroots level is one of the important aspect.
  • Things which came out in Gender Samvad should also be applied in our country’s law. Kamala Bhasin ji said that we have words that classify the genders. There are so many words that have just been made describing men, there is a dearth of such words when it comes to women. List of such words for women have been made and it was handed over to UN. The committee formed should work towards framing a proposal in front of the government about how a gender neutral curriculum should be introduced in schools.
  • Inclusion of more and more teachers in the process would be a great start as they are responsible in preparing the future generation. Role of teachers are somehow not given much importance therefore this should also be our priority.
  • No action plan being formed whenever such meetings are held. More focus on making an action plan along with identifying the problems should be discussed along with how we can work in- depth in Bihar.
  • There is no reaction without an initial action. The team should discussed how to take such a movement to an international level.
  • The role of the village panchayat, panchayat samiti, the city council, the women’s reservation of the district council, and the Dalit / Backward Classes at the grassroots level in the village was questioned? We should work on women’s reservation for the next two years
  • People of Sheohar should assure that we will not tolerate gender discrimination. For this, the proposal to the district officer should be given. People of the country should join together. Make a group at the National Level and people should work at their level.
  • At the grass root level, the movement that Rakesh ji did looked easy but the hardship behind the whole process can’t be overlooked. Economically capable people have to come forward for fund raising and we should have more committed people.
  • What changes have happened on the ground level for women’s safety? People of Sheohar should come ahead to organize these programs themselves for gender discrimination.
  • The Gender Samvad’s Dialogue should be taken to the parliament

As a part of the organizing team some positive as well as negative observations were made. Women and school girls participated in a good number however they had to lie to their respective families, some of them requested the team of volunteers to take permission on their behalf and some who were permitted to attend were asked to either to be home early or attend just one of days. Such stories give us an impression that there is a need to work in spreading the awareness regarding women empowerment and equality especially in the areas like Sheohar were even though girls and women want to come forward but are pulled back due to patriarchal society